Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Clothed with Strength and Dignity

Well, we've had lots of excitement at the Terrebonne house this week. "Excitement" might be a relative term, though, because what we find interesting may absolutely bore you out of your mind. But hey, we'll take what we can get around here.

First of all, the pediatrician "recommended" (read: commanded) that we wean Vivi to a bottle last weekend because she only weighed 15 pounds at her one year checkup. She turned 1 on June 12 and I had planned to wean her around her first birthday, but there's something about having someone tell me what to do... It just doesn't sit well with me. (Shocking, I know.) Anyway, last Saturday, we sucked it up and let her cry until she realized the bottle was the only sustenance she was going to get. It was absolutely horrible for the first few hours because she would look at me, reach her little arms out to me, and then bawl her eyes out when I wouldn't go to her. I think I cried harder than she did, though, and Peter finally made me leave for a bit. But by bedtime that night, Vivienne had figured it out. And thank the Lord for my nazi husband because otherwise I'd still be nursing Vivi while lamenting that she would never learn to take a bottle.

On a different note, Brie attended a drama camp last week at Valdosta State University and had a blast. She was a little nervous because she didn't know anyone else, but she has such an outgoing personality that she quickly made friends. Honestly, she inspires me sometimes with her courage. Anyway, she got to play Taylor Swift in the play at the end of the week, and she did a really good job. She is a talented little thing. This week, however, is another story. She's going to a softball camp also hosted by VSU. She's actually enjoying it but she doesn't do very well with heat and sweat. Bless her. She takes after her mama.

And then there's Jonah. Sweet Jonah. He has a few issues that we're working through but he's so smart. Sometimes I think he's a little genius. (I might be a little biased. Maybe.) He knows shapes, colors, at least 20 letters, most numbers 1-10, and can count to 20. (Genius, I tell you.) But the other day, I walked into his room at nap time, and what did I find? Jonah apparently had been fingerpainting with his poop. It was everywhere! All over him, his bed, the walls. It. Was. Lovely... Now tell me - what genius does something like that?

I'm telling you, parenting boys is so different than parenting girls. I'm not sure which is more difficult because with girls comes massive amounts of drama. But poop-stained walls definitely win on the gross-out scale.

Proverbs 31:25 says, "She is clothed with strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future." This verse has become my mantra of sorts, and some days I find myself chanting, "I can laugh at the future. I can laugh at the future. I am clothed with strength and dignity." (I'm not sure how much dignity you can have when you're scrubbing poop off of walls, but whatever. Let's just go with it.)

What I do know is that God has entrusted three beautiful kids to me and Peter. He has given them to us for a short time and we are supposed to raise them to love Jesus and to love others. God's view of us isn't bound by what we think our "reality" is. He sees every little detail of our lives, and He knows how those details are working together for His purpose. Wherever we are today is where we're meant to serve. Even if it means doing laundry for the millionth time this week. Or cooking dinner. Again. Or scrubbing poop off of walls.

For all of you mommies who are beyond exhausted and are wondering if what you're doing makes a difference: it does! God sees you. He sees your exhaustion, your frustration over your three-year-old's ninth tantrum of the morning. He sees you with the laundry piled up to your waist, wondering if you'll even be able to find time for a shower today. He sees it all. He knows what you are sacrificing in order to raise these beautiful, cherished little people. Keep serving, precious mama. You are clothed with God's strength and dignity. Even in the muck and mire. You are His. And He is all you need.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Recycle Freaks

I'm going to attempt to finish my synopsis of the Bible study 7 by Jen Hatmaker with this post, so hang in there. It could get a little scattered and hard to follow as I trudge through the areas of Waste, Spending, and Stress. Here goes...

First, the area of Waste. This includes recycling, conservation, gardening, composting, buying local foods. Basically, just taking care of the earth and the environment. In the study, Jen mentioned that she had always thought of this area as something only liberal, tree-hugging hippies cared about and "why should I care so much about the earth?" I have to admit that I've always felt the same way. Why should I recycle? Why should I care about how much gasoline our family uses as we drive all over town every day? Why? Because God instructs us to take care of this earth that He created, that's why. "We can not fully worship the Creator while at the same time destroy His creation." Whoa! No one should care more about the earth than believers.

So, for this particular week, we decided to recycle. Everything. I also tried not to run a million errands every day, thus hopefully conserving a little gasoline. And we were careful about conserving energy throughout our house, turning out lights when we weren't using them. I started using reusable grocery bags instead of coming home with a million plastic bags. And yes, I realize I'm a little late to the party with all of this but don't judge me. I'm working on it.

Here is the take-away from this week: I realized that we are stealing much-needed resources from poverty-stricken countries (and from our children and grand-children) when we throw our plastic water bottles and sandwich baggies into landfills. What will happen to the beautiful earth with all its natural resources if we don't take care of it the way God intended? And a bonus that I wasn't expecting - Peter and I have become recycle crazies. We inspect everything to see if it can be recycled. Our recycle bin is full and our trash can is almost empty. It's amazing how much less trash you have when you recycle...

Spending Week, however, didn't go down as well as Recycle Week. In the original experiment, Jen and her family spent money in only 7 venues for a month because they realized just how much money they blow through and waste. She suggested that we take a look at our bank statements to see how many different places we spend our money each month (not including charitable donations like church, World Vision, Compassion, etc). So I went though the previous three months in my checkbook and was dumbfounded by what I discovered. I'm embarrassed to say that we spent our money in an average of 64 different places every month. What?!?

What if we quit buying things on impulse? What if we stopped running to Chick Fil A twice a week for milkshakes (Peter!)? What if we downsized so our rent wouldn't be astronomical? Our focus should be on others, not on ourselves. We need to watch what we spend so that we can be better stewards and so we can help those who are less fortunate in our community and around the world. We must give generously and sacrificially to the poor. Scripture commands it. "Give from what is within to the poor, and everything is clean for you." (Luke 11:41) If we live radical, simpler lives, we wouldn't have all the distractions that money brings. We would be happier, more content, because we would be living as Jesus commanded.

The final week was Stress Week. The focus was rest, honoring the Sabbath, spending time with the Lord, and saying no to the busyness of life. God created the Sabbath for us out of love. It was created for rest and rejuvenation. But to be honest, between gathering diaper bags, trying to get to church on time, dropping babies in the nursery, and lunchtime chaos, most Sundays don't feel very restful. And frankly, I'm not exactly sure how to change that at this particular season in our lives.

One thing Jen mentioned, though, was that we don't need to sign our kids up for every activity under the sun. We, as Americans, tend to run ourselves ragged shuttling kids to music lessons, ball games, dance, play dates, etc. But for what? Are we sacrificing times of rest? Are we so stressed by all the busyness that we're short-tempered with our children? Are all these activities worth it? Honestly, this isn't something our family struggles with right now, but I know once our little ones get older, I will struggle with saying no to certain activities. And we will be busy with three children. For now, though, I'm going to cherish our quiet evenings at home.

I'd like to end by mentioning one lesson learned from each of the 7 areas.

Food: Our bodies are holy temples of the Living God. We, as a family, will strive to eat more "real" foods so that we do not destroy these temples.
Clothing: Nobody cares how many items of clothing I have. I don't want the "plunder from the poor" to be found in my house so I'll be very careful about buying clothing and I'll continue to give our unused clothes away.
Possessions: I gave away 129 items to a few different ministries in town. And I'm still working to clean out our attic. I want others to benefit from the things I don't need, so I will continue to downsize. And I will do my best not to buy unnecessary things on impulse.
Media: We may create some screen-free time for our family. The main takeaway is that I want to spend actual quality time with my family and open our home to others. I don't want my kids to remember me as a mom who could never look them in the eyes when they talked because I was always looking at my phone.
Waste: We will continue to recycle. And next year, we'll be planting a garden and (maybe) composting.
Spending: We will stop spending so much of our money on ourselves and instead use our resources to help the impoverished.
Stress: We will continue to guard our time as a family and will attempt to focus more on the Lord's purposes for us.

Whew! I feel like I've learned so much about myself and about ministering to others through this study. If you haven't read the book, I highly recommend it! It has been the answer to my prayer for a kingdom passion and a way to serve.

Friday, June 14, 2013

I Am Not A Cow (And Other Words of Wisdom)

It's summer - the time of year that strikes fear and trepidation into the hearts of even the most well-intentioned parents.

Summertime means that we have a lot of free time on our hands which apparently must be filled with fun activities so that I won't have to hear the dreaded "I'm bored" phrase over and over. (Which I've already heard. On Day 2 of being home, mind you.)

I've signed Brienne up for a couple weeks of day camp at the local university in order to keep her busy, and we're going to the beach in July. But other than that, I need some fillers. Hopefully, we can make it to the pool occasionally. And the library, and the movies, etc...

Aside from attempting to prevent massive boredom meltdowns, summer is also a time for staying up late, sleeping in (which is totally feasible with two little ones in our house; NOT), lingering over coffee, being lazy, and having time for actual conversations.

Brienne and I had one of those actual conversations last night at bedtime and it went a little something like this.

Brie: Mama, when will Vivi stop waking up at night?
Me: I'm not sure. Hopefully when she starts drinking regular milk.
Brie: I thought she already drinks milk.
Me: I mean cow's milk.
Brie: When you nurse her, that's not cow's milk?
Me: Do I look like a cow?!?

What the what??

Sometimes, it feels like my kids aren't paying a bit of attention to anything I say or do. (I mean, seriously, I've only been nursing Vivienne for a whole year...)

Now, admittedly, the "not paying attention" thing sometimes goes both ways. Really, how many times do I have to pretend that I care about the latest saga unfolding on Jessie? And the other day, while I was strapping Vivienne into her carseat at the post office, I turned around to find Jonah in the middle of the parking lot. Still strapped into his stroller. He had somehow hopped that thing about 20 feet! I guess I wasn't paying close enough attention. (And yes, I realize that something awful could have happened to him, but it was hysterical watching him hop away, strapped to the stroller. He looked like an elderly man trying to escape the nursing home. I still get the giggles thinking about it.)

But all this "paying attention" (or lack thereof) got me thinking about how often we neglect to pay attention to something the Lord tells us. His instructions are pretty clearly laid out in that little book called The Holy Bible. But I think most of us like to pick and choose which commandments we'll follow. Don't commit murder? Ok, no problem. I'll try not to kill anyone today. Sell your belongings and give to the poor? Um, no thanks, Lord. I kinda like my shoes and purses. I'm sorry that the homeless man under the bridge has nothing to eat, but I may really need those coral pumps. That match only one dress in my closet.

When did we, as American Christians, become so obsessed with being prosperous? Why do we feel so entitled? Why is it necessary for us to stuff ourselves with food, stuff our houses with excess, stuff our schedules with activities that don't matter, and stuff our bank accounts with more money? When did Christ say, "Oh, you Americans? The parts of the Bible that talk about giving away money and possessions - that doesn't apply to you. You were born in America so you're entitled to have anything and everything you want. The poor will figure out a way to not die of starvation."

I think I missed that portion of the Sermon on the Mount.

But to be honest, so many of us live our lives that way. Feeling like we deserve the best things this life has to offer. Thinking we are better than others just because we weren't born in a third world country.

I gotta tell you, I'm tired of it all. The American Dream. The sense of entitlement. Keeping up with the Joneses. Ignoring God's commands that don't seem to fit with my plans. I'm ready for a new start, a different way to serve. I'm ready to pay attention...

Monday, June 3, 2013

Now I Know

Ok. I think I'm ready to write some more about my Bible study The 7 Experiment. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the areas of Food and Clothing, and how the study has knocked me for a loop. Well, I've spent the last couple weeks immersed in Possessions and Media, and to be honest, I'm sort of having a hard time processing these. So I'm warning you now that this post may be a little scattered.. I just feel like I need to spend more than one week in each area, and I need some time in between each area so that I can fully analyze and comprehend everything I'm learning. I guess that's why the author took four weeks per area of excess...

Anyway, here's what happened during Possessions Week. We were challenged to give away at least 7 items a day, which would obviously amount to no less than 49 things for the week. The premise was that we, as Americans, have so much stuff. And the more we acquire, the more we desire. It's true. We spend so much time and energy filling our houses with things that really don't matter in the long run while there are people half a world away who just want a roof over their heads. Or clean water to drink. Jesus calls us to love people, but if we look at how we spend our money, we'll see what we truly love. What our idols are...

I went into this week thinking that we don't have a lot of possessions. I mean, most people that I know have way more stuff than we do. But this was not about other people. It was about me. And my stuff. And, frankly, by the end of Possessions Week, I was ready to get rid of it all.  The more I cleaned out, the more I wanted to give away and downsize. At the end of the week, I had cleaned out 129 items to be donated to a few different ministries here in town. And I still have a whole attic to go through. 

It's really easy to tie our possessions into the American Dream. After all, every decision we make, (and particularly the career we choose), seems to be about how much money we can make, not about what our passions are. (At least that's how it was for me.) And the money we earn - well, we deserve it, right? We've earned it, so why does it matter how we spend it? Let me tell you, friends, it matters. A lot. If we're seeking after more money, more stuff, we can't seek after the only One who truly matters. The Word of God tells us that we can't have two masters. But, boy have I tried. I realized, though, that we can't focus completely on Christ if we're also focusing on the things of this world that trap us. And we miss out on opportunities to serve others because we use our money and possessions to self-indulge and self-promote instead of helping to lift people out of poverty. This week was a great reminder for me that we are to hold loosely to the things of this world...

Next came Media Week. And oh how I love some media! Facebook, email, blogs, The Voice, Duck Dynasty, Good Luck Charlie (no snide comments, please). But here's the thing: Americans spend an average of 8 hours a day in front of a screen. That's more than we sleep! Technology robs us of our time and our relationships. We are all so connected to "friends" online that we've forgotten how to connect to our real-life friends and family. We need to re-learn how to be present.

As I thought about how I would fast from media this week, I took a good, hard look at how "connected" I am. I'm one of those people who have their iPhone with them 24 hours a day. With instant notifications for new Facebook comments and new emails. Hey, that way I can immediately respond when someone needs me, right? Because you never know when there's going to be a Facebook emergency.

But here's the thing - I'm addicted to my phone. It began as a simple necessity, carrying my phone with me everywhere I went, when Peter was deployed for a year. Texting was  basically the only way we could communicate so I carried that stupid thing with me 24/7. But it's no longer a necessity; it's an addiction. And it has major potential to interfere with how I interact with my kids. So, no thank you, Steve Jobs. Your multi-billion dollar invention is not more important than my relationship with those 3 precious little ones. I don't want my kids to remember me as a mom who could never look them in the eye when they talked because I was always looking at my phone.

Because of these realizations, I decided that I would limit myself to one hour of media per day. So, while watching Nineteen Kids and Counting, I simultaneously checked Facebook, read a couple blogs, and answered email. It actually wasn't very hard to give up media. I really think I could get rid of our tv if I had to. I'm not sure that it's actually feasible to completely shut ourselves off from the Internet, though. I mean, we use it for communication, work, staying in touch, finding the nearest Chick Fil A when we're on a road trip. You know, the important stuff...

Here is what I learned during Media Week: We, as a family, need to do a better job of opening our home to our friends and neighbors, building relationships particularly with those who don't know Jesus. We need to stop spending mindless energy surfing the web and instead make connections with those around us. Because what is more important? Watching the finale of American Idol or introducing people to Christ and watching their whole life transform?

There's a verse of scripture that basically says, "If you know what to do but don't do it, you're sinning." I need to take what I've learned from Possessions and Media Weeks and put those things into practice. Because now I know...