Affirmation in Weakness (aka, Love that Protects)

I believe at the end of my days, most of what I know about life will come to me through relationships. For a while now, I’ve been reflecting on how living in a family refines us. I read recently that specifically parenting “undoes” us and “remakes” us. There are many ways in which I’ve been undone. I am not yet fully remade. The work is in progress.

Parenting (and marriage, too, for that matter…) brings to the surface things about ourselves that we didn’t see before. Sometimes it’s the fierce love that takes me by surprise. Sometimes it’s how incredible I feel when I sit back at a distance and watch the kids interacting together.  The smallest things: a word, a smile, an expression, can stir up quite the surge of emotion. I find myself lately stopping to soak up the moment.

There’s the other side, too. I never considered myself all that angry of a person. But I can get awfully mad at my kids. It feels like I reach a limit. And there have been times when I have become undone.  Yes, I know that kids can be frustrating. The training they require, the repetition, the making of the same mistakes over and over. It gets old. But love is patient, not easily angered. It protects (and not just when the object of love is acting worthy of it…). So, I’ve been in a several year journey of learning to separate my emotion, my irritation, my lack of patience, from my discipline. I’m not talking about just not yelling when I’m mad (though there’s been work to do there). I’m not talking about simply refraining from saying (out loud, with words), “I am disappointed in your behavior.” I’m talking about learning to choose love over irritation, to choose protection (especially in moments of discipline) over resentment with my attitude. As I heard a wise pastor say several months ago, “In moments of discipline, emotionally ignore the behavior of your child.” This is very different than ignoring. It means calmly responding with love, modeling God’s kindness that leads to repentance, and letting consequences be the result of a behavior, not making loss of the parent’s favor the consequence.

Here’s where soccer comes into the scene. Ginna and Jamey are both playing this season, both for the first time. They love it. And I do, too. I enjoy sitting on a soccer field three nights a week and on Saturdays. It gets us out of the house together, and it makes me sit and watch, and have some fun with Fin and whichever sibling is not playing at a time of day that doesn’t usually lend itself to that. What has really blessed me about this soccer season, though, is not just the quiet of sitting in a field. It is the coaching. It is so different than what I experienced in my (one season) of playing softball (which I HATED, by the way).

AYSO in general supports positive coaching, teamwork, and has rules against being negative towards players who aren’t playing so well, who miss a play, etc. (though I’ve seen coaches…and parents…not abide by this). Ginna and Jamey’s coaches are both great, but Ginna’s coach in particular has been a great blessing to her, and to me. His daughter is on the team, and watching him cheer for her when she makes a good play and comes so close but misses the goal (I’ve seen him jump up and yell “WAY TO GO!!! in such a way that you would think the ball made it in)….it is making me think differently about affirmation of our kids. And after every game (even on Saturday when they lost 6-0), he remembered something that every girl did well and brought it up in the post-game meeting. He encourages them to do better in areas that are lacking, as well, but the affirmation stands out to me.

Yes, I realize that it is easier to be affirming when a kid misses a goal than when she tells a lie, hits a sibling, or talks back. The missed goal doesn’t stir up the same emotions are the misbehavior. BUT….love is to protect in both of those instances.

What does it look like to emotionally ignore an offense, to affirm in weakness, and to protect in correction? It’s a posture of the heart (remembering what is most important, praying, etc.), but for me, words help reaffirm the part of my heart that I want to come out (the protecting part that remembers God’s love, not the controlling part that wants to not be bothered). So, in moments of weakness (aka, misbehavior) I can say, “(child), I love you very much RIGHT NOW. This event is not going to effect my day. I still plan on having a good day with you. I can’t let you do what you are doing. Here is what is going to happen if you don’t stop.” And then, I can teach him/her to say calmly, “I don’t want that to happen. What can I do to keep it from happening?”

I am sure there is still more “undoing” to come for me. I am glad God chooses such a joy-filled path for me to learn to love a bit more like He does. And I’m thankful for an image lately of a God that cheers for us, even as we make mistakes along the way.

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Thoughts on Competition and Goals for This School Year

I was talking to a friend a few days ago about the changes in this phase of life. We have a child entering first grade who will now be in school til 3pm every afternoon. Ginna and Jamey are both playing soccer, which means 2-3 practices per week and games on Saturday. Ginna is also taking hula lessons, and Jamey is doing karate. 

The friend told me that people of school age children often tell her something like this: “just wait til the activities start…then you will see that parenting doesn’t get easier post infancy and toddlerhood, but instead more challenging.” I’ve always been bothered by these comments. It would be like me telling a first time mom with a new baby that babyhood is the easy part; just wait til toddlerhood hits! (Although that is true for me, having had rather “easy” babies, it did not feel that way the first time around when my entire life was adjusting to a new way of being.)

Here are my problems with these comments:

  1. We don’t choose parenting because it is easy. Sure, there are times when we long for some of the intensity to wane. And no one can really mentally prepare for the challenges of parenting. You take them as they come. But ease is not the goal.
  2. The real message behind these comments is this: “You think your life is hard? Ha! You should try mine!” There is an air of competition here rather than encouragement. Wouldn’t it be better to hear where a mother of younger children is struggling, and encourage there? And then to share your own struggles?
  3. I have both a toddler and a school age child. And my experience at this point is that there is some relief in her being able to take care of her hygiene, pick out her clothes, set the table, and play nicely while I make dinner (rather than trying to pull stuff out of the cabinets, whining when I’m trying to cook, etc.) There are lovely things about both ages, and inherent challenges with both. I love the little years, but I won’t deny I find them exhausting.
  4. If life is too busy due to too many activities, SCALE BACK! If I am too busy to spend focused time with my kids on a regular basis (for me, this means reading, playing a game, sitting down and not doing other things so they can interact with me….), then something has to go. It’s just not worth it to run around like crazy.

School starts next week for us. As Ginna and I were reading a Ramona Quimby book together this morning, I told her my goal for this school year is to not get too busy, that even though she will have more time at school and less time at home, I want us to be sure we are still spending calm time together regularly. In order to accomplish this goal, I will have to work on keeping myself calm and choosing activities wisely.

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Recap

To follow up my last post, here are some lighter highlights of our family life in recent months.

1. Jamey started t-ball in the spring. Fin wanted to join in and became quite good at copying the overhand throw…not always with appropriate objects.

3. We went on a Disney cruise in March. It was great fun; the kids talk about going again quite a bit! 🙂

4. Stan took at job as the Graphic Design Director at a real estate development firm in April. It’s in Hollywood, so it’s a commute.

5. Jamey started karate this summer. He is a little young and lacking in focus, but he loves to go (and really loves the “costume!”)

6. Ginna started hula classes this summer. She has her first recital this weekend and loves to dance!

7. The kids are in love with the beach. To illustrate: Yesterday I told them we could go to the Y, the zoo, or the beach, and they picked the beach, although we’ve been quite a number of times this summer. The fact that Ginna and Jamey can tote their own stuff from the car to the water makes a big difference for me.

8. Fin’s vocabulary is exploding. He loves books and is always letting me know he wants me to tell him the word for things. Ginna takes care of that little buddy. He loves her a lot. Jamey is teaching him to wrestle and things like that; Fin is not so sure about rough play!

9. The kids are taking a couple of sets of swimming lessons. They are improving and having fun!

Here are a few photos!

 

 

 

 

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Hello again

It’s been nearly eight months since I’ve blogged, for a variety of reasons. It’s been a growing season, a full summer, and now we approach a new school year with a first grader and a pre-kindergartener. Time flies. I won’t try to make up for lost time. Instead, I’ll start my attempt to return to blogging with some comments on a book I’ve been reading.

The book is Philip Yancey’s “Where is God When It Hurts?/What’s So Amazing about Grace?” combination. I’m only about a fifth of the way through the first book; already, so much of it resonates with me and things I’ve been observing about people/the world. The book talks about why pain is so essential to human life, how a “signal” without hurt doesn’t push people to action in the same way as pain does. For example, if you were to twist your ankle and sense something was wrong with it, but it didn’t hurt, you’d be far less likely to rest, compensate by walking differently, etc.

I agree with Yancey that we are a culture obsessed with pain avoidance, that seeks comfort (in a variety of ways…some more obvious than others).

“We moderns, in our comfort controlled environments, have a tendency to blame our unhappiness on pain, which we identify as the great enemy. If we could somehow excise pain from life, ah, then we would be happy. But…life does not yield to such easy partitioning. Pain is a part of the seamless fabric of sensations, and often a necessary prelude to pleasure and fulfillment. The key to happiness lies not so much in avoiding pain at all costs as in understanding its role as a protective warning system and harnessing it to work on your behalf, not against you.”

We all experience pain, at varying levels in life. It’s inevitable, and we wouldn’t be better off without it. Life pain is a signal that often should urge us to address heart issues, causing us to reevaluate our choices and to look at life more soberly. However, in an attempt to avoid pain, there are those who choose to respond to hurt by becoming cynical, bitter, resentful, and disbelieving. As Yancey says, (quoted below), some of us choose to go on seeking pleasure in life and not looking soberly at the world, but those who do so have to live with blinders on their eyes and cotton in their ears. The world is broken.

“Watership Down in a fable with a moral point. Like the fat, sleek rabbits, we could—some people do—believe the sole purpose of life is to be comfortable. Gorge yourself, build a nice home, enjoy good food, have sex, live the good life. That’s all there is. But the presence of suffering vastly complicates that lifestyle—unless we choose to wear blinders, like the tame rabbits.”

“It’s hard to believe that the world is here just so I can party, when a third of its people go to bed starving each night….Sometimes murmuring, sometimes shouting, suffering is a “rumor of transcendence” that the entire human condition is out of whack…. He who wants to be satisfied with this world, who wants to believe the only purpose of life is enjoyment, must go around with cotton in his ears, for the megaphone of pain is a loud one.”

I have been encouraged by the way Yancey expresses God’s displeasure with the state of the world. His design has been disrupted, and He is at work to restore us and our world. Some would blame God for pain in life. To this, Yancey says the following:

“… giving a child a pair of ice skates, knowing that he may fall, is a very different matter from knocking him down on the ice.”

“Man is wild because he is alone, on this speck of molten rock called earth, stands up, shakes his fist, and says to God, “I do what I want to do because I want to do it.” As a result, a huge gulf separates us, and this planet, from God. Most remarkably, God allows us the freedom to do what we want, defying all the rules of the universe (at least for a time). Chesterton again: “In making the world, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem but rather a play; a play He had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-masters, who have since made a great mess of it….God is not pleased with the condition of the planet either…..everything in between (Genesis and Revelation) comprises the struggle to regain what was lost.”

In the past few days, I’ve been considering some ways to apply these concepts to parenting.  Yesterday, it looked like this: “Ginna, how do you think you would feel if you painted a very beautiful work of art, and someone took black paint and destroyed it? … That feeling is what God feels when He looks at the world. He made it so beautiful. He made people so they were kind to each other and not selfish. And then sin came. He is working to restore all of us and his earth so we can be kind again and know His love. And YOU can participate in that today by being kind and working out problems peacefully.”

All this to say, there is certainly a place for a heavy heart. Our “pain avoidance” culture doesn’t really know what to do with hurting people (and Yancey talks about this, too). Choosing joy in the midst of suffering doesn’t always look joyful. But the fruit that comes out of the trial shows if pain has been yielded to God.

I guess it’s good that the “suffering” book comes first; it will be better to end on “What’s So Amazing about Grace?”

 

 

 

 

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I Know….

I need to blog. I just can’t summon the energy lately to do it. I am teaching a lot and have some editing work as well. It keeps me moving, but it’s busy. Here are a few snippets of life:

1. Stan is on his way home. As in, in 48 hours we should have him back. His things have been arriving in boxes over the past 2 weeks. It still hasn’t felt so real. Until today. It’s starting to set in. I told Jamey’s preschool teacher today that next week I will NOT be 1 minutes late showing up to teach music, because 10-11am on Friday will not be my only chance in the week to buy groceries with two children instead of three. 🙂

2. There are times lately when I have dreamed of a different house. Particularly, I have dreamed of a house Stan designed for us years ago…a sort of dream. Modern. Clean. Simple. Tall spaces. Etc. I remember when we first married I wasn’t all that understanding of the modern thing. I embrace it now and want more of it. But tonight, as the kids are in bed and I look at our cozy abode, I love all 1282 sq ft. It is ours, and soon it will be much fuller than it has been.

3. Just this past week, Ginna and Jamey started going to sleep together in their room without me staying to sing Jamey to sleep. This has been one huge item of gratefulness this week. I’m not just grateful that they are moving on and able to do this (though I am grateful). But rather, I am grateful that God gave me to sensitivity to make that choice this year: to sing Jamey to sleep. On the surface, such a choice seems kind of silly. He had been going to sleep on his own for a long time. And it did mean some craziness for me. There were many nights that I held Finley in one arm while giving Jamey a back scratch on the top bunk and singing. But after feeling like I completely blew it with requiring too much of Ginna at too young of an age in regards to sleep, I am glad to have not done so again. And the two going to sleep together in the same room is hard for GInna, who is ultra-stimulated by the presence of other people. I am not saying I was always patient or cheerful at bedtime (and I struggled immensely with this time of day!). Inside, I often felt like a horse running for the barn, waiting for my alone, quiet, “no answering questions” time. I don’t know if I’m explaining this well, but I’ve been overwhelmed with thankfulness this week about this for some reason. I’m just grateful that I didn’t do what I sometimes do…cave to what I perceive to be an appropriate parenting strategy rather than taking my child’s temperament and life phase into the picture. After all, he is four now and going to sleep just fine unassisted. I won’t be singing him to sleep in high school.

4. Emotions are funny things. Honestly, I haven’t dealt too much with them lately. This is pretty normal for deployment….to not feel a lot in certain phases. I was VERY emotional last January. However, when Stan redeployed in August, I didn’t cry. I was in the mode, and I had figured out how to manage. There was a sort of “wow” moment a bit over a month ago when I started processing our return to normal. I didn’t talk about it at first. But when I did, and talked to Stan about it, the emotions subsided. Now, they sneak up on me at the most unexpected times. Like when I see people in uniform. Or tonight when we were talking to a ChickFilA employee about Stan being on his way home…and Jamey told her his daddy was coming home from Afghanistan. I felt the surge of emotion, like I was on the brink. I smiled and paid for the food.

5. We are thankful for whatever this year brings. And for now, we have “Stan” goods in the house. Yes, in the hour of grocery shopping today, I made sure we had chips, soda, and the ingredients for Mediterranean food (Stan’s first request)…oh, and some Christmas foods he missed out on….

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Happy Birthday!

Dear Finley,

How can you be one already?? You are such a delight to me! In a year of change and craziness, holding you and looking at you smile has been a comfort and joy to me. I am so glad to have you.

On this first birthday, you are crawling very fast and getting into lots of things. You are getting close to walking but are pretty happy crawling. Your favorite game is to hand me an object and wait for me to offer it back to you. You love your siblings, and they like to take care of you. You and Jamey have started playing some little games together, and Ginna still asks to hold you, pick out your clothes, and take care of you. She is always willing to go get things for you when I need them. 

Everywhere I go, people comment on your eyes. As in, very few days go by when I don’t get a comment about how beautiful they are.

You are easy-going. You love food and are a very adventurous eater. You light up when I walk in the room. You show your excitement by making a little noise and smiling really big.

I’ve often wondered how many kisses I give you in a day. Since they usually come in sets of five or six, I wouldn’t be surprised if you get 100 a day.

I am so thankful for you, little guy, and I thank God for you often.

Love,

Mommy

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New Blog

I’ve decided to separate my posts into two blogs. It seems that this blog has housed two divergent types of posts: photos/family updates and thoughts. So, this one will remain for photos and family updates, and the other is for thoughts. Feel free to check out the other blog: creativelove-blog.blogspot.com

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