Friday, August 24, 2012

Today and Tomorrow

It's quiet in my house my right now, save the whir of the dishwasher, which always seems to be running. Aquaman is at school, and The Dude is asleep upstairs. I should be cleaning the bathrooms, but I have chosen instead to sit down here and bask in the pleasure of putting my constantly whirling, creating thoughts into an organized pattern.

This is the 1st morning since Aquaman started school that The Dude and I have not spent running around and arriving breathless at 12:30 to pick him back up again. It has been amazing.

On a whim, on the way home, I stopped off at Paradise playground and just followed around my littlest son wherever he wanted to go. He went down the slides yelling "whee!", and climbed the rock wall with a lot of help, and sat in my lap on the big swing and cuddled me without his big brother clamoring for a spot in my lap too. We both smiled a lot.
When he was ready to go, we just left, with a stop off to snuggle and stare at the ocean, and then headed home. Where The Dude immediately climbed up on Aquaman's bike, which he has been pining after for months, and no one screamed about it.

We took a walk, did some laundry, and held onto each other most of the morning, until he drifted off to sleep in his bed.

And now I have a few blessed minutes to myself. And I don't even feel bad about it. Because when I left school, Aquaman was smiling from ear to ear rolling his magnet train on the table, surrounded by his friends. And his teacher told me that he has participated nicely in circle time and cooperates with the other children, though he occasionally speaks in baby talk, which she seems to find amusing, though it drives me crazy. And upstairs, my little toddler is asleep, all cuddled up in the warmth of a few hours of teaching me more about who he is.

And it's hard not to imagine what it would be like if this was my everyday. If I could keep up with the daily laundry instead of having to do 6 loads on Thursday just to get even for the rest of the days. If I could spread out my scrubbing of the bathrooms and kitchen and floors to 7 days a week instead of trying to cram it all in to 4. If life could slow down just a tiny little bit and I could soak it all in and put it all on paper and somehow make it really matter.

But I've been thinking and praying and reading a lot lately, and I've been realizing something: this life doesn't really matter. I mean, not really. It doesn't matter if it's not always comfortable, or if I get what I want, or if we have any money. It's this tiny little dot in forever, and the only thing that matters is that I LIVE it...like I'm supposed to, and with joy in my heart because I've got everything I could possibly need: and that doesn't mean nice stuff or down time or a full night's sleep, or even cute kids and loving husband. It means one thing: Jesus.

"The essence of discipleship requires the abandon of self-preservation. To deny yourself is to come to a place where what happens to you as an individual in fulfillment of the will of God becomes an almost irrelevant issue....the goal is that at all times, in all circumstances, and at any cost we become the means by which God is able to do his work and fulfill his purpose, irrespective of personal implications to ourselves."
-Charles Price

I've had a lot on my mind lately. Like how incredible it has been to work part-time these few years, and how I really hope I'll be able to keep it up for at least a couple more. JT has applied for 3 firefighter positions so far. 2 never called back. 1 he made it to the written test, in which 1500 people came for about 10 jobs. He didn't pass. He has recently put in his application with another department, but I'm finding it hard to have much hope about it. Especially because his heart does not seem to be in it. It will be hard for him to pass any tests if he is not fully committed to them, and he is just so unsure. He loves his job, but he definitely has trouble picturing himself doing the same thing forever, with no hope of advancement. And certainly a bigger paycheck would help. But his best chance at a job will be with the county when they hire, since he already works for the county. And they require paramedic. So 2 years of working 60 hours a week and going to school full-time. For something he's not convinced he wants to do? It seems a little sketchy.

And so I'm remembering the power of the praying wife, and I'm praying. That he will have the wisdom to make the right decision. Not the easy decision, or the best decision financially, but thedecision that God would have him make, so that he can be exactly who he is supposed to be.. I don't care about money except that we are able to support our family, and I'll admit I do struggle with desperate fear that I will have to return full-time to work before the kids are ready, or that we'll have to forfeit the child that we both believe we want in a few years for lack of being able to support it without full-time daycare. But I know the plans that he has for me. I know the plans He has for us, and I know that they are only good things.

I am reminded with a smile of going through 9 months of pregnancy believing I would have no choice but to work full-time throughout my child's life because JT's job did not have any benefits. And 2 weeks before our due date, the ocean rescue position fell into his lap, and God said "look at all that time you wasted worrying."

We're not supposed to worry about tomorrow. Today has enough trouble of its own after all. But I am needing more faith to help me in my unbelief today. I am filled with joy and uncertainty and fear. But I'm remembering who He is and how much he cares for us, in even the littlest things.
How we needed a new table we could all eat on, but didn't want to use savings money to buy one, and our neighbor asked us to take hers without even knowing. And how the booster seats didn't fit on the chairs that came with the table, and the next day another neighbor left two perfectly sized and colored chairs out on the sidewalk for anyone that wanted them.
That's the kind of love that God has for us. I don't know why it's so easy to forget sometimes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The First Week of School

Though I can't really comprehend it, my sweet little red-headed surprise...my fiery whirling dervish...the boy whose name we chose because we were "happy"...started pre-kindergarten this week.

To be fair, for Aquaman it is actually pre-prekindergarten. If he had been born just one day later, he would be entering only the 3 year old class this year, and for that reason, combined with his energy level and emotional immaturity he will be going to pre-kindergarten twice.

But that didn't make it any less exciting as he pulled out in Noni's car for his 1st day, ready to face the 1st day of his 1st 5 day school week. I had to go to work and did not have the opportunity to drop him off and pick him up. All I could do was bite my nails a little for him and say a prayer.

But he seemed in good spirits about it when he came home, and I think he is ready for this new challenge. I am happy for him to have this opportunity to begin to develop himself as his own person. To find out, away from home, the things he likes and doesn't, the things he's good at and what requires a little more work. I love to see the confidence it produces in him. That he can make friends. That he can follow the rules and please his teacher. I am really grateful for the warm, supportive and not overly stimulating environment that is his preschool. A place where he can feel comfortable being who he is, but can also learn what it means to be a part of a group, and the give and take that it requires.

And, to be honest, I am ready for a little break 2 mornings a week too. Of course, we haven't gotten to the day yet where I drop him off for school, and I'm sure there will be a pang of sadness when The Dude and I set off on our own for a few hours. But I am definitely looking forward to some 1 on 1 time with the little Dude, getting to know him better.

To see what he's like when he's not showing off and trying to keep up with his big brother. To enjoy him without worrying about Aquaman injuring him in his animal-like exuberance.



And to spend more time doing the things he likes to do, like exploring the neighborhood behind his plastic Winnie the Pooh push toy, and getting really dirty.

I have been told that some of Aquaman's intensity and energy will begin to calm as he approaches the age of 4, and have noticed it happen in other children, but I am still waiting quietly for it to happen with him. He has always grown up on his own time table. In fact, just in the past few weeks he has reached a new level of exhausting testing behavior and emotional lability that verges on shocking.

But what I have to keep reminding myself is that some of these bad days are the most profitable days of all. The days when I love my son so much that I will discipline him diligently. Which means that some days he spends more time upstairs in his room than he spends downstairs with the rest of us. Which also means that some days he doesn't like me very much. And that's ok. I have the tendency to think during the 20th time that I have to correct him that what I am doing is not working, and will never work. But it's always darkest before the dawn. Somehow, that 20th time matters, and he starts to get it.

Aquaman is one of the pickiest eaters ever to grace this earth. He has finally reached an age where we can encourage him to try 1 bite of new foods without him completely losing his mind. Yesterday at dinner I put 3 pieces of carrot, and 3 grapes on his plate along with his traditional plain pasta with a pinch of salt and pureed pears. He gobbled the carrots down and then declared: "I would rather eat 100 carrots than these 3 grapes. Can I have more carrots?"
JT and I's jaws almost hit the floor.
As I cut up some more carrots for him, I realized: Just like that, he will grow and things will change.

It will never be easy. Aquaman prefers the status quo and has to have some carefully applied pressure if any changes will be made. He is not and has never been one of those adaptable children who mellow out in their own time. But you do have to know the appropriate time to apply the pressure. Do it before he's ready and everyone will regret it.

 Inevitably he will grow and change and thrive, and one day he will be a man who eats his vegetables, poops in the potty without a terrible battle, looks before he leaps (on his brother), and doesn't cry hysterically when he doesn't get his way.

The best things are always the hardest things.The best kids are always the hardest ones. And the truth is, no matter how you crack it, they're all hard in one way or another.

And with the incredible lows of having a difficult child who will test your limits every time, come the equally magnificent highs of watching him come into his own.

And the joys of sharing this short time together. Trying not to waste it with the fear of somehow messing it up. Because I wouldn't have this precious boy any other way.

"Hey mama?"

"Yes honey?"

"um, well, hey mama?"

"YES, dear?"

"Hey mama?"

"YES??!!"

"I love you Mama."

Gets me every time.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Problem of Pain (and the Power of Prayer)

It hit me right in the middle of an affectionate moment between my husband and I last week. A pang that almost doubled me over in its shocking intrusion. The realization that many many people in the world never experience moments like this. Not just a moment of knowing how deeply loved you are by a person, and  how little you deserve it; but the moment when you realize that it really wouldn't matter whether this wonderful person loved you at all. Because, the love you're feeling is not the sometimes fleeting love of another person, but the manifestation of the true Love only given by God.

And in that excruciating and distracting moment, I found myself, to my dismay, reflexively jerking back to the age old question that led me down many a wrong road in my past: "God...why?"

I have heard that word so many times in the past two years that I hear it in my sleep. My favorite "why" that I've ever been asked by Aquaman was "WHY do you call me Mr. Why?" I. love. that. kid.
He has recently graduated to the more eloquent sounding, and perhaps (he assumes) less off-putting phrase of "how come?", which in the rapidity with which he executes it, often comes out: "huh-um?"

Most of the time, I try to answer him, I really do. Many times he truly wants to know the way something works. Or with his sensitive and observant nature, he is trying to understand more about me, or even understand more about himself. Other times, he is rebelling or stalling in what is a less confrontational way than his usual and classic pitch-a-fit manner.





I'm pretty sure I question God for the exact same reasons.

Aquaman's sensitivity is not foreign to me, which is maybe why I find myself so often concerned about it.
I know its pitfalls.
I spent a good portion of my life asking God why, and not liking His answers. I spent my childhood and early adulthood as a magnet to people grappling with the very same questions, and who often didn't want to accept the answers. I have struggled, and wrestled with God until He finally had to wrench my hip out of socket. Except, I don't really remember the exact day it happened.

I just remember suddenly really knowing for the first time in my life that God is God, and i am not.

"Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything
before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few."

-Ecclesiastes 5:2

The simplicity of it struck me. I think it is a huge reason I initially was and am attracted to my husband. He does not try to bother himself with things he can't possibly understand. He just accepts them and moves on. Since I have learned to do the same, my life and faith have become much less complicated. But I fear I may have been over simplifying lately. My prayers have changed a lot these past few years, possibly because my brain is fried from lack of sleep and down time (I am a true introvert, and there is little room to be introverted in the life of a mother with small children). But I think some of it has been a protective mechanism. I do pray, quite frequently, like breathing air it's just a normal and regular part of my day. I've learned to include "Your will, and not mine" in almost every prayer. I've learned that faith is often manifested in laying my thoughts before Him and then moving on, believing it is in His hands now.

But in the process of my quest to stop asking so many questions, and to think only on things that are lovely and of good report- I have missed at times the opportunity to think on the things that are true and noble and pure. And the things that are hard and painful.

I want to keep myself set apart from the world, and I want to keep my mind from attempting to fully understand something that is completely beyond me, but what I don't want is to disengage myself from the pain of being without the love of Christ.

It can be easy in the busyness of everyday life to just go by, or throw a cursory bone, or utter a quick prayer. I don't want to be that person. I don't want to be an enabler or be dragged down by others' questions or tragedies either.

And again, the biggest answer I have found to this question of how has been prayer.
But not those toss it to God and then go skipping off to the beach kind of prayers.
A sacrificial kind of prayer, that makes me stand up and face those age-old questions and the reality of suffering in the world, and be willing to take on the burdens of others.

In the end I think deep down I know the real reason why I lash out at God in those moments of experiencing someone else's suffering. It's guilt.
It's knowing that I haven't been doing everything I can do to ease that suffering, and to answer the questions.
And it's a lot easier to ask God why he doesn't swipe his magic wand over the world then to get down in the trenches and get blood and dirt all over my own face.

"Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them: 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled", but does nothing for their physical needs, what good is that? In the same way, faith without works is dead."
James 2:15-16

It's not that I feel like my faith is dead. I mean,  I rely on God all day long. To help me get through the workday and meet the needs of the families I work with on a very fragmented nights' sleep and when my heart is at home. To keep me from completely losing my patience when Aquaman screams at the top of his lungs or The Dude climbs on the table and begins to dance for the 30th time.

 I need my faith to show me how to minister to my husband after he's had a hard day, and keep me scrubbing the toilets even though they're just going to get dirty again. I need faith to believe that God will provide for our physical needs today and in the future.

And it's not that I discount those things, because to me they are the most important things, but I also know they are not the only things, and I don't want to miss the heart of God.

So how do I do it? I read a quote once when I was studying how to keep up my supply with pumping at work when Aquaman was an infant that JT and I still laugh about by Dr. Sears: "You can't make milk, love, money, and dinner. Something is going to have to give."

But for the life of me, I still don't know what. Because I am still doing all of these things, and I don't resent them, I absolutely revel in them.

But how, as a woman, a wife, and a mother; do I fulfill all of my roles at home and still reach out to the hurting world around me?
I am going to be praying about this. I do believe that there is time for everything God has called me to today. And it may be less of a time issue and more of a heart issue. Surely there are daily opportunities to enter in to the lives of others and reach into hearts with the hope that I have been given. I think I will ask God to help me start with this:

"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."
1 Peter 3:15

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Olympic Spirit

On Tuesday the US women's gymnastics team captured the gold medal at the Olympics. I only watched about 20 minutes of it that evening before I fell asleep. It was the middle of my work week, I was still recovering from a diabolical migraine from the day before, and my boys could just care less about watching gymnastics on television. (performing it, all over the house and on various pieces of furniture is much more fun.)


This Olympics, we've watched a lot of swimming, because that seems to be our family sport. And in some ways the straight-forward rules and rankings are refreshing. But it lacks the drama of my childhood favorite sport.

16 years ago was the last time that the American women took gold in gymnastics, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Glued to the television in the evenings at summer youth camp. My twin sister, and friend S and I had watched every moment leading up to this competition with scrutiny and expertise. There were many tears shed that week in the all-around competition. None of the Americans medaled, much to everyone's surprise. But the lows of that day only heightened the beauty of the team competition. Who can forget the broken ankle heard 'round the world? A scene that was acted out for months to come. We missed it, because we had to go back to our rooms. But we rehashed it in our minds, the playbacks, and our at-home-videotaped viewings for months. The Magnificent Seven.

This year, it was the Fab Five.

And I cannot believe it has been 16 years since 1996. Granted, a lot has happened since then. At the time, I was preparing to enter high school. Hopeful for a better experience than Jr High. Still figuring out the things that I was good at, and who I wanted to be. In awe of girls who, at the same age of 15 had the drive and focus to make it to the Olympic Games, when I often found it difficult to practice my trumpet for a couple hours or complete a homework assignment.

Fast forward 16 years, and my earnest training has begun.

In some ways, if you'll allow it, being the mother of small children is not unlike being an athlete training for the Olympics. It is physically and mentally all-consuming. There is a lot you have to give up, like sleeping in, or going out, or even just sitting around watching tv, or having an adult conversation. Your diet has changed because you don't have time to sit down, or like I did- because you have to cut out almost every form of protein in the early months of breastfeeding so your child won't scream. And it changes your entire identity. On the rare occasion that you are without a small child in your arms, you feel a little naked. Sure, you enjoy a break from the intensity of your "sport" once in a while, but it is not without its emptiness either. You feel a sort of calm certainty of the extreme nature of the task you have been given, and your God-given ability to stand up to it, even when everything hurts and you just want to take a break.



Sure, there's no podium, or anthem, or medals, and there's always the chance that there'll be a big stumble and things won't turn out like you'd hoped at the end.
Washing the dishes and watching JT teach the boys how to use a blood pressure cuff in the living room last night, really got me thinking about the Olympics that will be 16 years from now. If 1996 seems just like yesterday, that means 2028 isn't so far away either.

In 2028 Aquaman will be almost 20, and the The Dude will be 17 years old. We don't know for sure, but God willing, they may have a sibling in the throes of early adolescense as well. Gone will be the days of nocturnal marathon nursing and skin to skin cuddling. They're sure to be climbing on and jumping off of bigger things than tables, and most of the time when they cry, I will probably never even know about it.

I dread those late teenager/early twenties' days with the nervousness of one who, bathed in the Word of God since infancy, and Grasped in the Hands of Christ since childhood, knows what it is to struggle in finding yourself. And I'll be there for them whenever they need me, but my role will be different then. When I'll feel like a winner as a mother is seeing them reach higher than my arms, even in the thick of their own confusion.

We don't all live out the greatest moments and dramas of our lives on the television or in an enormously crowded aquatic center, but we are all granted our own versions of the Olympics.

The lifeguard award ceremony took place on Sunday, and for the 2nd year in a row JT was awarded "Officer of the Year".  It was so incredibly touching to hear the lifeguards chanting his name, and to see all the time and heart he has been putting into this being rewarded. The boys became restless before the end, so I moved them up to the playground. After a while, I told Aquaman that Daddy would be coming soon and we'd be going home. He said "yes, I think the Olympics must be over by now."

It touched me that he had made that leap from our small discussions about the Olympics, and the bits and pieces he had seen on television. Somehow, in his simplicity, he had come to understand that the Olympics is not just about swimming, or running or sticking a landing. It is about working hard at what you do, and cheering each other on as you go.