Thursday, 27 February 2014

Spidey senses.. spring!

I hate the creepy crawly things, big and black and ugly. They hang from my ceilings and hide in the corners, weaving their dust traps and draping strings of the evidence of my lack of housekeeping everywhere. I never ever thought that, when I saw a huge one, long legged and shudderingly alive, in my bathtub, I'd be thankful.

You know why I'm thankful? Because it's a sure sign of spring. When the spiders start coming out, and the cobwebs become a nuisance, you know spring is around the corner. And for that, I'm thankful. It has been a long, long, hard winter. I am sooo ready for spring.

I look outside my window right now, and it is snowing, blowing, and freezing cold. Here in Ontario, Canada, I don't think we've gone more than 2 or 3 days without snow falling this winter. I can't remember the last time I saw snowbanks this high! Driving the kids to their church group last night, we went past banks that were higher than my van.

Winter, spiders, housework .. they all seem to produce a sense of dread in me. I'm sure I'm not the only one. Maybe it's the amount of work they represent.. or maybe it's just another reminder that I'm on my own, doing this thing called parenthood. As a solo parent, there's no one but me that takes out the garbage, shovels the driveway, and chases away the spiders above my daughters' bunkbed. And the worries about driving in a blizzard, paying the heating bill and buying the bug spray all fall on me.

Spring is just full of life, and growth.. and relief. We made it through another winter. The kids survived, and so did I. Life just gets easier in the spring and summer. No more snowsuits! No more taking longer to dress the kids than we actually spend outside. No more cabin-fevered, stir-crazy children to strew their toys from one end to the next while they desperately try to wring every last ounce of fun from their day.. stuck inside, again. Driving is easier, the kids are easier to entertain, and cleaning is easier... except for the spiders.

I think I have spring fever. I'm dreaming of cleaning my house, making a list of the major projects I want to take care of once the weather warms up, and welcoming spiders, of all things!  

It's all in your head

I have a rich imagination. My daughters have inherited that -- you should watch their play. From princesses to flying, from talking magnet letters to "kiss-y" flowers.. those girls pretend anything and everything, and anything can be a basis for play. They incorporate story characters from story time, movie plots from some of the kids videos, and every once in a while, they'll break out into song. It's like having live musical theatre on most of the day.

As I was saying, they inherited it from me. I remember diving into storybooks, and literally seeing the story take place in my mind. Like I was tagging along on the journey, I would go with the characters in my book and feel what they felt, see what they saw and be right there as they did what they did to win.

I don't read as much these days as I did when I was a child. It's just not possible, with everything else I have to do. But, I still imagine. Only these days, that rich imagination can be more curse than blessing. Try worrying about the consequences of a choice, and seeing the consequences play out in your mind's eye. Or letting a stray thought take my imagination on a scary journey down dark paths. These kinds of imaginings can make me lose sleep at night, if I'm not careful.

But there's a couple of things I do, in obedience to Scripture. First, God tells me to "take captive every thought". That means not letting those stray thoughts lead me on these imaginary scary journeys. Then God tells me to "think on these things" -- whatever is pure and lovely and truthful and noble. That means training my imagination to not dwell on fear and worry, but instead on delighting in the moment, remembering the victories of the past and thinking only of God's provision and glory in my future. Anticipating rather than worrying anxiously. Then God tells me to "cast all my cares upon Him". That means that all those worries and fears, once I've taken them captive (step number 1), I turn them over to Him. Resting in His love for me. Finally, God tells me to "renew my mind" and be transformed. This means replacing those negative thoughts, those worries and fears and doubts, with truth and hope and plans.

Taking captive one's thoughts is hard. It's a constant process. After all, we're only human, and it is our natural tendency to think the worst, to see the glass half-empty. In this fallen world, how can you not? But God wouldn't command something that's impossible, so it must be possible to do. Like so much in the Christian walk, it requires discipline. Taking captive a thought is an act of will, and does not come naturally. It means when that negative thought comes up -- when that picture of my child being hurt comes up in my mind -- I grab it. I don't pay attention to it. I immediately shut it off. I turn my attention to something else -- almost anything else. I think about the weather, my grocery list, or a song. I don't dwell on the negative thought and let that train take my imagination some place I don't want it to go.

Thinking on the things that God tells us to is also an act of a disciplined will. It's not enough to just capture the thoughts you don't want and get rid of them. Jesus told the story of a cleaned out house -- that soon filled with more evil than it was cleaned out of. Science says nature abhors a vacuum. And it's true of our thoughts. You can't have an empty mind. We weren't designed to be empty-headed. We were designed to think, to reason, to problem solve, to imagine. Imagination isn't evil, it's what you do with it that's good or bad. Imagination is just a tool, something that separates humanity from the animal world.

So what do we think about? Scripture lists "things that are noble, pure, lovely, honest, worthy of praise or respect." There are several things you can do here. It's easier to think on the pure and noble, when your mind is filled with lovely, honest things. So maybe this means changing the type of music you listen to, or the books you read, or the blogs you look over. It means filling your mind with good things.. not negative things. For me, this meant that as much as I liked it, I needed to turn off the radio. I used to love to listen to talk radio for hours every day. The questions challenged me, and the debates invigorated me. But the constant negativity trained my mind to think negatively. Now, if I want to listen to someone speaking, I'll listen to Christian teaching.

So once I've captured the negative thoughts, and filled my mind up with better things.. then what? There's an old song, sung at camp meetings and sunday schools, that goes,

"Cast your cares upon Him. 
Lay all of your burdens, down at His feet. 
And anytime, 
you don't know, 
whaaaa-aaat to do, 
Cast all of your cares upon Him."

It's a slow song, with a simple melody, but the message is good. That's exactly what we're supposed to do. When you don't know what to do, cast your care upon Him. Jesus told us, "All you who are weary and heavy laden, come to me, and I will give you rest." and "Take my yoke upon you, it is easy, and the burden is light." Jesus is willing to take our cares and griefs and worries and doubts.. those things that weigh us down and drag our feet.. and give us rest and an easier task. Carrying a lot of worry and fear is tiring. It's stressful. But obedience here creates rest and freedom. 

Ultimately, though, all of these things seem unnatural to our human brains. After all, this fallen world drags you down. It's hard to be cheerful and uplifting and hopeful when all you see around you is difficulties and obstacles and pain and suffering. It's hard to think about the good things in life, when your past may be very painful. It's difficult to count your blessings when you are stressed about the bills. 

Precisely because it's unnatural to our fallen minds is why God calls us to renewal and transformation. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed, by the renewing of your minds." How do we renew our minds? Taking captive the old thoughts, replacing them with the new ones, and turning the prisoners over to God. Renewing the mind is a lifelong process, that requires constant course correction and fine-tuning. It is an act of discipline and will to continue in this way, but at the same time, it brings incredible freedom. 

And isn't that the paradox of God's kingdom? What seems, at first, difficult and constricting and unnatural, will become, while never quite natural, freeing and easier as time goes on. 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Transportation troubles

It hasn't been till this separation started that I realized just how dreadfully isolated I was out here. And how important access to transportation is, when you have children. It was almost scary!

So, my plan began. First, I needed to get a driver's license. I know, 30 years old, never managed to actually get a full driver's license. There are reasons. For one, I never saw the importance until now, and for two, I really don't enjoy driving, among other reasons. But now, with 5 little girls depending on me to keep them fed, healthy and to take them to church.. I needed to be able to drive.

At first, I thought I would be able to use my stbx's vehicle -- it was for the kids, after all. And generally, he was willing. It depended on the mood, of course, and I really didn't like being dependent on him for access to transportation, but hey, it worked. Until December.

In December, his vehicle broke down. Seriously broken.. as in.. cost-of-repair-greater-than-replace broken. It was not a good thing. He ended up selling his vehicle for scrap, and now the problems began.

We were fortunate in that a couple from his (formally our) church stepped up and loaned us a vehicle for the time being. I always knew it was a temporary thing, and started saving right away. For some reason, my ex did not. However, as soon as he found out (I did try not to tell him!!) that I was saving for a vehicle, he figured if he behaved himself, he might be able to use mine.

If anything, I'm getting decent behaviour out of it from him. That's a plus. Even if I feel somewhat taken advantage of..

An offer was made earlier in the fall, before the vehicle we were using broke, from my stbx's brother and sister-in-law, that I would be able to buy their old van for a very good price. Of course, that offer was rescinded after a blow out of any hope of good relationships between us around Christmas. So I was on the hunt.

I was in the market for a minivan. I couldn't get a smaller vehicle -- with 5 children, no matter how you try, you can't fit that many in a car. It just doesn't work. So I talked to a few people. I emailed and called ads. Finally.. finally I got a yes. A vehicle that seemed to be in decent shape at my price.

Now to scramble to get insurance. Uh oh -- obstacle number 1. Due to my checkered licensing history (not driving record!) the insurance companies wanted to list me as a novice driver. Thankfully, my stbx had actually put me on his insurance at one point, so I did have an insurance record. That meant that my rating would go way up .. and my insurance rates way down. It was amazing how quickly that turned around.

Obstacle number 2: the timing. I couldn't get the insurance done in time, and I couldn't find a ride to the vehicle at the right time that the seller wanted to meet. It was so frustrating. Thankfully the seller was able to accommodate me, and I paid her via email, and I was able to get the insurance done (mostly) via email.

The seller agreed to drop the van off at a garage, where I had arranged for a safety check to be done. This check was required before I could get license plates and registration done. Obstacle number 3 was when the garage called me and told me significant repairs needed to be done before they could certify it. Uh oh.

The garage wanted to charge me more than I could afford. Now what? I didn't know what to do. I sent off a panicky email to the seller, and prayed hard. Amazingly, the seller proved faithful. She told me I could get a temporary license sticker, and I didn't have to get the repairs done right away -- or at that garage. She also told me that she was willing to prove that she had done her job in making sure it was in working order, to the point where she was willing to take it back to her mechanic, who had gone over it before she sold it to me.

Now I needed a ride. My oldest daughter became my opportunity here. She has weekend visitation with her father (not my stbx husband -- long story), and it just happened that one of her visits with him fell on her sister's birthday. She begged me to get him to change it, so she could be here for her little sister's birthday party. Her dad and I get along great, so it was no problem for me to text him and make some arrangements. It worked out that he would split his overnights with her over two weekends, so she could be here the night of the party. Then, on impulse, I asked him if he'd be willing to drive me to the garage where my van was, when he picked up our daughter. And.. he agreed.

I had a ride, I had a plan of action, and I had a vehicle. And this is where it stands right now.

Stay tuned for the developing story..

Saturday, 15 February 2014

May you live in interesting times...

The old joke is that the Chinese "blessing" quoted in my title is really more of a "curse". Interesting times definitely aren't boring, but I think interesting may be overrated. At least boring would involve a certain amount of peace..

I can't say we're settling in, as there's always a new change in the works, when you're living in a time of transition. I long for the day when I can say that finally, finally, we aren't in transition anymore. But that may be a bit yet.  There does seem to be a routine shaping our days, however. I have learned the secret to minimizing my stress is to be extremely flexible. Flexibility is a must when you have young children!

My day starts with a good morning chirp from my 10 month old. (She turned 10 months yesterday!! How cool is that!?) She usually wants to nurse a bit, then play on my bed next to me while I alternately doze and check emails/blogs on my phone to wake up. I'm a slow waker, especially when I've been up 2 or 3 times to nurse her through the night. By the time I'm awake, my middle three have woken, and are busy playing/yelling at each other in their room. My oldest sometimes is woken by their shrieks, and sometimes she sleeps through it and wakes up later. 

It usually takes us an hour or so to get everyone dressed, beds made and room tidied before we come downstairs. Then I'm busy getting breakfast. It's usually a choice of 3 things: cold cereal, toast (the girls call it "munch") or oatmeal. They really like it when I make them oatmeal, though I don't do it frequently. We also have vitamins and "Peach Mango Tango", an Omega-3 syrup for brain-boosting that I give them every morning. Call it the modern-day version of cod-liver oil, only better tasting! 

While the girls are eating, I usually get some dishes done, and sometimes even a load of laundry. I typically try to get one other major chore done during this time. When do I eat? Not first thing in the morning! I often make a protein shake and take it with me as I'm doing chores, and that's my breakfast. After breakfast, I'm training my little girls (now 2, almost 4, and 5) to clear and wipe the table, and get their pencil boxes, so they're ready for school. 

My oldest comes down while the little girls are eating, so by the time we're done all our chores, she's usually done eating. I get her school ready first. We're trying a new way of doing school, and it is really really working! I'm loving it. It keeps me accountable to give my oldest feedback, and makes it easy for her to get finished. I keep all her work for the term in one binder, separated by dividers, and then give her the pages/assignments I want her to finish for the day in a clipboard folder, that she can take with her wherever, as she works through them. Sometimes she'll need other books or materials, but all her work is given in that one folder. I mark what she's completed, and give her back pages to be corrected right away. So she finishes up her corrections from the days before, and then works on the new stuff every day. 

After I've gotten the oldest's school work ready, I get my little girls' work ready. They're in kindergarten and preschool, so its only early phonics, numeracy and just a little bit of early science occasionally. It only takes us about an hour or so to do everything, depending on how much they play with it. Sometimes my almost-4 yr old gets the idea to be extremely detailed and careful, and then it takes her much longer, but that`s only occasionally. 

The little girls will go play while I do some more chores in the morning. Often it will be homeschool-related, but sometimes it`s a bigger project in the house -- like rearranging a room, or sorting out toys or clothes for them. There's always something to be done around here, of course. Lately, my theme is getting the house decluttered and ready for some cosmetic improvements, with the idea of selling it this summer.  The home staging experts call it "pre-packing". It's as good a name as any, and helps with motivation. 

My oldest will most often make lunch for us, and after lunch, the youngest ones nap. It's usually my time to sit down for a bit, as my baby is still nursing, so I will sit and nurse her and catch up on emails and facebook then. While I'm settling her, my kindergarteners will either be looking at stories, playing on the computer or watching a video, and my oldest will be working on her school. This varies, of course, depending on who's sleeping and how behaviour is. 

Once my youngest is sleeping, I'll come down and work. My afternoons are generally devoted to my business activities. Every couple of weeks, I take an afternoon off and catch up on housework, or put a big push on to finish a project I'll have been working on. By 4, I'm thinking about supper and either defrosting something or planning a quicker menu, depending on how work is going. 

Supper is a team affair. My oldest helps, my middle child (the almost-4 yr old) loves helping, and the baby keeps me company in her high chair. I'll usually get another load of dishes washed while I'm making supper, and sometimes, on a good day, another load of laundry. The kids' father usually joins us for supper, and he'll often bring a side or dessert (per my request he contribute to the meal), or, if he comes early enough, he'll help make it. 

After supper, my girls clean up. I honestly can't wait until the day they are old enough to handle doing the dishes too! But so far this is good enough. Then I either go back to working, or do chores again, while the girls play with their father until bedtime. 

Bedtime is mostly a noisy affair. PJs are a must, and regularly, though not as often as I'd like, we get their teeth brushed. Then it's in to bed  with hugs and kisses, and lots of requests for more hugs, drinks, "I gotta go to the bathroom", and finally, finally the lights go out. My oldest and I are working through a read-aloud story, though not nearly as often as I should!, and then she goes to bed too. I am working on getting this to be more of a routine, but I think it'll have to wait until my youngest is weaned. 

My baby is the last to go to bed, as she gets up way too early as it is! I push her to stay up later, so she'll sleep till a half-way decent hour, and our day isn't completely out of whack. But by the time I get everyone asleep, I'm exhausted. My evenings are usually my rest and leisure time, though I often work too. I don't tend to do chores though, unless I absolutely feel it's necessary (like mopping floors!) 

That's my day in a nut-shell. I am constantly running from one activity to the next, and though I probably spend more time on the computer than I should, it's a never ending struggle to balance between work and play, chores and fun, and quality time with my girls. 

I think whoever wrote that proverb was a mother of many little ones!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Love is..

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have Him, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have Him, I am nothing. 

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have Him, I gain nothing.

He is patient, He is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. He does not dishonor others, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. He does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

He never fails. 

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when He comes,what is in part disappears. 

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and Him. But the greatest of these is Him.

Jesus is Love, in person. 

Monday, 3 February 2014

Weaponized words

The old childish taunt goes like this:

Sticks and stones 
may break my bones
but words will never hurt me.

We used to sing this every time someone got nasty and started calling us names, making fun of our clothes, hair, shoes, work, house, or whatever.. And every single time you sang it, you knew you were lying. 

Broken bones and bruises may look horrible for a short time, but they heal. And eventually everything is as if the injury had never happened. But words? Words do hurt. The wounds words cause don't heal quickly -- and the scars last a lot longer -- if they ever do actually heal. 

Words have power. The Bible says that there is the power of life and death in the tongue. Words can bring healing and blessing and encouragement -- the right word at the right time can change the world. Words can also be the deadliest weapons known to man, and the wrong word at the wrong time can start wars. 

Ever thought about the first words ever spoken? Genesis records it: And God said, "Let there be light." 

Let there be light. 

You know, those are pretty powerful words. The results from those words echo from eternity. Light, as a physical thing, is one of the simplest forms of energy, and there are basically two things in this universe: energy and matter. God created one of the two basic things on that first day with those first words -- out of which He could create everything else!  

But first, FIRST, God created words. 

Words have power. With words, God spoke the universe into existence. Everything that is, was or will be, everything we see, hear, smell, taste or touch.. everything we can figure something out about it -- everything was created by words. 

Or rather, as the Bible says, by the Word. 

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

Words simply take ideas and transform them into things that can be seen, tasted, touched, heard and felt. And the most powerful of these ideas-into-words: the person of Jesus Christ. 

He was *the* Word. He was God -- the Love, the eternity, the power and majesty and might, the compassion and mercy and justice of God -- in pill form, so to speak. Encapsulated by a human being, the idea of God in a body, Jesus was literally the expressed Word of God.  God couldn't have shown Himself more clear than in the person of Jesus. 

Words have power. With a word, Jesus calmed the storm, opened deaf ears, brought sight to blind eyes, even raised the dead. With a word, Jesus blessed the food and made it multiply, healed the sick and taught the ignorant the truth. With a word Jesus revealed the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, and His words transformed our world. 

Jesus gave that power -- the power of words -- to us. We have the same authority, wisdom, and power in our words as He had. He told us to "say to this mountain", to "ask and you shall receive", that whatever we bound and loosed on earth would be done in heaven as well. Our words have power. 

There's another children's song I sing to my girls all the time:

O be careful little eyes what you see...
O be careful little ears what you hear...
O be careful little tongue what you say.. 
For the Father up above, is looking down with love
O be careful..

Words have power. Be careful what you hear .. and what you say. 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Helping out

She had auburn curls and big chocolate brown eyes, and she looked at me with this winsome smile on her face.  "Please, mom, can I help?" she begged me, again.

All I was doing was basic clean up of the kitchen after lunch, and my little 3 yr old daughter desperately wanted to help. She loves helping me do all my chores, even when her small hands aren't quite capable of it nor her still-learning mind to understand what I'm doing. But she wants to help.

As a mother, I let her "help", even if that "help" isn't the most helpful. I know that by "helping" me, she's learning the task, and that by including her, we're developing a stronger relationship. I also know that by having her "help",  I'm training her spirit to be helpful.

I love being helpful. I'm delighted that my daughter also enjoys this, and I want to encourage it.  Helpfulness is a divinely ordained role for every woman -- it's what God pronounced women to be, when He announced He was going to create us. He said, "It is not good for man to be alone; I will create a suitable helper for him."

A suitable helper, a help fit for the task.. the Hebrew is "ezer" and the Greek "beothus". In English, we think of help as "nice to have, but not necessary for the task".  But there are many kinds of help: there's general usefulness, kindness, there's courtesy and respect, there's tutoring and nurturing, there's rescue and support. The Hebrew and Greek words for "helper" in this passage refer to the kind of help that is urgent, strong and absolutely required for the task at hand.

While in our culture self-sufficiency and independence are highly prized, there are some kinds of help that are indispensable. For example, when a person has a heart attack, the help of a doctor is not only nice to have, but an urgent, absolute need, in order for that person to live. A bridge won't stand without a support. A drowning person needs the urgent help of a lifeguard or rescuer. A man trapped in a burning building needs the help of a firefighter.  And it's this kind of help that is described by the original words of Scripture.

Most often, the word translated help or helper here is used to describe the kind of help God is to His people.  "I lift my eyes up to the hills, where does my "ezer" come from? My "ezer" is in the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth."  "Blessed is he who's "ezer" is the God of Jacob, who's hope is in the Lord his God."  God is the divine Helper of His children. And women are given that same kind of title in marriage, to their husband. What an honor!

As I said, I love helping. I love coming alongside someone and filling in the missing information, work, encouragement, listening ear or connection that someone needs. I find myself looking for opportunities to help someone however I can, in every relationship. And yet, I hold back, knowing I can be helpful, but not knowing if that help is welcome.

I want to help. My cry echos my little girl's -- please, let me help. I'm sure God so often also longs to help, but doesn't want to force His help on us. He will hold back His help, until we call on Him. Then, stand back and watch Him work!