Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Perfectly Imperfect Plans

Fifteen years ago, I was going to be a missionary teacher somewhere far away, outside of the Nifty Fifty.  To me, this notion was  as certain as the sun rising in the east. Teaching at an all-girls school, that's what I imagined, for at least two or three years. 

Then, I would return home to my beloved U.S.A. and seek out a teaching job in the heart and soul of a big city.  My weekends would be spent traveling, running marathons, eating Thai food and volunteering.

Marriage and babies were chapters to be written in the novel of life later on down the road.  Much later.
And this was what was going through my head last week, on a misty, overcast morning as I trekked a pathway through the knee-high weeds and wild grasses, following my sons out to the corrals to watch them feed their bucket calves.  

With Charlie cooing cheerfully from the heights of the pack on my back, I reached up to touch his soft, chubby hands and wondered why, all of the sudden, I was remembering plans I had made for my life B.C. (before children) and B.S. (before Steve - I know what you're thinking, but the answer is no, I can't come up with anything better than B.S. -this is goin' nowhere, so I'll just get to the point!).

Plans. Aren't they perfectly imperfect??

The missionary pathway plan.  Well, that worked.  I might as well have written my manifesto in Swahili on a napkin and pasted it to a tree during a tornado with a variety of glittery "Awesome Job!" and "Way to Go!" stickers from my stash of teacher supplies.
As I look back at the many well thought-out, perfectly formed plans of life, from birth plans to vacations to financial ventures, if I could go back and tune my ears in a little more closely, I'm sure that I could almost hear God laughing.  

I imagine that he saves his big, jovial belly laughs for  little souls such as mine, because I'm the planner, a bit of an idealist, a closet control addict.  I think I can hear Him now, His loving little chuckle winding up, almost audible over the slurping of milking and playful moos and grunts of our nursing trio.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not being even the least bit sarcastic here.  I'm just being honest. Our Father doesn't laugh at us, He laughs in spite of us. (And, he hopes we will laugh with Him!)  In spite of all the dreams and plans that we believe are bigger than the ones He has for us.  

Those pathways we pave to "Happy Land."  Those can be really funny.  Just when we think our vision of perfection is coming together - it's right about then that He scoops us up (if we let Him) into His merciful arms and gently sets us down somewhere unexpected.  Somewhere we really need to be.
Like in the arms of a farmer, and at the edge of a fence with a camera in my hand, and the beautiful expressive eyes of my mini-men and their pure-bred ensemble staring back at me.
I don't dream of being a missionary anymore - I dream of our entire family going on mission trips together!
Thoughts of Thai food still makes my mouth water, but for now I'm content to have six hungry tummies arrive at my table heaped high with pot roast and apple pie.
I may not have time to train for marathons, but chasing five energetic boys around a farm will keep any girl in shape!
As for teaching at an all-girls academy?? Actually, homeschooling all of the boys has proven to be a providential adventure.  Although, they know that girls are welcome at any time (no, that is not an announcement!).

Well, that's probably enough reflection on the 7:00 a.m., one cup of coffee, random thoughts, calf-feeding morning.  Would you like to meet our new friends?
Benedict and Blake

Don't even get me started on animal names.  I'm such a dramatic romantic.  I tried to impose my ideas, my plans rather, on the boys. I suggested that they give their calves names with true meaning, such as names of valiant or hilarious characters from books they had read, or maybe Roman or Greek Gods or even biblical figures.  This is how my plan went down (in flames):

"So, Ben, why did you name your calf Blake?" 
"Just 'cuz.  I like the name Blake."
 Okay, well, I've got two more tries.

Andrew and Billy. 

 "Billy, huh?"
"Yep.  It's the perfect name for him. Do you like it, Mom?"
"Mmm-Hmm, sure do!" (Strike 2)
C'mon George, give me anything.  Aristotle, Babe Ruth, E.T.???...

George and Blaze
"So, you like Blaze, eh?"
"Did you name him after any Blaze in particular?"
"Nope, the other boys gave their calves "B" names, so I came up with Blaze."
Uugh. Conformist. 
"Oh, okay. Well, then, Blaze it is!"

Then, walking away, I stepped in poo.  Poo seems to go perfectly with my plans.  

Then I heard it: Big. Fat. Belly. Laugh.

For I know the plans I have for you, 
says the LORD
plans for GOOD and not for evil, 
to give you a FUTURE and a HOPE.
Jeremiah 29:11

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

For Your Quote Book...

Sometimes the most poignant messages
are the ones that are expressed 
in only a few words.

I discovered this quote, posted by the very talented ladies at Shabby Blogs, and thought I would share it with you....

Courtesy of Alisa Holland, contributed for Shabby Blogs

Monday, May 21, 2012

Spring Chicks

When we decided to move across Kansas to the farm from Kansas City, our friends were a little surprised.  They would say things like, "You're going to live on a farm?  Like, with horses and cows and pigs and goats and sheep and chickens and.....???"  Well, no, not quite.  We're moving to a crop-based farm, but we have a dog.  Does that count?
I think it's safe to say that when most people think of farm life, they envision something like the Zuckerman's Family Farm from Charlotte's Web: rolling fields of green and gold, a big red barn filled with a variety of spunky animals living beneath a loft of hay, fluffy and spilling out from the rafters.

Rural life is nostalgic, wholesome, beautiful.  After we had Charlie, I decided that I wanted some of that nostalgia.  And, since the big red barn wasn't in the foreseeable future, I thought that surely we could handle a few animals.

Thankfully, Grandpa Bob was already on top of the situation - he aquired a small heard of Red Angus and let the boys choose thier bucket calves for 4-H.  We (I) decided that having a small flock of chickens would also be a great addition to the farm, and it would offer the boys an additional educational experience.
Naturally, since we homeschool, I thought we would order the eggs for incubation and do a full-blown study on chickens.  I might have been a little over ambitious, but we had to give it a shot.  After spending hours researching and planning the entire project, I finally jumped in and ordered eggs of three different breeds from Stromberg's Chickens.  All three varieties were typically cold hardy, good layers and docile in nature.  A perfect fit for us.

After waiting and waiting, candling and candling some more, of the 30 eggs, only 6 appeared to be viable.  I was beginning to have my doubts about this venture, and wondered if I was only capable of bringing forth human life! 
Then, one morning, I went to the incubator to turn the eggs and what should I see but this little wonder looking back at me!  Our sweet little Golden Laced Wyandotte chick had found it's way into the world!

I'll just be honest, I jumped back screaming with excitement.  (Literally like Tom Hanks in Cast Away when he successfully ignites a fire, I mean FI-YAR!!  Just. Like. That. Except I had clothes on and didn't beat my chest.)

It worked! The incubator worked, the eggs worked, the chick worked it's way out of the shell. Behold!!  I can (help) bring non-human life into the world!  Yahoo!!
Next, we had to find a place to keep the chicks safe and warm, away from Stella, our Golden Retriever.  I found on Backyard Chickens (our new favorite website), a suggestion to keep the baby chicks in a large kennel until they are ready to be put outside.  We have found this to work perfectly!  With a infrared heat lamp, a bed of wood chips and fresh food and water, it's practially the Hilton!
The two chicks, behind the Wyandotte, are Black Austrolopes.  We still have three eggs left, of the third variety which are Welsummers. I'm not sure if they're going to hatch, but we're keeping our fingers crossed! We keep joking about how the infrared light make the chicks look sunburned.  
By far the best part of this adventure has been seeing George, a boy with a very sensitive, creative and thoughtful nature take such delight in caring for our new friends.  Everyday he runs out to the shed several times to check that the light is set right, their water is fresh and the food is abundant.  
It's amazing how animals have a unique way of bringing out the best in your kids.  George immediately displays more confidence after he's taken care of his calf and the chicks. And when I pay him compliments on how well he is doing with our little projects, his grin is filled with pride and joy.  I just love it!
Now, we just have to come up with names for the sweet creatures.  Steve, who is a shade less than enthusiastic about this endeavor expressed his opinion, "I think we should name them Tyson, Kentucky and Nugget."  Burst of laughter from the male population of my home.  "Well, I think we should name them after flowers, since I love flowers. How about Petunia, Daisy and Marigold?? Or, Iris, Rose, Buttercup or Lilly?? Silence.  Total Silence.
Maybe we'll just wait and see if they turn out to be hens or roosters.  Watch them all be roosters.  Wouldn't that just be my luck??  BUT!!! If they are hens, I'm thinking of an upgrade.  I found this photo and plans for the coop on the Backyard Chickens community page.  Isn't it lovely??

Friday, May 18, 2012

Living the High Life

I remember an old commercial from my childhood.  Get ready for this one: It's a beer commercial.  Impressive, huh?  Ranks right up there with Loreal's "Because I'm worth it." and the famous Oscar Meyer hotdog jingle. (Just for the record I'm not a big fan of TV, but I sure wasted plenty of time watching it growing up.)

Actually, all I remember from the commercial is the motto: 
"It's Miller Time."
Oh, the childhood memories ~ friends, school, Mr. Rogers and Miller Beer.  

When my dad would work outside during the hot days of summer, I used to run out before supper and ask him, "Is it Miller Time, Dad?"  (Quality conversation, I know.  I'm just keepin' it real here.)

Of course, he always said, "Yes!" because he's Czech and he's cool, and I love him, and I love to work outside and drink beer too.  Our gene pool rocks!

I would run into the house and smuggle a nice cold can of Miller genuine draft beer from the fridge for him.  Oh, the High Life!!
Well, my boys are no strangers to chores, and they are asked to do a lot around here to help keep this ship a float.  And, that includes yard work, caring for their animals, and any other laborious job that dad hates to do himself needs an extra hand with.  A couple of weeks ago, proud of their hard work and cooperation,  I made some lemonade to take out to them, and snapped this picture.

My mind was suddenly filled with images of the four of them 10 or 15 years from now, or (holy crap) their college years where a hard days work is celebrated amongst the crew with, oh no, NOT lemonade but some brew. They will have their own Miller Time.  Dear me.

Thinking of all of this I nearly passed out.  All because of a dang commercial and a childhood memory. Medicating my emotional tantrum with a cold one seemed to be the only reasonable way to handle things (oh, and a few more hours on my knees, of course).  Can you blame me?
Now, go find your koozie and

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother's Day Surprises 2012

Image is from Picard Creative on
For my very first Mother's Day, Steve (and my little baby Benedict) gave me a card with an Almond Joy candy bar taped to it.  Now, I am not one to slap the hand that feeds me chocolate, but I have to admit that I was hoping for just a skosh more.  I mean, after all, it was my first Mother's Day, a day I had truly looked forward to it since the very moment that little pink stick read +.  If the perfectly pudgy rosy cheeked result of 26 agonizing hours of drug free labor and delivery isn't enough to celebrate motherhood (thank God the details on that one are a little fuzzy), I don't know what is!  

Now, I'm not a gift snob, I promise. Trust me, I wolfed that candy bar down as if my life depended on it.  But, I had to wonder, what would next year bring? Twix? Kit-Kat? Pay-Day?

Sunday was my 11th Mother's Day.  I must say that over the years, while I never questioned the sentiment of love from my family on this day, the expression of it has needed a little tweaking.  But not this year....

This year, I came home from my annual weekend retreat in Chicago to find four happy baskets of beautiful blooms waiting just for me!  Amazed and surprised are not descriptive of how I felt.  My eyes are still bulging!
Lately, I've been a teachin' and preachin' the acronym for FAMILY in our home - 
Forget About Me I Love You!
I really felt those words expressed with great understanding in the bouquets of love hanging from our deck.
If you haven't read the book A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, you need to put the beverage down right now and run out and buy it.  Or, if you live 250 miles from a bookstore like me, mosey on over to Amazon.

I remember reading it in college, and being so touched by the expressions of selflessness demonstrated by the two romantic characters in the book.  Initially, though very much drawn to one another, they had very separate interests. Yet, both desired to learn about the other's pastimes and amusements in order to become closer through the gift of appreciation.

Teaching the boys how to extend themselves to think of others in this way is difficult, because they are all so closely connected to Steve and to one another through the common bonds of sports, farming, Legos, being gross etc., etc.  And, though I'm not one to back away from a one-on-one hoop session, going fishing, talking tractors or shooting a gun, there are other things I would rather do, other interests that don't necessarily appeal to a house full of boys.  The fact that they've never had to play with a sister who's every day language includes words like Barbie and dress up, isn't helping my situation either.

Horticulture is one of my favorite areas of study and application.  Since I was gone on Sunday, and Sundays in our house tend to lean toward masculine hobbies (sports, hunting, action flicks, etc.), I believe it was a stretch for them to spend their afternoon shopping for and planting those baskets of beautiful flowers.  Though digging in the dirt did help ease the suffering (smile)!  

What I first realized when I received their gift was that what was even more beautiful than the blooms was the fact that they were aware of the likes and interests of someone outside of themselves. Even though they do not share in my passion, they chose to honor it, and to honor me through the gift of giving of themselves.  Witnessing this character in your children is a beautiful experience!

Should any of my boys happen to marry and have their own family one day, on Mother's Day I will be sitting by the phone, waiting for my daughter-in-law to call with ecstatic joy over her husband's unwavering adoration and thoughtfulness.  Then I'll pull an Almond Joy out of my chocolate stash and celebrate right along with her.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!!

For the past 11 years of my life, coffee shop conversations and after church chats have always centered around the topic of children.  We can't help it, us moms.  Our tribe is our 24/7.  What else would we talk about?? Inevitably, another mother will often share such things as, "I've known forever that I wanted to be a mom" or "I could never see myself doing anything else but being a mom."

You can't quote me saying those words.  The thought of being a mother didn't cross my mind until my early 20's.  As a young college student, my pea-brain was a bit consumed with thoughts and ideas about studies, traveling, friends and a future career.   And, my heart was closely tied to those things that I thought were oh-so-important.  Looking back on that period of my life, I must have just thought that I would wake up one day and hear the voice of God streaming in through the window with the sunshine announcing my vocation to me. So, there was no need to ponder it all.  Pea brain, pea brain.

The summer before my sophomore year at K-State, my brother Steve and his wife Julie had a baby girl.  They named her Lauryn.  The anticipation of her birth brought about feelings of excitement that I had never experienced before.  Feelings that resonated so deep in my soul that they were like ribbons wrapped around my heart pulling me toward this new little life.  It was then that I recognized that I wanted to be a mother.  The first moment I held Lauryn God spoke to my heart and I knew that one day I would hold my own first born....
Fast forward 15 years, and I am immersed in the miracle of 5 precious living breathing (booger picking, dirt digging, sports crazed, and very strange noise-making) souls.  They are the tangible reality of that moment that I experienced years ago, the moment I felt God breathe motherhood into my very being.  (Thank goodness he spared me visions of the nitty-gritty or I would not be typing this or come running to the name Mommy.)
Every day, I am in awe of the love and strength God has woven into the nature of mothers.  Because I realize how very weak my will can be and how narrow my understanding is of God's great design for our family, it is only by grace that I am able to love, to give of myself, and to recognize the beauty - even in the imperfections - of our family.  Isn't it funny how the sweetness of messy hair mornings in jammies wrinkled warm and rosie cheeks can cast a shadow of forgetfulness over yesterday's boxing matches, broken vases, muddy boots and other mishaps? 
St. Catherine of Sienna once said:

"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.

We all know that it takes but the smallest spark to ignite the biggest fire.  While sometimes I feel that my flame is very small, the fire I hope to create is one of love.  And I desire for that fire of love to burn brightly in my children, because when I look at them, I not only see our Lord, I see a marvelous vision of the light they will be for the world - not a distant glow, but a brilliant fire of God's love.
To all the mom's out there who may be reading this - no matter who you are, where you've been or hope to be, take heart in knowing, in believing, that God, who has done a great work in you will see it to completion! I will offer prayers for you this Mother's Day, prayers for continued strength to keep up with your tribes, good health, fortitude in difficulties, and peace in your hearts and in your home. May you be blessed beyond measure!

 Happy  Mother's  Day!! 
One of my favorite songs about motherhood:
You Cannot Lose My Love
Sara Groves

Monday, May 7, 2012

Thoughts on Self-Forgiveness & Self-Esteem

There are five precious little men who dwell under my roof and deep in my heart.  Each with their own distinct gifts, personalities and dispositions.  Today, there is one, in particular who is occupying my thoughts...

Oh, how this one loves, loves, loves others.  But, there are times when I can see that he struggles to love himself.

And, the ache I feel for him in this particular struggle is indescribable.  I know that you understand what I'm saying if you are a parent and are reading this.

For me, one of the most humbling responsibilities of parenting is correcting our children.  How terribly necessary it is to take seriously the formation of a child's conscience.  For without doing so, they may indeed walk through the terrors of the world without having one to exercise.

And yet, how fragile the duty is, how easily a spirit can be broken.  Broken under the weight of constant criticism, correction, expression of disappointment, lack of or loss of patience. Oh, my, the lack of patience - I'm terribly guilty of this.

Finer than fine is that balance between living the letter of the law, the letter of life and the spirit of the law, the spirit of life.  Of taking the job seriously because we love our children and want to help them do their best and be their best, because deep down we know that there is freedom in living a virtuous life.  But, take the job too seriously and it's easy to lose perspective.  Their mistakes become our mistakes they must be failing because we are failing. And what if there is truth in the reality that often times it is our mistakes that become their mistakes....our very own personal sins become visible in them?

Stops me dead in my tracks every time.  No, no, no, Lord! These are my problems, not theirs! Why is sin generational - why, why, why?? How is it that my baggage has become their baggage. They carry it around, unaware, on their petite little shoulders. I don't want them to struggle with such things. I want them to be free and good and happy and perfect. Yep, perfect.  Easier for them.....and yes, for me too. 

I can recall with great clarity the interior feeling of desire that I had to be good as a child.  Partially because I wanted to be like my older sister. In my eyes no one was better than her.  The other part was to please my parents.  So many good feelings came with pleasing those around me, and being recognized and praised for it. But, falling short of the mark brought the opposite emotions. Personal mistakes and failures were then (and at times still are) nearly overwhelming for me.  To say that I felt consumed by feelings of failure and worthlessness would not be an exaggeration.  That is a lonely place to be, as a child and as an adult.

When I see that a child of my own may at times experience those same feelings, I cannot express the depth of my desire to rescue him from such a place.  I wanted so much to be like "those other kids" who could brush things off so easily and just move on with life, full of confidence, seemingly carefree and unaffected by their faults and failures.  Maybe it was all appearances, smoke and mirrors, I didn't care, I still wanted to be like them.  I wanted, "It's no big deal" to be my motto too.

Now you know that I wasn't like those other kids then and I'm not like them now.  And, I have a son who might just feel the same way.  Intellectually I know that if I scrub and scour every Christian parenting and child psychology book I will find some answers, some approaches to all of this (and I have - The Optimistic Child and several works by Dr. Conrad Baars have helped tremendously).

Yet, deep down I know that this is the one small truth that sits deep in the heart of the matter:
Our desire to be good and to do good must come FIRST and PRIMARILY as an act and expression of LOVE for God the Father.  He who first loved us, who will never stop loving us, who will help us to love ourselves, is our perfect parent.  Longing to please those closest to us, caring too much about what others think, and frankly caring too much about what I think of myself - as if one day I expect to wake up and be happy because I can say, "Yes, I am good now!" - will never bear any fruit in my own life nor in the lives of my children.

Nurturing a life of love for our Lord in our children not only helps them to set their hearts upon something (Someone) everlasting, but it gives them a point of reference called RELATIONALITY.  The child's desire to do good and to be good becomes a connection, a relation between themselves and the Lord. This connection is not an end in and of itself, it extends into the lives of others.  We love because he first loved us.  We love others, and we love ourselves because of Him.  In this way, when the children's minds and hearts are set upon particular achievements in life, including interior spiritual achievements, they are motivated by Love and not prideful or self-centered reasons.

How tempting it is to choose the pathway of permissiveness as a parent.  To let everything slide, to ignore the wrongdoings, to make excuses for poor behavior is the easy approach.  While we think that they simply cannot handle being "caught and taught" because they are too fragile, or we don't want them to be unhappy or dislike us, we are simply taking a pass for ourselves on parenting, either because we don't want to face the fact that we might be correcting our children for a sin that we too struggle with and fear being called a hypocrite, or else we are delusional, thinking that sins are simply phases of life and will pass.  In the end, no one wins with that approach and no one is happy.

Happiness, by and large, is not the greatest goal for our children.  Yes, we want them to be happy, but better yet, we should want them to be free.  Free to forgive themselves and others, free to love and free to live a life that is directed toward something greater than themselves.

What I have learned and am still learning about relating to and guiding a child whose temperament can tend toward being overly self-critical and self-doubting, who struggles (at times) with low self-esteem is this:

1.  Example is the best teacher.  Their eyes are upon us.  While none of us are perfect parents, we have to be aware of the impression we make upon our children by our own example.  "Do as I say, not as I do" just isn't going to fly.  Modeling the behavior we desire to see in our children isn't easy, we must ask for their forgiveness when we fall, receive their forgiveness cheerfully and begin again.

2.  When the child is in need of correction, it is important that the firmness is always followed by affection and encouragement. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut with discipline and feel weary of constantly correcting, try something new. Create an opportunity for quality one-on-one time with your child. Finding that time isn't always easy, but may be just what your child needs to gain a little self-confidence, and the assurance that you love them and truly are here to help them with their struggles.  Think of it as time for connection instead of correction.

3.  I believe that it helps children to know that as parents we too are working on our own defects.  For example, I have expressed to the children that I struggle with a lack of patience, and that I want to become a more patient person for the good of the family, for my own well-being and because it pleases the Lord.  We cannot demand a particular behavior from our children and follow it with the phrase, "do it because I said so!"  Sharing a purposeful explanation with the child will appeal to their sensitive nature and provide a reasonable motivation for them as well.

4.  In the evenings we help our children examine their consciences.  We pause to consider the good things we did for the day as well as the bad.  This provides us as parents the opportunity to praise our children for their specific good behavior, to ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoing, and to pray for the grace to press on toward the good.  It's amazing how loved children feel when you pray with them.

6.  Help your children see their struggles in light of temptation.  For example, I shared these thoughts with my sensitive one: When you make a mistake and are corrected, you might be tempted to be angry with yourself for such a period of time that it leads to internal frustration and withdrawal from others because you feel so upset with yourself.  The devil wants you to react in this way, because when you feel hopeless and do not trust in God's mercy and grace to do better next time you cannot be a light for Christ in the world.  Satan is real, and he wants to take you out of the game.  When all you can see and think about is yourself, you take your eyes off of Christ, and Satan wins.

7.  At the end of the day, the very best that we can give our kids is a dedicated time of prayer for them.  I am just learning about praying very specifically for each of my children in a way that is especially personal and specific to their needs, their future and their present lives at this time.  The desire to pray in such a way has always been in my heart, but finding depth in the prayer has not been easy. I have discovered that using a specific outline can be very helpful. You can find an example of it here.

This is #10 from the list of 
31 Ways to Pray For Your Children:
"Lord, help my children develop a strong self-esteem that is rooted in the realization that they are God's workmanship created in Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 2:10)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Chopstick Charlie

Oh, boy, Mommy, I finally made it! 
Ever since I was in your tummy my little ears have been listening to the melodies that rise like magic from this giant black box. 

I heard them still as a newbie, back when you held me in your arms 
all day long...
 then as I grew, and grew and grew, and you toted me around on your hip, I could see that my brothers were making the music.  
When you first sat me down on the floor in the schoolroom I knew that soon I would inch my way over to that big black box, 
reach up with all my might and touch the keys too.
See how I have discovered how to scoot myself between the bench and the piano?  
Up, up, up on my tippie toes I go.  A great big stretch and...TA-DAH!! I can reach!  
Now I can make music too!
How did you know that my wobbly legs would soon get tired?? 

Thank you, Mommy, for rolling my high-chair over for me to sit in!
Now, I think I could play all day!  Oh, what is this? I have an audience? 
Oh my! (Is that a tip on the piano?  It's a sign!  He's my baby Beethoven!)
This is definitely my happy place.  
Isn't it wonderful, Mommy??