Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thoughtful Giving

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. – 2 Corinthians 9:7

Try as you may, it is impossible to avoid it. You can read the Biblical account of the first Christmas aloud, make your own nativity out of sugar cookies, host a birthday party for Jesus (complete with cake and streamers), serve dinner at a homeless shelter, and pack a box for Operation Christmas Child. However, your child’s favorite part of Christmas will still be the presents!

What’s more, they will be particular about what they receive. My kids decided three days before Christmas this year that they both wanted e-pets, and were disappointed they didn’t get them. They have one grandma who gives too many presents, so my kids always comment on the fact that they only get one or two from their other grandma. Despite my efforts to impart the true meaning of Christmas into their hearts, it all boils down to the presents.

And, I have to confess, in many ways it does for me too. I feel disappointed when I receive a gift that clearly contains little thought from the giver. To me, the fun of giving is considering what would be special to each person as an individual, and taking the effort to find just the right thing. When someone gives me some run-of-the-mill gift that clearly expresses no personal thought or meaning, I feel let down.

I think that from now on I will stop trying so hard to divert my kids’ attention away from the presents, and instead refocus that energy into teaching them how to be thoughtful givers.

How do you handle Christmas giving in your family?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Gratitude in Sorrow

"My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word." – Psalm 119:28

You no doubt heard about the shootings in Colorado recently, at a church in Colorado Springs and the Youth With A Mission training center near Denver. The gunman took the lives of four young people, and one family lost two daughters in this tragedy.

I feel such sorrow for the families who lost loved ones, especially since it is so close to Christmas and their cherished ones were places where we are meant to feel safe. My thoughts frequently rest on the mother who hangs two fewer stockings this year, and spends most of the holiday season at the hospital visiting her husband who was also hit but thankfully survived the shooting.

What encourages me about this tragedy, however, is the press coverage. So often, we Christians come off as fanatical nuts on the evening news, but not this time. Parents and friends of the victims have openly spoken about their faith and several have publicly forgiven the gunman, citing their Christian beliefs as the source of their compassion.

It is troubling to me that it takes a tragedy like this for the news outlets to open up enough to show the gracious, humble side of Christians. However, I am grateful these families had the opportunity to share their love for Christ in memory of their loved ones.

Horrors like these shootings cause us to take a moment to give our own children an extra hug and send a prayer of gratitude to God for the safety of our families. As Christmas approaches, I wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Between The Breaks

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." Mark 6:31

The span of time sandwiched in between the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks is tough for my second grader. For five, chilly November mornings she gets to sleep in, eat breakfast whenever she is hungry, and wear sweatpants and tee shirts rather than her school uniform. When her turkey-filled tummy returns to school, it knows Christmas cookies are just around the corner and the anticipation of another break in only three-and-a-half weeks is torture.

It is hard for me too. While I know a lot of moms look forward to having kids in school so they can pursue their own, productive routines, I love having my kids at home. Sure, the house is a mess and I become tardy with every deadline I have, but the sounds of my children playing and laughing are worth it. I look forward to Christmas break so they can help me bake, and we can go ice skating or sledding if there happens to be snow.

An uncomfortable sense of urgency fills the three-and-a-half weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. Suddenly my daughter’s ability to build a three dimensional diorama inside a shoe box for school, and play a medley of carols on the piano for a recital become of paramount importance. Christmas may not come until December 25, but if you’re not ready for it by December 1, you are considered late (and I always am). The calendar fills until each little square is ready to burst. But this all ends on December 19, when the only thing written through the end of the year is ‘no school.’

I now face two and a half more weeks of Christmas shopping, sending cards, hanging lights, and shuttling my family from one holiday event to the next. We will make the most of this traditionally crazy time of year until we get to December 19. Then we will breathe a sigh of relief and relish every minute of Christmas break.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Canine Catastrophe

Last fall, my then six-year-old beagle, Maggie, tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her knee. She hopped around on three legs while we waited to see what would happen. When a month of painkillers and anti-inflammatories didn’t get her left rear leg back on the ground, the vet said it was time for surgery. $3,000 surgery.

A friend of ours recommended her vet in another town. The 45-minute drive didn’t seem so bad when he said the surgery would be $1,000. This was a bargain compared to our regular vet, but still, where were we going to find $1,000 for dog surgery. At the age of six, our little beagle wasn’t even half way through her expected life span. Thanks to medication she didn’t seem to be in pain, but we obviously couldn’t just let her hop on three legs for the next seven or eight years.

On top of the cost, the recovery for this procedure sounded like my worst nightmare, as well as Maggie’s. For eight weeks, she would live in a little crate, leaving it only for short, scheduled walks on a leash. Maggie tolerates the leash (as well as the crate) in very small doses. One or two walks a year would suit her just fine. She much prefers to roam our large yard at her own pace with no particular destination in mind. Following the surgery, she would initially only be able to stand for five minutes at a time. This meant finding a spot to go potty, doing her business and getting back inside within five minutes. Forget it! It takes a minimum of ten minutes to find a good spot to go, followed by another ten minutes of mandatory exploring for future potty places. A five-minute limit would mean I’d be doing more crate cleaning than really appealed to me. What’s more, winter’s approach and the thought of walking my dog in the snow for two months gave me a sudden urge to hibernate.

Thankfully, when the day of the surgery arrived, I asked my husband to have the vet examine her before doing the procedure. “It looks like she’s putting weight on her leg,” I said. An answer to my prayers came when my husband arrived home and reported that surgery was no longer necessary. Apparently, small dogs can sometimes heal this type of injury on their own. We were to keep a close eye on Maggie for another month, and reschedule the surgery if she had a setback. Thankfully, she didn’t, and we were spared the two months of recovery torture, as well as the $1,000 bill.

Yesterday, Maggie started hoping around on three legs again. This time she held the other rear leg close to her body. Here we go again.

What lengths would you go to for a family pet?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Mommy Time Out

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, - James 1:2

F or the past several days I was down in the dumps. Things were not going my way and my selfish side was really starting to sit up and take notice. My DH was doing a miserable job of reading my mind and meeting my unspoken needs, and the precious cherubs I have for children were resting on my nerves. I was definitely ready for a Mommy time out.

Now, when my children go to time out, they sit in a chair in the dining room. Mommy time out starts with sitting in a chair as well. In a nail salon. Pretty nails go a long way in lifting a woman’s spirits.

Next, I went to the mall. When my children go to the mall, they like to visit the pet store to pet the puppies. I like to visit Macy’s to pet the handbags. The luxurious feel of buttery-soft high-end leather can turn my frown upside down, even when I can’t afford to buy it. Thankfully, this time I had a gift certificate!

After trying on several diamond rings at three different jewelry stores, my new purse and I found our way to Eddie Bauer where a cute jean shirt was on clearance in my size. It will look adorable with the boots I am going to buy the next time I have a bad week.

And what trip to the mall would be complete without a visit to the nice people at the Cheesecake Factory? After a little pampering, a lot of shopping and way too much sugar, I felt like a new woman. I returned home with a spring in my step and a restored attitude, ready to tuck my angels into bed for the evening.

What remedy perks your mood up when you’re feeling down? Share your best tips!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Smart Enough To Say I’m Sorry

… yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. 2 Corinthians 7:9

My daughter is a sensible little girl, but last week she made an unfortunate decision she is likely to remember for a very long time. She informed my husband that she is just as smart as he is, and therefore no longer requires his guidance or input in her life. We expected to hear this during the teen years, but not from the mouth of our six-year-old.

Thankfully, my quick-thinking husband had just the cure for this know-it-all attitude of hers. “Great!” He said. “Since you know everything I do, then you know how to sweep all of these stubborn pine needles off of the driveway. Take as much time as you need, but you can’t go the Halloween party you were planning on for this evening until the whole driveway is clear. Have I ever mentioned that our driveway is 120 feet long? Boy, am I ever glad you know how to do this because it is a job I have been dreading.”

Without a word, little hands grasped the long push broom and got to work. She toiled for almost two hours, gathering the needles until small piles dotted the length of the driveway. She finally came in and confessed to me, “I don’t know how to get the piles into the bag. Will you help me?” I happily showed her how to get the first grouping into the large leaf bag, and then left her to continue her work. When she came back in about 30 minutes later, her cheeks were pink and her hair was sweaty. “Boy,” she said. “Did I ever learn my lesson!” She then added, “Mom, thanks for all the things you do for me. I better go thank Daddy too!” She apologized for what she said earlier, and I told her that I would know she was truly sorry when I saw her attitude change for good.

This is true of our relationship with God as well. When we make a mistake, He is ready to help us learn where we went wrong so we can tell Him we are sorry, but the words don’t mean as much as a changed heart. Nothing says, “I’m sorry” like improved behavior.

Sweeping the driveway gave my daughter plenty of time to reflect on what she said and her attitude made a notable improvement. One of my neighbors had her daughter pull weeds from the garden for an hour after a similar incident. What are some things you have done to help your child find a better outlook?

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Coat Question

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! – Matthew 7:11

Winter is on its way, here in Colorado. We usually get a big snow in October, so I got out all of last year’s winter garb to see what still fit my kids. I’ve always known my children were very different from each other, but their parka’s gave me a visual illustration.

My oldest daughter goes at life with gusto. I tell her that if she doesn’t get dirty and sweaty then she isn’t playing hard enough, and she takes this to heart. On the other hand, my youngest daughter is more interested in dancing than digging. Her clothes are rarely dirty, and the occasional spot is more likely to be from paint than mud.

Their differences presented me with an interesting challenge. Last year’s parka no longer fit my oldest daughter, so normally it would pass down to her sister. However, a permanent grime covered the front and the elbows of the coat. This brown shading never bothered the coat’s first owner, but I knew its next wearer would notice and not be impressed. I also knew she would never complain about it.

I faced a dilemma. Apart from the staining, the old parka was in perfect condition. It even had a pair of matching snow pants (although the knees of the pants matched the elbows of the coat). Would buying my youngest daughter a sparkling clean new parka make me a poor steward of my money or a loving mother? Let’s hear what you think?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Better Questions

Last night I went to the concert of a well-know artist in the world of Christian music. His songs are among my favorites, so I was excited to see him live for the first time. The show started off well, and he promised the audience an evening of praising and glorifying God.

He wove difficult, sometimes unanswerable, questions throughout the performance, stopping between each song to ponder the issues of his life. Unfortunately, with each question, his unhappiness and inner conflict became clearer. He stated after the first song that this particular tour was hard for him, and he was feeling tired. This progressed throughout the show until, towards the end, he said he was having a bad day and explained why, in detail. Not only did he “dump” on the audience (his words, not mine) but he missed lyrics and even entire verses of songs. His two most recent hits were left out of the show completely.

He promised an evening of praise, but delivered what felt more like a counseling session with a patient who was unable to hear the guidance of the doctor. When people called out from the audience to voice their support for him, he told them he didn’t want their encouragement. It tuned out to be a depressing event, rather than the uplifting one he said it would be.

I still love this artist’s music and would be willing to see him perform again, in hopes of catching him on a better day. But, my question to you is this: do performers have an obligation to deliver on their promises? Is it acceptable for them to have a “bad day” during a show? After all, they’re only human, right? But how would you feel if your hair stylist had a bad day during your haircut? Or your hygienist during your cleaning? Let’s hear what you think!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

8 Factoids About Me

My friend Jan Parrish tagged me to tell you some things you may not know about me. Feel free to post 8 unique things about yourself!

1. I love cute stationery even though I rarely hand-write letters. I do send a lot of thank-you notes, but any other correspondence from me typically comes via e-mail.

2. EVERY time I fly I have to go through extra security screening at the airport. Just last week I had a TSA representative take each item out of my purse and swab it for explosive residue. She said there is probably someone with the same name on a security watch list. Lucky me.

3. I am a magnet for natural disaster. I have been in an earthquake, a storm at sea, was in a house when it was hit by a tornado and was in a different house when it was hit by lightening on two separate occasions.

4. I love the idea of scrapbooking and have all of the supplies, but actually making the pages just isn’t a priority right now!

5. I hate having chemicals in my food, so I spend most of my time at the grocery store reading labels.

6. I planned to go into the Peace Corps after college, but since I didn’t speak Spanish they said I would be sent to Africa – the only place I didn’t want to go! Of course they didn’t mention this until after I had gone through the entire application process, had two interviews and gave them three personal references.

7. If there was no type of food in the world but Mexican, I would be just fine.

8. I finished my college coursework in 3 ½ years, but it took 4 ½ years to get my diploma because I interned for a year doing public relations for musicians and comedians in Los Angeles.

Attention Bargain Shoppers!

Last night I had a bizarre dream. I was staying in a fancy resort hotel with a couple of girlfriends, when we became aware of a bargain. There was one room in the hotel offered for the amazing price of just $5 a night. However, the price reflected the fact that this room contained the worst the hotel had to offer. The cleaning staff found cocaine on one of the mattresses, thereby condemning it to room 477. The other mattress made its way to the room after receiving water damage in a hurricane, and there was no guarantee that mold or mildew did not exist inside it. The room itself became the holding place for the hotel’s rejects after someone was murdered in it and the cleaning crew was never able to completely remove all of the evidence of the tragedy.

So my question to you is this – what are you willing to live with in order to take advantage of a bargain? What would you let your children live with?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Travel Trouble

There is no easy way for a mom to leave her children when she goes out of town. I am preparing to head out for the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) annual convention, and I can feel my children’s growing anxiety, even though I am home fore three more days.

The first year I went to the convention I tried telling them several weeks in advance so they could get used to the idea and ask questions before I left. They seemed appalled at the thought of any mother choosing some old meeting over her precious children. The next year I didn’t mention my trip until the last minute, thinking I would spare them the weeks of worry leading up to my departure. That didn’t work either. My youngest daughter held me tightly around the neck as if saying, “You tricked me into this and I’m not letting you go!” The fact that the sky-cab was trying to take luggage out of my hands didn’t bother her a bit. She was not at all embarrassed to hang there like a necklace while I stood on the curb at the airport.

This year I did not make a big deal about my trip, but casually mentioned it about two weeks ago. My youngest child keeps asking me when I am leaving. I think she is afraid I’ll pull another “trick” like last year. My oldest daughter simply asked, “Is this the last year you are going?” I sure hope so – I don’t know how much more of this leaving stuff my heart can take!

Do you have any tips or strategies for when you leave town without your kids? Please share!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Breathing Deeply

"The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life." – Job 33:4

For the past week, it has been difficult for my four-year-old to breathe due to a virus. We only leave the house for short jaunts, since we can’t miss her scheduled treatments with a nebulizer. The medication she breathes in causes her to swing wildly from sleepy to hyperactive with only a moment’s notice. Thankfully, she has progressed to the point of being able to sleep through the night without the interruption of a treatment.

This experience has me focused not only on my daughter’s breathing, but also on the gift of breath itself. It is such a fragile thing – so easy to break, or stop altogether. Yet God blesses us each day with the exact number of breaths we need. He lets me breathe in life, fully and deeply. He blesses me with nostrils filled with fresh, clean, restorative air the morning after a rainstorm. The scent of home fills my heart and lungs when I breathe in the aromas of the kitchen. I breathe in thankfulness for each puff my daughter takes, as we sit together in the cloud of steroids steaming from her nebulizer, grateful for doctors and medications and God’s grace that will eventually restore her ability to move fresh air through her little lungs. And I am so blessed to feel His presence covering my family during this scary ordeal.

Sometimes I notice I am short of breath because I run around from one task to the next, never taking a break. Sometimes stress feels like a weight on my chest and I can’t quite seem to fill my lungs the way I’d like to. And other times I hear God telling me to be still and know He is God, and I am blessed with a glorious, calming, refreshingly deep breath. Are you breathing deeply today? Tell us about it!

Monday, August 20, 2007

10 Things You'll Never Hear Me Say

I was "tagged" by fellow writer Jan Parrish to list 10 things you will never hear me say. I use the expression "never say never" on a regular basis, so this is a hard list for me to write, but here it goes:

1. No thank you, I don't eat dessert.

2. Thank you for offering to baby sit for free, but I'd rather pay you.

3. I don't do vacations.

4. Please drop by any time, my house is always clean and ready for unexpected visitors.

5. Is there a game on TV tonight, honey?

6. I would love to mow the yard.

7. Ah shucks, I'm all done ironing!

8. I don't feel like writing so I think I'll read over my insurance policy instead.

9. Could you please take a little longer with my oil change because I really enjoy sitting in your waiting room?

10. Kids, will you please come keep me company in the bathroom?

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Thoughtful Tongue

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:18

This week I received the blessing of laryngitis. Of course, on many levels it didn’t seem like a blessing. The frustration of not being able to communicate verbally was almost overwhelming for a motor mouth like me. Every time I tried to talk, it resulted in harsh, painful fits of coughing. When the phone rang, it sat unanswered. My unreturned messages piled up, because the person on the other end could not hear me if I tried to answer. It was a difficult week, to say the least.

However, my inability to speak gave me a chance to ask myself two questions. How much of what I say is truly valuable for others to hear? What do my actions say in spite of my words?

During my bout of laryngitis, I could only whisper a few words before the coughing started, so I had to pick those gems carefully. It made me realize how many extra syllables leave my lips simply to fill air space or to be a part of a conversation, even though they don’t have much true meaning. I also realized how my words and actions don’t always align, especially with my children. My mouth says I’ll pour a cup of apple juice, but my body stays at the computer to send one more e-mail. My mouth tells the kids I’ll go to the park with them, but my body sits down next to a friend we run into once we get there.

This is why I say the torture of laryngitis was actually a blessing. It gave me the chance to quietly evaluate how I use my words without my own voice getting in the way.

Perhaps the best part of laryngitis is that, even with no voice, God hears me. And without the distraction of talking to other people, He and I got in some much needed quiet time.

What are you struggling with when it comes to talking or the way you use your voice?

Friday, August 3, 2007

Impossible Balance

My kids’ summer vacation is nearly over and we haven’t done all of the fun things I planned. We haven’t yet been to the zoo, the amusement park, or a nearby canyon for a day of hiking. However, the personal projects I hoped to complete over the summer remain undone as well. My closet is still the same mess it was last spring and the new tile I bought for my bathroom sits waiting on the counter, still uninstalled. These projects remain undone because, although we haven’t done everything I hoped for, the kids and I have gone on a two week vacation, been swimming many times, gone to my daughter’s baseball practices and games twice a week, and on and on and on.

When it comes to budgeting my time, my kids get the biggest piece of the pie. And I want it that way. I am acutely aware of how quickly they grow up and how precious these years are when they actually want to do things with me. It won’t be long until their summers are filled with camps and jobs and friends, and I’ll be off hiking on my own. I want to make the most of every day I have with my kids while I still actually have them.

But in the mean time, my adult projects are piling up and stressing me out. I’m not sure where the concept of a “balanced life” originated, because it is an unreachable goal. It is impossible to give equal amounts of attention to your children, your spouse, your work and your home. And who would want to? The people in my life are far more important than my “to do” list, so why wouldn’t I give them priority status when it comes to dividing my time?

According to scripture, Jesus didn’t lead a “balanced” life at all. His attention wasn’t on home repair or planning the perfect anniversary dinner for his wife. He had one, singular focus – ministry. He didn’t try to have it all. So why do we?

The real question is, how do I avoid feeling guilty or stressed over the jobs that remain undone. Let’s hear your ideas and suggestions!