Advent Week Three into Four: Fighting for Joy

 

adventChristmas is always my favorite time of year. I think I just like lights…on trees, on bushes, on houses, on boys’ bunkbeds. They seem to emanate a feeling of peace and comfort. But the end of this year has been pretty bumpy and it’s been hard to capture any peace.  It could be the endless roll of medical visits for my three boys (two fractures, bead in the ear, strep throat, medication checks, flu shots) or the endless saga of behavioral crises that my sister’s boys are wrestling with as the year comes to a close.

It could be the pervasive sense of sadness that settled in in early November when less than half of the voters still triumphed. It’s impossible to see any Joy in the one who is to be our new leader, yet who is so far from a Christian role model that I want to shield my sons from all news until this crisis is over.

It could be the deluge of photos showing the reality of hundreds of thousands of innocent people dying in Syria. It could be the feeling of powerlessness as a hurricane wipes out lives and livelihood for thousands in Haiti.

It could be the unpredictability of violence in the neighborhood, the financial drain of a house still sitting on the market, the uncertainty of funding at my current employment.

It could be a lot of little irritants throughout a day. It could be all-consuming disgust and annoyance. It could be boys who squabble, or whistle in the car, or throw remotes in frustration, or roll around on a kitchen floor to trip over when trying to make dinner. It could be the slow slow slow plodding march every….single….night to shift three little brains from alertness to dream state. It could be any of a hundred of weights in a single moment.

But it could also be moments of Peace. (Nah, that’s only when they’re asleep). It could be moments of Love in the notes Mr. Ornery writes to say he’s sorry. It could be elfmoments of Joy in watching Super Tall Guy in his first performance playing the saxophone. It could be moments of Hope in the excitement of The Little Guy waiting for Christmas (and expectantly looking for the elf that the babysitter likes to hide).

 

It could be all these moments if the focus is in the right place. For there is only One from whom Peace passes all understanding, Love surpasses knowledge, Hope yields eternal life, and Joy fills the soul. Only one.

May we all seek and find that Joy, Peace, Hope and Love this moment, this day, this year and into the next.

Merry Christmas to All!tree

 

 

Light in the darkness of fear

“Mommy, can you please give me some food?”
He screams into the air.
Tears stream.
He sits on the edge of the bed.
“I’m starving. I haven’t had anything to eat!”

 

He is paralyzed. He can’t get off the bed.
He can’t face the prospect of going downstairs by himself.
At night.

 

“I have dreams of getting killed. I can’t do it.”
“Please, Mommy, get me some food.”

 

He bargains.
He pleads.
“Please, Mommy, get me a granola bar.”

 

I sit against the wall.
Recording the conversation on the iPad on my lap.
Encouraging him to venture downstairs.
Refusing to get up for him.
“Which feeling is more powerful?” I ask.

 

He is relentless.
He is persistent.
The piano tinkles.
There’s a sudden realization that the other brother must be downstairs then.
He pops out of bed and runs down for a snack.

 

I sit and wait.
Peace returns to the room.
“Please, Mommy, can you read Harry Potter now?”

 

It is paralyzing. Fear is paralyzing. I know it. I have my own fears. Will I be a good enough Mommy? Will these boys grow up independent and courageous? Will I forever be alone? I have few paralyzing fears, though there are moments of them – when your car slips on ice, when there’s a new sound in the house at night and you remember you’re the only adult.

 

Yet I sense that our world is troubled by fear of late. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the different. Fear of the random and sudden violence. Fear of the new. And maybe this is not a new experience – maybe it is just a resurgence or a cycle of difficult times. Whatever it is, I have noticed and felt it.

 

But we are not to live in fear. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…” (Luke 2:10-11)

 

Advent; the season of waiting.
(I know you’ve been waiting for a post from me. My laptop crashed a few weeks ago and all got off track, but it’s back on again. Maybe I can blame that new puppy somehow; after all, she’s chewing up the carpet and currently destroying Super Tall Guy’s old shoe while I type.)
Advent, a waiting filled with a sense of peace. A confidence of knowing that there is hope.

 

That there is a reason to celebrate. There is light within us. Light for the darkness without.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” ~MLK Jr.

 

Let us have Love this Christmas season and hold up the light.

 

Merry Christmas to all. 

 

Parenting 101

I was at the older boys’ basketball session the other day and sat near a man that I knew years ago.  We hadn’t seen each other for many years and now were reconnecting with our sons being in the same basketball league. He had brought one of his friends to come watch and I sat beside this man and “eavesdropped” on their conversation about parenting.

Naturally, I was not silent for long before I just “had” to share some of my favorite parenting books (for boys, it’s currently “Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys). This got the conversation going about what does it take to be a good parent.  After realizing that we were clearly depressing the man who was about to become the father of a newborn in a month (you will never get good sleep again, no book could possibly prepare you for this, there’s no guaranteed-to-work discipline technique, we did remember to throw in some of the “good” stuff.

There is a lot of good stuff. And there is a lot of joy in parenting. There’s also some real and natural struggles.  Some of my key points were:where-the-wild-things-are

– Remember to forgive yourself. You are doing your best….and new mercies for the day begin every morning.

– Parenting is an opportunity to see the world again. Things that we have forgotten or have forgotten to look at become brand new through the eyes of a child – the flower, the bee, the sunset, the water droplet…

– Parenting will help you identify all your “faults” and “issues” – just in case you want to work on them for “growth” and “maturation.”

– Baby wipes can clean anything.

– You will never get good sleep again – except for the times when you go away for the night – and it’s really important to do that regularly.

– Most importantly, surround yourself with other parents who are willing to be “real” and not just pretend that it’s the easiest, most wonderful thing they’ve ever done. There are parents who really do experience that….I salute them with one of those fake “good for you” smiles….but really, you need people who will vent and laugh and cry with you.  For you will laugh and cry often at the same time….especially if you have boys….as you try to figure out exactly why he felt the need to kick in the basement window?!?!?!

– Make sure that you laugh more than cry :).

Glimpses of joy

As you might imagine, I “generally” try to only tell my boys the truth (for example, there is no Santa in our house, though Super Tall Guy still wants to believe in the Leprechaun due to the damage in his pre-k classroom thanks to a creative teacher). However, when I tuck them into bed and try to creep out of the room and they say, “stay.”  I reply, “I’ll come back in 5 minutes.”  They counter, “one minute.”  “Okay, one minute,” I’ll say….and nine out of ten times I do not come back and probably 99% of the time certainly don’t make it back within a minute. The other night, though, I tucked in Mr. Ornery, walked some dirty clothes downstairs and then came back up to “check on” the little guy. I bent over to his small form tucked into a sleeping bag and kissed his forehead.

A slow smile spread across his face as he acknowledged the warmth of my lips. And I thought – “joy” – that was it.

It could have been happiness, but I’m going to argue for joy. That at that very moment, Mr. Ornery knew of my indescribable intense love for him and he was filled with joy. (Or maybe he realized that his mother actually stuck to her word this time and that made him happy!)

These boys bring me joy. They bring me stuffy noses and colds. They bring me sleepy eyes and a tired body. They bring me incredible frustration and a wildly sharp temper. They bring me poopy diapers and Legos underfoot.  They bring me a range of emotions that I had no idea existed. And they bring me joy.

I have great joy in adopting The Little Guy this year and making him a permanent part of this wild family of boys. I see joy in the rare and yet incredibly touching ways in which IMG_3506the boys show each other brief moments of tender love.  I feel tremendous joy when the Little Guy whispers “I love you, Mommy” in the middle of the night when I tuck him in for the umpteenth time….melts my heart and makes me just a little less frustrated to have been called out of bed again and again.

And I know of just so much joy as we trim the Christmas tree, unwrapping porcelain ornaments of the boys over the years and we smile at “how cute” they were and how much The Little Guy looks just like Super Tall Guy when he was little.

We are not always a happy family….but we sure have many moments of “intense and ecstatic” joy.

Just a little patience….and grace…..and joy.

One push of the pedal…

Two pushes

Three and he was off

Training wheels gone and Micah was soaring…and I’ve heard nothing else for the past two days than “Can we go ride our bikes?”

It’s so fun to see the joy on their faces when they learn something new. Micah knew he was ready to do it this time. Any other time that the training wheels even wobbled a smidge, he would get upset and unwilling to ride his bike. But the other day, it was Ryan’s new bike and it just seemed so attractive to Micah. And there were no training wheels on it so it was the perfect opportunity to try. And he did it – around and around the church parking lot he went, testing out his speed, figuring out how to slow down to make the turns, learning to put his feet down to stop. He was in heaven. I hope he soon learns to use the brakes rather than the tops of his shoes to slow down the tires!

As there was a wrench handy and sheer joy in Micah’s new accomplishments, Noah brought his little bike over and demanded that his training wheels take a hike too. I knew Noah had the balance for it so a few hard twists of rusted bolts, and he was ready to try. His bike is a little big for him so he needed some steadying of it until he got peddling and then kaboom! He was gone. I ran alongside him wondering if I really intended to be helpful in any way should he start falling. Probably not. I shouldn’t have worried – he never even wobbled – and after a few seconds, he said “Next I’ll ride with one hand!”  Tiny little 4-year-old whizzing around on a tiny little bike. With grit and determination and a whole TON of tears, he finally taught himself to start peddling on his own without me holding the bike. It was a mix of his desire and my “planned ignorance” to encourage him to learn.

Such a fun evening for both of them (and they were wiped-out asleep by 7:30!). However, I was not interested in taking them back to the parking lot at 7:10 the next morning and so promised we’d take the bikes to the park after church. Given a little bit of inappropriate running in church (“Geesh, M and N! I JUST told you as we drove in to the parking lot to NOT run in church!!), the bikes were required to spend 10 minutes in the car contemplating their misbehavior before they could get out and cruise around the pond.  Soon, though, the two boys were learning such things as how to avoid casual pedestrians and zippy little toddlers, how to keep their eyes looking forward, and to keep the two bikes away from each other to minimize scrapes and falls. These are lessons that will need to be learned in a very repetitive fashion I can tell.

While the bike excitement lapped the pond, I chased little Seth. As we passed a few people, an older guy caught my eye after he clearly noted the older boys. “Yes,” I said in one of those I’m-the-proud-mother tone of voice, “they just learned to ride two wheels yesterday.” My smile smoldered when he cut “oh, they’re yours, eh?”  I walked on wondering how a total stranger can dash parental joy and wondering what issue he had with the boys (though a few minutes later I noticed him beckon them to slow down and I realized he was probably trying to protect his dainty toddling granddaughter from the vicious bike gang).

It’s amazing how every life is a little thread that goes and goes, intersecting with other people’s threads and getting bumped or jiggled…or totally derailed as a result. My boys’ threads were in the joy of a new skill and the freedom of bikes without training-wheel drag. I rejoiced in their new ability….and “the” stranger’s thread bumped into ours with dismay….but, he does not know their joy. And he does not know that they are still learning. That one day soon they will realize their responsibility as a bike rider to not clip the back of someone’s heel. They will know to keep it slow around other people and kids. They will learn to slow down to make a sharp turn. But yesterday, their thread was so early on in their learning process – they were still working on slight shifts in balance.

As I think about this, I wonder about the times when my life thread bumps into other people and I grump at them or snap impatiently. I knowingly at times or unsuspectingly other times cause a shift in their life. It’s a good reminder to give a little grace as I don’t know where the other is coming from, how far along they are in their thread and what direction they’re actually going in. The word of the month for Micah’s karate class is “patience.” I think I need to work on it a little bit more sometimes.

Okay….the truth….I know I need to work on it more!

So, today I “patiently” lifted bikes in and out of the back of my car (I hate how the wheels turn and pinch your fingers, the grease marks up your hands, and the trunk of the van beeps its refusal to close when it thinks something’s in its way!). And I patiently watched them ride around for another hour.  And I patiently put the bikes back in the garage.

I can’t wait until we get to the beach next week so the boys can walk out of the house, hit the boardwalk, and ride and ride….(and for the sake of innocent pedestrians, I hope they soon learn to dodge people!).