Monday, June 5, 2017

Legacy, Intentionality, and Bitterness

Caroline,

I've thought about continuing your blog.  So many things to write about over the last 15 months and continue your legacy of documenting stories for our family.

I get to choose the adventure, so why not just jump into last weekend?

Ma took Mary, Half-Pint, Carrie, Gracie, and Mr Blue Eyes to our hometown last Tuesday. I missed them all before they even left. When Ma reported that just before I called Wednesday night that Carrie had just said, "I like it here, but I miss dad," I knew that I wanted to make the long drive to see them over the weekend rather than wait another full week.

I kept my visit a surprise, and we all enjoyed the surprise and our time together. From taking Mary on a "date" to the farm store to swimming to dinner from one of our favorite restaurants. There were plenty of hugs and kisses as we loved on one another.

Half-Pint had made a trip to our other former hometown to see friends, and I surprised her Saturday by showing up at the halfway point to pick her up.

I was able to talk to one of your friends about some of the events over the last year. She commented that the kids all seem to be full of Joy and that I don't seem to be harboring bitterness. I don't think I ever felt or thought "why me". I kept repeating a phrase to myself that a mentor had used years before about work. "Better get into reality." It didn't really matter how much I wanted things to be different. I have to get into reality.

I do remember thinking at one point that it should have been me instead of you. But I quickly realized I would not have wished this pain on you.

My problem has been thinking too much about where I failed. But I can choose to dwell or learn. I think I'm better at choosing to learn. That is the only productive thing I can do with it. Or wondering how you could love me the way you did. Sadly, your unconditional love didn't seem quite as clear to me until after you were gone.

Recently, I have been feeling like I'm hitting a good new groove (after extensive "emotional heavy lifting" as I call it) and was excited to go see the kids. But on my way to our home state, the emptiness and emotional waves began to strike.

A widower I met told me that year two is worse than year one. I am not sure about worse - just different. I experienced some very powerful - sometimes incapacitating - emotional waves in year one. Year one seemed to be about survival and having to do this. Year two seems to be more of, "OK, now who are we" without you here. I don't know where I would be without the kids. I told someone this and they remarked, "Where would the kids be without you." Wow.

We all learned what unconditional love is from you and will do our best to continue your legacy. I pray that our children will choose to live as intentionally as you did after the loss of your father at a young age.

Love Always,

Charles

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

At the Root

My first piece of glitter
          A beautiful piece of glitter first made its appearance in my hair last October (when I turned the ripe old granny age of 39). When I finally noticed it, it was about one inch long and sticking straight up in the air Dennis the Menace style...very flattering. I've anticipated this arrival for a long time (my mom started getting gray hair in her mid-twenties), but now that my grays are coming out, my thoughts and ideas are being challenged. My mom has always been a great example of embracing her age; but with her full head of gray hair, she has also looked much older than her peers. Is looking old bad? No...unless I listen to everything I think others are saying...if I watch their eagerness to rid of themselves of unwanted grays. Is getting rid of my under eye circles with concealer any different? How do you age gracefully minus frump? I think this answer is different for every woman. My hubby has always been pro-gray and anti-dye. I've known this since we starting dating decades ago. I don't have a problem with being natural (but don't take away my concealer). It actually fits me. Even being counter-cultural, fits me. Not feeling beautiful when I'm officially "old", does not fit me (or any other woman that I'm aware of). I'd like our kids to be at peace with when they grow glitter from their head as well, but I don't want them to feel judged if they want dye like I want concealer.
          My hair's not the only root that's been changing. I now have some mineral trioxide deep down in one of my teeth. Just before  my birthday, I had a deep cavity filled for the second time, while being told that I'd probably need a root canal sooner than later. Since my tooth began giving me fits on the weekend when no endodontist is available, I decided to try essential oils. There were all kinds of testimonials about avoiding root canals, but that wasn’t my case.  The melaleuca and clove oil helped me from having a full blown face-swelling infection, but my infected root still died and irritated my other roots.  I did end up finding a biological dentist that does things a little differently than mainstream dentists.  He didn’t stare at me like I had two heads when I told him about the essential oils (or even when I admitted to trying oregano oil—which burned my mouth) or oil pulling.  If he had suggested  giving up my concealer for the sake of my teeth, I’m not sure I would.  Fortunately, he suggested I see a holistic M.D. to look at my calcium metabolism (since I’ve had a few cavities in the past couple of years).  My tooth has been fixed and the root is gone. Hopefully, seeing a holistic doctor while help me get to the root of my teeth issues.
                                As I age, I’m no longer satisfied at just looking at my issues.  I want to know why I have issues (one of my issues is depression).  I was allowed to preview a new book by Jill Savage about friendship (the name of the book is “Better Together”), and I’ve really enjoyed it.  I’ve read a lot of books on marriage and parenting in the past five years, but this is the first book that I can remember reading about friendship in as long as I can remember.  It has lots of helpful advice on what is normal in friendships and how to be a better friend, but the part I really liked was the challenges at the end of each chapter.  One challenge was to write a handwritten note to a friend.  My letter ended up arriving same day that my friend was preparing to attend a funeral for her loved one, and it really meant a lot to her.   I love it when God uses us to minister to others, especially when we have no idea how perfect the timing is.  The past few weeks when I’ve read this book, I’ve felt lighter and less burdened.  I can’t help by wonder if reaching out to other women isn’t a big way of combating my blues.  It kind of makes sense if one of the greatest commandments that Jesus leaves us with is to love others (see Matt. 22:39).  God only asks us to do what works out best for us in the end (even if it’s not easy).  It’s funny that showing love actually made me feel loved. I know it made my friend feel loved too. Sometimes I just need a different perspective to look at what’s underneath it all. That’s what I felt like this book provided for me.
 This past winter, we had some water issues in our basement.  We had a downpour of rain while my hubby Charles wasn’t at home, so I called him to find out when he could come home.  Mary was using the wet vacuum in the basement, while Half-Pint was managing the kiddos, and I was trying to figure out a way to prevent the water from entering in the basement in the first place. I called Charles to ask him if I could use a different wet vacuum outdoors.  Clearly, I wasn’t thinking about the risk of electrocution. Charles let me know the best way to prevent the water from coming in was to clean out the gutters that were overflowing.  Shortly after they were cleaned, the water stopped coming in the basement.  I admit that sometimes I'm short-sighted. I’m praying that God would show me what the root of my issues are.  In the meantime, I’m going to keep loving others and using my concealer while I let my glitter shine.

         

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Oh, Snap!

          There is a breaking point for everything and everyone...when you've had it up to here...and you just...snap! Some moments are overwhelming and more than I can handle. If I was made of gingerbread, I would've been a pile of cookie crumbs a week ago. Three different people were texting me while two of the cats were having a fur-flying brawl on the porch, and I was desperately trying to get four kids ready to take overdue books back to library in time for story time. This was my third day off of sugar and caffeine (the first few days can find me a bit snappy). I shared with the kids a little all too freely about feeling overwhelmed.  Half-pint quickly organized the kids getting their shoes on while I arranged a separate dwelling place for the attacked cat. I responded to one text, got creative with the other one, and ignored the last one for a few minutes.  I love having such accessibility to others through my phone; but occasionally,  I'd just like to chuck the whole thing out the window and let the chickens peck it to death.
            The whole day was a bit complicated because my hubby was still waiting for the final word on a potential change of jobs. You know how my word last year was patience, well, that would also be an appropriate way to describe Charles' year.  My hubby began interviewing back in September for a position and was able to finally give his two weeks notice in Mid-January.  It felt like it took a really long time, which was rather frustrating.  It had become clear to both of us over the past year that it was time to look for something different for employment.  I'm excited for the new opportunity and the new challenges it will bring...and grateful that it does not call for relocation.
           In the moment,  life seems overwhelming; but looking back at it all just a few hours later makes it seems so trivial. Maybe perspective should be my word of the year for 2016. Instead, the word that I heard resoundingly on January 1st was "sacrifice". I was currently reading through Leviticus,  which lists out all the rules on sacrifice (along with all the different offerings), so I had a little inner groaning when I heard that word. I was hoping for a more encouraging word. Can I just say that had I lived back in those times, I'm pretty sure we'd be all out of lambs and resorting to turtle doves after a year or two of sacrificing? I can think of half a dozen reasons that I'd have to make a sacrifice just for the past couple of days. As I asked God what He meant about the word, an old song came to my head about bringing the "sacrifice of praise". I did a search and found the scripture behind the song: Hebrews 13:5, "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name." Now that doesn't sound awful, and it won't put us in the poor house. It's a simple exhortation to thank God for the good things. I had never really noticed the next verse either until that day, but it talks about sacrifices too. Hebrews 13:16 says, "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." Nothing...nothing...nothing makes me happier than giving to someone else. It's part of why I love being a wife, a mother and a friend. If this is what this year is all about, it's easy to say that I'm all in.
          Already this year, Charles gave me the gift of a new treadmill (which quickly showed me how ineffective my outdoor running had been...I had been stopping to pet the cats one too many times). Charles has a new job, which is definitely a blessing to him and us. Mary has found a new routine that seems to be helping her teenage blemishes (involving Apple Cider Vinegar). Missy has gone a whole month without a sore throat (but started one shortly after I started writing this post). The cats are all alive (although still fighting at times). My phone still hasn't been tossed to the chickens yet. I'm going to praise God for the good in our lives and share with others this year. That kind of sacrifice will be a snap.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Roses and Thorns

          Back when Mary and Half-pint were youngin's, we started sharing our high point and low point for the day at supper time. What began as a simple way of understanding what we loved and hated about our day has become a happy little tradition around our little house on the prairie.  Every once in a while we put a little twist on it. For a couple of years on every Sunday, we would share what we were proud of about every other family member and skip the highs and lows. About a year ago, we started taking turns being in charge during our evening meal-each member gets a different day of the week. (When you have seven members in your family,  it works out nicely.) My day is Wednesday. I get to choose who prays for the evening meal and ask everyone their high points and low points (and direct the conversation after that, too). Even Mr. Blue Eyes loves the evening recollections. He still gets some words confused and never says "high point", but talks about his "low point" and "low point". (We just interpret his first recollection as his happiest memory). Recently, he shared that his highpoint was..."pooping".  This must be what I would've missed out on had I only had girls, huh? 
         There are lots of ways to label your highs and lows. Lowlights and highlights are another way of saying it. Half-pint loves to ask for our "roses" and "thorns", and she shot the picture for this post. I thought today I'd share some of mine from 2015. Here are a few roses:
1. I was in my first theatrical play, and I really loved it. Acting with two of the girls was just the icing on the cake.
2. I completed four knitting projects. (One that I had been working on for over seven years, ahem.)
3. Mary discovered that she loved theatre more than anything, as she had to save 83% of her weekly allowance in order to perform in a second CYT play (we paid for her first).
4.  Half-pint volunteers every week at a local animal hospital. She found that she truly does want to be a veterinarian. Earlier in 2015, she confessed that she wasn't really sure that that's what she wanted to do; but after a month volunteering,  she said that each time she went it just affirmed in her mind that being a veterinarian is exactly what she wants to do. I can't say how satisfying it is to see her happy face glow when she is done at the hospital (much like Mary after her play rehearsals). I felt super blessed to find a place that allowed this just seventeen minutes away from us. Even Wal-mart is 33 minutes from our house.
5. We had two vacations this year. One was with the kids and one was just for Charles and I. Our last vacation as a family (when we did something other than visit family) was in the Fall of 2012. The last time Charles and I went on a vacation  was April of 2007.
6. Testing of Mary and Half-pint revealed that I haven't messed up their home education (which means I can go back to sleeping at night, instead of obsessing over what they're missing).

And now my thorns:
1. Our treadmill broke right before my birthday, so my love/hate relationship with running has moved outside to our 26 acres (which works great in good weather, but not so awesome with snow/rain or sub-zero wind chills). The part of me that cannot stand running wants to put this on my roses list...and give up running completely.
2. This year we had two surgeries: bilateral tubes in Mary's ears in  August and Missie's tonselectomy in December.  I'm so glad to be past that.
3. I drove through flooding on the road. Ugh! That was not smart. As a result of that I do now have a van with AWD (that I will not be driving through flooded water, just over the snow covered roads).
4. I've struggled more with feelings of hopelessness and depression this past year than any other year that I can remember before. It has been serious work to remember the good things and focus on them. My mood is the number one thing that keeps from blogging. It makes me feel like I don't have anything useful to say, and generally feel like doing absolutely nothing. That's the honest truth.

          There were lots of great moments in 2015 and some that were truly awful. I went to a Joyce Meyer conference in September with my mom, and Darlene Zschech shared a song that comforted her during her battle with cancer: "Good Good Father" by Chris Tomlin. It is a declaration of truth, and I found myself singing the chorus many times this fall when I felt overwhelmed. I couldn't help smiling when they played it in church for the first time this past Sunday. Darlene never shared the verses of the song, but they are truly beautiful. Hopefully, your day is all roses; but if it isn't, have a listen to "Good Good Father" and sing along.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Gift

          "I can't empty the dishwasher;  I'm not done decorating!!" Gracie lamented through gritted teeth. It was the second time that I had asked her to come empty the dishwasher, and her frustration with my lack of "understanding" showed in her tone of desperation. I wanted the dishwasher emptied right that instant. My lip was not protruding yet, but my face was bearing a serious pout that only a martyr of motherhood can wear properly. This day was special.   I resorted to using the strongest persuasion that a mother can utter but one day out of the year: "...but it's MY birthday." 
          To which she agonized, " I know!! THAT'S why I'm decorating!  It's your present!!"  I tried to explain that a real present would be to do what I asked even if it conflicted with her plans, but I could sense that Gracie was not getting my point.
            'Tis the season of giving, so I have been more reflective than usual about gifts in general. That day, I felt a gentle nudge about how many times I had been "giving" God my time (like with volunteering at church), but blowing up at the kids when we were late for my "serving" commitment. God's commandments boils down to two things: loving Him and loving others (Luke 10: 27). The best gift I can give God this season is what He really wants: everything done in love. This is what I'm focusing on...love.
         Do you ever feel like the ugly step-daughter of God that He has decided to ignore all your requests? That's a little how I felt lately. I've searched my heart for what is holding Him back from me and come up empty. It's moments like these that I try to hold onto what I know to be true. (Reading about Joseph waiting 13 years to be out of his dark season puts my impatience in perspective--I hope I don't have 13 years of this!).  My birthday was feeling a little less than perfect this year. I had planned on going on a fun field trip or something (birthdays are holidays in our school); but Sierra, our cat, showed up two days earlier and her shots were overdue. She hadn't been around for two months. She's been upset ever since the kittens arrived over a year ago. We had to hold her captive in a seperate coop till we could take her to the vet, which ended up being my birthday.
           Gracie decorated in the house after the vet appointment, while I sat on the porch attempting to spend a little time with Sierra before she took off. I told God how hopeless I felt about Sierra, making changes in my life, getting more organized,  and just life in general. It's hard to hold onto hope when you don't see answers to what you are praying for. It's easy to believe in God, but not that He actually rewards those who seek Him out (Hebrews 11:6)...especially when you don't feel rewarded. I asked God if He still heard me, if He was really still working on my requests, and for some sort of sign that He still loved me. I told Him how heartbroken I was that Sierra kept running away and refused to make peace with our other cats. I felt to blame for having too many cats around. I remember feeling that if there was no hope for Sierra, there was no hope for me. The longer I stayed on the porch with the cat, the more she hissed at me and refused to even let me pet her. When Mary came home from school, I asked her to let Sierra go after saying goodbye.  Who knew when she would be back.
          When we arrived home at the end of AWANA that night, I was shocked to see Sierra waiting for us at the front door. I put her back in the coop that night, and she has been at our house ever since (sleeping by herself at night). She not only came back but has been extremely affectionate since that day.That one answer to prayer was enough for my faith to skyrocket.  I know God is still working; and the lack of answers, just means that He has better ideas than I can request.

If you're feeling hopeless,  this post is for you.  He is still there. He hears every request. He's working and His solution is better than you could ever imagine! Keep believing and loving those around you.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Laying Down The Law

             I think I would've made a better Pharisee than a disciple.  I love rules and the boundaries they bring because of their predictability. It's also easier to measure my worth based on my adherence to the rules. I've always been guilty of pride or shame because of "the rules" (depending on where I fall for the moment). I can just imagine being outraged at all the "rule-breaking" that Jesus and his followers engaged in. I was always a rule keeper as a child. Love was really the only thing that ever made me choose to supersede those boundaries. As a teenager, it caused me to neglect schoolwork and get my only "B" in one high school course. As an adult, it's caused me to stay up countless hours with my kids at night and put my daily routine on hold while teaching them. Rules bring safety, but for me they also bring so much guilt because I can never meet up to anyone's expectations,  let alone mine.
            Having five children has pretty much broken my idea of being in constant control and strict rule keeping. It's exhausting trying to always being in charge....maybe that's why I really enjoyed being in our local theatre. I was in my first play this summer along with Mary and Carrie, which was so much fun! I got to take direction and not organize things. I loved the change of pace it brought. My experience with theatre this summer also brought me face to face with one of the stupidest things I've ever done. On our way to a rehearsal,  I choose to attempt driving through water that was way to deep (it was flash flooding in our area)...causing our van to get stuck, and water to flood it, pretty much ruining it. It's bad when you make a bad judgement for yourself,  but it's even worse when you have little ones with you. Mary and Grace were both with me. I will never forget the panic in poor Grace's voice as she watched the water raise in the van and said, "We're going to drown; we're going to drown! I've even dreamt this has happened!!" Thankfully,  a nearby farmer helped us to all escape safely (and even towed our car out), but it could've turned out much worse had the guide posts along the road not kept the van from getting caught and rolling over. It makes me ill just to think about it. It filled me with shame and regret for the days following it. It's hard even now writing about it. A little patience (yup, that's my word for this year) and common sense would've prevented all of this.
           It's not my only failure since I've last posted. There's also the three cavities that our two year old had to have filled. At his age, I feel like a lot of the blame for that falls on me. I know the dentist assured me that he chipped away the hard enamel of his upper teeth by his habit of grinding his bottom teeth against his top teeth, but how could they be that soft to even do that? Is it because he has too many sweets? Is it because I neglected to brush them enough to keep them clean? This feels like just another failure of mine.
              That is the problem with measuring myself by rules and my inadequacies. It points it's ugly finger at me and calls me worthless and stupid.  I share these things because maybe you've done something stupid (but hopefully not this stupid...), and you feel alone. You're not. Grace is what makes all the difference. Grace is simply getting something that you don't deserve.  Because of God's grace, I don't have to wear all this shame. He tells me that it's all right...that He will bring good from this.  He will heal this traumatic experience for our family. He will give wisdom and comfort to me as we process this. This was all brought to life in a tangible way, while studying"Grace-Based Parenting" again this summer with some friends of mine. The week that we were practicing instilling a "Secure Love" in our kids was the week of the van mishap. That was the week my hubby exemplified his unfailing love for me, by not only cleaning up and fixing the van (and handling the kids every night as well since that was show week)...but also by turning over the keys to his fully functioning vehicle for me to drive. I wish I never would've been so stupid, but the love he demonstrated is something I will always cherish. I hate that Mr. Blue Eyes had cavities,  but I'm so grateful for a skilled pediatric dentist to handle it skillfully.  I'm very grateful for the friend who offered to watch my other kids while we went. God knows just who to demonstrate His grace through.
           Interestingly enough, love is extolled in the Bible as being what followers of Christ should be known by...not by perfection or wisdom. Love is what caused God to form a plan for us and it continues to motivate His grace towards us. Love trumps the law. It trumps rule-keeping.
              The only momentary success I have enjoyed this spring was the stellar accomplishments of Mary and Half-pint in their testing (we did Iowa Basic Skills Testing in May). They both tested compositly far above their current grade level and into the 90th percentile nationally, which gave me warm fuzzies. They have continued to learn from me and from their own quest for knowledge.  That is about to change in some ways for Mary, as she has chosen to go back into our local school system (and we wholeheartedly support this). I'm glad to have done my part in her education (and continue on with this in a supportive role).
            This spring, I had one of my best inspirational homeschooling moments when the children represented the three branches of government. We had new "house rules" for the day. Half-pint adamantly declared she wanted to make the rules, so she represented Congress. Gracie helped her as a Representative to create the rules as the legislative branch. Mary choose to be President to represent the executive Branch. She had the right to veto the rules if needed (and she exercised this right). Carrie represented the judiciary Branch and interpreted the rules for us. It only took about an hour for me to break a rule about no yelling with a timeout being the punishment.  We typically do one minute for each year of age. I chuckled when I went to the bench in our timeout area for 38 minutes.  Half-pint was beyond aggravated when Carrie ruled that I could complete the remainder of my timeout in the shower since everyone kept coming up to talk to me during my "reflective" time. Half-pint felt that it was rewarding my failure to follow the rule. She experienced firsthand the difficulty of laws being carried out the way they are intended. She insisted on being the judiciary branch the following day.
           I'm glad that God gets to be the whole deal.  I'm thankful that, despite my failures, God has ruled on the side of grace; my hubby has ruled on the side of love; and family still accepts me despite my shortcomings.  It's been a season of laying down the law in favor of love and grace, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Old-Fashioned

          Being nearly thirteen isn't easy for anyone, but it's interesting to be on the other side as a parent. I remember feeling like the oddball (because of my clothes, my parent's beliefs, the absence of my dad, etc.). For a long time, I believed I was the only one.
          Mary went away with 400 other middle-schoolers to the mountains of Colorado last weekend.  She had a great time, but she is noticing the differences between herself and others. She loves to read and knit (and read about knitting). She loves acting. She loves trying out new hairstyles (she spends lots of time watching and memorizing hairstyles from www.cutegirlhairstyles.com). I think that's amazing and awesome that she loves those things, but also that she knows that about herself. She professes that she is "old-fashioned"...mainly because she owns neither an iPad (or iPod), smart phone or even a Kindle. I know she is convinced that she is the only 12 year old on the planet that doesn't own those things, but I know there are other weirdos like me out there that believe she doesn't need any of those things...at 12. Before you freak out for my technologically-deprived child, let me also point out that she has access to a family phone, my smart phone, a family epad,  and a laptop/computer (we don't really have iAnything because we are more of a PC family).
           On her trip, she asked others if they like some of the books she likes; and they quipped that they "don't read".  Apparently,  they just read their text messages that they were sending back and forth on the charter bus to Colorado.  They did enjoy the girl scout cookies that Charles sent along with her though. She did get to know some of the girls, but there wasn't really any deep connections made with any of them. She said she feels like Steve Rogers (Captain America) in a Tony Stark (Iron Man) world.
           While I was running today, I was inspired to give her an essay assignment: "Why does Captain America lead the Avengers?" He's not the smartest or the strongest...and certainly not the most technologically advanced.  I'm hoping she will focus in on why he is a good leader,  why everyone listens to him, and why he is important to the team...even though he's old-fashioned.  He's got heart, integrity,  and compassion- things that Mary possess too. I want her to make this connection and understand her value in this world is not based on the technology she owns.
            When Mary and I went to Winter Jam, we bought CD's and one of my favorite songs is by Francesca Batistelli:
"Unusual". Take a listen...and give me another idea for her next essay while your at it.