Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Delight Yourself in the Lord

I love the expression of delight on her face.  :)

"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." ~ Psalm 37:4 NASB    This is the question my friend challenged me with:  How do you delight in the Lord?  We all know the mind over matter, love is a choice ideas.  But delight?  That comes down to more than just a mental choice for me--there is emotion and a deep down heart response.  Does fake it till you make it cut it here?  I don't know, although I have some doubts.

But when I consider what I do delight in--my baby laughing, my husband giving me that look, hugs from the kidlets, savoring a perfect glass of creamy, rich iced coffee, the satisfaction of a perfectly written line of dialogue by one of my favorite authors, a glorious sky painted in vivid colors, my favorite song coming on Pandora exactly when I am in the mood for it--it all comes back to a common denominator.  Awareness.  Focused attention.  Because if I am preoccupied with other things, I can miss the joy of all of those.  It takes a moment of concentration and letting go of everything else to fully experience delight.

"Nothing is as important as wasting time with God." ~ Jamie Buckingham.  In Spanish, verse 4 says to enjoy the presence of the Lord. "Disfruta de la presencia del Señor." (RVC)  To me, the delight of wasting time with someone I love is the way that the underlying awareness of their presence imbues mundane activities with joy.

God also delights in us, you know.  Zeph. 3:17 has always been one of my favorite verses.  The NIV says, "He will take great delight in you."  There are a lot of variations in the middle of the verse depending on translation, but they all begin by saying that the Lord is with us.  It always seems to come back to being together before we experience delight.

So today I want to intentionally sniff around for His fragrance in my day.  To look for the sparkle in His eyes peering through my children.  To listen for His heartbeat in the arms of my husband.  For His whisper amid the cacophony of everyday activities with four rambunctious energetic kidlets.  To spend time gazing into His eyes by myself, regardless of the demands of all the "things that must be done today".  To waste some time with the Lover of my soul.  To really, truly delight in Him.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Myth Busters, Relationships Edition: Humility and Sacrifice

So often the clichés that are a standard feature of Churchianity are based on a misunderstanding of Scripture, and are actually dangerous doctrines made of men.  I recently read a post on Gentle Christian Mothers by Crystal Lutton that exposed a couple of lies that many of us who grew up in the church bought into.  She graciously granted me permission to repost it here.  I know that my family has benefited in many ways thanks to Crystal's writings.  Please check out her site--she has so much more to share on grace based living!  <3
Two doctrines that were utterly toxic to me, especially when I was younger.

1) It has to be less of you and more than God


2) Love is a choice and involves sacrifice.

Are these two statements true? Yes. BUT . . . the first statement is NOT something we can DO, and the second statement requires a very clear view of the situation in order to understand what "Love" is and what the necessary sacrifice must be. It's not what *you* consider to be sacrifice--it's what lines up with God's Word (even if it costs you).

But these things were taught without healthy explanation or interpretation--and without healthy modeling of what it looks like.

I am an ENFP, sanguine, Type 3 (get it done) woman--and what the above played out as in my life looked something like this:

I meet a guy--he doesn't know or really love the Lord. That's okay--I love God and I can share God's love with him. (It's important to know this was NOT "missionary dating". I was "loving" them as they were and sacrificially willing to be with them even if they weren't able (due to whatever pain was in their life) to know and love God. I figured if they experienced unconditional love they would be able to receive it from Him.

We start dating and my feelings are strong and we get close really quickly--emotionally and physically--but obviously not spiritually because he doesn't love God.

So now we're involved and I'm invested and I'm realizing it's vital for this relationship to be healthy for them to treat me well but I can't argue for what I need and expect based on God's Word (which he doesn't respect), so I sacrifice and try to deal with what is coming my way and remind myself that love requires sacrifice.

When things aren't working out in the relationship I remind myself that it always has to be less of me and more of God so I try to make myself smaller. I try to not react with emotion (more of me) and instead turn more to prayer and other spiritual pursuits.

This cycle continues until I have no boundaries left in tact, there is none of me in the relationship and, because the other person doesn't love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength or love me as themselevs, there is also no God there anymore (I've stopped anything overtly Christian if it makes them upset).

In truth, no one can *make* there be less of them and more of God. Not only does God create us in our own unique way and ask us to BE who we are (albeit a holy version of ourselves if we are saved ) but it is most often that being who we are is what is needed in a situation we are in--that's why we're there and not someone else.

And, sacrifice means putting God's Word (not another person) ahead of everyone and everything. The key is not how well we can love another person--but how much we love God first so that our love of the other person is an overflow of the love we have with God. When all 3 parties in a relationship are in unity of purpose and vision we all move together in an ever increasing love

I think the last thought I'm having as I write this is what has most changed my life recently. I've learned that "humility" is understood by the Jewish mind as meaning this:

you take up exactly the amount of space in the world that you need. No more, no less.

and "as you need" does NOT mean "as you can get by with--and if you're someone who can sacrifice a lot you will require less space so do that."

God created you to occupy a certain amount of space in this world. You are rightfully to have all of that space. You don't have to feel guilty for it--or bemoan it.

To take up more is arrogance; to take up less is self-abasement. Both are insults to someone created in the image of God. Neither is something we should require or enable of someone else.

When we give our space to someone we encourage the sin of arrogance; when we try to take more space for ourselves from others we are encouraging the sin of self-abasement.

Are you taking up the amount of space God created you to fill in this world? And in your marriage?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

An Idealistic Control Freak Considers Unschooling

Image credit bjmcdonald on Flickr

I have always thought that those personality quizzes from magazines and Facebook are fun.  I've always considered myself to be a self-absorbed, navel-gazing perfectionist who takes herself far too seriously um, self-aware.  The results for me seem to fluctuate a bit depending on the test/my mood, but there are a couple of constants: I am an extreme introvert, and an idealist.  When I was younger, the introvert part caused some anguish, but I have pretty much made peace with that.  Now it is the idealist part that I struggle with.  It is extremely important to me to be authentic and consistent, and it really bothers me when my life and my beliefs don't mesh as well as I would like.

Like Jacob, I wrestle and wrestle and refuse to let go of it, even when I don't seem to be getting anywhere.  This school year is resurrecting all my issues regarding unschooling, and I have been a total grouch.  Not only have the kids been responding to my lack of peace, but also to my lack of boundaries.  When I am uncertain about where I stand, they have a knack for pushing on that very spot until I come to clarity.  In other words, we have been butting heads a lot over school work.

I am really drawn in my heart to unschooling.  Deep down, it is what I believe.  Or at least, what I want to believe. We pretty much have done that up until now.  But now I am homeschooling two kids, and the oldest is in second grade.  We should be taking this seriously! (said in my sternest voice).  I am a college instructor, and spent five years teaching K-12.  Even though my experience lines up with unschooling, my programming doesn't.  I am afraid.

I have always thought that fear was a terrible reason to homeschool.  I pitied the children whose parents homeschooled them out of fear of contamination by the big, bad evil world.  But now my choices regarding their education seem to be just as fear-based (and just as inaccurate).  On days when they happily dive into new material, I rejoice.  Yesterday, I read two chapters of a fabulous thriller written by my seven year old.  Her story was remarkable.  Visions of a future where she was being published danced in my head.  I listened to my five year old happily count by odd then even numbers, fives, tens and hundreds, and smiled smugly to myself.  It was working!  Then, today, when they wanted to spend all day playing computer games, I felt like a failure.

My children taught me to trust their bodies and mine with breastfeeding.  They taught me to trust the process of birth.  They have been teaching me to trust their hearts and desire to grow and treat others well as I discipline them.  And, slowly but surely, they are teaching me to trust their desire to learn.  But I am not quite there yet.  I freak out inwardly.  I feel inadequate to provide the kind of environment and support that will really allow them to excel.  And, I'll be honest--my pride trembles and quakes lest they seem to be lacking in things that other kids their age are being taught, even if the actual content is irrelevant. 

So, what is an idealistic control freak to do? 

I don't know yet.  But I am slowly realizing that it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing approach.  Kids in public school are not motivated to study academics all day every day.  Expecting it from my own children seems a tad unreasonable.  But, they are far more motivated than many of us have been trained to believe.  

It is easy for me to shake my head at the one-size-fits-all mentality in obstetrics, in vaccinations, in sleep issues and breastfeeding, and even education, as long as it is abstract.  But in real life?  With a toddler and three year old who make any kind of schoolwork with the older two a challenge?

I am trying to find the balance between backing off and supporting them, and nudging and leading them into things that they might enjoy and profit from tremendously, if they only had more exposure to them.  Maybe one day I will wake up and realize that there really isn't a conflict at all.  Maybe I will grow in trust.  Maybe I will see that it isn't working and that we need something far more structured.  I don't know yet.  I just know that I am learning and stretching and growing right along with them, and that this whole parenting gig is really tough, as well as full of unspeakable joy.

I will keep you updated as I process through this, and I welcome your input!  Now, I am off to examine my belly-button lint in microscopic detail...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Spanked My Dog and He Turned Out Fine

Puppy wants to come inside
Image credit litlnemo on Flickr
I have to laugh at people who are against hitting your animals to train them.  I whipped my dog like there was no tomorrow...he didn't hate me...he didn't have trust issues with me because of it...he didn't fear me...but he darn sure respected me!  And he learned what his boundaries were and knew what would happen if he broke them...he wasn't abused...he was disciplined...*Repost if your dog got smacked and survived it...God put us over animals for a reason!*

Somehow, I doubt that many of my animal loving friends would repost this, or that there would be a ton of likes every time someone did.  I suspect that there might even be some dissenting voices saying that there are better ways to treat our pets.

Of course, Dobson describes in horrific detail beating his tiny dog with a belt to establish his dominance, and the Pearl's view of animal training is similar.  They also compare children to wild animals often, so at least they are consistent in their desire to beat anything smaller or more helpless.
Yet this Facebook status is making the rounds: "I have to laugh at people who are against spanking... My parents whipped my butt like there was no tomorrow... I didn't hate them... I didn't have trust issues with them because of it... I didn't fear them... But I darn sure respected them! And I learned what my boundaries were and knew what would happen if I broke them... I wasn't abused... I was disciplined... *Re-post if you got your butt smacked and survived it... God put extra padding back there for a reason!*"
Each time I have read it, I have started and deleted responses.  For one thing, I get emotional and it is hard to type an articulate response when your hands are shaking. I know that most people who post this have no idea how this could affect others. 

What bothers me so much?  For starters, the mocking tone.  I have known far too many people who have lasting damage from spanking (including spanking "the right way") to consider it a laughing matter.  I have shared letters from a couple of people who described their experiences.  Their utter contempt for the real abuse suffered by many flies directly in the face of the compassion shown by Christ.

Whether or not they are accurate in their assessment of the impact of spanking in their own family is impossible to say, but from what I have seen there is often a lot of denial.  The pervasive shame and self-worth issues, the anger and lack of ability to create and maintain healthy boundaries are all part of the rotten fruit of spanking that many struggle with as adults.  But, like with smoking, there are some who may not be harmed to the same extent as others.  

The problem is, even if they don't see any harm from spanking in their own lives, they are perpetuating it as something beneficial and even Godly in families that are clearly abusing their children.  Each time they like or repost or make joking comments about kids needing a good whipping, they are reinforcing the idea that it is good and that children deserve to be hit.  And the abusers nod and smile, and their children hear from yet another source that this is right, it is what they deserve and that God wants them to be hit by their parents.  

"Oh, but of course I don't condone abuse!"  "Spanking in anger is always wrong."  "It has to be done the right way."  Cop outs.  Abuse is surprisingly subjective, and the people who do it rarely believe that they are.  They are often doing less to their children than was done to them, so that makes it OK in their eyes.  Anger and depression are insidious, and it often isn't until they stop spanking that they realize how often, how hard or how angrily they were actually hitting their children.

You don't know what is going on in families that look good on the surface.  Families where you are sure that the parents would never be abusive.  Please read Avoiding Millstones.  

Hitting pets is wrong.  Hitting children is wrong.  There are far better ways to teach both. The truth is that both pets and children want to love those who take care of them, even if they are mistreated at times.  That doesn't make hitting them right.  Just because we can be forgiven is not license to be a bully.  If you are against violence towards animals and children both, like or repost.  ;)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Breastfeeding and Food Allergies

No drinks, ice cream, cake...
Image credit chrisinplymouth on Flickr

After more than seven and a half years of nursing, it is like wearing a comfy pair of shoes.  It is just what I do.  And although I love all of the amazing changes and stages, we have had some rough spots.  Nursing through pregnancy.  Nursing aversion.  Mastitis.  Cracked and bleeding nipples that lasted well over a month.  One of the most overwhelming was dealing with my children's food allergies while nursing.  But after more than five and a half years of it, I am surprised by how easy it has become.  

When Ariana was a baby, I noticed that sometimes she would get tiny little bumps on her cheekbones after nursing.  She seemed gassy and fussy fairly often (we used Mylicon on a regular basis), and sometimes when changing her diaper, she had a red, bull's-eye ring around her anus.  I didn't realize that these were all signs of possible food allergies.  We started solids at 6 months, and she was eating eggs, wheat, dairy, etc. by or before she was a year old. 

When she was two and Joel was almost a month old, he began screaming with every nursing session.  He would arch his back and twist his head as far as he could.  It was heartbreaking.  I shared with some other moms on my breastfeeding board and the nearly unanimous response was to try eliminating dairy.  I was desperate, and even though I am addicted to cheese, I began ruthlessly cutting out every trace of dairy from my diet.  Within two days, I could see a dramatic difference.  It took several more days for the dairy to completely leave his system, but he went back to the happy baby he had been as a newborn.

It was more than worth it to have him stop screaming, but it was incredibly daunting.  Every bite of food became an ordeal.  Grocery shopping took forever the first few weeks as I pored over labels.  This was before they were required to list the top 8 allergens, and I was looking suspiciously at things like caramel coloring and wondering if they contained dairy.  I can still remember the screaming and pain after I ate some clear broth soup that I was sure would be dairy-free, only to find out that it contained bouillon, which has dairy.

I really struggled with resentment when my husband was oblivious to the effort and frustration of every single bite.  It was hard enough at home, but when we would eat out or with family and friends it was a million times worse.  I hated having to grill them over every possible ingredient, but bringing my own food felt rude, too.  One year at Thanksgiving, some family told me that they had made mashed potatoes without milk so that I could have some.  Just as I was about to eat a bite, I noticed how creamy they looked and asked if there was any butter.  "Oh, yes.  We always put in lots of butter."  I tried to smile as I explained that I couldn't eat them, but inwardly I was so disappointed, for both of us.

There is a lot of confusion about allergies, intolerances and preferences.  I feared that a lot of people considered our dairy elimination as merely a preference and didn't take it seriously.  At one restaurant, I ordered the meal without cheese.  When it arrived with melted cheese all over, I politely explained that we were allergic to dairy, and sent it back.  It came back with most of the cheese scraped off.  :head desk.  (For the record, even if that was merely a preference, I would find that terrible service from a restaurant).

It took weeks before I began to find my footing.  Gradually, I built up a list of generally safe foods/brands.  I still had to think about every bite, but it didn't take nearly as long.  I missed my favorite foods a lot, especially cheese.  I could adjust to rice milk, Smart Balance light, and coconut milk ice cream.  I learned to adapt recipes, and thanked God daily for Oreos.  But I never found an acceptable cheese substitute.

I had been eliminating dairy for several months when Ariana started showing more symptoms.  Eczema breakouts, then hives.  The hives only happened a couple of times, but I pushed hard for allergy testing.  I wondered if I was making too big of a deal about it, if it was all in my head.  Then the results came back.  She was allergic to dairy, wheat, eggs, corn, peanuts, olives and green beans.  While a tiny part of me felt relief that it wasn't just my imagination, that was drowned by the sheer terror.  WHAT was left to eat that didn't contain any of those ingredients?!

Once again, we went through the weeks of poring over labels, looking up ingredients from restaurants on the Internet, and trying to adapt.  This time it was harder because I had to explain to a three year old over and over why she could no longer have any of her favorite foods.  She was a trooper, but it made me sad to deny her or see her left out at birthday parties or other places.  She even reacted to the wheat in Play-Dough.

Her eczema cleared up, though.  She was diaper-free at night as soon as we eliminated the wheat and she actually began sleeping all night.  Her behavior changed noticeably, she was less irritable and aggressive with her little brother.  We began eating more healthfully as a family (sometimes.  We also indulged in junk food that was free of our allergens, just because we could).  I also became a very inventive cook, because I was determined to say yes to my children's food preferences as much as possible, and also because I had to make food that was safe for the whole family that we actually wanted to eat.

Joel started breaking out in hives and having tummy issues just before he turned two.  He seemed fine with dairy, and tests came back negative, but with incredibly high positives to corn, and lower reactions to black beans and pork. Before Elena was a year old, she was showing signs of allergies, too, including a trip to the ER after breaking our in hives the size of my fist from head to toe.  All her tests came back negative, but she showed clear reactions to eggs and berries.  When Amaya was a few months old she started reacting to corn and chocolate (woe is me!) and possibly to pork. 

What I have learned from all this is that it gets easier.  It is possible to breastfeed multiple kids while eliminating multiple allergens.  The learning curve at the beginning is really tough, but once you adjust it becomes like any other discipline.

The allergy part is still confusing to me because of all the contradictory information out there.  I won't tell you when to start solids and which ones, whether or not small amounts through breastmilk that don't provoke a noticeable reaction are good for desensitizing or if they increase the chances for the child to remain allergic, what role vaccines might play, whether or not alternative treatments are effective, or any medical advice, because I just don't know.

What I DO know is that after five and a half years of breastfeeding fool-allergic kiddos, I am happy with that choice.  It isn't nearly as difficult now as it was even three or four years ago.  (Thankfully, the kidlets have outgrown some of the allergies.  I can have cheese now.  But I think I would rather have chocolate.  Sigh.)  I am still more grateful than I can say to all the friends who patiently answered questions, encouraged me, commiserated with me, and helped us to be successful with breastfeeding through the challenge of so many food allergies.

Do you suspect food issues with any of your nurslings?  Are you trying to navigate dietary challenges?  Do you need a hug or an ear from other moms who have been through this?  Your comments and questions are welcome!  <3

I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!
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