Thursday, September 24, 2009

When God Speaks Through Your Spouse

In a moment of disagreement between the two of us (you know the kind - an argument), my husband said some things that hurt.  At first, they just made me really angry.  How dare he say that to me?  I've been a stay-at-home mom for almost 7 years now and in that time, I've done a lot.  I've tried to keep up with the housework. I've tried to keep the family organized.  I've tried to keep the laundry washed and folded (okay, I slack on this one more than other things because I hate laundry so much). I've taken the kids to school, signed all the notes, made sure homework was done, written the checks for field trips, lunches, pictures, etc. I've signed the kids up for various activities and tried to get them involved. I've been the primary care-taker and disciplinarian, simply because I am home.  I've also gone to graduate school, volunteered at church, been a classroom mother for the kids and helped at school parties, and taught foster/adoptive parent classes in the evening.  What I'm trying to say is that I don't feel like I've wasted the past 7 years of my life and I've not spent them on the sofa watching Oprah or General Hospital, eating chocolate. 

So, to hear my husband say that he hasn't really noticed a big difference in the house or the schedule or whatever since I started my final practicum (which is a part-time job) hurt.  He went on to say how ticked off he is that I haven't made simple changes he's requested, like filling up the truck when it gets to 1/2 a tank vs. E, or that I haven't been as resourceful/accountable with our financial resources as I should be, was a surprise.  At first, it felt like he was "giving me instructions" and I didn't want to hear it. 

I mean, really, is he the one at home dealing with all these things.  Nope.  He's at work from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.  That's easy because he doesn't have to deal with the kids and the day-to-day family stuff!  Can't he help out more at home?  Can't he pay the bills, do a load of laundry, help with homework, run the kids to and from, help clean up from dinner, do baths, get the kids in bed, spend quality time with each of our kids, coach the sports teams, volunteer at church, etc. in the 3 1/2 hours he has at home each night, and do it all without getting irritable?  Shouldn't I be allowed to "clock-out" when he gets home? 

Okay, okay.  I know - on some level that all seems totally reasonable.  Last night (and this morning when I woke up), I heard God saying to me..."He does his part without your help." God's right.  I don't get up at 5:00 a.m. to get ready for work.  I don't go to FedEx and help Justin make his deliveries on time, especially when freight is late, so they're all really, super busy.  I don't help coach the football team. I don't coach the soccer team.  I see my kids during the day and I talk to the teachers, so I know how they're doing all the time.  I get to care for them when they're sick and hear how they're growing because I take them to the doctor appointments.  I get to see them laugh and have a good time, while he's at work.  I have my relationship with our children because I have more time with them than Daddy does. 

When he comes home, and I'm expecting him to help with everything because I want a break - when does he get a break?  Genesis 2:18 says "The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."  God created me to be a helper for my husband - not the other way around! Oh, Lightbulb! Duh.  I've known that verse for a very long time and I thought I had accepted it. 

In a Bible Study that I'm taking, we've recently discussed the innate drives in men and women.  My husband's drives are to provide for and protect our family and to exercise dominion over those territories.  My drives are to nurture and support my family and to exercise dominion over those territories.  When I ask my husband to take on my territories as well as his own, I put a great deal of pressure on him.  I ask him to do my part and his own and that's not fair.  When he asks me to do things a certain way, I should respect that he knows how to lead our family and make the changes.  (Wanna hear something else?  Justin actually said to me "If you want the power in this family, fine. Take it." Whoa!!!! That's not what I want and NOT what I'd been praying for in my marriage for a very long time. In fact, I've been praying that Justin would step up more.  Prayer answered - last night!  That hurt.  Talk about God getting in your face...)

Now, am I saying that I, as a woman should be okay to be stuck in the kitchen all day doing "woman's work"? No. I'm not.  I believe marriage should consist of mutual support, encouragment, and respect.  It is a two-way street and each partner must give something to the relationship and the home.  However, what each partner gives is just different.  Each gives something to the family and the home, but each gives what God has equipped him or her to give.  It is unfair of us, male or female, to ask our loved one to give something that God did not design him or her to give.  It's just not possible, and eventually, someone blows. 

So, my encouragment for today is to ask your spouse what he/she feels should be your offering to the marriage. Define your territories and commit to sticking to them.  Check your demands on each other, honestly and sincerely.  Are they equal but different?  Is there something that your spouse would want you to change about the way you do your part, in your family?  Can you make that change?  Today, I will pray about my part and my territories and I will consider how I have been unfair to Justin.  Today, I will really hear the message from my husband because, I believe it may just be a message from my Father.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Remembering and Recognizing

When I was only 12 years old, my world was turned upside down but it turned out that this event would make everything about my life make sense and seem to be exactly the way God intended it to be. 

At 12 years old, I thought I might be pregnant.  WHAT?!?!?! I know, it's crazy - 12 and to be scared of becoming a mother - what was going on?  Out of fear, I confided in my best friend that my father was sexually abusing me and that he'd been doing it for years - as long as I could remember.  That was a huge secret and my friend didn't really know what to do with it.  Can you blame her? She was only 12 years old and no 12 year old should know what to do with that (or should they?).  For some reason, she was led to tell my secret to the school counselor and report to child protective services was made. 

Later that day, I was called to the counselor's office at school to be interviewed by a social worker and a detective, and I have to admit that I really wanted to take it all back and say it wasn't true!  I knew that it was not a good thing to have these people asking these questions.  I knew trouble was coming but I answered all of their questions truthfully.  I had to.  There was a detective there and I knew these people were serious!  I saw no way out of this situation, but I did wonder if this situation would make it all stop.  What would happen next?  Would my father get arrested?  Would my mother believe me? What about my brother? What would happen?  I had no clue but I sat there and answered their questions.

In the next instant I was flooded by fear and confusion.  The social worker told me to get on the bus and go home.  "What!?!?" "Are you kidding me?" "You don't know what will happen to me!" were the thoughts that came rushing to mind.  What the social worker hadn't asked about was the discipline used in my home, which was very harsh and abusive.  I was now really afraid of what would happen when I got home and there was nowhere else for me to go.

As I walked in the door, the phone rang and my mother's jaw dropped.  My mother, my father and I drove to the detective's office together for questioning and I was being told to recant the story the whole way.  After some time, I was led to a room down the hall and I watched my parents drive away (without saying goodbye) through a window.  I remember feeling scared and alone but also a sense of relief because I didn't have to go home with them.  This night began a 6 year journey through foster care for me, which included 9 different places (1 relative placement, 4 group home stays, 3 long-term foster families, and 1emergency foster home).

My first placement was with a relative, who told the authorities to move me just 2 weeks later because she "didn't want me to make this up" about her husband.  I was moved to the Wichita Children's Home in Wichita, KS.  The "children's home", as it is commonly known here, was a big place with lots of rooms and lots of kids.  Every 8 hours staff changed and we carried "point cards" everywhere - even to school.  Meals were held in a big dining room and at the same time each day.  I would come to spend 3 months there this time and would be placed in 2 different units within the "home".  I would come back to the "home" 4 years later, in between foster home placements. to see many of the same staff there. 

That first summer in WCH was difficult and to be honest with you, I don't remember too much about it.  What I do remember are the stories of those that cared for me - the staff.  I was blessed to meet some really incredible people at the "home" who have impacted my life beyond measure.  People like Marcy Ray, Kim and Shawn Raider, Jamie Johnston, Sjonna Ocshner, and others, who gave so much of themselves to serve kids like me, of all ages, who were alone, scared and confused.  People who would introduce me to safety and security for the first time in my life.  People who would show me that life didn't have to hurt and relationships with adults didn't have to be scary or confusing.  People who would introduce me to Christ without ever saying His name.  People who I am sure prayed for me and for the other kids there. People who would let me sit in their office and hold teddy bears or play games or throw a frisbee with me.  People who would stay in touch with me even after I left the home. People who would watch out for me and advocate for me, or let me watch and sing along to "The Little Mermaid" whenever I wanted.  People who would later invite me, a teenager in foster care, to play a part in their wedding.  People who believed in me then, and still do. People who helped me to become the woman I am today.  People God knew I needed at that exact moment.

Just a few days ago, I received a call that one of these very special people had died.  Jamie Johnston left this world on Sunday, September 20, 2009.  She had worked at the home much longer than I can remember and had touched so many young people, just like me.  She had worked with too many youth and families to count, for sure.  She had impacted the lives of her co-workers and her community in such a kind and gentle way, that only Jamie could do.  Jamie was so caring and nurturing.  Her soft voice was comforting, yet honest.  She remembered you long after you'd left her sight and I know, in my heart, she prayed for so many, for so long.  Jamie was a remarkable woman and one that will be greatly missed. 

As I reflect on this time in my life, I remember not only what happened to me and the journey I took through foster care, but I also remember all of the incredible staff, case managers, therapists, teachers, counselors, social workers, the court service officer and judge who impacted my life in such a profound way. I also remember many of the other young people experiencing the journey alongside me and the struggles they were going through and I recognize that the young people I serve today are no different.   

I admire the efforts these caring workers put into their jobs and I respect the time and effort that each one gives to their clients.  I recognize that our system of foster care is not perfect. Our families are not perfect.  Our therapy techniques aren't perfect. Our laws and regulations aren't perfect.  Heck, the workers themselves, aren't perfect, but they try.  Each and every day, these people hold the life of a child and a family in the palm of their hands and they work as hard as they can to impact that family in a positive way.  Social workers don't stop serving their clients at 5:00 p.m. Social workers, and other caring professionals who serve families and children, think about their clients and pray for their clients and try to discover new ways to help improve situations or find resources to offer, every day. 

As a social worker, now, I look back with appreciation and respect. I thank each and every one of these people for taking the time to choose the job they did and be a part of my life - YOU HAVE HELPED ME TO BE WHO I AM!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

An Attitude of Gratitude

Thank you so much for wonderful husband. He works so hard for our family and I know that he's tired most of the time. He's committed to coaching so both of our boys can play their chosen sport this year and he's volunteering at church with 2nd graders for AWANA and all of that keeps him busy every night of the week, after long, long days at work. He's busy at games all day on Saturday and manages to give our girls big hugs and kisses each time he walks through the door. He holds them as they fall asleep and then carries them off to bed. Thank you, Lord, for Justin's heart. Thank you that he loves me even when I'm not the wife he deserves. Thank you that he has always been there for me and thank you for allowing him to become exactly the man I needed as my husband. He's been patient and gentle when I needed him and he's protected me when I needed that too. Thank you, Father, for my husband. He is really a blessing to me.

Thank you for my children - even on those days when I'm so frustrated and I'm yelling way too much. Thank you for their health. Thank you for their energy. Thank you for their uniqueness. Thank you, Father, that they laugh and play as much as they argue with one another. It melts my heart when they say "I love you, Mom." and give me a hug - and I thank you that they can each say those words to me. Thank you Jesus for allowing me to raise them up to know you and love you.

Thank you Lord for my friends. You have blessed me so completely with the women in my life - always supportive, encouraging and ever so helpful to me. Thank you that we can get together and laugh uncontrollably at even the most stupid jokes or stories. Thank you for giving me friends that will and do cry with me when I need to cry and thank you father for my friends who have prayed for me, my marriage, my husband, and my kids. I truly don't know what I would do without friends who pray with me and for me! That is a blessing beyond measure.

Thank you Lord for the teachers you've put into my life over the past few years. I've so enjoyed all of the messages I've received directly from you through these wonderful Christian leaders. Thank you for the chance to attend the conferences and hear amazing testimonies. I only hope I can apply all that you've shown me to share my testimony better and to glorify you in all I do!

Finally, Jesus, thank you so much for dying for me. I know that it is only because you love me that you would be willing to do that for me! I am not worthy of that kind of love because I know that I sin each and every day and I have to always repent for things I do and choices I make. Lord, it is humbling to know that you suffered and went through all that pain before even my great, great grandparents or their great, great grandparents were even a glimmer in someones eye - you knew that I would need your grace and I thank you for offering it. I am so grateful for the gift that you gave to me on that cross, just when you were losing your very life on earth. Thank you so much! I love you Lord. I love you Lord. I love you Lord.

In Jesus' name I am grateful. Thank you, Father!

This is just my way of remembering all that I'm truly grateful for today.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wonder Woman

Yesterday, someone said that I must be "wonder woman" because of all that I am involved in or do. That's not the first time I've heard that statement or been asked "how do you do it?" way more times than I care to remember. So, what's so special about my life that makes others think I'm able to do so much more than they? I just don't get it.
Here we go...I am married with 4 children, ages 3-9, and the cycle of year-round sports practices (for 2 kids) has quickly collided with Wednesday AWANA at church. My husband is assistant coach for the 3rd grade football and the head coach for U8 soccer. We both volunteer during AWANA - he's a verse/group leader and I am a Sparks "secretary". Justin works 40-50 hrs per week at FedEx and I'm in graduate school. This being my final year of school (which I love to point out), I am completing a practicum, which basically means I'm working 18-20 hrs/week at a school 30 minutes from my home (for no pay, which is the part that really stinks!). This means, 3 days a week, I have to get the older 3 kids ready for school and off to the neighbors to catch the bus and then get the youngest to daycare and head off to work. On top of that, I just started a Tuesday night Bible Study (because I was starving for more and need to remember to be fed, spiritually, too) and I signed up for a MAPS group on Friday mornings (because I know that I am NOT alone in this season of life). I also teach pre-service training classes and do home visits with prospective foster and adoptive families 1-2 days per week. I have way too many loads of laundry to wash, dry, and put away than I care to count in a week and 3 bathrooms in our home that constantly need to be cleaned. A never-ending cycle of meals to prepare and dishes to clean along with carpets that need to be vacuumed way more often than I can get to it. Oh yeah, the amount of dust accumulated in my house in one week would probably equal a new world-record! Yes, I do have a lot going on. I'll give you that.

But, here's my question...How am I really all that different than the woman in the mini-van next to me at the stoplight or my friend who is shopping for groceries with her kids-in-tow at Wal-Mart?
So, when my friend called me "wonder woman" yesterday, I had to stop and think. I typically blow it off when someone makes this comment, because I know that its just something easy to say. However, I know that I'm not that special. I know that I am doing exactly what every woman does. We all try to be all and do all for everyone around us. Women are expected to be good and supportive wives, who keep a good house and support our husbands and our children. We're looked at by how we care for our homes and our families. We serve our families through the chores we do all day long. We are constantly doing something for someone else - and we do it because we love it! We avoid complaining and try not to get grumpy when the house is messy 2 hours after we finish cleaning it. We're having babies, chasing and potty training toddlers, all while getting the school-agers and teens where they need to be, on time.
Women are often expected (either by herself, her husband, her checkbook or society) to work outside of the home and help "support" the family, financially, while being conscience of how we spend our family's resources on groceries, clothes, jewelry, home furnishings and decor. That means that we may be working a job at home and away, in which case, we serving our boss and our customers all day long.
As girlfriends, we are always there for our friends and their families, too. We make sure we attend all the important birthdays and get-togethers to which we're invited. We answer emails and follow up on face book regularly, commenting on as many status updates as we can, just to let them know we're there and we care. We take time to talk on the phone and attend the next home-show/party that our friend holds - often agreeing to host our own, so she can get the benefits. We're there when our friend needs to cry, or laugh. We make a meal when someone is sick or has a baby and we offer to babysit so our friend can go on a date with her husband. We're doing a lot.
At church, we're called to serve in the nursery or preschool or children's ministry, or all of the above. We're supervising the youth groups and chaperoning camps. We're organizing VBS events and then we sign up for women's groups so "we can feel connected, too". We try to talk our husbands into the couples small-group or taking advantage of that home-team opportunity. Oh, and don't forget how we often encourage our man to participate (just as completely) in the men's ministry groups. (Isn't it funny how quickly we forget the men don't need all the "relationships" we do, and encourage them anyway?)
We are the team-moms, making snacks for the team after each game. We send the emails, make the phone calls, create and distribute invitations, and bake cakes for our kids birthdays. We plan extra-special holidays and family get-togethers. We sign up to help with class parties all year long and are there for every doctor appointment and parent-teacher conference.
In short, we do a lot. Don't we? All of us...women are busy, busy, busy.
I haven't even talked about the sacrifices women make, yet. If we were almost out of food, we would go without so our children could eat. If our clothes were old and outdated and our kids had a growth spurt, we would spice up our existent wardrobe so we can buy the new, longer pants for our kids. If our husband had a meeting, we'd reschedule ours. If we want to go out of town for a girls-weekend, we line up all the sitters, schedules, and meals ahead of time "so he doesn't have to worry about it". We pick the sick kids up from school and take them to the doctor. We clean up the various bodily fluids and comfort, even our husbands, when they're under the weather. We even do the carpool when we just don't feel like it, so our kids don't miss out. We're the first to miss our "event" if something comes up. We slip out of bed, weak and tired, in the middle of the night to help so-and-so get to the potty or go back to sleep from the nightmare. We pull the covers back up over the child who's kicked them off and now looks cold, and, we do it all out of love. Some women put their careers and life-dreams on the back burner to simmer, while raising the kids. We pray for our husbands, our children, our friends, our community, our church, and so on. We sacrifice and we do it every day, but we love it.
So, am I really wonder woman? I think not. Are we all "wonder women"? YES!!!!!!
I believe that God created woman because He knew, in His infinite wisdom that the world would need someone to do all of these things. Now, this is not to say that men don't hold a very special place in our world - they absolutely do, but I'll save that for another blog. Genesis 2:18 (NIV)
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." This means, to me, that God knew and intended for women to help hold things together and to make sure things run smoothly.
He knew the world would need a species full of "Wonder Women"!!! Amen?
So, the next time you see a woman who is doing it all and you wonder how she does it...take a good, long look at your own world and give yourself some credit for all that you do and how well you do it. YOU ARE WONDER WOMAN in your own right!
I think I might just change my profile pic (at least for a while)...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Mother's Confession

It happened. I don't like it, but I must admit it. I must confess my sin. I must acknowledge my mistake and I must consider how it will effect those I love the most.

Last night, I walked into our basement to find that my four amazing kids had once again turned into powerful tornadoes and destroyed our basement. There were legos, colored pencils, stuffed animals, DVDs, dirty laundry, and other miscellaneous objects strewn about and I have to say that it really did look like a massive F5 storm had just run through our family room! Actually, this scenario happens quite a bit around my house and it happens in various rooms of my home - each of their bedrooms, the kitchen, the bathroom and the family rooms! I think it has to be some conspiracy amongst my children to think of all the ways that they can make a mess. I only wish that their master plan also included an designation to the clean-up crew!

Yesterday, however, was a little different...I had specifically asked/told the kids to pick it up several times. Then, inevitably, I would get distracted and so would they, so the mess was not corrected. When I finally went downstairs to check, I saw just how bad the basement had gotten and I was immediately frustrated. As we all started to pick things up (because now they really knew Mom was irritated and they started helping - hmmm, what was their clue?), I noticed that the curio cabinet where our wedding memories are stored had been tampered with (again!) and I lost it. You can imagine the steam shooting from both my ears as the hair on my head stood up and my face turned red. All I could do was think of screaming a growl-like sound from deep in my stomach. I was so upset! I had discovered my husband's wedding day boutineer crushed and destroyed by our children.

I don't know why, but this was a really big deal to me. You see, I really have very few, if any, items from my childhood. Going into foster care and then spending 6 years in "the system" will do that to a person. I have only a few pictures, cards and the like from my teenage years and even fewer from before the age of 12 years. The things I collected while dating my husband and since we've been married mean the world to me. I know its silly, but I sincerely treasure each and every trinket and memory of my relationship with my husband and this curio holds an extra-special place in my heart. It is the very last thing packed before a move and one of the first things unpacked upon arrival to the new home. I have even told the kids, "This cabinet and the stuff in it was in this house before you were here and it will be here after you grow up and leave this house." (Crazy, huh?) It is really that important to me and they have all been instructed to leave it alone - numerous times.

Up until this year, they've all understood and left the cabinet and wedding memories alone. I'm not sure why, but recently it has become a topic of interest and intrigue, and this time, it meant an item was destroyed. AAAAGGGGGHHHH!!!! What was I to do? I couldn't very well replace the boutineer. I couldn't express how much it had meant to me in a way that the kids could understand. I couldn't save it by putting it back together. All I could do was scream and have an actual phsycial reaction to the loss I was feeling.

The confession...I allowed myself to get way too angry. While I did NOT touch my children in any way, at all (I was far too angry to even consider it...) I yelled and said things to them, out of pure reaction, that I should not have said. I overgeneralized my reaction to the broken flower to other things that I had felt the kids disrespected in our home - our furniture, the walls, their toys, the DVDs and video games, my efforts to serve the family, etc. That little broken boutineer had somehow turned into a representation of me! What?!?!?! That just doesn't make sense.

The kids are kids. They make mistakes and I am supposed to be able to recognize the mistakes, forgive, teach and move on, right? I mean, isn't that what mothering is all about - helping our children to learn from their mistakes and make better choices? That's what the "good moms" do.

After I sat down on the stairs and thought about my reaction (okay, over-reaction) to the broken boutineer, I cried. I cried because the flower was destroyed, but I also cried because I had exemplified a behavior for my children that I was ashamed of. I thought about this interaction for several hours last night and have thought of it several times today. I'm really ashamed of myself, as a mother.

It has occurred to me, though, that my kids love me even when I act like a complete fool. They look up to me and know that I am there to keep them safe. When they fall or get hurt, I am the one they come to for all-healing "kiss my owie, Mommy." I am the one they hug spontaneously and say "I love you, Mom" (or, as Sarah, my 3 year old has recently started to say "I like you Mommy.") I am the one they want to watch them dance or tell them how special they are. I am the one who will find the lost shoe and get their uniform clean before the game. I am Mom.

So, tonight, as I put my kids to bed, I will apologize for getting so upset about a broken flower. I will show them the example of humility and restoration of a relationship. I will admit that even Mommy makes mistakes and that mistakes are okay. I will ask them for their forgiveness for yelling the way I did and I will tell them that it was not okay for me to respond that way.

Hopefully, this will be what they remember. One of the biggest lessons I can teach them is the relationships are important and that when we love someone, we do all we can to make amends when we do wrong. That is the example I want to set. I also want them to learn to forgive and I will forgive my children for breaking the boutineer. It was, afterall, a flower.