Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why I'll Never Scold My Child Again For Saying She Doesn't Like Me

The first time I heard the inevitable words that every parent dreads, my daughter was just 4 years old.  I don't even remember what the disagreement was about, but most likely she wanted to do something that I would not allow her to do (such as flushing marbles down the toilet, or cutting her brother's hair).  As I turned to leave the room, I heard her mumble, "I don't like you."  I spun around.  The words were shocking because they came from someone so small.  I expected this out of the teenage years.  But already?  As her words continued to pierce through the most tender place of my heart - the place from which I held... and nursed... and cared for... and gave EVERYTHING I HAD to my babies,  I felt anger start to bubble up from the fresh wound.  Fueled by the sting I felt, rather than grace, I spat back at her, "Don't you ever speak to me like that again!"  Her grief was immediate and raw. "I'm sorry, Mommy," she begged as tears fell down her perfect little cheeks. She wrapped her tiny arms around my waist, desperate for me to offer her my forgiveness.

But here's the thing...I was so very wrong that day.  This realization was pretty instant.  And I knew that the only way to make this situation better was to ask her to forgive me, while reassuring her that she is always completely entitled to her feelings and opinions - even if they are painful to me.

And it's funny, because she taught me about being a grown-up that day (the way kids so very often do).  She taught me that feelings do not always have their feet planted in reality.  They can be so fickle and phony, changing course like the wind - based off of nothing more than c i r c u m s t a n c e...or hormones...or just a bad night's sleep... And too often they are rooted far deeper in selfishness than we realize - or perhaps, just that we're willing to admit.  Emotions are real.  They are raw.  They are powerful.  But they are not always genuine.  Somewhere in our romanticised 'follow your heart' culture, we (generally) started putting absolute faith in our feelings.  That's not only wrong, it's downright dangerous. But the answer here isn't to train up our children to not have certain thoughts or feelings.  It's about teaching them what to do with those thoughts and feelings when they come.  How to sort through the rationality of their emotional experiences and how to make strong and healthy choices with that insight.  Not to scold my child for feeling as though she doesn't like me, but to have her acknowledge those feelings, express them in a respectful way (which she did), and work through them.  

But  before I can start training my children to have a healthy relationship with emotions, maybe I first need to cultivate a healthy understanding within myself.  What my child said to me that day was hurtful and made me feel angry...but was not  w r o n g.  (Even when my own pain and anger made me feel certain that it was.)

There comes a time in our lives when the emotions become much bigger than 'not liking mom because she wouldn't let me fingerpaint the cat' or the deep, deep sadness that results from having to turn off Little Einsteins. There comes a time when the emotions become so big, the force of them so driving that we must have the skill and the insight to manage them properly.  If I don't allow my children to have their feelings when they are little, how will they ever learn how to manage them when they're older?

And what about me...?  Where do my shortcomings fall in all of this?

Well...I guess I have a Father in heaven who uses my babies to teach me the things that I still need to learn....

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Pieces Of My Heart

Today I learned firsthand that, as the dust and debris are yet settling in the immediate wake of a vehicle accident, the very first thing a mother will do is to turn around to simply see her babies.  And if, b y   t h e   g r a c e   o f   G o d, they are healthy and whole, a mother will mentally take stock of all that is of real value to her - taking inventory of her family, one by one, as if counting precious diamonds in her hand.

And I realized in the hours following our accident that I need to hold my babies this dear to my heart everyday.  That, m a y b e, the only thing that can hold the pieces of a mama's heart together are the innocent arms of a little one - (even when she's just plain certain they are the very reason she's been falling apart in the first place).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Celebrating Life on September 11th

Three years ago on September 11th I was 9 months pregnant with my third child.  In the weeks leading up to her birth, I feared - and even dreaded - that I would go into labor just four days early, thereby giving her a birth date of 9/11.  As I struggled to make peace with this possibility before it could become a reality, I came to find the idea of giving birth to new life on the anniversary of such death and destruction to be a   s t r a n g e l y   b e a u t i f u l   p a r a d o x

Knowing that if I were to give birth to this child on September 11th, there would be so much that my heart needed to say, but no time or energy with which to say it, I wrote - in the days before September 11th, 2012 -  what you're about to read, AS IF she had already been born and AS THOUGH her birth date were, in fact, 9/11.

September 11th came and went that year.  And when, on September 12th, I found myself to be still pregnant...I was profoundly disappointed.  You my heart struggled to make sense of this idea - and then as I wrote the words you will read below, I realized that there could be nothing more beautiful...or powerful...than to bring forth new life on the anniversary of such hate and darkness.

Since the child that I wrote this piece about was NOT born on September 11th, 
I dedicate the following to all the children that have been born into a post-9/11 world
 and even more so, to the children that are blessed...
and cursed...
to share this date with history. 

I also dedicate this to our fellow military families, 
who serve every moment of every day,
 (and in some of those moments, quite honestly, need some help remembering 'why'.)  
I'm there, myself...too often.  

And finally, I dedicate this to all the hearts that are hurting today, 
because they lost someone they dearly loved 14 years ago.  
Yours was the greatest sacrifice of all.  

There IS a hope for our future!


Our third child was due September 15th

I had hoped that she wouldn't decide to make her arrival 4 days early - on September 11th.

September 11th is a day that hangs H E A V Y with death and sadness. It's a day for remembering life, not celebrating it. Not a day for looking forward with hopes and dreams. But a day for looking back and remembering.

Alas, as everyone knows, babies don't cooperate.


Our baby girl was born on September 11th, 2012.


We named her Lily
A lily symbolizes innocence,  purity,  and beauty.

The day that was once only a somber anniversary has become - for our family - also a beautiful celebration of life.  And although I had hoped that our sweet, new child would not share her birthday with some of the most tragic memories in our nation's history, the stark contrast of joy and sadness that this day now represents to this military family is suddenly a beautiful reminder of why we serve.  He with his uniform and me and our children with our love and support... With our willingness to go with him when we can and to allow him to go alone when he must.

'Our  W I L L I N G N E S S  
to go with him when we can
And to allow him to go  
A L O N E  
when he must'

Lily's birth on this significant day reminds us that, although the 'looking back' is invaluable, the service to our country is always forward looking.  It's for the preservation of the hopes and dreams of this newest generation. Because when you look into the eyes of a small child you know all that is within them that is beautiful, innocent, and pure deserves a life free of fear and filled with
p o s s i b i l i t i e s...

Lily's birth on September 11th reminds us that the memories will always be raw and painful but there is a hope for the future.  We can see that hope in the eyes of the smallest, most innocent among us.   And - as a military family - we serve our country with every breath we take for this great and innocent hope.

'The looking back is made complete 
in the looking forward'

Be encouraged this September 11th anniversary. And as we all experience the profound sadness that comes with watching the horrific memories on the television throughout the day, realize that the looking back is made complete in the looking forward.  A midst the ugliness, there is still a hope and a beauty in this world. And this hope and beauty is why we - and countless other military families -
S  E  R  V  E.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Finding Paradise... (and some sea turtles)

"We're moving to Hawaii."  Those words came in the form of a phone call.  My husband, calling to tell me that he'd spoken with the Detailer and he'd accepted the orders offered.  He didn't consult with me prior to accepting.  He didn't need to.  He had assumed that I would be elated.  And he was right.  8 months later, we stepped off a plane smack in the middle of our new island-home.  Our very first Hawaiian vacation was going to be a nice long one - 3 years, in fact.  I couldn't have been more excited!

The drive from the airport to our hotel was unassumingly monumental.  Like a breath.  Or the period between two sentences.  We traveled straight through, what I later discovered to be, the most beautiful part of the island.  Our first drive down H3 towards our hotel was so spectacularly breathtaking that I thought for an instant we must have accidentally boarded a space-shuttle instead of an airplane and landed on a planet far more mysterious and mystical than our own.  The mountains stood so tall.  The clouds so low.  The colors so unnaturally vibrant.  It was all so very real yet so indescribably overwhelming that my senses seemed to crumble beneath the intensity of its real-ness.  I couldn't fully absorb what I was seeing.  I was disoriented just trying to take it all in.  It was ethereal and amazing.  My heart swelled with joy and excitement at the adventure that lie before us.

That afternoon, my children chased ducks and geckos in the backyard.  They marveled at this idea of water falling from the sky (we last lived in Monterey, California...where it might have rained twice in the two years we lived there) and splashed in puddles like they'd only read about in children's books.  My husband put his arms around me as we watched the children playing - the sound of waves crashing in the distance.  Here we are.  Home.  Paradise.

Paradise.  I honestly didn't know that Hawaii's nickname is Paradise before I moved here.  But it was one of the very first things I learned - like 'haole' and 'slippers' and 'Shave Ice'.  Like a password for a secret club, as we made our way towards baggage claim in the airport, I heard countless vacationers uttering the word 'paradise'.  And in the 7 months that we've lived here since, I have heard (or over-heard) the word paradise almost daily. Along with the sentiment, "You are so lucky to live here!"  Yes.  Yes, we are.

But here's the thing:  we're 7 months into our Hawaii life and, in this short time, I have discovered that it's not paradise.  Not really.  Oh, it's pretty.  Beautiful, even.  Of course, it's warm all year yet deliciously crisp and cool at night.  The ocean is blue as blue could possibly be...not to mention only a 5 or 10 minute drive from our house.  But the warm can quickly turn suffocating and sticky, and when the clouds roll in (as they too often do) the ocean somehow loses its blue...and even a 5 minute drive feels like a lifetime when the baby is screaming...and beautiful beach days always mean that there won't be any parking spaces......

"Paradise isn't a place, 
i  t ' s   a   s t a t e   o f   t h e   h e a r t"

So I've been forced to grapple with this idea of 'paradise'.  And I've realized that paradise isn't a place, it's a state of the heart. When people tell me how lucky I am and how much they yearn to live here, what they really mean is that they yearn to live in some endless state of vacation.  I think that's sort of how I imagined Hawaii before we moved here.  But I've learned that, good or bad, life is always there.  Life doesn't 'follow' or 'not follow' me around the world.  Life is within me.  Life hasn't stopped because we live in Paradise.  Believe me, paradise is just full of flat tires, cranky kids, dirty laundry, pesty insects...heck even our bills managed to find our new address in Paradise.  It's all here...same as in California, or Georgia, or Virginia before that.  Sure we get a few more beach days every year (okay, okay, every week...) but we come home from the beach with a car filled with sand, cranky and sun-burned kids, dinner to prepare, and a bigger mountain of beach towels to wash than you ever dreamed possible.

I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining.  We're so grateful for our opportunity to live in this beautiful part of the world.  We're grateful for the adventures, for the memories...

And for that 
tropical sunshine.
(even when it's shining through very dirty windows)

But when our time here is up, I think we'll be ready to leave. And when life inevitably follows us to our next destination, I hope that destination is simply 'home' with our families.  That's the truest Paradise of all.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Marriage Waltz

When two people perform the Waltz together it can be magnificent.  A true art.  But it can also be a clumsy disaster.  For the Waltz to be executed flawlessly there must be a "Lead" and a "Follow".  If both partners choose to lead or both to follow, they will stumble and clash awkwardly throughout the number.  But...if both partners know their roles the results can be breathtaking.

Marriage is an art; a dance that people of all cultures, countries, and communities have engaged in, in some form or capacity, since the beginning of time.  Sometimes the journey is painful and awkward and sometimes it's flawless.

There is a gross misunderstanding in our culture that seems to state that it is shameful to be submissive.  Au contraire!  Nothing could be further from the truth! The one who leads is not greater than the one who submits.  They are simply different.  And within their different identities, they must work perfectly alongside each other.  The irony is that the greatest indicator of a person's success will be in the other partner: the husband's talents will be made evident by the 'performance' of his wife and the wife's abilities will be made evident by the success of her husband.  If a husband seeks to build himself up by making his wife look incapable, he himself is revealed to be incapable of leading, and vice versa.

A true leader doesn't aspire to greatness alone but seeks to share greatness with the one he leads. Does not the dance partner display as much talent and receive as much praise as the Lead?  And does not the Lead share the dance equally with her, knowing that without her the dance is wholly incomplete?

So what does this look like?
A healthy leadership/subservient model in marriage is not a blanket that covers the marriage, but more of a subtle current upon which the marriage rides.  Not the face of the marriage, but the backbone.  It's subtle.  Underlying.  It's the strength of the marriage, not the defining characteristic.  It's the, almost hidden, foundational principal upon which a lifetime of love, admiration, respect, joy, and beauty are all built.  The roles are delicate and gentle, obvious only to the couple themselves.  The outside world may catch glimpses of the husband's leadership or the wife's submission from time to time, but the couple's defining characteristics will be respect, love.....harmony.

In contrast to this description, an unhealthy leadership/subservient based marriage will be much more obviously defined by one partner of power and one of submission.  If it's obvious to people outside of the marriage relationship that the couple models these rolls, than more than likely, one of the partner's in the marriage is domineering.  If the marriage contains a domineering partner, he/she has already stepped outside of the Biblical view of marriage.

My act of submission to my husband is never about him.  It is always, only about me.  What I mean by that is, my husband has never demanded that I submit to him.  In the heat of an argument or disagreement, he has never said, "I'm your husband, I make the decisions!"  On our wedding day, I vowed to honor and submit to my husband.  When I make the choice to honor my wedding vows and submit to him, it's just choice.  God granted husband's a love-based headship over their families.  He did not grant them absolute, domineering authority over their families.  My husband never makes me submit.  Never attempts to use guilt or coercive reminders. My submission to him is between me and God alone.

How does it work?
The 'How' will look vastly different in each marriage.  Each unique couple needs to find their own way of implementing these roles.  I can't give you a formula for how this works, but I can tell you how it works in my marriage.  I am a strong-willed woman.  I want my own way.  Every Time.  It's just the way I am, so naturally, submission does not come easily to me.  After nearly a decade of marriage, submission looks different for me now than it did when we were newly-weds.

In the beginning, I exercised submission only in the 'big things'.  We argued constantly.  All the time.  About everything.  Both of us willing to fight to the death on any subject, from where to put the couch, to where to go for dinner, to how warm to keep the thermostat.  But having been raised to understand the value of a wife's role of submission (and subsequently, the value of the husband's role of leadership), I, however difficult, would (eventually) submit on the 'big things' (i.e. Do we start a family now, or wait?  Should we buy a house or rent? etc.), while still always fighting to the bitter end on 'small things'.

Over the years, however, we've fine-tuned our 'dance' tremendously.  Now, I submit more easily to smaller issues.  But he also is less hasty to take a stand than he once was.  When we discuss our differing points of views on a subject, he's more likely to let me have my way than he was 10 years ago.  You could maybe even say that he actually chooses to submit to me.  He does this a lot these days.  Probably more than 75% of the time, he lets me have my way.  But when he does take a stand, I know that even a 'small thing' has suddenly become a 'big thing' and, no matter how strongly I disagree, I choose to respect his authority in those moments.  Knowing that I will submit to his decisions has, over the years, made him far more discerning about what issues he will take a stand on.  And this fine-tuning, this understanding that we've developed for each other, has become the roots to the forest of respect and harmony that we've cultivated.

Let's make it really concrete with two examples.  The first will be a 'small thing' - just a silly argument that could crop up at any time.  The second will be a 'big thing'.

1.  The 'Small Thing' -  It's Friday night and neither of us feel like cooking, so we decide to go out for dinner.  My husband loves Chinese Buffets, and would chose to go to one every time we go out for dinner, if I didn't clearly voice my opinion about it.  I don't really care for Chinese Buffets, I'd rather get Chinese take-out...but what I really want is Italian.  We argue back and forth for a bit and he doesn't back down.  So I say (rather heated), 'Dude!  Why does it always gotta be about you?!"  At this point, one of two things happens...  99% of the time, I get my way ;)  But let's suppose that he's having a bad day and he snaps back, "Look!  I had a rough week.  I make the money.  I want to go to the Chinese Buffet.  Period." (Note, again, my husband never plays the 'husband card').  At this point, a little thing has become a big thing and I will choose to submit.  Will I say to him, "Are you kidding me!?  I had a rough week too!  You try being home with 3 kids by yourself all week!"? You bet I will!  (I have not yet learned the art of controlling my tongue. ha!).  Then I make the decision that will set the tone for the rest of the night.  I will either stew about his attitude and my submission, and ruin our evening.  Or I will (on days marked by grace), realize that I made the choice to submit to him, and cover him with grace by understanding that he's just in a bad mood (it happens to me too.  Shocking, right!?) and choose to have a good attitude throughout dinner.  The latter usually results in an apology from him later in the evening after the kids are in bed.  And then he dotes on me the whole next day.  Win!

2.  The 'Big Thing' - We have the opportunity to invest a large sum of money into something that I really believe in.  My husband....does not.  I present this opportunity to him and his immediate response is, "No."

"But wait" I say, "just hear me out.  I think this is really important."  We sit and talk about the pros and cons for 2 hours.  We just don't see eye to eye on this. It might even get a little heated.  But I know that my input is valuable to him and I know he's listening to my arguments.  Probably 65% of the time he will end up agreeing with me or, at the very least, decide to humor me.  But if he still feels strongly enough about it to say "No."  I choose to submit to his leadership.

My voice is rarely, if ever, not heard.  My opinion is always valued.  I am never the weaker partner, I simply choose to give him the authority.

Why does it work?
Why does it work between dance partners?

Because two people simply cannot live in such close proximity to one another and not have clearly defined roles.  Even between business partners, it is always recommended that one partner hold 51% of the business.  Although both partners have equal value, both cannot have equal authority.  It just won't work.

When I joyfully give that extra 2% authority over to my husband, we eliminate gridlocks without one partner feeling defeated.  He didn't win. I didn't lose....I chose to give him the final decision.  When he can predict, based off of history, that I will submit to him if he pushes an issue, he becomes more gentle and discerning about which issues he will push.  Knowing that I love and value him enough to submit to him, causes him to love me with more tenderness and appreciation.  And as his love for me becomes more perfect, the automatic response of my heart is to honor and value him more.  It's a beautiful, harmonious cycle of love, respect, value, and peace.  Instead of life issues dividing us, they strengthen us because we've learned how to dance together.  We've learned how to 'feed' love and respect to make them grow, instead of getting hung up on the things that have potential to divide us.

Remember the Waltzing Couple?
As we, together,  imagine this couple dancing...they know that one is the Lead and the other, the Follow.  But to the spectator, are they not so perfectly in sync that it's almost impossible to tell one body from the next, let alone the Lead from the Follow?  Yet, between themselves, they know that these roles exist.  And if they act within their positions, one following...understanding each other's hearts, dreams, attitudes, and goals, they will deliver the most spectacular performance the world has ever known.  Not a dance to music, but a dance from which the music flows.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Grandma's Attic

Today, a lifetime (and in many cases, several lifetimes) worth of memories were scattered. Things that defined my childhood. Things that defined my grandparents. Things so familiar from my very earliest days that even in my adulthood I never stopped to question them.  Why exactly was that creepy, bald doll always sitting in the corner?  Who keeps a 50 gallon copper kettle sitting in their living room?  How many generations have sat on that couch before me? What era was this carpet purchased in??? ( that last one actually did cross my mind a few times). But everything else?  everything else just was what it was supposed to be when I walked into Grandma's house.   I asked no questions. I needed no answers.  For the 31 years that I've been living (and presumably, for at least 31 years before that), Grandma's house simply "was".  Until today.

The farmhouse and estate are magnificent. Taken for granted as grandchildren, it wasn't until recently that I came to realize how obscure it was to talk about 'the pump house'  or the 'summer house', or to go look for something in the 'wash house'.  Grandma has a whopping 17 grandchildren, and I guarantee that not a-one of us ever noticed that Grandma's house was "vintage".  I doubt if she even noticed. 

In my childhood home things changed periodically. My family moved a few times. My mother would redecorate a room now and then. There was the normal and somewhat predictable ebb and flow of 'things'. But not at Grandma's house. Grandma's house remained largely the same year after year, decade after decade.  Even generation after generation.  Grandma's farm had received the century farm award (some 20 years ago). An award given to farms that have been in the same family for at least 100 years.  When my husband was deployed and I took my 18 month-old daughter and newborn son (I know! what were we thinking?!?!?) to stay in the old farmhouse (her home afforded us more space and more freedom than my mother's home and my mother-in-law's home combined), Grandma would pause her lawnwork long enough to make us lunch and tell us about how she and my Grandfather lived in that very living room for the first years of their marriage.  As we watched my 4 (!) week old roll over for the very first time atop her kitchen table, she would tell me that she used to lay her 5 babies atop that very same kitchen table while she washed dishes or tended to supper.  She would show me black and white photos of stoic subjects dressed in heavy, dark frocks sitting in the very same front lawn that my daughter was playing in. She would close the gap between me and what was, essentially, my ancestors. 

But today 400 people gathered inside the barn I once played hide and seek in (talk about scarier than The Blair Witch Project!) and placed bids on the thousands of items that are as familiar to me as the back of my hand.   And tonight as the things that I once could see, touch, hold, and even smell become things that exist only in my mind, I realize two things:

First:  The people we love are not defined by their things, or even by their surroundings.  My Grandmother will be the same woman tomorrow that she was yesterday.  The next time I see her, will be in different surroundings than I've ever seen her before, but she will continue to be defined by more Grace, beauty, and courage than I've ever seen in anybody.  We sometimes make the mistake of connecting memories to things (this is sentimentalism), but the truth is, the memories live in our minds.  The things are just excess.

Second:  As I think about her possessions scattered...all over Lancaster County, and as far as 6000 miles away (yes, my mom paid $140 for a box of doilies...for me!) I realize that we spend a lifetime collecting things... so that when we are 77 years old we can turn them over to a newer generation that's still collecting things.  Why?  Do the things give us value?  Do they define us?  I've already realized that they didn't define her.  We're defined by our peace, patience, trust, beauty...even by our ugliness, hatred, anger, or jealousy. But not by our ice boxes and domino sets.

In the end, when I'm 77, I want my Grandchildren to say that they love me not for my piano and china sets, but because my love is perfect, my spirit whole, and my Grace complete.  I love you, Grandma!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Backing Away From The Door

This morning I left the house to walk my daughter to the bus stop.  As I approached the front door of my house upon my return, I could hear the cries of a one-year-old who had been alarmed to discover that her mommy went missing a few minutes ago.  My one-year-old.  I pushed the door open gently, knowing that she was sitting right behind it.  The door only opened a few inches before it would go no further.  She was blocking the way.  I could see her - through that crack in the doorway.  I could see her in all her panic and desperation.  But I couldn't reach her - there was a door between us.  She could see me too and that caused her panic and screams to escalate.  She seemed to be saying, "Mama!  You're right there.  Why aren't you picking me up?  Why aren't you touching me?  Why won't you just COME IN!?"  In her precious infant mind she couldn't quite understand that she was the very one blocking the door that kept her mommy out.  I said to her, "Lily.  I need you to back up.  Back up so that I can come in."  But she couldn't hear me through her panicked cries.  Didn't want to hear me, perhaps.  Was demanding that I pick her up first and then she'd back away from the door.  Not understanding, in her simplicity, that the order of events she was demanding defied the laws of nature.  She was her only enemy in that moment...and she. had. no. idea.

As I pleaded with her to back up I gently pushed the door against her body, trying to inch it open just enough to squeeze through.  In that moment I heard God's voice echoing my "mommy instructions" deep inside my soul.  "I need you to back up.  Just back up so that I can come in..."

And through the simple mindedness of my child, as He so often does, He painted a perfect picture for me of my simplicity in Him.

How Often?  How often must I plead with Him to pick me up.  To simply touch me...  How often do I feel like He's just. out. of. reach.  How often do I blame Him?  And how His father's heart must be breaking as He tries to make me understand that I am the one blocking the door.  That I am the one who has erected walls.  That I am, in those moments, my own worst spiritual enemy.

Do you build walls, like I do, around your heart?  Do you wonder why He stands just beyond your grasp and won't reach out to just touch you?  Could it be possible that you're blocking your own door?

Precious Heavenly Father,

Help me to understand how to back away from the door.  How to stop blaming you for your distance.  How to simply let. you. in.

Help me to understand how your heart breaks when I blame you for not reaching out to touch me; when I think, for even just one second, that you must not love me enough.  Help me to understand that my own simple mindedness is the enemy that holds you at a distance.  

Keep talking to me through that door until I can finally "get it".  Don't ever give up on me.