Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Treasuring Children in This Upside Down Kingdom

It happened again.  Upon running an errand with my children, we heard the ever-so-popular comment: “Boy, you have your hands full,” not once, not twice, but four times while in the store for 20 minutes.

I had to make a mid-morning run to the store with all four children in tow.  After making sure everyone’s face was clean, I supervised two kids putting on socks shoes while wrangling the other two squiggly children to put their respective footwear on.  Four coats were on and zipped.  Four hats were secured to their heads.  Four car-seats were buckled in place, and we were off.  Upon opening the van door, I discovered we were missing shoes, hats, socks, and somehow an arm had been de-sleeved.  I did the best I could to re-dress the kids to get them in the store.

We pulled up the cart, baby in front, toddler in back, with each big boy holding on to a side.  They know the drill.  They hardly ever make errands difficult.  They don’t ask for anything, don’t whine, don’t run away.  The biggest problem is the getting there…still dressed.  My two-year old started singing his rendition of “Polly Wolly Doodle All the Day,” and the baby started clapping.  As we happily walked down an aisle, a man said “Whoa, you have your hands full!” in a tone much less than encouraging.

I’m sort of used to this.  We either get that comment or “Are these all yours?”  We pressed on.  Two aisles later, an older woman said “Oh my goodness, look at all these children!  Poor mom!”  I graciously smiled, and my kids grew quiet.  On our way to checkout, another little one said “Look mom!  Baby!”  To which she replied, “Yes, and a lot of other kids too!  You sure do have your hands full, you poor thing.”  Finally, at the checkout, the store employee had the double-whammy:  “Are all these yours?”  Yes.  “Boy, do you have your hands full!  You guys better be good for mommy!” 

Now, like I said, I’m sort of used to this.  But it always had bothered me.  Yes, there are days when I don’t sit down.  There are moments of frustration when all I want to do is cry.  There are times when one of the kids have to wait for me because I’m doing something with another, and that gets emotionally challenging.  But, truth be told, I felt like this when I had just one! 

When we got home from the store, my 6 year old asked, “Mom, are you o.k.?  You’re hands are full and I think that’s a bad thing.”  You see, people make these comments as if I’m walking around with children who have no ears, no brains, no common sense.  These strangers’ comments are slowly teaching my children about how society views children.  Poor mom. What a burden. Don’t you have any time for yourself?  Slowly, these thoughts and comments seep into little minds who have began questioning their importance to me and to others.

After my son’s comment, I gathered my boys and we had a big hug that turned into a cuddle.  I told them that my hands were full, but not the way all those people at the store think.  I told them, as I held them tight, my hands were full of love, and joy, and silliness, and amazing gifts that were just for me. 

In my short time as a mom, I have learned much about what society thinks about children.  They are a financial burden, a handful, a problem for mom.  I suppose I can view these comments as ways to sympathize with me, but in reality, I’m not in mourning!  I’m alive because of my kids.  Unfortunately, every time we leave the house, they are exposed to this rhetoric, and they’re starting to listen and learn. 

My heart was heavy last night as I went to bed.  How, Lord, can I teach them that they are not a burden, but a blessing.  The answer came this morning.  We opened our Bible and the story we were scheduled to read was “The Friend of the Little Children” taken from various parts of the Gospels, Matthew 18 and 19, Mark 10, and Luke 18.  I love how The Jesus Storybook Bible put it.  After arguing who was the most important in God’s kingdom, the disciples watched as a group of children ran to Jesus.

“Jesus’ helpers tried to send them away. ‘Jesus doesn’t have time for you!’ they said.  “He’s too tired.’ But they were wrong.  Jesus always had time for children.  ‘Don’t ever send them away!’ Jesus said. ‘Bring the little ones to me.’”

Sounds familiar.  Poor Jesus, he’s too tired for such a handful.  Can you imagine as the onlookers watched these energetic little ones climb onto a tired Jesus’ lap asking him to tell them a story.  Boy, does he have his hands full!  Boys and girls, you better be good for him!

“Well, after all the laughing and games, Jesus turned to his helpers and said, ‘No matter how big you grow, never grow up so much that you lose your child’s heart: full of trust in God.  Be like these children.  They are the most important in my kingdom.’” 

You should’ve seen the look on my oldest son’s face as I read these words.  It was as if relief had come to his worried mind.  It wasn’t just me who said he wasn’t a burden, but Jesus said it himself!  I am not to be pitied, but rather I should be regarded as a very blessed woman! I get to spend my days and nights with the most important in His kingdom!  Most of the time, however, we are received in a very different manner.  What an upside down kingdom we live in.

Children are a lot of work.  Remember the 8 shoes 8 socks, 4 coats, 4 hats that lasted about 10 minutes of travel?  In order to have them behave in a store, there was much training involved.  There are tantrums, bad attitudes, and more physical labor than I could have imagined.  But there is joy, laughter, hugs and kisses.  And though they are not always innocent, and though they are not always wise, they are pure in heart.  And the pure in heart will see God.

I cannot control what people say, but I will relentlessly be the voice that is constantly whispering the truth in their ears: they are not a burden, but a gift and the closest thing to real joy and love this side of glory.

 “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him.” Psalm 127:3 NLT

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Not Just Dreaming But Doing

Do you ever find yourself going through the motions of life for months, even years, without any definitive goal except for survival?  Is it just me?  At the end of 2006, our son was born, and about every 18 months since then we’ve welcomed another lovely addition to our family.  We’ve had a perpetual toddler.  Our mounds of laundry grow larger each year, our bank account smaller.  Our goals have been to do the best we can with what we’ve been given.  However, this non-specific goal left us near-defeated by the end of our long, busy days, facing the doom of getting up the next morning to repeat it all over again.  Life goes by so quickly that there are moments that my husband and I look at each other in disbelief that we have all these kids!

Now, I have accomplished much in life…before kids.  I won awards, was always at the top of my class, held down a job or two at a time, and somehow had time to serve others.  Perhaps I used all of my life’s allotted energy in my earlier years?   Yes, energy levels and responsibility levels are different, but there’s another difference.  I used to set goals.

Before you stop reading and think great, just another post about New Year resolutions, that’s not what I’m talking about.  It just so happens that at the end of the year, we start reflecting on the good and bad and resolve to change all that went wrong.  I didn’t lose as much weight last year as before, so I resolve to do it this year.  Nope. That’s just not enough for me.  I have to roadmap it. 

The truth is that I have a responsibility to teach my little guys and girl (eventually) to set goals for themselves.  Proverbs 29:18 says “Without vision, a people perish.”  If we do not know where we’re going, we’re never going to get there.  We can have the best intentions in the world, but they will remain intentions unless there is a declaration (or resolution), a goal, a plan to achieve that goal, and a time frame.  This is a goal formula I used to follow and it has been responsible for some great success.  Now, it’s time to revive it and pass it on.

Family meeting time!  Our kids loved goal setting.  Their resolve was oozing out of their ears. I’m going to play baseball everyday and be the best baseball player ever and play on the Indians.  Yes, my dear 4-year-old, that’s a lofty one!  I want to feed all the orphans in the world.  Ah-my 6-year-old is a kindred spirit of mine!  We let them go on and on, enjoying hearing the high hopes held in the heart of a child.  Then we explained we’re going to roadmap our goals and commit to a plan to get us there.  Silence.  Silence, followed by a change of goals.  Suddenly, they became more realistic.

Our boys are learning something about change.  First, we have to be intentional about what we want to change or improve.  Second, we must have a plan to accomplish those changes.  Third, accountability helps a lot. 

It took awhile, but we listed and planned out our family and individual goals for 2013.  We listed several and planned how we’ll get there.  We incorporated those wonderful high hopes into a list of things that they want to accomplish eventually.  Instead of playing on the Indians this year, we tweaked our little guy’s goal to something he can work on to get him there some day.  Instead of feeding all the orphans in the world this year, we talked about what we could realistically do to make an impact in some kids lives.

One of my goals is to learn how to do everything without grumbling or complaining.  My plan includes starting a gratitude journal and writing in it everyday.  I am using prompts from Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts.”  Every day I think through her prompts and list what I’m thankful for.  It’s amazing how practicing gratitude changes our perception!

I’m excited about 2013.  I feel like a fog has lifted and survival is no longer our end goal.  While there are days (plenty of them) when that’s all we can do, I want to run this race the best I can.  It’s hard to run a race wisely when we can’t see the finish line.

So, here’s to 2013!  Here’s to goal setting once again!  Here’s to the excitement of future success!  Here’s to watching my family accomplish great things through the grace of God!

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Truth Be Told, We Don't Do Sick Well

Well hello again!  It’s been awhile.

Somehow I blinked mid-December and when I came to, I realized it was already a few days into the New Year.  Often, the holidays can do this to us…especially moms.  Between the cooking, the cleaning, the wrapping, the planning, the preparing…it’s like going on vacation-afterwards, you need a vacation!

As I write today, I have a fevering baby lying on my chest.  I’m not completely sure, but I think that we have somehow physically become inseparable within the last week, as if she could not survive apart from being held close to me.  But this is the only way she’ll sleep.  And when she’s not sleeping, she’s crying, with her hoarse little voice and runny nose.  And she has to be tired because as we sit here, we can hear a symphony of coughing all around us.  Next door is her 2 year old brother with croup, working hard to get all of that yuck out of him.  Behind us are her two older brothers, both with coughs, spiking fevers, and now viral rashes.  Despite all the noise and interruption, she is sleeping to the sound of my heartbeat.

It’s been a rough week around here.  My husband had 5 days off of work and we were planning on catching up on life and getting ahead.  So much for that plan!  We are about 10 more steps behind.  We’ve taken turns for the last week holding little ones, with very little time spent when no one is in our arms.  Our backs hurt, our necks are sore, and we’re just plain tired.  We have come up with some crazy meals around here, pulling together anything remotely healthy that we could have on the table between crying spells.  And amidst the crying, the coughing, the sneezing, the fevering, and the vomiting, we found out that someone has been running up our credit card.  Ah, life.  There is a reason for the saying “when it rains, it pours.”

Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, today my husband went back to work.  Today the morning’s symphonies of coughing and crying were all for me to enjoy alone.   But this morning was a little different-a little more intense.

This morning I bundled all four runny-nosed, goopy eyed little ones and piled them into the van to go to the dr.  As we were sitting there, crying and coughing as usual, my two year old tripped and got a bloody nose.  No problem.  I was holding the crying baby and the crying, bloody toddler when I look over to discover that my 6 year old was swelling up and breaking out into a rash, right there in the waiting room!  He started crying because his feet hurt all of the sudden.  Hmm…o.k.  At least we were in the dr.’s office!  I shifted the other two so I could have a free arm to hug him.  My 4 year old was quietly watching the fish swim around the tank when, no joke, he went into a coughing fit that literally wouldn’t stop for the next 15 minutes.  Ah-we were the picture of health and wholeness!  Truth time: in my heart and in my head, there was not a good thought to be found.  I love these little guys, but enough was enough.  Mommy’s sick too.  Does anyone care?  Thank goodness my inward grumbling and complaining was interrupted by the nurse calling our name.

Four checkups later, we were on our way to the pharmacy at Target.  I dreaded the trip seeing as the dr.’s office wasn’t so easy.  The inner dialogue started again: this stinks.  I didn’t even have time with my husband during the holidays because of all of this.  I haven’t slept in forever.  It’s cold. I’m hungry.  Gosh, I can spiral downward fast!

For some reason, everyone seemed to be at Target today at 11:00 a.m.  I had never had to park so far away!  I carried the two younger ones, one on each aching hip, while the other two walked along like little ducklings, braving the cold wind.  Two in the cart, two holding onto the sides, we rushed to the pharmacy.  While waiting for our prescription, we grabbed another humidifier, some mucinex, more ibuprofen, and some Gatorade.  My kids were dragging at this point.  My poor baby was leaning sideways in her seat, unable to hold her head up.  We paid for everything and were on our way out.  I realized at that point that I had not stopped moving since I was awakened early this morning.  Exhaustion set in.  No, not yet!  I still have lunch to make and kids to settle down for a rest!  I need a cup of coffee!

It was then I heard this little voice that I love so much.  My six year old looked up at me as we were walking out of Target and said, “It’s been a really good day today, hasn’t it Mom?”  I looked at him in disbelief.  How in the world could this be classified as a good day?  I hadn’t had time to even have a glass of water yet.  I’m covered in snot.  I literally watched him break out into a big swollen mess as I was holding one crying, fevering baby and consoling another sick, nose-bleeding child.  I haven’t slept in a week.  My house is an absolute mess.  We’re almost out of food.  I haven’t been able to put the baby down for 7 whole days.  But I didn’t say anything.  I smiled and said “Well buddy, it could’ve been worse.”


That’s when I had to crawl back into my head and yell at myself.  It’s not about you.  It’s about love.  It’s easy to love when someone is lovable.  It’s easy to love your kids when you have a bedtime to look forward to.  It’s easy to love your spouse when everyone is rested and there is no crisis to deal with.  It’s entirely a different story when you’re being pushed to your limit of sanity!  But these little ones are always watching and trying to figure things out.  Yes, my dear one, it’s been a really good day because we get to be together.


Here’s the truth:  the Stacks had a messy week.  But it could be worse.  We’re not watching our kids suffer through a hopeless situation.  We are not alone.  Our bodies will recover.  We are blessed by each other and by the home that we have.  We are blessed by the amazing wisdom and optimism that exudes from our little ones.  We can choose to dwell in that inner dialogue where it’s so easy to see the negative, or we can choose to see the good in our day.  We are together.  We are rich in love.  That’s what it’s all about.

Happy New Year!  The Stacks will get better, and then watch out!  We are ready for this to be the best year yet!  Look for the good in today, love each other, and listen to the little ones in your life!   

 “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew."
-St. Francis de Sales-