Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Bug Lost and Found

I can't believe it's been half a year since my children's book came out! My book is now on the shelf of the Livermore library, and recently, I had a chance to share my stories there and be a bit of a 'local celebrity'. It was a whole new experience for me!

My book is still available for purchase on Amazon.com, and if you'd like a preview (or have little ones that need quiet entertainment for a few minutes), you can view a video of the book on YouTube! The Bug Lost and Found video was made by my sister-in-law and features the voices of seven of my eight children (the baby talks a lot, but is not ready for a voiceover career yet).

Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Front Porch Hospitality

Your doorbell rings and you peek outside to see a stranger on your front step. What do you do?

A) Tell the kids to hush and pretend you're not home
B) Open the door, yell "I don't want any!", then slam the door
C) Open the door, point emphatically to the 'No Solicitors' sign, then slam the door
D) Listen politely to the person's rehearsed speech (at least part of it), then politely send him on his way

I'll be the first to confess, I've done A) once or twice. I had a really nasty experience with a vacuum cleaner salesperson once. But usually I do D), which is the obvious right choice, no matter how much it may make me tense up.

The thing is, whether they are Mormons, solar panel salesmen, or pest exterminators, they are still people. And even though they are mere strangers to me and may never enter my home, I can still extend hospitality to them.

Take yesterday, for example. My doorbell rang around 7:30pm. I wasn't expecting anyone. Outside my door was a young man asking for donations. My husband and I chatted with him for several minutes and by the end of our time together, we knew the young man's name, a few things about him, and the fact that he's been doing this all day long. So I send him off with a bottle of water and a baggie full of homemade cookies. 

It's that easy.

We know that the Bible is full of examples of hospitality. However, when we think about hospitality, we oftentimes ask, "Who can I invite over for dinner?" or "How can I make my home more warm and inviting?" or "What's on the menu?" We are not thinking about the stranger who passes not through our front door, but by our front door. 

But take a look at God's commands to the Israelites in Deuteronomy. He tells them to give a portion of their harvest to "the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns" (see Deut. 14:28-29). He also says to leave food in the fields for these people (Deut. 24-19-22) and to allow them to celebrate with the Israelites (Deut. 16:10-14). Although these people may be strangers from a foreign land (and not followers of Yahweh), they are still to be welcomed and receive a portion of God's bounty!

So, here are some ideas for how you can extend your hospitality beyond your front door!

- Offer a cup of water to a door-to-door solicitor

- Put snacks (chips, granola bars, trail mix) or drinks (soda, juice, water) in a box by your front door, with a sign for the post carrier or package delivery person to help themselves. This is especially appreciated during the busy Christmas season. (idea courtesy of Luke and Elise Greenaway)

- Pass out flyers to your neighbors and host an ice-cream social on your driveway. Tell your neighbors to bring an ice cream topping of their choice to share. (I was invited to one of these, hosted by Jeff and Cristin Dersham!) 

- If you have a fruit tree in your front yard, put up a sign giving permission for passers-by to pick one or two. Or if you have an abundant harvest of fruit (lemons!) from your backyard, put some out on your sidewalk to share.

- At Halloween, set up a table with cookies, hot chocolate and coffee. Put out chairs so trick-or-treaters can rest for a bit. (I saw this at a house once. It was an oasis in the dark!)

Just remember, that though we may not be cultivating a deep friendship with the stranger at our door, we can still extend Christ's love to him!

And you shall rejoice in all the good that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house, you, and the Levite, and the sojourner who is among you. ~Deuteronomy 26:11 ESV

(And if you have ideas to share, please do!)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Trading My Sorrows

My eyes filled with tears as I watched the couple slow dance to 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'. Ben, gently swaying with his arms around his wife, closed his eyes for a moment. He was fighting back tears too.

It was in that moment that I saw the pain amidst the joy, the duality that defines so much of Ben's life right now as he cares for Judy, who has Alzheimer's disease. He cherishes every smile, even when Judy isn't fully aware of her surroundings. He cherishes every word, even when Judy doesn't fully understand the conversation. And even as Ben lives with this deep pain, God has filled him with a new joy and peace that cannot be explained. When Ben is not with Judy, he is ministering to families and teaching others about Alzheimer's. 

Later, when I had a chance, I asked Ben how he has learned to manage the daily sadness of slowly losing his wife–if he has a routine or Bible verse that helps him get through the feeling when it overwhelms him.

"I don't have any one thing," Ben replied in his quiet way. "But I have learned to let myself feel the emotions."

The words struck me. I had learned at a young age to stifle certain emotions. Strength, I thought, lay in the ability to push through fear, doubt, despair, and sadness and tough it out. Why cry when I could do something about the situation? Why feel sadness when sadness hurts so much?

But as I recently discovered, sometimes crying is pushing through. Last summer, when I found out that I was expecting Baby #8, fear crept into my heart. But I didn't address the fear; I only told myself, "God wants to teach you something. So find the lesson." Then the baby came, and I found my fear realized as I struggled to manage everything. But I told myself, "I can do this. I just have to try harder." All the while, I became buried deeper and deeper in my dark emotions, sometimes lashing out at my husband or children, sometimes beating myself up for not doing enough. Joy and peace seemed elusive. I felt like everything was going to fall apart if I stopped moving. But it was really me that was falling apart. And all I was really doing was putting duct tape on a bursting pipe. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong… until I allowed myself to cry.* If you've ever watched Pixar's Inside Out, you would understand.

And I discovered that crying goes beyond a psychological or physiological need to expel pain. Whenever I try to avoid feeling loss or pain, I am really trying to hold onto self-reliance. I put on a good front. I tell people "I'm fine." And I keep trying to fix the problem. I try not to feel the pain in the hope that by the time the problem is fixed, I can move on to happier emotions. But in doing so, I also keep a death grip on my pride. Which means my hands are closed, and I am unable to receive help, or anything, from God. 

All this time, I kept asking God to reveal to me what He wanted me to learn, not realizing that I was unable to learn it. That was, until I cried. Until I humbled myself and let go. Until I admitted that I couldn't do it on my own.

I would have found this in the Bible too if I had thought to look. My friend Susan (thank you, Susan!) reminded me that centuries before me, the authors of the Psalms cried out in despair and hopelessness, sounding almost blasphemous as they accused God of abandoning them. David, in Psalm 13, wrote

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

Notice, though, how David ended his song. 

But I trust in your unfailing love; 
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.

David did not just cry out to feel better. He didn't cry out to the sky just to release pent-up emotions. He traded his fears and sadness for peace and joy.

And that is what Ben is learning. And me also. By being honest with myself and admitting my weakness, I find strength, real strength. By allowing myself to fully feel the heartache, I can then be healed. And I've felt joy, peace, and patience return to me, though my situation hasn't changed much. 

Yes, there is a release when you cry, but what's even better is when you can release the emotions and the whole situation to the One who can do something about it.


(*See the post from May 11, When Mamas Need a Good Cry.) 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Most Important Work

I've been thinking a lot about motherhood lately (can you tell?) Having eight children does that to a person.

My latest thought? 

Why do people so often say, "You must have your hands full! How do you do it?"

I know these people mean well (and it's only small talk anyway), but it's like they're saying, "Why would you choose to torture yourself that way? Well, someone's got to do it." It makes motherhood sound like punishment, like children are something to be "put-up-with". And many moms do feel this way! Once the school year is over, these moms are in agony because they will be with their children all day long. "What am I going to do?" they ask. "My children will drive me crazy!"

I don't blame these moms. (I do blame a culture that perpetuates the attitude that children are an annoyance and staying at home and focusing on being Mom is a less-than-worthy endeavor.) Children are hard work. They require an enormous amount of energy and time. But parents can see their roles as something more than just babysitter.

Think about this quote from Dr. John Trainer:

Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.

Bringing home a pay check may seem important. Lobbying for non-GMO, organic farming may seem important. Discovering the cure for cancer, firefighting, and preaching to a thousand people may seem important. But as important as all these things are, parenting is still more important, because the future of humanity relies on the parents of today. If we don't pass on our values to our children, our values die with us. The efforts that we start can only be continued through our children. Someday, our children will take the baton from us, so we must train them now how to run the race.

In short, moms (and dads) raise up the next generation

Can you grasp that? The responsibility? The undertaking? The stakes?

And we have only a few short years to lay the foundation.

Summer vacation is here. What's your game plan? Are you going to "put-up" with your children for a few months? Or make the most of it?

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Magic of Mom

"Awesome! If the baby's not going to nurse, at least other people can help feed her!"

That was the only positive I could think of during my past two months of lamenting over the baby's refusal to nurse. 

Which wasn't a bad trade-off. I've seen two (yes two!) movies in the theater since the baby's birth, which has never ever happened before. I've had one of the older children calm the hungry, screaming child with a bottle while we were stuck in traffic.

But part of me was still depressed. This baby didn't want me. This baby didn't need me. What did I do wrong?

Then one day, the baby was unconsolable. I was pumping, which meant I could not hold her. All the older children tried rocking her, feeding her, taking her outside, transferring her from one set of arms to another. Nothing could calm her.

Finally, I was done pumping. I took my baby in my arms and instantly she stopped her sobbing. I offered her a bottle and she gladly took it. Then, with her tummy satisfied, she fell into a peaceful sleep.

And this wasn't the only time.

On multiple occasions, Mom has been the only person who could give the baby what she needed. I don't know why it is that though almost anyone else can feed her, change her, or hold her, sometimes only I can comfort her. I have to explain to my children when they cry, "The baby doesn't like me!" that it's nothing personal against them. They're not Mom! And when they ask, "But how does she know? Does she smell you?!" I just shrug.

But my heart is singing. She does need me! No one in the world can take my place! By God's design, there is a strange, special bond there; "magical" is the only way I can describe it. It's a bond that goes beyond putting food in the child's stomach. It's a responsibility, an entrustment, an honor, a privilege, and a joy!