Saturday, November 10, 2012

Slimy Sludge

My best friend's name, literally translated, meant 'Doesn't Want to Listen', or 'Doesn't Want to Obey'.  Sarau was one of the most beautiful girls in my age group.  A classic Polynesian beauty, she had soft black hair that hung down her back, mocking brown eyes, light brown skin, a straight nose and full lips.  She was always laughing with the loud, self-aware laughter that knows all eyes are on it.

Sarau was noticeable.  In fact, she was impossible to ignore.  Funny, charismatic, always the center of attention.  Her sardonic, slightly mocking take on the world around us amused me.  She was just a little bit dangerous, which amused me, as well.  If there were boys beckoning us from a dark corner, Sarau was likely to go see what they wanted.  Or at least cast them a glance from her slanted eyes and toss a flirty and taunting word or two over her shoulder.  I enjoyed the attention we got when we were together, and I think she enjoyed it, too.

I remember one time, one of her older sisters had a baby.  I remember it was a little boy, Sarau's first nephew.  We had spent the afternoon in her hut, slumped against the mat wall, using a  hand mirror to peer at our reflections in the light that filtered in through the smokey doorway.  The floor of packed ash and dirt was cool and dark beneath our feet.  The occasional chicken would wander in, pecking hopefully for missed grains of rice and muttering worriedly to itself.  Against one wall, the food safe stood, guarding a couple of bowls of taro pudding, some fish, and a cup of sugar behind its wire screen.    The family's bedding was all tied up against the coconut log rafters of the hut, a bundle of blankets, pillows and mats that bulged down in protest to being suspended for the day.  Sarau's little brother kept a collection of brightly colored food wrappers, and they waved like a parade of ostentatious jungle birds against the pandanas leaf roof's soot blackened underbelly.

Sarau was using the mirror to show me the little blackheads that dotted my forehead.  I had never noticed them before, but she apparently had, and was anxious to squeeze them for me.  I pushed her hand away.

"Stop it,"  I said.

"What?  You need to get rid of these.  Just sit still, let me do it."

"No, stop it,"  I insisted.  She ignored me and leaned in closer.  Feeling crowded, I stood up.  "Come on, let's go outside."

"Ok," Sarau shrugged.  On the way out, her sister called to us from behind the hut where she was grating coconut.

"Come get the baby, Sarau!"  she yelled.  We detoured, and Sarau picked up her nephew.  He was scrawny, like most village babies were, and naked.

When we got out to the open path that ran through the village, Sarau looked at me with the familiar dangerous, provocative glint in her eye.  She smiled at me, her lips curving up impossibly at the corners, and raised her nephew up so that he was at eye level with us.  One hand supported the infant's neck, and the other cupped his naked little butt.  Continuing to look straight in my eyes, she opened her mouth and brought her lips around the baby's testicles.

Shocked, I stared at her.  Looked confusedly away.  Looked back at her.  She laughed at me, mocking my discomfort and delighted that she'd knocked me off kilter.

"I'm ... I'm going home,"  I told her, and took off.

I didn't know, at the time, what to think about her behavior that day.  But that was the beginning of the end of our friendship.  I honestly still look back at that memory with some horror, some confusion, still unable to sort through what exactly must have been going through Sarau's mind at that moment.  What caused her to do that.

What about you?  Have you ever witnessed something that sticks with you, and which, when you revisit the memory, still seems to leave a slimy sludge on  your soul?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Marathon

As a stay at home mom, I sometimes get the feeling that I just spin my wheels all day long.  At the end of a day, I am exhausted, but can't really remember doing much productive.  So I decided to document my Monday.  I'm publishing this first part of the post before the kids get up.  I'll update at lunch time, dinner time, and then again before I go to sleep.  Ready? ...... GO!

4:30 a.m. - Manasseh starts crying.  I decide to ignore him, maybe he'll go back to sleep.

4:45 - Nope, he's wailing now.  Pick him up, and discover he's peed through his onesie and fleece sleeper.  That's what I get for not putting an extra insert into his diaper last night.  Strip him, put new diaper on, nurse him, and put him down again in just his diaper.  

5:00 - Back to bed.

5:15 - Alarm wakes me up.  I push snooze.

5:25 - Snooze.

5:35 - Snooze.

5:45 - I get up, put on my workout gear, and go out for a run.  

6:15 - I ran 1.5 miles!  The longest I've gone since getting preggers a year ago.  Glad to be working my distance back up.  I start a pot of coffee, and sit down to do my bible study.

6:45 - Second cup of coffee.  More bible study.

7:00 - Wake Scott up. Get on Facebook and check my email.  Manasseh's starting to talk to himself in his crib.  Open up Blogger.

7:15 - Xander calls from his room:  "Mooooom!  Can you pick me uuuuuuuup?"  Here we go.

-----------------------------------------------------

7:17 - Go get Xander up, and together we pick up Manasseh.  Go snuggle on the couch with the two boys.

7:20 - Put Manasseh in his exersaucer, and Xander and I start breakfast.  I crack the eggs, he mixes them.  Toast in the toaster.  I make myself a mental note to start a load of laundry when the eggs are done.

7:30 - Eggs are cooked.  Xander asks for breakfast so I pour him a bowl of cereal (the eggs are only for Scott and I - the kids don't like eggs, but I have to have protein in the morning if I run).  Remember laundry, so I head down the hall.  Sophie stumbles, sleepy-eyed, towards me.  I detour, and snuggle with her on the couch.

7:35 - Scott's out of the shower.  I deposit Soph on the couch, and fix him a cup of coffee.

7:38 - Bring Scott his breakfast.  Remember laundry.

7:40 - Laundry in the washing machine, go back to the bedroom to talk with Scott while he gets ready.  The kids migrate into the bedroom.

7:45 - Manasseh fusses, alone in the living room.  Scott gets him.  He's wet again.

7:47 - Xander gets me a diaper, I change the baby on the bed.  We all talk and hang out while Scott finishes up.

7:55 - Dad's out the door.  Kisses all around.  I pour Sophie her cereal.

8:00 - Manasseh won't be put down - he cries in the exersaucer, and on the play mat.  I sit down with him in my lap to eat my (cold) eggs one handed.

8:10 - Still at kitchen table, nurse the baby.

8:20 - Steal a few minutes to get online.

8:25 - Now he's happy again, so I put him down in the exersaucer and start on the dishes.  Xander's got his train track spread out on the living room floor.  Sophie's playing restaurant with her kitchen stuff.



8:35 - Still working on the dishes, but Manasseh starts fussing.  Move him to the Bumbo on the counter.

8:45 - Manasseh still fussing.  Dishes three quarters of the way done.  Pick him up, give him some Ibuprofen (maybe another tooth's coming in?), get him dressed for the day.  Put him down on the floor of the kids' room, where they now have a restaurant set up.

8:50 - Xander comes to tell me Manasseh's crying.  I put him (the baby) in bed.  Time for his first nap.  Go back to the dishes, where the water's still running.

8:57 - First snack request of the day (the prize goes to Xander).  I tell him the same thing I tell him every day:  Snack time is 10:00.

9:05 - I tell the kids that play time is over, and it's time to start cleaning.  Sophie heads to the bathroom to clean it, and I direct Xander to pick up his train track.

9:10 - I'm wiping down the sink, and realize that Xander's playing with his trains.  I tell him to pick them up, not play with them.  He starts trowing them into the box, and tells me, "I AM MAD!"  But he's cleaning, so I let it go.

9:13 - I remember the laundry.  On my way over to it, see the computer on the kitchen table.  Sit down to check facebook.  Xander's dragging the train box back to his room.

9:14 - Xander reappears with his blanket in one hand, and trains in the other.
Me:  "I thought I told  you to pick the trains up."
Xander:  "No, no, I DID.  But I'm going to play with these ones."
Me:  "No, you are not going to play with those ones. It is clean up time, not play time.  Go put the trains away like I told you to."
He starts crying, and disappears into his room.

9:15 - He comes back out, and lurks behind my chair.
Me:  "Come here, son."  I pull him into my lap.
Xander:  "Do I have to sit in your lap?"
Me:  "No."
Xander:  "I want to sit in your lap."
Me:  "Ok, buddy."  We snuggle for a little bit.

9:20 - Sophie starts cleaning the school room.  Xander picks up the TV room.  I switch one load of laundry to the dryer, load another in the washer, and start cleaning the kitchen.

9:35 - Xander's done with the TV room.  He gets the vacuum and begins to vacuum it.  Sophie's still working on the school room (so far, she's been distracted by a bottle of glue, a handwriting book, and a card she found on the floor).  The kitchen is clean, except for the floor.  I'm not sweeping this morning.

9:40 - Sophie's still working on the school room.  I tell Xander to get ready to go to the library.  I head back to my room to get ready, as well.  Passing the kids' room, I see that everything that used to be on the floor of the TV, living, and school rooms is now on the floor of their room.  It was clean this morning.  *sigh*

9:45 - Make my bed up and straighten my room

9:50 - Xander's dressed.  I set him to cleaning his room, while I get dressed.  Sophie's still working on (read:  distracted in) the school room.

9:55 - Sophie's done with the school room.  I direct her to get dressed.

10:05 - The kids eat snack (french bread and string cheese), while I pack up for the library - diaper for Manasseh, snack for myself (apple and string cheese), fill the water bottle, collect books / library card.

10:20 - Wake Manasseh up, and load everyone into the car.  Head to the library.

10:30 - At the library for story time.  The kids sit up front, while I sit in the back and nurse a patient Manasseh.

12:15 - Standing in line waiting to check books out at the library, my phone rings.  It's somebody who would like to adopt one of our kittens.  Can she come over right now?  Sure, I'm on my way home.

12:30 - Get home, juggling Manasseh, my purse, keys, and stack of books.  Put Manasseh on his play mat, fix the kids lunch (Xander - PB & honey, cut into triangles, and milk.  Sophie - PB & honey, not cut, lemonade)

12:35 - While I'm making sandwiches, the doorbell rings.  I let the lady in, she picks out a kitten.

12:38 - Sophie and Xander sit down to their lunch.  I start on my sandwich.  Manasseh fusses, so I put him down for his nap.

12:40 - Sit down with my lunch, and direct the kids to go play while I eat.  Take a short break to get online while I eat.

-----------------------------------------------------

1:30 - We start school.  Sophie writes in her journal while I practice the alphabet with Xander (A through J)

1:50 - Xander practices cutting.  Sophie does handwriting.  Manasseh wakes up crying, so I give him some more Ibuprofen and nurse him.

2:10 - We get out the shaving cream, and practice writing on the desk (it needed a good cleaning, anyway).  Xander practices writing his name, and Sophie does spelling words.

2:25 - Clean up the shaving cream mess. Put Manasseh down for (hopefully) the rest of his nap.  I remember I haven't changed out the laundry yet.  Move wets into the dryer, start yet another load in the washer.

2:30 - Sit down for science.  We're starting a new unit on the 5 Senses.

3:00 - Xander goes down for his quiet time.  Sophie and I do math and reading together.

3:30 - Sophie's quiet time.  I sit down in the TV room, intending to turn on a show and fold laundry.  Instead, I sit for an hour and surf the web, sharing the couch with a mountain of laundry.

4:30 - Xander starts screaming in frustration from his room.  I go investigate - he's trying to get his Playmobil castle together.  I sit down and set it up for him.

4:35 - Sophie comes to see what we're doing.  We end up playing knights and castles.

4:45 - Manasseh wakes up.  I bring him into the kids' room.  I nurse him, and we keep playing.

5:00 - Into the living room to pick it up.

5:15 - Think I should feed Manasseh soon, but then remember I had been planning on making him some sweet potatoes.  I get the potato out, peel it, chop it, and put it to cook.  All one handed, because Manasseh refuses to be put down.

5:20 - Decide we need some mood music.  Find Bruno Mars on Pandora and crack open a beer.

5:25 - The potatoes are cooked, but now piping hot.  I blend them, and stick some in a bowl in the freezer.

5:35 - Feed Manasseh.  Sophie and Xander are bickering over the train track, which has made its way out from their room again.

5:45 - Wipe the baby down, change his diaper, and put him in his pj's.  Take a moment to look down in his eyes and he SMILES at me.  Like he hasn't been fussy for the past hour.  Sophie comes in and asks why my tummy is fat.

5:50 - Since the baby peed himself last night, I should probably change the sheets before I put him down.  I change it, while he screams and rolls like a beached whale on the floor.

6:00 - After giving him some more Ibuprofen, I put him down.  Shut the door.  Take a breath.

6:05 - Line up ice cube trays to ladle in the mashed sweet potatoes, to freeze for later.  Sophie and Xander are playing with a box of nuts and bolts.  Sophie informs me she is having a horrible night because she can't watch TV (and won't for the next two weeks, since she saw fit to throw the remote and break our one-year-old flat screen)  Xander's in the same Cars pajamas he's worn to bed for the last week.


6:15 - Time to start dinner.  I've got a product party tonight, so it's mac 'n cheese for the kids.  Scott can fend for himself.

-----------------------------------------------------

6:23 -  Scott walks in the door.  Since I feel like I spent all day irritated at Sophie, I ask her if she wants to come spend special time with me at the 'mommy party'.  Xander's ecstatic to spend Daddy time.

6:30 - Sophie and I head to the product party.

7:30 - I'm regretting my 'special mommy time' idea.  I really think she's trying to climb back up into my womb.

8:00 - We head home.

8:30 - Kids in bed, kisses and hugs, prayers, and the house ... is ... quiet.  Blessedly, peacefully, wonderfully quiet.  I get a bowl of cinnamon Life cereal, push the mountain of clothes off the couch and onto the floor (it'll be there tomorrow, after all, and tomorrow's a new day), and settle down with Scott for the newest episode of The Walking Dead.

9:30 - We put on Band of Brothers, 'Day of Days', for the billionth time.  Those guys are like old friends by now.

The house is quiet.  There is peaceful companionship with the man sharing this room with me.  Our cat chases the last remaining kitten across the floor.  I take a deep breath, and let my body settle.  Both muscles and mind, worn and tired, slide into rest.  Goodnight.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Tide Rushes In

The atoll of Ontong Java is composed of a long, L-shaped oval of islands, laying together like a string of beads tossed into the Pacific by some petulant giant.  Luaniua is the biggest, roughly the size of three football fields placed end to end.  Each island in the string is connected to the next by the reef, whose roots are deep on the ocean floor, and which stretches almost to the surface.  Some parts of the reef have grown higher than others, and are so close to the surface that at low tide, only a foot of shallow water covers them.

Luaniua is connected to its eastern neighbors by such a reef.  At high tide, water floods with dangerous force from the ocean side of the reef into the lagoon side, pushed by the combined millions of tons of pressure in the vast deep.  But at low tide, the waters recede and a person can walk with ease from Luaniua, out to the smaller, plate shaped islands to the east.  Assuming your feet have thick enough callouses to withstand the razor sharp rocks, that is.

On Sundays, after hours of church service that culminated in eating the body and blood of Jesus Christ, groups of kids would migrate off of Luaniua and onto its neighboring islands.  Armed with a pot of rice, some matches, and a machete, we would pick our way across the reef, skirting tide pools and stopping to gather clams as we came upon them.  We'd all gather at the furthermost island in the string, the one right before the deep passage in the reef that ships use to cross into the lagoon.  We'd spend the day playing on the white sand, singing, swimming, basically reveling in the freedom all kids enjoy when there are no adults around.  Then, after the tide had come in and gone out again, we'd cross back home before the second high tide came and evening fell.

I was making my way home from one such excursion, tired, wet and hungry, having eaten nothing but a shared pot of rice and some shellfish boiled in coconut water.  We had pushed our luck, taking our time going home, so that by the time we reached the final stretch of reef between Luaniua and its immediate eastern neighbor, the water had already risen to chest height.

There was nothing for it but to cross.  We started in together, a tight little group.  The migration back to the village was ongoing, and there were other groups of kids in front of and behind us.  My friend settled the pot and matches on her head, while another held the machete safely up out of the salt water, and we waded in.  It wasn't so bad at first.  The waves in the middle of the passage weren't choppy yet, so we had hope that the tide wouldn't pull too strongly.  We kept going, and the water began to rise.  First to our calves.  Then to our knees.  Now it was pulling at our skirts, and we could feel its tug increasing as the proportion of our submerged bodies grew greater.

My lava lava swirled madly against my legs, getting tangled in them as I moved quickly out into deeper water.  Now the water had reached my waist.  I stopped for a minute to secure my skirt more tightly around me, knotting it against the tide.  The water pushed at me, and I stumbled to my left.

"Come on, Danica!"  my friends called.

I pushed on.  By now the oncoming water was up to my ribs, pushing incessantly against the right side of my body.  Each step I took became a struggle not to yield to the pressure and list to the left.  The water was at my chest.  We must have misjudged the water's level, or taken longer to get out into the passage, because we weren't at what we knew to be the deepest part yet.  Now keeping a straight course was no longer an option.  The pull of the onrushing tide was too great.  I struggled on, hoping to keep my diagonal trajectory on course enough to not miss the point of Luaniua.  As long as I could make it to dry land.

The water was at my armpits.  Now each step I took was an utter yielding to the current.  Take my foot up.  Be pushed to the left.  Put my foot down.  Take my foot up.  More push to the left.  Put my foot down.  I watched desperately as the point of the island in front of me came parallel to my line of vision, then moved to the right of me.  There was no way now I'd make it to land.  I was on course for the deep waters of the lagoon.  And I was tired.  So very, very tired.  The current was even pushing the breath from my chest.  My toes bounced on the tips of coral, and my arms waved ineffectively against the onslaught of water.  It was up to my neck.

I thought about resting, just for a minute.  Just letting my body go limp and my head submerge just for a minute.

Then, out of nowhere, a boy, tall and strong, was in front of me.  He stood with his feet firmly planted, the tide buffeting his torso, but amazingly, withstanding it.  He stretched his hand out to me, his arm brown, muscled, impossibly long.  So long that it reached me.  In desperation I lifted both feet from the reef, propelling myself forward toward that saving hand.  As the tide claimed my body,  my feet dragging in surrender to it like a windsock in a cyclone, I felt his hand grip my outstretched one.

And just like that, he pulled me through the water.  Pulled me through the impossible surge, while his eyes looked deeply into mine and held my gaze.  He set me, dripping and panting, in the calm shallows, where my friends came running over the white sand to me.  All I could do was stumble up the beach and collapse in the shade of a coconut tree, gazing out over the passage where the water still flooded smooth and treacherous.

I was talking a few days ago with my dad, and he said that the Christian walk is like that.  In our helpless, hopeless, overwhelmed state, Jesus reaches out in Grace.  And we, in Faith, reach towards him.  And he pulls us out, while we hold firmly to him and he holds firmly to us.

Can we have Faith without works?  If we don't act on our Faith, if we don't reach out, we are left floundering and in danger of being swept away.  The Faith is dead without works.  But Grace is needed too, the compassion of someone outside of ourselves, a Savior, one who will be our strength and guide.  He reaches down to us in our lowly state, we reach up, and together walk out this thing called life.

So next time a flood comes, whether internal or external, be it a hurt followed by unforgiveness, or a frightening diagnosis, or the loss of a job, or even simply the temptation to lash out due to anger and frustration ... remember that you don't have to wade through it alone.  You're not supposed to wade through it alone.  You don't have to struggle to just be stronger, stay more positive, be better, forgive harder ... the flood is real and threatening.  But Christ, through the Holy Spirit in you, is reaching down in Grace to help you get through it.  In Faith reach up to grasp his hand, keeping your eyes fixated on his, and you will find yourself operating in a power outside of your own.  Together, as you walk, you will have the strength.  You will find the forgiveness.  You will experience the peace regardless of diagnosis or finances.  And, eventually, you will overcome.  You will overcome, when the gates open and you find yourself sitting on the golden shore, looking back over the flood that was life, safe, secure, breathless, and basking in the Son.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

" ... and who is my neighbor? ... "

There's a story I grew up hearing.  In it, a man on a journey was waylaid by some thugs who beat him up, then left him bleeding and naked on the side of the road.  As he lay there, two separate people came by, a pastor and a religious man, and both crossed by him on the other side, faces averted.  Then another man came along, and seeing his plight, he took pity on him.  This third man cleaned and bandaged his wounds, then paid a nearby innkeeper to feed and shelter him until he was better.

It is, of course, the story of the Good Samaritan.  It's oft repeated  in Christian circles.  In fact, my pastor used it as a sermon illustration just a few weeks ago.  So I can say that up until two days ago, although familiar with the story, I took it literally.  Yes, of course, if someone was laying in a ditch, beaten and bruised, I should, and would, help him!  Of course, I have never in my life come across this scenario, but I was prepared should it arise.

Two days ago, I was doing a quick notification check on Facebook, when a picture popped up on my newsfeed.  It had been posted by a friend of mine on our local 'For Sale' page.  It was a picture of her dog, which she was having to get rid of, the post said, because it had taken to killing chickens (both hers, and her neighbor's).  On a farm, this is a problem.  The post accompanying the picture ended, "If I can't find a home for her, she will have to be put down.  This makes me so sad."

Although we're Facebook friends, I don't know the owner of the dog and author of the post very well.  Lisa attends the same church I do, and we comment sometimes on each other's status updates.  She is a sweet, modest and humble soul with beautiful brown eyes and a singing voice that will knock your socks off.  Lisa's more of an acquaintance than anything to me, and I was about to keep scrolling when I saw the first comment on her post:

"This just makes me so angry.  This dog trusts you, and you are just going to kill her?  Be responsible and if you're not going to take care of your dog, DON'T GET A DOG."

Next comment:

"Ugh.  This is horrible.  This poor dog."

Something inside of me kindled.  I knew Lisa, a sweet woman who loves animals and normally wouldn't hurt a fly, was being unjustly accused by these strangers on Facebook.

I wrote:

"Please be kind, people.  Sheesh.  I understand your concern for the dog, but it's not productive to sit behind a keyboard and type borderline bullying comments.  If you really are concerned, give helpful advise or adopt the dog yourself."  

Well, that stirred up a cloud of back-and-forth comments, which I bowed out of after reposting the same sentiment three different times, in three different ways.

Afterwards, when the emotions had simmered down and I was able to look at the incident objectively, I began to doubt that I had done the right thing.  Verses like, "turn the other cheek", and, "pray for those who persecute you" kept returning to my mind.  Should I have just kept quiet?  Was I going against Jesus' teaching in writing those comments?  And yet, even as I asked myself those questions, a resounding, "NO!" rose up inside of me.  I knew it had to be wrong to let Lisa get verbally abused online by people who really just wanted to stir up strife.

Then I asked myself - as a Christian, should Lisa have just let it happen to her?  Should I, as a Christian, have just let it happen to her as well?  Is there no room in our faith for the opposition of bullies?   Are we called to just be doormats?  And if we are, is that a faith I want to subscribe to?

It was in that place of questioning that the parable of the Good Samaritan came to me.  And it was suddenly illuminated, as if my whole entire life I had never understood its meaning until that very moment.  Lisa was the man by the side of the road.  She was being kicked, beaten, and robbed emotionally.  As I came across her post, I had a choice. Would I avert my eyes, lift up the hem of my robe, and scroll on by, citing 'turning the other cheek' as an excuse to not get involved?  Or would I get into the fray, risk getting some blood on my hands and maybe taking a punch or two myself, in order to help a sister in need?

I realized that as long as I spoke the truth ... in love, said what needed to be said ... while resisting the urge to throw nasty verbal punches of my own, I was fulfilling Christ's commands.  Jesus doesn't call us to be doormats, neither does He call us to jump into every fight we come across.  Let love be the guiding principle that drives our actions, and led by the Spirit, we won't go wrong.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mothering Myth #3 : {The Perfect Mother}



A search for postpartum depression a few months ago turned up this link, in which the author laid out 6 common myths of mothering that contribute to postpartum depression.  I have believed or been affected by all 6 at one point or another in my journey of mothering, so I decided to address them in a series of posts.  This is the third.  In this post, I will address:

Mothering Myth #3 : {The Perfect Mother}
"The myth of the perfect mother ... "
When I was pregnant with Sophie, I had fond daydreams about what mothering would be like.  In my mind, it was a cross between an L.M. Montgomery novel and a Victorian tintype, where I would spend hours looking lovingly into my daughter's eyes, or breastfeeding her endearingly as she snuggled against me.  Of course, the moment she was placed into my arms in the hospital we would experience a mystical connection that would endure until I weepingly sent her off into the great world after high school graduation.  I would gaily wash and hang her little pink clothes on the line while she cooed at me from a blanket in the grass.  She would lie still and look adorable when we went to the grocery store together.  Maybe I'd stop by a department store and try on clothes while she napped in her carrier.


That was the dream.

Here's the reality:

Breastfeeding was hell for the first three months.  I mean, really.  It was extremely difficult to get her to latch on, and I didn't really know what I was doing.  I thought you were just supposed to put a baby's mouth on you and she immediately started eating.  No such thing.  We would spend entire half hour stretches with her crying, and me hysterically trying to get her to eat.  Each failed attempt after another disintegrated my confidence in my mothering capabilities.

Meanwhile, everyone around me seemed to have the answers.  I'd take Sophie to the nursery at church, and the ladies would hold her with such confident tenderness that I'd slink away in dejection.  She was MY daughter.  Why couldn't I have that confidence?  She didn't calm down for me like that!

My days were spent covered in spit up, pee and yellow newborn poo.  The only way I could get Sophie to be content was to hold her and bounce her while we faced the window, so she could look out.  So I held and bounced her and paced from window to window of my tiny house for hours.  It was exhausting.  When we did venture out into the wider world, she would scream in her car seat.  I had to carry her, and would eye the calm little babies content in their carriers with frustration.  What was I doing wrong that my baby wouldn't do that?

Mothering came slowly to me.  Really, it's only now that I'm on my third kid that I have enough perspective to understand what I wish someone had told me when I was starting out - there is no perfect  mother.  This is because every mother is different.  We all bring our own unique personalities to the table.  On top of that, every child is different and add their own personalities to the mix.  It is extremely unfair (to herself!) for a new mother to measure herself by any external standards.  Her mothering will not be like anyone else's, because she is unique, and her baby is unique, and what she and her baby have together is unique.

Now that Sophie is older, I can see that the reason she hated to be put down as an infant is because she has an unquenchable interest in the world around her.  This is the child who notices the single light in the darkening sky, and identifies it as a planet, rather than a star.  The child who can tell you where to find rolly pollies in our back yard.  The child who has a keen artistic eye and picks out library books for their illustrations (she likes collage and odd proportions the best).

What I wish someone had told me when I was a new mother, is that what you see in an infant, the inscrutable idiosyncrasies, are really the little buds of your child's personality.  Buds that slowly bloom until the child begins to talk, and you start to realize who this little person really is.  Don't be so hard on yourself.  You are an individual, and so is your child.  And mothering isn't really about breastfeeding the right way, or having a calm child, or having all the answers.  It's about ushering your child into the world and helping her realize her unique gifts.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

In Which I Meet God

The Anglican church on Luaniua was already established when we got there.  It is an airy pavilion, with concrete columns supporting an aluminum roof that feeds rain water into tanks the entire village drinks from.  There are two long rows of benches down each side of the church.  The women always sit on the left, the men on the right, children up front, teens in the middle, with married men and women in the very back.  In the front there is a dais, the concrete raised a step.  Here is where the catechist leads morning and evening prayer.  At the very front, the concrete goes up another step and here is where the alter stands.  It's rough, made from simple lumber, and covered with a white cloth.  Behind the alter a mat covers the wall, woven from died blue, purple and green pandanas leaves.

An empty propane tank hangs from the eves of the church.  It serves as the bell, and its harsh clanging reverberates through the village every dawn and sunset, calling the villagers to prayer.  The services themselves are simple.  They are repeated every day from the Melanesian Anglican Prayer Book With Hymns, with scripture readings and daily prayers the only variations from the script.

I used to go every evening.  Our house sat right behind the church, and I'd answer the bell's summonings every day as dusk fell.  The benches, little more than long planks, made day dreaming difficult since it was hard to get comfortable.  Mostly I just followed along, repeating the 'Lord have mercies' and 'Hear our prayers', my voice just one among the many supplicants.

It all didn't really mean anything to me.  I believed in Jesus, I knew the 'Gospel'.  I'd grown up hearing it.  I'd grown up  hearing about God's love for me, and how Jesus had came and died.  I believed it all.  But I'm not sure what type of a faith that was.  Was it faith in God?  Or in the God-idea?

Miguel de Unamuno, an early 20th century philosopher, said,
"Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in their heart, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair ... believe only in the God-idea, not in God Himself."
There came an evening, similar to all the rest, just a bead in the strand of the days of my childhood.  I went to evening service, and sat in the slowly darkening church as we recited the prayers.  Our Father.  The Apostle's Creed.  The Magnificat.

"O Lord, have mercy on us", the catechist said.

"... And give us your saving power," we answered.

"O Lord, save your people."

"... And bless those who belong to you."

"Give peace in our time, O Lord."

"... For there is none who rules the world, but only you, O God."

And then, as if the lights had dimmed all around me, a spotlight suddenly shone on my heart.  Everything around me, the fidgeting kids, murmuring audience, clattering palm leaves outside, receded.  I was suddenly alone, an audience of one to a great, heavenly unfurling.  My heart, my soul, every cell in my being, quivered with awe, with reverence, with fear.  I beheld God.  Not all of Him.  Not even part of Him.  I saw just a hint, just a minute corner of His robe.  It was all my small understanding could bear.  It was as if, in His infinite understanding, God chose that moment to pull back the curtain of heaven just a fraction so that my soul could meet Him.

I read in the book of John this morning,
All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was the life; and the life was the Light of men.  The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it ... There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.  (John 1: 4 - 9)
It is true that we can believe that we believe in God.  Our limited, human understanding is easily appeased with a list of rules or Godly attributes.  God is love.  God is light.  But we cannot truly comprehend Him, not without His Light first shining to illuminate our hearts.  That's grace, in that while we are still in the darkness, unable to even know that we don't know, God shines His Light.

I guess all that we can do, is to in faith pray,
"... having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints." 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Morning

Small Town, USA

My day starts before dawn.  Manasseh stirring in his room down the hall is the first sound that breaks through my subconsciousness.  He squawks, then finds a fist and sucks in silence for a while, then squawks louder.  His insistence pulls me out of bed.  


Luaniua, Solomon Islands

Roosters crowing.  Not the romantic cock-a-doodle-do you hear in Saturday morning cartoons.  More like a strangled croak, as if someone had kicked the bird off its ridgepole.  Except for the roosters, the village is still muted, everyone rustling awake in the dimness of their huts.  The ever present surf pounds the day's rhythm, deep bass.

Small Town, USA

His cries a homing beacon, I pad down the hall to Manasseh's room.  He's flipped over on his back, a stranded, hungry little turtle.  I scoop him up and hold him against my chest.  He calms right away.  "Shhhh sh sh, my little man,"  I whisper.  "Hush now."  Four steps away is the rocker.  We settle into it and his whole body tenses in anticipation.  He opens his mouth and begins to root desperately, then clamps down with a hungry grunt on my breast.  I rock, he eats, the ceiling fan whirls overhead.

Luaniua, Solomon Islands

My bladder is full.  I lie for a moment, listening to the crunch, crunch of our neighbor's feet on their crushed coral floor, the baby's cry, the mother's murmuring.  The baby's quiet again.  I swing my feet to the floor and tighten my lava lava under my armpits.  Our house shudders gently on its stilts with each step I take.  Then I'm outside and the air is fresh and the coconut trees are quivering awake.  Someone somewhere is chopping wood.  I find the familiar trail through grass huts that hunch low and shaggy, and a few minutes later am standing on the beach, facing the morning waves.  Taking a deep breath against the Pacific coldness, I wade in, and do my business.

Small Town, USA

The baby's fed and back asleep.  In the kitchen, I punch the button to start the coffee, then spend a quiet 30 minutes on the couch.  This is where my batteries charge for the day, when I feed my soul breakfast and fill my reserves in order to be poured out for the rest of the day.  I finish one cup of coffee, and pour another.  Through the wall I can hear my husband's shower start.  A face appears around the corner of the hall.  Xander, my early morning buddy, climbs onto the couch next to me and lays his head against my shoulder, looking up at me with sleep heavy eyes.  I kiss the top of his head, his blond hair rough on my lips.  

Luaniua, Solomon Islands

On the way back from the ocean, my wet lava lava sticks to my legs, and sand sticks to my feet.  There is now a haze of smoke from morning cook fires across the village.  I pass a young girl of about 8 as she settles a blackened and dented kettle into the fire outside her family's hut.  Back at home, my mom's whisking powdered milk into a bowl of water.  Dehydrated papayas and pineapples are on the counter beside her, ready to cut into our bowls of granola.  The gravel crunches down below as my brother returns from his morning trip to the sea.  A few minutes later, the six of us have gathered around bowls of granola and instant milk.  We bow our heads and pray for the day.

Small Town, USA

I've got bacon sizzling at one side of the griddle, and scrambled eggs are quickly firming up on the other.  Toast pops.  I fetch it quickly from the toaster, spread on some butter, give the eggs another swirl with my spatula, and flip the bacon.  The sound of the shower has ceased in the back of the house.    Xander's got his knight dress up gear on over his Elmo Christmas pajamas.  "Hi-ya!  Hooo-ah!"  he yells, swinging his sword.  He's still the only kid awake.  "Bubby, come here and take Daddy's coffee to him,"  I call.  He's dispatched down the hall.  


Ten minutes later, Sophie stumbles into the kitchen with a storm cloud over her head.  She slumps into her seat at the table as Scott emerges in his suit and tie, coffee cup in hand.  We all settle down, Cheerios and bacon for the kids and eggs, toast and bacon for the adults.  The day has begun.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Snakes in the Path

Scott and I recently started running again.  It feels so incredibly good to be out again in the morning coolness, before my day begins.  Just alone with my thoughts and the drum, drum, drum of my feet on the pavement.  No sound except for my hot, heavy breathing in and out, in and out, in and out.  Arms pumping, hips loose in an easy stride ... I love it.

Since we both want to run while the kids still sleep, we take turns.  He'll go out first, and then when he's home I take off.  A week ago he came in, sweaty and breathing hard at the tail end of his workout.

"Be careful out there this morning, I saw another snake on the trail.  That makes three so far this month." Yikes.  So not what I wanted to hear before I headed out on my daily indulgence.

You know how once you start looking for something, you think you see it everywhere?  It's like a suggestion gets planted in your mind, and suddenly your brain interprets everything you see based on that suggestion.  That's how it was for me when I got out on the trail that morning.  Every twig, every crack in the asphalt, I shied at.  I was seeing snakes everywhere, hearing them in every rustle of the brush.  I even imagined that I saw sticks become animated and start to slither across the trail ahead of me.  I made excellent time that morning, and arrived at home with breathless relief.

It occurred to me that relationships can be like that.  Especially if there is a history of wounding, of distrust, if you feel unsafe emotionally with a person.  Tutored by your experiences to be apprehensive of injury, you interpret every look, every word, every interaction as malicious.  It doesn't matter if the person you're interacting with has malintent towards you or not - if they have repeatedly hurt you in the past, you won't trust them in the present, and will constantly be on the lookout for how they will hurt you this time.

The really tragic thing is that sometimes, we internalize the lessons of mistrust so well, having been hurt so often and repeatedly throughout our lives, that we begin to apply the guarded, dubious attitude towards everyone we interact with, not just those who have hurt us.  Particularly if the rejection and pain come from a parent, we learn early in life to be on the constant, suspicious watch for snakes in our path.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

MotheringMyth #2: {The Perfect Baby}

Continuing on in my response to the 'Myths of Mothering' (expounded upon here) ...

Mothering Myth #2:  {The Perfect Baby}
"... the myth of the 'perfect baby'"
I have never ... EVER ... seen people more competitive than when it comes to their children.  A typical conversation between two mommies at the park often goes something like this:

Mommy 1:   Little Sally is so cranky lately.  She's cutting her teeth, bless her heart ... she's only 3 months, you know.

Mommy 2:  Oh, you poor thing.  I remember when my Billy cut his teeth.  He got both upper and lower sets all at once!

Mommy 1:  ... Of course, now Sally's chewing on everything she can get her hands on.  Her favorite thing to gnaw is her board books.  She simply loooooves her books.  She won't pick up any other toys.

Mommy 2:  Did I tell you Billy already knows ten signs?  It's probably because we read so much at home.

And on and on it goes.  I have participated in my fair share of mommy brag-a-thons, so this post is written at myself as much as at anyone else.

Here's the thing.  There's nothing bad about bragging about your kid - it's great that we feel so proud of our progeny that we want to sing their praises to anyone who has ears.  But the problem is that when we only hear the good things about everyone else's children, it's easy (very easy) to fall into the trap of believing that your child is the only one who hits their sibling when they're angry.  Who throws a fit in Walmart.  Who refuses to talk to adults when addressed.

I think new moms are especially susceptible to this tendency.  When you hold the new, perfect little life in  your arms for the first time, this fear sneaks up on you and you think, "Oh boy, I hope I don't totally screw this kid up."  Then, when baby doesn't hit certain milestones when doctors (or your friends, or your mother) say he should, it confirms the fear that yes, you are indeed screwing your child up.  You're screwing him or her up royally.  And you feel helpless to do anything, because you can't make a baby sit up by himself (for example).  They just do it, when they do it.  On their own time.

It's so very easy to internalize every little thing your child does, and let it reflect negatively on yourself.  Example:  Manasseh is 3 months old.  And he still hasn't laughed.  He barely started smiling a few weeks ago.  He's content, doesn't cry much, but is just a solemn, serious little guy.  It is so so easy for me to start vociferating on the fact that he hasn't laughed yet, and try to figure out what I have done wrong to cause this:  Was I too stressed out during pregnancy?  Is it too loud and chaotic in our home?  Do I not look into his eyes enough and give him enough attention?  What if he doesn't feel loved?!!

Do you see the crazy cycle?  Do you see how easy it is to spiral onto the crazy train?  Meanwhile, everywhere you look there are happy, seemingly perfect babies and mommies, because everybody's incredibly proud of their progeny and broadcast their little offsprings' every accomplishment.  Only the accomplishments.  And when you're already feeling self-conscious about this mothering thing, and nervous that you're doing it right, you become acutely, desperately aware that your baby is not a perfect baby.  This, if internalized, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and ultimately depression.

We need to give our babies, and ourselves, permission to be who we were created to be:  Individual. Unique.  'Special Little Snowflakes'.  Defined not by what we do, or what we accomplish, but by who we are.  We need to learn to see our kids as exciting, interesting little treasures with unique personalities and characteristics that slowly unfold over time.  Because, in the end it won't matter when your baby cut his teeth, or learned to walk, or how many words he knew by the age of one.  What will matter is, did he grow up and into the person God designed him to be from the very beginining?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Boundaries

For reasons best kept private, I've been thinking a lot about boundaries lately.  Specifically, my lack of healthy boundaries as an adult.  I've spent a lot of time in introspection, recalling various times I've stumbled across a boundary, or failed to erect one.  I used to wonder,  "What is it about me that caused ____ to happen, or caused ____ to treat me that way?"

In college, we Education majors spent a lot of time observing in local schools.  My junior year, I was assigned to observe in a 3rd grade teacher's classroom for an hour a week.  I loved it.  I helped her grade papers, walked around and interacted with students during independent work time, and performed various tasks she set me to.  I felt like I was important, a part of her team, a little cog in the wheel of the learning taking place in the classroom.

Everything continued on hunky dory, weeks compounding into months as the semester wore on.  I noticed some dirty looks from a few staff, including the grumpy looking principal, but as the school in general seemed to be saturated with a negative mood, I did not let my heart be troubled and carried on in my happy little bubble.

Then, one day my professor came on site, as she would from time to time to observe us, and caught up with me in the copy room.  "Danica," she said, "I need to have a word with you."

"Ok,"  I said, "let me just finish these copies for my teacher."  I had been waiting in line for the copier and my turn had just come up.

A look crossed over her face, maybe anger, maybe displeasure, I can't be sure, but she said severely, "No, you need to come right NOW."  Embarrassed, I tucked my papers to my chest and hurriedly followed her out of the room.  At that point, I had no idea what was going on, but had a sinking premonition that it couldn't be good.  I was extremely confused.

My professor (whom I simply adored up to that point, teachers pet that I was) took me to a store room and sat me down at a broken child's desk.  "There have been complaints about you from several of the staff, Danica," she commenced.  I stared at her.

"What is it?  What have I done?"

"They say you're ... too bold.  Arrogant."  At this point I was completely flabbergasted.  Confusion quickly turned to hurt, and tears started to flow as she talked on.  I honestly don't remember any more of the conversation, except for the point when I whispered between my tears, "Help me, Jesus", and my professor stopped talking for a split second to give me a strange look.  I mostly cried, cried a lot, cried huge, ugly, sobbing, hiccuping tears, the kind that take your breath with their unkind rhythm.

To this day I still haven't been able to figure out what it was exactly that I did so wrong, wrong enough to warrant the little closeted session with  my professor.  All I can come up with is that I carried myself as if I was an equal to the other teachers and staff, which I guess I wasn't supposed to do, being a lowly college student.

Now, back to boundaries.  Coming out of that situation, the talk with my professor completely crushed me because I knew, since it came from an authority figure, the criticism MUST be true.  There was no room in my mind for her to be wrong, or mistaken (Could the staff have meant to complain about a different student and somehow gotten us mixed up?  After all I had classmates who simply didn't show up for their observation appointments at the school), or misinformed.  I was in the wrong.  And I spent years revisiting that conversation, trying to figure out what it was about ME that was so offensive to the rest of the school staff.  I accepted the shame and guilt because obviously I was in the wrong somehow.

That was the first boundary I failed to erect.  I shouldn't have accepted shame and guilt unquestioningly just because the accusation came from an authority figure.

I  may have unintentionally crossed over a boundary with the other staff, with my apparently misguided confidence, but I'm sure if that is true, the failure on my part was due to me not reading the cultural and social cues correctly.  Regardless, I know that I did not do anything heinous enough to justify my professor's handling of the affair.

Looking back at that situation, having learned about boundaries and given myself the permission to erect them, I can realize that I didn't have to let that conversation with my professor destroy my sense of self.  I didn't have to give in her perception of me.  Just because she said something about me, did not make it true.  Only I am in control of defining myself, by the grace of God.  As Popeye says, "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam."

I read this on a blog recently:

Do any of these sound like you?
I have to always say yes to others, or else I am selfish.
I have to always hide my hurt, or else I am unloving.
I have to treat other people as faultless, or else I am holding a grudge.
I have to keep my wants and needs to myself, or else I am a burden to others.
Yes!  I replied silently.  Yes, yes, yes!  It is so incredibly freeing to realize that not everything is my fault, and I do not carry the blame for other peoples' emotions, feelings, thoughts, words, or actions.  And above and beyond that, it is ok for me to advocate for myself.  It is ok for me to assert myself in a situation where I am being taken advantage of.  It is ok, and even healthy, to set those boundaries for myself.  As the icing on the cake, on top of everything, comes the realization that I really do deserve that voice.  And it's ok for me to say it!!

If any of this resonated with you, I'd highly recommend the Boundaries books, by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

MotheringMyth #1: {Unremitting Motherly Love}

It's been a few years since I've had an infant.  I'd forgotten exactly what it is like to handle the weeks (months!) of up-and-down emotions.  A late night Google session on postpartum mood swings, born from a desperation to know I'm not the only one to suddenly find myself possessed of a screaming alter-ego, turned up this link.  I found it incredibly encouraging, especially the first section, which lists 6 'myths', or expectations, our culture has about mothers.  The article states that, "For many women, after the baby is born these expectations are met with feelings of depression or anxiety that can lead to extreme feelings of guilt or shame."  I decided to address the 6 myths here on my blog, starting with:  

MotheringMyth#1:  {Unremitting Motherly Love}
"... the myth of unremitting motherly love for the new child"
 When the midwife put Sophie on my chest, and I first beheld her face, I did not feel the sense of euphoria everybody told me about.  I felt numb.  It was like there was a disconnect between my brain and my heart, and all I could do was stare at this little, red, wrinkled stranger.

Over the next few days, I found myself continuously repressing a growing burden of guilt.  I covered up the fact that I wasn't feeling the over-the-moon, head-over-heels-in-love, joy that everybody seemed to expect from me, by smiling and acting like I had this mothering thing down.  I could change a diaper.  I could nurse.  I could swaddle the baby like a champ.  Yet every time a nurse would wheel my baby in, there was a little, 'who are you?' question mark written over my heart.

The fact that I wasn't feeling anything close to warm, motherly affection, fed a deep feeling of inadequacy inside my heart.  The feeling of inadequacy led to shame and guilt.  What sort of a mother was I?  My daughter would be scarred for life.  She would grow up without feeling a mother's love.  I didn't deserve her.  Someone else would make a better mother than I.  And on the thoughts rolled.

Looking back, I can see how these feelings, brought on by unhealthy pressure and expectations, helped to feed a bout of postpartum depression that plagued my soul long after my body had healed from the birth.  For the first two months after I took Sophie home, I would look at her with surreal wonder and think, "When are the doctors and nurses going to realize that I have some body's baby, and come and take her away to her real family?"

I remember the exact moment when it 'clicked' for me.  I was changing Sophie's diaper for probably the fifth time that day, and she was studying me with the avid interest that is unique to her.  Suddenly, she smiled, looked straight in my eyes, and said, "Ma ma!"

It was as if the flood gates of my heart had been suddenly flung wide open with a great, rusty creak.  A torrent of love, deep, overwhelming, and beautiful, rushed into my heart.  I couldn't breathe for a moment from the joy of it.  I grabbed Sophie up in my arms and told her, "Oh, I love you, you little thing, you!" and kissed her all over her face, and squeezed her soft body tightly to me.

My little Sophie, whose name means, 'wisdom', taught me how to love as a mother.  She amazed me then and continues to amaze me now with her grace, her insight, her ability to empathize, and the way she always has the exact right words to speak to a hurting heart.  That is her gift.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Poop {Or, Why We Don't Go To Restaurants With the Kids}

Scott took the week off, so we've been enjoying a mid-summer 'stay-ca'.  On Thursday, after the fireworks had stopped reverberating in our ears, we headed out for a little day trip to Carlsbad Caverns.  Despite some concerns that our five and three year olds would be able to hack it, we had a great time exploring the caves.  Plus, it was cool down there.


After four hours of walking, we were all definitely ready for a sit down and a dinner.  I had been carrying Manasseh the entire time, all 13 lbs of him, in my Moby wrap.  I was tired of holding him.  My chest was slick with our combined sweat, his drool, and spit-up.  So I was looking forward to him (hopefully!) sleeping in his carrier in the restaurant ... but no such luck.  The minute we sat down, he started to fuss, and nothing would do but I pick him up.  So I leaned over, unhooked his harness, and scooped him up in my arms.

That was when I felt something slick and drippy on my forearm.  Uh oh.  I knew without looking that we had a blowout.  Off through the packed restaurant I went, thanking my lucky stars we weren't at 'home', and nobody would know who I was, with my poop covered baby held slightly away from me, sweaty, and exuding an overall feeling of droopiness.

The bathroom was empty.  Luckily.  Because when I opened that sucker up, I discovered the biggest poop I have ever witnessed on an infant.  This is including Sophie, who used to get it half way up her back at nap time.  It looked like he had been dipped in bright orange pudding from the knees to the waist.  The first dozen wipes didn't even make a dent, and I seriously considered tossing my (favorite) $20 cloth diaper due to the sheer volume of the stuff.  When I had finally gotten him and myself clean, Manasseh was screaming his head off.  And you know how those bathrooms can echo.  It was a cacophony.

He quieted down into an injured silence ("How COULD you put me through that, Mommy?") and we made our way back through the crowd to our table.

The first thing I saw when I sat down were huge, silent tears rolling down Xander's cheek.  "What's wrong with him?  What happened?"  I asked Scott.

"He ate a 'spicy french fry'," Scott explained, gesturing to the plate of Texas Cheese Fries sitting innocuously in the middle of our table.

I looked back at Xander, who had stuffed half of a napkin into his mouth, and helpfully suggested, "Son, eat some ranch.  It'll make it feel better."

"Mommmmmmmy, I can't figure out what to draw here."  This from Sophie, sitting to my right.  I glanced down.  She had a house and a sky and a sun on her child's menu, and was gesturing to a space beside the house.

"Umm, draw a tree."

"Don't you think I already mentioned ranch?  And water.  But he won't put anything in his mouth.  Only a napkin."  Xander now had the entire napkin in his mouth.  Scott looked frustrated.

"But Mooooom, I don't have a brown crayon.  I can't draw a tree without a brown crayon.  I only have red."

"Then draw an apple tree, Sophie.  Xander, get that napkin out of your mouth."  Scott and I exchanged trapped looks across the table.  Then Manasseh chimed in, beginning to root at my neck and squirm.  I knew what that meant.  He was hungry.

Just then the waitress arrived with our entrees.  In vain I tried to bounce the baby as I ate, but he just wasn't having it.  He let loose a warning squawk that reverberated over the noise of the packed restaurant, and I knew from experience that if I didn't feed him soon, he would be screaming.  Loudly.

Giving up, I switched places with Sophie so that I would be beside the wall, threw my Moby wrap over my shoulder, and gave Manasseh what he needed.  There I was, sweaty, tired, juggling older kids, nursing a baby, and attempting to eat with my left hand.  I used to wonder why women saw it necessary to nurse in restaurants.  Now I know.  God forgive me for my judgemental attitude!

We finished up with our meals, and flagged the waitress next time she passed our table to ask for the check.

"Actually, somebody has already offered to pay for your meal,"  she said.  Scott and I stared at her in stunned silence.

"Yeah, somebody already told the manager that they would pay for your meal,"  she repeated, since we continued to not say anything.

"Really?"  It was all I could say.  Tears were welling up in my eyes.  This whole time I had been worrying about how we looked to the rest of the restaurant ... and someone had looked at our distress with kindness and compassion in their heart, and wanted to help.  I felt humbled.  I felt undeserving.  I felt grateful.

As we drove home, still trying to process the kindness of a stranger, a verse came to mind:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for a good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5: 6 - 8
 And I thanked God for strangers who gave willingly to us, and I thanked Him for giving willingly, too.

Fire

On an island with no garbage service or designated dump, piles of trash naturally grew up.  It would begin with a collection of fallen coconut fronds, and grow as weeds were uprooted and tossed in to die in the sun, along with fish bones, picked clean and white, and discarded coconut shells.  The rubbish piles mounded until they were over five feet tall, always at the edge of the village where houses met the sand.

Then, usually at night, someone would decide the heap had gotten big enough and set a torch to it.  The tropical sun makes everything brittle, and the great pile of leaves and organic waste, already scorched by the sun, was perfect fodder for a hungry flame.

With the night sky deep and dark overhead, the trash pile quickly roared into life.  Sparks, caught in the updraft, soared ten, fifteen, twenty feet above the ground in a swirling column.  The dancing light cast a vivid red glow on the children gathered around it, their naked bodies sweating and eyes gleaming as they flirted with the flames.  Once in a while an especially brave one would grab a burning frond and run with it.  It would wave above his head, a banner shedding sparks and ash on the dark sand, receding down the beach like an emissary to the night.

Sometimes I think that this is me, tossed in the heap and bleached dry.  But God's refining fire is beautiful, fierce and powerful.  The rush of His flames, coming from beyond myself, consumes and transforms me.  The fodder cannot tell the fire where to go, or how to burn.  It can only be.  The fodder has no perspective on its place in relation to the entire heap and the fire itself.  It can only be.  The fodder cannot even really grasp how the fire, the whole fire, looks.  It can only be.  It can only be still, and know that the fire ... IS.
"Be still and know that I AM God." ~ Psalm 46:10

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Abandonment

Luaniua Island curves in a long, slim embrace around one side of its atoll's lagoon.  The water on the lagoon side of the island is almost always calm, deep and warm, except for those days when the monsoon winds whip up white caps on the surf.  On days when my heart and head were in turmoil, those waters were one of the places I'd go for solitude and respite.

Slipping out down the slow incline, I'd shuffle my feet along the sandy bottom where sea grass grew like a wavy green carpet.  Stingrays often hung out there, camouflaged against the dappled sand, and to pick your leg up and place it directly down again was inviting a barbed tail in your foot.  So I'd shuffle along, stirring up puffs of debris until the water covered my shoulders and only my neck and head were above the surface.  

Most days, I tend to exist naturally in a state of high energy.  Something on my body is constantly moving.  My muscles are usually tensed, and I don't even notice it.  Especially when my mind or heart are agitated, my body tenses like a jack-in-the-box to the point where even my skin tightens.  It was at these times when the warm waters of Luaniua's lagoon were especially welcome.  

Up to my neck and utterly alone, I'd let go of the tension in my  arms, my legs, my chest, letting my knees buckle and my feet lift up from the sea grass.  I released myself to the ocean.  The sun drenched salt water received the worst of me with no judgements, only held me suspended as even my head submerged beneath the surface.  Sometimes I'd scream, underwater, my frustration or anger or hurt escaping in billowing bubbles of sound.  The ocean, like a great mother, would hold me until I draped myself in blessed peace in her arms.  

I thought about this the other day as I read an excerpt from a letter written by a 17th century theologian, Francois Fenelon:
'Abandonment Means to Sink Into the Will of God'
True abandonment is a simple resting in the love of God.  It is like an infant lying in its mother's arms.  A perfect abandonment must even go so far as to "abandon its abandonment."  By that, I mean that we should renounce ourselves without even being aware of it.  If we are conscious of our abandonment, it would no longer be complete.  For there can be no worse hindrance than a consciousness that 'we are wholly given up.'
Abandonment does not consist in doing great things for self in order to receive delight.  Rather, it consists in simply putting up with our weakness and infirmity.  It consists in letting everything alone.  It is always peaceful.  After all, abandonment would no longer be sincere if we were still anxious about the things we had renounced.  Thus it is that abandonment to God is the source of true peace.  If we do not have peace, it is because our abandonment is exceedingly imperfect. 
 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hello, Manasseh!

Being pregnant this time made me internal.  As in, focused so solely on the little life growing inside me, that everything else requiring emotional or creative power got sidelined.  Manasseh made his appearance a month ago (after 4 1/2 hours of labor!  The way a woman's body works during childbirth really is a miracle), and I have slowly been regaining my sense of self.

After the third person asked today when I would start writing again, I figured it was time to revisit this old blog.  So hello.  It's been a while.  But I'm back.

And now, I'll leave you with the sweetest chunk of babyhood this side of the Mississippi.


This is what I've been snuggling for the past month.  Aren't you jealous?


Sunday, March 4, 2012

1012 Goals - February in Review

In case you can't tell, I've rounded the corner into my third trimester and have sllooooooowwwwwed down.  I won't be writing much between now and May.  I won't be doing anything much between now and May, except for taking care of the kids and keeping the house reasonably functioning.  I wanted to pop in here today, though, to give an update on how I'm doing with my new year's goals.

1.  Focus on Scott
We've taken to walking the 1 1/2 mile loop through the desert by our neighborhood when Scott gets off work in the evenings.  Throughout our marriage, we've done a lot of evening walking.  It's always been a good time for us to connect, talk through our day, and process whatever's going on in our lives at that moment.  So the walks have helped to keep us connected.  We've laughed a lot this month.  I mean, laughing so hard it brings on contractions and makes me pee my pants just a little bit.  I really did marry my best friend.

2.  Focus on the Kids
Homeschool has gone completely out the window for now.  And I don't feel the least bit guilty about it.  This month I have made an effort to connect with the kids on their level.  It does take an effort to engage with them when I'm tired, grumpy, and just want to be alone, and Sophie's rambling on about Spiderman while Xander bumps continually against my leg.  I figure as long as I'm consciously making an effort, it's enough for now.

3.  Focus on the House
Scott and I put in a new back door (the old one was original to the house, deeply scratched by some former tenant's dog, and plain ugly), painted the living room, put in new blinds in the living room, and purchased and painted new bi fold doors to go in between the living room and TV room.  We still have a long list of things we want to accomplish before Baby comes, but we made a good dent in it this month.

4.  Focus on the Whole.
Ok.  Confession time.  So I know I'm pregnant, and shouldn't worry about it, but I've been obsessing about my weight.  I was BOUND AND DETERMINED at the beginning of this pregnancy to gain only 20 - 25 lbs.  I exercised every day.  I ate well.  I did not indulge most of my cravings.  And at the moment, I am up to 30 lbs.  With three months to go.  I have come to the conclusion that I will gain around 50 lbs, it's just what my body does.  I gained that much (and more) with my two other pregnancies.  My mom gained that much with all four of hers.
So who cares what the doctors say.  I really think my body knows what it wants to do, and is going to do it regardless of what I eat, how much I eat, and how much I exercise.  So right now, I'm focusing on putting healthy foods into my body and continuing to walk 1 to 1.5 miles every morning (and often the same in the evenings, with Scott and the kids), and will disregard what the scale says.
I have to say, as well, since I'm in confession mode, that it's getting hard for me to look in the mirror because the mental image of myself doesn't match what I see now.  But I'm trying to love my body, and enjoy my pregnant shape, and remember what a blessing from God this baby is.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Abortion

I don't usually post about politics on this blog, but I have to get this off my chest.

I'm following a thread on Pinterest about abortion.  It seems that every time discussion comes up between pro-choicers and pro-lifers, people start arguing 'facts':  when is the fetus (baby) viable?  When does the heart start beating?  Does the fetus (baby) feel pain?  It's all so clinical.

I don't know a lot of the science.  I'm not a doctor.  But I know that there have been three instances where a life was growing inside me, and by 12 weeks, that life was gone.  I have never felt so hopeless than the moments when I had to acknowledge to myself that my baby was dying inside me and I couldn't save it.  To say that those babies of mine were nothing more than unresponsive lumps of cells tears my heart apart.

Knowing the pain of miscarriage, I can only imagine that there must be so much more pain women who undergo abortions carry around.  I'm not surprised that so many women so adamantly advocate for abortion, because to acknowledge the truth - that there was a baby growing inside you and you killed it, literally sucked it out of your uterus, must be more than any mother could bear.  Understandably, it's easier to justify your actions than to face that fact.

It breaks my heart that young women make this choice believing that it is the only (or the best) option for them.  They are victims, too.  They need the emotional, medical, financial and legal help necessary to carry their 'accidents' full term and then give them up for adoption, or take care of them themselves, or give them into the care of a family member, or whatever might be the best 'choice' for the baby (if we want to talk about choices here).  Maybe the resources are out there, and I am just unaware of them.  I do know that our community has a pregnancy help center established to give alternatives to abortion, but do other communities?  Are there governmental services available?  And why is it so much easier (and cheaper) to abort a baby than adopt one?

All I can say, is that I mourn for the women who chose to abort, and for the innocent lives they end.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Forced Love Day



If you really want to know what I think about Valentine's Day, read last years post.  Now go and kiss your loved one, darn it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Don't Move That Throw Pillow, It's Covering A Kool-Aid Stain

Here's a few caveats before you enter my house:

1.  There is a high probability that there will be bits of food on the kitchen floor.  The probability is also high that said bits of food have been there for several days, because I overlooked them when I was sweeping, or I overlooked sweeping all together.

2.  If you need a hair tie, look in the nearest corner.  That's usually where they end up.

3.  The stain on my shirt came from my kid.  No it didn't.  It came from me.  Because, a) I'm just too tired to change my shirt when I get something on it, after all, who's here to see me? and, b) I can always blame stains on a kid.  They'll never tell otherwise.

4.  There will be random magnets stuck on lamps, the fire place, and the bathroom sink.  The kids were experimenting and never went back to clean up their findings.

5.  Don't move that throw pillow on the couch.  It's covering a kool-aid stain.

6.  Please complement me on my clean counters.  I work VERY HARD to keep them free of Barbie boots, scribbled sticky notes, grocery fliers, pennies, a half eaten apple, crumbs, artwork, crayons, dirty plates, keys and crumpled streamers.  Kitchen counters are the vortex of the home, everything ends up on them.

7.  I am not responsible for what you may or may not find if you open the doors to the kids' rooms.  Including a cup of colored water with markers stuck point-side-down in it, a rock collection, and a billion dirty clothes.  Oh wait.  I am responsible for those.

8.  If there are bits of flotsam on the carpet, it's not because the carpet hasn't been vacuumed.  It's because the carpet was vacuumed by a 5 year old.

9.  If it's too high for the kids to reach, it's too high to dust.

10.  If a room is clean, just wait for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Put On Your Fancy Clothes

Sophie's 5th birthday party last weekend was an affair to remember.  She's all about Fancy Nancy right now, and we invited five little friends over to jubilate (that's fancy for celebrate).  We served sorbet punch in my antique punch bowl, had a chocolate fountain with all the fixings, and made accessories galore.


Ooo la la.

The little girls were invited to wear their most fancy dresses, as befitting a fancy party.  This resulted in a gaggle of princesses fitting around our house.  It was pretty much the cutest thing ever.


I've had a lot of kids over to my home in the past.  We've hosted play dates for years, and in the summer, our house is the 'pool house'.  I'm used to crowds of children rushing from room to room, bent on imaginary quests, with the noise level to match.  Of course with all the sugar at Sophie's party, I expected the same thing.  These particular girls are typically neither sedate nor demure.

That's why I was so surprised when the party was the most hushed, decorous, and sedate gathering I've ever had, including our grownups-only small group meetings.  I wondered if someone had slipped a Valium into the punch.

As I watched the girls, however, I realized that in donning their fancy clothes, they had also put on their fancy manners.  They were perfect, sweet little ladies.  Maybe I should have Sophie wear her princess dress every day.

This morning I read a passage:
... lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth ... Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.  Ephesians 4:22 - 25, 31 - 32
I sat amazed by the fact that, in believing in Christ and accepting His sacrifice for my sins, I'm actually clothed in His likeness.  This ugly old self that revels in bitterness, malice, wrath and clamor feels comfortable and right.  Feels like the only option.  But to think that I can cast aside those things, like an outgrown garment that is torn and stained, and put on the likeness of Christ - pure, spotless, safe, beautiful - shakes my heart to its foundations.

I want to remember today (every day) that I am wearing my fancy clothes.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Never Girl

As I was cleaning the other day, Sophie came bounding into the living room.  She was dressed in her rainbow swimsuit from last summer, and had tied a purple scarf around her neck.  She leaped across the carpet on her tiptoes, pirouetted once, then stopped in front of me with her arms raised and head thrown back. 

"Wow, who are you today?"  I asked.

"I'm Never Girl!"  She shook out her cape and struck a dramatic pose.  "Because I never give up!"  Then she took off down the hall, springing on her tiptoes.

As her, "Don't worry, I can help you!" drifted down the hall, I smiled to myself and let my hands still for a moment.  My heart suddenly overflowed.  I let out a small sigh.  This was one of the moments that slip so sweetly through my fingers, gone before I recognize it, leaving a glistening gem of remembrance that I, like Mary, "treasure up and ponder in my heart". 

Happy 5th Birthday, baby girl.  May you be blessed.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 Goals - January in Review

At the beginning of the month, I blogged about my goals for the year.  They are not hard-and-fast, pass-or-fail rules, because knowing myself, that just sets me up for failure.  They are, however, targets to shoot for this year, things I want to keep in mind in my day to day life.  Accountability is a good thing, so here I am revisiting how I did on my goals, the first month I set them.

1.  Focus on Scott
Can you believe it, we went on two dates this month?  If you count a political function, we went on three dates (and, let's face it, any meal we get to sit down at, together, without the kids, counts as a date)!  I've also been very intentional in praying for him.  Sometimes (often) I forget that my big, strong man needs my backup prayer support.  I've tried to develop the habit of praying for him on my morning walks, as well as when I'm doing mindless household tasks.  On this goal, I give myself an:
A

2.   Focus on the Kids
I've been pretty consistent with homeschool this month.  We have done about an hour and a half a day, four days a week for the past few weeks.  Sophie can now make change with pennies and nickels.  She knows about 7 sight words (from the Dolch sight word list), and her fluency / confidence in reading has improved. Xander can now pick up a pair of scissors and hold the properly on his own, and can cut along a line (although he has trouble staying on it).  His one-to-one correspondence (counting) is improving, but he gets confused after number 13.  He can also now dress himself.
I've added many chores to their list (thanks to the handy schedule I made), and am happy to report that cleaning has become part of our morning routine.  They clean with me, and I'm starting to feel like we're a team.  It's a good feeling.  I have my friend Althea to thank for that (you can read the guest post that inspired me about her homeschooling experiences with her kids on my other blog).  They now:  vacuum their rooms and the living room.  Wipe down the toilets and bathroom sinks with Lysol wipes.  Wipe the surfaces in the living room and TV room.  Keep their toys organized.  Set the table.  Keep their rooms clean.  Pick up the living room and TV room.  Empty the bathroom trashes.
We've been diligent this month, so I give myself an:
A

3.  Focus on the House
No remodeling yet, but a project to put in french doors in the living room is underway, budgeted for, and scheduled to happen the last week of February.  I have, however, done a good job keeping up with my housework.  Again, thanks to the schedule.  The hour by hour schedule may seem over the top, but I've learned that I really don't do well without structure in my life.  There have been mornings when I just don't feel like doing anything.  I'm not sick, or particularly pregnant, just unmotivated.  These are the mornings when my schedule really helps me.  I can just go to it, and take one task at a time.  Before I know it, a few hours have passed and the house is clean.
In addition to maintaining a clean home, I:  organized the study this month.  I've also kept the pile of clothes that seems to reside continually in the laundry room folded and put away.  I cleaned out the fridge.  Go me.
A

4.  Focus on the Whole
I've done moderately well with my exercise this month, walking about 2/3 of the times that I plan to.  That bed is just so darn comfortable at 5:00 in the morning!  If I do get up, I then have time for my morning devotions, so I'd say I did those about 2/3 of the times I intended to, as well.  Pilates has gone out the window, I do not have the energy during nap time.  I nap during nap time.  I did really well with my eating for the first half of the month, but the past two weeks, I have started craving sweets big time.  Since I only cave in about half the time to the cravings, I consider myself a success on my goal to eat well.  Apparently I have entered the biggest growth (and eating) phase of my pregnancy.  So considering I'm 24 weeks pregnant, I feel that I've been a very good girl on this goal, and kindly give myself an:
A

How about you?  How have you done on your New Year's Resolutions / Goals this month?  Was it an easy month, like it has been for me?  I expect my motivation to take a nose dive in a month or so.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Evening Prayer

Luaniua's Anglican church sits in the center of the village.  Its whitewashed, cinder block walls rise only four feet, leaving the sides open to the ocean breeze.  It really is more of a pavilion than a church, except that at the front there is a raised dais with the alter, preaching podium, candle stands, and seats for the priest and catechists to sit.

Every sunrise and sunset the catechist rings the bell that hangs from the eves, summoning the faithful.  The church's 'bell' is really just a hollow, rusty propane cylinder, but it serves the same purpose.  When struck with a hammer, it echoes as far as the island's sandy tip.

I used to go to the evening service every night.  Our house stood just opposite the church, so my walk was a short one, past the carefully tended bushes that ringed the pavilion.  The old man who cared for the building kept the flowers meticulously trimmed, and at sundown every night they opened tiny, trumpet-shaped petals to release their soft sweetness into the air.

It was through this lingering incense I walked, prayer book in hand, to take my place on the woman's side of the church.  The sides were strictly divided by sex, with the women on the left and the men on the right.  Children sat at the very front, their little butts squirming on the worn, 1 x 8 benches.  Behind them were the teenagers, with adults at the very back of the church.

The village catechist ran the weeknight services.  They were always the same, read with comforting predictability from the Melanesian Anglican Prayer Book.  Opening song.  Liturgy.  Sing the Magnificat.  Scripture readings.  More singing.  Prayers.  Benediction.  Dismissed.

The very last prayer, read as the sky purpled and the first star appeared, was a hushed request to the unseen God.
Shine on our darkness, we pray you, Lord, and by your great mercies keep us from all troubles and dangers of this night, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Media Monday - Downton Abbey, Season 2

Happy Monday, folks.  Time to bring you yet another movie / documentary / show I have found (for free) online.  I've already heard a lot of buzz about today's selection, but couldn't resist adding my own two cents:



This is one for all you period drama lovers out there.  "Downton Abbey" offers an enthralling look at the inner workings of a post-Edwardian English manor.  It showcases both those living upstairs and downstairs, following the drama and intrigue of their lives as they interact with each other and the changing world around them.  As the first World War collides with their aristocratic paradigm, each character struggles to cope with the shifting times, and discover where his or her place is in this new world.

The character development in this series is fantastic.  I lived, suffered, loved, laughed and despaired right long with the residents of the Abbey.  The plot takes unexpected twists, and sweeps the characters masterfully through the historic setting.  The costuming is fantastic.  I now want to bob my hair and get some drop waist dresses.

As of today, we are three episodes into the 9 episode second season (I reviewed the first season last Spring).  You can watch all the episodes streaming on the PBS Masterpiece Classic website here.  The website also has cool extras like a look into the style of Downton Abbey, and a fun quiz to discover which character you are most like.  Definitely worth checking out!

*** Edited to add:  After some wiki reading, I discovered that this entire series has already aired in the U.K.  Lucky you!  A third season is in the works, to be aired in the United Kingdom in September 2012.  It will be set in the Roaring 20's.  So we know the costuming will be fabulous!