Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lessons from the Lego Man

On my desk, next to the blue tape dispenser, sits a legless Lego man.  He is a leftover from one of the boys' Hobbit playsets.  He drove me crazy for days.  I would give him to a kid to put away but he just ended up discarded again.  Not that he is not played with.  He is.  He is just never (EVER) put away.

But tonight, as I sat him on my desk, I had a smile playing across my face.  I realized something today. Something that I think is valuable, even worth sharing with you.  Because I think many of us have fallen into a trap that we don't even realize has us ensnared.  It is not inherently evil, but it has the potential to rob us of joy.

I love a clean house.  I enjoy decorating and arranging and rearranging things.  I love the feel of a freshly tidied room and a beautifully made bed.  I love when there is a place for everything and everything in its place.

Except, as my husband will lament, my shoes.  I confess I am a lazy shoe person.  I kick them off in random places and soon have a pile to carry back to my closet.  It drives him crazy.


I tend to get crazy when my house is cluttered.  It puts my brain in a fog and I may even snap at my kids to "put it away for the eleven hundredth time."  Because we homeschool, we have endless opportunites for messes and let me tell you, the house can get out of control in the time it takes me to go to the mailbox and back.  I'm not exaggerating!  I have a ransom box where stray items are "jailed" and the owner has to do a job to earn them back.  It works pretty well as long as I am consistent.  When I am consistent I am less frustrated and they are more likely to keep their stuff when it belongs because they know I mean business, but when I get lax it is painfully obvious very quickly!  (5 kids plus 3 dogs...things can go south faster than you can blink)

But I digress.

Like every mom we have the constant battle of keeping our homes presentable.    We want our kids to be responsible and good stewards of their belongings.  We want them to be thankful for what they have and desire to take care of it.

But like many other moms I often set too high of a goal.  And it usually comes after looking at a home magazine of some sort or watching HGTV.  I see these beautifully decorated, always presentable and pristine homes and find myself frustrated by the lack of cooperation from my brood of messy chicks.  I lament the Hot Wheels on the floor and the bikes strewn across the back yard because I dream of the Shabby Chic perfection on the magazine cover or the photo frames arranged at just that right angle for viewing from the sofa.  I imagine a kitchen where the sink is sparkling and empty and the dishes are all put away and there are not grease splatters from this morning's breakfast still on the stove at dinner time.

Then I ran across the funny little Lego Man.  Why didn't I sigh in frustration this time?  Because I had a realization that one day...way too soon...there will be no more Lego Men on my floor.  One day the bikes will no longer lay in the grass and those photos in the frames will be aged because my children will be grown.  What will they remember about me? About home?  Do I want them to remember being constantly barked at to put their stuff away or that I cared more about the pillows on the couch than their comfort during a family movie?  Do I want them to be afraid to experiment with cooking for fear of messing up my perfect kitchen or remember discovering the joy of a perfect cookie that they baked all by themselves?

I've stopped buying home magazines.  I haven't watch HGTV in months after they cancelled the show featuring the brothers who held strong Christian beliefs.  I didn't realize until after some time had passed without watching decorating shows that those things bred discontent in my heart!  They give us unrealistic views of home and life!  Now, I also dream of being a farm girl, thinking that if the kids could just roam free and learn to build treehouses or fix tractors or something they would not want to play video games any more and my floors could stay clean for 34 seconds.  They would be so blissfully tired by evening that they would fall into bed with a smile and offer to wake up early to milk the goats because they JUST LOVE FARM LIFE SO MUCH.   I lament living in the city, wishing I had chickens and goats on about 10 perfect acres of land, but the reality is I LIKE being a mile from Kroger.  I LIKE that my dearest friends live just down the street.  I LIKE having a bug-free house and a snake-free yard!  I LIKE chickens and goats, but I do NOT like critters. (spiders, snakes...y'all even the thought makes me cringe!)  That being said, I would still be thrilled to have land and animals, but I have to accept where I am now.  My home is a gift, dirty floors and all.  I may not have perfect neighbors or the friendly neighborhood comraderie that is more often found in rural communities, but we have an acre.  In town.  We have tall trees that shade us in summer and a play room that gives the kids a place to land in the winter.  That mess upstairs that causes me to stay downstairs?  It is part of the story of our home.  We are a loud, messy crew.   I have to let my kids be kids, teach them to clean, teach them to care for their things, but also teach them that our home does NOT have to be perfect to be welcoming.   So there is a pile of towels on the couch.  Who cares if the dog shed on the rug again?  I'll get to it...but for now I need to go outside and get my hands dirty in the garden.  I need to smile at my daughter as she shows me the same trick on her scooter for the 80th time.  I need to sit on the front porch with my son and listen to his tall tales.  I need to hear my teenager spill the details of whatever story he is telling me because he is sure to clam up again tomorrow and that opportunity will be gone.  Some things are needful right now.

Having a picture-perfect house is not one of them.

Balance.  It is all about balance, which is difficult in a world that bombards us with shiny perfection.  But taking my eyes off the world's idea of a successfully run home and looking at the faces at my dinner table make it abundantly clear where my focus should be.

Live well.  Laugh often.  Love much.

Appreciate the visits from the Lego Man.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Look up, Mama.

This afternoon I was meandering through my flower beds just before my husband arrived home from work.  I often walk around the perimeter of our house, looking for new blooms, pinching off spent ones, or replacing mulch where a squirrel has been digging for nuts long-buried.

As I walked I noticed something.  Just past the Japanese Maple, near the Nandina that somehow reappeared after being dug up 4 years ago (I decided that it proved it's resilience, so now it thrives in it's odd spot behind the dwarf Magnolia) was a thick patch of weeds.  They were seedlings, actually, of the tall oak that dropped acorns last Fall.  I squeezed between an Autumn Fern and an almost-blooming Hydrangea and pulled up the unwelcome guests.  As I straightened back up from my crouched position a sweet smell wafted across my nose and I almost jumped in surprise.

Where is that coming from?

It smelled like perfume.  Delightful.

I went over to a just-opened Hydrangea bloom and took a sniff.  It smelled nice, but it was not what struck me as I was pulling the weeds.  I looked around to try to identify what was producing such loveliness and spotted a huge white bloom.

magnolia white bloom God weeds

I was completely taken aback.  I thought the magnolia blooms had all faded away.  Peak season for Magnolias around here is usually in May and, as you are well aware, we are into the second week of June.   I had stopped looking for the blooms.

I leaned in to take in the scent.  It was exactly what had caught my attention.  It was perfectly perfumey and strong and one step back revealed two more blooms...the last holdouts before Summer heat sets in and wilts them away.

There is a saying that goes like this:  "One is nearer to God's heart in a garden than anywhere else."

Today I felt that, for He revealed something beautiful to me right there where I stood.

How often do I miss beauty because of the weeds?  How easily do I become frustrated at the difficulty of maintaining order, of training my children, of dealing with negative habits or even willful disobedience?  

It is too easy to focus on the work.  When our hands get dirty and there is grit under our fingernails and blisters on our palms, we groan at the burden that is harder than we feel we can bear.  The weeds seem endless at times...pull one up and three more grow in it's place.  Our knees become calloused and numb and we just stare at the stubborn ground that refuses to release the roots and look to see if there is a "special tool" or an easier way to do this.  Surely there is a book somewhere that tells us "5 steps to a weed-free life" or something like that, right?  Spring has passed and the sweetness of early childhood has faded and we think of all the things we would do differently if we knew then what we know now.  

Or would we?

For if we look up...

Look, Mama.  Look up.

There.  Do you see it?  While you were on your knees pulling weeds, a bud has formed.  It is just beginning to open.  Yes, I know there are more weeds that demand your attention...but look.  All of that work is paying off.  You are tilling fertile ground and there is a bloom!  It is fragrant.  Take a deep breath.  Remember that scent that caught your attention.  Yes, Spring is ending but those blooms?  They are today's reward.

Every weed you pulled was sucking life from the roots of that tree.  You kept at it, and you will keep at it until they no longer grow back...which may not happen this side of Heaven.  But still we have to keep weeding, we have to not grow weary in well-doing because God is creating beauty just above us.  While you are bent low He is opening up a blossom bigger than your open hand.  Stop.  Take a long look and rejoice for the Lord your God is growing a Son and Daughter right before your eyes.  Your labor is not in vain, sweet mama.  

OUR labor is not in vain.  

Keep working.  But don't forget to stop and breathe in the scent of joy that emanates from your children.  When your teenager hugged you hard at bedtime?  That is a bloom.  When your child who struggled to attach let you carry her sleepy body in your arms and kiss her goodnight?  That is a bloom.  When you received that note telling what a blessing your child was to someone today?  That is a bloom.  Rest now and take in the beauty of your garden.  There will be plenty of weeds to pull tomorrow.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Best. Coffee. Ever.

If you are on Facebook very often, you may have seen the article that floated around a few weeks ago about adding butter to your coffee.

Yes, I said butter.

If you do an internet search you can easily find all kinds of information about it.

When one of my friends shared the article I was intrigued.  I had just begun the "Trim Healthy Mama" eating plan (more about that in another post) and this seemed to very possibly fit in with my new, healthier habits.

So, of course, I tried it.  I love coffee and I love butter.  But together??

Um...hello, delicious!

There was only one drawback for this coffee lover.   The coffee didn't "look" right.  I'm a half and half lover, and the coffee with oil floating on top look weird even though it tasted very good.  So I improvised.  And the result?

Well, try it for yourself and tell me what you think!

Here is the recipe.

Vanilla Butter Joe

1 cup good coffee (I use fresh ground Ethiopian coffee.  Delish.)
1 tsp Kerrygold grass fed butter  (You MUST use grass fed butter to get the health benefits!)
1 pinch Stevia extract powder
1/2-1 scoop Swanson's vanilla whey protein powder

Mix well and drink hot!  

Easy peasy, and so very tasty!

The best part of this drink is you are getting protein and healthy fats, which keep you satisfied longer. (Satisfied=less likely to snack=more likely to shed poundage)

You can also play with this recipe, blending it in a Magic Bullet to make it frothy or cooling it down and blending with ice to make a Trim Healthy version of the Frappucino.  Coconut oil is also a good source of healthy fats.  And flavors?  Just imagine the yummy versions you could come up with using different extracts...chocolate, almond, hazelnut, peppermint. The possibilities are endless!

Have fun experimenting!


Monday, June 2, 2014

Peace with God

Growing up, my mental picture of God was that of an angry old man holding a clipboard with a list of sins.  He angrily checked them off as I committed them.  By the age of 13 I thought being baptized would wipe the slate clean and I could start over.

By 17, I had given up.  I lived like the world all week, then put on my good girl clothes on Sunday morning in hopes of appeasing the "old man" upstairs in case I died in a car accident or something.  I was miserable.

At age 21 I met the man who would become my husband.  Funny, because neither of us were exactly following Jesus, but somehow through the chaos of dating and navigating our feelings he led me to Jesus.

Sept. 23, 1993.  It was 2:00 in the morning.  I was in the midst of another cry session over I-don't-know-what.  But I remember him saying, "don't you know you will go to Heaven?"

Incredulously I responded, "How can you know?"

Because I had been taught that every sin sent you straight back to Hell.  God was keeping count and he had zero tolerance for my mistakes.  I was walking a thin line and falling on the wrong side more often than not.  I was constantly teetering on the brink of eternal damnation despite my desire to feel safe.

That night, I prayed to God, asking Jesus, to be my Savior.

That night everything changed.

I have never been the same.  The struggles I had then are not there now.  I have different struggles, but the trajectory has (thankfully) been upward by the grace of God.  But still, in the deepest part of my heart, has been a niggling fear.  A knowledge of how often I fail Him and that one day I will see Him face to face and everything I have done or left undone will be laid bare.  I know I will go to Heaven, but to live with the knowledge of how many times I threw away a blessing, of what could have been if only I had been obedient made my heart ache.

Last Sunday morning I sat in church between my husband and Miss S, our precious friend who rides with us each week.  Pastor Barry began his summer series and I settled in, looking forward to reinforcing the important basics of my faith.  He was speaking from Romans 5, which I have read many times.

I should know better than to feel too familiar with a Scripture.  The Word of God is, after all, living and active, isn't it?

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, 
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  
(Romans 5:1)

I have peace.  Present tense.  I have peace with God, no matter how I feel in the moment.  When God looks at me, he doesn't just push aside the sin and choose to ignore it.  No, (OH what GLORIOUS TRUTH!) my Father in Heaven looks upon me, seeing NO SIN.  He sees me as I am...spotless, free, loved, His own. How?  Because JESUS PAID IT ALL.

This.  This rocked me to the core, more deeply than it ever has in 21 years of knowing Him.  I am at peace with God.  My peace is through Jesus, not through anything I have done!  And this truth?  It trickles down.
For you see, the inability to trust His acceptance of me has affected my ability to trust His acceptance of my children.  Oh, how easily legalism creeps into my parenting.  In the effort to prevent my kids from making the same mistakes I made as a teen I find myself micromanaging them, trying to parent them into holiness.

I have been foolish.  This failure of trust on my part most likely results in my children seeing God just like I an angry old man with a clipboard just waiting for them to screw up.  (Which they will.)

But now, there is this calm in my spirit that has made me able to trust Him with my kids on a whole new level.  All of my kids have accepted Jesus.  All of my kids, no matter what phase they are going through or how many doubts cloud their thinking or how many times they use "that tone", are at peace with God.
(Now, they may not be at peace with me, but that is another story!)  
He is pleased with them.  He looks upon them through the filter of His precious Son and I can trust Him with every aspect of their lives.

I can trust Him to turn around a sour attitude.
I can trust Him to peel the scales from angry eyes
I can trust Him to give them the gift of faith and the desire to follow Him out of love and not because I convinced them that it is what they should do.

I can trust Him to do with my kids exactly what He did with me.

Which also means...I can rest.  I can love them and pick better battles.  I can train them up and trust that resistance and even anger are part of the process of maturing and that God will use even my failures to refine them and make them like Jesus.

Oh mamas, if only we could all grasp the freedom that awaits.  Even though this is a truth I have "known" and even attempted to teach my kids, it has hit me on a whole new level this week.  I feel like I am just beginning to digest this.

We are at peace with God.
We, who have shaken our fists and rebelled...
who have taken for granted the little hearts in our care...
who have snapped in anger...
who have neglected the best for the not-so-good...
who have mismanaged hours that we can never reclaim...
who have doubted God's ability to fix what is broken...
we can rest.

I want to shout from the rooftops!  I want to shatter the chains of legalism that bind so many of us and scream in the face of the tyrant who tries to shackle us with man-made rules that our God is a god of GRACE and MERCY!  He loves us with an everlasting love...not dependent on our performance...and underneath us (oh, sisters, just envision this will you?) are His everlasting arms.

He holds us and He cherishes us and we are His beloved.  He is pleased with us because He is our Father and we never, ever have to doubt that...even on our worst days!

So now I challenge you, with this in mind, to read the rest of Romans 5.  Let me know what you think.  This may be nothing new to you, but if it is, I'd love for us to encourage one another in parenting with God's grace at the forefront of our minds.  After all, old habits are hard to break!  It's always easier when a gentle reminder floats your way.  :)

Have a wonderful, peaceful week my friends!