Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Do your children suffer from this?


I recognized myself in the symptoms. Perhaps it is hereditary? :D

Aztec Advice for my Children

Yeah, yeah, I know. The ancient Aztecs are, perhaps, not the first source that comes to mind as role models for parenting advice. Most people are acquainted with the Aztecs, or Mexica, as the Bad Guys from the story of the Conquest, and the primary image seems to be of them gleefully ripping out millions of still-beating hearts in gory, gruesome sacrifices.

The truth, of course, is far more complex. The Aztecs actually had an amazing society that was, in many respects, far superior (yes, I know it is subjective) to the European societies of the same era. Their legal system was impressive, they were the first society in the world that we know of to provide universal education for boys and girls (it wasn't until the 20th century that the US made educating girls a legal requirement), and their poetry and literature is some of the richest, most beautiful ever written.

Before any formal schooling, Mexica children were taught by their parents. Parents concentrated on teaching character, but the children also had many chores around the house. Boys learned to carry water and wood, and girls were taught to weave. The most important part of the early education, however, was learning the principle of self-control. This is some of the counsel that they gave their children:

Listen now, because I want to tell you how you will know to have worth in this world, how to come before god so that he will be merciful to you. For this I tell you that those who weep and afflict themselves and sigh and pray, who day and night seek his will with all their hearts, who sweep the streets and clean their homes and prepare the places where god is served with sacrifices and offerings, and those who are careful to offer incense to god—those who do this will enter into the presence of god and will become his friends, and receive mercy from him, and he will open up to you his heart, to give you riches and honor and prosperity, but this is because our god finds it good to be merciful, and not because you deserve it.

The only important thing is to become a friend of god—god who is everywhere, invisible and untouchable, the one who gives you a heart and a body. Watch that you do not slip off the path, be careful that you are not presumptuous. Watch that you do not think of yourself more highly than you should, but do not despise yourself either, and do not let your heart be troubled. Rather, be humble in your heart and have hope in god…

The second thing that you must note is to have peace with everyone. Do not be disrespectful to anyone. Respect everyone, and do not offend others. … Do not act as if you know everything. Be humble regardless of what others say of you, and do not answer back, even if they insult you. … Be patient and humble yourselves, for god sees you and he will respond on your behalf. Be humble with everyone and you will find mercy with god and he will honor you and lift you up.

The third thing that you must take care to note is not to waste the time that god gives you in this world. Do not waste the day or the night, because it is necessary, just as maintaining the body is. At all times sigh and pray to god, ask him for the things that you need. Occupy yourselves in doing things that will benefit you day and night—do not misuse or waste the time. Anyone who does all these things will find great good for himself and will live a long time on the earth.

A similar admonition, directed specifically to the daughters, states:

Here you are, my beloved little daughter, my necklace of fine stones...you are my blood, made in my image. You have been sent to earth by our lord, the owner of all, who created all people, who invented humanity. Now that you can see for yourself, realize this: don’t be vain or go through life without direction…listen, I have done all I can to make you understand that you are noble. See yourself as a precious thing, even when you are only a little woman….Be careful not to dishonor yourself…and as long as you live on the earth, you will truly be a beloved lady.

I apologize for the choppy translation--it was done quickly and not revised. If you are interested in more of this, I recommend anything by Miguel Leon-Portilla, Jacques Soustelle's classic on Daily Life of the Aztecs, Angel de Garibay's work on Aztec literature, and of course, Sahagun, with my usual apologies regarding accent marks.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Follow up to holding my tongue

Thank you again for all the wise responses. I appreciate your input so very much. I wound up taking elements from each of the responses. Since she had asked some questions about breastfeeding and I know that she wants to breastfeed, I went ahead and included a copy of the Sears' Breastfeeding Book. That was the only 'propaganda', and I think that she will appreciate the information in the book, and feel free to reject anything she disagrees with.

I also included The Ministry of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson. It is easily one of the most inspiring books I've ever read on mothering, and has a beautiful section on grace. It doesn't get into any parenting philosophies, and I can't imagine anyone finding it controversial. I know she loves devotional books, and I think this one will encourage her a lot. If she does enjoy it as much as I expect, she may want to read Clay Clarkson's Heartfelt Discipline book later.

I threw in another little gift book that is just full of beautiful little notes by Robin Jones Gunn, an assortment of chocolates, fuzzy socks, and a super-soft baby blanket.

We had a wonderful visit for a couple of hours, and I did not offer any unsolicited advice on vaccines, circumcision, or any of the other topics I'd love to share, and restrained myself greatly on breastfeeding advice, basically just responding to questions or comments that she made.

She took a class on it at their hospital and was very excited about learning a baby's hunger cues. Even though she has been around breastfeeding a lot, she hadn't realized that it is a much happier experience for everyone if you don't wait until the baby is crying. She was really enthusiastic about being able to avoid the crying there. I agreed, and added that in my experience, that was especially true of night time feedings. I mentioned that even though my babies woke up often, by nursing them before they started crying, we were all back to sleep within moments instead of having to calm everyone down first.

She also remarked that I had always had a strong milk supply, and I shared BlessedMama's comment that it helped to nurse whenever they were hungry, so that my body quickly adjusted to the amount of milk that they needed and I didn't fall into the cycle of having to supplement an inadequate and dwindling milk supply.

Ezzo was never mentioned, or direct stuff about CIO, etc, but I am excited to hear about her plans for breastfeeding and the steps she has taken to educate herself already on the topic.

Thanks again for the great advice!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Crocodile Tail...er, Tale

As narrated by Ariana, age 5:

Mom, did you know what I did today while you were gone? I saved someone! There was a man in a purple shirt with long sleeves, and a crocodile bit him! I think it bit him three times, or maybe it was four...I don't know. Well, after that, I tricked the crocodile. I told the crocodile to open his mouth so that he could eat a lollipop, and then when his mouth was open I pulled the man out and gave him to Baby Elena so that she could protect him. Then we gave the crocodile his lollipop. Well, he got cavities. The End. Um, mom, the story wasn't real.

If I hold my tongue, won't I get drool everywhere?

Photo by Leeni! on Flickr
I have several soapboxes in assorted sizes that I mount with regularity here. Offline, I try to show a little more tact, but in all honesty, I am not always successful. I recognize that bludgeoning someone over the head with my parenting philosophies is probably not going to be helpful, but the more I try to hold things in, the more likely it seems that eventually I blurt things out with more bluntness than grace. As a great coincidence (???), I am facing another opportunity to refine my approach.

A very special friend of mine is expecting her first baby. She was the one who first introduced me to GKGW (religious--I do not consider it Christian--version of Babywise). It sounds waaaay too dramatic, but I honestly think there is something almost demonic about that material. Aside from my strong disagreements with it, I've known of so many people (myself included) who, after reading it, even if they consciously rejected the ideas, still felt an insidious influence from its teachings.

We've been friends for many, many years. I've seen a lot of pain and some deep struggles that, in my opinion, stem from some of the practices and the general adversarial attitude that the whole Ezzo philosophy entails. She is constantly striving to please God, and I have no doubt of her love for Him, yet I've seen how this view permeates every aspect of her life and relationships. I know that she is very intelligent, and the type to read and study things, but I think all of her info is coming from the wrong sources. Her family is strongly in favor of all the Ezzo practices, from CIO before 6 weeks, scheduling feedings (and spanking toddlers for not finishing all their food), spankings before one year, etc.

I'm sure she knows that my views are a bit different, although we generally talk of other things. I would so love to share my heart completely, hand her a stack of good books, etc. But I don't want to just dump all over her or alienate her. I respect her and care about her, and I know that my tendency to come on too strong might obscure that. So, dear readers, I am asking your advice (even if I do not promise to abide by it ;) ).

I'll see her this week, and it may be the last time before the baby is born. I've thought of giving her the Sears' book on Christian parenting, Crystal Lutton's Biblical Parenting book, or Sally Clarkson's Ministry/Mission of Motherhood set. Even though the AAP and every other pediatric organization that I know of denounces Ezzo, since she is looking at it from a religious perspective, I doubt they would carry much weight. Or, should I just forget the books all together, get her a nice baby gift, and hope and pray that she will ask direct questions that give me the opportunity to explain my convictions?

Another option that occurred to me was to simply tell her up front that I have some very strong feelings about things that I would like to share with her, but that I don't want her to feel steamrolled, and that if she is interested, to ask, but that otherwise, I'll try to keep my mouth shut? She knows me well enough that I think we could both feel comfortable with this.

Gentle Readers, I am eagerly awaiting your suggestions. :)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Minutiae (mostly boring) of the last few days

I can tell that I'd gotten in the habit of posting more frequently--just a few days without computer access seems like so much longer. Our old, faithful laptop died (although I really hope for at least a temporary resurrection to retreive photos) and so we've been without a computer until now. I have to say, that although I was content with our old one, this is sooooo much nicer. For one, it has all of its keys (the old one was missing several). Secondly, it has a numeric keypad, which makes it much easier to type in Spanish.

On the medical front, it appears that our ped was satisfied with my unembellished "no, thank you" for vaccinations. It isn't something that I would have caved on, but I really hoped to avoid the hassle of changing everything with our insurance, so I am relieved. I appreciate all the encouragement from you all! Also, did anyone catch that they are now looking at a possible link between the Gardasil vax and an extrememly rapidly progressing form of ALS? I have a dear uncle who is currently suffering from ALS, and can only imagine the heartbreak of having one of my kids get it.

Ariana had an allergist appointment, and we are going in for a skin test for olives and green beans in a week or two. I honestly couldn't care less if we have to avoid green beans for the rest of her life, but with out trip to Puerto Rico, it would be a huge relief to not have to worry about foods cooked in olive oil (she broke out in hives the last time she had EVOO).

She also had another dentist visit. Ouch! (Not for her yet, but for us). I knew she had a couple of bad cavities, but the pediatric dentist we were referred to wants to do several crowns! Yikes! Apparently, they don't all have cavities yet, but the enamel is gone on her back teeth (maybe from the reflux she had when she was younger?) and she thinks this is our only option. I don't know--the family dentist said she needed some fillings only, but the ped dentist indicated that she needed much more extensive work. We had planned to stop by Disneyworld on the way back from Puerto Rico, but that is no longer an option.

Joelito was spinning around and around until he got dizzy yesterday, and fell and hit his ear on the door. He cried for a minute, but that was all, and acted like his normal self. Well, at bedtime, a couple of hours later, he started to say that he was afraid of vomiting. I admit it, I don't get easily rattled about myself, but I do with my kids. He then seemed fine (never threw up) and since it had been a few hours, we let him go to sleep. It didn't last long. He woke up in an hour complaining of ear pain. Of course, I'm thinking of Natasha Richardson, and ready to take him to the ER.

Carlos thought that it was mainly his stuffy nose that was bothering him, so we prayed for him and I took him to the couch (with his Spidey blankie and Iron Man blankie) and a flashlight to check his eyes. They were tracking fine, although he shut them too fast for me to check dilation. But we talked for awhile and he sounded completely normal--no disorientation or slurring. He fell back to sleep and I read all my medical stuff that basically said that he didn't need to see a doctor. Sitting upright did help his nose a lot, and he woke up fine except for a runny nose. Elena was also up every hour with a runny nose, both also have a mild cough today, and Ariana and Carlos seem to be getting a cold, too. I'm hoping it is just allergies for everyone.

The kidlets have been playing all evening yesterday and all day today with their play food and kitchen set. I moved it for them and arranged things a bit, and they have been so excited. I've eaten at least ninety plastic meals, and the variations keep coming. They've dubbed Elena the "petite sous chef", and have tirelessly created new delicacies for me to sample. It is very cute.

I go back to teaching tomorrow, unless class is canceled. After temps near the 80s a week or two ago, we are expecting a freak snowstorm to give us 3-6" of snow tonight and tomorrow. Typical for the extremes we get here, though. If we do get snow, I'm stocked up on reading material. I indulged in the Spanish translation of the latest Amelia Peabody adventure, and a quick peek indicates that the translation was really well done. I am looking forward to a long soak in the tub with the book and a hazelnut latte.

I can't remember if I posted about our latest coffeehouse and crepes find, but I'll save it for tomorrow. An amazing place. Also, I just finished reading Hold On to Your Kids. Wow. Not since Unconditional Parenting has a parenting book shifted my paradigm so thoroughly. It is a great book, and I think that even my more mainstream friends would appreciate it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A new day

I woke up this morning with all the windows open, a fresh breeze filling the house, warm little bodies on each side, and these verses, that have been echoing in my heart the last couple of weeks (so much that Ariana has been singing them with me):

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."

Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV

I also love the Contemporary English Version:

The LORD can always be trusted
to show mercy each morning.
Deep in my heart I say,
"The LORD is all I need;
I can depend on him!"

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Entonces, mami dice...sí

It isn't something Carlos and I ever actually discussed, I don't think, and I'm not sure exactly how it came about. My best guess is that Carlos got it intuitively, as he seems to do with so many parenting issues, and I read about it somewhere and then started working to implement it. But from the very beginning, we've enjoyed being able to say "yes" to our kids. I was laughing yesterday at how many times both Joel and Ariana completed the following pattern: they would make a request, explain why it was important to them, and Carlos or I would consider it, then we would all join in gleefully on the phrase, "Entonces, mami (o dadi) dice si'." *see footnote

Neither of the kids ever went through the typical toddler phase of saying no to everything, and we try to avoid the typical parent phase of saying no to everything, as well. It is amazing how deeply entrenched it seems to be in our programming. Especially when Ariana was younger, I was surprised at how often my default response was to say no. However, if I stopped to actually consider the request, there really wasn't a reason to veto it. Messy? Possibly. Requiring my attention and assistance? Probably. Dangerous? Usually not, provided the aforementioned attention and assistance, or at least not after a minor modification.

I remember as a kid a friend who wouldn't even ask her parents for permission to do things (and we are talking about things that my fairly conservative parents would have approved without hesitation) because she was pretty sure that the answer would be no. She decided at an early age it was easier on everyone not to even put them (or herself) in that position.

How often do we do that with God? Assume that He will say no, and not even bother to approach Him? Sometimes we may just do things our own way anyway, as if hoping He won't notice. For things that we are unable to wrangle on our own, sometimes we still hesitate to ask, as if it is too extravagant or too frivolous to expect our Father to care.

Being infinite means that nothing is too big OR too small. He cares about flowers and birds, and has even greater love for us. Read Matthew 6:25-34, 7:7-11, Romans 8, and the hundreds of other passages that depict a Daddy who delights in saying yes. You may find that "entonces, Dios dice...si'."

*Entonces...=Then, mami/daddy says yes. By the way, I have often wanted to post Spanish stuff in here, but I have problems with the accents and any other special characters when I hit publish and it refuses to accept the codes. "Si" has an accent mark over the "i"--without it, it means "if". Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice accuracy and just use an apostrophe.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Moving forward and backward

I seem to alternate between posting styles--parenting stuff, personal stuff, spiritual-type stuff. I think it is usually on the weekends when I tend to post the random collections of odds and ends about whatever we've been up to, so here goes. It is kind of funny, because some of it is disturbingly similar to previous events from a few months ago. Even the new stuff seems to have elements of deja vu.

Last Sunday was Elena's dedication (pics to come). It was very cool (although she slept through the whole thing), and brought back memories of Ariana and Joel's dedications, too. In reading the Old Testament, I was always impressed by how often it repeated that the firstborn was dedicated or set apart for God. For us, dedicating each of our children was a way of affirming our gratefulness and awareness of the responsibility and privilege of being their parents. We know that God is the Giver of Life, and that ultimately, they belong to Him. We believe that each has an amazing destiny ahead, and that already they are bringing transforming love into this world.

We changed Joel's carseat to forward-facing, but we may switch it back. He turned three back in January, and is over 30 lbs now, and I thought his seat was safe rear-facing to 33lbs. It is actually safe to 35lbs, so we have a little longer. Additionally, he has complained, nearly in tears, every time we've gotten in the van because he wants to be rear-facing again! Carlos is stunned, because Joel's legs were folded up quite a bit before, and this looks more comfortable, but Joel hates it. He wants to be able to see Elena from his seat. I know rear-facing is still safer, so we may change it back.

Poor Elena is missing random chunks of hair. I think my mother-in-law got scissor-happy while I was at work. Carlos didn't know anything about it this time. You may remember a post at the beginning of the year when Joelito's hair got whacked. I didn't say much to her then, because Carlos had approved it. I said plenty to him. Now I need to decide how much drama to create this afternoon, on her birthday--yeah, quite great timing, huh? It's awful, though--Elena had lovely hair already to her shoulders, and a beautiful shape, and now...well, let's just say that people will probably falsely accuse Ariana and Joel of playing barbershop with her. I know any comments will result in hurt feelings, but I don't want any more unapproved hair cuts!

On a happier topic, Spring Break is here! Carlos and I both have the entire week off! I am excited. Sometimes, our schools have been a week apart, which made things a little more complicated. I don't know for sure what we'll do, but probably a couple of day trips, maybe back to the Children's Museum. We had so much fun the last time. I posted pics and details about it last fall.

I am really hoping that everyone gets/stays healthy. In yet another blast-from-the-past moment, everyone has shown (very, very mild) symptoms of the ickiness that went around earlier. Ariana threw up in the middle of the night last week, Joel went three days without any food at all (although he did nurse much more often), Elena vomited once, and Carlos has been feeling ill, too. Today Joel actually ate a little, and his fever is gone. Ariana seemed warm a few minutes ago, though. They've been playing happily all week, though, and haven't been acting sick at all. In passing, I have to say how incredibly grateful I am for the relationship they have. They haven't fought all week that I can recall. (Watch me end that streak with this post!) I wish I could claim credit for it, but they just like each other a lot. With all the stuff that has been cycling around lately, this is one thing that I hope stays the same.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tantrums, part II and repost of part I

Photo by Citril on Flickr

I've been seeing a lot of questions on tantrums recently, and wanted to share what has worked for us. First, though, I would like to point out that it is much easier on everyone to avert tantrums to begin with. This doesn't mean always giving children what they want or never doing anything that displeases them. However, a wise parent will also set them up for success:

  • Make sure that everyone (including you!) has had enough to eat and drink, and the right kinds of things to eat and drink. Beware food allergies! Many present with only/mainly behavioral symptoms.
  • Make sure that you all get enough rest. (I know, easier said than done, especially for the parents!)
  • Fill up everyone's love cup on a regular basis. If your child's love tank is running on empty, a long day of errands, etc, can be the final straw in triggering a meltdown. Often, just a short time of concentrated one-on-one attention/cuddle time/etc. can fill their tanks enough to allow us to focus on other things for awhile. Your love cup is important, too. If you can do something special for yourself to get replenished, you are less likely to snap at your family.
  • Give grace to everyone, including yourself, when a meltdown does occur. Also, when you think others might be judging you, remember that how you respond to your child's actions is far more important than how your child acts.
Here is the repost of part I:

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!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Shall we dance?

Photo by a4gpa on Flickr

My earliest memory of church, and probably one of my earliest memories, period, is of dancing. I was about two, I think, and my impressions were of legs flying everywhere (since I barely came up to the adults' waists) and intense joy. Eventually, we moved and I rarely saw dancing in church, although one pastor would frequently be moved to some exuberant steps.

I remember one time when we were worshiping and I felt as if my heart would burst if I didn't find another way to express my joy and adoration. The problem was, everyone around me seemed perfectly content to sing. I whispered inwardly to God that I wanted to dance, but was afraid of looking silly or distracting people around me. In the next instant, the worship leader suddenly stopped and asked for all of the young people to come up to the front and begin to dance. I was laughing with delight as I poured my heart out in worship to the God who hears even the tiniest whispers of out hearts, and responds with open-armed grace.

In my heart of hearts, I love to dance. However, I am as uncoordinated as they come. I have absolutely no sense of rhythm, and am likely to trip over my own feet or bump into something just when walking, let alone anything more complicated. My sister in law dances beautifully, and so do Ariana and Joel. Carlos rarely dances, but considering his amazing athletic ability, I have no doubt that the talent is there. The few times that I have tried, I had to work out an extremely basic set of prescribed steps and repeat them without improvisation of any sort. I never quite got the rhythm down, and it was so forced and awkward that I quickly gave up.

Sometimes, we approach life like that. We try so hard to fit into a prearranged sequence of steps. Sometimes it is so that we won't stand out or look silly. Sometimes it is our own coping method--if we can tightly regiment some aspects of our lives, we feel better about the areas that we can't possibly control. But sometimes, the more we try to get ourselves and our families to comply with the metronome in our head, the more discouraged we feel.

I love the Message version of Matthew 11:28-30:
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace."

That is the secret--following the right partner. The King of all the Universe is inviting us to dance with Him. It is OK if our moves aren't the same as everyone else, or if we don't know all the steps. He just wants us to be with Him. Some days, it is a wildly exuberant jump for joy. Other days, it is simply slow-dancing in His arms as our hearts beat together. Either way, there is freedom to move in grace. He makes all things beautiful in His time.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Scrubbing toesies in foreign languages

You know those cool quizzes you can take to figure out your love language? Most of the questions have to do with both ways you give and receive love. I decided really quickly that when it comes to showing my love for others, acts of service is pretty low on my list. It is sad, but true.

Need a hug? I'm there. It is automatic for me to respond to anyone with physical touch (probably one of the reasons why it has been relatively easy for me to tandem nurse so long--I rarely get touched out). Need encouragement? I see God's fingerprints on nearly everyone. I love being able to give my sisters a glimpse of themselves in His mirror, that reflects them as the princesses they truly are. Need a companion for coffee? I'll meet you at the nearest Starbucks. Need your floors mopped? (crickets chirping) Um, well, I'll commiserate and leave my shoes on. God, being the wise Father that He is, understands this. So He gave me three kids.

Being a mom is an immersion course in the language of service. Your baby relies on you for everything. But love is so transforming. All of the endless daily tasks from feeding to cleaning change from drudgery to acts of love as we see the trust and delight in their eyes. We breathe in the intoxicating scent of new baby, and find joy in the middle of the night feedings, picking up dropped toys, contorting our face into remarkable grimaces in order to provoke a smile and endless games of patty cake.

Then, some irregular verbs get thrown in. Colic. Tantrums. Exhaustion and frazzled nerves. The acts of service increase exponentially in the cost for us, and the rewards disappear. Instead of gazing at us in adoration for the sacrifices we make, the little ones cry inconsolably, or act completely oblivious to the efforts we make. It's enough to make the most determined philologist want to go back to being monolingual!

Any good textbook will provide examples, though. Over and over, the Bible tells how Jesus served His disciples. He showed us that our authority isn't an excuse to demand to be served, but an opportunity to demonstrate our love to those under us. I'm ashamed to admit how often I've been ungrateful for His gifts to me. Many times, I had no idea that He had even done anything. Other times, I pouted because it wasn't what I wanted or when I wanted it. He continues to patiently wash my feet.

I'm definitely still in the elementary levels of learning to serve others. There are days when I am convinced I'm flunking. But it is getting easier. I am learning to enjoy it. At least on the good days. I am also learning to appreciate some of the unacknowledged work done by others who are serving.

Whatever you have done today has not gone unnoticed. Your acts of service to your family and others are appreciated by God. Don't be weary in well doing. Your work matters. Whether it is another load of laundry, trying to patiently answer yet another question, or splashing with the kidlets in the tub, what you are doing is of value, especially when it is motivated by love.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Potty talk

Photo by Sundaze on Flickr
Overheard while Joelito was using the bathroom:

I need do peepee, but, Spiderman, you go first. OK, my turn. (Sadly): But, Spiderman, you can't do peepee, because you don't have a penis. (It would seem that his action figures are not anatomically correct). (Sympathetically): Don't worry, Spiderman, when you get bigger...(pause as he realizes that plastic Spideys don't grow)...um, when you are a boy like me, 'cause boys have penis...(another pause as he contemplates, then with the confidence of one who has resolved to believe and have faith despite any doubts)...hey, Spidey, I can teach you! Look! (Delightedly and with great pride) I can do peepee standing up!

Transition time

This week is holding lots of changes for us, thankfully, mostly good ones. Elena has now perfected the art of pulling up. She hasn't quite figured out what to do from there. Most of the time, she just wiggles her rear-end a lot, as if building up momentum for take off. Today she let go and stood alone for a second before hastily sitting down again (well, OK, more of a 'plop' than a 'sit'). Ay, ay, ay. I'm happy for her, of course, but not sure that I am ready for three footloose and fully mobile little ones!

Carlos and I each had a class end this week and a new one is starting. 3 credit hours in 7 days goes by so fast. I had a really great group of students in the last class, and will miss seeing them. I hope the personality of the new class is good. It is a Spanish I, and a bigger class than the previous one. New textbook, so there is definitely more prep time involved, even though the concepts themselves are very basic. Since the class meets for 6 hours each one day, I need to find a lot of ways to mix things up. As one of my aunts says, "The mind can only take in what the behind can endure".

We found out yesterday that our trip to Mexico this summer will most likely be canceled because of all the violence from the drug wars. The universities don't want to put students in a risky situation. Instead, we will probably go to Puerto Rico. I'm excited, because I've never been there, and also because I was already freaking out about avoiding corn in Mexico. In Puerto Rico, we'll have plaintains, yucca, and lots of other options. We also have a lot of relatives there (MIL is from Puerto Rico). Of course, since we do everything ourselves rather than through a travel agency, it means a lot of research and work. Also, the class is focused on the pre-conquest Mesoamerican cultures. There is some stuff in Puerto Rico, but not all the sites like the pyramids that we would see in Mexico. We may need to tweak the course materials and scope a little bit.

Today is the beginning of our second week of Lenten readings, and we are shifting from death to sin and goodness. Kind of cool, since I had already started a post on sin and freedom based on Romans 6. I am continuing to pray for all those on my list. Honestly, giving up chocolate and my favorite message boards has been very helpful, not just because of more time, but because every time that I want to go post on IHMMB or eat chocolate, I use it as a reminder to pray. I didn't think that I ate that much chocolate during a day, but I have to say it crosses my mind pretty often...

Monday, March 2, 2009

A cool story about my sis

Many of you know my sis, who is, in my opinion, the coolest ever. This Sunday in church, we had a time of prayer for her. I know she would appreciate your prayers for the next couple of weeks. Let me tell you the backstory on what she is going to be doing...

Back around the holidays, a lady in her doctors office out of the blue told her that she thought God was going to send my sister to help dig a well. My sister has grown up with people who believe that God speaks to them. Sometimes, it is clearly true. Other times, they are a little loopy or just plain mistaken. So, she prayed about it and believed it, but had no idea how it was going to play out. A little later, a friend shared that she believed my sister was being called to visit Central America. Now, my sis had been making plans to move to Nashville, but had no plans involving Central America. Once again, she prayed, and waited to see what was in store.

A couple of weeks ago, our associate pastor, who knew nothing about that, called my sis. Our church was going to build 5 wells in Guatemala in towns that have no clean drinking water. He wanted to know if my sister would pray about going as a representative for us while that is happening. T began to laugh and said yes.

The only catch? She needed $500 to make the trip. She didn't say anything, but just trusted that God would provide it. Soon after, a friend in another state called and told my sister that she had $500 that she wanted to give to her. Knowing that her friend was typically as strapped for cash as she was, T asked where it came from. Her friend said that she felt like she was supposed to give T $500 and prayed and entered a contest at work. Normally, she never won anything, but this time she won $500 and knew she was meant to send it to T!

With a beginning like this, I can't wait to see what is in store for her trip!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Overheard on the way home...

Ariana: Joel, what are you doing?!

Joel (innocently): I'm blowing bubbles.

Ariana (sceptically): It just looks like spit.

Joel (aggrieved): It is not! It is bubbles. They're just drippy.