Thursday, March 13, 2014

Singing Through the Hard Times

My 8 1/2 year old daughter is currently sleeping on our front room couch.  The Tylenol is working in her system to keep the fever down.  Gloria.  She's the fifth of our seven children to be sick in the last five days.

Earlier tonight, I sat on the couch next to her.  Her head was hot and she was thirsty.  And she didn't want me to leave her.  I lay there with her head cradled in my arms.  I sang to her as her eyes grew heavier and until sleep finally settled in.  As I sang, I travelled back in time.

I travelled back 8 1/2 years.  To a different place, a different circumstance, a different bed.  The NICU.  A premature daughter.  A tiny incubator to hold the 4lb 13oz little one.  For twelve days, I sat with Gloria.  Eight to twelve hour days, watching her, feeding her, changing her, holding her....singing to her.

Gloria was born exactly seven weeks early.  Due to modern medicine and the grace of God, she was never in life-threatening danger.  However, she had contracted an infection and needed to stay in the NICU for, at least, 10 days.  That time was one of those life-changing trials I wrote about earlier this week.  One I wouldn't trade for anything because I felt the presence of God and grew closer to my husband.

The 10 days were extended to 12 when she could not maintain both her body weight and temperature simultaneously.  Thankfully, it was August and 85 degrees outside.  The doctor allowed her to go home only if we kept her warm enough.  We swaddled her, turned the heater on in her room to 80 degrees (again, it was 85 outdoors), and she slept.  She would sleep an average of 22.5 hours/day those first couple of weeks home.  While I made sure she didn't have to work at keeping her body temperature up, all she had to concentrate on was gaining weight.  Eating and sleeping were her only jobs and she did them well.

But, back to the NICU.  Our older 5 children were safe and happy at their grandparents' home.  Eric would drive me to the hospital every single morning and pick me up every evening...a 40-min round trip each time.  I would look at my tiny girl...sometimes in just a diaper and "sunglasses" soaking up some rays and other times swaddled snugly in a hospital blanket.  Our first child was 10 lbs.  She was under 5 lbs.  So tiny.  So fragile.

She surprised us with her early arrival.  And scared us.  My father, who lived in South Carolina, made a special trip up to meet her while she was just a couple of days old.  To this day, I can't go to that hospital cafeteria without thinking of that dinner I ate there with my dad.  One of the last meals I would ever share with him.  She brought him here.  She gave me that time with him.

But, for hours, there was no one but Gloria and I.  I never had so much time alone with one of my babies.  It was a blessing...truly.  I would hold her and look at her face.  And I would sing.  I grew up with the hymns and I had recently made an effort to memorize various hymns.  She liked hearing the songs and I enjoyed singing them to her.  There's something about music.  There's something about music about God.  God-filled music.  It comforts....both the hearer and the singer.  Both the infant and the mother.

I have noticed that premature babies grow to be bundles of energy and have wills of steel.  That's Gloria.  She is full of smiles, full of energy, full of love, and full of strength.  It's something God puts in that tiny body for their survival.  But tonight, my little ball of energy is sleeping.  Her flushed face is not smiling, but still beautiful.  Tonight, her strength wavered and she needed me...her mommy.  So, I lay next to her and cradled her and I sang to her.  I hope to always sing my baby through the hard times.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Never Again the Same

Life is full of trials.  That's a fairly negative statement, but it's truth.  Oh, there are many joys, many times of celebration.  There are many days full of the mundane.  But, there are the trials.  Often, it is the trials that we remember most.  It is the trials that make us.  Or break us.  Or both.

When you think about it, the majority of life is full of the mundane moments.  Rising in the morning. Getting ready for the day.  Eating.  Running errands.  Laundry.  Cooking.  Cleaning.  Working.

The joys of life make the mundane worth doing.  The trials?  They make the mundane almost impossible to do.  The most mundane task of breathing can be an effort in the midst of emotional pain and heartache.

Some of our trials we completely forget.  It isn't until years later when we run into someone from our past and they say, "Remember when such and such happened?"  You suddenly remember that "little" hiccup of life when you thought you really had it bad.  Other trials we always remember, but almost chuckle with embarrassment about how catstrophic we thought it was at the time.  In time, the depth of despair becomes relative.

There are a handfull of trials in everyone's life that change us forever.  Divorce.  Death.  Broken relationships.  Illness.  Accidents.  We enter these trials as one person and exit them almost another.  They change us physically, emotionally and spiritually.

At almost 41 years old, I have had just a few such trials.  Things that I have had no control over.  My parents divorced.  That changed my life.  I had no control over that decision 30 years ago this December.  That decision...that trial...made me who I am today.  In some cases, it maimed me.  In some ways, it has made me stronger.  It was foundational in making me cling to God in the trials followed.

At two months old, our oldest son was diagnosed with a genetic condition that can have a huge impact on his health and well-being in the coming years.  When he was just 10 years old, he had to have 16 of his vertebrae fused together and rods put on either side of his spine.  I had no control.  All control was God's.  Seeing my son's crooked spine in an x-ray and feeling like I was going to throw up in the exam room....seeing my son trying to sleep while encased in plastic and metal in a futile attempt to straighten his increasingly crooked back...seeing my son barely able to walk after surgery....How could I not be forever changed after that?

Yet another life-changing trial comes to mind.  (One that could have happened recently or long ago. It does not matter) Something I had control of and brought upon myself.  I will never be the same.  I am forever changed.  I have regrets and I have sorrow.  Am I being vague?  Yes.  Some trials...we never see people go through them.  They are fought and dealt with in the privacy of their hearts.  Hearts break without anyone knowing.  Tears are shed with no one to see.  Numbness sets in deep while a smile is pasted on the outside.  The outside world never knows the pain someone carries inside.

Through the other life-changing trials I went through, I had learned there was One to Whom I could go.  One who saw my brokenness.  One who saw my tears.  One who understood.  "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart..." (Ps. 34:18) My heart will never be the same.  My life will never be the same.  I will scar.  Scars are reminders of the hurt.  But, with scarring is evidence of a healing.  Without deep wounds, we have no need for the Balm that soothes.  Without pain, we never know the power of the Physician.  Without ache and loss, we have no desire for the Comforter's arms.  Daily...little by little...the bleeding stops.  The pain subsides.  The wound begins to close.  Some days, it reopens and the process slows for healing to begin again.  But, each day, there is improvement.  Each day, a meeting with the Physician to guide me in my healing.  Soon, a scar will be the only thing that remains and it will remind me of the pain and how to avoid it again;  but, more than anything, it will remind me of the unconditional love and care of the Healer.

Life is full of trials. It is the trials that make us.  Or they may break us.  In truth, we must break before we can be healed.  Then we are made stronger.  Or sweeter.  Or wiser.  Or more compassionate.  We are made - different.  We are changed.  We are never again the same.

will never again be the same.  Sometimes, that makes me cry.  But, more and more...that makes me rejoice.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Saturdays Are No Longer for Sleeping In

Do you find yourself at the grocery store multiple times a week picking up ingredients for the dinner you just decided to make or the toilet paper that your 8 year old announced you just ran out of?  Maybe I am the only one, but more weeks than I can remember, I have found myself at the nearest grocery store almost every single day.  It's a good thing the grocery store is only about 2.5 miles away.  Of course, maybe if it were 25 miles away, I would plan my shopping trips a bit more carefully eliminating the daily journeys.

The past few months, I realized how ridiculous these trips were getting.  Every. Single. Day.  Sometimes twice a day.  Really?!  The only explanation was a lack of organization, as I absolutely detest grocery shopping and only do it for the survival of my family. 

Now, I don't know if you've been keeping track of the weather around the Northeastern part of the US, but it's been cold.  I mean, REALLY cold.  Ok....downright freezing.  Sub-zero.  Colder than Alaska.  Ridiculous.  Not the kind of weather I want to go out in every day and definitely not just to grab a gallon of milk or a pound of butter.  It was time to get organized and eliminate the daily trips to Wegmans.

This is nothing you haven't heard before.  Make a weekly menu, make a list of the things you need to make those recipes a reality, check you pantry, bathrooms, cleaning closets and write down on the list those things on which you are low or empty.  That's it.  Not hard in ideal...just difficult to put into practice. 

My problem is getting around to making the menu, the list, and finally...the shopping trip.  I am a pretty flexible person and, while I love routine, I am not big on tight schedules.  However, I finally came to the realization that I needed to schedule a specific day and time to do my grocery shopping.  This way, I had a deadline by which to have my menu and lists completed.

I have always tried to stay away from grocery stores on Saturdays as they are insanely crowded.  Large crowds, long lines, shopping....these are a few of my least favorite things!  (cue Julie Andrews)  However, have you ever been up early on a Saturday and driven past a grocery store?  The lot is almost empty.  And, seeing as I have nothing but sleep vying for my time between 6 &  7:00 on a Saturday morning, it seems the perfect time to get the job done.  I balked at the idea for a while as Saturday mornings are meant for one thing and one thing only:  sleeping in.  But, there was no getting around the fact that, for me, it is the obvious and best time.

Now, about 6:00/6:15 on Saturday mornings, I roll out of bed, throw on some clothes, put on my glasses (with so few people in the stores, I'm not worried about how I look), grab my list and go.  The one drawback is that Aldi (aka...the cheap store) is not open at this early hour.  However, I know that if I wait until it is open, the crowds will be a bit bigger and I will have too much to time to get distracted by other things and get out the door much later in the morning.  The positives far outweigh the negatives, though.  I get all of my items in an hour or less, I have everything I need for the week, and I am home before my children even get up.  After I get the groceries put away, I have time to make a nice Saturday morning breakfast....something we have rarely done in the past.   I may make a trip to the store at the end of the week for a gallon of milk (as I don't have room in my fridge for more than 5 gallons and those don't usually hold out the entire week), but that is it!  I am less frazzled and not as weary from all the wandering I once did.

In addition, I have also laid down the law that I no longer run out and get the items my children claim they "need NOW."  If it isn't on the list, they put it on the list for the following Saturday...and we make do without it until then.  I, along with them, am finding out the importance of doing a thorough inventory before leaving for the store.

Do you have a regularly scheduled time to shop?  Do you prefer early morning, mid-week, late-night?  Let me know if you decided to start shopping early on Saturday morning at "my" Wegmans...I just may have to put in my contacts and put on some make-up.  :)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Simplifying: Laundry

My next few posts will mainly be practical ideas of how I am simplifying my life.  Often, when we hear about simplifying, we think of clearing out the clutter and all of the non-essentials in our homes and removing things from our jam-packed calendars.  However, the basic premise of simplicity is organization and that is the direction from which I am coming.

Today's topic: Laundry.

The never-ending, time-consuming, oft-overwhelming monster in each mother's life.  The laundry room is usually the off-limits room in an otherwise hospitable home.  I have illogically tried to conquer the unconquerable in this never-ending battle.  Unless we go back to the Garden of Eden, we will always have dirty clothes, towels and sheets.  It's just a fact of life.

A few months ago, a friend told me about a new laundry system she was implementing with her family and, to be honest, I wasn't sold on it right away.  She was having each of her children do their own laundry.  I wasn't against the idea, but I was unwilling to try it as, by doing so, I was admitting defeat in the Laundry Wars.

However, after a couple of more months and continual piles of laundry I could not keep up with no matter how hard I tried, I was ready to surrender.  So, one day in October, I went to Walmart, picked out 7 collapsible laundry sacks and distributed them out to each of my children with the instructions that, once their sack was full or near-full, they needed to get their clothes washed.

For those who did not already know how to run the washer and dryer, add soap, and dryer sheets, I taught them how. Then they all were on their way to independent laundry care and I was on my way to semi-freedom!

Here's a run-down of how this works and has benefitted our family:
1.  For my six-year old who is too small to reach into my top-loading washing machine, I change his clothes from the washer to the dryer.  I also fold and hang his outside clothes while he takes care of his underclothes, socks & pjs.

2.  All the other children are to keep track of the washer, get their clothes switched to the dryer and out in a relatively decent period of time in order not to occupy the machines when someone else needs it.

3.  The children are responsible for folding their laundry as soon as it comes out of the dryer.

4.  The girls and my oldest son are responsible for their own ironing.

5.  I don't care if they wash colors & whites together.  In fact, I prefer them to in order to consolidate loads.  Shocking, I know.  We love to walk a bit on the wild side around here.

6.  I don't have assigned days for my children to do their laundry.  They do it as needed.  If a couple of them need to do it at the same time, they work it out.

6.  For the most part, I wash the towels and sheets they use, but that is it.

If my children don't have a certain item of clothing, I tell them they only have themselves to blame.  This is teaching them to take responsibility for themselves and their things a bit more and also teaching them a bit of foresight.

I am amazed at how much stress this has relieved me from and how much more free-time I have to do things I truly enjoy each day.  Clothes are clean, the laundry room isn't a disaster, and I am able to keep up with the relatively little laundry for which I am responsible.  I am grateful to have friends from whom I can learn and who encourage me to try new things.

So, how about you?  Are you willing to give this system a try?  Maybe you have a system that works for you and you'd like to share.  I would love to hear it!

Meanwhile, may the whirring of the washing machine and the rhythm of your dryer be music to your ears!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Welcome to...My Life: Jury Duty

A couple of days before Christmas, it came. The jury summons.  A lovely little gift for me from the town in which we live.  Just what I always wanted.

Actually, I am one of the rare ones that enjoys jury duty.  *Stop looking at me that way.*  Ten years ago, I was summoned to jury duty at the county court.  I was selected to be a juror for the trial to be held.  Of all things, it was a bank robbery case.  I kid you not.  It was a 2-day trial and we found the defendant guilty, which was actually more difficult than I imagined it would be.  We all felt the future of this man in our hands and we really weighed our decision.  The family was, let's just say, less than pleased with the verdict.  Their displeasure resulted in the court officers kindly escorting us to our cars.

Judges in robes, officers, witnesses giving details of the bank robbery and suspect, legal terms thrown carelessly around by lawyers, menacing glares from the defendant, courtroom drama.  It really was a fantastic experience.

Something told me town court wouldn't be quite the same.

I needed to report for duty at 9:00 a.m…SHARP.  I left my house last Friday at 8:40 a.m.  It only takes me 5-10 minutes to get to the Town Hall from my home, but I had a very important stop to make before heading there.  It was absolutely essential that I stop at Dunkin Donuts and get a large French-vanilla cappuccino.  I drove through the…, paid my $3.77 and headed to my community service assignment.

Now, the Town Hall to which I had to report is really like most small village town halls - not much at all.  The parking lot is even less…especially with a semi-truck parked in the middle of it on a Friday at 8:53 a.m.

Did I mention I drive a 12-passenger bus van?  Not exactly a vehicle you can just squeeze in.  So, I drove my Gold Monstrosity out of the parking lot and all around town (which, as I mentioned, is not that big.  Thankfully.).  As I went to pull out onto Main Street, however, I saw that we were, at that exact moment (8:54 a.m.), setting a record for most traffic ever in our village's 200 year history.

What are the odds?

I finally found a parking spot in one of the municipal lots and trudged through the Upstate New York snow to the Town Hall.  With coffee in hand.  I was so looking forward to sipping that warm addictive liquid.  I was going to need it.

I arrived at the Hall, and walked to the back where the courtroom is located.  And there, on the door was a sign with big bold letters:  NO FOOD OR DRINK ALLOWED IN THE COURT ROOM.

Really? Seriously?  What would they do? Throw me in jail?!  Um…well...maybe.  There is actually a judge in there and everything.

I walked in and wandered to the back desk where other citizens were reporting for duty.  I saw a small bathroom located next to the desk with a garbage can.  I snuck in there to throw away my hot, large, French-vanilla cappuccino.  Because the garbage bag in the can was empty and because my large cup was STILL FULL, I didn't want to just toss it in the empty bag knowing it would make a terribly loud thud in the you-could-hear-a-pin-drop courtroom.  So, I reached in and very carefully let it down.  "Good-bye, dear coffee.  We were so briefly acquainted."  *sigh*  Then, as I lifted up my arm, the heavy metal lid of the garbage can came with it and 
So much for order in the court.

I got the lid settled as quickly as possible and nonchalantly walked out of the bathroom into the courtroom pretending nothing happened.  Yeah, I'm cool like that.

I turned over my paper-work and was told to sit down.  So, I found a nice empty row of chairs, made myself comfortable and began to mourn my full cup of coffee sitting at the bottom of the metal garbage can in the next room.  Then the friendly court attendant asked me to move to the other side of the aisle.  Apparently, all the potential-jurors were to sit on one side and all the criminals and family members were to sit on the other side.
30 jurors.
1 criminal.
3 family members.
If we were a ship, we would have capsized.  Of course, I got the end seat of a full row right next to a guy who smelled of cigarette smoke.  Oh, this day was getting better by the minute.

After 2 hours of orientation and listening to 12 of my peers be interrogated grilled raked over the coals questioned, 24 of us were dismissed, leaving 6 of our comrades sitting in the jury box, looking at us with sad and envious eyes.  We were given a certificate of service as we were herded out the door.  I began the walk back to my van leaving cigarette-man, the criminals, and my coffee behind.

That was just the beginning of my day.  Trust me, it didn't get much better.  But, sometimes, that's the way it goes.  I still look forward to getting called for jury duty in the future, because, in the end, it's a great way to take part in our great justice system.

I think next time, though, I'll skip the large French-vanilla cappuccino.

Welcome to…My Life!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Where My Feet Are, My Heart Will Follow

This month, along with my daily reading through the Bible, I am reading through Proverbs.  You know, the Proverb-of-the-day-thing.  I don't do it every month as I have a bad tendency to just gloss over the oft-read words.  As it is, this month, I still need to make sure I am focusing and really thinking about the familiar verses.

I came to Proverbs 7:11 and read the phrase I have read hundreds of times and heard preached dozens: "…her feet abide not in her house."  While I am a very busy person, I rarely thought that verse really pertained to me as I was interpreting "house" that as "home."  Home is not always a physical place.  It's where my family is.  We often minister together.  Why do I have to be in my house if I am traveling to ministries, special meetings and fellowships that will benefit my home?

Also, I am not out gallivanting around with my friends.  I am not looking for trouble (as, obviously, the woman in this chapter was doing).  And, c'mon…I am a HOMEschooling mom.  Of course my feet abide in my house.

God is gracious as He has been dealing gently with me in this area for the last several weeks.  A lot of the trouble and complications I have had in my personal life this past year came from not having my feet abiding in my house.  The reality He showed me this week is: where my feet abide there will my heart abide, also.  My feet have been wandering from place to place and my heart travelled away from my priorities - those 8 souls who live in my house with me.

I realize now that house means house.  While ministries are important, they are not more important than the seven children who live in my home for such a short time.  No ministry or special church meeting supersedes the needs of my husband.  Teaching my children Christian love and the character of Christ begins in the home…in the house.  How we interact with one another, how we serve one another, how we keep order in our home…these are all essential to their Christian growth.

My heart wandered with my feet to other people and their needs, other places, other events.  I was not content to just be at home with my family.  If it were just the nine of us, I was bored.  Housework seemed to be a drudgery getting in the way of more exciting and "important" things.  Get it done quick so I can go minister here or fellowship there.

Slowly, in His compassionate way, God is turning my heart back to my home…by placing my feet in my house.  When I allow my heart to be present in my home, I can do my household chores out of love.  Vacuuming, mopping, cooking are not a drudgery or a blockade to my fun.  I can enjoy these things more knowing that I am exactly where I need to be and showing love to my family.  With my feet in my house, I have had made sure my thoughts are in my home, as well, and not somewhere else (planning ministries, counseling others, on the phone with people, extra projects for others), but focused on my family.  While my feet are in my home, I am able to truly rest in God and take time with Him, as well.

No, I am not saying outside ministry is over and I will no longer help others and serve.  That would be wrong.  For this month, however, I am abiding in my house with my family as much as possible.  After this month is over, I will pray more seriously about what outside ministries and service God really wants me to do.  While many may be good, it is not good for me to be involved in everything.   My feet need to abide in my house.  My heart needs to abide here, as well.

The wonderful thing is that as I have made a conscious effort to make my feet abide in my house, it has come to be a place where I want to be.  I have come to truly enjoy being with my family again…I have come to realize that these 8 people are my favorite people in the world and I desire to be with them.

I believe this means my heart is coming home after a much-too-long absence.


Monday, January 6, 2014

2014: The Year of ERIC

So, apparently, it is the latest trend to have a WORD for the new year.  A word that will state your goals, your priorities, your intentions, your theme.  A WORD that you hope will define your year.  I noticed this trend for the first time last year, thanks to Twitter.  I thought it was a relatively dumb idea, but, to each his own.

While I am still not sold on the WORD idea, I did find an idea that was worthwhile.  Sarah Mae made her husband's name her WORD for 2014.  Some of her readers liked the idea and adopted it.  Now, there is a small group making their husbands their WORD.  That, I like.

In 2013, as I struggled in several areas, ERIC became less of a priority.  In my brokenness a few weeks ago, I realized that I needed to fight for my marriage.  I needed to appreciate ERIC, love him, care for him, and not take him for granted.

In the midst of this time and God speaking to me in personal ways, I came across Sarah Mae's indirect challenge.  Make my husband my WORD.  My priority.  My focus.  My theme of 2014.

ERIC.  My man.  My love.  My word.