Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Season of Thanksgiving

When gathered around the Thanksgiving table, how many people say they are thankful for surgical scars?  Or that they are thankful for debt?  Or that they are thankful their house is messy?

This time last year, things were feeling rather bleak.  We had much to be thankful for, but things were ugly on multiple fronts.  I was struggling to cope with a possible autism diagnosis for Ladybug.  I was dealing with her bad days, waking multiple times a night, watching regression and struggle and wondering if things would ever get better for her.  We had gallons of water freezing inside our house.  The Mechanic was freezing on an air mattress in the concrete unfinished basement that was called a bedroom.  We were bathing the girls in a Rubbermaid tote, and washing our dishes in water that was nauseating. 

This year, we have two new surgical scars.  And I am more thankful for them than anyone who hasn't been through this kind of thing can even imagine.  One scar brought me a baby boy, whose smile as soon as he sees me can brighten even the roughest day.  Yes, we have a pile of NICU and flight bills, but he came back to me healthy.  Those first few hours were scary, and those two days without him were probably the hardest I've faced, but they have made me treasure him even more. 

The other scar brought my oldest daughter back to me.  She's no longer slipping away, but blossoming, growing and learning at a scary rate!  Her quickness to smile and laugh, the pictures I now have of her looking right at me and giggling, make her stack of bills worth every cent!  Yes, her scar is going to be more visible in two places than it "should" have been.  But to me, those places are like pillars that the Israelites put up, to remind them of the great things God had done for them.  She is healing, she has skin covering those wounds that we battled for nearly 5 months. 

We have a mortgage.  Sounds like a bad thing, but it means we have a house.  A house that is ours.  Well, ours and the bank's. But no "mean man" has any right to come into our house and threaten us.  My heart doesn't race when I hear a knock at the door.  I have an appreciation for a roof over my head that I've never had before.  A permanent place to call home, with a kitchen, and separate rooms, and working heat, is something that we take for granted until we face living without them.  We would never have been sleeping under the stars, but living in a camper with a newborn and two toddlers would not have been pleasant.

Our house is messy, but mess means life.  And our house is full and overflowing with it.  Turkey works together with Ladybug to create the biggest mess they possibly can; if one book out is good, all the books off the bookshelf must be even better!  We have special drawings by Turkey on the bookshelf, and no matter where I put it she always seems to manage to get into the margarine.  With two toddlers, the mess and noise level don't simply double, it's as if it quadruples. But I can't imagine not having Turkey right there in the middle.  You can't help but smile when she comes out wearing the 3rd outfit of the day, with the shirt and pants on backwards, or only wearing a diaper and an upside down coat, or wearing absolutely nothing except shiny red shoes and a hat.

I truly have much to be thankful for.  A husband who loves, protects, and provides for his family.  Three beautiful children, full of life and joy and challenges.  And even a dog, despite him living up to his name of Chaos.  Material possessions that need to be picked up, dishes that held food that need to be cleaned, and grace that strengthens when my blessings overwhelm me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"I thought you said we needed to rest?!"

"The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." 
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowed, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  So he began teaching them many things.  
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it's already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat."
But he answered, "You give them something to eat."
They said to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages!  Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?"
"How many loaves do you have?" he asked. "Go and see."
When they found out, they said, "Five - and two fish."
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people it down in groups on the green grass.  So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.  Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people.  He also divided the two fish among them all.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.  The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand."
I needed time.  The immense needs of my family were overwhelming.  I was ashamed of the voice I heard coming from my mouth.  The visible reminders that having three bodies that require constant supervision lest they destroy things or harm themselves or each other, and the thought that things are going to get worse before they get better when the 4th becomes mobile and also requires constant supervision, came crashing down on me so hard I could barely hold my head up.  I found myself clutching my coffee and sitting on the couch staring into space, hanging onto sanity by a thread.  I felt I was fighting sitting in a corner, beating my head against the wall.

I realized the stupor I was slipping into, recognizing a place I'd been before.  I don't want to go there again.  So I thought I'd take some time to read Scripture.  I'd recently had a blog post arrive in my email about controlling anger as a mom, and one of the things mentioned was that even Jesus said to be by yourself in a quiet place, quoting Mark 6.  Of course, I was frustrated by the fact that I wasn't even able to use the bathroom yesterday without someone putting butter in their hair, so I wasn't sure how I was supposed to accomplish alone time without disaster spreading.  But I sat down in the floor of the bedroom, turned to Mark 6, and started reading.

I smiled when Mark records they didn't even have a chance to eat.  Don't young mothers know what that's like!  One day this week it was 2pm before I had anything besides coffee, and I'd been up since before 7.  I was a bit jealous when I read they went away to a solitary place; must be nice to be a man and not have to take the kids with you. But then I realized what the next story was.

Not only do they not get to enjoy solitude because Jesus teaches the people that followed them, but He turns to them and tells them to feed them.  They're exhausted.  Probably hungry.  Worn out.  Stressed.  And were hoping for some time to rest and recharge.  And now they're being asked to serve?  From the very guy that told them to get some rest?  In frustration, I imagine, they point out how expensive that is, and I'm sure they were also thinking they didn't want to go shopping and cook and spend more time on their feet.

But what does Jesus do?  He performs a miracle.  He spreads their resources beyond anything imaginable and enables them to serve in the way He asked.

And at that moment, in walks a crying Karen, face covered in snot and missing her pants, hair still messy from the butter escapade yesterday.  And she puts her head on my shoulder.  I pull her into my lap and realize she has a dirty diaper.

Yes, Jesus said they needed to rest.  And God says He will lead us beside quiet waters.  But that doesn't mean we're actually going to get to rest in the here and now.  He is capable of spreading my resources beyond anything I could imagine.  My patience.  My kindness.  My mental strength and creativity to deal with the challenges of multiple toddlers.  He has expanded our material resources and proven Himself capable of providing.  He is just as capable of providing for the mental and spiritual and emotional needs as He is the monetary and practical needs.  What an incredible realization.  What an awesome God.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bountiful Baskets Adventures

Since moving to the middle of nowhere, I have been challenged to find quality fresh produce for reasonable prices.  The girls love fresh fruit, but even bananas aren't good quality here just because of the distance they have to be transported.  And everything is more expensive.

Despite hearing about it before I ever moved out here, I just recently began participating in the Bountiful Baskets coop.  I've been extremely pleased with the amount we receive for the price, and the quality is much better than I can typically find in the stores.  I've not had decent strawberries since we left Tennessee, but my last basket included some that tasted like they were straight from heaven.  I really didn't want to share them with the kids!

Because it's a coop, you don't pick and choose what is included in your baskets.  I'm a boring shopper since the range of fruits and vegetables I've been exposed to is rather narrow, so this has been a great way of adding variety to our diets and exposing the girls to new things.  There are many things I won't buy at a store because I don't know if we'll like it or have no idea how to prepare it, but when it's already in the fridge I don't want it to go to waste.  We discovered we love pluots thanks to this new adventure in eating. I learned about avocados, made homemade guacamole, and now have some mushed and frozen just waiting for CJ to be ready for something besides rice cereal.

But today... we had the adventure of artichokes.  I didn't even know what they were when I picked up my basket Saturday.  But I'd heard of artichokes so a quick Google Image search confirmed that is what they were.  Another search led me to a Wiki-How article for how to prepare and eat them.

They tasted okay.

The girls love them.

I won't be buying them at the store.

I mean, really, who came up with the idea of eating these things?  At 65 calories per artichoke, I'm pretty sure I expended more calories trying to get the miniscule amount of edible... stuff?... out of them than I actually consumed.

Not exactly the most toddler-friendly meal

This...

...yielded this.
Now, the rest of the meal, which included steamed broccoli from our Basket, and made-up-on-the-fly stir fry of chicken, orange peppers (also a new food for me from Bountiful Baskets), onions, a few artichoke leaves as an experiment, and on my and Kelly's plates mushrooms and water chestnuts, seasoned with soy sauce and Dale's, was much more filling and also a big hit.  Despite their bulging bellies, I also gave the girls fresh cantaloupe from our Basket as "dessert."

I think I could get used to actually having fresh foods on hand. =)  Although, I can live without the artichokes.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Drowning in Blessings

"You've got your hands full!"

I couldn't count how many times I've been told that in the last 2 years.  No one thinks you have your hands full with one child who appears healthy.  But add another child less than a year later, and your hands are suddenly full.  Add a third child a year and a half later and you are guaranteed to hear that phrase every time you go out.  And if they see you out with the puppy too...

So I've developed a mental list of comebacks for that oft-repeated phrase.  The simplest is, "Yes, I do!"  If I feel exceptionally spiritual that day, I might say "Yes, full of blessings!"  When I'm sick, my response has been "No kidding."  If I only have two children with me, I might tell the person "this isn't all of them, there's another at home."

I frequently feel overwhelmed.  Like I'm barely treading water.  Basically, I'm drowning in blessings. They are blessings that are wearing me down, stressing me out, and turning me into someone I don't want to be.

Or am I allowing it to happen?

The saying goes that you can't change or control anything but yourself.  Now granted, I'm trying to change my children.  If I didn't try to change them, they'd be in pretty sorry shape when they turned 18.  I'm trying to change my dog.  Little puppy bites are sort of cute annoyance.  Big dog bites are a hazard.

But what am I doing to change myself?

My husband mentioned something he'd like me to work on last week, and my immediate mental response was, "I can't."  I caught myself before I said it out loud and realized, that's a pretty lousy attitude to have. Why can't I?  Because I'm a mom?  Because my kids are close in age?  I have a ready list of excuses for just about anything extra. While my children do limit what I can do, I'm setting myself up for failure and a continued trend of under-achiever by immediately shifting into the mental mode of "I can't."

So when I finally got a minute to take a shower today, I did some soul searching.  In between the prayers of "God please don't let the dog electrocute himself while I'm in here," I determined that I'm expecting myself to change without doing anything to help the change along.  Oh, I need to do a better job at cooking, cleaning, teaching, laundry, decorating, you name it... But just saying it isn't doing me any good.  I'm just letting more responsibilities pile up and getting further behind in everything.

The more behind I get, the more stressed I get.  The more cluttered and messy my house is, the more clenched and uptight I get.  I lose patience.  I can't focus on anything. And I get plain old hateful.

So I believe I finally listened to God's command to DO something.  To make a change.  It's one I've thought of before, often in fact, and yet always had an excuse. I still have excuses but I'm working around them.

I'm cutting ties with Facebook.

For a week. =)

Wow, you might say, a whole week, that's a great sacrifice.  In sarcasm, of course.

Little steps.  We'll see what happens. And after a week, I'll re-evaluate.  Did I get more accomplished?  Am I less stressed? Or am I so isolated and desperate for adult conversation that I'm driving my husband crazy?

I do have a few people I want to keep up with as they have babies or as their children have health problems.  I'll probably post pictures at the end of my week. But the scrolling, the window shopping into people's lives, the black box of time, is what I'm wanting to separate from.  Just to see what happens.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

One day, I'll get around to catching up on this blog.  At least I kept Ladybug's story updated on her CaringBridge site, although there's a lot more "mommy perspective" I'd like to record here.  Someday...

But for today, I need to get something off my heart and into words.

There's not enough time.

Seems ironic that I am taking the time to type that.

But it's clogging up my brain till I need to get my thoughts out, and then maybe I can come up with some solutions.

I'm not talking about just having time to do the dishes and laundry and sweep.  I struggle with that.  But there's so much more I want to do, and I feel like time is slipping through my fingers like sand.

My two girls are primed for learning.  They are absorbing everything.  Repeating everything I say.  Picking up on things we say often without even realizing it.  Learning songs. Memorizing.  And I want to capture this time and sink truth deep into them so that it's always there.  Verses, songs, principles of life.  And I want them surrounded by beauty and order.  And I want them to start making memories.

But at the end of the day, I look back and wonder, what did I do today?  I survived.  Barely. Three meals on the table, or at least on the high chair trays, a few tablespoons of pee in the toddler potty, a few more in the floor, a few books read, a few blocks stacked, many many many many many many many "stop, no, don't, be nice, be loving, leave your sister alone, let your brother sleep, gentle, don't pull hair, share" over and over...

And this is where I start wondering why I thought 3 children in less than 3 years was a good idea. Because this is it.  This is the only chance I get.  I don't get a do-over.  I don't get to realize any mistakes and fix them for the next kid.  I don't get to savor these little years.  (Well, it just seems a lot harder.)  They are flying by, and I'm going to blink and I'm going to have three elementary schoolers.  And then heaven help me three teenagers.  And then they'll be gone.

I'm doggy paddling.  Holding my head above water, occasionally sinking under but then fighting my way back up for air.  But that's not a fun way to swim. Just listen to Ladybug's screams from the community pool every night for the last two weeks during "Aquatots."  But then there's Turkey's new found style of swimming: drifting.  She floats with her little behind up in the air and has no control over her direction.  She floats whichever way the current takes her.  And I don't want to parent like that either, aimlessly being carried towards whichever focus is being talked about on the radio today.

What's the verse, something about redeeming the time?  And then I read horrible news stories about children, sexting and being preyed upon by sick people, and I watch poorly behaved children and adults, and I wonder how in the world I'm supposed to train them right.  I need 40 years, not 18.  Holy cow.

I guess that's why we're commanded to teach when we lie down and rise up and walk along the road.  That's the only way you have a hope of teaching them all they need to know.