Friday, June 29, 2012

Erring on the Side of Grace

There are few things in life that have been as confusing as being a mother.
I'm forever grateful that God did not bring JT into my life until I was a bit older, because He knew what He was doing. I needed that time to learn intimacy and dependency on Christ alone before the onslaught began.

As Paul said, "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." -Phillipians 3:12

In my wise old age of 31, I have not become perfect in my maturity, but I am definitely more confident in my abilities to "press on", despite the many impedences of my own imperfection.

Before I became a mother, I did not know about "mommy wars", and I still don't understand them. I do understand why they occur though. Refer to the first sentence of this post. Parenthood is confusing, it is intimidating, it can be isolating. And everyone seems to have an opinion about it.

When you add being a "Christian parent" into the mix, things get even more confusing. Everywhere you look there is some person or some book throwing their thinly veiled opinions, marked as Gospel  down your throat. And, if you really care about your kids, if you care about your Walk with Christ, and the enormous responsibility that parenthood has thrust upon you, then it's right to listen. Everything must be examined. Tested, not just against your own heart, which we all know if it is not surrendered to God is "desperately sick", but against The Word of God and the Character of God.

I have stumbled upon a book recently that has really made me think.
I almost completely disagree with the "methods" of this book, and yet I have found myself fascinated with it.
Much of my insecurities in raising an infant have passed. In the end I am not a religious follower of attachment parenting, even though I am all for baby wearing and breastfeeding beyond infancy, and I have gone back to co-sleeping and night nursing my 15 month old. (this is sheerly a survival method, and this too shall pass). I do not plan to share a bed with my children until "they decide to leave" (Aquaman has been in his own bed for 2 yrs), or nurse a 5 year old, and I believe that the very occasional spanking, when not done in anger will not damage a child psychologically for the rest of his life.

But I am still completely spooked and awed by Babywise and its rigid schedules and lack of grace, and now as my older son reaches an age in which discipline has become so central, I find myself equally curious about John Rosemond's "Well-Behaved Child".

Like all books, outside the Bible, I've found some pearls of wisdom, and I've enjoyed the discomfort of challenging myself by continuing to read past when I began to disagree. I also think that sometimes people who have very kind hearts come off much harsher in their writing than they probably are in real life.

But I think the biggest surprise to me, since I first held Aquaman in my arms as a new and terrified mother, listening to him scream himself hoarse and feeling desperate to do anything within my means to comfort him; was the lack of grace and comfort I found in my search to be the mother God made me to be.

The impression I have gotten from so many of these resources is that children are a burden. Tyrants, out to ruin your life if you don't stop them. It's your responsibility to control them with whatever means necessary, but it is not your responsibility if, in the process, their hearts are damaged by your very insensivity.

I believe firmly that children, being man, are born with evil in their hearts. Corrupt from before the first breath. I believe that it's our responsibility to teach them the importance of obedience and respect for authority, and I also believe that in the end, God has a plan for them, and they have their own free will; and they will turn out as they will.

I guess you could say though that knowing my own shortcomings, I'd rather err on the side of grace.

The one thing I have learned is that my obedience to God comes from my relationship with Him. It comes from knowing Who He is, and that even when I don't understand it, or can't see the big picture I can trust Him because He gave up everything for me.
It comes from knowing how much He loves me. Even when I don't deserve it, and when it is inconvenient and even terribly painful for Him.
And since I don't think it's a mistake that God calls himself a "Father", which happens to be the name of a parent, I've decided to take my model of parenting from Him. My biggest priority in motherhood is to teach my boys that they can trust me. That I will (usually) have their best interests at heart, and that I will even be willing to give up some things in order to provide for their needs and some of their wants, be it physical, mental, emotional etc. Some of that means saying no to their wants, because in the end, their brains are still developing and they don't have a whole lot of common sense and they also have that aggravating sin nature that is always making them rebel.
Which is where the discipline comes in. Because how would we know how much we needed grace if we didn't know how deeply sinful and undeserving we were in ourselves?

But when I think about Jesus, chastising the disciples..."let the children come to me!"
I know He did not think they were a burden either.

Sometimes, I'll admit it, I act like they are.
Some days I am tired and frustrated.
Aquaman has a red hot personality to go along with his beautiful hair, and sometimes he really gets on my nerves. I yell sometimes. I always apologize for it.
I am guilty of sending him to his room or taking away his toys or administering a million other consequences just because he is doing something that annoys me. Not because he's doing anything that's wrong.
That's called being a bully, and that's not discipline. It is a good opportunity for him to see that moms aren't perfect either, but that they can humble themselves and admit their imperfections.
And it's a good opportunity for me to get alone with God (for 5 seconds or so before The Dude climbs up on a chair and starts eating crayons) and work on that log that's in my own eye so that I can see clearly to help Aquaman with his specks.

I hope we can be the kind of parents that train up our children in the way THEY should go. Not in the way that we had always hoped they would go, or that would somehow make us feel happy or complete.
It's going to take a lot of prayer. There's going to be a lot of mistakes.
At the end of my life, I know I'll get to heaven and I'll cry about the wrong and selfish things I did when I was raising my kids that I didn't even know hindered them in their journey to be who God made them to be.
And I will find my comfort in the arms of the God of Grace.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Andante- The Walking Tempo

I've always loved the rhythm of a walk. The steady footbeats on the pavement create a meter for my thoughts to fall into and be tamed. Gone are the firings of random disoganized thought. It's like coming out from inside of myself and having my senses turned on again.
Maybe it's the oxygen leaving my brain to service my muscles.
But running is not quite as therapeutic. It's true that my thoughts become more focused when I run, but mainly because they are focusing on: "when will be over, this HURTS."
Actually, I love to run. I miss working up a sweat the way I used to, pre-kids. I hope to start doing it again someday soon.
But walking is much more fun. It's slow enough to watch the world go by, and painless enough to let your mind wander.

The Dude has blessedly reached the age of walks. The particular stroller he has chosen happens to be a pink one that JT found by the side of the road. One sign that you have two strong-willed and active boys is that you don't care that your son is in a pink stroller. He is quiet in that pink stroller.
We've been taking a lot of walks together lately.

I'd forgotten about 15 months, though it's all come rushing back. Night waking that's even worse than the newborn period; head-banging, face-smashing temper tantrums when I don't let him pull my hair or bite me. He spends all day just hanging out by the front door screaming at someone to open it. I am afraid to do laundry when he is awake because the laundry is in our detached garage. I have to go through the courtyard to do it, and he is now capable of opening the gate by himself. Refer to the night-waking: I am too tired to chase him down the street and then wrestle his squirmy howling little body back into the house. And so I remain hostage in a house full of dirty laundry.

But with this recently discovered independence and attitude comes the charm of meeting a unique and developing person. He has new words every day, and hilarious mannerisms. He likes to squeeze his fists together until his neck veins pop out and yell "yay, yay, YAY!" whenever something exciting (like lunch) happens.
And, like his mom, he likes to take walks.

Early in the morning, in the heat of the day, even lately in the dead of the night. He's been waking up for hours in the middle of the night, and spends those hours trying to pull the blankets off of his brother so that Aquaman will play with him.
I am so thankful for our safe little neighborhood. 2 am walks, flip-flops sloshing rhymically through the puddles. Circling the sprinklers, watching the stars. Somehow, taking a walk in the middle of the night seems less like a duty and more like a gift. The night air is humid but with a cool aftertaste. The pace is slow.
The police cars circle around to see if we look suspicious, then smile and wave and drive on.

"Cold!" The Dude remarks approvingly, after taking a sip of milk. "Truck!" He points to the 7-11 parking lot. He looks up at me with his big brown eyes.
This little boy has given me a great gift. I always thought my brown eyes boring until I looked into his and was lost in the depth of them.

Life with children rapidly changes. As soon as you fall into one pattern, the next week, it's different. I'm starting to feel like things are even-ing out, which probably means something new is coming.
At this point, we're thinking that even if we do have another baby it won't be until The Dude is at least 4, God willing. Which means life doesn't have to revolve around the exhaustion of pregnancy and infant care for the next few years. It means, if The Dude continues to follow Aquaman's sleeping pattern; I have a couple years of decent nights' sleep coming up. That if he warms up to the nursery around when Aquaman did, I'll be able to go to church, a bible study, maybe even the gym.
It also means that I might have the time to really get to know these two great kids that God has already given me.

Aquaman is entering a really fun age. He is turning into a better big brother than I could ever have imagined, based on his 2.5 year old attempts to destroy his newborn sibling. (I once caught him with a lemon squeezer trying to put it around the Dude's head...) I thought he would be the one I would have to watch in the bike trailer, but it turns out he loves to be snuggled up to his little brother in there. But yesterday morning when they got out, he had bite marks all over his arms. He still had a good time.

At least once a day they sneak upstairs to their bedroom and I hear them giggling and playing together, and those blissful couple of minutes before someone gets hurt are almost always worth it.

2 weeks before Aquaman was born, JT started working for ocean rescue. 4 months later he went through EMT school. A year after that I joyfully took a positive pregnancy test just hours before finding out full-time ocean lifeguards might be cut for good. Then there was the The Dude's birth, and fire academy.

We've done a lot of sprinting these past few years. But right now, at least for now, our family seems to be settling in to a nice walking tempo. It's still a pretty good clip, to be sure. But it does feel nice to take a walk.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

You Find Out Who Your Friends Are

 "Somebody's gonna drop everything
Run out and crank up their car;
Hit the gas, get there fast
Never stop to think 'what's in it for me?' or 'it's way too far'
They just show on up with their big old heart."
               -Tracy Lawrence

 007 on the xbox, fudgsicles, and my friend C. These were the therapy of long 16 year old nights. Life was shockingly complicated given the lack of responsibility. But the uncertainty of what in our young minds was such an unguaranteed future loomed over our heads enough to send us reeling.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a friend like C. The kind of friend who would drop everything to listen to your latest teenage drama, and somehow convince you that everything is going to be ok.
She's always been "cooler" than I am, prettier, and smarter. But not in an intimidating way. Even now, as I work part-time with my nursing degree and raise my two boys, she is finishing up a grueling pediatric residency during which she bore three children. But rather than making me feel less, her strength through all of this, which has ultimately been drawn from God's strength; has only made me feel encouraged to be more.

Finishing high school, away we went to different colleges but similar wanderings. Questioning our faith, our life, our purpose. There were often weeks or months between conversations. There was simply nothing good to say. But we never lost touch. C is not the kind of friend with whom you lost touch.
We’ve grown and changed and put away childish ways and returned to childlike faith.
We’ve studied the bible together, prayed together, joked, and cried together. We’ve surfed so long that our arms were collapsing under our weight, and said goodbye too many times to count. But have always known that it wasn’t forever.
We spent the better part of 8 years agonizing over whether we would ever fall in love, and what an honor it was to be there when she walked down the aisle to the love of her life.
She returned the favor less than a year later.

7 months after that, I debated how to tell her that I was pregnant. I knew she was “trying” and hoped she wouldn’t feel discouraged by my news. But it was too exciting to hold back: “I’m pregnant!” I announced. “Me too!” she laughed.
Our boys were born 10 days apart.

They both cried way more than we thought they would, and slept far less.
Motherhood hit hard, and my short conversations with Tennessee did much for my sanity. There is something special about joining the ranks of motherhood with someone who shares your convictions and heart for your children.
I’ve never been great at making new friends, and mothering small children is an especially difficult time for this. Working part-time is somewhat ostracizing when everyone else seems to be staying home. Add to it a husband who is always up to some new project and well…there isn’t much time for forming new friendships.
Whenever the loneliness for female companionship reaches new highs, there’s a voice on the other end of the line. My friend, C, driving home from a 12 hour shift. One of the few women my age I know who knows the agony of leaving your 6 week old and driving to work. Who knows what it feels like to go almost 4 years without a solid night’s sleep. Who I can share all of my feelings of inadequacy with, and somehow find the humor in it all.
I’m excited for her now, as she wraps up an amazing and difficult part of her life and begins officially practicing in Wyoming, even though I wanted her to move to Florida.
Today I am thanking God for my friend. I’m looking forward to many more years of conversation, letters from our boys to each other, visits here and visits there; and sharing in each other’s lives. I’ve found that distance doesn’t have to change a friendship. A real friend is not someone who lives close by. It is someone who lives close to your heart.

"So if we get the big jobs and we make the big money,
When we look back now will that joke still be funny?...
As we go on, we remember
All the times we had together;
And as our lives change, come whatever
We will still be friends forever."
            -Vitamin C

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Summer and Small Children

It's summertime, and I'm thankful for seasons, even stuffy, unbearably hot Florida seasons.
There's something so comforting in the cycle of routine. A predictible change.

Our park adventures must now be limited due to suffocating heat and aggressive mosquitoes. But they have been replaced with more than our fair share of trips to the beach, pool, and library.

I love that even though I have boys, in the strongest sense of the word, the joys of coming home from the library and spreading out our treasures across the floor, are not lost on them.

I love that The Dude loves to swim so much that even when we are not in the pool, he proudly insists on wearing his swimmies around the house.

I have abandoned the coupon resolution with a sigh of relief, as it was really not much of a money saver for a family that consumes mostly produce. We are back to doing our grocery shopping at Aldi, and the time I save that I used to spend cutting coupons can now be spent planning summery meals like the quinoa BLT salad we ate for dinner last night. Delicious. And much more fun than cutting coupons.

Because who really has endless amounts of time? We're all so busy. But I've been realizing lately that busy is not such a terrible thing. I love chasing after my kids, and I honestly love cleaning my house too. I love the motion of my children and the feeling of experiencing and accomplishing and really LIVING. Mothering small children sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap, but it has got to be the most rewarding job on the planet. In what other job would someone wake you up at 5:30 am just to tell you that he loves you, and then climb back in his bed and go to sleep?

I mean, you have to admit, that's pretty awesome.

The way I see it, busyness, if it is with the things that God has called you to, is one of the most rewarding states we can find ourselves in. As long as we do not find it to be an end to itself. Because that end is only emptiness.

I have been appreciating my job a bit more. Yes, it is still excruciating to leave my little ones behind, but I have been recognizing in myself recently a tendency to want to bask in the happy little bubble that is my home life. My life at home is terribly comfortable. We may not be wealthy by beachside standards but we're definitely in the top 3% of the world. We have everything we need and many many things that we want. My husband is affectionate and supportive and dedicated to our family, and my children are happy and healthy and intelligent. Going to work reminds me that I'm not comfortable just so I can grow fat in it. I am comfortable in order to give of myself to others who are not so comfortable. I need to be thrown into the often dark cold terribly painful world of the children I encounter at work. And even more so, I need to see the work of God in the human heart that rises above all of that.
There's also something about going to work and being asked to perform complex mental tasks when in this sleep deprived state that is rather humbling. And then coming home to piles of laundry strewn around the house and fire ants in the living room.
It's these things that remind me of my weakness, and that "when I am weak, then He is strong."

But I'm still trying to find the balance in the busyness, and JT is working on this too. We only get one shot at this parenting thing after all. But we're pretty good at capturing the moment. JT lives mainly in the moment, and I love this about him. The moment is all we have, after all, and eternity depends upon it.