Posts made in May, 2012

Holding On

Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Faith, Marriage & Family | 2 comments

Holding On

Lately, every time I get together with a girlfriend, I find myself answering some variation of this question…

“What toll have all of your stressful life circumstances taken on your marriage?”

In all honesty I can answer that our difficulties have brought us closer together and strengthened our marriage. Have there been fights? Yes. Has it sometimes seemed impossible to find any resolution to our conflicts? Yes. Have there been times that the strain on our marriage seemed unbearable? Yes. But somewhere along the way we stopped fighting with and pointing the finger at each other and instead starting leaning on and trusting each other.

Part of this process was a deliberate decision. We got married, there’s paperwork, the whole deal is sealed with two little princesses. My husband totally gets commitment. Me? I’ve come a long way… at the beginning of our marriage I thought every fight meant “the end,” but Husband taught me that ups and downs are normal in a marriage and we’d get through it all together. I learned this secret to a lasting marriage over the years:

Just hold on.

I remember hearing about a study on married couples that found couples on the brink of divorce, when surveyed five years later, almost universally reported being very happily married. Things change. I realize it’s not the most romantic notion, but I think some seasons of a lifetime spent with another person hinge on just holding on through the rough spots.

The rest of the process has just been supernatural, divine intervention. We’ve been through some crazy, over the top, test-your-marriage-vows-and-all-that-is-holy kinda trials. I do not think my marriage could have made it through, at least not with any inkling of joy left in it, without prayer. Do you know what it’s like when two stressed, overwhelmed, angry, beaten up people try to communicate? Even a conversation about the weather can quickly go south, never mind an attempt to resolve a relational issue.

Over the years I’ve prayed a lot. Out of sheer desperation, when I couldn’t take one more fight over something ridiculous, I started dumping all of my hurts and frustrations on God instead of Husband. And in the process, completely on accident, I discovered an even bigger secret to a successful marriage:

Pray for your spouse.

Here’s what happened. At first, I started every prayer about Husband and our marriage as an all out bitch fest. I really gave God a piece of my mind about all this. Held nothing back. Even cussed. Then God changed my heart. He very gently showed me where I was wrong, ways I contributed to the problems. Then slowly, gently, without shaming me for the complaining and cussing, He showed me Husband’s heart all full of hurts and hopes and goodness …that softened me and gave me a new way to communicate with Husband that didn’t put him on the defensive. Husband and I got to start talking about the weather again without fighting. Some of the more serious, relational conversations never even happened because, without me even saying a word to Husband, he started acting differently too… I know that was God answering my prayers and adjusting Husband’s heart.

Although the stress is still piled on top of us and it weighs heavily, I don’t feel it undermining the strength of our marriage anymore. It’s no longer impossible to have hard conversations, but I try to remember to pray first. Many times, the praying alone is enough to bring resolution… I discover that I was wrong, not Husband, or that Husband was wrong but it wasn’t such a big deal after all, or that God makes the adjustment in Husband before I can say anything. In the instances that a confrontation is necessary, God gives me words that are easier to hear than my own would ever be. Sometimes I completely forget the value of praying first and just let loose with whatever is on my mind and there’s a fight… but this seems to be so much more easily covered and forgiven now, on both sides, since so many deeper hurts have been healed.

It’s really a lie when we believe our spouse is the source of our problems and discontent (barring abusive or dangerous situations, of course). The source of our problems and discontent is usually within ourselves. One of the most beautiful parts of marriage is the “iron sharpening iron” aspect. Instead of a lifelong curse, with God’s help, even the most broken marriages can become the blessing that helps bring healing and growth, the love that is fully anchored in trust and friendship. Trudging through the muddy mess of life, holding my best friend’s hand, trusting him completely, seeing God alive in our marriage after our trial by fire experiences means so much more to me than any “perfect” marriage ever could.

 

Mamaraderie

Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Marriage & Family | 4 comments

Mamaraderie

“How old is your baby?” a friendly voice behind me chimed.

I turned to answer and was greeted by a bright smiling face as she exclaimed, “Mine too!” Then a 10 minute conversation ensued right there in the sandwich line as my new friend and I exchanged tales of motherhood like we’d known each other for years.

I love the camaraderie that moms share… Mamaraderie, I thought as I carried my sandwich and my baby to my car. I didn’t know such a thing existed until I had kids and presto! an instant connection with every other woman in the world who has a child*.

Camaraderie is defined as goodwill and lighthearted rapport among friends… synonyms are cheer, companionship, conviviality, fellowship, intimacy, sociability, togetherness. Mamaraderie is all of these things… goodwill and rapport among friends who share an intensely uniting common bond… fun, fellowship, closeness, and community shared between women who mother. I first became acquainted with Mamaraderie when I had my first child and women converged upon my home with meals and help and love, later when other mothers intuitively knew I needed help and jumped in (think Costco parking lot, wearing a crying newborn on my chest in a Bjorn while holding a tantruming toddler and juggling bulk groceries, thank you to the angel who loaded my car and returned my cart while wrangling her own children), daily as I effortlessly make mama friends who are warm and kind and encouraging and supportive virtually everywhere I go with my children.

Unfortunately, Mamaraderie also has a dark underbelly. It can surface in the form of competition, or comparison, or judgement, or division. It might show up looking like a dispute between working moms vs stay at home moms, or baby training parents vs attachment parents, or spanking parents vs positive guidance parents. Being on the receiving end of it hurts, breeds anger, insecurity, isolation. Being on the giving end feels powerful and self righteous… therein lies the appeal, I think. It’s just that being a mother is really hard. You do the best you can but it always feels like not enough. In motherhood, there is virtually no positive feedback, no performance based compensation system to gauge your success, no annual reviews and bonuses to reward all your hard work. The only barometer a mama knows to look at sometimes to measure how well she is or is not doing is her children’s behavior… and that whole process can feel like being knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly while her attacker tantrums. So in the face of this kind of constant giving with nary a pat on the back or “atta girl!” in return, who wouldn’t start to grasp for some way to make herself feel better?

Then there’s the passion. Mothers are passionate. It is wired into us to be intensely protective of our little brood, the family in our care. We read, research, pray, experiment, fail, correct, all in the interest of doing the very best we can for the little people who depend on us. Eventually, we find our answers… from the big things to the little things, we get a sense of what our family is about, who our children are designed to be, what the right choices and decisions for this family are. And then, because we’re moms and it’s what we do, we want to share the wealth of our wisdom… this can be helpful, but it can also be so hurtful, because what’s right for this family isn’t necessarily right for that family.

Maybe we could take each others decisions and methods in parenting a little more in stride, with a little more grace and humility**. I think we’re all doing the best we can. I think we all do it differently because we’re raising different people with different destinies that require different methods. Part of our job as mothers is to get to know our children at the heart of who they are, to discern their gifts, strengths, and shortcomings as individuals so that we can respond in a way that best encourages their growth. How could there ever be only one right way to do that?

While Mamaraderie requires us to extend grace to mamas with whom we may disagree on certain points, it offers some benefits that I think we mothers can’t afford to do without. Being a mother is hard work… it is physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically demanding over the long term. It is a daily battle to protect our children from the dangers lurking in the world, to safeguard their hearts and identities as they stumble through difficulties, to extend grace and forgiveness to ourselves as we are confronted with our own mistakes and shortcomings, and to preserve some sense of who we are as individuals in the process of giving ourselves so completely to the service of others. Any difficult fight is better fought and more easily won in the presence of other soldiers.

“I have always found comforting in battle the companionship of a friend, one in whom you had confidence, one you felt assured would stand by you until the last.”

Frank Hollinger, Civil War Captain

Studies show that the camaraderie and social bonds found within a supportive group mitigate the harmful effects of stress hormones. Camaraderie in difficult situations has been found to have a long term protective effect against physical and mental illness. We need each other, mamas! The help we can offer each other through cheer, companionship, conviviality, fellowship, intimacy, sociability, togetherness is so much more significant than what we can accomplish by proving the rightness of our positions and philosophies.

~

*I didn’t have a child until I was 32 years old, and prior to that time I often felt on the outside of the mom club, and it didn’t feel good. Having children has humbled and changed me, but I also know that I had mothering, nurturing, and caretaking instincts and sensibilities long before I had children. I think that if you are a woman, you have the capacity to mother, even if you never have children of your own… so while this blog is addressed to mothers, in my mind that includes all women.

**I have not always done this well. In fact, at times I have been downright judgmental and rude. If I have ever made you feel judged, then I’m so sorry. If you were gracious to me as I made you feel judged, then I’m so thankful!

The Road Built in Hope

Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Faith, Mental Health | 2 comments

The Road Built in Hope

“It has never been and never will be easy work!

But the road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair,

even though they both lead to the same destination.”

~Marion Zimmerman Bradley

Life can be so hard.  We have so little control over what happens.  That used to scare me, but I’ve gradually become comfortable trusting God completely and enjoying the only real control I have, control over the way I respond to circumstances, to people, to my own thoughts and feelings.  I can not choose the things that happen to me, I can not control the decisions that other people make, I can not always even control my own feelings and knee jerk reactions.  But I can choose the way I respond.

I think I used to have some sense of being in control of my life that I maintained through certain practices like worrying, holding grudges, excessive planning, constant anticipation of worst case scenario.  Disappointingly enough, these things didn’t work.  I worried over and tried to control certain events, but some of them happened anyway, and lots of other things that never even occurred to me to worry about happened too.  I held grudges and harbored offenses towards people, but while they moved on without noticing or caring, I sprouted bitterness and anger that took a toll on my relationships.  I planned and planned and prepared and then planned more, but my plans faded away and I missed out on what was actually happening in the moment.  I did work overtime anticipating the worst case scenario, but it never happened as horribly as I imagined, not even once, and I bathed myself in anxiety in the process.

So on my worst days now, I wake up, let myself feel sad or hurt or angry or scared or whatever for awhile, and then I purpose to trust God and tuck hope, peace, joy, and forgiveness away in my heart.  I choose these things instead of despair. No matter what.  It is not and never will be easy. It takes intentionality.  It takes prayer.  It takes blind faith. But oh. my. heavens.  It is so worth it.

Turns out I take a ton of pictures of my family walking on roads.  Here is a sampling that made me think of traveling the road built in hope…

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Enjoy the journey, it's just as meaningful and beautiful as the destination

 

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Laugh! There is so much to enjoy along the way. If you can't find anything, try sticking a poodle in your pocketbook...

 

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Enjoy your journey with friends. Forgive the ones who hurt you and focus on the ones who love you.

 

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Ask someone more mature for help in facing your fears and giant problems. If you can't find a person, God is the best counselor.

 

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Keep moving forward in faith and confidence, there is purpose in this journey

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Because You Are Mine

Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Bug & Bear, Faith | 6 comments

Because You Are Mine

I’m watching Bug and Bear run through the sprinkler on our back patio. The whole thing sums up rather nicely the polar opposites that they seem to me to be most of the time. Bug is charging through the most intense surge of water at full speed, screaming at top volume. I mean, charging. It’s full of energy, joy, passion, abandon, boldness. Bear stands by watching, smiling. She sits at the very edge of the spray, out of its reach but gingerly reaching just the tips of her fingers into a bit of mist. She’s having a blast, but it’s reserved, full of observing, sensitivity, care, caution.

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Bear

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Bug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They are so very different. They are incredibly different from each other, but one bears many similarities to me in personality and temperament. Naturally, I guess, the one who is more like me is just easier for me to understand… I get her, understand her needs and feelings, know what to do to soothe her or challenge her or help her. The one who is not so much like me is generally considered my “easier” child, but for me, it’s less apparent what she needs from me to really develop into herself, the unique individual she is designed to be. I find myself having to try a little harder and pray a little more to know how to meet her needs.

One day I was talking to my friend about my polar opposites and the unique relationship I have with each of them, and  she mentioned an article recently printed in Time Magazine about mothers really having favorite children after all. My friend suggested that maybe this idea of “getting” one child a little more easily is what people are experiencing when they favor a certain child over another. I think so. I read the article and didn’t much care for it.  I don’t feel like I favor the child who is more like me… now some days she makes me feel more competent and successful at mothering, but I value my other baby just as much for her uniqueness and differences.  The one who is not so much like me means so much to me because she is not so much like me… and for that reason she has inspired me to develop parts of my personality that were stagnant, to rely heavily on God to find my identity as her mother, to love and embrace people that I may not have previously understood.  The person she is just amazes me. How did she become that way? I know it’s not because of me, I just see God’s design all over her. How could I ever choose a favorite when each of my girls is so uniquely herself?

~

Dear Bug,

You are energetic, joyful, passionate, bold, brave. You are full of love, mercy, and compassion. You inspire me to love people more, to leave my comfort zone of reserve and caution, to live with a little bit more abandon. You challenge me and teach me about God… I ask Him every day to help me see you, to help me develop the uniqueness in you, to show me how to be the mother you need, and every day I see Him show up through you and our relationship and I’ve never known anything like it. But none of these are the reasons I love you. I love you simply because you are mine.

Dear Bear,

You are observant, sensitive, careful, intelligent, wise. You are full of composure, femininity, and quiet strength. You make me feel loved and competent and like the only mother in the world who could ever have been meant for you. You teach me about myself, let me see that so many of my ways are just innately and uniquely built into me and that they’re good. I’ve never known anything like it. But none of these are the reasons I love you. I love you simply because you are mine.

~

For me, one of the most amazing things about being a parent is getting a tiny glimpse into what God’s love must be like for His children.  I think the love we have for our children gets us just a little bit closer to understanding those things of God that are so hard to fathom, like unconditional love, undeserved grace, unearned salvation.  My love for my children is a constant reminder to me that I can not make God love me more by being good or love me less by being bad, but that He just loves me all the time, more than I can imagine, simply because I am His.  It’s the way He feels about all of His children.  He loves us and values us for our uniqueness.  I think people can forget that sometimes, and start to think instead that God loves best those who are most like Him.  The criteria for judging who is most like Him can get reduced to those who appear to serve in church the most, or read their Bible the most, or know the rules the most.  I think when we start to think that God loves certain people more, we have missed the whole point… that we’re all His favorites, that Salvation came for the lost and hurting, that we can love those who are different than us, that He loves those who are different than us.  He loves us all simply because we are His.

 

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Bug and Bear ~ My Two Favorites

 

Simple Fancy: Salmon and Pasta

Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Cooking | 1 comment

Simple Fancy: Salmon and Pasta

I celebrated my 36th birthday last week.  I think for a mother of very young children, “celebrating” takes on a whole new meaning.  For me this year, the ultimate in celebrating looked like a break from all things domestic, especially the daily routine of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of people. I was just feeling really burned out on the never-ending-ness of it all, so my birthday seemed like a perfectly reasonable excuse to just kind of take a week off, and to my great excitement, everyone agreed. I didn’t cook, Husband cleaned up the house, my parents came to visit and took me out for dinners at restaurants where other people were entirely responsible for the meal preparation and cleaning, and I got to take leisurely showers whenever I felt like it.

Since my parents did the hard work of driving to town and assisting with my domestic hiatus, I wanted to cook them at least one meal.  The domestic hiatus demanded the meal be one that didn’t take a lot of time, require a lot of prep, or leave a huge mess, but I still wanted it to be nice enough to serve to guests.

Salmon is my go to when I want to cook a nice meal that’s also simple and quick.  I’ve tried salmon lots of different ways that are more involved than this simple recipe, but my family always agrees that this is our favorite.  It requires nearly nothing in the way of time, prep, or clean up.  Perfect!  I almost always throw asparagus in with the salmon for the last five minutes of cooking, but this time I opted for this Fusilli with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper recipe instead (I didn’t have fusilli or Romano cheese on hand, so I substituted elbow macaroni and Parmesan).  The pasta was a perfect compliment to the fish and was incredibly quick and easy to prepare.  The entire meal was delicious, only took about ten minutes of prep and another ten minutes of cook time, and was nice enough to serve to guests.

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Salmon and Cheesy Pasta

Simple Salmon:

2 lbs salmon fillet

Kosher or sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Garlic powder

Dried basil

Cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat broiler.  Place salmon skin side down on foil lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle fish generously with salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil.  Add a light sprinkling of cayenne if desired.  Place under broiler for 10-12 minutes until fish is just opaque in center and flakes easily with a fork.  Serve with Fusilli with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper and lemon wedges.  Feeds 4-6 people.

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