Monday, May 30, 2011

Son Rise


I awoke this morning, bleary eyed, for the fifth or sixth time as the baby started frantically suckling.  She is teething and it has really messed with her sleep patterns.  I am also sore, thanks to her apparent misapprehension that I am a teething ring.  As I squint at the blinds, I can tell that it is nearly dawn.  I stubbornly squeeze my eyes shut, not yet ready for it to be daytime.  I breathe in peace, and I hear the echo of the verse that has been whispering in my soul for the last few days.

"But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in His wings." ~ Malachi 4:2

There is incredible power and beauty in those living words that I haven't fully grasped yet, but my spirit recognizes that this verse has come to me for this particular time.  A kaleidoscope of images and verses twirls through my heart.

"If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me; Your right hand will hold me fast." ~ Psalm 139:9-10

Sunrise, Ocean Isle

"Before the dawn-wind rises, Before the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh, to the hill of frankincense.  For me the reward of virtue is to see your face, and, on waking, to gaze my fill on your likeness." ~ Song of Songs 4:6, Psalm 17:15  The Jerusalem Bible

Best Phuket Mountain Sunrise to Date

 1 Dios mío, ¡tú eres mi Dios!
Yo te buscaré de madrugada.
Mi alma desfallece de sed por ti;
mi ser entero te busca con ansias,
en terrenos secos e inhóspitos, sin agua,
2 con deseos de ver tu poder y tu gloria,
como los he mirado en el santuario.
3 Tu misericordia es mejor que la vida;
por eso mis labios te alaban.
4 ¡Yo te bendeciré mientras tenga vida,
y en tu nombre levantaré mis manos!
 5 Mi alma quedará del todo satisfecha,
como si comiera los mejores platillos,
y mis labios te aclamarán jubilosos
6 al pensar en ti recostado en mi lecho,
al meditar en ti durante mis desvelos.
7 Porque tú has sido mi socorro,
alegré viviré bajo la sombra de tus alas.
8 Mi alma está apegada a ti;
tu mano derecha me brinda apoyo

Salmo 63:1-8 Reina-Valera Contemporánea (Note: in Spanish, the first verse of Psalm 63 talks about seeking God in the time just before dawn.  I am not sure why the English version doesn't.)

So often the imagery of daybreak is connected with wings.  I wonder why?  I admit that there is a sense of much that is elusive to me in these verses, like hearing a beautiful song with lyrics in a language I don't quite grasp, even though I am humming along to the melody.  

What I do understand from it is light, beauty, healing, comfort, joy and intimacy. His wings wrapped around us, His breath on our foreheads.  His light shining on us ever-brighter.  So, despite cranky babies and lack of sleep, I will continue to breathe in peace and healing.  Despite the cacophony of too many things going on around me, I will listen. I will keep my sleepy eyes open for a glimpse of His wings brushing past, and let my spirit sing along with the song of the Son of God, rising.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A love note to my Warrior Princess

Hey, Elebelle.  Do you have any idea how special you are to me, little sweetie?  Long before you were ever born, God spoke to us that you would be a warrior.  And your birth will always and forever bring tears to my eyes for God's mercy and the lesson in listening to His voice. 

Your birthstone describes you as "tender passion" and that it so perfectly true.  Your heart is so loving and tender, so sensitive to others.  Your passion to nurture and protect others is so strong that you would attack a giant without blinking to defend someone else.  Once Joel pretended to poke your stuffed animal when you were a little over a year old.  Your ferocious glare and snarls at him, alternated with tender comfort and gentleness for your toys had us cracking up, and that still is a great picture of your heart. You are fiercely independent, but want so much to take care of others.  Yesterday your daddy noted that you won't do things if we just flat tell you to, but if we ask for help in any way, you don't hesitate for a moment. 

Your older siblings are in awe of your bravery.  At just two years old, you will nonchalantly get up in the middle of the night and go by yourself all the way through a very dark house to get a drink of water and bring it back.  Your independence often makes you seem older than you are--you were walking easily at ten months, you fully potty-trained yourself several months before you turned two, and your ability to climb and jump combined with your fearlessness makes you seem years older than you are.  You are our little tornado--spinning, running, jumping, climbing, crashing, always doing

Right now, your favorite thing to do is to go shopping with just the two of us.  You want something blue, purses "for here and here and here and here on [your] whole arm," and lipstick every time.  You love to snuggle, and it melts my heart every time you smile in your sleep if I adjust your blanket, caress your hair or kiss your cheek.  You delight in giving gifts, and will make me perfect blueberry cupcakes a hundred times in a row on your computer game. 

My heart breaks right along with yours anytime you feel unable to keep up with your older siblings.  I see you striving to do and be more, and I want you to know deep down in your soul that the person you are already is enough.  Your will always grow, of course, but your worth is already perfect to me, regardless of your accomplishments.

I am so incredibly grateful to be your mami.  You will always hold your own place in my heart and arms, and I thank God every day for bringing you into our family.  You are precious, my little warrior, and I have no doubt that you will be victorious in your battles to come.  I pray that you always find refuge in Jesus' love for you and His arms holding you close, and know that you will forever be His treasured princess, and ours.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fear, Boundaries and Pleasers

A good hug

I write a lot about punitive parenting, and why I believe that it is wrong for parents to try to control their children through fear of punishments.  It goes against my core beliefs about theology (I follow Christ because I love Him, not because I am afraid of Hell), as well as my beliefs on parenting (which, as you have probably noticed, are very much enmeshed in my faith--all of life is spiritual).  I rarely write about the flip side of that, but I believe that it is just as damaging for parents to try to please their children out of fear.

One of my favorite sayings from Crystal Lutton is that "Happiness is not the only acceptable emotion".  Yet so many of us have grown up with a fear of any emotion that isn't happy that we don't quite know what to do when our children express anger, frustration and sadness.  I think that is part of the reason that temper tantrums are such a big deal for parents.  We just want them to go away because of our own discomfort with such an intense expression of feeling.  Instead, what we need to do is learn healthy ways to express (not squash) our big emotions and teach them to our children.

Figuring out boundaries is a tough job for little people--and often, for big ones!  It is OK for your toddler to cry because she wants a toy that another child is playing with--she is not "bad" for being upset at having to wait.  Of course, the answer is not snatching the toy away from the other child, either.  Instead, it is an opportunity to give her words she can use to ask for a turn, or perhaps to offer another toy to trade or a way to play together.  If the owner prefers to continue playing, then you can help her find acceptable ways to express her feelings about that.

Boundaries are not always fun, even when they are healthy.  We can be firm without blaming, shaming or dramatizing.  We do not need to add to an already painful situation by blaming our children or other people, pointing out "shoulds", or scolding.  We also need to be careful not to make it into a bigger deal than it really is.  I once saw a mother scream at and scold a tree when her preschooler bumped into it.  It was kind of funny, but also kind of sad.  The tree did not jump out and attack the kiddo.  A simple kiss and hug without framing her child as a victim would have made a lot more sense to me.

Another important point is that we cannot always "fix" things, and we should not always try.  A broken toy may need to be mourned.  Instantly jumping in with promises to replace it may not be what our child needs.  Perhaps they just want to express their feelings about it and move on.  I am not saying that we should refuse to help our children when they have a problem, by any means, but I am suggesting that we carefully ascertain whether our children need listening and validation, coaching on how to deal with it or simply the freedom to cope and problem-solve themselves. Most of us need a case-by-case and even moment-by-moment approach.

I have found that one of the most important tools for me is Naomi Aldort's SALVE formula.  It is amazing at helping me manage my own feelings and helping my children process theirs.  I don't link videos often, because I greatly prefer text links, but this one is worth watching, really.  It is just over 5 minutes, and it is just her speaking, but it has been incredibly helpful for me.  Becky Bailey and Aletha Solter have some helpful resources, as well.

I have made it clear that I believe we should always respond with compassion to our children's distress.  But compassion can also be a kind embrace and empathy while still holding firm to boundaries.  We cannot make other people happy, and it is not healthy to try.  If we are operating out of fear of their displeasure, we are not modeling a healthy relationship.   Do you want your children to learn that love means a constant effort to placate someone else's whims?   That is a set up for abuse.

Whether it is teaching them to fear our displeasure, or acting out of fear of their unhappiness, both are really two sides of the same coin.  It is modeling to them that love means taking responsibility for another person's feelings.  That is not healthy.  Yes, we are to be kind, compassionate and sympathetic to others.  However, their emotions belong to them, and ultimately their happiness cannot rest entirely on our efforts.  They are strong enough and powerful enough to cope with disappointment, anger and sadness, especially if someone they love is with them to comfort along the way. 

Fear is not a good place to parent from, either our fear or our children's. I don't want my children to learn from my example that they must strive to please others, even when it is not healthy.  I want them to walk in the love and freedom of good boundaries, and to be able to be authentic and compassionate without crippling themselves and others by a compulsion to please.

"...Perfect love casts out fear." ~ I John 4:18

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Love Note to My Little Night Rain

The memory still takes my breath away.  I was the first one to touch you.  Not the doctor.  Not even my dear midwife.  The very first hands to greet you as you came into this world were mine.  The feel of your silky, damp curls made every moment of pain worthwhile.  And I still haven't lost the wonder of your perfect little body.  The dimples at the base of each finger.  The way you hold on to one foot every time you nurse.  Your delicate eyebrows.  The adorable caterpillar rolls on your legs.  The scent of your hair.  The light in your eyes.  Your chubby cheeks (jowls, really).  The joy in your grin.  I still find myself gazing at you in pure delight.  Stroking your soft skin.  Rejoicing as you melt into cuddles (I have never known a baby to just seem to go boneless while snuggling like you).  Smiling at your giggles as you start to nurse.  Smooching that spot right under your ear that always makes you laugh.  You are perfect contentment, my little one.


The one parenting decision that people have expressed the most shock over isn't related to breastfeeding, cosleeping, our vaccination status or discipline.  However, the shock would lead a bystander to think we are neglectful parents.  Ready for it?  Deep breath.  We didn't pierce our daughters' ears.  For Hispanics, that is about as surprising as not circumcising would have been in the US a few decades ago.  (Happily, most Hispanics do not circumcise).

My mother's church growing up took great care not to conform to the world.  The women didn't wear pants, or make up or pierce their ears or cut their hair short.  I know all the arguments that would dismiss that--I used them on my mom!  God looks at our hearts, not our outward appearance.  And it can still become all about conforming to church culture (the same hair dos, the same style of dress) and turn into an issue of pride.  And as far as modesty goes, any hyperfocus on something tends to actually draw more attention to it in the first place.  But.

But, in spite of those things, I also saw a sincere desire to please God with their bodies, a recognition that we are created by the Master Artist and that we don't have to make ourselves into copies of our culture.  And I admire that deeply.

So, back to the whole ear-piercing thing.  I got my ears pierced for my tenth birthday.  It hurt a lot.  We did one of those ear-gun places at the mall.  Despite careful applications of alcohol and the salve that we were given, one ear developed a boil-like, pus-filled infection.  Even after following all the instructions about leaving the posts in, twisting, etc, for the first few years, one of the holes would close over in the back if I didn't sleep with my earrings and I would have to punch it through. (If my children get pierced, they will go to a professional piercer that uses a needle instead of a tissue-crushing gun).

However, I am very, very glad that my parents let me make the choice about what to do with my own body.  I like wearing earrings, and have not had any problems at all for over twenty years.   I pierced my sister's ears at home with a sterilized needle, thread and a potato. When my mom decided to get her ears pierced, I was delighted to go with her.  It seemed like a symbolic choice of freedom somehow.  And when a friend of mine got a navel ring, I accompanied her and celebrated with her.

The issue of choice is important to me, and not one that I would make for someone else.  When our first daughter was born, Carlos and I discussed the idea of getting her ears pierced and quickly agreed that there was no reason to do something painful and permanent to our baby for cosmetic reasons.  She was perfect the way she was.  If she wanted to get her ears pierced once she was old enough to understand the choice and take care of them, she could, but we weren't going to make the choice for her.  

This weekend, my seven year old and I had a conversation about make up, piercings and other forms of body art.  It provoked some thought about what I want my standards to be for my children.  Ariana hasn't shown interest in makeup before, but she confided in me that she thinks she would like to wear lip gloss and maybe some other stuff sometimes.  Her two year old sister, on the other hand, asks me to buy her blue lipstick almost daily.

Like our conversations about shaving, it made me feel a little uncomfortable about the messages that I am sending my daughters.  Not only do I wear earrings, I have been wearing makeup--a lot of make up--since I was ten or eleven.  I like the way I look with makeup better than the way I look without it, for sure.  Yet I don't want my daughters to think that they need makeup, ever, and certainly not as children!  I feel like a hypocrite, and that bothers me a lot.

I believe that God designed us with a desire for beauty and creativity.  Part of being made in His image is our drive to create and make things beautiful, to express our own uniqueness.  Body are can certainly be part of that.  When my kids wanted to make their hair different colors, I was happy to let them.

But they are already masterpieces.  Their bodies are beautiful.  I want them to know that and rejoice in who they are.  I don't want them to make changes to their bodies from a pressure to conform to those around them, or to think that they aren't "enough" already.  And I won't even get into the whole issue of sexualization of children, but I highly recommend reading Pigtail Pals for some excellent posts.

I find it easy to come to clear decisions on a lot of topics, but this is one where I struggle.  I am not sure exactly how to transmit my values to my children and be authentic.  The whole beauty thing is tough.  I work at not putting my self down, especially not in front of my children.  Most of the time I feel accepting of the way I look.  But I also am self conscious of weighing more now than I did at the end of pregnancy with my first three.  My hair is different shades thanks to do-it-yourself attempts at covering grays.  My skin is splotchy thanks to hormonal surges.  I could go on to list flaws in my teeth and more.  

I have friends who have been models and I dabbled in it briefly as a teenager (never made any money or did any jobs where someone would recognize me, but I had fun).  I know that even people that most of us consider very attractive tend to criticize their own appearance.  But I don't want that for my children.

Being the change we want to see it hard.  I am not convinced that I need to give up make up and jewelry or anything--like I said earlier, I believe that a desire to express beauty and creativity in our bodies is part of the way we are made.  But I also want to balance that with the recognition of the beauty that is inherent within us.  And I want my actions to match my words.  How do you teach your children that they are masterpieces?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Primer in Pictorial Pizzazz--How to Post Pics on Your Blogger Blog

Image credit spisharam on Flickr
Image credit mathias-erhart on Flickr
Image credit mrtruffle on Flickr
Whether it is a sunset full of glory, fuzzy kittens or squick-inducing, moldy cheese, adding pics adds impact to your posts.  I blogged for years without illustrations, until Mamapoekie and Tracy of I Hate My Message Board very generously and patiently walked me through the steps to adding pics to my posts.  Even if you are a computer novice, you can spice up your posts with great pics!

1. Have an idea of what you are looking for.  If it still pretty vague, that is OK--I have tons of fun goofing off exploring Flickr and other sites.  You just need to be able to come up with search terms.

2. Open separate windows for your blog post and for Flickr.  Make sure that you are in the advanced search page on Flickr, and enter your search terms (in the pic below, I am searching for a chocolate dessert).  Before you hit search, check "Only search within Creative Commons licensed content".  This is important--you do not want to steal other people's work!

3. Once you find a pic you like, click on the picture. The new page will show the pic, and just above will be a star with favorite, actions, and other links.  The easiest thing to do is to click on the little arrow pointing down for more ways to share, scroll down to "Grab HTML/BBCode", and copy the code. (To copy it, highlight the whole code, and then hold down Ctrl and c).

Doesn't this one look good?

4. Next, go back to your blog post and make sure that you are in Edit HTML mode. Paste the code that you copied (Ctrl and v at the same time), and then switch back to Compose.  You should be able to see the image.  If you click on it, you can see the link back to Flickr so that proper attribution is made.  You can also change the size or align it to left, right or center, and add a caption.  Viola!

What the HTML screen and code look like

Extraordinary Desserts - Dessert

Easter Dance 
Do your happy dance!

Now, if you are not able to grab the HTML code, there is an alternate way to do it.  Follow steps 1, 2 and 3 up to the point of clicking on the picture and getting to the page with Favorites and Actions.  Click on Actions and go to View all sizes.

4. Choose the size you want (I usually just go with the medium 500 size) and download it to your computer and save the file.  MAKE SURE YOU LEAVE THE FLICKR WINDOW OPEN!  If you are like me and automatically close windows, this can cause a major headache of having to go back through and find the photo again. 

5. Back in your blog post, click on the little icon to add image, and upload.  Click Choose Files and browse your computer downloads until you find the pic, then click open to upload.  When you see the small pic, it should have a highlighted frame.  If it doesn't, just click on it to highlight it.  Then click add selected.

6.  Hooray!  You added the pic! Pat yourself on the back, and eat some chocolate.  But wait!  You still need to make sure that the person who took the image gets credit for it.  Click on the pic and choose add caption.  Then click on link.  Go back to the Flickr page, copy the link and then go back to the blog window and paste the link.  If you like, you can put the text to display as Image credit [whatever their user name is] on Flickr.   Preview your post to make sure it looks the way you want, and then go enjoy that piece of chocolate, or better yet, make the cake from the tutorial pic.  :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me, Part II

My first review of Samuel Martin's book, Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy, was about my impressions of the book and a look at what the book is and is not.  In this continuation, I would like to focus more on the specific content of the book, with an overview of each chapter.

Chapter 1 deals with the Hebrew stages of child development.  There are very specific words used in Hebrew, and although at times the English has been rendered as a very generic "child" or "boy", that does not give an accurate or precise view of what it would convey to readers of Hebrew.  From my own experience with Spanish, this makes perfect sense.  Both "nene" and "joven" might be translated as "boy", but they are not at all interchangeable.  Generally speaking, a "nene" is a toddler, a "joven" is a young man.  In the same way, the Hebrew word "na'ar", which is used in the rod passages of Proverbs, is much more like the Spanish word "joven".  "Na'ar" is used for a young man, generally well over the age of 10, one who is already becoming independent.  It does not refer to a small child or to a girl of any age.  There are Hebrew words for young children, such as "gamul" (a weaned child), "taph" (generally ages 4-6), and  "elem" (pre-adolescence).  Yet instead, the word for a young man is used.  If you want to make the rod passages about corporal punishment, spanking would not begin until adolescence, a time when most spanking advocates suggest that you stop spanking.

Chapter 2 delves into the Jewish attitudes toward the Proverbs passages.  This is interesting, and completely ignored by most Christians.  He cites a number of well-known and respected rabbis, most of whom forbid use of a physical rod on children.  He also shows again the importance of the ages, and quotes from the Talmud to show that "a child under the age of six is not even hit lightly...the teacher tries to reach him through gentle speech."  In older children, if corporal punishment was to be used, it was considered a last resort when all other methods had failed, and even then a number of conditions must be met.  The verses in Proverbs are not viewed as a mandate to spank by Jews.

Chapters 3 and 4 focus on the context of Proverbs.  Chapter 3 refers to its legal applications. Rather than being written as timeless, cultureless wisdom for the masses, it was written for those who had a thorough understanding of the law of Moses.  Chapter 4 explores the gender focus of Proverbs.  It is a book written by men and to men.  Consider the introduction, Proverbs 1:1-5.  "to the young man (yes, that is "na'ar") knowledge and discretion".  Much of the book of Proverbs concerns warnings about adultery and other adult themes that are relevant to a young man, or "na'ar", but not to a child.  Also, while in other Biblical texts the Hebrew specifically expresses both genders (Joel 3:1), the rod verses only use the masculine form.  The context of the book as a whole simply reinforces the fact that the passages are meant to refer to young men.

Chapters 5 and 6 explore the New Testament passages.  Although the book of Proverbs is cited many times in the New Testament, none of the rod passages are ever referenced, even when parenting is addressed.  Although there are many references to physical punishment, they were nearly always done as legal punishment for crimes.  He also speaks of Jesus driving out the moneychangers, and notes that Jesus was using the whip of cords to drive the sheep and oxen out.  According to the law of Moses, it is illegal for one Jew to strike another outside of the court of justice.

Chapter 7 addresses Proverbs 23:13-14 and the misconception that spanking can save a child from going to Hell.  The word that is sometimes translated as hell simply means the grave.  Furthermore, the word translated as soul is often used to refer to animals, not just humans.  To try and stretch this passage into meaning eternal punishment is simply incorrect.

Chapter 8 deals with another misconception, taught by many spankers such as Dobson and Lessin, about children crying during spankings. Some use Proverbs 19:18 to come up with convoluted teachings about what type of crying is acceptable, and when, and how long.  Once again, it is based on poor translation.  An accurate translation of this passage exhorts the parent to "not set your heart on his [your son's] death/destruction."  This verse could actually be used to encourage gentleness and hope!  The Hebrew word for tears never appears in the book of Proverbs.

Chapter 9 continues looking at some of the fallacies promoted by religious spankers, and focuses on the teaching that spanking is meant for the buttocks.  Proverbs does include passages describing hitting fools (not children) on the back with a rod.  The Hebrew word here is correctly translated--back.  There is another Hebrew word for buttocks, which is used in Isaiah, II Samuel, and many other passages.  Trying to claim that the Bible teaches spanking on the bottom is a deliberate substitution of the spanker's personal preference instead of Scripture.

Chapter 10 examines the theological implications of spanking.  Spanking is a punishment for a crime.  The child has been tried, found guilty and sentenced.  Yet, as Christians, we rejoice that instead of being under the law and subject to its punishments, we have been given grace and forgiveness.  How effectively can we teach our children about grace when we force them to live under punishment?  He shares beautiful writings from Rev. D. L. Moody and Karl Barth, who did not spank their own children, and concludes with encouragement for parents to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit towards their children.

The appendices also contain interesting and useful information, including misunderstandings regarding the harshness of Biblical teachings, the end results of punishment in the Bible, the Biblical standard for engendering righteousness, an examination of the word "shevet" (rod), and more.

The truth is that the Bible does not ever teach that parents should spank children.  The original readers were well aware of that.  It is only through imposing our cultural baggage on imprecise translations that it is been twisted to an English-speaking audience today.  God's Word is Truth.  The responsibility that we have to accurately handle that truth is important.  We are blessed in being able to have the resources to obtain correct translations today, to help us fulfill that responsibility. 

I greatly appreciate Samuel Martin's scholarship and deep love for the Bible.  I would encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to check out his site,  His books are available there, and you can also sign up for his newsletters, which are full of interesting articles.

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." ~ II Tim. 2:15

Friday, May 13, 2011

Living Nazca Lines and the Cross

I do not believe that God causes suffering, pain, loss or hurt.  I do believe that He desires to transform it, to bring healing and redemptive beauty out of everything that that would be used to destroy our hearts.  Most of the time, I don't understand how He does it, because it usually allows more pain than I would choose, and my sense of timing is finite.  In short, I want Heaven right now!

I get angry.  I get confused.  I sometimes scream at God that this life is just too messy.  And that isn't only about the big things.  I get bewildered, discouraged and disgruntled with the small, everyday inconveniences, too.  But, when I stop and breathe in peace and love, I recognize that we are living Nazca lines.

Have you ever been to Peru?  The Nazca lines are amazing.  On the ground, they are so enormous that they are unrecognizable.  They just look like minor differences in the terrain.  But if you get an aerial view, you can see fascinating pictures!

Image credit theboywiththethorninhisside on Flickr

Image credit scubaben on Flickr
Image credit kudamomo on Flickr

The Bible has an awesome example of a living Nazca line in the Old Testament.  You know those really boring chapters in Numbers?  The ones where you start to skim quickly because it is just a bunch of, well, numbers?  Each of the tribes of Israel had a specific place to be.  They were assigned a particular order.

Now, if you imagine the huge number of people and animals moving through the wilderness, it probably seemed a bit chaotic from the ground.  Picture the dust they all kicked up!  When you get a group that size, even when it is very orderly, it probably looked like a sprawling mass from the ground.  But guess what?  If you looked at it from above, you would see that the arrangement of the tribes formed a special picture.  A Cross.
Image credit world of jan on Flickr

From the very beginning of the story, when it looked messy and dusty, God looked and saw the redemption that was coming!  And I believe that that is true of our lives, as well.  When we look at the broken pieces, the hurts, the disappointments, and our own messiness, we are missing God's view of us. He sees us as holy, redeemed, beautiful and full of loving purpose!  We are living Nazca lines, creating a lovely picture of restoration, wholeness, love, life and beauty.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Journey to Motherhood--Guest Post

I am so excited to share with you a guest post from my lovely sister in law, Raquelita.  I am incredibly blessed to have her in my life.  She is one of my dearest friends as well as being my SIL, and I have been privileged to see her walk out grace and wisdom for many years.  She is someone who inspires me and encourages me, and she is also the mother of the cutest little nephew in the world.  <3
Hands down, there have been times where I have felt that becoming a mother has been the hardest job I ever had. And that is when I pray to God to remind me that if it weren’t for my son Gabriel not only would my womb be empty, but my heart, too. Nothing is harder than waiting for the miracle of life! This was my journey before Gabriel (my 17 month old) came into our lives. I think so often we forget that being able to conceive and carry a baby full term is truly a miracle, especially for those women who get pregnant as soon as their husbands look at them, as my mother would say.

During this journey, birthdays and Mother’s days were so hard because the gift I wanted the most I didn’t have! I confess I might have been a grouch once or twice! Luckily, I was blessed with a supportive husband, family, and nieces and a nephew to refresh my heart, at least momentarily. My husband and I were one of those couples who were older with no kids. We focused on different dreams and with the busyness of life time simply passed. Though we had tried to get pregnant off and on again unsuccessfully, I think that at first hope and desire carried us through. But, as the years went by, denial and hopelessness took root. Proverbs 13:12 says it best, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (NIV, 1984)

Before I knew it, 9 years passed and I really felt that we needed to pray for a miracle (not that we hadn’t before). It was so hard to do, but we remained consistent! I had already been to the doctor and had a procedure done to make sure I could conceive and all the tests came back positive. My husband also got checked and on April 27th, 2009 we received one of those phone calls that make your heart sink. We were told that in order to conceive we would need to go to a fertility specialist because my husband’s sperm motility was too low! Crash!!! My husband was so depressed by this news that he told me he felt as if he had ruined my life! I reminded him that many wonderful couples are not able to conceive and it is no one’s fault. When you marry someone, you don’t ever expect something like this to happen.

Even though this was the worst news, for some reason I felt a peace and dare I say, even happy. Was I crazy?! I told my husband that we should just keep trying and that if by the end of the year nothing happened, we would look into adoption because we could not afford to go to a fertility specialist. My poor husband struggled to find peace and to not feel defective or cursed. Two weeks later on May 8th 2009, I took a home pregnancy test because my period was a week late and that is when I discovered that after being told we could not get pregnant on our own, I was pregnant! Yes! I called my husband at work and shared the news. He said I sounded as if I was in shock and scared (I sure was!). My husband had to shut the door in his office so that he could cry! What a happy day after years of waiting and feeling like I was living in a desert and, for my husband, feeling like he was in a dark pit.

Even after this, we have had many interesting and disappointing events occur during pregnancy and after, but I am so thankful that my baby, who came 3 weeks early due to pre-eclampsia, was and is healthy. He was our Christmas angel– born a week before Christmas. I just pray that on those days when being a mom is hard and I am exhausted, I would never forget that without Gabriel my heart would be empty! The hardest part will always be life before motherhood. My longing has been fulfilled (smile)!


Raquelita is a SAHM now.  She worked for the public school system for nearly nine years and loved it.  She worked in an ESL classroom for 6 of those years.  She loves meeting people from different countries.  She was born and raised in California, but is almost an Okie now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How to Be a Storyteller Extraordinaire

Throughout history, storytellers have been recognized as guardians (and perhaps inventors) of history, verbal artists who capture our imaginations and allow us to explore new worlds and remember past ones.  Many of my happiest memories of childhood were of listening to my mother weave new stories.  We would all get so carried away that what was meant to be a short little bedtime tale to help us fall asleep often grew into an epic adventure that had our imaginations dreaming awake long after we went to bed.

I love sharing stories with my little ones, and listening to the hilarious tales that they come up with.  Stories are not just for bedtime, you know.  They are a perfect way to handle rainy afternoons, waiting in line, discipline issues and more.  I am tremendously thankful for the rich heritage I have in storytellers.  I want to share with you some of the things that they have taught me.  You can be a storyteller extraordinaire!

1. Set the stage.  Pick a stormy afternoon, and create a pillow pile or a fort or another cozy place with plenty of blankets and pillows.  Drink hot chocolate from thermoses, eat nachos or popcorn or another yummy snack (this also gives you a brief second to occupy your mouth when your mind is frantically trying to think of what should come next in the story). 

2. Create the characters.  They can range from animals, to mythical creatures, to family members or your favorite TV characters and any combination you can imagine.  Our kidlets love stories featuring Spiderman, Spongebob, Ipis and Upis (a fish and a bird that Carlos made up) all saving the day together.  I like creating characters based on my kids using their middle names.  It is close enough that the kids relate to them and feel specially included, but not so exact that it limits the storyline.  Ariana noted several months ago that there really needed to be some sort of conflict in the story to make it interesting.  If you aren't into bad guys, make sure that there is a challenge of some type.

3. Plagiarize Plan the plot.   I think that the difficulty most of us have with story telling is coming up with new storylines on our feet over and over.  When I am especially tired, forming coherent sentences about anything is challenging, let alone trying to invent a whole new world of wonders.  These are some of my favorite tried- and-true kid-pleasers:

* Family history.  It is always more fun when you know the people in real life.  Share stories about their grandparents.  Tell about funny events from your childhood.  If your own childhood doesn't have too many happy memories, make up stories about what you wish it was like. Share stories about when you met their dad.  Wedding stories.  Birth stories.  Tell all about when they were babies. Bonus:  you can illustrate with pics!

Image credit: wertheim on Flickr
* Exotic locales.  I loved the old Disney movie, In Search of the Castaways, (based on the book by Jules Verne) because of the constant change of location.  It went from Europe to ships to the Andes to glaciers to jungles to deserts to living in a baobab tree to Maori islands and more.  Your story can go to any time (past, present, future) and anywhere (deserts, caves, oceans, islands, Mayan pyramids, jungles, outer space, African safaris...)

* Borrow from the classics.  Create your own version of Swiss Family Robinson, The Chornicles of Narnia, Dr. Doolittle, Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, A Little Princess, Robin Hood, Little House on the Prairie, or any other story you loved as a child.

* Super adventures.  Give your characters super powers--flying, invisibility, teleportation, telepathy, x-ray vision, super strength, and all the Marvel/ DC comic stand-bys.  Like Alice, let them shrink or grow into giants.  

Image credit: mrtruffle on Flickr
* Be silly.  Any chance that you get to work in some goofiness is good, and never underestimate the power of food (swimming pools full of hot fudge or spaghetti sauce) and gross-out stuff (boogers, snot, poop, vomit, mud, slime) and gross-out food (stinky cheese, moldy meat, unlikely combinations such as liver-flavored bubble gum, and pickles [Joelito's most hated food]). 

4.  Invite collaboration.  If you ever get stuck, ask them what they think is going to happen next, and go with it.  Or take turns telling the story.  Keep in mind that the whole point is to have fun, not to write a serious novel.  Don't worry about plot derailments or anything that might mess up your story--just embrace the fun and nonsense.  (Yeah, I know that this shouldn't even need to be said, but I also know how perfectionist parents can get really into something and lose sight of what is important and try to control all the details). 

There is a reason why civilizations throughout the world honor those who share stories.  Whether they are based in fact or wild imagination, they are ways to knits hearts together in shared adventures and transmit Truth.  Find some time today to tell an extraordinary story with your children!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Not Disappointed--Tony Hillerman and GD

Image credit Taylor Burnes on Flickr
A WWII combat veteran with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.  An incredibly successful author.  A respected university teacher.  A product of gentle discipline.  Really?

I have been a fan of mysteries ever since my sixth birthday when my beloved auntie gave me two Trixie Belden books.  One of my favorite authors is Tony Hillerman, who is well-known for his mystery series about Navajo Tribal Policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.  Hillerman did a masterful job of weaving compelling stories with fascinating portrayals of Navajo culture.  His novels are fun and thought-provoking at the same time.  A few times I have caught myself wondering more about his views on peaceful living.  But I never would have imagined that he grew up in Oklahoma in the era that he did without spanking.  Until I read part of his autobiography, Seldom Disappointed.

In a time and place where true beatings were seen as acceptable discipline by most people, Tony Hillerman's parents took a radically different approach.  He describes what would happen when he or his siblings misbehaved.  His mother would take them into another room, so that there would be privacy, and talk to them individually.

But what if that didn't work?  Well, for very serious offenses or repeated misbehavior, his dad would also talk to him.  He would ask for an explanation of the behavior, and the reasons and thoughts behind it.  His dad would consider the responses carefully, and then explain again the family rules and the reasons behind them.

He describes one incident involving disobedience, a BB gun, and playing with matches that results in a fire (but no injury).  His father went through all the steps with him, and then came the sentencing.  He told Tony to go and get him a switch from a tree in their yard.  The switch was big enough to hurt, but not so large as to cause lasting damage.  However, upon further consideration, his father did not spank him.  Instead, he asked his son if he could remember and abide by the family rules without a spanking.  When Tony agreed, his father instructed him to go and help his mother.  He never laid a hand on him.

I often hear people assume that not spanking produces self-centered adults who cannot handle responsibility, who do not understand that their actions have consequences, and who are, in short, set up to be criminals and failures.  Looking at this man, whose actions as a soldier, as a teacher, as an author and more show just the opposite is very encouraging.

And while I read from a very wide variety of authors, it is always exciting to me to find authors who have beliefs that are similar to mine.  (As a quick aside, I am using my next Amazon splurge to purchase some books by Alison Strobel.  Everything I have heard about them says that they are marvelous stories, and I know from posting with her at GCM that her views on children will mesh well with mine and that she is someone whom I can support with a clear conscience, unlike the discomfort of reading, for example, Lori Wick).  And of course, I am a life-long fan of Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking), too!

Tony Hillerman's books are full of people who seek and practice hózhó--harmony, a way of beauty, peace and order.  Although his parents were not Navajo, I suspect that he learned much about that peace from them and their courageous choice to discipline him with gentleness and harmony.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

El cinco de mayo

El cinco de mayo es un día festivo muy importante para mí, porque yo nací en Puebla.  Además, es el cumpleaños de mi hermanita.  Ya no vivimos en México, pero espero volver en el futuro.  Claro que lo más importante es estar con familia y amigos.  Sin embargo, hay otras cosas que también me encantan de México.  Por supuesto, la comida poblana es riquísima.  Algunos de mis platos favoritos son:

The Cinco de Mayo is an important holiday for me, because I was born in Puebla.  (BTW, for my friends who are not from Mexico, the 5th of May is NOT the Mexican Independence Day, or a Hispanic Awareness Day outside of the US, but it celebrates a battle that took place in Puebla).  Besides, it is my sister's birthday.  We no longer live in Mexico, but I hope to return in the future.  Of course, the most important thing is to be with friends and family.  Nonetheless, there are other things that I also love about Mexico.  Of course, the food from Puebla is delicious.  Some of my favorites are:

Image credit leon on Flickr
1. Tacos árabes
These are not Taco Mayo, folks.  They are made from marinated pork cooked on a rotisserie, sliced off and served on a tortilla that is similar to  pita bread with onions and a smoky chipotle salsa that is reminiscent of barbeque sauce.

2. Mole poblano
Of all the moles out there, this is my favorite (naturally).  It is an amazingly complex dish that balances chiles, chocolate, seeds, nuts, and spices to create the perfect sauce for chicken.  A little sweet, a little spicy, a little nutty, a little bitter--when it is done right, there is nothing like it.

Image credit Vaguely Artistic on Flickr
3. Krankys
OK, this doesn't really count, I suppose, but I love these little chocolate covered corn flakes. Totally addicting.

4. Gringas
Similar to the tacos árabes, these feature marinated pork cooked on a rotisserie with pineapple, onions and chiles caramelizing and bathing the meat in juicy yumminess.  Add the delicious melty cheese, and you are in heaven. 

Image credit Scaredy Cat on Flickr
5.  Helado de pétalo de rosa
Rose petal ice cream.  Amazingly delicious.

I intended to leave it at 5 things.  It just seems fitting, after all, for a celebration on the fifth day of the fifth month.  But there is so much more that I love and want to share--cemitas, chalupas, tacos orientales, Sidral, Señorial, agua de sandía, limonadas, café de olla, pipián verde, pastel de tres leches, and so many other flavors that take me back home when I taste them.  But since I have already got your mouth watering, (I'm drooling now, anyway!) I am going to stop with a feast for the eyes of some of the beautiful spots in Puebla.  Except for the first one, they are all from the area around the zócalo.

Image credit Russ Bowling on Flickr
Image credit RussBowling on Flickr
Image credit RussBowling on Flickr
Image credit RussBowling on Flickr
Image credit RussBowling on Flickr

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Building Fences

Image credit muffet68 on Flickr
I write a lot about non-punitive parenting, and why we practice showing grace and kindness.  It may leave some people wondering just what boundaries we have (if any).  I don't believe that anyone can grow into a healthy person without understanding healthy limits, and a huge part of my job as a parent is teaching, modeling and enforcing boundaries, and helping my children develop the skills they need to respect the boundaries of other people and to enforce and maintain their own.

Like fences, boundaries work both to protect them and to protect others.  They are a healthy barrier for both.

The first one we teach them is physical boundaries.  Their bodies belong to them.  No one is allowed to hurt them or make them feel yucky (unwanted tickling or touching them inappropriately).  From the time they are toddlers, we give them the script, "Stop or I'll tell!" (and teach them to tell us anyway, even if it stops).  I highly recommend Protecting the Gift by Gavin DeBecker. 

But all the words won't make much difference unless we back it up with our actions.  If we teach them that adults are allowed to violate their body boundaries by spanking or other actions against them, then our words become very weak.  Along with being careful in our own actions, we must also make sure that other people respect their limits when our children are powerless to enforce them.  I believe that the only time that it is OK for us to violate their body boundaries is in holding them if we must to protect someone, and that they should be released once everyone is safe.  (Car seats fall into this category of safety and protection, IMO.  Correct use of car seats is non-negotiable).

In the same way, they are not allowed to hurt others to express their big emotions.  If they feel like hitting, or kicking or whatever, they need to find safe ways to do that.  We teach them to dance, play the pushing game, or exercise or other physical activity to release angry feelings.  They can also draw, go to a comfort corner to cool down or take deep breaths and squeeze their palms together--anything that allows them to let go and regain control.

In a related note, it is important to teach them emotional/verbal boundaries, and how to use words to express themselves and protect themselves.  Hurtful words and name-calling are not allowed.  Non-Violent Communication is one of my favorite resources, and I want to order their book for children soon.  It involves teaching them how to identify feelings, and how to express to others how they feel without shaming or blaming.  "When x happens, I feel y."  We also work on scripts for how to handle difficult situations.

A difficult balance, especially for my little Betazoid, is learning how to understand and care about other people's feelings without taking responsibility for keeping other people happy at all times.  We have to remind her sometimes that it is OK to let her brother or sister cope with their own emotions and that she does not have to sacrifice her own boundaries in order to please them.  We had a lot of conversations about that, and I can see it getting easier for her to say no when she should.

Again, modeling is key here.  Do they see me demonstrating healthy boundaries?  Do I take appropriate responsibility for owning my own feelings, or do I blame them on others ("You make me feel so...!" )?   Do I say no when I need to and allow others to be responsible for their own feelings?  Do I correct or enforce boundaries without shaming and blaming?  (In case you are wondering, the answer to all of these is that I am working on it.  I am trying to learn these skills as an adult, and am very much a work in progress.)

Property boundaries are important, too.  Most things in our house belong to everyone, but there are a few items that are the sole property of the individual.  We don't force sharing if it is something that belongs to the child (I certainly have possessions that I do not share!).  They have been really open to waiting for someone to finish and then using it.  As long as they know that they will get an opportunity to have something and use it until they finish, disputes are rare.  They also know that violence means that they do not get it.

In modeling healthy property boundaries, we try not to snatch things from them unless it is extremely dangerous.  Even our little ones will bring a different toy to offer the baby if she grabs something of theirs.  Another way to maintain healthy boundaries here is to give everyone space where their belongings are protected and to make sure that others do not touch them without permission.  I am working on teaching them to not touch things that don't belong to them, but like I said, it is so rarely an issue in our home that I haven't given them enough practice.  It is a work in progress, but we are working and there is progress.  :)

Someone recently pointed out that these are some pretty high expectations for little people.  After all, a huge number of adults have issues with boundaries.  That is true, and I am one of those adults who is still learning!  The key is that this is a practicum, not a final exam.  This is about teaching and learning, not judging and punishing for failure.  These skills take a lifetime, and all of us are growing together.  So it really isn't about expectations and judgments, just about loving, equipping and growing.  I want to teach my children how to build fences in their own lives, and how to respect the fences of others.