Tuesday, February 24, 2015

God is my Shepherd. I won't be wanting.

These few months have been super hard.  Pregnant nausea and exhaustion hard.  Kids with colds and not sleeping well hard.  Having important and healing, but difficult and painful conversations with the Husband hard.  Still figuring out our financial situation hard.

We've sort of been in a season of reality check, and while I think it would be nice to intentionally enter those seasons as a way to reboot and purge and choose what we truly want in our lives and who we want to be, I have found that more often those seasons force themselves upon us.  But I have also come to learn that they are a saving grace in many ways.  A way that God diverts us from a path of destruction or even just a path of aimless wandering.

He wants more for us.  He wants resurrection in our here and now - not just for eternity.  He wants freedom and healing.  He wants to rescue us from the small life we try to build for ourselves and to invite us in to his eternal story.

More and more, I discover that my idea of health and wholeness is so...blah compared to the life God wants for me.  I settle for making it.  I settle for survival.  I am content with mediocre happiness when God wants true joy and peace for my heart.

I have been a control freak all my life.  When life starts to feel like it's falling off the rails, my intuitive response is to pull the reins tighter.  I try to manage and micromanage in a desperate attempt to grasp hold of whatever sanity I have left and I end up exhausted and frustrated and miserable and the people around me are miserable, too.  And if there's nothing I can tangibly do to control, I control by worrying about things.  I'm pretty sure Jesus spoke the words, "Can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your life?" purely for my benefit.

I guess I'm just a slow learner because the truth is that the times of my life when God has worked miracles - when I have felt the most joy, experienced the most breakthrough, enjoyed the most peace - have been times when all control was completely wrested from my hands.  Our adoption story is an excellent example of this.  And yet, I still instinctually want control.  I forget that control brings death, not life.

I want to be my own god.  There must be a part of me that thinks I'm more trustworthy with the treasures in my life than God is, otherwise I wouldn't be so resistant to handing over the reins.  Which is why I am learning to view these "reality check" seasons as God's good grace on my life.  I hear his voice saying gently, "Little Lamb, you have wandered down your own path again and you cannot see the dangers that lurk ahead.  But I have a better way for you - won't you choose it?"

And, usually because I'm desperate - only because I'm desperate - I say, "Yes.  Thank you, Shepherd.  I was so lost and I didn't even know it.  I saw something that way that I thought could solve my problems, but I was wrong.  I thought it might be an easier way.  I forgot that your way - though often hard - is the only way I can really get what I need.  And I forgot what kind of Shepherd you are."

There is a reason we all learn Psalm 23 in Sunday School when we are young.  It is the perfect reminder of our identity and the truth of who God is for us.  I need that reminder more often than I care to admit.

I forget so easily that the Lord is my Shepherd and I have all that I need.
He lets me rest and leads me to peace.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I don't have to be afraid because he is close beside me.
He has weapons to protect me and tools to direct me.
He claims me as his own in the face of my enemies and honors and blesses me.
He chases me down to give me good things to overflowing.
I have peace because I know that no matter how many crappy choices I make, no matter how many tragedies I endure, no matter how many times I get confused and trapped by my own good intentions, he will find me and take me home.
I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

giving thanks while throwing up

Guys.  I'm real sick.  This baby is knocking me flat on the floor.  Lila just turned five which means it's been almost five years since I was pregnant with her.  I'm convinced my body doesn't remember being pregnant because it seems to be in shock.  I am 17 weeks and still throwing up.  Somebody save me.

Being pregnant and parenting other children is a game changer - especially when one child is a two-year-old with Down syndrome who is in that destructive and death-defying phase in which FUN = scaling furniture or pulling all the baby wipes out of the containers.  We have our pack-n-play set up in the family room as a permanent fixture and Faith spends more time in there than I'd like to admit.  For Christmas we got her a bag of 150 balls that we dump in the pack-n-play with her and she spends the next 15 minutes throwing them out.  15 minutes of her safely occupied means I can lay on the couch and moan in peace.

I'm hoping I'm about to turn the corner in this pregnancy and start feeling like a normal and functional person again. Until then, it's all about survival.  I tell myself as long as my children are safe, fed and (mostly) dressed, I'm doing okay.  If you try to tell me I'm not doing enough, I will cry and throw up on you.  I'm very hormonal and nauseous so criticize at your own risk.

Despite all that, moments like this make me want 35 children:

I love the way Faith looks at Lila.

Oh man, they're the best.

And of course, despite being completely miserable, I am so beyond grateful to be pregnant.  I had really started to believe that I would never be pregnant again.  This baby is the best kind of hope fulfilled.  It still feels surreal that I get to decorate a nursery and talk baby names and make guesses as to the baby's gender.  I never want to lose sight of the gift this baby is to our family.  I never want to take for granted that I am getting to do what so many women long to experience.  I never want to forget the collective years of longing and tears shed over so many failed pregnancy tests.  Every time I puke, I want to whisper (along with my prayers of desperation for the nausea to relent) a prayer of thanks for the life growing inside me.

Other things I am thankful for:
- a supportive Husband who takes on more than his share of household duties so I can lie on the couch with a washcloth on my forehead
- a sweet five-year-old who is so excited for her brother (she refuses to acknowledge that it might be a girl) that she takes it upon herself to keep my water bottle full, my feet covered by the blanket, her sister entertained, and my bowl of Cheerios stocked
It's not all love and sweetness.  I found this in her desk in the playroom.  Apparently she was mad at me for some reason.
- a cute two-year-old whose shenanigans keep me distracted from the nausea and motivate me to get up off the couch
Her favorite place to sit - in the shelf.  P.S. FOOTIE PJS!
- Zofran.  Hallelujah.
- a job that is understanding when I text that I can't stop throwing up and show up 30 minutes late to school to find my principal taking care of my class for me
- 70 degree days in January (never mind that it was 25 degrees and snowing a few days later!) during which the kids can play on the deck while I sip my Dr. Pepper.  Which reminds me...
- Dr. Pepper!  The only thing that settles my stomach.  I said to the Husband the other day, "I don't know how I'd survive this pregnancy without Dr. Pepper."  To which he responded, "How is that different from any other day?" Cheeky.
- our new house and our mini van - two significant purchases we made in the last year that we are so grateful for now that we'll be a family of five!
- proof of life growing inside me - even in the form of surging hormones

I have so much I haven't documented on this blog and I keep going back and forth between wanting to get caught up and just picking up where we are and moving forward.  And then I realize I have more pressing matters to attend to - like pulling Faith down from fireplace or making it to the bathroom in time - and the blog falls off my radar again.

So until I figure it out, I'll leave you with this cuteness:
Gotta love that low tone flexibility!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A (very late) Letter to my daughter: Year FIVE!

Dear Lila,

I cannot believe you are five.  The day before your birthday, we went to get flu shots at Aunt Jess' office and as we were leaving she scooped you into her arms and said, "I want one more hug from four-year-old Lila!"  How is it possible that we are already hugging goodbye to four-year-old you?  This year has gone by so fast and five years old seems so very big to me.

I love the ways you are still small.  You still need your beloved Snugglies at bedtime and when you are sad or sick (Faith Baby, Lambie, Snuggle and Birdie Blanket).  I've asked you which is your favorite and you refuse to answer.  It's as though I've asked you which is your favorite child!

You also have several verbal idiosyncrasies that I can't bring myself to correct.  You call the TV "TD" and a tummy ache a "tummy hank."  The other day in the car, Daddy asked you a question and then asked you again because he hadn't heard you answer.  In response you told him you did answer him, but you said it "whisperly."  We both could hardly stand your cuteness.

Oh my Lila.  How I love and adore you.  How you push my buttons.  How you reveal my own faults and gifts back to me.  How you surprise me and teach me.  Each year of being your mommy helps me grow and see myself more clearly.  You are a gift to me.

When Daddy comes home from work, I alternately vent my frustrations of your misdeeds and unchained energy and regale him with tales of your charm and humor and awesomeness.  You are a complete package - holy and broken.  I never want you to look back at these precious letters and have you believe that I only love you for the good stuff.  I love you through and through.  I see your brokenness (it eerily reflects my own) and I love you.  I see your beauty and raw holiness and I'm in awe.  I see your morphing, changing, growing, budding little self and I'm humbled to be a part of the nurturing of your roots and blooms.

You are five.  A much-anticipated achievement.  FIVE.  But I kind of don't want to talk about it.

Five means kindergarten next year.  Five means less Mommy, more friends.  Five means new freedoms and risks when I want to keep you snug and safe.  Five means access to new information as you learn to read - I can't control the content of the things you are exposed to much longer.

Five is scary for a mommy.  I wonder how many mommies feel this way.

But for you, Five is thrilling and promising.  You had great hopes in the magical passage of time that, in closing your eyes and tucking yourself into bed as Four, you would step out of bed a grown up the next day: Five.  You were sorely disappointed when the shoes that were too big when you were four did not fit when you turned five the next day.  And your "loose" tooth (you assure us it is wiggly, though the evidence suggests it is securely in place for a while longer) did not fall out when you awoke on your fifth birthday as you had hoped.

You have such wild faith in your hopes and prayers.  You were so sure turning five would make those dreams of shoes fitting and loose teeth come true and your disappointment at the reality was painful and heartbreaking.  You recently said to me, distraught, "Mommy, why did Jesus answer our prayer for a baby and our prayer for a new house and our prayer for Faith to feel better, but he still hasn't answered my hope to FLY!??"  I was a bit dumbfounded by that one.  After all, I still struggle with the adult version of that question!  Sometimes, Jesus doesn't answer our prayers the way we hope or when we expect, but that doesn't mean we should stop praying and sharing our dreams with him.  Maybe someday you will invent a way for little girls to fly!

You were unimpressed with my answer and responded by jumping up in the air with a grunt of frustration, determined to take flight.  Oh how I love you!

More and more these days, I see glimpses of things to come.  Trials and struggles you will have in friendships, gifts and abilities that will shape your life.  You are so competitive.  SO competitive.  Everything is a game, a contest, a competition.  We are working on being a gracious loser when games don't go your way, and being a kind winner when they do.  You have more trouble with the former and often devolve into tears if you don't win.  I have begun refusing to play games with you if it seems you aren't in the mood to tolerate anything but a victory.  I tell you that your friends will not want to play with someone who manipulates the rules (*cough* cheats *cough-cough*) to serve her best interest.  I tell you your friends will not want to play if they aren't allowed to win.  This does not seem to bother you, so I fear that you will have to learn that lesson the hard way.

Your competitive nature reveals itself in other ways, too.  You are always one-upping with your friends.  So-and-so can do this, but I can do this.  And if you are especially tired or emotional, it is not uncommon for you to tearfully accuse me of liking Faith more than you.  Usually this happens when you've been naughty and are having to have consequences for your choices and I happen to be meeting one of Faith's needs as you endure your consequence.  You find it wholly unjust that life should go on as normal while you are suffering such unwarranted misery.  If you're miserable, well then everyone else should be, too!

On the flip side of that coin, you feel the same about your happiness.  I love how you turn to me in wonder when you discover something new or when you open a gift or when you are proud of an accomplishment and say breathlessly, "Mommy!" as though you couldn't imagine not sharing such joys with me.

You generally feel that everyone should be involved in your struggles and victories and you should be involved in everyone else's.  The one exception to this is that you do not like to be corrected or disciplined in front of your friends.  I have learned that if I honor this desire to avoid embarrassment, you often make a better choice.  So instead of announcing to the room at large that you are one strike away from a spanking, I try to whisper the secret into your ear, reminding you of where we stand and what your options are.  You often nod with a smile and say, "Okay," and then change your behavior.  I used to think that embarrassment was a rather helpful natural consequence (and perhaps it is in certain contexts), but now I see that if I honor the trust you have in me to protect you, I show you that I know you and value the things that matter to you.

One of the ways you are so like me is that you want your feelings to be validated before you are ready to see solutions or accept criticism.  Even if your feelings are completely irrational (which feelings often are!), if I take the time to listen to you vent and then say to you, "I can tell that you feel like that wasn't fair and that makes you mad.  Is that right?" then you are much more willing to hear my explanation of a choice or consequence that I made.  Often just feeling understood is enough to calm the raging sea of emotions that erupts from your passionate little heart.  Poor Daddy.  He now has two of us passionately emotional ladies to deal with!

Daddy has taught you about the five love languages and you have amazed us with your self-awareness.  You listened quietly as he explained them: physical affection, quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, and gifts.  As soon as he said gifts, your face lit up - you intuitively knew that was your primary love language.

We also taught you about the concept of introverts and extroverts which has given us context to explain how your needs and Mommy's needs differ.  But it has also backfired as you now see the fact that you are an extrovert as proof of your NEED of a playmate for every waking minute.  Your rebuttal for being sent to your room for a break has become, "Don't leave me by myself, I'm an EXTROVERT!"  I have tried to teach you that being an introvert or an extrovert doesn't mean that you deserve certain things or that everyone else has to adapt to what you need, it just explains why you feel certain ways and want to be with people or alone when you are tired.  I tell you that it is good for introverts to challenge themselves to be around people more often and it is good for extroverts to stretch themselves with quiet alone time.  Quiet?  Alone time??? TORTURE!  Oh, the humanity!

Which brings me to my next point.  You are so dramatic.  Sometimes I am just sure that you will end up on stage.  I can't decide if it's something I want to nurture or not! You are constantly performing - singing, dancing, making up stories, telling jokes, etc.  The fireplace at our new house has been repurposed as a stage.  I also have found myself saying, "Lila, singing loudly when people are talking is the same as interrupting."  At Christmas, I told you that I would gather everyone around for you to perform a few songs because I knew otherwise you would be doing impromptu performances all night and no one would be able to have a full conversation!  It should come as no surprise that LOUD equals BEST in your mind, (you compete with Idina Menzel to see who can sing louder and longer in Let it Go and then declare that you "did it better" if you can hold the note longer than she did on the recording) and you give little care to accuracy of lyrics.  It's about passion and artistry and drama and performance!  If you believe it, the audience will, too!  And I think they do!

You have grown so much this past year and it has brought so many changes and accomplishments.  This year you:
- Got to start chewing gum
- Fell more and more in love with Frozen (along with every other little girl under the age of 10)
- Learned to pray powerfully (for Baby Hartman's heart, for a new brother or sister, for no more nightmares)
- Said goodbye to the only house you've ever called home
- Experienced the death of someone relatively close to you when our neighbor unexpectedly passed away just before we moved
- Got to live with Nanny and Pop for four months - your dream come true because PEOPLE!  All the time!
- Learned to ride your bike without training wheels (and then proceeded to scare me to death)
- Became a professional colorer and artist
- Started in the Green Room (transitional kindergarten) at your beloved preschool
- Started ballet with the incomparable Miss Brittany
- Learned to READ!
- Learned (or are still learning) to navigate some difficult relationships with classmates
- Finally broke your glasses and chose the exact same pair again!
- Continued to rock at being Faith's big sister
- Learned you get to be a big sister AGAIN!

What wonder and excitement for one year!  And what will five years old bring?

I hope that you grow in your friendships - that you learn to let other people take center stage every once in awhile and to step back and observe the people around you rather than just plow ahead with your own agenda.

I hope that your understanding and love for Jesus grows - that you continue to experience victories in your prayers and be encouraged to trust him with your hopes and fears.  I hope that you would continue to know and believe that your identity, just as your name says, comes from belonging to God - not from the approval and acceptance of the people in your life.

I hope that you feel secure in your place in our family - that you would continue to enthusiastically take on big sister roles for Faith and Baby (who you are certain is a boy) and that you would weather the change in our attentiveness and time (now split between three children instead of just two) with grace and confidence.

I pray for the transitions the next year will bring: new sibling, new school, new friends, new influences.  If the previous years have shown us anything, it's that you will wear FIVE with the confidence and flair of the years before.  You will weather the changes and adapt easily.  You are one remarkable kid.

I'll say it again, as I've said it for five years and counting:
I love you.
Jesus loves you.
I'm so proud of you.
I'm so glad I get to be your mommy.

I guess five years old isn't so scary.  Five means more of you and more of you is all I want!

I love you!