Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Adventurous Waiting

As children, waiting for Christmas is a fun way to pass the time on dreary winter days. It's an excitement that keeps you guessing about what is to come, keeps you from sleeping, and causes you to question every package that gets tucked under the tree. "Is it for me?"  my children ask out loud, "What is it?"  They cannot stop themselves from asking even though they know they will not get an answer.

As adults, waiting is not quite so much fun.

The idea of sitting in a waiting room is generally less than appealing. Unless that is, you have a sitter for your children.  Then, if you are like me, you find the stack of People magazines and pray the most recent date is well beyond 2010.

Really, though, the waiting room can be boring, and only gives you time to dread being in the exam room. You sit wondering, "Will it be paper or cloth today?  Will the material actually cover my body, or only part? How will I choose what to cover?"

There are so many things to wait for these days: we wait for our food, we wait to buy our things in line, we wait to hear back from the mechanic or the doctor or a family member. We humans seem to be in a state of perpetual tarrying.

Yet, how easily the concept slips through my fingers when it comes to this season of advent.

I often focus on the fact that Jesus came to this world as a baby, a fact that is fascinating and supernatural and baffling, but overlook the wonder of Advent.

God's people had been waiting for so long for a Messiah, just as His people now wait. What I wonder, though, is if focusing on what we expect to come causes us to lose some of our now. I know that's how it is for me, anyway. Sometimes I get so caught up what I want to happen next that I miss the miracle of life that is happening right in front of me.

Advent is the season in which we remember the world waiting for Light to come into darkness, the gift of Jesus to the world. You know, though, even Mary had to wait to meet the Messiah. Joseph had to wait to see how things were going to work out. The shepherds didn't even know they were waiting! The wise men didn't get to see Jesus until he was a toddler. There was still much waiting even after the birth of Christ. It was, in fact, an adventure.

Advent and adventure have the same root word, and that has to be significant. I believe that our waiting, our longing for Jesus, should have a sense of excitement driving us forward. To be expectant of the promise God has made, to be excited for an unknown future that our amazing God has planned for us that ends with us and Him together in eternity is an awesome thing to be waiting for.

Advent is not just a time to sit and think on people of yore and wonder how comfortable that dang donkey was for Mary. No! Advent is a time to embrace the gift of Christ and to be thrilled by the fact that that gift is for everyone.

The picture of Advent that has been painted is one of calm and peace, and that is part of this season. It's also important to remember that people were also just living life, though. They were living their messy, complicated, mundane, beautiful lives while they waited. Just like me, just like you.

I don't know about you, but I've got a lot going on in my life right now and most of it I did not have planned. I am not going to miss out on Advent though, and I'm not going to sit back and pine for another adventure. I'm going to live the adventure God has placed before bravely, and unknowingly (maybe with just a few tears sprinkled here and there). I'm not going to worry about what I've not gotten done, or what I could have done better. Instead,  I'm going to focus on the work that Christ has done and rejoice in the waiting.

It is vital to Christian living to pause and reflect on Advent, to remember that though we are waiting for Jesus to come again the fact that He will is all that really matters. It won't matter how it looks when He comes back because it will be different than any of us could imagine.

So, we wait while living the adventure.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

When It's Hard

A couple of months ago my daughters had a piano recital. They had practiced hard and played beautifully, and afterward received many compliments. I have to say it's quite rewarding to hear people say that they found pleasure in something your child has done.



What they didn't see was the kicking, screaming, fighting, and fussing that went into getting these young ladies to play of their own free will. Shirts are no longer stained with tears, and the financial sacrifice is not obvious. Each month when we evaluated our tight budget piano was never allowed to be cut, and I am so thankful that we pressed on.

So much of what we see is just the finished product, you know?  We don't see the work that goes into the music that eventually comes out.

Sometimes I look at friends and think that their lives look so easy, or I think "I can't wait to get where they are."  We can't see the heart break that others have gone through, the months or maybe even years when they thought they wouldn't make it, or the days when they wish they could just quit.

It's only now that I'm older, and my children are older, that I see that when it's hard is just when when we need to dig in. 

I didn't know it when I was literally dragging a screaming child to the van, but there would be a pay off for my tenacity and that kid's hard work.  I was just trying to make it to the next thing.  My goal was just for them to take piano lessons. Later, my goal was more focused: I wanted my daughters to be able to work their way through college, to have the choice of being at home mothers while still providing income, and I wanted them to understand that sacrifice is always worth it.

I was blessed with a teacher who encouraged me when I was ready to throw in the towel, who kept the girls going when learning piano was much more difficult than they anticipated, and with girls who decided that they wanted it enough to work extra hard. My daughters have dyslexia, so when I say that they had to work extra hard at learning piano, that is no joke. To hear them play now, though, makes those uphill battle days completely worth it.

That's the catch about Hard Times - they're just hard. Hard Times can cloud your emotions and make you feel that there is nothing beyond what you're living in, especially when you're young. There were days, when I was younger and my children were small, that I thought bedtime should occur at about 5:30 and the thought of feeding them one more meal might just break me. (Seriously, they always need food.)

Now that I have teenagers all parents of young children treat me like I've grabbed the brass ring, like I'm 'there' in that place that parents of toddlers dream of. "They're so polite," they say, or "They're so helpful!"  Yes, these things are true but they, and I, can also be surly, rude, disobedient, and stressful. No one can see the nights I went to bed crying for thinking I was doing it all wrong, or the apologies I had to issue after completely losing my temper.  No one can hear one of my kids screaming that they hate me, or that I am 'the worst mother EVER', or see the piles of laundry and dishes I had to wade through to get where we are now. The work that went into getting my people to where they are is not immediately evident, unless you count my gray hair.

Hard Times mean Hard Work, it means digging in and spending time on your knees. Hard Times mean sleepless nights, long days, endless questions, mismatched socks, and stray shoes. Hard Times means dying to self and making Jesus your BFF. Hard Times mean getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Hard Times means having faith that there is a better future than you can possibly imagine, yet being joyful in the difficult present.

Whatever Hard Time is occurring in your life, be it marriage, parenting, work, or one of those deep, distressing inner struggles, know that God, the Creator of the universe, is on your side, that He has a plan, and that He understands sacrifice. Your tears count. Your work counts. The payoff may be on the other side of eternity, but it will come.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, 
but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest 
of righteousness and peace for those who
have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms
and weak knees. Make level paths
for your feet, so that the lame may not 
be disabled, but rather healed.
 Hebrews 12: 11-12


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Easy Open

I love all of the easy open packages food comes in these days. It makes it so much more convenient for my family to drive me closer to a nervous breakdown.


Apparently easy open does not equal easy close.


Easy open packages show you exactly where to place your thumbs or scissors. Often the packaging has a handy little seal so that the food stays fresher longer.  It's brilliant. It reduces the need to save bread ties and rubber bands, saving room in my junk drawer for more necessary items like broken pens, used batteries, and bread crusts.

The other day I went to the freezer to get out the frozen strawberries. I picked up the bag and all of the strawberries fell out of the bottom onto my pristinely clean kitchen floor. Examination of the bag revealed a huge rip  on the back side.  Apparently someone had been so close to starvation that they no choice but to lay the whole bag on the counter and tear it open in the middle.  I have no doubt that they also were unable to use their hands to eat because some of the frozen strawberries had teeth marks in them.

Don't worry, I brought all four children and one husband in to discuss the issue. I was met with blank stares and looks of surprise. These people had never seen the bag of frozen strawberries.  Clearly, someone put it in our freezer for safekeeping.

I rarely buy cereal but when I do I buy the more affordable store brand that comes in the giant resealable bag.  Inevitably some nameless person cuts the bag JUST BELOW THE ZIPPY THING.  My first thought is generally, "Hey, we're making progress, they used scissors instead of the butcher knife."  My second thought is only conveyed through a howl and the pulling of my hair.

These are the things, my friends, that make me stronger. I will not be broken.

Not too long ago I bought a new can opener. Ours from 1934 was getting rust on everything. This new one is so fancy, it just breaks the seal on the glue of the can so that you don't cut yourself on the jagged edge of the lid.  I love it.

My people, not so much.

I showed everyone how to do it, they all oohed and ahhed appropriately, then demonstrated comprehension by using the new opener successfully.

I came home from work one day to find 6 different cans of beans scattered about the kitchen, each in various stages of the opening process.  Apparently my ten year old son had been left to his own devices at lunch time, and that boy loves him some beans.  I could track the course of his meal and level of frustration by the damage done to each can.  By can three there were dents in the sides and top. Can four drove him back to old faithful, the rusty can opener, as it was just stuck int he side. Can five had a small hole in the top and an awl and hammer lying next to it. Can six had a knife sticking out of the side. My kid had seemingly received sustenance from the northern beans residing inside by liquefying them and putting a straw through the opening he created.

Apparently he thought he was on Man vs. Wild.  I should feel glad he didn't try to heat the can by fire in the sink or something.

Buy some rubber bands and clothes pins, people. Your peace of mind is worth it.




Thursday, November 27, 2014

Traditions

My visions of my future family always involved traditions. I did n't exactly know what those traditions would be, but I wanted things that we did every year to be really important.

So, we have Thanksgiving traditions like:

Roasting the turkey all night long on so that when we get out of bed we about want to clobber each other for a pinch.

Fires in the backyard (in a fire pit, thank you very much) that sometimes involve the neighbors calling 911.

Getting dressed up even though no one else is coming.

Using paper plates.  We are from Kentucky, yo.

In years past we've had other traditions that involved traveling all over creation and visiting family and eating multiple Thanksgiving meals, sometimes in one day.  That's the thing about traditions - they can cycle in and out. You make new ones, you alter them to fit your family, and sometimes you skip a tradition for a couple of years until someone says, "Hey, remember when we...".

This year I think my brother and I started a new tradition.  He and I are early risers and the rest of our people were sleeping in because they did not go to bed at 8:30 like I did.  Erik can be, shall we say talkative, and so I wanted to occupy his mouth so that he did not rouse any crankies from their beds too early.  He helped me make coffee.  We only had to recount how many scoops he had put in twice. He said he was going down to the basement and I could make him eggs.  He preceded to rock on to Bon Jovi's Livin' on a Prayer until I flicked the lights at him, signaling that his breakfast was ready to be served.

While he ate we watched a Hallmark channel movie for the 45th time.

After eating eggs and toast we retired to my parents office where he sat in a recliner prepared to chill out with his iPad.  It's a little chilly in the room, and I noticed he had his feet covered. It looked pretty handy, honestly.  On closer inspection I realized that it was a sock hat and scarf.

"Is that what this for?"  I asked.

"Mmm hmmm. I'm pretty sure."

THIS is why I love hanging out with my brother.





I went to the laundry room to fetch him a blanket, and found an awesome dragon-print robe thingy that he said I could have.

Another reason that I love hanging out with him.  He totally gives me anything I want.

Then, because I felt that the robe deserved some martial arts action, I demonstrated my best moves for Erik.  He clapped and cheered and laughed until I told him my next move was to karate chop his hand drums in half.

"You're just kidding, Kara?"

"Yes, I'm just kidding, Erik."

Then he laughed, but the fake kind.

I laughed, the real kind.

So, this is my new Thanksgiving tradition. Erik and I will get up early and hang out and he'll watch me do martial arts and give me things that belong to my parents.

I think it's pretty perfect.

Happy Thanksgiving - go make some traditions!




Thursday, November 20, 2014

Not What You Think It Means

Lately, I've been wrestling with the whole 'God is good' thing.

By lately I mean the last several months, maybe even years.

I know that God, by his very nature, is holy. I know that God is omnipotent. I know that God is awesome, not in the surfer dude sense of the word, but in the Creator of the Universe way.

But good?  I'm not always so certain.

I struggle to believe that God is good when the world is the way that it is: broken.

As I delve deeper into my faith, questions about who God is come up.  I think this is natural, I think it is faith building.  I also find it painful, annoying, and lonely. I find myself going to bed and thinking on these things for a long time. I wake up very early and ponder my questions, recalling stories from the Bible as anecdote.

During the times when I question, even doubt, the only thing I know to do is to search scripture and spend lots of time in conversation with Jesus. It is vital to me, as a Christ follower, that I be able to say with absolute confidence that I believe that God is good. I do not think that my faith is weak when I am uncertain. Now that I am on the other side I recognize that moments of doubt lead up to moments of huge growth.

Still, it's not pleasant.  It involves gnashing of the teeth, pulling of the hair, sleepless nights, and driving the ones I love a little crazy with questions.

I had a conversation with God to clear things up.  It went like this:

Me:  "God, are you good?  When I say it do I believe it?  Are you good while this earth spins away on it's axis?  Are you good while parents kill their babies in the name of rights?  Are you good while children are sold into slavery of the worst kind?  Are you good while people are killed in wars that will never end?  Are you good while terrorism rises up and normal seems to shrink?  Are you good while we struggle away to be more like you, dying in the process?  Are you?"

God:  "This word good that you keep you using, I do not think it means what you think it means."

 

Okay, so God does not actually talk to me in Inigo Montoya's voice (but that would be so cool!), but I did feel directed to look up the word good.  So I did.

Here's what dictionary.com said:

good: morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious



Um, yeah, that fits. God is good.

I shared with a friend this whole conversation. She smiled and said, "You thought good meant nice."


nice: pleasing; agreeable; delightful


Oh. 

Good does not equal nice. Although I do believe that God is delightful, pleasing and agreeable are where I get hung up. I see, too, that it where my problems stemmed from. I began to wrongly think that God should agree with my plan on how things should go, that he should change the meaning of the word good to mean 'compliant'. 

It appears that God's plan for the world is a little different than my plan.



You can make many plans, but the LORD's purpose will prevail.
Proverbs 16:9 NLT
 
 

My plan would involve the purpose of a good life, while God's plan has the purpose of relationship with him.  This is when I start to realize that when Jesus says we will lose our lives I know he means it. I follow a God who sent his son to live as a man, to be betrayed, and to die on a cross all so that we, you and I, could have a relationship with him. 

God is good, but that does not mean he is a genie mean to grant my wishes. I am important to him, but my plans for a good life mean nothing in comparison to his purpose of Redemption.


 Actually, it is not that my plans mean nothing to God, but that His purpose means everything


Monday, November 17, 2014

Calm Down, Mama

Sometimes I feel like my big kids are judging me. They say things like, "Why don't you do something about him?" Him being their little brother. It's like they think I don't have it as together as I did when they were little.

They could be right, actually.

My kids' ages are 16, 14, 10, and 5 ( little man just had a birthday).  It is literally like this youngest child of ours has 5 parents rather than two.  When our first two daughters were born I was in the midst of completing my college degree in Family Studies, so I had read a million articles and books devoted to the subject of child development.  I had listened to lectures and taken enough notes to fill multiple three ring binders. In other words, I was over prepared with information and under prepared for the facts of parenting. I did not understand that reality sometimes outweighs plans, and that positive parenting can fly right out the window when you're knee deep in dirty diapers and breast milk.

Our fourth child came along and surprised everyone.

What has surprised me more than anything about this little boy of ours is that his birth seems to have had a calming effect on me. It's not that his personality is particularly laid back. Quite the opposite in fact.  I think of our little Liam as High Octane. Dude wakes up early, batteries fully charged, and falls asleep while flailing around shouting, "But I'm not tired." 

I kid you not.

Our first daughter was born to a different person, no doubt. My poor husband. I probably drove them both crazy. If she was awake I only wanted classical music playing. I was certain the television would microwave her brain or something. I'd like to blame in on hormones, but I know I had some pretty set-in-stone ideas about how children should be raised up.

Liam, on the other hand, had witnessed many parts (okay, maybe the whole thing) of the Lord of the Rings movies before his 4th birthday. Gollum was his favorite character.  Don't judge.

Not yet, anyway. There's more to come.

Our second born came into a family that was figuring out that perfect looked different for everyone. I had let go of the nothing but classical music thing, but moved on to 'nice words' and 'inside voice'.  I wanted to talk it out with my daughters, teach them the art of communication, and foster family relationships.  My goal was to be a family that .

Numero quatro figured out that if you sound like a siren all of your siblings will run away from you, and mom will run toward you.  He has also figured out that the face I make, that may or may not look like grimacing, means 'inside voice', 'please stop that', and 'be kind to your brother/sister/playmate/dog/dad/grandparent'  without me ever uttering a single syllable. I think of him as fluent in non-verbal communication.

Spencer, our third child and first son, came just when I thought I had a handle on parenting. Adding a third child means that you, as parents, are now outnumbered.  For me it meant that the only time my kids had matched socks was when I stopped at the dollar store and bought them on our way to somewhere else. One thing I did have, though, was discipline tactics. Time outs?  I'm on it. Reward charts?  Oh, yes.  Positive reinforcement? Absolutely.  Spencer was by no means a difficult child, but he certainly was strong willed, so these parental aids were implemented regularly.

I think there have been times I have completely dropped the proverbial ball with this last child of ours, though.  My husband once video recorded Liam pulling every. single. tissue. out of the box.  He thought it was the funniest, cutest thing he'd ever seen.  Liam has had my number from day one, knowing that if he held his breath til he turned blue when he was mad I would give him anything he wanted if he would just breathe.

At two when I began the count down he would ask, "What happens when you get to one?"  Stink. None of the others figured out that I didn't have a plan for when I got to the number one until they were well over the age of 5.

Lord have mercy, but when I did try and discipline him I had three kids practically climbing on my back crying about how mean I was being to him.  "He's just a baby," they would wail.  For Pete's sake, I was just trying to have him sit on a stool for three minutes.

Man, what they don't get, these big kids of mine, is that I'm not just calm, I'm tired. And a little old. :)

I don't have time to read parenting tips because I'm too busy trying to figure out what we're going to eat for dinner and who's going where, when. Plus, I've learned that that best parenting tactic is letting a kid grow up. Give them enough time, and they all do it eventually.

I guess that's what I have really learned from Liam: kids grow up.  Time is going to go by quickly if I'm enjoying it or not, so I may as well enjoy it and not stress so much about getting it just right.

It'll be gone before I know it.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Guest Post

You know those days when everyone wakes up cranky, and no one wants to do anything?

I'm sharing some tips on getting the creative juices going over at my friend Kristin's blog, From the Stacks. Take a click and check it out!