Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Summer Declutter

I'm sorry I haven't blogged much this summer. Between potty-training one child and sleep-training another, taking kids to swim lessons and drum lessons, outings to the beach, the pool, the fair, and friends' houses, and lesson planning for high school (!), I haven't had time to sit down and write.

But we were home today, and so I told the kids, "It's time to clean your rooms and closets!" They groaned, of course. But there is something satisfying about throwing away useless and broken things and rediscovering hidden treasures, and seeing the finished room look tidy and organized.

Half an hour into the cleaning, my middle daughter comes to me.

"Can I have some new batteries so Emet can play with this?"

She was holding her My Little Pony remote control airplane, once so dear to her that she hid it in her closet so that her younger siblings could not get their hands on it. And now, she was willingly sharing it. Joy filled my heart to see my daughter act so lovingly. Some of it is maturity. And maybe some is wisdom. Maybe my daughter realized that what was so precious at the age of seven isn't precious now at the age of ten.

But then entered my seven-year-old. He was holding long-forgotten toys and arguing with the two-year-old because he didn't want his little brother to even look at them. Screams filled the air as I rushed to mediate. There is no convincing my seven-year-old why he should share with his brother, and maybe someday, he too will see what is most important. 

And really, don't I go through times like that too? I get impatient when the potty-training and sleep-training are not going well, because I want my time and my sleep. I grow anxious as I think about my oldest entering high school and how I'm going to make sure he does everything "right". Just the other day, I became hot and frustrated because my daughter misplaced her new goggles after only three swim lessons. I'm thinking, "What a waste of money! And she hardly used them!" instead of understanding that it is a minor thing in the light of eternity.

Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:19-21,

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

So, I ask myself… where is my heart? Is it time to do some cleaning and decluttering myself?


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Doing What Comes Unnaturally

Today is our church's annual Fourth of July picnic. Normally, large gatherings like this make me cringe. I feel nervous around people I don't know and overwhelmed when there are so many individuals and so many conversations. And in a crowd, it is easy for me to hide and just avoid talking to people all together.

I've learned that I'm not the only one who feels this way. Some people give excuses and stay home from these kinds of church events. Some come and sit only with their family, unsure of how to reach out to meet new people. And I see few people going over to invite them to sit with them or to play volleyball, maybe because they too are fearful and feel awkward about "breaking the ice". It is natural to want to stay comfortably within your own social circle. 

But we are family– the family of God! In John 17, Jesus prays this for us: I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. We should be reaching out to include everyone, even if it feels unnatural!

So, push aside your fear! If you too want to do what comes unnaturally (which, by the way, is a play-on words. "Doing What Comes Naturally" is a song from the musical "Annie Get Your Gun"), here are the steps that I go through:

1) Prepare mentally
When I attend large events such as the women's brunch or the church camping trip, I give myself a mission: to seek out those who need a friend. I still connect with old friends, but I don't give myself any excuses to not go up to a new person and simply say "hi!" Sometimes, the person who needs a friend is someone I already know. My goal is to love on anyone who needs it, so no one will feel excluded. (And here's a tip: I do this for Sunday mornings too. My church is big enough that newcomers can slip in and out if no one makes the effort to reach out to them.)

2) Pray
Once, when I was fairly new to my church, I was at a women's retreat. I did not know anyone really well, and as I wandered from room to room, I noticed that most of the women were already settled into conversation with their friends. So I grabbed my crochet project, found a quiet but central place and began to pray that God would send to me that woman that He would like me to meet. After a few minutes, a woman with a knitting project came and asked if she could sit with me. And that's how I met my friend Beth!

3) Think of questions to ask
Conversations don't need to be awkward. Start with introductions, and move on from there with the questions you have prepared. Remember, you already have something in common– Christ! And if your new friends are not Christians,  try some of these questions:

How did you and your husband meet?
Do you have any tips for parents?
Tell me your life story.
What are your hobbies?
How long have you lived in the area?
What's your favorite type of cuisine?
Do you like to read?
Do you like movies?
Have you traveled internationally?

Usually, it doesn't take long to discover that you DO have something in common!

Okay, it's almost 4pm. Time to go to the picnic! I hope I make a new friend today!


Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Greatest Obstacle in Marriage

As I mentioned in my last post, my husband and I recently shared with some couples about our marriage. At the end of our talk, we opened the time up for questions.

"What is the greatest obstacle in your marriage?" a young woman asked.

I was caught off guard. No one has ever asked me that question before! While I thought, my husband answered with something about finding balance between work, children, and everything else we do.

"What about you, Rita?" 

Everyone turned to look at me.

I still hadn't thought of anything. Right now, my hardest struggle is finding the time to take care of my husband in the midst of taking care of seven kids. The need to 'divide and conquer' sometimes leaves me feeling distant from my spouse. There are many days when I feel like I'm failing as a wife and mom. 

So I agreed with my husband, and we moved on. 

But later that night, as I continued to think about the question, the answer came to me. And it was the BEST answer. Yes, it is difficult to find enough hours in the day to do all I need and want to do, but that to me is not an obstacle. Obstacles are more like infertility, challenging careers, grief from lost of a loved one, finances, major language or cultural differences, difficult family backgrounds, or long-term medical conditions. While other couples have to overcome obstacles such as these, I was blessed to have to deal with none of them. So, what is the greatest obstacle in my marriage? It is... myself.

I grumble and complain when I should be thankful and content.
I answer rudely (or not at all) when I should be kind and polite.
I want my own way, my own terms, my own time, and my own space, even when my husband especially needs my care.
It's like what Paul wrote in Romans 7:19, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing."

My marriage would be a much better marriage if I didn't allow my expectations, impatience, and short-temper to get in the way! I may still be in the process of learning how to love my husband, but I would definitely be a faster learner if I loved more like Jesus!

Storms may rage and life may pummel me, but my husband and I are safe in the fortress of our marriage, if our marriage is strong. I need to take care of my marriage when life is quiet and easy, and not become lazy and let internal strife weaken us. I should not be the greatest obstacle in my marriage, because someday, a greater obstacle may come our way. And then, we will be ready to face it, together.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Synchronize Your Watches!

My husband and I were preparing to go to our church and give some marriage counsel to a group of young couples. Having just written a post on communication, I was percolating with thoughts and tips, excited, nervous, and eager to share on one of my favorite subjects.

"I want to leave at 6:00," I informed my husband. "That gives us some extra time before every one else arrives."

"Okay, sounds great!" he said.

At 5:55, I was ready to go. The kids were in the van.

"Everyone, get ready to go!" my husband shouted.

"Everyone's ready!" I answered back.

But not everyone was. My husband was still at the computer, adding some final thoughts to our notes.

I glanced at my watch.

6:00.

"Time to go!" I calmly said, keys in hand.

"Okay!" my husband shouted back from the other room.

6:05.

"I'm leaving now!" I said, not so calmly anymore.

"Yes! Okay! Got it!" There was tension in his voice. Two minutes later, he came with his shoes on, papers in hand. We arrived with time to spare.

The talk went great. We had so much to say, I was worried that we would cover only half of our notes. As the ending time neared, I checked my watch.

7:55.

No problem, I thought, we'll finish a little after 8:00.

I also happened to notice my husband's watch right then.

7:50, it read.

Huh.

My husband wrapped up precisely at 8:00, but according to my watch, it was 8:05. All my impatience and irritation from earlier in the evening had been caused by a mere five-minute difference on our watches! Humbled, I made sure to synchronize our watches as soon as we got home to avoid this  type of miscommunication in the future.


You know that I will be sharing this little story the next time I speak on marriage or communication! The lesson here is this: it is important for spouses to communicate and be on the same page as much as possible. If they aren't on the same page, they struggle and clash. But if they are, everything else falls into place with little conflict, and their marriage is a strong and solid fortress.