Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chicken Walk of Shame

    I had a wonderful weekend at the Mom Heart conference this weekend.  It was refreshing, and I was truly inspired to come home and love my family, build into their lives, and create a setting full of love and beauty for my children to grow up in so that they may become effective warriors for His kingdom.  What a lovely, inspiring, and civilized weekend it was--full of beautiful women with hearts for God, good food and lots of chocolate!  

    Then I came home to reality.  First, I was greeted by my dog who had a dead chicken duct taped to his neck.  He had killed this young chicken while I was away, and we have been advised by many knowledgeable Texan rancher types that this is an effective way to train a dog not to kill chickens.  My husband decided to try it.  So, there was pitiful Romeo, head hanging in shame, waddling around with this awful appendage--the evidence of his crime there for all to see.  Then there was my house--it looked as if people had taken the muffins someone had made while I was away and scattered the crumbs in every direction around the house.  I even saw muffin pieces on the shelves of our curio.  This morning, about 20 minutes before church, my four-year-old boy and his six-year-old sister showed up on the front doorstep with their feet rather caked with mud.  They had to be hosed off and dressed in fresh clothing appropriate for church.  Dishes needed to be done, table cleared and wiped, and crumbs swept away.  Reality was definitely in my face.  When I arrived at church, my husband, who had driven separately due to a meeting he needed to attend at another church, was still not there.  My older children walked nearly all the way to the front of the church and chose a pew for our rambunctious family almost all the way in the front.  I spent the first few minutes of the service while we were singing feeling rather like an octopus as I attempted to direct my younger children's attention to the worship of our great God and keep them from climbing the pews and using the row as a jungle gym!  Oh, yes!  This is my reality!   Mercifully, the LORD gave me grace to look at my row of squirmy children and feel mega-blessed!  God has given me these wonderful, beautiful, curious, outgoing, intelligent children as a gift to raise for His glory.  I get the privilege of directing their eyes to our Heavenly Father, the Giver of every good gift!  We feel convicted to bring our children to worship with us so that we can do this, no matter how difficult it may be or how squirmy or distracted the children may become.  Today, by God's grace and because of my refreshing inspiring weekend, I was able to look with thankfulness on a humbling scene as I worked to sum up for the younger kids what the pastor was saying and keep them focused for the hour of church.  The house will be neat again sometime in the near future, Lord-willing.  I know this is not the most important thing.  I look at the messes, and thank the Lord for the abundance of little mess-makers in my home!  I am blessed beyond measure!

    Now, back to the dog!  As I watched our pitiful dog carrying his crime around his neck all day, I had a vivid picture come to my mind.  How thankful I am that my Heavenly Father doesn't make me wear my crimes around my neck like a scarlet letter.  I am given a clean slate and a second chance without having to bear the burden of my sins!  We can't even let Romeo in the house because the shameful thing he has to bear causes his presence in our home to be unacceptable.  He cannot be separated from what he has done.  By the grace of God I can walk into His presence wearing a beautiful white garment, not a dead chicken!   When Romeo's lesson has been learned, he will have the burden removed, receive a very thorough washing with many perfumes to make him smell good, and he will be welcomed back into our home.  This is just like what God does for us--He removes our shame, our sin, and He washes us clean.  Our prayers and worship are a fragrant aroma to Him and we are free to come into His presence.  I am so thankful for all that the Lord is teaching me, and I am so excited to share it with my children and everyone around me.  I love the pictures of His grace that He reveals to us every day if only we will look for them and allow ourselves to drink them in instead of getting wrapped up in the mundane and missing His glory.

"Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;  Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  Make me to hear joy and gladness..." Psalm 51:7-8

"Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews  4:16

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Running on Empty

I hate to admit this, but I am one of those women who runs out of gas in her vehicle somewhat regularly.  It all began in high school, shortly after I got my driver's license.  I was heading somewhere at night by myself, and all of a sudden, my car puttered to a stop.  I couldn't figure out what had happened until I thought for a couple of minutes.  Silly me!  This was back in the days before everyone had a cell phone, but luckily I was stranded very close to a gas station.  So I walked over to it, got some gas and headed home.  I was a very responsible young lady, so I just knew this would never happen to me again.  It wan't until I was in college that I again found myself puttering to a stop on the side of the road due to a lack of gasoline.  This time I was a Senior in college at Stanford University!  Educated people don't allow their cars to run out of gas, do they??  Even worse, this time I wasn't alone!  I had been on a retreat with my church choir and I had an older woman with me who needed to leave early as well.  We were just motoring along, deep in conversation, and all of a sudden the car was rolling to a stop and I knew immediately what had happened.  I was so embarrassed!!!  I can't remember how we got ourselves out of that one, but we did, and managed to get home safely.  Several years later, when Todd and I had just moved to Texas with our sweet little family (two little girls at the time), and I was very pregnant with my third child, I was taking the girls to a doctor's appointment in this unfamiliar place that was full of frontage roads and other things foreign to me.  This time I knew I had to get some gas or I was going to run out, but I just didn't know where the nearest gas station was.  So we missed the doctor appointments and ended up stranded on fairly busy off-ramp on a major road.  It was late April during an unusually hot Spring in Austin, TX.  I still didn't own a cell phone, but God sent an angel to help me that day in the form of a man who not only helped us get more gas, but also stopped at a nearby Walmart and bought animal crackers and water bottles for the girls and for me.  My mother-in-law asked me how I could be so irresponsible as pregnant as I was and with two little tiny girls, ages 2 and 1 in the car with me.  I was so embarrassed and vowed that it would never happen again.  Unfortunately, I am a very social person, and at times my running out of gas has been the result of allowing myself to become so immersed in a conversation while driving that I don't pay attention to the gas gauge on long trips.  The next time (yes, it did happen again) that this happened to me was several years later when my 5th child was about 8 months old.  I had driven with a dear friend to a moms' conference in the Dallas/Ft.Worth area.  It was unusually cold that February, and it had snowed fairly heavily for Central Texas.  My friend and I were deep in conversation, of course, when I suddenly realized that at the beginning of our trip home I had thought about our need to fill the car up once we got outside of the airport area.  This was a new car for me (my dad's old car we had bought from him), and the gas light didn't work on this car (though I have been known to ignore the light).  As we were passing an exit, I realized a moment too late that I should have taken that exit in order to get gas, because I didn't know when the next exit would be.  To my horror, we sputtered to a stop right after my realization.  We had a cell phone and called for help.  We sat in the freezing car with my little baby, waiting for AAA to arrive.  A police car came and sat behind us for protection as we waited.  He let us take the baby and warm up in his heated patrol car until our help arrived!  This time, I told my husband not to mention it to his mother!

 I'd like to say that was the last time it ever happened, but it wasn't!  Why haven't I learned my lesson?  I am a responsible, educated person who manages a busy household of 9 children and several animals, and yet I still allow myself on occasion to run out of gas!  It reminds me of my walk with God at times.  There are days when I have felt too rushed or too busy or too engrossed in what is going on in my life to spend a significant amount of time with the Lord.  I need to fill my tank every single day or I find that I am running on empty.  In fact, this tank needs to be refilled with prayer during the days as well.  If I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed or even if it's just something simple like misplaced keys or wallet, if I forget to turn to God first, my blood pressure is sure to rise, and my body will want to peter out and stop.  Over the years, unlike my habit of running out of gasoline in my car, however, I have learned to fill my spiritual tank each day.  My favorite time of day is in the early morning when I rise while my usually busy, noisy household is quiet, sleeping.  The sun is still down, and the sky is dark.  I light some candles, make a hot cup of coffee, grab my Bible and notebook, sometimes a devotional or encouraging book about my walk with God, and He meets me there.   If I miss these times, I have to take a moment to quickly fill my cup with a prayer and some verses.  I find that if I take that time to ask God to be my energy, my life, my love, my ALL,and to fill me with His Holy Spirit, I am never running on empty.  That makes all the difference in the world as to how I see things, and what I allow to get under my skin and make me have a poor attitude.  If I'm full of Him, I don't miss the little things He shows me throughout the day, the little ways He nudges me to show His glory to my children.  HE is my life and unlike any gasoline in any car, this LIFE can overflow from me into the lives of those around me.  I pray every day that this will be true of my life. I am so excited to get a couple days' worth of filling my spiritual tank this weekend at the MomHeart conference (same one I had attended when we ran out of gas with my friend in the snow 8 years ago!).  We all need to fill ourselves up, even when life is full!  I'm sure I'll have lots of overflow at the end of the conference!  I'll be sure to share.

 "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:1-2

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Little Boys, Future Men

    Boys, boys boys!!!  I grew up as the middle child in a family with three girls.  My parents divorced when I was nine years old, so I didn't know much about living with males until I married Todd.  Now, I find myself Mama to 5 amazing, rambunctious, rough-and-tumble little boys!  I truly believe God has a sense of humor.  Todd and I had our first boy after two daughters.  I remember people commenting when I became pregnant with my third child, that it was bound to be another girl since we already had two.  I'm not sure what logic there is in that argument, but we were delighted to have a boy.  I had no idea what I was in for.

     Even newborn baby boys are different from little newborn baby girls.  They make different noises, produce stronger smells, and feel more solid in your arms.  When they begin to grow up, they are often drawn to making car noises and tackling everything in sight.  Boys will often do things that I just can't understand.  For example, when my oldest son was about 4 years old, our baby's room at that time began to have a very strong smell of urine.  I thought maybe there was a stray wet diaper in the room somewhere.  I looked high and low, even under the dresser in the large, walk-in closet.  I just could not locate the old wet diaper I was sure was the source of this odor.  One of my older girls, who were 6 and 5 years old at that time, told me that our little 4-year-old son had been peeing in the closet of that room.  What!?!?!  I asked my little boy if that were true, and he answered yes.  He said that the girls would hog the two upstairs bathrooms, and if he really needed to go, instead of walking downstairs to go in the bathroom down there, he would go into the nursery closet and pee in an open spot right next to the dresser.  I investigated and decided that it had to be true, much to my dismay!  I found this very disturbing, and asked my husband and other mothers of boys if this were "normal" or a sign of deep emotional trauma.  My husband and friends assured me that it was within the "normal" range for a boy.  Okay, so after as thorough a cleaning as I could manage in there, air freshening, etc., and a very stern talking-to for David, he never did that again, and the smell faded.  A few weeks later I felt like I could never quite scrub the kids' bathroom enough to get the smell of urine to disappear.  I used Clorox, Lysol, and any other strong cleaner you can think of, yet it seemed to be in vain.  Again, I wasn't used to the boy-toilet splash factor yet, so I just figured that I was missing a spot on the outside of the toilet.  One day, when I went to empty the trash can in the bathroom (which was by the toilet), I discovered that it was about half-full of urine!  What (again)?!?!!?!?!!   Again I asked my husband and friends with boys if this was "normal", and again they assured me that it probably was.  I, on the other hand, was convinced that my child had somehow been traumatized, and this was the indirect result of that trauma.  Over the years, and after having 4 more boys, I have come to realize that boys can and do enjoy and explore their ability to urinate just about anywhere!  Yikes!

    And now--onto the realm of roughhousing.  Up until David was old enough to get in on "tickle time" with Daddy, the girls kept things to a very tame and manageable level.  Once we had a little toddler boy in on the action, tickle time became an all-out wrestling match, complete with attacks from the air (by aforementioned toddler boy).  The tiny little boy would launch himself from the top of the pillows on the bed and just fly through the air, landing on top of the pile of tickle-ers and tickle-ees.  At times there were injuries.  I began to glimpse how differently boys play.  Over the years with boys who are now ages 11, 8, 4, 2, and 2 months, I have been humbled many times over by the roughness of my boys.  We have had to train them to be gentle, to ask before wrestling, even with other boys (not all boys have the volume of brothers so used to really rough wrestling)--they are absolutely not allowed to wrestle with girls.  Try telling that to my two-year-old boy!  There have been occasions on which we have had to apologize to friends for the boys' rough behavior.  I have told my little men, "If you want your friends to enjoy playing and want to play with you, you should be more gentle with them!"  My guys enjoy games that involve soccer balls on the trampoline or throwing each other on the couch. They insist that they don't mind getting injured in the process of their play. As I write this, I have one little boy with just about the fattest lip I have ever seen, acquired in a game on the trampoline with other boys. He thinks it's cool. Another son sports a rather large and lumpy scar under his chin from flying onto the handlebars of his bike while riding at family camp. He thinks it makes him look tough.

    I am still trying to figure out the sheer physicalness of boys, and how to channel this energy in positive ways.  After all, I know God created them this way for a reason.  My job is to tame them and civilize them, while at the same time trying to preserve the "manliness" of these little men-to-be.   My mom raised three little girls.  We always had clean clothes, clean hands and face, prettily done hair.  She sees me with all these boys and tells me how lucky my friends are who have only girls--hahaha!  My mom sees the level of activity and energy, and it is exhausting to her.  Little boys *can* be wild!  I see the potential for strong, energetic, passionate Godly men who will change the world for His kingdom!  I am so thankful for these funny, strong, exuberant little boys who make me laugh so much and challenge me and make me a better person.  I feel it is a privilege to be entrusted with all these future men.  I am so blessed to be stretched and humbled by parenting these boys (and of course my girls, too), and I look forward to more years of laughter and learning.  Let's just pray that they can all safely survive their boyhood. 

 "The Lord is a warrior; The Lord is His name." Exodus 15:3