Saturday, July 30, 2011

Crazy Banaliens

Summer is well on its way to being over, fall "vacation" (as my teacher husband calls it) will be here before we know it, and my kids have finally settled into a routine of not getting along.  It's been hotter than unmentionable places for most of the past couple of weeks, and our little house seems to be bursting at the seams with people....sometimes cranky, sometimes delightful, sometimes (mercifully) sleeping.  

Delightful or Cranky?
Okay, truth be told, that "sometimes cranky" person has more and more often been me, and that quite possibly has something to do with the fact that I haven't had one full night of sleep in the past six months.  Or maybe my house can't handle two homemakers.  Or maybe it's just that my little bubble of personal space is constantly being popped by someone who wants something from me and I feel like I haven't had a moment of peace and quiet in forever and ever and ever.  I haven't been relaxed or well-rested or taken care of in eons, and I think it's finally getting to me.

I can't even think straight most of the time, I'm so overwhelmed.  I've got lots of big things on my mind, but even the plain, everyday thoughts and decisions, like what to wear or make for dinner, seem powerfully huge and impossible right now, and I just can't keep my head from spinning.

Crazy Banaliens
And so out comes Mrs. Crankypants, barking orders, making mountains out of molehills, and being a general pain in the just-had-a-kid-and-haven't-lost-the-baby-weight heiney.  Yelling at my children to "show the love of Jesus, for crying out loud!!!" as I rant and rave like a lady straight out of the proverbial loony bin, wherever that is.  If this keeps on for too much longer, I'm thinking I might actually get to find out.  Not entirely a bad thing, you know.  A nice, secluded, padded room is sounding pretty heavenly right about now.

Somehow in the midst of this chaotic summer, I've found solace in simply embracing my lunacy.  Letting my family see it, even share in it sometimes, has given me the freedom to go comically insane whenever the need arises.  For instance, there has been a lot of singing in our house as of late, some of it horrendously off-key.  There's been some screaming (as in "Mom's going to SCREEEEEEAAAAAAM!").  And spraying of children with water.  And random noogies.  And a ton of mooing and honking and neighing at passing animals.  Well, the animals aren't passing.  We're passing the animals in the car, not the other way around.  No, the animals aren't in the car, we're the ones in the car.  The animals are usually just sort of standing there.  As we pass them.  And moo or honk or neigh at them (it's kind of species specific).

As a means of amusing myself and the small people I live with, I've also been making lots of new food faces, which are a trademark of summer in our family.  The coolest thing about food faces is that no matter how long Mrs. Crankypants may have visited in the morning, when lunchtime rolls around, I am always the most spectacular mom ever.  Like Mrs. Awesomepants or something.  Or at least her first cousin.

Feel some insanity coming on, moms?  Life is crazy...don't hold back.  Go bananas...or kiwis...or plums...or even nectarines.  Who knows?  You could be Mrs. Awesomepants' first cousin, too.

  Blueberry Nerdman                                         Cheesy Bug Men

Okay, so I'm not responsible for what I write after midnight.  But seriously?  I hope someday my kids remember me for all the crazy, fun, and slightly insane things I did instead of for all the times I blew it.  Note to self: kill Mrs. Crankypants. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Little Girl, Big Decision

"Mom, someday I'm going to ask Jesus into my heart!"

These are the first words I heard today from my five-year-old daughter, Miss J.  "What are you waiting for?", I asked.  She shrugged her little shoulders.  I wondered aloud if she knew what it meant to ask Jesus into her heart, to which she answered "Not really."

Thus began a brief conversation with myself, my husband, and Miss J.  Not one we haven't had before.  We talked about sin, and how we all sin.  How we can't ever be good enough to be with God, because God is perfect.  How Jesus died to save us from our sins, and how we just need to be sorry and believe that He died for us to be with Him someday in Heaven.  To have His Spirit dwell within us, to have Jesus "live in our hearts".

She knew this all before.  None of it was new to her, in fact, she answered every question correctly, just as a little girl raised in the church would.

But something was different this time, and I'll tell you what it was.

Miss J acknowledged that she was a sinner. 
She now understands that she needs saving.

Being only five-and-a-half years old, this is a new concept for her.  Miss J is an especially compliant child by nature, rarely pressing the limits set by Mom and Dad, and almost never requiring discipline beyond a few stern words and the occasional time-out.  She kind of floats through life with a smile on her face, being silly and sweet and staring off into space like her ADHD mother.  People generally like being with her, and like I said, she's just an easygoing, compliant child.

It's easy to see why she might think of herself as being "good".  For as far back as she can remember, she's seen her older brother and sister get into trouble.  Lots of it.  She's heard them be disrespectful, she's seen them kick and scream and throw horrible tantrums.  She's witnessed stealing, lying, and outright disobedience, but she's rarely, if ever, done any of these things herself.  She's just watched.  And of course, although it's never once been said, she's assumed that "they" are "bad", and "she" is "good".

And don't we sometimes do the same thing?  Don't we hide behind our belief that we are "good people"- people that don't need saving?  We may have a few areas of our lives we're not proud of, but at least we're not as bad as those "other" people....the ones that cheat on their spouses or embezzle money or steal cars or murder children or do drugs or have casual sex outside of marriage.  Now they need saving....but me?  I'm a "good person".

And maybe, by the world's standards, you are a good person.  Just like Miss J.  And maybe, just maybe, you're on the verge of discovering something new, like my baby girl did this morning.

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"  Romans 3:23 (emphasis mine)

We all have faults.  We all have evil in us somewhere.  We've lied, we've cheated, we've hated, we've lusted, we've been content to sit our days away instead of accomplish.  We've been arrogant, selfish, thoughtless, greedy, ungrateful, stingy, immodest, judgemental, and unkind.  We've disrespected our husbands, been harsh with our wives, humiliated our children, and denied our Creator.  We are sinners.  Every last one of us.  And we all need saving.

I'm incredibly proud of my little daughter today, and it's not because she's obedient, sweet and silly.  It's because for the very first time, she's looking at what's wrong with her instead of what's right with her (in her own words, that she doesn't always obey Mom and Dad, and she fights with her brothers and sister) and she's come to a pretty major conclusion.  She needs Jesus. Today she decided on her own to tell Him that, and so she's accepted the free gift of salvation.

A long time ago, I looked at my own life and recognized the same thing...and it's as true today as it was all those years ago.  I need Jesus, too.

What about you?

22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.   Romans 3:22-25

Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Attachment Problem of My Own

She's opening herself up again.

School has been out for a month and a half.  She went through her usual summer tantrumming cycle, let out a lot of anger and ugliness at the fact that she's not in control here like she's been allowed to be at school (especially with her friends), and has finally gotten used to being around me and the family twenty-four hours a day.  And all of a sudden, Miss M has started to care what I think about her again.

She's opening herself up to me.

The horrible detached snottiness that started up sometime during the winter or early spring has all but vanished.  Her flippant premature-teenaged attitude of "I don't care what you want or say or think" is gone, and in its place is a wide-eyed, scared little girl, terrified of rejection.  Terrified of me.

She's actually been apologizing when her behavior has left something to be desired, and the last two times we've sent her to the tantrum chair, she's decided not to throw a tantrum at all.  She's just sat there quietly.  Weird.  And strangely cool.

When I've reprimanded her for being rude...or careless...or for waking up the baby...her chin begins to quiver and her eyes fill with tears.  Yesterday, I found her crying on the stairs and had to reassure her that even though I get frustrated, I still love her.

She's been asking to hold my hand.  She's been attacking me from behind with random hugs.  She's actually been trying to do what we ask of her, often with a pleasant attitude.  And she's been drawing me pictures and leaving love notes for me.  She's allowing herself to be vulnerable.  Right now, she wants to attach.

But this isn't the first time this has happened.  And I know it won't last.

This happens on and off throughout the year, usually when she's coming down from a particularly bad spell.  I think it's her way of asking "Do you still love me?  Can I still be your little girl?".  It's when most of the bonding and healing in her heart takes place, when she's closer than ever to being the child God created her to be.  But it's also the time that I struggle the most.

You see, I have an attachment problem of my own.  There are only so many times a human being can be rejected before they begin constructing walls to protect themselves, and when it comes to Miss M, I am hundreds of instances over my limit.  My walls are a mile high at best.  She and I have something in common.

After nearly five years of pouring myself out for this child over and over again, I'm empty.  My compassion is gone.  I have little to no real desire to connect with Miss M on a deeper level anymore.  I can't stand the thought of cuddling with her or covering her face in mommy-kisses, I physically recoil at her unexpected touches, and I often resent the time spent with her when I could be with one of my other kids.  My husband feels exactly the same way.  Truth is, we don't need her.  We have four other children that soak in our love like sponges, none of whom will turn around in a few weeks and punish us for loving them.

As strange as it sounds, I'm better at mothering Miss M when she's throwing tantrums all the time.  I'm used to it.  It's comfortable.  I've learned how to detach myself from the screaming and fit-throwing, and usually even from the disrespect, and I've gotten really good at relying on God to reassure her at the end of each tantrum.  To hug her, hold her, tell her I love her, pat her on the back and move on.  But I never actually have to bond with her.  I kind of just....manage her.

We're walking right now in a territory that is completely uncomfortable for both of us.  She's stopped fighting, at least for now, and is showing what I've always known to be true: she needs me desperately.

So I ask for your help.  Please pray for me.  Pray that I will have the desire and the courage to form a lasting mother-child bond with her, even though she will undoubtedly throw it back in my face.  Pray that I don't give up when she hurts me again.  Pray that I will remember to rely on the Holy Spirit to parent her every moment of every day instead of only in the short bursts I'm accustomed to.  She needs me to be fully engaged - fully loving, fully forgiving - in order to have a chance at healing.  So please pray with us.

I truly do care about my daughter's future.  I want her to heal.  I just can't do it alone. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

To Mothers of Unattached Children

We are sisters, you and I.

You know who you are.  We have a bond even closer than blood.  And even if I don't know you well, even if I don't know you at all, if I knew you in the past, or will meet you sometime in the future...even if I will never again lay eyes on you this side of heaven, our lives are intertwined.  We are sisters.

We are mommies.  We are foster moms, biological moms, adoptive moms;  but we are bound together by more than that.  We are bound together by a common thread.  A broken child, or broken children, that we have been called to mother. 

We are heart healers, which is so hard to be when we ourselves are broken.  Our hearts are broken, too...often by the same children we are trying to heal. 

We've been the recipients of abuse, emotional and verbal and physical.  We've had to turn the other cheek, put up a brave front, treat others the way they would want to be treated even though they refuse to do the same for us.  We have had to show love- real love, yes, but mostly fake love and somewhere-in-between love- to some of the most unlovable people imaginable, all in the name of healing. 

We have the same secrets, sister.  We've lost our tempers.  We've parented in anger.  We've said and done things we regret.  We've tried, at our most broken, to make our children understand just how unlovable they are.  We've hated a child. 

We have the same fears and the same questions, too.  Will I ever love my child for real?  Will I ever look at her without seeing a monster?  What kind of a person will he grow up to be?  Am I making a difference at all?

We are tired.  We are weary.  Some days, we want to give up altogether, beat ourselves into the ground.  And yet we persevere, sometimes because we want to, sometimes because we've been asked to, sometimes because there is simply no other choice.

We have good days and bad days.  Days that we feel like we can change the world, make a difference, and days when we wish the world would swallow us up.  End the turmoil of our lives.  We are filled with guilt for the damage we've sometimes allowed to fester by not being perfect moms.  By being selfish.  By being human.

Once upon a time, my sister, you were a girl with a beautiful dream, and so was I.  We were going to be mommies.  We were going to share a lifetime of love and laughter with bright-eyed, dimpled children that would thrive under our care.  We were going to foster or adopt and give a future to a child who had no future.  Our hearts were loving, our motives were pure, we just didn't know then what we know now.  We didn't know that damaged children take more than love and security and structure to heal.  More than food on the table and a roof over their heads and clean clothes and new toys and a good education and piano lessons and band aids on skinned knees.

Our damaged children need to be loved perfectly, unconditionally, and completely.  No matter what.

And herein lies the problem.  We can't do it, can we?  We've tried and we've failed time and again.  Our kids need the love that only Jesus can give, and we must wake up each day and surrender our mothering to Him.  Or fail.

I used to feel entirely alone as a mom.  Mothers of normal children simply cannot understand the depths of pain and shame and heartache and anger I have felt.  The utter hopelessness.  I still feel alone sometimes, but I've begun to hear whispers from other places...other mommies that are destitute in their despair, too.  I know you are out there, sisters, somewhere under the veil of secrecy and guilt.  And I need you to know something. 

You are not alone.  I understand exactly how you feel.  You don't even have to tell me, but I will listen if you need me to.  I won't judge you.  I won't hate you for how you feel.  I won't even be surprised.  You are not a horrible mother for how a damaged child has changed you.  Good days and bad days aside, you are and always have been one of the special, the few.  The mommies that haven't given up on beautiful even though it's covered in ugliness, even though you sometimes wish you could run the other way.  You have allowed yourself to be put into a place where God can use you to do miracles.  And He will, if you let Him. 

Your dreams are still beautiful.  You are beautiful, my sister.

Once upon a time, I had a beautiful dream.  I wanted to rescue children that had no hope and no dreams of their own.  Be their mommy.  It hasn't worked out exactly as I'd planned or expected, but it has brought me here, to the point of surrender.  And I'm discovering that this, in and of itself, is far more beautiful than anything I ever dreamed up on my own.  

If you know a mother struggling with an unattached child...a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, or with special needs, or with no official diagnoses at all...a foster mom, an adoptive mom, or any mom that you know feels totally alone and misunderstood....please share this.  She needs to know she's not alone.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Suburban Ghetto

I live in the suburban ghetto.  Our close-by neighbors are great and all, but when you start meandering down to the end of the street, it gets a little shadier.  The further you walk, the less kept up the lawns become (although ours is no White House lawn), the less pruned the bushes become, and the less paint is stuck to worn siding.  Walk far enough, and you'll see trash strewn lawns, graffiti-sprayed playground equipment, and diapered children wandering alone in front yards.

Our neighborhood is frequented by groups of people sauntering down the middle of the street in broad daylight, only hesitantly shuffling out of the path of cars, and sometimes only after being prompted by a horn.  We've seen hundreds of various colors and prints of boxer shorts over the years (and more than a few tighty-whiteys) modeled by young men with insufficient belt function, and heard more F-bombs than our tender ears can handle.

The all-consuming bass of low-riding cars speeds past our house at all hours, causing the windows to shake and rattle.  Our end of the street calls this the "duplex traffic", and I'm thankful (at least) that the terrible speed of these vehicles, although unsafe, makes the song lyrics indecipherable for small ears.

There are rumors of break-ins and gang activity and drug use going around, too, but we haven't had much personal experience down our way as of yet.  Like I said, it's mostly the other, more undesirable end of the street, and it's kind of a long street. 

But I really do like living in our house, for the most part.  Our neighborhood is a beautiful hodgepodge of ages and colors and ethnicities and educations and careers.  And I love that.  Love that my kids think nothing of having neighbors that look different or speak another language (the F-word doesn't count) or have parents that have blue-collar jobs.  I love that there are elderly couples nearby. 

But I don't like the growing unrest down at the other end of the street that has to walk by my house to get to the bus stop.  I don't like having to shut my windows so my kids can't hear the language coming from the sidewalk (or the middle of the street, as it may be).  I don't like the thought that the other end of the street could be slowly creeping toward our end instead of our end creeping toward theirs.  And our big family has outgrown our home....

So what do we do?  Do we stay and make due with our little house, or do we go?

Go where?  I hate the thought of sacrificing our multicultural neighborhood for upper-middle-class white suburbia, where bathrooms outnumber family members.  What message does that send to our kids?  That we're too good for our present neighborhood?  That we need to somehow escape?  That God hasn't already blessed us beyond our wildest dreams and we need more space to fill with more things to be happy?

Would we truly be safer somewhere else, and if so, at what expense?  Jesus himself sought out the less desirable people when He was on Earth.  And isn't His presence needed even more in the dark places than in perfect suburbialand where everyone thinks they've got everything figured out?  We're called to be a light, too, and I'm starting to wonder if we aren't serving Him better by staying here.

Serving our neighborhood better, for sure, but also serving our family better.  Teaching them to live with and love people different from themselves, to let Jesus' light shine in the darkness, and also to live together as a family in a small space.  Living here gives our family (which is our first mission field, after all) a mission of its own.

Hmmmmm.  Lots to pray about.  All I know is that the discussion has shifted from "When we move..." to "If we move..." or even "If we stay....".

Because I have a sneaking feeling that if Jesus was here on Earth today, even though His message is for everyone, He wouldn't be walking the streets of white suburbia.  No, if I know my Jesus, He'd probably be walking the streets of the ghettos with those belt deprived young men....and maybe even walking right down the center of my street.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Free To Be Dependent

I'm thankful for freedom today, just like most Americans.  I have to admit, though, that there are many things I hate about our country, many things that disgust me and anger me and sorrow me.  But just for this day, I'm going to try to forget about those things and be thankful for the greatest freedom our country has been blessed with.

The freedom to believe.

I'm thankful that I can believe the truth of the Bible without being openly persecuted by the government... and that I can carry my Bible with me for everyone to see, never worrying that someone might report me or throw me in prison...

I'm thankful we can bring our family to church (when our van isn't broken) to study and fellowship and commune with other believers, and that the Word of God can be preached and proclaimed without being censored...

I'm thankful for the current freedom we have to pass Biblical truths on to our children, to teach them and train them up in the way they should go...although I fear for this freedom in the future...

I'm thankful for the soldiers, both today and in past generations, that have given of their time and energy, and many who have even given their lives to protect these freedoms for me and my family, for this country...

There are millions and millions of people on this planet that will never experience such great personal freedoms as we have in the United States.  People just like us, but who are bound by slavery and poverty and political unrest.  People who are trapped by the religious views of their government, and who secret themselves and their families away to underground churches, risking prison, poverty and death for the chance to study and fellowship and commune with other believers.  People who hunger for the Word of God, yet are forbidden to own it or carry it or even know what it says.

Today I am thinking of these people, and I'm thankful that I wasn't born in a country wrought with religious persecution...thankful my heart doesn't pound in my chest and my hands don't get sweaty when there's an unexpected knock on my door... thankful that most likely, I will never be forced to give up my life for my faith.

But I'm thankful for an even greater freedom on this day to celebrate freedom.  A freedom I'm dependent on, given graciously to me by my Lord Jesus Christ when he chose to give up His life for all people, both persecuted and free, if only they will believe.

The freedom from punishment for my sins.

Happy Dependence Day

"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God"
Ephesians 2:8

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Epic Trip Fail

We had high hopes for a trip to the Balloon Festival in Battle Creek last night.

The plan was to pick the three oldest kids up from VBS at noon, feed them lunch, have a couple of hours for naps, and then leave for the festival at quarter after three.  The festivities started at five o'clock, and we're a little over an hour away.  No problem, right?

Sometimes I think God laughs at all the silly little plans we make.

I decided first thing in the morning that I should bring the baby to the doctor to see if he had an ear infection.  Every time he's cried for the last few days, he's pulled on his ears, and it seemed wise to get them checked out.  However, the only time they had available was two o'clock.  Hmmmm.  Tight, but doable.  We were also dangerously low on diapers, so I figured I could squeeze in a quick Meijer trip while I was out.

The second wrench in our plans came when my husband left to pick up the kids from VBS.  Or at least, he tried to leave.  Our van wouldn't start (in fact, it still won't start and is currently "resting" on our driveway).  When you have a big family, your van not starting is a BIG problem.  We have another car, a tiny little Prism that my husband drives to work, but it is waaaaaaaaaaay too small for our family.  So our options were:  skip the trip, or find another car to borrow.

Since we were meeting my parents at the Balloon Festival (they're camping down there), we called them, and it was decided that we could borrow their small car.  But we needed to get to their house to pick it up, which meant leaving some of the kids at home by themselves (which we've never done).  We decided to go during naptime, while both girls were in separate areas and unaware we were leaving.  Mr. J (11 1/2) was left reading a book in the living room with a phone nearby, and we took the two little boys with us. 

This went off without a hitch, except that the passenger door handle completely broke while I was getting out of our little car, and no longer lets anyone in or out.  But besides that, we were able to pick up my parents' car, I was able to get baby K to his appointment at two, and then wait for forty minutes to find out that he just likes pulling his ears.  Especially when he's frustrated.  Or maybe he's just frustrated that he can't get them off

After a quick Meijer trip, a gathering of paraphernalia from home and aforementioned stationary van, the assembly of a trail mix for the car ride, and several potty trips, we actually left our house in two separate vehicles at about four.  Not too bad.

It would have been fine, actually, except that the stupid GPS fell off the dashboard and cleared when we first started our trip.  I thought that I had restored it to the address my husband had input, but an hour and twenty minutes later, we wound up at a Dollar General in the center of Battle Creek.  We had driven twenty minutes past our destination.  Whoops.

We finally collected my parents and headed to the airport for the festival, parking in a nearby neighborhood.  When my husband went to get our lawn chairs from the back of my parents' car, though, a mouse jumped out of the hatchback, over the back seat, and landed directly ON MY BABY!  I very nearly died.  A screaming mouse chase ensued, the men trying to scare the mouse out of the car, me anxiously pushing to get my baby out of the car, and the children scrambling to see the mouse, which eventually leapt from the vehicle and scurried, terrified, down the street. 

And although none of the escapades after were nearly as exciting as the 'mouse on baby' encounter, the rest of the evening went a little like this:

Forgotten camera bag.  Husband walks all the way back to car to retrieve.  Looooong way.  Looooving husband.  But didn't end up taking a single picture.

We discover the 'buy one get one' entry coupons we brought were the wrong ones.  The correct ones were sitting in my parents' trailer.

Thirsty children.  Thirsty adults.  No water.  "I'm thirsty" is heard over and over and over and over and over and over and over....

Balloon launch delayed due to weather.  We wait in a scratchy field.  We wait.  And wait.  And wait. 

Balloon launch (whole point of trip) is eventually cancelled.

We realize that it's 8:30 and we haven't eaten dinner.  We need to get back to the campground to have time to eat, as it closes at ten.  No time for carnival games.  Or crafts.  Or elephant ears.  Forlorn children walk past carnival, downtrodden.

We can't get our car into the campground because we hadn't purchased the parks sticker for it (we bought it only for the van, seeing as how we would never be bringing our family anywhere in the tiny car).  People in car are dropped off, and men leave to park car in distant parking lot outside park lines.

Too many mosquitos and too little time for anticipated campfire.  We eat microwaved hotdogs inside the trailer.  No roasting marshmallows, no s'mores, but we are appeased by ice cream. 

We pick up our car from the far-away parking lot, and then we leave.   

Final tally?  Broken van.  Broken door handle on car.  Children left unsupervised.  Long wait at doctors' office.  Baby mad that ears are not removable.  Late departure.  Went to wrong destination.  Wasted driving time.  Mouse attacked baby.  Forgotten camera.  Wrong coupons.  Long wait in scratchy field.  Thirsty people.  Hungry people.  No hot air balloons.  No carnival.  No car allowed in campground.  Excess mosquitos.  No campfire.  No s'mores. 

Trip Fail of Epic Proportion.

Know what?  We still had a great time.  Got to see Grandma and Papa.  Got to see some airplanes.  Got to spend lots of time in the car with my oldest son and my middle daughter, two kids that often get overlooked in our crazy family.  Got to drink Speedway cappuccino and look out for 'evil alien robots that only come out at night' (cell towers) and sing hymns on the way home.  It was a good trip.

Guess it's all in your perspective.