Just Monkeying Around {Friday Photo}

There are some moments you happen upon as a parent and you wonder
"Hmmmm, what exactly is going on here? And what clown-loving colorblind pilgrim is supervising your wardrobe?" 



The Grumpy Train

Every single year around this time I get the blues.  Is it because Christmas is post-mortem and the effort of it wipes me out?  Is it the "back to the grind" feeling of doing the plain hard work of everyday life without the sparkle of white lights? 

Well paint me blue and call me a CareBear!

Case in point:

We went to a newly forming Bible study last night, billed for "couples raising children."  It was an info sort of thing, so they had a few more mature couples share about their marriage.  One very kind, wise, and experienced woman spoke about how she and her spouse work out their differences: for instance, on vacation he likes to read but she likes to shop and explore, so they do these things independently then meet up in the evenings for dinner and entertainment.

Since this is my blog, and not a polished marketing piece for perfect living, I will confess that all I could do was sit there in a fog, chin resting on palm, bleary eyes almost watering from the exhaustion of preparing five kids a healthy dinner, having them rush to finish homework before we left and lay out clothes for school tomorrow and put the dog in the kennel and turn on the alarm and drive over and check each of them into the childcare all by the 5pm start time to the Bible study, only to find it was across the street so we walked in late.  To go to that effort, and feel so wiped out, and to hear about a vacation scenario that will not happen for me for eighteen years was pretty depressing. 

In my head I pleaded: give me some practical info that I can use, or inspire me to keep focusing on marriage in the whirl of parenthood, or something helpful to justify the effort that went into simply being in attendance right now. 

I am SO getting this on the upcoming Disney trip.

So that pretty much illustrates my state of mind. Those married folks are so well-meaning and the fault lies only in how I received their words.  But what can I say?  I've had a headache for five days straight, my pants are too tight, I've put away the toys about a dozen times already today, the just-mopped floor was doused with Gatorade, the car needs servicing across town, the 100 days of school project isn't finished, and all those resolutions like closet cleaning are looming.  I look at the iced tea pitcher on the counter and think that if I don't put it away for the millionth time, then it will sit there and grow dusty because no one else will ever make a move to put it in the refrigerator. (I know I sound ridiculous. No use looking for logic when logic has left the building.)

Of course, God knew this funk was coming on because last week, while squeezing in some reading of a Tim Keller book David gave me for Christmas, I not-by-coincidence stumbled upon this most excellent quote by C.S. Lewis:
Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others... but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God "sending us" to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud. 

Just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine

Ouch. That hurts.

Maybe it hurts just enough to pull myself together, make a hot cup of coffee, put away the negativity, and turn the grumpy train around.


Hitting the High Notes

I have a very skeptical view of moms who present themselves as if they are perfect, their houses are all organized down to the last junk drawer, their moods are seamlessly happy, their clothes are all stylish, well pressed, and accessorized, and their kids never whine in public places, fuss over what's for dinner, or--dare I say it--baptize the bushes in the front yard.

For the record, I have three "official" junk drawers, my toddler had a meltdown at Publix this very morning, and I sometimes set aside my church outfit to wear on Monday so I won't have to think through what I'm putting on at six in the morning.  On the flip side, I also have some really amazing and satisfying moments when everything and everyone seems to be ticking along.  I am grateful for those moments.  So when I fall into go to bed, I run through the day in my mind and try to hit all the high notes, because at this point in the parenting process, I know that the lows will either fade in my memory or become quite hilarious if I can just keep on keepin' on.

So here are some highs from this week, seven days of good livin' that I will never get back again:

HIGH: The weather was incredible. Chilly, but somehow--in a patch of sunshine--it felt just right.

HIGH: the kids really seemed to enjoy their moments of free time, and it was satisfying to behold.

HIGH: I laughed every day as I found myself in unpredictable kid conversations. Madeleine and I stayed up late sharing her poetry (pretty gosh darn good) and reading from my old poetry journals dating back to the late 1980s (hideous! hysterical!).  And how could one not laugh when reaching in the aforementioned junk drawer and happening upon a note like this?


HIGH: The kids were quite the backyardigans, building teepees by the pond and setting up Dad's new hammock. Glad they enjoyed it, because it's as close to camping as they're gonna see while in my care.

HIGH: I tried some new recipes!  And even took pretty pictures!  We had some afternoon company, so Madeleine made these cherry cheesecake shooters from my heroine, The Pioneer Woman.  She reminds me of a young version of my Texas grandma, who says "Hidey!" instead of hello and measures her baking ingredients in the palm of her hand.  Good memories, new recipes and a child concocting said new recipes--that's a winning combination in my book.

No bubblegum juice was used in the making of this product.

“Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.”
Edith Wharton, Artemis to Actaeon


How the Brain Trainer became a Faith Trainer: Life Lessons for a 12 Year Old

My oldest daughter is quite an intense young lady.  She is seriously in love with all things learning, and fortunately learning comes rather easily to her.  I admire her from afar and wonder if we have very much in common at all because I can't recall what I was like at that age, except that I did love me a good grade or two.

So last year, in 5th grade, when their class was asked to write a 5-paragraph essay on any topic for a district competition, she thought about it intently for awhile, going back and forth on what the audience would enjoy, what she would enjoy, what could fit into five paragraphs and the three-minute time frame, which is in my opinion a dreadful format but the one required in this situation.

She decided to "save" her favored topic, classical education, for 6th grade so that she could showcase it at district and, in her limited mind's eye, evangelize the public school crowd about the merits of the classical approach.  Instead, her speech for that year was entitled "Three Typical Recurring Themes in Disney Princess Movies," which was a breakdown of the consistently missing parent and other pretty deep motifs.  She figured it would be intellectual yet entertain the kindergarten crowd at the same time.  In the candy pink fluff of Disney princess, she wrapped quite a meaty meal.

So when this year's competition rolled around, she was a loaded gun, having thought about her "classical education" speech for a full 365 days with a brimming eagerness that I think (mother's opinion here) is her trademark.  She read some tough material in the research stage, only to write and rewrite it multiple times.  The challenge: to fit a very complicated subject into a mere 3 minutes.  It's tougher than one might think.  And I suspect that while she crafted an excellent speech, she came under the duress of the strict time limit when competition day dawned, and alas, "Classical Education: The Brain Trainer" came in third in our school behind the winning speech, a magic-themed effort entitled "Abracadabra".  No opportunity to take it to the "masses" at the district level.  The eagerness crushed, the spirit doused as the road led to a dead end.

When I say there were tears, I mean THERE WERE TEARS.  On and on and on.  She wanted to win for all the right reasons, and when she didn't, she really couldn't reconcile the loss in her mind.  Didn't God want people to know about this amazing system that honors our minds as "fearfully and wonderfully made?"   "Why put in the work and see it not pay off?" She begged me for an answer. And the heartwrenching question lingering in her mind: "If God put this desire in my heart a year ago, why did it come to nothing in the end?" 

Ah, the age old question. Why, God, why?

There is a happy ending to these mama ramblings.  Our school's open house was this week, and she was asked to deliver her competition speech before a near-full house.  And, conveniently, because of the original parameters, it spanned merely three minutes--just the right amount of time.  We had a whole bunch of new families visiting the school that night, in addition to a majority of our current parents. It was an important and sort of magical moment.

She rose to the occasion, walking up to the microphone in her navy blazer and pleated plaid skirt without a nervous bone in her body.   The speech was a rousing success. Seeds were planted. People laughed, they engaged, one or two were possibly humbled that a 12 year old understood and could confidently articulate the very thing they were trying to learn about by coming that night. 

Even if one mind or heart was moved, it was more meaningful and effective than giving it before a dry crowd of fellow competitors and their nervous parents at any competition because, on this night, the words went out, sunk in, and took root in listening hearts.  The act, caliber, and delivery of the speech itself was a testament to the effectiveness of the very classical education she described.

I am thankful that my Intense One received such an early and powerful life lesson about how God's plan for her is often going to be different than the plan she anticipates, but that it's important to trust that He "who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think" (Eph 3:20) WILL ACTUALLY DO IT according to his own perfect timing and design.  The key, I told her, is to be willing---for instance, to take a year-long desire, put the necessary hours of work and brain power into the effort, and focus on creating excellence.  Without knowing the future, she must come to the place she is called with preparation, eagerness, and best efforts.  That is always going to be her role.  The results or how He uses the fruits of her labor are out of her hands, but through faith she will consistently find that His purpose will always be far greater than anything she might hope for or imagine.

The point is not to desire her efforts to be honored, but to focus on bringing Him honor by her efforts.  Amen.

I caught the moment with my smartphone from the back, so the audio is low and the lighting is bad, but if you'd like to hear the actual speech, it's worth a three-minute listen to "Classical Education: The Brain Trainer" by Madeleine Roberts.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QV3Ns8e4JAE


Overheard at My House

Child A:  Dad, can you enter the passcode on the iPad for me? 

Child B:  Yeah, what IS the password? 

David:  I changed it to an 8-letter word.  A word you don't know, by the way.

Child A:  Well, can you enter it for me?

David:  Okay, here's a question for all of you.  If the password is made up of 8 letters, how would you calculate the your odds of guessing it correctly?

Child C:  I would multiply 26 by 25 by 24 in descending order eight times.

David:  That would work if the letters weren't repeating, but they aren't unique.

Child D:  Then you would multiply 26x26x26x26x26x26x26x26.

David:  Correct!

Child A:  Dad, can you enter the passcode on the iPad for me?

David:  Here's an even better question!  If the password was 8 letters OR numbers that could repeat, what are your chances of getting it THEN?

Child D: I'd go with 36 times itself eight times.....

Child C: But are your chances any better since he gave us a clue?  Remember, it's "a word we don't know"!

Child A:  (bows head, wanders away to play)

Better start him early.


Churchy Thoughts: Beyond Sunday Morning Sermons

Lately--make that for almost 10 years--I have been visiting and revisiting the matter of church in my mind.  I will say straightaway that (a.) I am a lifelong Methodist and (b.) I am no theologian nor have I hashed through third, fourth, and fifth level doctrinal issues and (c.) I believe that going to church on Sunday is very important beyond what is said from the pulpit. 

Moreover, I continue to independently seek truth through reading the Scriptures firsthand, but there is no practical way to discard years of pastoral input and have a fresh and truly uninfluenced opinion.  In my naiveté , I used to think things came down to two camps: Christians and Non-Christians.  Now I realize that folks are a-campin' out every which way- Fundamentalists, Prosperity Gospel, Evangelicals, Post-Evangelicals, Charismatics, Relevants, Reconstructionists, Revisionists.....need I go on? 

I grew up and married in this beautiful Methodist church, built in 1890.

It's a lot for me to wrap my mind around.

Sometimes, I gotta go back and simplify it all.  I know the Gospel.  I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God who died for my sins.  I am well aware of my brokenness and my need for a Savior.  I believe that I am saved by grace through faith. I read my Bible, go to church each week, discuss God with my kids every single day. 

But when I attend the service on Sunday morning, it sometimes feels limiting.  I hunger to be fed.  This doesn't always happen through the particular pastor preaching that day and/or through my chosen worship setting (traditional, contemporary, blended, what should I pick off the church menu?)  Sometimes I am distracted (my emergency nursery number flashes on the sanctuary screen), sometimes I am exhausted (getting five children into dress clothes, plus me), sometimes we are super late (see prior parenthesis), sometimes the message is esoteric or the preacher's just not feelin' it or, most often, my heart is not focused and ready to listen as 9:30am rolls around.

But, goodness gracious, I could use a Word.  God knows how badly.

Thankfully, the use of modern technology is completely changing how I view "church."  I currently have three church apps loaded on my phone--one from Montana (Levi Lusko/Fresh Life), one from Texas (Matt Chandler/Village Church), and one from North Carolina (Steven Furtick/Elevation).  (And lest you think by this list that I've given over completely to the young, funky crowd, I also enjoy Tim Keller, Andy Stanley, and Bill Hybels, just not on an app yet.)  I regularly listen to sermons from these particular pastors when I'm driving around town, taking a morning run, folding laundry.  And it has been just what I needed, meeting me right where I am, when I can pay the fullest attention, digest what is said, reflect on how it applies to my life, replay it in the really good parts, and pause it to change a diaper or two.

I am not a unilateral fan of technology, but access to sermons outside of the Sunday morning routine and perspectives from pastors well beyond Tallahassee have been a game changer for me.  And not one of them are Methodist, I should note.  And that's okay with me, because this decade of questioning church has led me to a few basic observations:

1) The most religiously wise sects of Jesus's day, those who knew Judaism inside and out, missed the very person that scripture prophesized over and over would come, so their intricate knowledge of doctrine and laws by their "denominations" did not keep them from being blind to the Most Important Thing, and

2)  When Jesus was talking with Peter, who he was hand-picking at that moment to found the future church, he didn't give a long interview with nitpicky questions like "Peter, do you believe in infant baptism? Do you agree with predestination?  Okay, what are your thoughts on celibacy, birth control, and divorce?  Was the world was created in 6 literal or figurative days?" 

No, he simply asked one thing: "Do you love me?" (John 21)

So I'm embracing the fact that God can and will use a wide variety of wise, well-respected preachers who he has anointed to teach in order to feed me along this spiritual journey.  And this crazy busy, sometimes distracted, often tired yet well-intentioned wife, mom, and Methodist is thankful.

Do you regularly use a church app that you can recommend? Leave a comment and I'll be sure to check it out.


Resolved: Slow & Steady, I Think I'm Ready

New Year's resolutions.  Is too late for those?  We are, after all, fast into January and I'm already sleeping far too little and rounding hairpin corners as I hang on for dear life.  I've been thinking over the resolutions part of the new year for the past week, and the thoughts running through my head have ranged from the oh-so-serious to the very inconsequential.

Here is a sampling:

:: Resolve to remember these resolutions come July.
:: Be slow to anger, even righteous (justified) anger.
:: Read Scripture before my feet hit the floor each morning.
:: Fold the clean laundry as quickly as humanly possible.
:: Spend dedicated time each day with each child, one-on-one, mainly listening.
:: Pray with intention and focus.
:: Put toilet locks on and childproof the front door.
:: State life-giving words over my children, even on those days when I am unspeakably frustrated with them for such actions as playing in the toilet (Josh), not flushing the toilet (Reid), or both (see above).
:: Call my mom every day. (Not throwing this in because she is perhaps the only reader of this blog, but because she does #5 so well)
:: Send more hand-written letters.
:: Sustain an ever-present awareness of my own very evident need for a Savior.
:: Love my husband well, setting aside selfish interests, however small, to serve and support him.
:: Finally start being methodical yet creative (creatively methodical?) about meal planning instead of being startled every night that they want dinner again. (Read: less plain ole yard bird with sides, less "it's breakfast for dinner again, kids!")
:: Teach my two eldest how to cook (see above).
:: Pare down my closet to only the things I love and get rid of the "might wear someday" and "used to wear, like in college" pile.
:: Play one kid game per week of their choosing, with the exception of the dreaded Dark Tag.
:: Try to get more sleep.
:: Fit the whole blog thing into an already tight schedule because the writing part gives me joy.
:: Respect Sabbath rest, remembering that this means getting organized and working harder the day before.
:: Round the corners more slowly.
For some truly amazing resolutions, take a look at those of Jonathan Edwards, one of the most influential theologians in early America, which he wrote at the tender age of 19 and read to himself once a week for the remaining 35 years of his life (the once a week thing being one of his very first resolutions--well played, sir!)
UPDATE:  The "try to get more sleep" resolution only took one night to shoot down. I blogged this entry until 1:15am, had Child A come in wanting to sleep on the floor right around then, and at 3:30am, Child B woke me up to tell me about a bad dream and a tummy ache.  Shortly thereafter, Doggie A fake retched, probably choking on the latest stocking stuffer she got her paws on, followed by Child C dashing down the hall at 5:00am feeling scared because her bathroom door was open. Come 5:45am, Child D was up cooing in his crib and ready to play!  Some days there isn't enough caffeine in a cup--bring on the java IV!

RESOLVED: play with abandon
RESOLVED:  Listen well and often
RESOLVED: Love without condition
::Guiding Scriptures for 2014::
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.      
2 Corinthians 4:7
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
Titus 2:11-14