Friday, July 29, 2011

"The good old days" aren't always as good as we remember

It is too easy to think back to the "good old days" and forget some key problems. It's so easy to see the greener grass on the other side of the fence and to not enjoy what we have right now. Many days I will miss living near my family and it's easy to remember the good stuff about living in Washington and forgetting some of the reasons why we had to leave.

When Youssef and I were first married and until we had to move to my parents basement Youssef had to sell his plasma so we could buy food. If he did it as much as they'd let him it was $200 extra a month. Pretty significant when before that we were buying food with tip money from his Starbucks job (which was about $20 a week total)... Youssef still has the scars on his arms from selling his plasma so often--- He literally gave a LOT to provide for his family.

And I've been thinking lately about these things. Issues of contentment and realizing that this life is never going to be perfect. We try to make a heaven here on this fallen earth and it's just not possible. Or doesn't last long if we reach that "perfect" point. How many people look at someone else and wish they had THAT life. The people in the North see the sunshine that we have here and want that. Those of us who are enjoying some 100 degree weather wish for some cooler temperatures or rain. A woman who can't have children and sees a mom with kids might think that if she could just have a child THEN she would be happy. Someone who HAS kids perhaps thinks fondly of the days when the house was a bit more quiet. Someone who can't walk might say that if they could they'd run EVERYWHERE! Yet, how many of us who can walk actually appreciate that fact? People in other countries walk for miles to just reach clean water and yet how often do we take for granted our many sinks and faucets? For most of us I think this is a pretty accepted thought processes. Actually, often I don't know that we see what is wrong with wanting more or remembering something good that happened in the past and wanting to recreate that experience.

But there is something wrong with it.
I was listening to a sermon the other day about Jesus being transfigured on the mount and there's just a small portion of that sermon that I'd like to share. It was in regards to Peter wanting to build a tabernacle for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.


People have the proclivity to do this. You have an amazing experience with God, and rather than enjoying it, and moving on to what God would have for you next, you keep trying to go back and relive it. Some of you had a great experience at a camp, and so for you, you’re addicted to camp high. Some of you had a church that did things in a certain way, and maybe that was even your first experience of worship, or teaching, or community, or programming, and it meant a lot to you, and God used it in your life. And I don’t want to denigrate that at all. We rejoice in that, but you keep trying to recreate it and relive it. “If we could just go back and keep it the way that it was.”

Parents even have a proclivity to do this with children. “We had an amazing experience when they were this age, and I just want to keep them that size, and keep them that age, and keep reliving those experiences. I just want to capture this sacred moment, and never let it dissipate.”

And the truth is, it is a sin to want to continually relive mountaintop experiences. We are to enjoy those sacred moments that God shows up in glory in our life, and then proceed forward trusting that, if and when it’s time, he will meet with us at a different time, perhaps even in a different way.

For some of you, this comes down to music. And you say, “But I worship God through this music.” You may worship worship. It may have been a moment where even in singing a song or hearing a song, the glory of God was revealed to you, meaning that your heart and mind were open to love Jesus, but now you have to sing that song, or you have to sing those songs, or you have to sing them in those ways. And methodologies then become method-idolatries because we keep trying to recreate, relive a mountaintop experience, some sort of Christian high. And Peter has that same sin.


It's too easy to gloss over these sorts of sins. Why? Because we want a good thing. What's wrong with wanting something that is good? We see what we had at one point, what God had blessed us with then and want to remake it. But why is it a sin?

Because it's not trusting God with how He could bless us again or in different ways. It's not being thankful --which damages our communication with God (note; if you give a child a present and all they do is say how they wanted more or something different or in all other ways just complain about the good thing you just gave them, see how YOUR relationship with them is certainly not brought closer by their attitude.) And finally, it's perhaps making that thing more important to us than Jesus, and putting anything first in our lives before the true God is idolatry.

Friendships are a blessing, but are they more important to you than Jesus?
Children are a blessing, but are they more important to you than Jesus?
Our health is a blessing, but is it more important to you than Jesus?

Think of the good thing that popped into your head just now that you value or want and ask yourself how important it is to you? Jesus said "If anyone comes to me but loves his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters -- or even life -- more than me, he cannot be my follower." Luke 14:26

Could we give up any of these things so that Jesus could be glorified through our lives? There is a praise song with the bridge "You give and take away, you give and take away. My heart will choose to say, 'Lord blessed be Your name.'" Every time I sing or hear that line I feel it. That is to say, I go to that place of realizing what it would be like if I lost one of my kids or my husband and ask myself if I COULD say 'Lord blessed be Your name.' ... Honestly, it kills me to go to that place every time-- to choose to say, "Lord blessed is Your name" even if the blessings He's given me are gone. But I have to. I need to. Because I know He is good. I can see that so clearly. I'm not saying I wouldn't grieve or even be angry at times, but I couldn't stop believing that Jesus is worthy of all praise.

Somehow it's always been easier for me to see these truths in "obvious" things or bigger ways. Grieving a death or going through an injury, and of course it's ALWAYS easier to see what OTHER people should do! Sure, you might not be able to play at the beach because your health isn't great, but at least you are there and can see it! At least you are with your family and can watch them play! Exactly, it's always so much easier to see what OTHER people should do, but what should I do?

Coming back around to what our life was like when Youssef and I were first married (at the beginning of this post.) Often I think of the wonderful things and the things that I miss from then, like walking to parks and coffee shops--- of playing games together and visiting my friends and family whenever I felt like it. Perhaps I have a selective memory and don't remember the hard things as well, yet at the time the hard things were primarily on my mind. I DID enjoy those other things, but I know I focused too much on the difficult stuff and what we did NOT have more than what we were blessed with.

So, yesterday it was about 4:00 in the afternoon and I just decided I'd brave the heat with all the girls to take them to the pool. This is not an "easy" thing to do (to get everyone outside and back in one piece by myself.) But as I was sitting out there (on the pink floaty) holding Grace (who's feet were in the water and was falling asleep) I started to realize how much effort it takes to enjoy what we have and be thankful.It's not an "easy" thing to take the girls someplace by myself... even if it's just around the apartment to the pool here) BUT it's important and it's a way to enjoy the blessings we have right now. We won't always live here and may never live near a pool like this again. How wrong (really) is it of me to be sad or thinking about what we left behind when I could be enjoying what God has blessed us with here? I hear people in Washington complaining about how cold it is there and it's so easy to think of reasons why I'd prefer that (I love to snuggle in blankets and wear sweaters!) But the point isn't to think of what we COULD have or what things USED to be like, but to see what we have right here. Right now.

Just one year ago I was still near my Mom and family and (I'm sure) not appreciating them as much as I do now that I'm far away, but I only had two precious daughters! I truly wouldn't want to be back in the past because Grace did not exist then. When Youssef and I were talking about things that we enjoyed in the past I said, "Wasn't it weird? We just had one baby then." And he said that whenever he thought of our past he always saw all three girls in it. Even though some hadn't been born yet. They are just so apart of our lives that we can't see our past without them. How silly is it then, to wish for something good in the past when in many ways we have something better right now.
Is our life perfect? No, but this isn't heaven yet! Do we have the finances for a bigger place to live or money to travel to see my parents more often? No, but I can be thankful that we have money for food withOUT Youssef having to get his arms stabbed. I'm thankful for where we are too! Is it work to enjoy these good things? Yes, but it's worth it.

I know that some day I will lose someone. My parents will die, I will lose friends, perhaps even a child... Youssef might die before I do.... I don't doubt that I will look back to this time in my life as a "golden" time in our lives. Enjoying our babies and the good health that we have right now... I know that this world isn't perfect. Sin has wrecked havoc here, and there will be heart ache and pain and lose, but I don't need to hold onto the past or try to keep things the same.... or try to "get back" to a certain good place in our lives.

We trade one good thing for something worse and a bad thing for something better all through life. One job that might pay less, but give the person more time off is traded for a job that pays more but then free time is limited. One time period in our life with certain friends is traded for another season of life with other people. The blessings and hardships ebb and flow in our lives yet one thing is constant. God is good.

I don't need to pine for the past or be discontent until something is accomplished in the future because ---- I can trust God to bring other blessings as He always has.

Even if (or when) I come to that point in my life where everything is taken away. (Health? Children? Husband? Family? Friends?) I can choose to praise God, and I can practice that right now in the tiny things that are all around me.

There is ALWAYS something to thank God about. Even if every worldly thing is taken from us we know that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.

(List of blessings, a continuation.)

#1. Toys scattered all over my small living room and the kids books overflowing from the book shelf.

#2. Rainbows dancing on the wall as my girls try to catch them.

#3. The baby trying to tell me something in little "grunt" sounds and after I give her the binky (which is what she wanted) she continues to grunt while she sucks to emphasize it's importance.

#4. Grace's laughing trusting eyes as she watches me from her stroller/carseat.

#5. Sunshine illuminating the window art that Lily and I colored the other day.

#6. Watermelon!!!

#7. Youssef coming home happy and saying, "Did I tell you that I love my job?" :}

#8. Setting the table for a dinner of super yummy pork chops and baked beans while listening to a sermon together!

#9. The "Privacy" screen that I've always wanted and finally got when we moved here which works SO well to give Youssef a place to dump his stuff! Marital peace comes in many forms. ;]

#10. Bottles of water half full and frozen to take on any outing!

#11. Pink and purple tea party cups on a little table with crumbs and milk spilled in dribbles.

#12. Sending texts to my sweet husband whenever I want. :}

#13. Grace grunting through the baby-monitor to tell me to come pick her up! :}:}:}

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

creating "normal"

My days are not well ordered or scheduled. I will probably always do school in the summer with my kids when they are young because we'll take so many random breaks in the year, but... perhaps I'm getting old enough to realize that our family doesn't have to look like others and our "schedule" doesn't need to be according to someone elses standards. Maybe we wake up a little more slowly than some, but the rhythm of our life is falling into place and starting to roll into what everyone needs.

Lily plays with Grace for me when I need to finish something in the kitchen and is a big help in that way. I'm sure as Grace gets older this will get even better!
I made GF bread the other day after Lily had placed all her alphabet pieces on the floor. They are actually quite comfortable to walk on.
I often listen to sermons here while I do dishes or clean or scrapbook, or I'll listen to a midday connection depending on what's on that day.
The girls LOVE to paint. They paint with watercolors or acrylics or with water like this picture shows. I like to get coloring books and other art supplies for them at dollar stores.

Sometimes we'll take a break to paint fingernails and toenails!
Grace often sleeps in her bouncer (I usually put her to sleep and then lay her in it.) She's very used to listening to sermons and the girls noise while she sleeps. I try to have her asleep before I start school with Lily.
With school right now I've just been starting with reading her one of the Bible stories (that have questions at the end.) Lily really enjoys it and Renna listens in too. My favorite moment was when we'd read the story of when God gave the Israelites the ten commandments and at the end one of the questions was "Who are we supposed to love the most" (or worded close to that) and Renna says, "JESUS!" That's RIGHT! I loved how she knew that even though the story didn't say Jesus (it said The Lord God) because we'd been talking about these things throughout the days previously. If nothing else, I'm glad she gets that part. :}

Lily colors while I read her the Bible story (And practices writing the capitol and lowercase of the letter she's coloring. She's gone through one whole set of print outs and now is onto these,) and I'll usually read a story from another book as well. We are in the fairytale book right now, but have gone through two other compilation type books like "A treasury for four year olds"
It always seems like Grace wakes up while we are in the middle of things and likes to grunt in her little baby fashion to distract us from the next part of sounding out the letters.
Lily has the sounds of the letters down really well, but it's just a matter of being confident to take that knowledge and sound out a word. I started using the flash cards to spell the word out first (since she was already so good at the flashcards and liked them!) and once she'd say the sounds individually (in order) it was easier for her to feel confident enough at reading the short "a" sound words and spelling them. She is SUCH a little wiggle worm that she almost drives me crazy with her fiddling. We have to sit at the kid size table to help some with this so the writing height is easier for her penmenship. I was using a sticky note to go under the word she was doing to help her focus and she'd constantly try to scribble on it or bend it or fiddle with it in SOME way! It was driving me a little crazy so after every five to seven words that she'd sound out and comprehend and then write, I'd help her work on a puzzle.

Lily absolutely loves puzzles and she's really VERY good at them! I think it helps her to think of reading like a puzzle. She knows all the pieces and just needs to put them together when she reads. I help her do the edge pieces after she works on some of her words and back and forth till she had 20 words done for the day and then she gets to finish her puzzle.
I don't have a set time for these activities yet, but I'd *like* to do her school earlier in the morning. It hasn't happened like that much though depending on how the baby is and how tired I am in the mornings. Grace loves to kick and kick! My other two weren't like this and I had a toy for them that they didn't like... I think Grace would have really liked it though! Something or anything that she could kick would be right up her alley. No wonder I felt her move so soon! She was doing some major swimming. ;]
I've been trying to do a story time with the girls each day as well. Planning to read at least three books in the afternoon. We've got LOTS of books! And have been going to the library every week, so it's not hard to pick some out. Lily is SUCH a little mover that she likes to climb up behind me on the couch to see the books. I'm thinking of getting her some play dough so she has something to do with her hands when we are going to read. She really does love to listen though, and I'm the same way... I really like having something to do when I listen and can listen much better if my hands are busy knitting or sewing or something. (If my hands aren't doing anything my mind wanders.)
Often our afternoons might look like this as well. We made a "look out" that turned into an enchanted castle (notice the stacked blocks and the pink? That makes it a castle)
This last picture was at dinner time. We were all sitting at the table (that is now almost always set nicely!) and the Daddy gets to enjoy the little baby! He and I have been listening to a sermon together while he comes home from work and I'm making dinner at the same time. Then when he's here we finish listening to it while we eat. After dinner comes more girl time with the Daddy while I clean up or take care of the babe. We sort of switch off holding or putting Grace to sleep while the other helps the girls do something. They like to play video games with Daddy (especially a princess Wii game!) or go swimming together.

None of this is exactly in order too much because the order often changes each day, but I see improvements in how our "normal" is getting to be how we want it to be. If we go somewhere every day OR take Lily swimming then she seems to be more content for the day since she's "gotten out"... right now it feels like far too much to do for me. I'd rather stay in and read or do something quiet, but it's important to give Lily enough activity since she is such an active kid and putting up with being in a tiny apartment. I'm not used to the morning being the time to get out and swim or shop though! Mornings in WA were chilly and I'd always wait till afternoon, but here it's much better to plan on getting out around 9 and back by 11. I'm still working on that.

I get discouraged sometimes when I see our days not being what I'd fully like them to be. Or be a day like today where a bunch of little things went wrong that just added unnecessary work and time. I broke a glass at one point, I spilled a bunch of milk two other times today, and over all was just tired and short on patience. But... we got school done and I managed to get the grocery shopping in for the week. I was upset to have gone over budget by 9 dollars (because it could have been easily prevented if I'd been paying better attention,) yet I need to look at how things are improving and not be discouraged that I'm not totally there yet. Cleaning the toilet was my one "scheduled" cleaning thing to do for today. I thought I could remember "toilet Tuesday" well enough.. and I did... all day.. but never got around to actually cleaning them. But I need to remind myself (again) to just keep going forward. I was reading "Anne of Avonlea" today (while nursing the baby) and read this---

"Oh, I don't know. I've come so far short in so
many things. I haven't done what I meant to do when
I began to teach last fall... I haven't lived up to my ideals."

"None of us ever do." said Mrs. Allan with a sigh. "But then,
Anne, you know what Lowell says, 'Not failure but low aim is
the crime.' We must have ideals and try to live up to them, even
if we never quite succeed. Life would be a sorry business without
them. With them it's grand and great. Hold fast to your ideals, Anne."

I often don't live up to my ideals, but perhaps that isn't the point. And at least we did the major stuff.. we did do school and other important things (like make chocolate chip cookies!) ... I'm pretty sure my kids are going to appreciate having me read to them more than if I actually cleaned the toilet consistently every week. I at least made sure Renna flushed it so the cat had clean water to drink from. That's something right?! :}

(In case you are wondering... yes, we just have a really weird cat that likes to drink from the toilet. And yes, he has a really expensive 'fountain' water dish... but he prefers the toilet over it. Don't ask me why.) ;]

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Favorite children's books for 5 and under

One thing that we've been folding into the fabric of our days is reading out loud. Reading to the girls has been something that Youssef and I had always talked about something that we wanted to do and for many years never seemed to get around to it, at least not very often or every day like we'd wanted.

I always pick on cleaning or the dishes to explain what I'm learning and changing in our days, but this was one habit that I'd been wanting to do and it sort of snuck in without too much work.

It started to be more consistent when I ordered this Bible for the girls. The Jesus story book Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. They both really like it, but Lily especially. She actually cheers when they are in bed and I say it's time to read their Bible! Along with reading a little section from it each night I've been adding a couple other short picture books as well on occasion (depending on how late it is and how tired they already are.)

I'm working on making the habit of reading a few books during the day as well. Renna especially is my little trouble maker (she's three) and needs some extra Mommy time. And really, how long does it take to read three books to them? Yet, it does SO much good for all of us! The girls are so much happier to play with each other when I give them that little bit of time and it makes me happy as well. When they are driving me crazy and when Renna is finding some mischief to get into and I'm inclined to yell, I know it's time to take a break and read together.

Some people have a hard time getting into the habit of picking-up or cleaning and some people have a hard time getting into the habit of playing with their kids or reading to them. I often feel like I could use help in all areas, though I tend to pick on housekeeping the most.

So, for those of you who would like to weave in more reading out loud to your kids and don't know of some fabulous books, I've compiled a list of our favorites! (The ones in bold are some that I'd especially like to get that we don't own yet just for me to keep track of.) A couple friends added their favorites at the end of this list that I've included as well. I need to print out the names of the authors to take to the library with me. Somehow looking for books for the girls that we'll all actually enjoy feels pretty impossible with all the kids with me, and a little planning ahead would be just the thing. :} My favorite books to read to them are the ones that lend themselves to doing sound effects or voices. If a kid's book isn't written in such a way to make it sound amazingly EXCITING just by a change of inflection in the voice, it's just not written well in my opinion. ;]

By Audrey Wood--

10 little fish


Piggie Pie Po

The big hungry bear

Silly Sally

Little penguins tale

Twenty-four robbers

King Bidgood's in the bathtub

Heckedy peg

Scaredy Cats

The Princess and the Dragon

Merry Christmas Big Hungry Bear

Quick as a Cricket


By Stan and Jan Berenstain--

Bears in the Night

The Spooky Old Tree

The Bears Picnic


By Dr Seuss

Horton Hatches The Egg

How The Grinch stole Christmas

Horton Hears a Who


By Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser

The Fancy Nancy books (They are all good as far as I can tell! A bit closer to the 5 year old age range than younger.)


By Margaret Wise Brown

The Runaway Bunny

The Big Red Barn

Good Night Moon


By Charles Fuge

Sometimes I like to curl up in a ball – little wambat

Found you little wambat!

Swim, Little Wambat, swim!

Where to, little wambat?


By Doreen Cronin

Click Clack Moo

Dooby dooby moo

Giggle giggle quack

(haven't read the other books that she has out that are similar to these, they might be just as good.) :}


These next authors might have other great books out, but these are the only ones that I've read to them so far and they really like them.

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Go Dog. Go! By P.D. Eastman

If you give a mouse a cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff (I actually HAVE read some of the other ones.. like "if you give a pig a pancake" for instance and the girls liked all the ones like this by this author.)

George shrinks by William Joyce

Pete's a Pizza by William Steig

Chicka chicka boom boom by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault

The Quiltmaker's gift by Jeff Brumbeau and Gail De Marcken

Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens

Cowardly Clyde by Bill Peet (He's got many great books, but are a bit longer and more for the closer to 5 year old's than younger. Do check his other stuff out though! The illustrations are great and the stories are thoughtful.)

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

-Richard Scarry's Favorite Story Book Ever

-Magic Castle Books by Jane Belk Moncure

-The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey...

-Blueberries for Sal & Make way for the Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

-The Little Red Hen

-The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper

- Big Sarah's Little Boots by Paulette Bourgeois

-Hey, Al by Arthur Yorinks

-How Fletcher was Hatched by Wende & Harry Devlin

-The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

-Going to Sleep on the Farm by Wendy Cheyvette Lewison

-Amos, The story of and old dog and his couch by Susan Seligson

-Clap your hands by Lorinda Bryon Cauley

"Mouse Soup" and "Frog and Toad Together" By Arnold Lobel

Eric Carle's -- "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," of course, and "Mister Seahorse," "A House for Hermit Crab," "Slowly, Slowly, Slowly, Said the Sloth" and "The Tiny Seed"

"The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats

"Thankful Together" by Holly Davis

If you have some absolute FAVORITE kid books (for 5 and under) that aren't on this list please tell me about them (with the author's name as well) and they might make it to the list. ;]


I've found more!

"Lana Llama's Little Lamb" by Barbara deRubertis

I haven't read that one yet, but all the others in that series "Animal Antics A to Z" are really fun! Super great for learning the sound of the letters in a way that doesn't feel like "learning" because the stories are so cute. I don't own any of these either (got them from the library) but I totally wish I owned them all now. :}

Perfection or Nothing

As I said in the last post-- it's about the process. It's about getting into a habit of DOING rather than having the goal to be "done"... so, I thought I'd share another struggle that I've had and finally am starting to "get"...

You see, when you read a lot of organizing books and scheduling books, they usually tell you how important a "personal planner" is, right? They always have their own little systems that you can use and you can buy these day planners in many different colors and styles and become actually MORE bogged down by the sheer "order" of it all. At least, that's how I always felt.

If I didn't have kids at home and if they were a little older I might be able to utilize a schedule more (as I said in the previous post), but as it is, most personal planners are just way too complicated.

Last year when I went through the seven week course on "Simplify Your Life" (which was really helpful btw! And very grace-filled even while talking about organizing) in her book she talks about days that you can plan well and days that are unpredictable. She used the analogy of someone who gets migraines and on those days (when they just come upon her) she can't do that much and the plans go out the window for the day. She also talked about how a mom with her kids at home as apposed to in school has a more unpredictable day. Like, we can plan 30% of our day but 70% of the day is going to be unpredictable. And guess what? That's okay. It's also really important to recognize this. How many of us mom's can feel pretty terrible some days when we'd planned to get a lot done and for whatever reason things came up and the house is a worse disaster than when our husbands left for work? He comes home and wonders what we did that day... fortunately, my husband is very understanding and does the dishes for me or plays with the kids to help out and never begrudges my doing one of my own art projects or anything, but LOVES to see them! Still though, I can feel bad about everything "falling apart" on those days unless I recognize the percentage of unpredictability and accept it and work with it.

Okay, so one of the things that she talked about (of course) was a "personal planner"... but her whole goal was to simplify, not to give us more work to do! I looked at my old planner that I got several years ago when I was trying to get better at this (this has been a long process of learning!) And rather than making more categories I started pulling things out of it!

You should probably know though that it's taken a year and a half AFTER doing that organizing course, for me to finally figure out how to get a planner to work for me. Honestly, I'd tried so often in the past that I was afraid to start it up again. If you are like me, new books and journals and planners make you excited on the one hand and then make you feel completely lost or despairing on the other.
(My old planner with all the pages used up in it and scribbles from little ones on the cover.) When I was young I remember my Mom getting me an NIV Bible and I remember thinking how I'd like to highlight things in it like she did and underline stuff. I was only about 7 though and I'm sure she thought I'd scribble on it and told me I couldn't write in it. Seems like a silly story, but it made me feel like I couldn't write in something unless I did it perfectly or the "right way"... Journals couldn't be nice books with my true thoughts in them because that seemed too permanent and what I put in them would for sure be imperfect. Full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. I fell into the nothing side and not using or reading things because it couldn't be perfect. I didn't read my Bible till I was a teenager (and by then I highlighted and underlined!) Journals or planners can feel the same way. If they have dates or times on them don't you feel like you need to do it "right"? Well, for me that brought despair. Journals don't need to be written in every day on schedule and Planners need to work for the individual. Here's how I've finally gotten mine to work for me.
First page I just taped my little meal guide (yep.. I can't even schedule a meal totally.. I just put the general idea like what kind of meat that I'll have.) It's helped a LOT at the grocery store! Why? Because I can remember "fish on Wednesday" a lot easier than something more detailed and I can go with sales and what I feel like making too! It's enough order without being too much. (Much better than having virtually the same thing every day like I used to have to do.) Oh, and just a quick thing on budgeting. When you budget for the month, like, for instance say you want to spend no more than $500 a month on groceries and household stuff (I include art supplies and some clothes in that as well.) How much is that a week? You can't just go with $125 a week because there aren't exactly four weeks in a month.. plus the month starts on different days. It's really hard to go by the date for me. Right, so I realized that if I were planning $125 a week then I'd be spending $500 extra a year that I didn't intend to! Here's the formula for those of you that would like to know. Take the amount you'd like to spend each month and multiply it by 12. So in this case 500 x 12 = 6000. Then divide by 52 = 115 (and a bunch of decimal numbers that we'll ignore) SO my weekly budget is actually 115. Actually, it's less than that because I started ordering some bulk items and had to take that number too and figure out how much to take out of the weekly allotment. It might seem nitpicky, but it's really nice to have a handle on it! I always felt like it was a bit illusive and I wasn't being a good steward of the grocery money because I couldn't keep track of it well. Anyway, between the super basic meal plan and actually getting the math right on the food/house money I feel a LOT better.
Okay! So, back to the planner-- At the beginning I started a list of habits that I want to start folding into my life. I don't have a time schedule on any of them and I've put a check by the ones that I've been able to blend into my days long enough so that they feel comfortable. The dishes are one habit that I was able to check! I have a lot more that I'd like to work in, but I no longer feel guilty about it. I can look forward to it and be grateful for the little successes.
This planners original calender has been long used up and I went to an office supply store to find new calender pages. Well, besides being more than I wanted to spend or just too many lines and times to fill, I couldn't find a calender that had any of 2011 in it since it's the middle of the year. BUT just at walmart I found this little two year calender book for $2.50 or so that starts in July of 2011 and goes till June of 2013! I took out one of the other pages to be the guide for my little hole punch and vwala! A calender that I don't mind marking up! It's nice to see at a glance the plans that are set for the week. When story time at the library is and what time our community group is meeting or any other "set" plans with times. I don't put any of my "to dos" on the calender just scheduled appointments and so forth.
My "To do" has too pages. The right side is sort of the bucket list of just projects or things I need or want to do in the near future. On the left side I decided to put things that I wanted to do in a certain day. So, this morning as I thought of what I'd like to do or need to do I can jot it down there to help me remember when I have to deal with continual interruptions and often forget what I was going to do. If I don't have time to cross it off today it will be there tomorrow and I can easily do it tomorrow and cross it off. Thinking of the right page as "within the next few weeks or so" and the left page as "withing today or the next few days" is so much more freeing than thinking I HAVE to get it done today! Because, I don't and my days are unpredictable. My planner is just a guide to help me order my thoughts. The "mommy brain" that new mothers complain about is improved immensely by knowing how to order the unpredictable.

You can see in the picture my "goals" tab that I made too of longer term goals and thoughts. This includes debt pay off plan or other longer term thoughts for years down the road.

Someone could put in a section of gift ideas or something if they wanted. I needed mine to be as simple as possible for right now (sort of like how I'm doing the new habits! I can add something later if I want.) But for some reason the blank pages.. just lined plain paper is more comfortable for me than anything with times or dates or too much strictness about it. I need to feel like I can rip out the pages or scribble on it and it won't matter.
This also has an address book. Again, another manifestation of my silly quirk I guess was that when I had an address book I'd never use it because addresses change right? They don't stay the same, they aren't perfect.. I'd have to cross out some and that would mess it up right? Sounds so silly when I actually explain my thoughts underneath why I didn't use something. Well, rather than using the address book, I'd often just have scraps of paper tacked to a cork board. Silly right? Yeah. I'd like to say though that there are many addresses in this book that are probably unusable now and that's okay! The scraps of paper have been taped inside of this or written in here. It's not totally ordered... but it's not totally in disarray (like the cork board was) either! It's sort of an ordered mess.. and that's all right because that's who I am and what I need.
The last thing is this little notebook that I'm not quite sure what to do with. I've kicked around the idea of using it either as a grocery list or as a place to write things that I'm thankful for (all numbered) I'm leaning towards the later and will have another one for the grocery list. These little spiral notebooks were four for 98 cents at walmart. I offered one to Youssef and he said, "I LOVE these!" Yes, they are such handy little things. :}

My last word of advice is to use what you have! Would it really help to go out and buy a spanking new planner? It might for some of you, but for others of us we already have a pretty journal book that hasn't been used. How easy would it be to just write and tape little "tabs" onto the edge of some of the pages in it for sections. It doesn't have to be perfect.. in fact it's better if it's not! Why? Because our goal isn't to have the perfect plan, but to simply have some sort of plan that we can use even through the imperfections of daily life.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Religion and Housekeeping

If- "The outcome of religion is either pride or despair."
Then. "The out come of strict scheduling is either pride or despair." as well.

I see so many similarities in this as I try to manage my home. Oh, and when I say "religion" I'm not talking about the "true religion" that the Bible talks about, but the pharisee type religion. The kind of religion that puts rules to things that the Bible doesn't make rules about or isn't clear on. The kind of religion that takes cultural diversities and labels one as holy and one not. Here's a good example. No dancing. Dancing is bad so just don't do it. That would be a religious rule that someone made that isn't straight from the Bible. For some people though they might need to make up this or that other rules for themselves. And that's where we get into housekeeping.

So, how do you run an orderly home and get things done yet not fall into pride or despair?

Some people can, through sheer will-power, be able to make a schedule and stick to it. They get angry when their schedule is interrupted. They snap at their children or husband and constantly bow to the schedule. In a way the schedule rules their life like a god.
Of course, they could be working the schedule and NOT be quick to become angry, but it still could be an issue of idolatry if it's all about the schedule. They might look perfect and have it all "together" .. I'd like to submit the idea here that what comes of that is pride.

Right. The sin of Satan. Pride. This is not something to aspire to.

Or you might fall on the side closer to where I end up. I never CAN get things together enough to get to the pride point because I inevitably fail. Any kind of "rules" or "schedule" that I try to make happen can't last long for me and my tendency is to despair.
All of my highschool years were in this pit of despair with my schooling and other things that I wanted to do I constantly failed at.

At the same time that I've been learning (again) about how to organize and simplify and schedule through-out the past year and a half to get my household running smoothly, God has been teaching me more and more about grace and what that is and means.

Some people will argue that we can't live our Christian lives on grace alone because we will just sin all we want and not grow more like Jesus. We HAVE to make rules to follow to keep ourselves from sinning right? Well, no we don't, but I won't get into all the Bible verses on that one because I want to go straight to talking about housekeeping.

You see... housekeeping can look the same. As if the house is either in chaos and we are always "running behind" or we are a slave to our schedule. Either we throw up our hands and give up, or we work harder at making those "rules" to follow and either end in pride or despair which manifest themselves in anger and judgment or guilt and shame.

Amazingly similar to the rules of "religion" as apposed to living in God's grace, no?

Right, but how PRACTICALLY can I manage my home in a grace-filled way? How to I keep the schedule from ruling our home?

There isn't anything wrong with a schedule of course, but for me... right now.. I can't have one. Perhaps when my baby isn't so unpredictable I can implement a few more "set" things, but right now it's just too frustrating. SO! Here's the part where I can give you some ideas that might turn into those "10 things that you can do and it will all be fixed" sort of things, but that would be more rules wouldn't it???

Instead, I offer this idea. Create habits. Not my habits or habits that other people think you should have (like so much time of reading the Bible at a certain time of day) no, this is about what YOU need, and it's not about the time spent or WHEN it's spent. It's not about checking it off a schedule or list (though both can be helpful) it's about living.

I'm really excited to report that several months ago when I was struggling SOOOO much with doing my dishes every night and clearing the table it's finally become easier. Might not seem like a big deal to some of you, but six years of married life has had a struggle with dishes for me. I often left dishes on the table (not even taking them to the sink.. because it was already full!) all the time. I constantly felt behind, but I took that one little thing and worked on it. Not so I could check it off my "list" with ALL the other things that were on there as well, but just to work at it like a habit.

It's erroneous to think that any of us could ever get our house perfectly organized or cleaned or "fixed" just right... as every good theologian knows. It will all just fall apart again! Dishes will get dirty almost as soon as we finish washing them up. I had to realize that my goal shouldn't be to have the dishes "done" but to simply get into the habit of "doing" them. How like sanctification in our lives, don't you think? We can never be sinless on this earth.. we can never be "done" understanding the Bible or have the most perfect understanding of Scripture and doctrine. All we can do for sure is keeping learning it. Keep doing it. Keep growing.

Another small thing that felt like such a heavy burden when I started it, was to set the table for dinner. I laid out place mats and filled the cups of water and put the food in pretty dishes (instead of what I'd cooked them in) and at first it felt like SO much more work. (I started doing that when Youssef was first without a job in Feb. to help make our meager meals feels special and help us to be thankful.) Yet, it's been so fun to see the girls be excited about helping. They really do help with it too! And it keeps them busy instead of bugging me because they are so hungry for dinner. This little thing of setting the table nicely has turned dinner into an event that we look forward to every day, and I've learned to enjoy doing it rather than see it as "So much more work." Because it's not. It truly is a delight to do for my family now.

Slowly, oh so slowly I'm learning to develop habits. A habit is not something that starts out easy, but eventually it will become so. What I once thought was almost unbearable to force myself to do, I find enjoyment in! Why did no one explain housekeeping to me in this way before? The rhythms of life and habits that must be developed and allowed to grow. It doesn't happen over night or in one huge event where it's learned and then done with. It's something that comes in sweetly and stays there because we make a home for it.

There are many other things that I'd like to bring into my life. House hold chores and personal disciplines, but I finally (after over HALF my life trying to figure this out!) understand how to make these things happen. Slowly, oh so slowly, add something into my day. Move it from here or there if it doesn't quite fit at one time or another and develop a habit. Not according to the clock so much as what is around it. After waking up this thing happens.. after making breakfast my day flows into this other thing. If, for whatever reason, I missed a day it won't depress me or bring me into despair because the next day will come and life will flow and move and each day that habit can grow stronger and fit into the folds of my life. I can be aware of how I can make a place for the habit that I want to become apart of my life. Reading to my girls at night was one little habit that folded into my life without me totally being conscious of the effort to give it room. Lily now cheers when it's time to read her Bible and my own natural impatience is being squeezed out of me by the love for them that comes from this simple act of reading for 15 or so minutes.

So often when my babies have been young (especially) I feel scattered and lost. I start to do something and the baby needs me. I forget what I was doing and start something else and someone asks for a drink of water. I'd planned to clean the bathroom at such and such a time, but the baby is gassy and didn't stay asleep.

There is always SOMETHING right? It can be frustrating. It truly can be! We don't like our plans messed up, right? People don't want to have children because it will mess up their plans. Humans are naturally selfish. People are too unpredictable anyway. Relationships... friendships... people in need... conversations we hadn't planned on... they all mess up the careful plans that we make, right? Most often the one who messes up our own plans the MOST is God. Yes, we want to go this way and He has us go that way! We think he wants THIS from us and then through much toil and heart ache we find out that we really didn't know his plans and from our point of view his plans were to just teach us to wait. How lame is that, right?

It is until you see the grace in it. It is until you look for the blessings.

I was reminded of that this evening. We had finished dinner, Youssef had taken the girls out to the pool, I'd just laid the baby down to sleep, and I was just starting to form some "big plans" to make some amazing gluten free chocolate chip cookies and tidy the disaster that we call our house and possibly even have a little time to myself --- when.. the baby wakes up.

Apparently, I hadn't burped her well enough and so she woke up wiggling and not able to settle down for quite a while, but in that moment when all my plans were falling through and I was on the verge of being annoyed, my little Grace smiled at me. A big huge confidential "I only have eyes for my mommy" as only my own baby can bestow on me, and I realized that what I thought was an "interruption" to my plans was actually God's gift to me. I took the moment and "talked" with her as she gurgled back at me and smiled as if she were telling me all the important secrets that she'd dreamed about.

This sweet happy moment didn't last very long since she was so tired and really did need to sleep. I was faced with another moment of choice and adjustment to my "plans" I held her and swayed to settle her down and pulled out my book to read till she was asleep. I got to enjoy a few things that were entirely different than what I thought I'd be able to enjoy, but they were no less valuable and held just as much joy and peace when I allowed them to (instead of being annoyed at my "ruined plans.")

Lately just throughout my days I've been meditation on what worship is . Worshiping God in my everyday acts of life. Worshiping Him as I clean and help the children and live day to day. If everything that I do can be a worship act, it makes a pretty big difference what my attitude is as I'm doing the thing. Giving something grudgingly or joyfully feels entirely different to the person we give the thing to. Also, if I can do the same thing and- depending on my thoughts- be worshiping an "idol" or be worshiping Jesus through that same thing, then my thoughts are pretty important. Am I enjoying the chocolate because I'm using it as an escape to feel better (something I go to instead of Jesus?) or simply because it's a blessing? Do I take care of my house and clean it out of pride or selfish motives or because I want to be a good steward and please Jesus in all that I do?

You see, the outcome is not enough in itself. Even if a human could make their life look perfect on the outside, without that inner thought and heart transformation our outward acts can never be good enough. And the only way that our hearts are renewed and our sins of laziness and pride and idolatry can be cleaned out, is through Jesus and His grace. It's not by modifying our behavior or finding a better way to organize our homes. Those things are tools and not wrong in themselves, but without His grace they can never be enough.

At some point I might actually be able to implement a chore chart and a more defined schedule, but for now I'm learning to simply choose a habit to work on and let grow and fold it into the fabric of my life one at a time. Not to MAKE myself do it, but to let those good things become apart of me and become ways that God can grow me. Apart of not just what I do, but how I think and feel about the little blessings surrounding me.

I have a mound of sewing that I'd like to do and haven't been able to get to it, but for the first time in my life I'm not stressed about it. I'm looking forward to getting a chance to work on it, yes, but it no longer feels like a burden. As if I need to rush through my days and my only goal is to "get stuff done." No... God wants more than that for us.

I look at my kids room and the first thing I think of is what a mess AGAIN and how the toys that I'd just organized and put away are everywhere, but for the first time in my life I'm not as bothered about it not staying a certain way. My goal now isn't the "end" but the process. Not the completion of the task of cleaning, but simply slowly learning the habit of tidying in my daily life. I remember feeling this way when I was young and how much I enjoyed just walking around my room and tidying this or that or arranging something, but "rules" got in, infiltrating that grace-filled spirit. Jesus is teaching me to find it again though and it's a good thing to behold.

I'm encouraged to see a small attempted habit actually become real, my dining room table having been set for dinner and cleared away might be a small thing for those of you who are naturally good at this sort of thing, but for me, it is HUGE! I have a long way to go in developing some good habits and managing my home well, but it no longer seems hopeless... and I do not have to despair.

I'm thankful for a ready book to read when the baby needs me unexpectedly and interrupts my plans. I'm reading through all the Anne of Green Gable books again (from the library).. they are such sweet stories and are filled with tiny snippets of grace as Anne learns and grows as well.

July 17th, (last Sunday) Youssef and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary and today as I walked by the mantle and noticed my plants needing water I looked at the wedding picture of us and thought of what is truly important. I'm glad that God waters and grows our marriage. I'm sure that I would forget to, but He is always faithful and though our marriage has been through many ups and downs and our love isn't the new "giddy/romantic" kind, it's real and solid and genuine and growing. I'm thankful for being settled. Sometimes (usually when I'm annoyed at my husband for whatever reason) I might think of how things could be different. If we'd never gotten married for instance, and every time I know.. truly know in my heart like an assurance from God, that I would not want to be anywhere else.

Choosing to be thankful, choosing to be content, and looking for the blessings that God always gives to His children are all acts of worship. Humans were made to worship and if we are not actively worshiping God in all that we do and say and be then we are worshiping an idol. It might be in the form of our self or money or status. It can even take the form of our children and even many good things! But we are idolaters if we find our worth in anything except Jesus alone.

To Him be the glory.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Parenting with Grace

I love love LOVE hearing Christians talk about how much they love being a parent and how they've trained their kids in grace. Too often the usual conversations are complaining and lamenting together about how hard parenting is (and it is of course.) Complaining is too easy to do and it doesn't help. I decided to do this quick post because it's the sort of thing I wish I could hear more often.

Right. So, onto the story.

I was doing school with Lily and Renna had been quietly (for the most part) listening to us while she colored on a little white board at the table. Suddenly, I realized I had no idea where Renna was and she was unusually quiet. (Yes, you other mother's know those moments right? It's too quiet so therefore, the child is up to no good.)

"Renna, where are you?" I called out, and out of the seemingly empty living room Renna pops her head out from the other side of the couch where she'd been crouching down. "I'm over here." Well, that's good I thought, that she answered me right away. "What are you doing?" I ask as I go over to see what she's getting into. "I'm doing my fingernails!"
She had taken the purple white board marker to all her fingernails and obviously knew she was doing something wrong because she felt the need to hide while doing it. I had, yet another, moment in parenting where I wasn't sure what to do. Did this deserve a punishment? If so, to what degree. I decided she didn't need a punishment since she hadn't disobeyed (I usually try to leave the punishments more for when she blatantly disobeys me.) So, what should I do though? I don't want her to hide from me and do something wrong. What is the goal here? ... to keep communication open.

"Renna," I said, "You knew that was noddy because you were hiding from mommy, right?"
"Yeth, Mommy." -note- she always sounds penitent, but I'm never quite sure if she really is because she'll often do the noddy thing again soon afterward.
"You are not allowed to do this by yourself," I took her to the bathroom and started to wash off the purple. "If you want your fingernails painted you need to ask me and we can do it together.... but you do NOT hide." I'm still not sure if she's getting any of this and wondering if I should do something else.
I realized though that Lily's school right then didn't need me to do anything much and I told Renna that we could paint her fingernails while Lily did school (she was just reading a word and then drawing a picture of the word... like "rat" and drew a picture of a rat.)

It didn't take long and her fingernails were painted, and the whole time I'm wondering if I was too easy on her? She hadn't gotten any of the marker on anything except her fingernails and it washed off, but should I have been harsher? I kept telling her while I painted her nails that she shouldn't hide from me and that she just needed to ask if she wanted her fingernails painted.
Guess what? After all that lecturing and painting, she said at least 3 times "I like you, mommy." It was really sweet with a little hug besides. I know our goal isn't to get our children to like us, but when she said that I think she understood what I was getting at. I think she'll be less likely to hide from me to do her own thing than if I had of punished her for what she did.

I've been thinking a lot about sin recently... why is sin bad? Because sin separates us from God. Why is it wrong for our children to disobey or hide from us as parents? Is my goal to punish my children for what they do? To dole out judgment religiously? Or to bring about an appropriate and loving relationship between us. It's a lot to think about as I try to understand God's grace toward us and somehow try to parent my children the same way. Especially when Lily told Renna one day that "God doesn't like us when we sin." Which... isn't true. The Bible says that He loved us while we were still sinners and gave His son, Jesus, to die for us. So I needed to explain to them that no matter what they do God will still love them and I will still love them, BUT I also don't want them to just do bad things! It's so tricky, but they seem to understand when I explain that I don't want them to get hurt (for instance) and that's why they need to learn to obey. But of course, it's more than that too. Because sin separates us from the one we sin against. I wonder at times if I'm too easy on them and at other times if I'm too harsh with them. Trusting Jesus with all of this is the outcome of these thoughts. I can't pridefully parent my kids according to a "certain system" when I'm striving to parent them with grace as God does with us. I often feel like I have no idea what I'm doing and just have to trust God with them and listen to the Holy Spirit moment by moment to say what I need to say, and just plant those seeds that only God can grow.

Later as I was thinking about this I thought of an analogy. It might make sense to only me, but when I thought of Renna hiding from me and painting her nails with a marker.. it made me think of what religion can be like (in a small way.) Painting her nails was NOT a bad thing to do. It wasn't a sin to have her nails painted, right? What was wrong then? It was that she was using the wrong tool and trying to do it alone. How often does religion look like that? We want to do good and love people and read our Bibles or many other things that are good thing, but we don't do it through the power of the Holy Spirit with those of us who are born again. Or, said in another way.. we don't do it with the grace that God gives to us. You could argue that she got almost the same outcome even with the wrong tool, but what was her feelings as she hid. My little three year old that knew enough of what she was doing to think she needed to hide. Pretty obvious that she knew she shouldn't be doing what she was doing right!? Well, when she hid she was missing a time we could have together.

Understanding sin and why it's a bad thing is important. It's all about the separation from God and a ruined relationship with Him. It's NOT about perfection! Religion is about "being good" to "be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect"... but that is why it's NOT about religion.. it's about Jesus and what He did. We couldn't be perfect.. "'Who then can be saved?' And Jesus answered them saying, 'With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" And God did make a way through Jesus' perfect life and sacrifice. But it wasn't so that we could then be religious and earn our way into favor with God. If that were the case then what Jesus did would mean nothing. Through Jesus our relationship with God can be restored.

SO as born again Christians.. should we religiously try to do good on our own and end up behind the couch with the wrong tool as my three year old did? Making a small mess and missing out on the relationship? Or should we work with the Holy Spirit (God/Jesus) guiding us daily in our lives into those "good works that He prepared beforehand that we should walk in."

Every aspect of our daily lives can be lived with and to Jesus, and turn the little messes that we make on our own, into special moments of worship to Him. We probably don't feel like we are hiding as my daughter did on purpose, but I can imagine the weight lifted off her shoulders when she was getting to do the good thing that she wanted to do in the right way. Just like when we accept the grace available to us each day to do the good things that we want to do anyway... the "burdens" are suddenly made light because it is no longer our strength, but God's strength made perfect in our weakness.