O! This Unhappy Generation

On our morning walk today we passed a group of teenagers waiting for the school bus. They were a diverse group clad in colors ranging from all black to bright. Their hairstyles varied from normal to audacious.  Almost all of them had earbuds in their ears and phones in their hands. But what most caught my attention were the somber, if not completely depressed, expressions on their faces. My little people found them intimidating and clung close to me as we walked by. I told them, “It’s ok. They are only teenagers and they are probably nervous about you too.”  But that gloomy group of young people left an impression on me today.  I pondered the difference between them and my toddlers: eyes on the ground versus eyes all around; expressionless versus animated and sparkling; silent versus giggling and wondering aloud. What happened to them?

Perhaps it is not so much what happened to them but what happened all around them. Children long for direction; they find security in guidance and boundaries; they yearn for stability and consistency. Is that what they are finding in our society? Think about it: the foundation of our American society is barely recognizable as something upon which a life can be built. It has eroded to the point where anyone attempting to live according to any standard must fight to stand upright. The courts have declared marriage a free for all; it’s open season on babies from 4 weeks gestation to 40; pornography is rampant; many drugs are legal; prostitution is even legal in some cities and is being considered for full legalization; medical kidnap is becoming more of a common occurrence; gender can be chosen and changed.  School shootings pierce our news headlines all too often, and thousands of children are lured into the sex trade beneath our noses every year. Is it any wonder that our teenagers are either staring at the ground or looking over their shoulder?

In the midst of this tragic chaos there are the constant calls for change: policy changes, government changes, security changes, attitude changes.  Yet I wonder who is willing to step up and make the sacrifice of changing themselves in a few basic ways rather than demanding others to change. If I could write an open letter to my fellow American citizens, I would ask them to consider making changes in these three areas:

  1. Home ~ How often are you at home with your children for the sake of being at home with your children? Today’s kids spend so much time away from home. They are at daycare, before care, after care and extracurricular activities all throughout the week. This leaves them little time to develop a secure home base where they can find security and rest while creating a space they can call their own.  This may then prompt them to escape into their own virtual world and render them nearly unreachable to human contact.
  2. Heart~Do you view your children’s hearts as a treasure worth guarding? It’s often easier to turn your children’s attention to a screen or another person when you want to do your own thing, but no moment spent with your kids is a wasted one. Consider investing more in your kids and less in yourself each day. Kids need to know that you value them and long to know them. Remember, if you’re not spending time with your kids someone else is.
  3. Hope~Don’t give up. Children can be exasperating and exhausting.  You may feel like everything and everyone are falling apart everywhere, but it’s worth the effort to keep going. Christ doesn’t give up on us when we mess up, even in the worst ways, so let’s not give up on our families. I have also found that the most desperate times are often the best times to prove unconditional love to our children.

I am of the opinion that in this upside-down and backwards world the best way to set things straight is to return to the basics. Family starts in the home. Change begins in the heart. Hope is found in Jesus.

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STARE

Hold still. Let me gaze at your face,

Those wondering eyes, your tousled hair.

In the busyness of being mom, I rarely stare

And absorb the magic of you in this place.

 

When did you change? Infant, toddler, boy.

Didn’t I just meet you this morning?

Now you are talking, jumping, running, counting

Forever a source of vibrant joy.

 

Pause. Let me soak you in, my Firstborn.

I have so much to learn as a mommy.

You patiently teach me to live freely,

Letting go of what I once thought important.

 

Settle down by me. Let me hold your little boy hand.

There’s time to play and grow and learn,

Just give me this moment for which I yearn

Before tomorrow comes and you are a man.

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When Life Really Happens

Today is Monday. Monday is often the most dreaded day of the week because it means we have to shift out of weekend mode and get back to the scheduled demands of every day living. This Monday has done its best to live up to its reputation starting with my husband waking up to a teeth-clenching gout attack; this is particularly challenging as I wrestle with the physical wear and tear of being in my 36th week of pregnancy while trying to maintain a consistent routine for our 3 little people.

As I hung up my third load of laundry I reflected with gratitude on God’s gracious mercies: I had energy this morning to handle these unexpected challenges and my emotions were leaning in the direction of blessing-counting rather than hormonal weeping. And then it clicked! This is life: the break from routine, the being there for the ones you love, the recognition that life isn’t always about what tasks you accomplish but instead about those in between moments that you weren’t expecting.

This Monday I’m grasping that my housekeeping, meal-making, laundry-hanging, preschool-teaching routine isn’t about accomplishing what’s next on the list but is about meeting the needs of the ones I love and interacting with them in a variety of ways. Life really happens when I can embrace the routine and the unexpected.

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Remembering what has been Forgotten

Since I have just completed the reading of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth , I was prepared to compose a book review about it. I reconsidered this idea because I assume I have a broad readership and the topic would be of interest to only a select few – particularly those with childbirth on their minds. Instead, I would like to share my personal ponderings on a series of topical threads that have recently interwoven themselves together into a single theme: a return to what has been forgotten.

Not only have I been immersed in reading up on childbirth, I have also been reviewing the proper usage and properties of essential oils and learning about alternatives to vaccinations. All of these topics have elements of controversy in them because they go against modern norms, yet the more I dive into them the more I am struck by the historicity of these topics as well. It makes me wonder if we have truly gained more than we have lost by letting go of what helped our forefathers survive and flourish in exchange for faster, cheaper, and less involved methods of healthcare.

Childbirth was once the natural beginning of the life cycle; a process that centered around the mother and her body as it completed the final step on the journey to new life. Allowing the mother to fulfill the labor and delivery process in the ways she was most comfortable provided an opportunity for her to experience and reveal the greatness of her innate strength – something of which women are so often deprived as they are indoctrinated with the assumption that childbirth is a medical issue that must be treated in a formulaic way, not a gateway to new life that is gradual and transformational; that pain should be avoided at all costs rather than embraced in order to embolden us to accept discomfort with dignity and determination.

Essential oils have inspired me to explore natural remedies for household ailments and household care. The more I study, research and learn the more I discover that the use of essential oils is an ancient art and practice that met with great results. A blend of essential oils was even used to heal patients struck with the bubonic plague! Essential oils were used by soldiers in WWI to treat gangrene and other diseases common on the battlefield.  Recognizing the beauty of wholistic methods of healthcare leads one on a path to pursue even more possibilities for living a flourishing life.  Much of what is our norm today contains fillers, additives and preservatives, whether it is our medications, our vaccinations, or our food. As a society, we have been conditioned to accept these things because we are told that they are safe, necessary and cost-effective. To question is to go against the status quo  and who really wants to be different?

And yet the alternative to the status quo is a return to the foundational benefits of a simple life. Boosting the immune system with plenty of time outdoors, ample rest, avoiding sugar consumption (did you know that sugar inhibits cells from being able to repair themselves?) and eating natural food (not refined and processed); using nature’s remedies that strengthen the body from head to toe with lasting results rather than treating symptoms as fast possible; and taking time to continue researching ways to improve the way you care for your body.  The human body is the most remarkable and miraculous of all living organisms. The intricacies of its cellular structures! The length and breadth of the nervous system! The complexity of DNA! The capabilities of the human mind! Isn’t it worth the time and effort necessary to help it attain its full potential?

This may sound like an extremely simplistic outlook, but in comparison to human history we have only been outsourcing our physical maintenance for a short amount of time. Think about it: for millennia, humans have grown their own food, made their own clothes, built their own homes, and been their own physicians. And now, as a whole, we count on other countries to make our clothes, pay other people to build our homes, trust the government to feed us and believe that doctors are the only ones who can keep us healthy. I don’t know about you, but I kind of like the idea of discovering that I am able to take care of myself and my family.  It’s going to be a long process, but here’s to starting now!

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A Child Then and Now

Today my children and I began listening to the audio book version of  Little House in the Big Woods. It has been YEARS since I read this book, and I found myself being pulled into the story as if I were listening to it for the very first time. I think it was because I was listening to it with new ears – the ears of a wife, mom and homemaker rather than the ears of a child.

I was intrigued by all that the Ingalls needed to do simply to survive and yet they managed to keep their priorities centered on family togetherness and providing their children with a rich childhood.  Every day had its assigned work and every season its required preparations for the season following.  The girls were expected to work right alongside their parents, but they were also given ample time to play: play that was rich in imagination and natural playthings such as corn husk dolls, pumpkin chairs and a pig bladder ball.  The dangers were real! Bears, wolves, panthers and winter, to name a few. But the girls felt snug and secure in their little log cabin protected by their Pa, his rifle, and their dog, Jack.  I couldn’t help but juxtapose their home and life to mine.

I am afraid that I have bought into modern day parenting’s mantra that kids should be entertained all the time, either by me or their toys. I feel guilty when I have tasks at hand that must be done and I am not able to give them my undivided attention. I feel pressured to routinely provide them with new stuff and am aware of the mountain of knowledge that I somehow need to teach them. I am concerned about being too strict in my expectations for their behavior and manners. I am haunted by the incessant evil drooling outside our front door.  I passionately want to keep them safe and innocent and happy.

And then I look at them. They are not so unlike Mary and Laura Ingalls. They are delighted with the simple toys and books they have (blissfully unaware of my inner turmoil). Never once have they asked me to buy anything at Walmart when we browse the toy aisle just for fun. Playing outdoors is the highlight of their day and they are each other’s best friends.  They are inquisitive about my home-making and housekeeping tasks and are willing to do their part. Their greatest fears right now are alligators that they imagine living in the storm drains outside of our house.  Children are still children whether they were born in the 1800s or in the 21st century; they are born with an innocent hunger for life that can either be nurtured or starved. The choice is up to the parents: how authentic do we want our children to be?

I am certain that Charles and Caroline Ingalls spent sleepless nights wondering if the winter would end before they ran out of food. Caroline probably worried every time her husband went out hunting: would his rifle jam? would a predator attack him from behind? would he find his way home in the blizzard?  They probably had times of exhaustion when the last thing they felt like doing was butchering the hog or churning the butter or cutting firewood or mending clothing. But in the midst of their moments of weakness they remained the parents, aware that it was up to them to let their kids be kids while preparing them for adulthood.

I am reminded of Jesus’s admonition to come to Him like a child: authentic, trusting, never doubting, taking each day as it comes with hands open for our daily bread, filled with contentment for the life He has given.  He didn’t promise a Disney life of fulfilled dreams and endless pleasure; He did assure us that we can endure all things through His strength; He didn’t teach us to be naive to the ways of the world but to be innocent and discerning. He didn’t say that He would shield us from all earthly harm; He did promise that He would never leave nor forsake us.

And so it is for me: protecting the authenticity of my children and their untainted imaginations; letting them play and playing with them while also modeling responsible adulthood before them and taking the time to equip them for life ahead; and most of all, coming to Jesus as a child myself and at the same time being the parent and pointing them to Him.

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Starting to Understand

As you read this you might start thinking, “Ha! I figured this out long ago! What took you so long?” Oh well, my prayer is that this little post will encourage those who are beginning to understand just like me.

A couple of blog posts ago I wrote about the layers to life and how life is more meaningful as we reach its deeper layers. Last night at the ladies’ Bible study my church offers I realized that there are spiritual layers within the layers of daily living. All that we do and experience are designed to refine the Christian’s character and make that person more like Christ. The things that matter so deeply to us are actually only tools to shape us. They can be as mundane as housework or as impacting as relationships.

Keeping my house tidy and clean is a significant aspect of my week. When I am not able to do it how and when I plan to, I become frustrated and anyone who happens to be a part of the delay or disruption bears the brunt of my frustration. This reaction of mine is not godly and therefore God is going to use my housework as a means of teaching me grace, flexibility and patience.

Relationships are another instrument in the Master Molder’s hand. Each relationship connected to us has different dynamics and expectations that stretch and grow us as they clash with our wants and needs. Once again, the clash is a catalyst God uses to reveal areas in our character that need work.

This thought may seem simple enough, but I can honestly say that it has refreshed my perspective on life. I think I will feel more open to the changes and interruptions in my day as I wait expectantly for God to make my heart more like His. Suddenly what seemed major to me is minor in light of the deeper work being done in me: the temporal versus the eternal. I appreciate the many ways one can lead a life of simplicity. Focusing on the Creator’s vision more than on the Creator’s tools is one of those ways.

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Minimizing Motherhood

2018 is a year of immersion in books for me. I know we are only 15 days into the new year but the 5 books I have going have whetted my appetite for more. I don’t expect my reading appetite will be satiated any time soon, not while there are so many delicious books waiting for me on my bookshelves, on the floor by my nightstand and on my Amazon wish list.

Several of the books that I am reading surround the theme of motherhood: childbirth, parenting, and establishing a healthy identity as a mom. In all of these I have noted a trend of insecurity, guilt, doubt, fear, and vulnerability that the authors are striving to help their maternal audience overcome, including myself. In the past, I have pointed judgmental fingers at society, blaming it for the shadow of less-ness that it has cast upon motherhood, especially mothers who choose to stay at home to nurture and raise their children. While it is true that the choice to be a stay-at-home mom is often met with questioning or condescending gazes from those who have chosen other paths in life, I believe that modern mothers have, albeit unwittingly, undermined their role and calling in the home: including me.

I have come to this startling conclusion as I listen in to my own thoughts: “I never get enough done.” “I should be more involved in my community.” “Oops! how could I have forgotten to respond to that person’s phone call; I didn’t even do that much today.” “Wow! Look at her! Juggling a career and kids! And look at her immaculate clothes!” “Let’s see, today I should do XYZ if I can hurry and get the kids fed and in bed.” I am ever accusing and then defending and then accusing myself in my head over all that I should be doing, would like to be doing or simply can’t do in this season of small children. I am the one who is quick to justify why I love being home with my kids, why I want a lot of kids, and why I gave up a career and pursuit of a doctorate degree to be home with them – even before anyone questions my choice. I allow myself to feel overwhelmed, unkempt, out of shape, and invisible at times (or all the above at the same time). I have minimized motherhood in my heart.

The truth is that the basic care of my home and children is monumental! The truth is that there is nothing I would rather do than feed, clean and dress my little ones, play with them, instruct them, and absorb their closeness and smallness. The truth is that no one else can say they gave life to these lives, no one else will ever be their mama and no else will know them better than I do while they are small. The truth is that every day I conquer: my selfishness, my laziness, my self-pity in order to care for my family. Every day I problem-solve: for efficiency, for fixing things, for satisfying the masses. Every day I am a negotiator, a nurse, a cook, a teacher, and a storm-calmer. The truth is that time is passing more quickly every day and I am the only one who can slow it down – by being a mom who gives everything she has to assure her children that she loves them more than life itself; to my children, that means being there; to me, that means everything.

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