Sunday, August 31, 2008

14 years

I've known Carlos for 14 years now--over 1/3 of my life, almost 1/2. I can still remember when we first met. It was Spanish Club. I have never had such a strong reaction to anyone at our first meeting. I forced myself to take incredibly detailed notes of a very boring meeting just so I wouldn't stare at him the whole time (I still stared a lot). It also provoked an argumentative internal dialog between my rational self and my intuitive self.

Intuitive Self--swoons (OK, perhaps I've read too many historical romance novels)

Rational Self--Get a grip. He's probably married.

Intuitive Self--He's not wearing a ring.

Rational Self--You don't even know if he's a Christian.

Intuitive Self--Yes, he is. I can tell.

Rational Self--Based on what? The only words he's said so far are his name and "nice to meet you"--hardly conclusive.

Intuitive Self--No, there is something about him...

Rational Self--snorts and rolls eyes

We met a few days later at our city's Hispanic Festival. He was wearing a Christian T-shirt (Intuitive Self: sticks out tongue). He and my mom had a nice conversation while I tried to keep Intuitive Self on a leash. As soon as we left, she turned to me and said, "You need to marry him. And you would have gorgeous children". (Intuitive Self: applauds and cheers Mom). Turns out that Intuitive Self was on to something. Dating was weird and had some twists and turns, but we have been very happily married for over nine years. I am so very, very glad that we met and that we married. He is an amazing person, husband and father. I enjoy him so much. He makes me more myself. Mom was right about the gorgeous kids, too. :)

Friday, August 29, 2008

What richness!

I was still chuckling at the whole-hearted enthusiasm my kids have for cooking. If something is good, you should use a lot of it! So after appreciative sniffs of vanilla and cinnamon, they added a generous amount to our “crumpets”. That was still in my mind while reading again the first part of Ephesians, and it struck me how closely they were imitating our Father.

1:3—“…who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing…”

1:6—“to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us…”

1:7-8—“…forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us…”

1:18-19—“…the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us…”

The next verses describe how all-encompassing is Christ’s power, present and future, over all things, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

2:4—“But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us…”

2:7—“…that He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us…”

Nearly every verse comes back to remind us of the lavish generosity and richness of God’s love, which doesn’t hold anything back. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in the next chapter:

“ For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

Now that is amazing, if we really stop and think about it. If like me, you are tempted to doubt, he goes on in the next verse:

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

There is so much in these verses. Don’t just gulp them down. Go back and savor them throughout the day. Maybe over tea and crumpets.

Tea and crumpets

Well, actually, we had tea and toasted muffins, but I'm sure it was as authentic as some of the "Mexican" food is here. The whole house smells like apples, cinnamon and nutmeg, brown sugar and vanilla...mmmmmmm. Ariana and Joel did the work while I directed, and the muffins are yummy. Here is the recipe we used:

1 1/2 C white rice flour
1/2 C tapioca flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 T baking powder
several shakes of cinnamon
a few shakes of nutmeg
about 1 C applesauce
3 T brown sugar
3 T melted butter
a large splash of vanilla (around 2 T???)
about 2/3 C milk
about 1/2 C of dried cranberries, blueberries and cherries

Stir dry ingredients together, then add wet ingredients. Spoon into well-greased muffin tins (should be full) and bake for about 25 minutes at 400. Serve with butter and brown sugar, and a lovely cup of hot tea with cream and sugar. The recipe made 6 large muffins, with a little batter left over that we fried up like pancakes but with a little extra butter. They were puffy and crispy and absolutely delicious. Real crumpets are made with yeast, but the pancakes looked similar to pictures of crumpets because of the extra baking powder. Ariana's favorite tea is Earl Grey, and the bergamot is really good with the spices and berries in the muffins. You can tell from the lack of precision in the measurements that Joel sometimes got very excited and dumped things in. :D

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I briefly tried to come up with something marginally funny or thought-provoking, or a cute story about the kids, or...or...something. Nope, I'm totally blank. Nothin' in my noggin (yes, I've seen Finding Nemo too many times). Something tells me this is a less-than-auspicious condition when I have to teach in a couple of hours.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A circle of smiles

This morning, I decided to fix raspberry chocolate chip pancakes. It was such a little thing, and we do it often, but the joy on the kids' faces would make you think that it was an incredibly special treat. While I was cooking, Elena started to fuss. So my two-year-old rocket patiently spent a full half hour gently rocking her and caressing her. She smiled up at him until she fell asleep. Every couple of seconds he would turn to me in delight and say, "Baby's happy, mami!". When he stopped, Ariana immediately gave up her time on starfall to go play with them both. Each time someone saw how happy the other was, their own smiles widened. It was a beautiful way to start the day. Now, however, I must go rescue the cantaloupe that they are using for a bowling ball before it breaks. At least they are taking turns with it. :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The pushing game

I hate hot weather. Even though our summer has been comparatively mild, I start sweating as soon as I get outside. But the kids need physical activity. So we played the pushing game today. I sit on the floor and the kids try to push me across the room. They love it, we connect both physically and emotionally, they get to work all their muscles, and nobody gets hurt. We even did this during the last trimester of my pregnancy.

Tomorrow we might do a jumping pile with all the pillows and cushions in the house. :)

Happy 2 month B-day, Elena!

I can't believe that she is already two months old. She is 11 lbs, 6 oz of total cuteness. She smiles a lot, and this morning she said "hi" twice (OK, so she was just mimicking Ariana and Joel--I'm still a proud mami:)) I'll try to get pics soon.

Isaac's sacrifice--the rest of the story

We are all familiar with the story of Abraham and Isaac. Isaac was the beloved, long-awaited miracle child. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his precious son, but just before the knife fell intervened and told Abe not to go through with it. As a parent, my stomach churns at the mere thought of losing one of my children. But I wonder about the rest of the story.

Did Sarah know what was going on? Did God or Abraham talk to her about this? If so, what were her thoughts and feelings? She was obviously a protective mother--what went through her mind and heart when she heard about this sacrifice? Did Abraham trust her enough to talk to her about it? Did she trust God enough to agree to it?

Perhaps even more importantly, why did Isaac go along with it? Abraham was very old--surely if young, strong Isaac had resisted, he could have escaped. Why did he allow Abraham to bind him and lay him on the altar?

It is possible, of course, that God somehow paralyzed him, or that Abraham tricked him into being bound and helpless. But, somehow, I don't think so. I believe that Isaac trusted God and his father enough to voluntarily agree to the sacrifice. And that leads me to wonder how that trust and faith were built through the years. Am I helping my children to know God in such a way that they will choose to give their lives to Him? I may never get the rest of the details of Isaac's side of the story, but I hope to see my children learn to love and trust God so much that they gladly lay their lives down as a living sacrifice.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My current night song

One of the benefits of co-sleeping is that I don't always *really* wake up to nurse the baby. But when I do, I savor the stillness and peace, where the only sounds are the breathing of the people I love most and sometimes the air conditioner (I feel pretty affectionate towards it, too, because I hate hot weather). It is my favorite time to pray.

Lately, a song from Rich Mullins (about 20 years ago--that makes me feel old) has been playing in my mind each time:

This part has been very real to me:

And I know sacred ears will listen
And holy hands reach out to touch
How can I keep myself from singing
Hallelujah! (Hallelujah!)
Hallelujah! (Hallelujah!)
Hallelujah! (Hallelujah!)
Hallelujah! (Hallelujah!)

Sacred ears are listening to every whisper in our hearts, holy hands are reaching out to touch us. Reasons to sing, indeed.

Material Girl

I don't think of myself as an acquisitive person. We've never had a lot of money, and I have always been content. I'm fashion-impaired, so buying lots of clothes, shoes or jewelry has never been a priority for me. Between Ariana's hand-me-downs and the gifts she has been given, the only clothing I have bought for Elena is two pairs of pajamas that I picked up last weekend. One might think I am protesting too much. One would be right.

The unlikely source for my current attack of I-must-buy-this-right-now? Cloth diapers. I just tried a medium Fuzzi Bunz on Elena and it fit! (Well, it is a *tiny* bit big, but she can definitely wear them). Now I am positively lusting after the gingham pink floral one. We first started cloth-diapering with Joel, and so we have no pink ones. And I normally don't even like pink that much. But it is taking every ounce of self-control I have to not order several right now.

Whenever anyone ask me about cloth diapers, I mention how much money you can save. In theory, and even in practice, this is true. After all, we are using the same ones we got over two years ago, and wouldn't have to buy any more until Elena is potty trained. We saved several hundred, if not over a thousand dollars, with Joel. I am sure we will with Elena, too. I.must.resist.

On the other hand, I do have a coupon that expires at the end of the month...

Random odds and ends

Coffee is sooo good. I've got a lovely large mug (a gift from Heather :)) full of coffee made with beans that Carlos brought back from Mexico, sweet cream and a hint of cinnamon. I firmly believe that there will be coffee in heaven. And chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

The first week of school is over (for me--and almost for Carlos). I've got a class that meets for an hour and a half twice a week. It is the perfect size for a language class--about 15--and there are some fun and dedicated students. One, in particular is very vocal. She has opinions, suggestions and questions on everything related to our class, as well as on a wide variety of topics that have nothing to do with Spanish. She is really nice and I've been able to smile and just keep our class focused on the lesson.

Another told me that she has taken the class six times and failed each time. She wanted to know if I though she could pass. Oh, my. Frankly, I can't imagine taking the same class 7 times. I didn't know whether to be impressed by her perseverance, or to doubt her efforts (or her veracity). I settled for letting her know what she'll need to be able to do in order to pass. I'm still puzzled by this, though. If there is a learning disability involved (and I have no indication that there might be) why on earth hasn't someone caught it by now? Why would anyone spend the time and money to take a class seven times without either giving up or learning enough to pass? And who did she have before? I am known as one of the toughest Spanish teachers in the college in terms of grading, and most of my students pass. I am curious about how this is going to turn out, but I hope that this time she succeeds.

Another class starts in a couple of weeks. It will use the new textbook, which will be quite an adjustment. I think that instructors sometimes get attached to the book they start out with (sort of like imprinting on baby ducks). I love our old book, but we'll see how this one goes.

I definitely miss Elena while I am in class. It is funny, because she is not on a schedule, and so she will normally go anywhere from a few minutes to about 2 hours between nursing. Since the class is an hour and twenty minutes, I am gone about two and a half hours. So far, each day my milk has started flowing exactly at the time she started fussing. How cool is that, that God has made us so connected that even miles apart our bodies are in synch?

I am happy about the weekend. I love having Carlos home all day. I'm looking forward to spending time with my sister and my sister-in-law--two of my favorite people in the world--and I know the kidlets are always delighted to see them.

I desperately need to clean house. My motivation in that area has never been particularly high, and even less since Elena was born. It seems so futile. I'll just need to mop/vacuum/wash clothes-dishes-etc again in a few minutes. And if Elena is sleeping, the other two need attention or I need time to relax or work on school stuff. If she is awake, she is probably nursing :D. The wrap helps a lot, but ... Yes, I admit it. These are excuses. But I've convinced myself. It'll all still be there to do this evening, right?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tantrums: Be angry and do not sin

I am a self-confessed parenting-book-junkie. Even ones that I strongly disagree with interest me. Nearly all of them have a section on tantrums, and most of them say the same thing: either punish or banish the children until they are ready to 'be sweet'. Especially in Christian circles, although it also occasionally pops up in secular ones, rarely are we taught how to deal with strong feelings--instead, the underlying message is that they simply shouldn't exist. If you are sad, angry, frustrated or even frightened, you must at least pretend to be calm and quiet. If you are a child, then you have even less right to express your feelings, especially if an adult would consider the reason trivial (...or I'll give you something to cry about!).

Now, to be clear, in our house, hurting people or property is never an option, regardless of how strong the feelings are. And, particularly in public settings, it may be necessary to go someplace more private so as not to disrupt others. But I think it is worth examining our reactions to a child whose emotions are not all sweetness and light. Even Jesus got upset. There is nothing wrong, in itself, with being angry or sad or any other emotion. If we were His parents, how would we react? Would we hit Him? Send Him to His room until He was happy again? Or would we be more motivated to "weep with those who weep"?

As adults, most of us still throw our own version of a tantrum, just in a more sophisticated way. We don't lie on the floor or kick and scream (at least, I hope not!), but how many of us have lashed out verbally at someone, with hurtful or sarcastic words or yelling? And while it is easy to smile at the unimportance of the little thing that triggers a toddler's meltdown, have you ever overreacted simply because you had already had more than you could take emotionally? Maybe you were short on sleep or not feeling well, or hungry and needed a snack, and one little thing pushed you over the edge? I've certainly BTDT.

I've had times where I was stressed about a situation at work, tired and cranky, and snapped at Carlos. He didn't deserve it. So, as a Christian, and someone who loved me, how should he respond? He could retaliate in kind (punish) or just ignore me or give me the silent treatment (banishment/time out/etc) until I started acting 'sweet'. After all, that is the suggested deterrent, right? Otherwise, we are 'rewarding bad behavior'. But then what? If he made a sarcastic comment back, chances are it would just escalate and I would send a zinger right back. If he simply froze me out, I would be hurt, even if I recognized the illogic of it. And if he made any comment about avoiding me until I was 'sweet', it would not go over well at all.

On the other hand, what if he came up and put his arms around me and listened to what was wrong? I wouldn't start cackling inwardly because I 'got away with it'. Instead, I would probably melt, and genuinely apologize for snapping. We would be connected and he would be helping to bear my burden. Thank God, I married a wise man, and he would probably choose the last option. :)

Another thing--have you ever started crying and not been able to stop? Isn't it the most awful feeling? I remember a time when I was hormonal and stressed. I hadn't slept well, etc, and I started sobbing (over something that was truly not the end of the world--we are all still here, after all) and the more I tried to stop the worse it got. I was so embarrassed and frustrated--I hate losing control--but I still kept crying. How frightening it must be as a toddler to have such powerful emotions and not always be able to turn it off on cue!

I know that 'doing unto others' falls short sometimes because we all respond differently (Joel wants to be held during a meltdown, Ariana usually doesn't), but at least it is a good starting point. I am sure that there are kids who like to be alone when they get that upset, too, and I think that is fine. Regardless, we can try to comfort in the moment. Then, when they are calm and able to learn, we can show them other ways to be honest about their feelings in socially appropriate ways.

One thing that I see in the books is encouraging children to 'use their words'. This is great. When it works. Ariana has always been really verbal, but if she is really upset, having her 'use her words' wouldn't always adequately convey the intensity of her feelings. (It doesn't always for me, either, and my vocabulary is far more extensive). For awhile, she would do an angry or sad dance for us. Another thing that worked well was to pretend to be an animal (if a lion felt that angry, how would he roar? How would an elephant stomp if she were that upset?).

By far the most effective for Ariana, though, was story-telling. Even in the middle of a meltdown she would stop to listen if we told her a story about another little kid who felt that way when x happened. It is funny, because even now she will ask for a story about how Sally felt when she wanted the toy but her little brother wasn't yet finished with it, or whatever, when she is trying to make choices about how to handle something. Joel hasn't gotten into stories as much--he usually needs to blow off steam physically--but I can see now why Jesus told stories so much.

There are a lot of other ways where children can honestly and openly share their feelings, such as through painting or drawing. Perhaps writing a song. King David came up with some pretty intense songs, and I love it that they are included in the Psalms!

I am so grateful that God responds to my cries, and that He is patient with me. Just like my children, I am still growing and learning, and from an eternal perspective, much of my wailing seems unnecessary and even obnoxious. Yet He still promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes. What an amazing Father we have!

Is the glass half full, half empty, or just full of allergens?

Like a growing number of families, we are obsessed with food because of food allergies. We are currently avoiding wheat, eggs, corn, green beans, olives (and olive oil), pork, tree nuts and black beans because of reactions that Ariana and Joel have. We also avoid peanuts and shellfish because our kids are so allergic to other things. I react to soy protein, and we were dairy-free for a year and a half because of Joel's reactions when he was a baby. If someone becomes allergic to rice, I will pull out my hair strand by strand.

On the half empty side, I get sick of scrutinizing every bite and carrying Epi-pens everywhere. I feel bad when someone graciously offers us something to eat and I either refuse or grill them on ingredients and cross-contamination issues instead of just joyfully thanking them. Do you have any idea how hard it is to avoid corn?! It is in EVERYTHING! It makes me sad when the kids ask for something they can't have or have to eat something different from everyone else at social occasions, even though they handle it well. I know that Elena is also genetically predisposed to allergies, and I fight the temptation to worry. Starting solids with her is going to be stressful, though we have several months before that will be an issue. I am hoping that the kids outgrow some of the allergies

On the half full side, I am so relieved that we know what was causing the reactions. The couple of weeks before Joel was tested, I was on pins and needles with each meal, fearing another reaction. Also, I am grateful that most of the reactions are fairly mild and quickly controlled with Benedryl. I am glad that the physical reactions like hives caused me to learn more about reactions such as behavior issues, sleep issues and potty issues. For example, if Ariana gets any wheat, she goes wild. She'll be bouncing off the walls, incredibly LOUD, prone to emotional meltdowns, aggressive, and won't sleep well. If not for the allergist (and seeing the difference without wheat) I would have thought these were discipline issues rather than an allergic reaction, but according to the doctor it isn't at all uncommon. I know several kids who respond the same way to food dyes. Dairy causes bladder spasms in some children, and the list goes on and on.

Another benefit is that we are much more aware of what we eat and I'm becoming a better cook :) The kids love to help me cook. This morning, we made a tropical cake (bananas, coconut, pineapple and white chocolate, and a brown sugar glaze--yum!). They love measuring and adding ingredients, and since we do so many experiments rather than following recipes, they are quite creative about suggesting substitutions and combinations. We have a lot of fun, and most of it tastes pretty good. The kids already know quite a bit about cooking and baking, and we have a wonderful time together.

So, overall, yeah, I think it is...two-thirds full? Maybe even three-quarters? ;)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Olympic memories

The Games this summer have brought back a lot of memories of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where I worked as a security guard. Seeing the different badges made me think of all the procedures we learned. A little blurb on the Olympic pins reminded me of the special pins only given to security officers. I was fortunate to get to work with the athletes and meet several of them.

I remember the surprise, arrogance and finally humor of one who tried to get into the athletes' lounge without proper ID. He couldn't believe that I didn't recognize him and let him in. Afterwards, he made it a point to be sure that I had *my* ID each time he came in. I was amused to see that he has his own bachelor reality show on TV now.

I remember the graciousness of the coach for another athlete, who also needed help with his ID, but didn't speak English. I spoke to him in Spanish, and he later brought me a special souvenir when his athlete won the silver medal.

Another gold-medal winner couldn't stop talking about how excited he was that his little brother had become a preacher. That seemed to mean far more to him than the Olympic Games.

I remember the police dog who was assigned to one athlete who had been attacked previously. Such a beautiful, intelligent and gentle animal.

And I wonder what became of another athlete who will always be in my heart. She was only 15, and she had a habit of ditching the security escort to and from the courts. I stuck with her, and we started talking some. She was interested in why I seemed so happy. On one of the last days, I told her that God loved her, and she started crying. She said that there was no way He could love her after the things she had done. She was only 15. I shared some Bible verses with her and prayed with her. She gave me her address, but I didn't hear back from her. I hope that she came to realize how deeply she is loved.

Anything boys can do, girls can do better

When Joel was born, I was warned by several wise, experienced parents to keep an extra diaper or towel handy during diaper changes. Well, this morning while I was changing Elena, she proved her own abilities in that regard, and sent a stream of pee arcing through the air that exceeded anything her brother had done. The height and range that she achieved was truly impressive. I told her so as I sopped up my dripping clothing. She smiled modestly, as if to say, "Oh, that was nothing, really. Watch this!" Then before I could move out of the way, she launched another stream, this time of lovely, mustardy poop. The trajectory was not as great as before, but the amount was copious enough to decorate both my clothes and the bed. She has been smiling ever since. Because I choose to believe the best about my children, I am going to assume that her grins are not really the satisfied smirks that they resemble, but simply the result of being more comfortable now. I needed to shower and change the sheets anyway.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Healer, the Believer and the Warrior

For those of you who haven't seen our kidlets much, let me introduce them:

Ariana is my fabulous four year old. She is also my friend--we have great conversations and love to share a cup of tea. She is very sensitive to others and will pick up unerringly on emotional undercurrents. In fact, she empathizes so well that we have to work at giving her tools to handle feelings before they overwhelm her. She loves art, and her favorite activities usually involve drawing or painting. She also loves to cook. Right now she is into butterflies and superheroes. Every night before going to sleep, she an Carlos swap stories about Firestar (her alter ego), Spiderman, various villans, and Ipis and Upis (invented by Carlos). Much of her time is spent dancing and riding her bike. Ariana is also very content to do her own thing and occupy herself. Like me, she sometimes gets focused on her own thoughts or activities and tunes out everything else. She is fiercely protective of others, and if she perceives any need to defend someone she loves she doesn't hesitate for a second. She'll also grasp concepts quickly and think about them long after I've forgotten an incident. She has tremendous compassion. Before she was born, there were some words saying she would be a healer. She loves science and biology, so I could see her studying medicine, but regardless of her career choices, I know her love will bring God's healing into other people's lives.

Joel is our two year old dynamo. He is in perpetual motion. If an object can be climbed, jumped off of, or crashed into, he will do it. (Some of you remember when he jumped off a 6' slide a few months ago). He will make a marvelous stuntman . He is also extremely affectionate, and gives lots of hugs and cuddles. At night, he will wriggle around until he is touching as many of us as possible. He is fascinated by trains, planes and automobiles. He has Carlos' athletic ability and can throw things with remarkable strength and accuracy (we are working on limiting this to objects like soft, squishy balls that are unlikely to injure anyone). He delights in making us laugh. He is quick to help out. He is also devoted to his sisters and makes sure that if he is given anything--a piece of candy, a toy, whatever--that they get one, too. In spite of his physical rough-and-tumble propensities, he is very gentle with his sisters. If he sees someone who is sad, he instantly tries to cheer them up. His grin is contagious. It is a good thing that we aren't really into punishment, because his smile is so cute that he would wiggle out of it often. He loves to eat, and to cook (most days he and Ariana both help with every meal). He also like hot coffee. Before I ever took the pregnancy test, I felt like God told me that he would be a child of faith. I can see already the trust and fearlessness that he has, and I know that this kid can turn the world upside down.

Elena is not yet two months old, so we are still getting to know her. She has an adorable smile and her cheeks and chins are growing daily. She likes being snuggled and carried in the wrap, and lots of leche. As with the other two, before I even took a pregnancy test, I woke up in the middle of the night knowing that I was pregnant, and believing that God was speaking to me about the baby. I feel certain that Elena is going to be a mighty warrior, and while I hope that she doesn't have too many battles in store, I believe that she will be strong and courageous when they come.

What not to wear...

Fortunately, so far both Ariana and Joel take after their tias more than me when it comes to fashion sense (when they deign to wear clothing, that is. Both are very happy nudists most of the time). But even so, fashion is a trial and error thing sometimes.

A moment ago, Joel came up to me covered in lunch. He struck a pose--"TA DA! Mami, I'm wearing pizza!" He certainly was. After contemplating it for a moment, though, he decided he was ready for a change. "Mami, I don't want to wear pizza anymore. I want ropa (clothing) now."

Unlike the stereotypical boy who loves to be dirty, Joel is fairly fastidious, and would bathe several times a day. He quickly washed up (after first sharing a very saucy kiss with Elena) and put on a T-shirt. I offered him a pair of his favorite Spidey undies. "No, t'anks." Joel's idea of the well-dressed man includes a shirt and shoes (he is very into shoes), but not underwear or pants/shorts. But hey, he potty-trained himself as soon as he turned two, so at least there is no diaper, either.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

In the presence of my enemies

Another recycled note from a few months ago:
So far, the best solution I have found for pregnancy insomnia is to meditate on Scripture and pray. After all, it put even the disciples to sleep, right? Last night, after waking up for the fourth or fifth time, I was mentally reciting Psalm 23 when I got to the verse that says, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…”. It reminded me of a time when God used that verse to really encourage me.

I had this picture of a war scene—heat, ear-shattering explosions, the stench of smoke and decay, bullets flying everywhere and soldiers so bone-achingly weary that terror had been dulled and replaced by a glazed, grim determination to keep going till it was somehow over.

Photo by OiMax on Flickr
In the middle of this battle, God suddenly appears and starts setting this elegant table. There is an immaculate white tablecloth, beautiful china, sparkling crystal and shining silverware. Mouth-watering, luscious foods are displayed (many of them featuring chocolate). And with the bullets whizzing past my head, God smilingly invites me to sit down.

The incongruity makes it all seem so ridiculous. I feel bewildered and almost angry. “Um, Lord? This is great, but we’re in the middle of a war here. I don’t have time for this. After it’s over, we’ll celebrate the victory, but I’m fighting right now.” He replies simply, “But you need this now.”

Photo by Aidan.Morgan on Flickr
I’m anointed with fragrant oil that drives away the stink of war and soothes and heals the dry, chapped places on my skin. Instead of a mere cup that is over-flowing, for some reason I picture an elaborate fountain full of cool water. And suddenly over the booming noise of battle, I hear myself giggling and splashing in the fountain just like my children would. All the grime and muck is rinsed away, and God and I are playing and laughing together.

The funny thing is, throughout all this, my enemies have never stopped. The battle is still raging around me, but the enemy is just wasting ammo.

I know that some of you are in a long-term fight, and that it can be overwhelming. Please know that I am praying for you, that you will be able to lie down in green meadows, rest beside still waters and have your souls restored, that you can be nourished and refreshed even in the presence of your enemies.

I need to become like a child

I was looking back through notes I had written, and found these from a few months ago:

When I was pregnant w/ Joel, I was so concerned about how the kids would get along. I wish that I could say our expert parenting produced this wonderful relationship, but I think it is just the way their personalities mesh. A couple of moments from yesterday that made me smile:

Ariana went into full four-year-old meltdown mode because "her broccoli wasn't green enough." I was not as sympathetic as I could have been, although I figured out later that what she meant was that she wanted only the florets and not the stems. Joel, however, immediately ran and started hugging and kissing her, and saying "I sowwy, Nana (Ariana)." She hugged him back tightly, forgetting about the broccoli, and in a couple of moments turned to me with a huge smile and said, "Joel sure loves me a lot, doesn't he?" Then they went back to the table and shared the rest of the broccoli.

Last night, as he started to get sleepy, she began to stroke his head and sing a little song about how much she loved her Joel. There was so much love in their eyes as they snuggled close. Finally, he fell asleep as she continued to caress his head and sing to him. wub.gif

I have to share a brag on her that happened just now. We've been working on short Bible verses during our breakfast time the last few days, but I wasn't sure how much sunk in. Well, just now, she asked me what 'patient' means. I told her that it means waiting without getting angry, even when it is hard, and that sometimes it is very hard for me to be patient, but that if I pray God helps me. She immediately prayed one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever heard asking for God to help her be patient while Joel took his turn on the slide, and thanking Him for loving us so much. :wub: Then she happily repeated 'Love is patient, love is kind," until he finished.

I need to put things into practice that well!

Baby Elena's birth story

I can't believe that Elena is already 7 weeks old. This is her birth story:

I started having some contractions Wednesday afternoon that made me wonder if labor was starting--it was. :) I called my wonderful friend and doula to see if she would check. She came and helped so much--the difference it made just having her there was amazing. She kept me laughing and relaxed with some stories of her son, who is a good buddy of Joel's, and tirelessly applied pressure and massage. By around 5:30 AM she said I was at around a 7, and if we were going to go to the hospital that we should get going. So we got to the hospital, checked in and labored a couple hours there. I was so surprised when they checked and I was ready. I had certainly had some painful contractions, but nothing unbearable by any means. I was in as much or more pain with the previous two births, and I hadn't gone through much labor at all with them.

I am a total wimp when it comes to pain, and I loved my epidurals with Ariana and Joel. I got them at around a 3 or 4 with both--basically as soon as I checked in to the hospital. I had always thought that I would do the same thing with any future births, but almost as soon as I found out I was pregnant, I felt very strongly that I should not do that this time around. I didn't know if there might be some type of reaction or error, but the feeling never went away, so I talked with Heather and some online friends, and got encouragement that I could do it. Then Heather became our doula and worked with us and I felt more and more peace about the whole thing. I couldn't believe how well things had gone.

Things got confusing for me really quickly. It was time to push, my water broke, and my OB mentioned that he could see part of the cord. He and the nurses got very serious and started telling me to push. Carlos later told me that they had all turned white. I was so inwardly focused that I didn't follow what was going on very well, but I could tell by Carlos' voice and Heather's that I needed to push as much as I could. It turned out that the cord was looped across the top of her head. The pushing and birth were far more painful than the rest of the labor, probably because I was so tense. It seemed like forever, although the OB said it was just four pushes, but Elena arrived safely.

******Heather wrote this:

The OB checked once right after he got to the room and had her push once. Then he checked again, bag and baby had come down some but he thought he felt a cord in the bag before he felt head (so it was: bulging membrane, a loop of cord, head). He had the RN check as well and she felt it too ("Oh crap", she said after feeling it). He commented that heart tones had been great so far (and they had been at home as well whenever I listened). Then he told Dulce that with the next contraction she needed to push...and push hard...that baby needed to come out. She did and the water gushed.

At that point the OB switched from sitting relaxed on the end of the bed to standing, holding back the cord while stretching the perineum (I'm still amazed she didn't tear with all the stretching he was doing!!!). I was trying to focus on Dulce and giving her a calm but firm voice however, I could hear the fear in the OB's voice telling her to push. The next time I looked down I could see a good portion of Elena's head and just a couple seconds later the entire head was out. smile.gif*****

Later, the OB and nurses told us how serious things had been. There were so many things that came together for a good outcome. If I had had an epidural, if my waters had broken early, if I had had a different OB, if... they agreed it would have been an emergency C-section, and likely brain damage if she had made it. Carlos and I are still dazed with gratefulness that God worked out so many details and that everything turned out so well. Her Apgars were 9 and 9, and she immediately latched on and started nursing perfectly.

Of course, all of us are dazzled by her sweetness, her cuteness, her delightful baby smell, and all her other attributes. :) She has a ton of thick black hair, extremely kissable cheeks, and adorable expressions. She was 8 lbs, 3 oz, 21" and was considerate enough to not even tear me a little on her way out. Nursing has gone really well, although I have an oversupply and OALD that I hope to tame soon. She had some jaundice that kept us in the hospital a few days, so we are all tired and glad to be home together.

The hospital was great. No one even blinked when I declined the Hep B and eye ointment, they assumed that she would room with me, and a couple of nurses even expected her to sleep with me. Even with the high bili levels, nobody mentioned formula, although once it got around that I had been breastfeeding non-stop for the last 4.5 years, they probably assumed it wasn't worth bringing up. :D I am guessing the IBCLC on staff shared that, because I had a couple of nurses say later, "Oh, *you're* the one...". Being away from the kids and Carlos so much longer than we expected was hard, but we are just glad that it wasn't anything more serious.

Ariana adores her. She delights in caressing her and holding her. Joel is very loving, but he also told us that baby Elena was "all done with leche, and now it is his turn". :D Carlos is delighted with her, and has been wonderful at holding everything and everyone together. We have so very, very much to be thankful for.

Sleeping like a baby

I'll save my feelings about sleep training and letting babies cry it out for another post, but last night as Elena was nursing to sleep, I noticed again how her peace reaches out and calms me. I was tired and had an allergy headache, but as she snuggled in my arms I let go of everything else. She smiled a couple of times, then made her little baby noises. A little milk dribbled out of the corner of her mouth as she instantly relaxed into sleep. I could smell her hair and feel her soft breath on my face. She was so content. And so was I.

The Bible is full of wonderful verses about sleep, but I especially love the imagery from Deuteronomy 33:12, 27 "...Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders...the eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

One of the most beautiful experiences we can have is falling asleep in the arms of our beloved. I am so glad that my wonderful husband had the foresight to get a king-sized bed. Waking up snuggled with our whole family and having the transition time between being asleep and awake full of cuddles and giggles is my favorite way to start and end our day.

Shame off you!

My Love
Image credit Jennuine Captures on Flickr

As I prayed this week about what to share, the one thing that kept coming was, “Tell them I love them”. I am embarrassed to say that my first response was almost to write it off. I mean, we all know that already, right? It is the first thing that we learn as believers—Jesus loves me. But the more I listened, the more I realized how easy it is for us to lose that message. Somehow, it gets watered down in our minds to mean “Jesus tolerates me”. Am I the only one guilty of this?

I look at the deep love I have for my husband and children, and the delight I have in them, yet it is so easy to doubt that God delights in me. I don’t doubt that He has forgiven me, but for some reason, a part of me expects Him to look at me with…I don’t know…disappointment? Resignation? As though loving me is merely an obligation on His part.

The good news is, the Bible paints a very different picture of His love for us. It is passionate, joyful, aching for intimacy with us!
“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph. 3:17. Imagine that—the King of the Universe is so delighted with you that He sings about it! One version says that He shouts for joy!

He wants us. He wants to be close to us. And I think that most of us long to be closer to Him. What impedes us? Sin, of course, but I think that often it is not the sin itself, but the shame. We give ourselves to Him and receive freedom and forgiveness, but we don’t always give our shame to Him. We hold onto it, replay things in our minds, and try to “punish” ourselves with reminders of how we have fallen short. And I think that breaks His heart.

He knows everything, right? So, He knew everything about us, all the mistakes we would make, all the faults, and He still decided that WE WERE WORTH LOVING. He isn’t disappointed in us, because to be disappointed, you have to expect something else. 

Obviously, He wants us to be free from sin. Romans 6 makes it clear that we are no longer to be in bondage to sin. But it is interesting to me that after that is dealt with, Romans 8 goes on to remind us that there is no longer any condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

Ironically, sometimes our very efforts to become closer to God are the source of our shame. Growing up, I would make all these promises to spend x amount of time praying, reading my Bible etc. The days that I didn’t reach my goal I felt so guilty. I still believe that those disciplines are important, but they aren’t my goal—the goal is spending time with Him. I’ve discovered the joy and intimacy of doing nothing with God. Just as some of my favorite moments with Carlos aren’t always about having deep discussions, but just snuggling close on the couch while I read and he watches TV or whatever. There is an underlying awareness of the other’s presence that makes us both smile inside.

God loves us. He really, deeply passionately loves us. He enjoys us. And He longs for us to let go of our shame, and step forward as His bride, radiant and beautiful in His eyes. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” Jer. 31:3. I hope that this week you will be filled with the sense of His presence throughout your day, that you will let go of any shame, and revel in His song over you.

An alternative Christian view of spanking

This is from a letter that Carlos and I wrote awhile back on spanking. I shared it on a couple of sites where I posted and have been surprised at how widely it has been shared. While we are learning as parents every day, even the difficult moments have reinforced our belief that the best parenting philosophy is very simple--treating our children as we would wish to be treated.

Dear Pastor,

We are so grateful for all of the ways that you have helped us to connect in a closer way with God. This of course has had a profound influence on our parenting. Yet, in light of a recent sermon, we would like to present to you an alternative Christian view on disciplining children. Christians, of course, are probably the strongest proponents of spanking in the US. It is, so they say, their God given right---it's what the Bible teaches. That is exactly the point of contention and what we hope to humbly disprove.

Let's take the Old Testament. Some (our more literal-interpreting brothers) would say that it covers a period of about 4000-10,000 years; others (our more moderate and liberal brothers), anywhere between 10,000 to millions and millions of years. Irrespective of which view you hold, it has to be astounding that there is not one example of spanking in the whole Old Testament. This is especially impressive when you consider the large percentage of OT books which are more narrative than didactic. We might also add that there is no example of spanking in the New Testament, even though the time period is significantly shorter (around 100 years) and the majority of the books are didactic and not narrative. Now certainly there are some didactic passages in both Testaments that can be construed as being pro-spanking, however, they can be interpreted in a different light with sound exegesis.

Strange, isn’t it, for a teaching that is so adamantly held by so many believers that it is not illustrated once in either Testament? But, even if no narrative biblical passage illustrates spanking, if it is plainly and consistently taught in didactic passages, then we must accept it as God ordained. In the Old Testament the only passages that can be construed as being pro-spanking are found in only one book: Proverbs. A good hermeneutical principal is to not build doctrine on poetic passages. The wisdom books are full of symbolism and hyperbole and are often a stumbling block to the more literal interpreting readers. The “rod” in these Proverbs passages that so many see as a license to spank is symbolic. This Hebrew word is often translated as shepherd’s “staff/rod” or king’s “scepter”. So, if we were to be more literal, a closer translation would be bat and not twig! But that is not the author’s intent. This “rod” is a symbol of authority and guidance, like a shepherd guiding his sheep or a king governing his people. This is why the Psalmist could joyfully exclaim: “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). We do not wish to pass over this lightly, because these verses are the foundation of the Christian pro-spanking argument. However, to avoid repetition, we ask that you read the following links www, and for a detailed analysis of these passages.

It is somewhat puzzling that the people who insist that spanking is Old Testament mandated claim the passages from a poetic book, yet dismiss clear instructions from a didactic passage in the Torah to stone rebellious children (Deut. 21:18-21). Why the inconsistency? You claim that one passage is obviously morally wrong. We submit that both are morally wrong, especially in light of the culmination of God’s progressive revelation---Jesus Christ, who taught us, among other things, that unless we “become like little children” we can never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:3. See also Mt. 19:14). Implication: children are more in tune with God than adults. Which raises the question: should the unrighteous be punishing the righteous?

While the Old Testament is of great value, we recognize that no longer being under the Law changes how we apply some of the OT Scriptures to our daily lives. So even if spanking is Old Testament taught that doesn’t mean it is New Testament endorsed. Throughout the New Testament the one passage used to support spanking is Hebrews 12:4-6. Going back to the original language there, however, also changes the meaning to the importance of discipline and authority in shaping a child, not physical punishment. God certainly disciplines us but He doesn’t physically hit us when he does. Read the text. Proper exegesis shows that the pro-spanking people simply choose to read into this passage the very point they need to prove.

So, if there are no passages in either Testament that truly encourage spanking, then we must evaluate discipline according to other principles that the Bible teaches clearly. Jesus teaches us that we have two goals: to love God with all that we are, and to treat others the way we would like to be treated. Nowhere does He imply that His words do not apply to how we treat children. In fact, His interactions with children showed a special effort to value them and their feelings. He also tells us that whatever we do to the least of these we are doing to Him. Can you honestly say that you would want someone to hit you? I can't. I can say truthfully that I would want loving correction and instruction if I were doing something wrong, but being hit/spanked/popped/smacked would not be a part of it.

Jesus’ example was that the one in authority had an even greater responsibility to act in love than the one under authority. We are to demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit. Yet how is hitting a child compatible with the peace, patience, kindness and gentleness in which we are called to walk? The Bible is very specific about how we should deal with sin in others: We are taught that in correcting those who disobey to do so gently (Gal. 6:1). Parents are specifically cautioned to not cause their children to lose heart (Eph. 6:4). Having the people you love most in the world deliberately hurt you is pretty disheartening, regardless of any lofty motives they may claim.

The Bible is clear that parents have a responsibility to discipline their children. But discipline and spanking are not the same thing. Discipline is about making disciples, or teaching. It is difficult for children to focus on a life-lesson, though, if they are distracted by the anger, hurt, fear, humiliation and resentment that result from being hit. As career teachers, our professional education classes and our years of experience with students of many ages have convinced us that the research is correct in showing that people learn more effectively through positive reinforcement than from punishment (negative reinforcement). You have seen this in the family of Kevan and Heather ********, whose children are delightful to be around. They do not spank, but instead practice gentle discipline.

Another important point is that most of us are able to learn best from example--that is why Paul wrote to be imitators of him as beloved children. Kids are expert mimics. Too many children in our nation are learning that the way to respond to an offense is to hurt the offender. “Turning the other cheek” is not supposed to mean baring a child’s bottom. We recognize that in other relationships of authority (employer/employee, police officer/civilian, pastor/church member, husband/wife) that physical punishment is inappropriate, even when correction is needed. Children are even more vulnerable—surely we can find better ways to correct them, as well.

When Christians teach spanking, the majority has several cute euphemisms to describe it and a list of guidelines as to how, when, and with what. There is absolutely no Biblical basis for any of them—they are essentially cultural. Whether you call it spanking, popping, smacking or hitting, they all mean to strike a child in order to produce pain and fear. Why do we feel the need to create so many guidelines: spank only on the bottom or legs, only X number of times, only with your hand/a switch/a paddle/PVC pipe (Michael and Debi Pearl, some of the most popular writers on spanking in Christian circles, advocate plastic plumbing pipe, and we were given a copy of their book by a pediatrician!). Is spanking on the bottom any better than the Waorani practice of slapping their children in the face with stinging nettles? Why, if neither results in permanent injury? If God didn’t impose a limit on the number of times we strike a child, who is to say that 9 times is worse than 2? While not spanking in anger is at least more likely to avoid a total loss of control and avert serious physical injury, watching the person you love and trust more than any other calmly and deliberately choose to hurt you is a chilling experience.

I would submit that the reason behind the euphemisms and rules that Christians create is that our conscience is condemning us. We are aware on some level that hurting those who are smaller and weaker goes against the nature of Christ, and feel a need to justify and minimize what we are actually doing.

Another issue with spanking is that as the child grows, the spankings must get harder and longer in order to produce the same level of pain and fear. When do they eventually start to cross the line into abuse? Of course, most parents stop spanking once the child begins to approach them in size and maturity. We agree that then it is more appropriate to use the Biblical admonition, “Come now, let us reason together…”. If the child is old enough to reason, spanking is unnecessary. If the child is too young to reason, then the child is too young to effectively understand what the parents are trying to teach, and the spanking is both cruel and pointless.

The false dichotomy that always pops up is that if parents don’t spank, they are not disciplining their children. That suggests that parents are relying on spanking as their main or only form of discipline. Permissive, lazy parenting is neglect. The responsibility given to parents is a great, even fearsome one. By choosing not to spank, we have gained deeper insight into our children’s hearts. It has challenged us to deal with anger and pride, and earnestly seek God’s wisdom, patience and love. Proactive parenting is more “work” than spanking, but already the rewards have been great.

There are so many alternative ways to discipline that result in harmony and renewed connection between the parent and child. Teaching a child to do right is much more effective than executing judgment for doing wrong. When we as parents obey our directive to treat others as we want to be treated, it causes us to get behind the eyes of the child and deal with the root of the problem rather than just suppressing an outward behavior. It is amazing to see a cycle of irritability and frustration break when the parent chooses to discipline by restoring relationship. Many parents assume a time-out is the default choice if parents don’t spank. However, often what children need is more time WITH the parents to reconnect, reassure and restore. Without turning an already lengthy letter into a book, if you are interested in other approaches, we would be happy to explain how we handle specific situations or direct you to sources that we have found beneficial.

The plan behind redemption is clear: God wants to reconnect with us. All of the history of the Law shows that merely punishing sin doesn't change the heart. What changes the hearts of our children is relationship. Obedience grows out of love and trust rather than a self-centered desire to avoid punishment. If children obey simply out of fear of being spanked, their motivation isn’t righteous, but only self-centered.

As a child of God, my choice for obedience isn't based on a fear of punishment. It isn't a get-out-of-hell-free card for me. It is because I love Him and have learned to trust Him. My children are learning to obey for the same reasons. If my children do wrong and repent, for me to go ahead and hit them seems very inconsistent with the way that God has forgiven my mistakes. I have a responsibility to show the same grace toward my kids that I have received. It is God's kindness that leads us to repentance, not His wrath.

We have chosen to look at this from a Christian perspective, but we find it interesting that the research is overwhelmingly against spanking. The American Academy of Pediatrics, like many other professional organizations involving children and health, has issued a statement against corporal punishment on the grounds that it is not nearly as effective as positive reinforcement and that it can be harmful physically and emotionally. In fact, there are some indications that spanking is associated with increased delinquent and antisocial behavior, increased risk of child abuse and spousal abuse, increased risk of child and adult aggression, decreased child mental health and decreased adult mental health. Consider this in the light of Jesus’ warning against causing little ones to stumble.

Sometimes it is difficult to discern what the Bible teaches on specific issues. You have often used the illustration of God playing hide and seek in order to encourage us to dig deeper and seek Him with all of our hearts. On the topic of spanking, He has given us glimpses of His heart--the parable of the unmerciful servant (Mt. 18:21-35), I John 4, James 2:13. None of these suggest ignoring or excusing sin, but they all teach us to be humble and loving as we show others, regardless of their age, a better way.

In closing, we chose to write this to you because of our respect for you. We know that you are someone who has the courage to look beyond the easy, superficial answers and the integrity to hold convictions that may not be popular. Believe us, in Christian circles not spanking is tantamount to heresy, but it is a very worthy cause. We humbly suggest that spanking is just another religiously transmitted disease. We love you and your family and are grateful that God has placed us under your spiritual leadership. May God bless you and your family.

Carlos and Dulce


I've resisted getting a blog until now for several reasons. I'm neither as witty nor as profound as many people whose blogs I enjoy. Also, I tend to do computer time in spurts, so I am apt to be a very sporadic blogger. But, it seems like fun at the moment, so why not? To counter the previously mentioned inconsistencies in posting, I plan to cheat and use some old letters and other posts, just to up the blog count.

Most of my thoughts are about relationships with my family and my God. Life has been full of joy, and I want to share my gratitude. Besides that, I am very opinionated, and this will be the perfect place for mounting my assorted soapboxes. So, my disclaimers are out of the way. I hope you find my posts thought-provoking and/or entertaining. Thanks for reading and joining me on the ride!