August 2010

We currently rent a townhouse is a townhouse rental community.  It’s a nice little community.  There are two “tot-lots,” or playgrounds for the kids, three tennis courts (which we often use), a few pools, and some other amenities.  If you ignore the fact that we are right next to the town dump, it’s overall a great place to live.  But we are just passing through.

Renting for us is (hopefully) a temporary thing.  We desire to own a home one day.  We want to have a place that is ours and for our kids know we won’t be moving again in a year or so.  As nice as our rental is, it is a rental.

Almost two years ago we came across a crazy guy names Dave Ramsey, who actually used common sense in discussing money.  We went through his Total Money Makeover, and became debt-free last November.  We finally got our act together and began handling our money like grownups.

We are currently saving like crazy, spending very little on ‘things’ and ‘toys’.  One day, when we do own a home outright, we will likely then buy some ‘things’ and ‘toys’ for ascetics or fun or whatever.  But this is not that time.

So it amazes me, as I go on walks with my kids through our complex at the ‘things’ and ‘toys’ I see many people have.  Cars that cost a small fortune…Porsches, Escalades, lots of Beemers and Benz’s.  And there are folks who have backyard set ups you’d expect to see at a house – hammocks hanging on wooden posts set into the ground, some fantastic gardening skills with beautiful flowers, and garden ornaments.

It makes me wonder if these folks have any aspiration for home ownership, or are they content renting forever.  Some people consciously make a decision to rent instead of buy, I realize that.   But a lot of these are young families, don’t they want better for their kids, and for themselves?   Permanence and security?   Are they too caught up in toys that they are missing out on something better?  Are you?  Am I?

The Bible says that the Christian is just a traveler in this world.  This is not our home.   Our citizenship is in heaven.  The same thought process I went through looking at the neighbors came back upon me just as fast.  I need to check myself sometimes…am I living consistent with the truth that I am just passing through, or am I collecting worldly ‘things’ and ‘toys’ as if this is my eternal home.  As we do pursue the goal of owning a home, is it with the awareness that even that home is a temporary one, that is to be used in the service of God for the advancement of His Gospel?  Or is it a ‘thing’ I want to accumulate and rest in, instead of resting in God.

I’m just passing through, how about you?

There are some nights when the little man (16 months) just doesn’t want to go to sleep, and I just don’t have the energy or desire to walk him for an hour or so.  Not that he is cranky.  He’s content to be held and snuggled, but just won’t go to sleep.

Tonight is one of those nights.  At some point, I make the call, and declare, ‘all right bub’, you are going down now.’  He cries and screams, and I wonder if I have scarred him for life…

But, I have learned, then comes morning.  He wakes up, happy as a clam, thrilled to see me, and seems to have no recollection of the ‘torture’ I inflicted upon him the night before…I am waiting for morning.

My oldest two children are best friends, but are also so different in so many ways.  The closer I study each of them, the more I realize how often I can miss the nuances in their personalities.

Our oldest is so sweet.  She is the first to run over and say “are you okay” when she sees someone fall.  She is also sensitive.  If I speak too harshly, she is likely to break down and cry.  I know when I have crossed the line with my words based upon her response.

Our second child has always been harder to read.  For the first 2 years of her life, I was certain that she has a layer of iron in her butt.  It took a lot to get a response from her during a spanking.  It was hard to tell whether she understood what we were saying or not.  She could sit there with a stone face, not in a disrespectful way, but almost like she could turn off her emotion at will.  It was strange.

In recent months, as she is taking more, and as I have watched her closer, I am beginning to realize that what my oldest child displays on the outside, my middle child feels on the inside, yet doesn’t always show it.  The big lightbulb moment for me was when I had scolded her for something (probably making a mess) and told her leave the table.  A little while later, when I had calmed down, I sought to speak with her.  She emerged from this cardboard house I had built for the kids saying, ‘I was hiding from you.’

You see, when I scolded her, she obeyed and left the table without any expression upon her face.  This was always frustrating because I always wondered if she understood.  When she disobeyed, or did something wrong, and was disciplined, she showed no recognition of there being a problem.  She took the spanking without a fuss, but also without any remorse, almost like she didn’t know she should be remorseful.

When she emerged from that house telling me she was hiding from me, I realize that she just handles things differently.  She tends to keep things inside more.  She was always the quieter of the two.  Our firstborn can talk up a storm, our middle child was content to sit quietly.  She saw less need to constantly express herself verbally.  Yet, that didn’t mean I could discount her feelings.

Since that day I have begun to study her more closely, and am learning to speak to her differently.  I have recognized that just because she doesn’t outwardly express things, it doesn’t mean that something isn’t going on inside.  I have come to understand that my job description includes seeking to cultivate each of their hearts, which requires individual study and application.  They are indeed different people.  Our son will require a different approach than both of the girls, which we are already beginning to see in his sensitivity.

Where our oldest is constantly expressing herself, I will have to make a greater effort to draw out our middle child.  Her pat answer for so many questions is ‘I don’t know.’   I don’t let her get away with that anymore.  When she told me she was hiding, i asked her why.  She said, “I don’t know.’  Sure she knew, but she just didn’t want to say it.  It required time on my part to sit with her, assure her that she could talk to mommy, and ask again.  Sometimes I do have to help her form the answer, as she just can’t quite put the words together.  But taking the time to reach her now, showing her that I am willing to take time for her will hopefully reap dividends down the road when she is older.

Oy vey.  My second child has entered the why stage.  Everything is why.  And it can go on endlessly.  Curiosity is good, but pointless curiosity is exhausting.

“Mommy, why are we going to the store?”

“Because we need food.”
“Because we need to eat.”
“Because you get hungry”

aye aye aye.  on and on it goes.

I found a few antidotes that occasionally work.   Used as a package, depending on context, they are rather effective in stopping the ‘why’s.”

1. ask a question in return.

“why do we need to eat?”
“don’t you like to eat?”

2. ask, ‘why not?’

“why do we need to eat?’
“why not?”

3. answer, “because God made it that way” OR “because that’s how God wants it”

“why are there spiders?”
“because God made them”
“because God wanted them”

4. tell them, “yes, Mama” OR “okay, Mama” giving them an appropriate response. I use this when the “why” questions comes after a request for action.

“put your shoes on”
“okay Mama”
they will usually get the message and say, ‘okay mama’

5. answer, “I don’t know”.
I use this one for ‘why’ questions, but also for the barrage of questions I often get from my four-year-old. There is a limit to how many questions I can answer in a 5 minute period.

after the zillionth question, when I just can’t take it anymore, simply say, “I don’t know” This will usually stop all further questions…for a while at least.

6. and then, the one every mother says they will never say, but says anyways:
“because I said so”

Last night I took my soon-to-be-3-year-old to a LI Ducks game.  They are a minor league baseball team in my area.  My husband has taken each of the girls a few times before.  This time, when he announced the free tickets, I quickly claimed them, as this was my change to go.

Over dinner he asked if I knew how to get there.  I did not, but had planned on mapping it out (the wonders of technology).  Rather than saying all of that, I simply replied, ‘no’.  He offered directions which sounded quite simple.  I listened politely, but my heart’s intention was not so polite.

After dinner, as soon as I got into the car to leave, I whipped out my phone to activate the map.  My husband told me how to get there, but I knew better.  Surely, there was a more direct route.  Surely, a different exit would be faster.  He’d been there before, but really, what does he know?

As I typed in the destination address, I realized what I was doing.  Undermining him, behind his back.  Failing to respect him in thought and action.  Pridefully putting myself before him, thinking myself better, smarter, more capable.

In that instance I also realize that this is a pattern for me.  I often dismiss his thoughts, opinions, suggestions if not verbally, then certainly in my head.   Often, I find out some time later that he was indeed right!

Take, for example, a hokey pokey, backwards relief for back pain he has talked about.  In his country (El Salvador) on thing folks did was put a cup on the area of pain, light a match, and put the match under the cut (or something like that.  I never did pay much attention).  For years I’ve laughed at him for this, chalking it up to the backwards ways of his country…only to see this on Dr. Oz recently as an effective method for temporary relief.  Egg on my face!

An honest mistake thought, right?  I mean, here I am, an American, highly educated, and here he is, an immigrant with no education.  Common sense says I’d have been wisdom, right?  Or am I mistaking common sense for pride?

I’m beginning to recognize that maybe my husband does have something thoughtful to contribute.  Maybe his ideas are valid, even better than my own.  Maybe I can trust that his unique background actually provides a wealth of wisdom that is absent in America today.  From his worldview and perspective on life, to food and eating habits, and everything in between, the strange things my husband says may be nuggets of wisdom he brings to our marriage and family

His directions were spot on last night, as usual.  I found the field without any problem, which is saying a lot, as I have gotten lost coming home before.  I left the house so sure that i was so right, and I came home a teensy bit more humble.

I had a mini-insight today that wasn’t very self flattering…so why not share it here.   Me and the kiddies met up with my husband after work to do some grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s.  We don’t normally shop together, but I’ve been struggling lately with all that is on my plate, and my wonderful husband has eased my burden, helping me with many of my tasks.

So we each had a car, driving home separately after getting the goods.  Being the competitive person I am, I hopped in my car, ready to jet off and beat my husband home, all for the bragging rights of saying, ‘we won!’  My husband was ready for battle as well.

About half way though, my husband caught up and came along side our car, waving to the girls and I.  And almost like she could read my mind, my 4-year-old calls out, ‘Mommy go behind Papi.’

It was like this small scenario was a picture of my marriage.  How often have I grumbled to myself that my husband won’t lead, yet I don’t give him an opening to do so.  I’m too quick out of the gate, too eager to direct everything, yet gripe in the next instance that he doesn’t step up.  My competitiveness, my Type A personality easily overshadows my easy-going husband.  He is a peacekeeper.  I’m a bulldog.  That makes for a very dysfunctional dynamic.

All in a split second, the girls excitedly returned my husbands wave, and I grew content with the idea of losing the race, and following my husband.

But, I suspect, being all too familiar with the way these competitions go, and my overzealous desire to always win, he happily returned to his place behind me, and followed all the way home.  I suspect that over our 6 years of marriage, he has learned that it’s less painful to stand back and allow me to do my thing, than to confront and seek to lead.  I suspect that any attempt to force one to submit is futile anyways.

So, in the car, with an innocent comment by a 4-year-old, I learned a lesson that women for centuries have struggled to learn.  The best way to get a husband to lead is to allow them to lead; to follow them, even when the pace is slower or their direction is different from what you would have chosen.

So, my husband, I will happily and joyfully follow your lead.  I will step aside so that you can step forward.  I will take the advice of Abigail and ‘go behind Papi.’

My potty-training toddler had just wet herself, my four-year-old just spilled water over the cookies that I just took  out of the oven, and here I am, on my hands and knees, cleaning up the pasta and broccoli my baby threw on the floor, his way of announcing he’s done with the meal.  Argh.  Again.  Argh.  Does it ever get better?  Argh.  There has to be more to life than this, right?

If you’re a mom, I suspect these are familiar thoughts.  Create your own scenario, but the questions are likely the same.

What is the point in all this mothering?  I’ve been despairing over that thought for a while know.  I know the ‘right’ answer, the Biblical one.  I know the proper theological answer, along with Bible references, yet for some reason, all that head knowledge is not assimilating into a change in my heart attitude.

What is the point?  Why do what we do on a daily basis?  The waking, dressing, cleaning, cooking, the eating, and more cleaning, the changing, and even more cleaning, more cooking, and eating, then washing, undressing, and sleeping. What is the purpose in all this?  Only to have our kids grow up, and continue the process?  What’s the end game here?

I still don’t have these questions thoroughly reconciled, but I do believe I saw a glimpse of God’s grace, in a still small voice, speaking to me as I was picking up broccoli from under the high chair.  An affirmation that it does matter.

Someone once said that most of life is lived in the mundane tasks.  Sure, there are those big moments, like the wedding, but after the honeymoon that two-become-one union returns to ‘life’, to jobs, and housework, eventually kids and runny noses.  There may be a vacation, celebrating birthdays, etc.  But life is really made up of the small tasks.  Boy oh boy, doesn’t life feel mundane after picking up the zillionth noodle, and changing the millionth diaper.  How does any of that matter?

But it does matter, and for the very reason that I question whether it matters.  While we are on this earth, life is filled with repetition and monotony.  That is just the way it is.  As I clean up that fifth mess of the day, or change those wet pants again, I am showing my children how to live life, even in its monotony. The purpose of what can feel rather mundane in my life is teach my children how to live through the monotony of their lives.

That still doesn’t give me the big picture answer, but it was enough for me this morning.  It was powerful enough to enable me to finish cleaning up the lunch mess, and tending to the soaked toddler, and wiping up the spilt water with a smile on my face and joy in my heart.

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