Sunday, February 26, 2017

Reconciliation.



Our dear Daniel has his First Reconciliation next Saturday, and I'm a little confused because, um, wasn't he just born?  Eight years sure flies. We're preparing for his big day by completing the "Gift of Reconciliation" book our church provides.  Last year, Paul and I took turns completing it with Phil, but this year I selfishly took over this task all on my own for three very important reasons.  (1) While we do the book Paul has to put the other kids to bed.  (2) Did I mention I get to do the book while Paul puts the other kids to bed? and (3) Daniel is the ultimate mini-me, and thanks to the fact that we are so similar he is also the child with whom I need the most reconciling.  Imagine that. Not because of his sinfulness, really, just because of mine.  I can't even imagine what he's going to confess in confession, the little dude is the sweetest.  Wiping his nose on his sleeve?  Taking too many turns on the Wii?  I'd love to be a fly on the wall. But he's so excited for his big day, it doesn't even matter. 


The other night we were working through a chapter together and read the story of the prodigal son.  "Oh, I LOVE this one." he said, and I agreed.  We laughed, remembering how his Religious Ed class last year acted it out and had so much fun taking turns being each character in the story.  Their little play was in a way a metaphor for life:  we might all take turns being each of those roles at some point on our journey, right?  Then we got to a new section:  "Mistakes are not sins."  Daniel started reading out loud and by the time he finished the section I was holding back tears.  He was ready to move on to the next page, but I stopped him.  I was feeling majorly convicted.  I bit my lip.

"Daniel," I said.  "I need to apologize to you."
He looked at me with some concern.
"D," I said, a tear running down my face. "I just realized that sometimes I get angry at you when you make mistakes.  That's not fair.  Mistakes are not sins.  Mistakes are how we learn."
"It's really OK, Mommy."
"No, Daniel, it's not OK," I said, still crying. "That is not good of me.  You need to make mistakes.  We all make mistakes.  I am sorry.  I am so sorry I haven't been a good mommy to you."
I started to sob.
Daniel started to get desperate.
"MOMMY!!!!" he crawled into my lap and put his arms around me.  "You are a good mommy!  Stop crying!  It's OK!  It's OK!  I'm OK!  I love you and I think you are a good mommy."
He cuddled his head under my chin.
"Will you forgive me, Daniel?"
"Yes, Mommy, just PLEASE stop crying."
"OK" I grinned sheepishly and wiped my tears.  He shot me a concerned look as he turned the page, but I pulled myself together and we moved on.

I haven't been able to get that moment out of my mind since.  "Mistakes are not sins."  When he read that I was like, "OHHHHHHHH SNAAAAAAP."  Got me.  Mistakes are not sins. It seems so obvious in print.  So why in real life do I respond to my children like they are something intentional? We all make mistakes, and as much as I personally hate making them, how will you learn and grow without the opportunity to try and fail and do better the next time?  So when Daniel spills his milk or loses his iPad case at school or forgets his lunch bag or misplaces another library book or gets spaghetti all over his face at dinner or shoves his laundry in the drawer the wrong way, I'm not sending him a very good message about his essential humanity if I lose my patience with him.  I need him to develop the loving internal voice to be kind and patient with himself, and in order to do that I need to give him the gift of words that can build his character instead of tear it down.  I can already tell that I have been failing in this by the way he profusely apologizes for his mistakes, "I'm so sorry, Mommy, I'm so sorry.  I forgot to make my bed, I'll go do it, I'm so sorry. I forget all the time" or  "I fell at recess today, I'm so sorry.  I can't believe I did that.  I shouldn't even play soccer at recess. I'm so sorry."  Ouch. If that doesn't tell me that I need to nurture that sweet little heart, I don't know what does.  Our world is in such desperate need of kindness and peace and reconciliation right now.  If I want it out there, I had better get to work up in here.

The psalm last week at church was a favorite of mine, "The Lord is Kind and Merciful."  That one is so encouraging, but humbling as well.  God is so amazingly abundant in His mercy that not only does he overlook our human failings and mistakes, He also forgives all of our on-purpose sins.  He's just pure love, and He adores each of us.  I get to be a beneficiary of the grace and mercy of our loving God every day of my life, and I am so grateful.  But I need to admit that I can always do a better job of passing that grace and mercy on to my children, and being slow to anger and abounding in kindness every day is a goal I am working towards. As they have grown older, I've come to realize even more the abounding kindness I need right here in my home.  The world can be cruel out there, our home needs to be a place where gentleness reigns. I also need to help them become functioning adults, so there is room for correction and discipline and teaching and learning in there, too.  I've got to stay in tune with the balance.  As one of my favorites, Glennon Melton, says, "Don't be so concerned with raising a good kid you forget you already have one." 

God made all four of them just right.
  
We moved #4 into a big boy bed this past weekend. . .never too early, really.  I even made it before my target date of February 30, two thousand and never and he was totally out of his crib before his fourth birthday next month.  ;)  He has been over the moon excited, which is so cute but also makes it a little hard for his bunkmate, Joshy, to sleep.  The other morning in the kitchen Joshy was crying, "Mommy, Noah NEVER lets me go to sleep!  He is always trying to talk to me and get in my bed!"
I tried to remain serious but started to giggle a little bit.  Oh, the irony.  I was getting ready to point it out but Phil beat me to it.
"Josh, when you were three you used to do the SAME THING to us every night!  You cost me like $1.50 every week!"
"Oh my goodness, Phil, I totally forgot about the sticks!"  We laughed remembering how for a while they had such a problem getting out of bed and being silly that we gave them each 8 popsicle sticks and every time they got out of bed it cost them a popsicle stick, or $.25 of their $2 allowance.  That worked for everyone except Josh, who is totally Captain Silly and could have cared less about money.  You can't put a price on funny. And now the tables have turned and his three-year-old brother drives him crazy.
Daniel chimed in, "Remember when I was three?"
I cringed.
"Oh, Daniel, I couldn't forget.  I'm really sorry about that buddy."
"Yeah, you guys put a CHILD SAFETY KNOB on the inside of my door when I got out of bed too many times so I couldn't get out!  Not cool, Mommy!"
"Daniel, I am so sorry about that.  If I could go back and be your mom again when you were three, I would do things differently.  That was not the kindest parenting on my part."
Daniel laughed, ever the picture of forgiveness.  "It's OK, Mommy.  Look, I'm fine.  I turned out great."
He grinned at me and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, "I'm just right."
I grinned right back at him and ruffled his hair.  He put his arms around my waist and looked up at me with his big blue eyes and tousled blond hair.

He HAS turned out fine, despite all my mom fails.
He's so forgiving, and at the very least all of my failures give us a chance to celebrate the gift of repentance and grace and mercy and reconciliation over and over again.
He's a marvelous creation, and he doesn't need fixing.
He is just right.
(I did fix his hair though.  That one was on me.)

Happy First Reconciliation, D.  God's grace and blessings on you always.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

As advertised.





"Parenting is hard. Even when—ESPECIALLY WHEN—you’re doing it right."- Glennon Melton

One day Daniel stopped me mid-sentence to tell me, "You know what, mommy?  You have a lot of sad stories."
"What do you mean?
"Well, like anything we come up with you have some sort of depressing or scary story for that."
"Listen, kids, I'm a mom, I'm just trying to teach you my LIFE LESSONS."

Like, for example, how when I was about 4 or 5, I begged my parents to buy me Grape Nuts cereal.  I asked for them so persistently every time we went to Marsh that my mom finally just gave up and bought me a box.  It took me one grainy and dry bite to realize that Grape Nuts contained neither grapes nor nuts.  Box of cereal: $4, Lesson: Priceless.  Don't believe everything you see on TV, my darling children, or you might end up with a whole bowl of super gross cereal.

And any time my kids have ever asked for a toy they see in a commercial, I remind them of the sad, sad story of Baby Skates.

Now little Jenny LOVED Roller Skating, and she loved dolls, and she loved watching the Smurfs on Saturday mornings.  So, when Jenny saw a commercial for a rollerskating doll named Baby Skates during her Smurfs, she was obsessed.  I am going to insert the commercial for your review, and you can see why little preschool me HAD TO HAVE THIS DOLL.




I longed for Baby Skates.  Absolutely pined for her.  I mean, just LOOK at her??!!!!  There were many things as a kid that I longed for that my parents never gave me, either because they couldn't or because they knew it wouldn't be a good idea, and for that I am deeply grateful.  But I am also grateful that I did get a Baby Skates, because she was a big old life lesson in one little box.

When I finally received the coveted doll, I couldn't believe that she was mine. I remember sitting on the beige linoleum in our dining nook and removing her carefully from the cardboard and plastic.  She looked a little more flimsy than she did on the commercial, but I was undeterred.  This baby was going to amaze everyone!! I saw it on TV!  I set her up on the floor, fully prepared for the awesome performance I had in my mind.  Baby Skates was a little wobbly, but I finally got her upright and switched her on.  She was vertical for a full 3 seconds before face-planting, her little plastic legs still kicking, tiny yellow wheels of her roller skates flailing in the air.  

Hmmmm.

This was not as advertised. 

I tried for a while until I realized that there was absolutely no way Baby Skates was going to fly on my linoleum the way she flew on the sidewalk on TV.   Wait- the sidewalk!  Maybe that would work!  So I tried the sidewalk- but that was even worse!  Any little bump and Baby Skates was done.  I went to my mom in tears and she sympathetically tried to help me, but we soon learned that any flying that Baby Skates was going to do would have to be done with my own two hands.  Mattel had sold me a box of LIES. I looked at my mom, crushed.

"You know, Jen," Mom said.  "Not everything you see on T.V. is true.   Can you see now that you can't believe everything you see in a commercial?"
And I did see.  I may have only been about 5 years old, but I sure felt ten years wiser.

Baby Skates was a good lesson for my consumer life, but it is also a good lesson for life in general.  How many times do we feel like life is "not as advertised?"  I think my first true lesson in the not-as-advertised nature of adulting came when we brought our firstborn home from the hospital.  I had longed for a child, I PINED for a child, I felt destined to be a mother.  My mind, shaped by movies and sitcoms and Johnson's Baby Powder commercials, had me convinced that I should be in a perpetual state of joyful maternal bliss, gazing at him in wonder just like the resin Madonna in my nativity scene.  

Instead I discovered that as a new mother I was spent- mentally, physically, emotionally- from birthing my first child.  I was anxious about keeping my son alive, as this seemed like a huge responsibility and I was unsure who qualified me for this.  I was still in pain, even little things like walking up the stairs made me want to cry.  Phil didn't sleep at all, so I was in a new realm of "tired" I had never experienced. And don't even get me started on breastfeeding!  And then layer on top of that the guilt/shame cycle of not feeling like I was ENJOYING EVERY MOMENT with my precious child. . .

My maternal state was not-as-advertised.

It was a Grape Nuts moment, and nothing was as delicious I thought it was going to be. WHERE ARE THE GRAPES?  WHERE ARE THE NUTS HERE?  My first inclination when a feeling like this happens is that I must be doing something wrong. Maybe if I just buy the right thing. . .maybe if I was a different person. . .maybe if I just made myself better. . .it wouldn't be hard.  I'm doing something wrong.  I'm wrong.  Everyone else has it together but me.

Then, same thing happened to me when I was 27 that happened to me when I was 5. . .my mom came and picked me back up.  "No one really tells you how hard being a mom is, Jen." she said.  "It's hard for everyone, though.  Being a mom is just hard. It's OK."

Right when she said it, freedom.  I understood, because those aren't just words for my mom, she's backed it up her whole life with action.  My mom has shown me in her living that not everything is easy, especially the really worthwhile things.  And just because it is hard doesn't mean you are doing it wrong.  Maybe, it's just hard.  But it's worth it.   Keep on keepin' on.

This lesson keeps coming up again and again.  When the kids are fighting.  When the bills aren't paid.  When the pile of dishes and mountain of laundry just won't quit.  When the cat gets sick, someone has a fever, the car is in the shop and the furnace breaks.  When we get on social media and we hardly see a single person tackling their mountain of dishes or breaking up a squabble over a toy.  In fact, everyone seems to be smiling and heading on vacation and showing off their hot bods and new outfits and shiny manicures and well-decorated homes.  Is this how my life should be?  What am I doing wrong? Why is my life not-as-advertised?

Our culture sends one message, but there is a deeper truth.  Not every day is picture-perfect, and if I expect them to be I'll be setting myself up miss the imperfect mess of joy right within my grasp.  Nothing is perfect this side of heaven.  But in the midst of our earthly struggles, I'm learning there is room for so much joy. 

I can't claim to be a biblical scholar, but I can say I've never seen a place in the scripture where Jesus promises His people that everything will be easy.  Or where He tells us to buy something to solve our problems. . .or if we just lose weight, or get a better job, or a new car, or have flatter abs it will all be good.  More like he said deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.  Blessed are the peacemakers, go be one. Love your neighbor, wash each other's feet, don't worry about tomorrow, ask God for what you need.  I've got your yoke on my shoulders, you go rest.  He didn't promise us it would always be sunshine and roses, but he sure did promise He would be there, right in the midst of the mess with us, to pick us back up and put us on our feet again.  Commercials and Facebook might deceive us, but I believe there's a loving heart at the center of the universe whose promises are 100% for reals.

So, when I start feeling life is not-as-advertised, I just try to remember that there's a lesson in everything if I look for it, and maybe even some good health at the bottom of that bowl of Grape Nuts.  It may not all be picture perfect, but by God, there will be JOY.  And if you ever start to feel like maybe things are hard because you're doing them wrong, kick that lie to the curb.  You are awesome, just the way you are.  Let's show 'em, Baby Skates.