Thursday, December 1, 2016

Words of the Week

Sometimes the word of the week just happens to be "catawampus". It's not that everything is awful--worse things could've happened--but your week is just a series of one "SERIOUSLY?!" after another.

You hear weird sounds in the kitchen sink and then the toilet floods and then before you know it, the house is swamped by poop water and you're being encouraged by maintenance to make alternative arrangements for the night (which turns into two nights). One kid comes down with a cough, and then it's two kids, and then before you know it, the whole family is down for the count (and coughing their heads off in temporary lodging).

Blythe, confused, because last time she checked,
the toilet didn't belong in the front hallway.

You're late to church on Sunday and forget that you volunteered to help with child care. You lock yourself out of the house when your husband (and both house keys) are half an hour away. You rip your favorite pair of maternity jeans. Yes. You really do. And then make fat pregnant cow jokes for the rest of the week.

But you know what? Sometimes the word of the week also just so happens to be "grateful". Grateful that your husband is home and can take off work to deal with the poop flood. Grateful for kids who saw our escapades as adventures not inconveniences. Grateful for friends who provided back up. Grateful for breakfast tacos (because, let's be honest, if you can't go home and cook your own breakfast in your own kitchen--let there be tacos). Grateful that you happened to be ahead on your To Do list and your homeschooling schedule so that a couple days languishing in snot and hotel sheets don't matter quite so much. Grateful that we have maintenance guys who can dig up water mains until they find whatever it was the twins more than likely flushed down the toilet.

The younger three and the maternity jeans
that can't keep my leg muscles in...

I guess the real word of the week might've been "perspective", because by now we all know, it's rarely as bad as it could be, and there are always things to rejoice in and be grateful for--if we're willing to look for them. So, it's Thursday night, and with my head convinced that it's going to explode in a snot volcano, I am grateful for perspective on catawampus weeks.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Word Power

Words have power. We all know that. This time of year, especially, the focus is heavy on the messages we tell ourselves while we consider what we are grateful for (confession: I obviously drafted this before Thanksgiving).

Our family has been counting God's gifts to us by writing them on a Gratitude Pumpkin this week (that's about my level of holiday crafting). I've been surprised by how much the kids have gotten into it, although there has been a certain amount of naming off whatever random objects Tiny's eyes light on. I finally had to start asking the kids why they were grateful for things before sharpie-ing them onto the Pumpkin. I drew the line at writing on "TV stand".

The Pumpkin sits on our kitchen table the rest of the day, and the kids have fun spinning it around looking for their favorite items on the list. Bee wants to find her sister's name every time. Littles wants to find his entry for "moon songs" (it's a long story). And Tiny consistently wants whatever is written immediately next to whatever Littles is looking at so that they can fight over who gets which side of the Pumpkin. It's been fun to not only write out what we're grateful for, but then to get to talk about it as the week progresses. Fighting aside.

Last week I also indulged myself in a little bit of artistic word power, by painting one of my favorite biblical blessings on our entry wall (which refuses to accept nails, screws, or any alternative ways to hang artwork). I enjoyed my time painting, but I've loved even more getting to talk to the kids about what the words mean and being reminded of what really matters as I go through my daily routines (specifically mounds of laundry and adventures in twin potty training). It is good to remind myself that God's peace is with me as I mop up pee puddles.

I've been thinking a lot about the narratives we tell ourselves since we found out I was pregnant again. After the initial shock, I felt the need to apologize and to explain. I hated that everybody "didn't know the whole story". It then became hard to let go of my need to tell everyone the Whole Story. One of the ways that I came to terms with our new reality was to reframe the narrative for myself. Instead of seeing baby number 5 as just another surprise baby, I started thinking about her as a bonus baby. In my mind, I told myself that this was similar to an opportunity for extra credit points on a project or the chance to work overtime for double the pay. For some odd reason, that made it more fun for me. We're having a Bonus Baby!

Regardless, I want to challenge myself daily to think about the narrative that I am telling myself and others. Does my story sound like this: I'm already floundering with four kids. How in the world am I going to handle another? Or like this: Our kids are so much fun, we get to have another! Am I allowing myself to stay in the frustrations of the moment or looking for the things for which I can say thank you? Am I letting myself by overwhelmed by the tyranny of the urgent or trying to remind myself of truth while dealing with those still definitely urgent items (there is pee on the floor here, people!)?

Our words may not change our reality but they truly can shift the way we deal with said reality. I hope that when I pick the truth I tell myself and others that I pick a truth that encourages and challenges over a truth that disheartens and weakens.

{The pictures of the kids are from July. I never shared them, and now months later, thought you'd enjoy them along with us.}

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Birthday Gift to Me

My thirtieth birthday gift to myself is to start blogging again.

This pregnancy has been hard on the blog. I've been tired (physically and emotionally and mentally) and since there are no screaming children demanding that I blog, I haven't done so. A large part of me has considered letting the blog go completely. I could sit myself comfortably in any number of excuses (brain too fried from homeschooling, exhausted from tantruming two year old twins, ran out of funny stories, stopped learning new things...).

But then I remember why I do this: because I like to and because it's a part of who I am that has absolutely nothing to do with my precious children. Sometimes that's enough reason.

Honestly, that's a lot of the same answer that I give when people ask why I've kept running this pregnancy. And I have been asked quite a lot. It's not like anyone is forcing me to go run, and it's not like people wouldn't understand if I stopped. But I like to run and it's a part of who I am that has absolutely nothing to do with my precious children.

So I'm going to look at this blog much like I look at running while 7 months pregnant. It might be painful. It may be sporadic. And there will be some hilarious moments when I look like some kind of cross between a waltzing hippopotamus and a spasming penguin, but we will get there. Though it may be slow and short and with several stops to allow for cramping or bathroom breaks.

Here we go.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Books For My Mother (And Maybe For Yours If Yours Is Also Amazing)

Two months ago, my mother asked me for a list of books that would be fun, thought provoking, and new to her. She's an avid reader with excellent taste, so I couldn't just phone this in. Also, I've gotten really great at procrastinating and passing the buck this summer's September now. In an attempt to not sound like a horrible daughter, I have texted her some excellent suggestions every time she sends me panicked messages from the library. I started her on Penderwicks and Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, and naturally she has loved both series and we have had a great time texting back and forth about our least favorite cliff hangers and most favorite funny moments. Also, she graciously admitted that the fourth Penderwick book almost made her cry too (so I felt better about sob-laughing most of the way through it). 

Obligatory grandkid picture

Anyway, after weeks of deep thought, the official Mother Mine Reading List--for the discerning mother with eclectically exquisite taste and a need for awesome:

East by Edith Pattou :: This beautiful retelling of the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" is intricately written with beautiful language. It made me want to travel and reinforced my belief in the power of our convictions and that sometimes the simplest of tasks can become the most life giving.

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni :: A lushly written story of the importance of identity and the difference between doing what is right and what is easy, I loved the cultural depth of this book that jumps between India and a post-911 U.S. 

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo :: I have a weakness for children's lit that I came by honestly. I grew up with Mom reading out loud to us every night before bed, although we made Dad read any that required British accents. Anyway, Flora and Ulysses is not a read aloud--it's an illustrated novel and I wasn't expecting to be blown away by it, but it satisfied something deep in me while still being surprisingly funny. {I wrote about it briefly here.}

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple :: Quirky and unexpected, I found this book thoroughly entertaining, but I mainly included it because I really want to know what my mom thinks of it.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio :: Exquisitely beautiful, I loved the sense of hope this book left behind. Another children's book, the gentle handling of August Pullman's story (a normal boy with a very different face) placed it on my force-people-to-read list. I know my mom will love it.

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon :: This is not a classic yet, but it should be. Plus the illustrations are incredible, so I'm going to make sure that Mom shares it with my artist dad. I gave this book to my older sister for her birthday last year because people who love each other make sure that good books get shared. A book about imagination, friendship, and a yearning for adventure, you might find yourself surprised by how the loose ends tie up. Also, now I want chocolate croissants. Thanks, Nicholas Gannon.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown :: I suggest this book to pretty much everyone I meet. Fascinating research combined with well told stories left me thinking about vulnerability and shame in all new ways. The world looks a little different after reading. {Referenced here and here.}

A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh :: Mom told me she read this years ago. One should always reread great literature. I know I've written about A Gift from the Sea on the blog fairly recently, so I won't say anything else, but all women should read this book...preferably with several years in between the readings. And it's about time for my mom's reread. {Also referenced here.}

A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman :: A Million Little Ways is a must read for anyone finding their significance in life. According to Freeman, we're all making art in a million little ways. My mom is the consummate artist, both in the traditional sense through vocal performance, but also in the small ways that she makes the world a more beautiful place. And if you're wondering how you're making art these days, you might want to pick this one up too. {Written about earlier here.}

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri :: I just started this nonfiction pick about falling in love with another language (and I rarely suggest books I haven't finished yet), but I have a gut feeling about Lahiri's latest book. I'm pretty sure that anyone who has discovered the beauty of another culture and another means of expression will enjoy this read, but I promise a follow up if I'm unpleasantly surprised later in the book. Kind of like how doctors tell you they'll call if the test results look bad, but if you don't hear anything than you're probably fine.

An even ten, which will probably keep my voracious reader of a mother occupied for...about two weeks. And then she'll be hounding me again. Good thing I like her. Also, I refuse to write her another book list if she doesn't keep me thoroughly entertained with her reactions as she reads.

PS During this season of book sharing, Mom demanded that I read The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. I now feel like I have insider knowledge (no pun intended) of pop culture that I missed growing up in Indonesia. Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold. Just thought I'd share.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hope Revisited :: From the Archives

A few years ago, I had been writing about hope. I've been thinking a lot lately about the conclusions I came to, and I hope you don't mind if I share them with you again (I did tweak a few things). These days when hope seems so ephemeral and impossible, I need the reminder.

At the time, I was reading the love chapter--which means I really wasn't thinking about hope at all. I was thinking about how J.B. Phillips translated "love is not rude" to "love has good manners". (So stop talking with your mouth full! It's unloving! And if you don't change the toilet paper roll, you might as well just tell me you hate me!) And then I got to the very last verse:

In life we have three lasting qualities--faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of them is love.

All those years ago, I asked what we do when our hope dies. Now, I think the answer to the question is love.

When our hope is deferred, we choose to love. To love ourselves, to love the faulty humans who surround us, to love Christ, and possibly most importantly, to rest in His love for us, because we are faulty humans and consequently, our love also is faulty.

So, at the end of a long day when things have not gone as planned,
when the laundry has not been finished,
the dishes have not been done,
the floors have not been vacuumed,
the muscles of my body and mind have not been stretched,
all because of the tyranny of the urgent (also known as the tyranny of twins and toddlers),
and I look in the mirror and lose hope that life will ever be manageable again,
that my body will ever be, well, not saggy and flabby,
that my mind will be able to process more than lunch schedules and tantrum management,
that our home will ever be salvaged from the dust bunnies that have taken over,
that I'll ever get things rolling…

I must make the choice to love.

When the news is filled with death and hatred and pain,
when our reality is one of fear,
when each phone call or email seems to bring more bad news,
when we have no words but grief,
when we just want to fix things now
but there's no quick fix...

I must make the choice to love.

So I remind myself that I love my children and my husband,
and that a great part of love is service,
whether that means kissing invisible booboos
or choosing to do dishes with multiple children dangling from my legs
or leaving behind unfolded laundry to fit in some outdoor bonding with my sons.

I remind myself that I need to love myself,
which might mean cutting a little slack,
or crediting piggy back rides as an aerobic work out,
or believing the Man when he tells me that what I've done with my day is enough.

I remind myself that though I can't fix everything,
I can love my neighbor
and sometimes it's one small gentleness after another
that changes the world.

Most of all, perhaps, I remind myself that I love my Jesus,
and that means believing him
when he tells me I am fearfully and wonderfully made--yes, even on the days when I feel like a failure,
believing him
when he promises to be near the broken hearted, 
believing him
when he promises more than this.

Because that's what love is:
believing the best
of others and of ourselves.
And when we can't hope any more,
when we find ourselves wondering if this is the best we get,

we choose love
(to believe the best even if this is the best we get).

Because love will always bring us back to our greater hope,
the one True Love who gave everything so that this
right here
right now
isn't the best we get,
but is only a shadow,
a taste,
a hint of what is to come:
forever with Him,
transformed to reflect Him,
completely satisfied in Him,
hope realized.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Book Empathy

Fiction is a great empathy builder, because the process of entering into a different—albeit imaginary—world forces the reader to see things from another point of view. 

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.... The man who never reads lives only once.
George R. R. Martin

This is what I've been doing. Well, reading Louise Penny and scrubbing sharpie off the kitchen cabinets with toothpaste, but the important part is the excessive reading of mystery novels. I plowed through all eleven of Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache books and did my best to not drive the librarians insane by insisting that they help me track them all down. In order. Immediately. I may or may not have acted a little like an escaped psych patient. It worked. I only had to buy book five on kindle.

I've been trying to figure out what appeals to me so much about this series. I do love a good mystery, but I shy away from any that are too gruesome. In that sense, these fit the bill. Nothing overly gory that would scar me for life. However, there is a fair amount of swearing included that might have turned me off had it not been for the fantastic writing, the believable characters, and the engaging story line. 

If I'm honest though, what I loved most about these books was the capacity to encourage empathy in me as I read. Penny's characters are varied, flawed, and multi-faceted. As I read, it helped me to step outside of myself and my limited life experience and get to be in someone else's shoes for a little while. I love my life, but I also realize that it's just one experience in a vast world. Reading allows me to get inside someone else's head. It then broadens me, enlarging my world view, and hopefully making me more loving and less judgmental as I go.

Don't tell me if it's not working. I'm going to keep reading anyway.

At any rate, if you're interested in reading the Louise Penny novels, my dad succinctly described them as "well written, intriguing, and very, very secular humanistic." Decide what you're looking for before you read (and don't expect an author who doesn't share your values to write your values), but also know that when I read them, Chief Inspector Gamache is Tom Selleck in Blue Bloods but speaking French and quoting poetry. Which should be a huge selling point. Just saying.

Also, invision me doing something sadly close to a pee-pee dance in front of the library counter while they check the archives once again to find book 6 for me so I can find out what happens without reading out of order. Girl has standards. I can't read a series out of order but I have no problem ingratiating myself to librarians.

Whatever you decide to do about Chief Inspector Gamache, I would love to know if there's a book you have read that has encouraged you to be more empathetic. Sometimes it's not always the books I expect, so feel free to surprise me!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Taking Credit

Tonight at dinner, both the twins told me "thank you for the meal" without being prompted, there was actual conversation that consisted of more than "Please chew with your mouth closed", and everyone took second helpings of salad.

Today after a spontaneous and fun picnic lunch, both twins threw massive tantrums, there was a water spitting war, and I lost my temper with the entire family (myself included).

Sometimes I want to say, "It's not them! It's me!" (in an echo of that famous break up line). It's my fault when they behave badly, and I should beat myself up for my failure! But it's also all because of me when they behave well! The truth I am starting to learn, though, is that sometimes it's not either of us.

My kids are not good kids any more than they are bad kids. I am not a good mom any more than I am a bad mom. My kids are kids--and sometimes they have moments that are better than others and sometimes they have moments that are worse. I am just a mom--and sometimes I parent better and sometimes I parent worse, and sadly, my children's behavior may be more a reflection of whether or not their tag is currently scratching the back of their neck than how well I am actually doing as their mom.

I wish I had learned early on to not try to take so much credit--for the good stuff, but also for the bad. I wish I had learned to thank God for the grace of good days, but also to thank him for the bad ones because they keep me humble and dependent on him. I love it when my kids act right. It makes my job easier. But if they were little angels all the time, I would probably think it was because I had figured out this whole parenting thing, and that would be a mistake.

A word to my past self...but also to my future self: love those kids and do your best, then let everything else go. And remember: sometimes a good nap can fix everything. If not, there's always brownies. Lastly, sometimes, it's just not about you. Really.