Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat?

I recently posted as my Facebook status:
I'm beginning to think praying without reading God's word is a lot like asking my husband, "Does this dress make me look fat?" In both cases, you will never know if the answer you got is the Truth.

This is the nugget that came after weeks of struggling with the purpose of prayer, what prayer should look like and how we seem to be so bad at prayer. It came from realizing that we spend a lot of time having one way conversations with God which may give God lots of information from us but is about as satisfactory as having a monologue with my husband. I get to use all my words, but I have no idea what he thinks or feels. There is no shared experience in a monologue. It doesn't build intimacy it just delivers information. And God doesn't need our information, He already has it. But He wants our intimacy, He wants a relationship.

But how does God speak to me? I have never heard His voice, at least not audibly. I have definitely seen His fingerprints in my thoughts, heard His spirit in a song of worship, and experienced His comfort. These are the words of God that most of us hold dear to our hearts, that we use as a reminder of God when we are in a place of doubt.

As I am reading more and more about prayer, I have been confronted by what a horrible listener I am when it comes to God. I am pretty good about allowing a few moments of quiet reflection when I pray for wisdom or guidance, hoping that God will give me the directions I need in that moment. But I am not utilizing God's actual Words enough, His written Word, His Holy letter to me. I will let days go by before I pick up my Bible and rarely do I think of it as a part of my prayer life. That the Bible is God's word to and for me. That He is speaking, quite literally, in the Bible.

I can only imagine how many times I would reread a letter my spouse gave me if I could never hear his voice again. How if my husband left me a book with instructions, words of encouragement, and the history of his creation, I would devour it over and over again just to hold him close for a few minutes.

And yet, I don't hold God's word so dear. I am learning to. I am reading the whole Bible this year with friends, though I am often off schedule and hurrying to catch back up to the schedule. I am reading. I have also committed to reading through the Bible again next year. I am doing this because I want God's word to be dear to me. I want to know it so well that it is my first place of comfort on a bad day and the first place I turn for guidance when I have a decision to make. I want to meditate on it day and night and teach it to my children. I want to know what God is saying to me, to know His word so well that I will know the Truth when I hear it and can discern the wheat from the chaff.

I never want to find out that what I thought had been God "speaking" in my head was rubbish that I did not recognize because I did not know God's voice. I want to know that the answers I hear to my prayers is the Truth.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


In the past few weeks, I keep coming across various forms of meditation. It started at the beginning of the summer when Hockey Boy told me that he and his buddy were pretending to meditate while under the water during swim lessons. He then showed me how they held they sat criss crossed and held then hands in a meditation pose. Then a few weeks ago, Middle Man was sitting at the top of a dirt hill at the park, legs criss crossed with his hands pressed together and his eyes closed in a similar meditation pose. I am thinking that something they watched this summer had a character meditating because it seems to be the theme of the summer. He looked so calm and serene sitting there that I didn't want to disrupt his moment of peace with questions.

Then a couple of weeks ago I went to see the movie "Eat, Pray, Love" because I have liked pretty much any and every movie Julia Roberts has been in. I had not read the book but had heard the story of Elizabeth Gilbert from Oprah. It was interesting watching Julia's character travel the world trying to find herself. A part of her journey was learning to meditate which she practiced while in India. She, like I am sure most of us, struggled to clear her mind and meditate at first. Eventually it became a part of her routine.

When I think of meditation, I think of the Julia Robert's character's form of meditation, a clearing of one's mind, focusing on spiritual thoughts, all very eastern religious and vague. But recently I started reading "Praying" by J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom and was introduced to a very interesting use of meditation. They write, "Deliberately meditating in God's presence gets your thoughts into order before the Lord..." also, "Thinking in the presence of God becomes talking to the Lord directly, and talking to God leads back to further thinking in his presence."

I was really comforted and encouraged by this idea of christian meditation, thinking in the presence of God. It made sense to me and also gave value to the method of madness that is my mind at times. That my meditating on a subject, such as prayer as I have been these last few months, immersing myself in God's word, other writings about God, and thinking through how God has worked in my life, can bring clarity. And that clarity can be from God and not just my own intellectual finding.

That is how my relationship with God often works. I find myself yearning to understand something more, a pull on my heart and mind that I am sure God has placed there. Then I spend time finding books, blogs, sermons about the topic. Eventually after avoiding the work for a while, I start to read and listen. Because God is such a wonderful teacher, scripture references start showing up in my life that are exactly what I am studying. The pastor uses a verse in the notes that also appears in one of the books or a friend's blog. I come across a passage in my one year Bible reading that speaks on prayer or something else but it still flits into my mind to role around with everything else I have read. And slowly, as I ponder what I have read, or a thought jumps into my mind, as I think through it all while shopping for groceries, I start to see little slivers of Truth. Little nuggets I can hold.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Vacation

It appears that I am on vacation. Seems weird to post this after I have gone so long without writing. It was probably apparent that I was on vacation but it took me a week to figure it out. My last few posts were a little deep, even for me. My life was feeling a little deep at the time. And then suddenly we had a week with nothing on the calendar. No early morning camps. No trips to see the family. Nothing. Just the boys and I hanging out in our pajamas. Waking up at 6:30 when they started stirring but then falling back to sleep while they watched way too much tv. Reading books for fun. Being really, really hot, too hot to think and then coming into the air conditioned house tired out by the heat and lazying about some more.

We actually have two more weeks without any major commitments. School does not start until after Labor Day here so I anticipate some more lazy mornings in our pajamas with a few fun adventures thrown it to keep us from totally becoming sloths. I am hoping that this vacation allows my body to rest a bit and my mind to wander without purpose a bit. So far it has not wandered anywhere too productive, or when it has I have not really had the motivation or discipline to pick up my computer and write. There are a few things I have read or seen that have got me thinking of a blog post, but then I think about actually grabbing my computer and typing and I lose my energy. Which I think is okay in the summer. Come September 8th I may need a kick in the pants to get moving again.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Every Family Has Its Problems

I hear this phrase a lot, every family has its problems. There are times when knowing everyone is struggling can be helpful. I have had a lot of friends tell me recently that their kids are also out of control or that they too are exhausted by the sibling rivalry going on in their home. I enjoy the camaraderie of knowing I am not alone feeling like an out of control Mommy. It does bring me some comfort to know that other kids are acting up this summer and that mine are not the only ones. It makes it feel less personal and more universal. I like to share parenting woes with my friends and know I am not the only one who has a dream of running away from home. Though I am not sure if everyone has quite as well thought out a runaway plan as I do. Just know that if you need to find me when I runaway, I will be in London, probably in a tea shop reading a book or visiting lots of historical locations that smell musty and are really, really quiet. This run away to London plan is part of the reason I was so annoyed when I realized my passport was lost. Thankfully, I have a new passport just itching to be used. But I digress...

I also hear this phrase a lot when I talk about some of the struggles I have currently with my parents as well as the dysfunctional childhood I had. I think because I turned out normal, well let's all be honest - relatively normal, people think that it couldn't have been that unusual a childhood. And I do have to agree that for a dysfunctional family, we really did have it together. There was no abuse, no swearing and very little shouting. We always had food and a clean home. At times we looked like a pretty terrific family. But that was part of the dysfunction. There was a subtlety to the crazy that was happening at our house, one that looked good in the moment but had some weird long term consequences. It took me years of living outside my parents house to start to feel like my own person. Years of being married and even having kids to start to define myself outside of my relationship to my parents. I could go on and on about the "problems" but there is really no usefulness in that, except that at times, I feel like I have to justify and explain the severity of my dysfunctional family. Because the problems we had were way beyond the "every family has its problems" variety. Yes, we all have the weird aunt who gives subscriptions to National Geographic Magazine to teenage boys as Christmas gifts or the Uncle who want to share his drugs with the family at holiday celebrations. There is the special needs brother or the unemployed father who is struggling to keep it together. There is the depressed mom. Every family has its black sheep. I know because I am pretty sure I am the black sheep in my inlaws family. But then there are those few families whose struggles are way outside the norm, whose homes are places of worry and anxiety, whose kids become responsible for the adults.

There are problems and then there is dysfunction. And to respond to my story with "every family has its problems" sort of negates my experience and also makes me really worried for my family. I don't want my kids to have my experience. I am working hard to give them a different family life. I hold onto to the hope that there are happy family's out there. Family's that have problems but come together in a healthy way in those moments. If I did not have hope that parents can be loving, supportive, healthy and independent of their kids, then I would not have had kids. I want to give them a great childhood and then send them off into the world to create their own lives, lives that are defined by their dreams, their hopes and their faith.

I imagine when I am sitting next to a mom whose child cannot speak complaining about my kid who won't stop talking about Pokemon, or complaining about the cost of hockey to a dad who just lost his job and cannot pay for food let alone sports programs for his kid, or getting frustrated with the school because the books they have for my son to read are not really at his level, I am being that person. The one who says every family has its problems, acting like all kids struggle, when in reality there are degrees of struggle and my woes do not really even begin to rise to the status of a problem.

Perspective is a good thing. Stepping outside my life and seeing the world through other people's eyes is a good thing. It shows me how blessed and lucky I really am. It gives me an honest measure of my frustrations and brings down the anxiety a few notches. I need to remember this. I need to remind myself that I diminish the very real struggles of others when I harp too much on the everyday, normal challenges I face. I also give those challenges way too much power in my life, I let the challenge over take my day, my week, my month. It becomes my focus and it grows bigger, harder and more overwhelming that it really is. Perspective can bring things down to their proper size.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Humble Pie

I have recently been eating a lot of humble pie, huge amounts which have been accompanied by ice cream. In my world, when you are being beaten down by life, whether self inflicted or at the hands of the mean, mean world, ice cream makes it all better. Well for at least the few minutes you are eating the ice cream. Then the guilt of eating too many sweets sets in and your tummy starts to have rolls and... well I could go on but that would be too depressing and this blog post already has me sad enough.

So I have been eating humble pie. And I must say it is well deserved humble pie. My pride was getting way out of hand. The saying goes, "pride comes before the fall." My belief in my stellar parenting skills was at an all time high and I was dispensing my wisdom far and wide. I was recommending books I had read, well I had read most of the book, to those I thought might need a little "help" in the parenting department. I was tsking under my breath at the lady at the park whose kids totally ignored her. I was silently judging the parents around me and even worse, finding joy in sharing a funny story of bad parenting with a friend. I was proud of the parenting job I was doing because my kids were really delightful for the most part.

Well in my case the saying should be "pride comes before the summer" because this summer has been my fall. Oh how the tables have turned. I am now the parent yelling at her kids to "get over here right now" which is ignored time and time again until I finally walk over and round one son up, only to look over and see a second son of mine running off in another direction. I am the parent whose kids are unruly, loud, and disrespectful in stores. I am the mom whose son starts screaming at people and then throws sand right in other kids' faces when they make him mad. I am the mom in that funny story about the kids who were climbing on the video games while the mom was totally oblivious, not paying attention at all. I am that mom.

My parenting skills are no longer working and I am not sure why. My friends have offered helpful suggestions which I really should take but the problem is I think I have lost my will to parent. I am feeling really burned out, overwhelmed and honestly hopeless. And all these feelings bring up a deep seeded fear I have that I will someday follow the women before me in my family who have fallen under the weight of depression, depression so deep my grandmother committed suicide and my mother attempted suicide. I am very aware of my family history. And in times like these, when my world feels out of my control, when my moods swings and I am tired a lot, I worry. I don't want to walk down that dark path.

Now if you are reading this and a friend of mine, don't worry, because I am not even close to walking down that path of depression. Yes, I get depressed. Yes, I get overwhelmed. And yes, I worry that I might need help sometime, that eventually my family legacy will catch up with me and take me down. But in the past when I needed help I asked for it. I got the medication and therapy I needed to balance my moods and deal with my life stressors. And I honestly don't think I am in that place right now. I have been in the pit and even at my most frustrated, I am not there. One of the ways I know is because when I was depressed before, I was supposed to be happy, experiencing what should have been the best years of my life. Yet it was not.

Right now, I am in some of the hardest years of my life. I have been taking care of small children all day, every day for the last 7 1/2 years. I am pretty sure Little One is in the midst of a nasty phase that both my older boys have been through and come out the other side. And summer it turns out is tough. We were all so excited for the carefree days of summer, and while we have enjoyed some great times this summer, it has also been really hard. My boys are often antagonizing one another. They are fighting more. And without the structure of school, I think we have all lost some of our discipline. Carefree and lazy days, has morphed into lazy behavior and carefree self control. Especially on my part.

School does not start for 5 more weeks. So I am thinking I have lots of humble pie still to eat. Feel free to judge me by how my kids behave. I have done it to others. Hopefully though I will be showing a lot more grace to the moms around me in the future. If this summer taught me anything it is this: judging parents by their kids' behavior just asks for trouble. Maybe I will start judging those wonderful moms with those amazing well adjusted kids who are having a ton of fun this summer, enjoying each other's company and all the fun activities they get to do together.