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Monday, March 31, 2014

Being Me is Best for Them

As a follow up to my last post where I was remembering my childhood view of my own mother, I am thinking about how being my best self is the way I want my children to remember me.  I have a friend, who is a mother of three children, almost the exact ages as my own, and she is often complaining, worried, frustrated, critical and generally seems unhappy.  I hope that is not the message I project to the world, but especially to my children.

Basic mom responsibilities include a whole lot of cooking, dishes, laundry, wash, rinse, repeat.  Some days feel discouraging as the cycle repeats and it feels like a futile, endless process.  To keep my sanity, I incorporate some things just for ME in my day - exercise, reading, a few minutes of quiet alone time after work.

But I also try to add make our home more than a place to crash by cutting spring blooms and arranging them by the fireplace.  I enjoy setting the table for meals and eating by candlelight.  We do seasonal 'crafts' and I add holiday items to our mantle or table.  I want my children and teen daughters to see that life at home is fulfilling, rewarding, inviting and fun.

I want my children to see that I love the color purple and am excited when we find purple wildflower.  I hope that notice that certain songs elevate my spirit so that I can't help but turn up the sound as we commute to school together.  May my daughter realize that trips to the grocery store are opportunities to know our community and walks around the "block" are chances to meet to neighbors and admire their pets.

I know that my influence with the teenage girls in our home is limited - yet my heart wants them to notice that homekeeping can be a joyful and rewarding option.  I hope they remember our time together as warm, relaxed, cooperative and pleasant.  I hope that I will earn the respect of my life choices, even hope they may adopt a few for themselves.

I want to be my best self for my family because that makes their lives better - it just does!  So when I splurge on something for me, or spend extra time on my hair before going out with my husband, I hope the youngsters in our home notice more than the woman in granny shoes trying to keep up the house.  I hope they see that I love to laugh, get excited about just about any animal (expect snakes) and get giddy about things that are organized.  Will they remember that I trudged through evenings or that I couldn't wait till the dishes were done so we could get outdoors?  Will they think I obsessed over a clean house or that I was ready to put up the laundry so we were free to get dirty again?  I hope they notice me like I did my mother.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Mother Matters

My mother is here this week, helping with spring break child care duties.  I love having her near!  I so dreadfully wish my parents hadn't moved away several years ago.  It's rewarding to be a woman and friend of my mother as a grown up.  But I can't forget the way I idealized her as a child.  Several times as I watched her with my own children, I've thought about the way little-girl-me saw my mother.

She was the most beautiful woman in the room.  I knew from an early age that my mother was gorgeous.  None of my friends' mothers wore makeup and sparkly jewelry.  I didn't notice any other dads bringing their wives flowers or taking them on dates.  Surely this woman was special.

Any ordinary day could become extraordinary because she would celebrate the little things.  Candles at dinner, sparklers on New Year's Eve, wake-up songs (NOT appreciated in the teen years), birthday parties that would be Pinterest-worthy today and always flowers growing somewhere. I can still smell her scent of choice and remember the way men would notice her while we were out together.  She has always known how to 'work it,' even when that wasn't a thing.

Everything could become something FUN with my mother - from pretending we were pioneers while raking leaves to racing to beat a clock while cleaning our rooms.

Part of the mystery of my mother when I was a child was that she wasn't all about me - she had her own agendas, meetings, lunches, friends, responsibilities and tasks.  I admired that she seemed so capable.

Of course, these observations were the inflated ideas of a little girl who idealized her mother.  Yet, as I've grown and even witnessed her interactions with my own children I appreciate more of who she is as a woman and mother/grandmother.  What an amazing thing it is to give of yourself to others!  Thank you, Mother!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Oops, I Blundered (Again).

Growing into my role as a step mother is a challenge.  Dealing with teenage girls brings up the insecurities I had as a teenager, it reminds me of how easily girls can take up an offense and sometimes I just tip toe around things because I don't really know how to deal with it.  Other times it's immense fun when we get to giggle over girly issues, talk about which of the soccer guys is the best catch and enjoy chick flicks.

I'm lucky and grateful that Mr. Wonderful is supportive as my role in their lives.  He consults me about their schedules, he requires that they treat me with respect, he encourages that we bond and includes me in all the 'family' matters.  But, the truth is I am not the parent.  I am not the one who will shape their values and enforce boundaries.  It's easy to feel entitled to that because I'm there, and so I'm challenged to accept when my opinion is usurped by their mother or even by him.

Recently, I created a rift between one of my step daughters and me by being critical of a clothing choice.  She purchased something that I found to be less modest than I would accept.  I shared my concern with her and with dad, who then deferred to her mother, who approved.  I felt a bit sabotaged.  But I let it go and bit my tongue each time said garment was worn.

...Until a conversation about modesty in which I blurted out "You wear short stuff!"  I put my girl on the spot and embarrassed her, I made her feel less-than.  It had already been made clear that my opinion on the matter was moot, but I insisted on being heard and in the process hurt her.  I feel really badly.

As I thought about my own youth and remembered the times I pushed the boundaries of modesty and with what I was comfortable.  Truthfully, until I was married and learned more how men think, I didn't place as much value on modesty.  It's all part of maturing.  My step daughter is a classy, smart and darling young woman.  She's going to learn these things and I do trust her to get there in time.  I just hope I didn't damage our relationship in the process.

I later apologized, I reinforced that I loved and respected her and that I had done the same thing.  She says, "We're good" and I am hoping that's true.

In the complicated web of blended families, my dear husband was bothered that I upset his daughter.  I know we're good, but it just reminded me of how carefully one must step in this blended family dynamic.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Moody Monday.

It's spring break.  I'm staying put, but we have family visiting and the bonus daughters are coming and going to the beach (yes, I'm jealous) and visiting colleges.  I'm trying to focus on the vacation we finalized in just a couple of months! I can't wait!

I'm dreaming of a garden that will likely never happen.  But it's nice to know spring is almost here!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I Didn't Want to Write this Post

I really didn't want to write this post, but it is something about which I feel so strongly.  Pornography has affected my life.  I've watched it myself out of curiosity and it deceives.  I've witnessed it warp a man's view of women so strongly that it seems irreversible.  My own sense of self is impacted by the sexualized way women are portrayed and deemed worthy or not by our very sensual society.  I am not an expert, but I have real-life experience and have felt like a victim because of porn's impact in my life.  I hate the pervasive nature and the availability that feeds the desire for more.

I recognize that my children will grow up in a culture where many accept porn as a form of entertainment and that our culture is highly desensitized to virtuous sexuality.  I can't think of a single cultural example of Biblical, healthy sex that is celebrated within the right boundaries.  That is scary.  And our children, our very young children are impacted.  What do you do when your very young child sees porn?

When I thought my phone was protected, I realized it was not because my son was stumbled upon, then looked for more post-plastic-surgery videos.  You can imagine what the images contained and I'm grateful there was enough protection to filter full nudity.  He was nine years old when this happened.  We had talked about the mechanics of sex and the value of girls and boys and their differences, but this experience has forced me to think about how to continue to conversation.

After I stopped my panic-attack and filtered my own response, it proved to be a good opportunity for open discussion.  Here's how I handled it:

  1. Assured my guy that he is not bad, but normal to be curious about women and about things he hasn't yet experienced. I asked him if he had seen images like this elsewhere?  school?  other parent's home?  I wanted to gauge his familiarity with explicit content.
  2. Explained to him that what he saw is not real.  What he looked at isn't what real women look like under their clothes (he saw extremely exaggerated augmentations).  We talked about a woman's body and it's purposes: feeding a baby, strength for daily tasks, beauty that reflects God's creativity.  We talked about what makes a woman beautiful being character, kindness and care.
  3. Enforced boundaries by removing all access to digital media until I could be confident in better monitoring and filtering controls.  I reminded him that I will always be aware of what he is doing online and what he sees because it is my job to protect him.  I tried to emphasize that this was for his protection not punishment...but it probably felt like punishment to him.
  4. Initiated self control and accountability.  I talked with my little man about how even now he needs to begin to guard his heart and his eyes.  We talked about how this kind of material is always available and if he looks for it, he will find it.  All his life he will need to learn that it won't satisfy and that it isn't good for his heart or eyes.  I talked about how looking at and longing for pretend things steals joy and pleasure from what is real.
  5. Prayed and prayed some more.  This is a battle for my boys' minds.  And my daughter's.  It's real and it can't be avoided (though I would prefer to stick my head in the ground).  I recognized that I must engage in this battle or I will be conceding territory.  I cannot be passive. 
Are you with me?  Have you confronted the reach of pornography into your family?  How are you preparing your children to deal with the barrage of sexual images they will confront in life?  I would love to hear practical ways to battle and resources to any tools you find effective.

Article Links

Your Children and Sex

Just One Click Away (This is graphic)

When Children See Porn

Freedom in the Fight

Beating Porn to the Punch

5 Surefire Ways to Train Your Kid to Use Porn

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Loving Well

Chamilia Mosaic Purple (pandora style bead)
Source: Chamilia - a charm for my bracelet!

In the short months that I've been married, I've been learning so much from my husband about what it means to love well.  These are things I've heard before but never experienced in true live action.

These are things Mr. Wonderful does to let me know he cares:
  • "What Can I Do?" Asking and doing whatever I need communicates that my spouse loves me, sees my struggle and is willing to help!
  • He studies me - he learns what is important to me and then makes that important to him, also.  By doing this he conveys that I'm important.  
  • Receives love from me and lets me know how to convey it.  Sometimes this naturally falls into place, but I love to hear what means the most to my man so I can be confident loving him.  (He feels loved with cookies and footrubs, by the way.)
  • Responsible for himself so that he is at his best for all of us - at work, health, alone time and then connecting.
  • Initiates time with me and pursues me.  This man engages me and makes me a priority among the ever-pressing demands of his life.  
  • Extravagant Love - sometimes, for no reason except that he loves me, my guy will bring me flowers.  He has even taken me to a jewelry store on a random Saturday afternoon and purchased something sparkly!  I never expect it, but the occasional splurge speaks volumes about where I stand in his world.
I'm reminded to love him well and to love others in my life well, also.  I want to know what conveys love to each of my children.  I want them to see, feel and know deep in their souls that they are loved.  What is something you know conveys the way you feel to those you love?  Has someone demonstrated their love to you lately?

Friday, March 7, 2014

What is Your Food Love Language?

I'm what they call a salsa snob!  I'm always on the hunt for a good salsa and this one may fit the bill!
Image and Recipe via The Pioneer Woman
Okay, this is a silly thought, I know.  But indulge me for a moment ...

My husband participated in online dating and on his profile mentioned that one of the things most people didn't know about him was that he loved chocolate chip cookies.  One random Sunday morning, a woman in his Sunday School class handed him a tin of cookies with a sly smile...and announced to him that they had been matched!  Oh my goodness, what an awkward moment!

But it does demonstrate that for my husband, cookies are his love language.  When I take the time to bake chocolate chip cookies from scratch and stock them in our kitchen, he feels cherished and cared for.  He loves that he can grab a sweet bite while on the go and it reminds him that what he likes is important to me.

Me?  I love salsa!  I can rate the local restaurants by their salsa offerings, and I do have a favorite.  But what I love about eating salsa is that I get to sit with someone I care about and enjoy conversation and camaraderie while snacking on something spicy.  It's just fun to me!  So, among my friends and family, I'm known for my salsa addiction.

What about you?  It's not your favorite food (necessarily) but the one that speaks to your heart - please tell me I'm not the only one with a food love language.  And that Sunday School dating match mentioned above?  We now attend church together and she is a perfectly lovely lady ... I actually admire her gumption!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Becoming Comfortable With Empty

I LOVE YOU ABBA FATHER, With Everything That I Have And All That I Am!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <3 <3 <3 :-D :D :-) :) :-} :} :-] :]

I have noticed that I avoid emptiness.  My default is to fill a space, a shelf, a surface, my closet, my stomach, a wall - whatever - to fill it with something.  Even with my time, I struggle to allow empty spaces.  I have to be intentional about rest and calm because my default is to do and not to just be.  It has become clear that I am unused to having an empty stomach.  My natural bend is to snack and pick throughout the day, never feeling overfull, but never experiencing empty.

Emptiness has such negative connotations.  Yet, I have experienced the process of being empty and then filled with what is better.  I want to allow empty spaces so that God can fill them withe what He has for me. The things on which I gorged most are the spaces that hurt the greatest when they were let go.  They are the spaces where I now recognize the most satisfying fullness.

I've heard of empty calories and empty dreams.  I don't want to fill myself or my spaces with things that do not matter, do not satisfy and only create more desires.  So, I'm learning to get comfortable with and empty feeling, to recognize and acknowledge when I feel that way, so that I can pray and seek healthy ways of filling the void.

Today, when I don't like my body I think buying new clothes will help.  What will really make a difference?  When I feel disconnected from friends or family I've been filling that space with mindless reading, online surfing or zoning out to the TV.  What would be a better choice for cultivating a real relationship?  When I don't like the way I feel, I look for a quick snack to soothe myself.  Is that helpful?

These are questions I'm considering.  I don't know the answers.  I do know that emptiness isn't desirable, but it is a necessary part of journeying to a better place.  Are you comfortable with empty?  Do you recognize a pull to fill all the voids in your life?  How can we balance or filter what we fill up on?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Way I Will Practice Lent this Year

Chalkboard cup overflows. I HAVE to make this for our coffee bar!!
Via Jerri Kent
My life is blissfully full in this season of school-aged children, coach's wife, step-mothering and so many other roles that fill all the days of my calendar.  Our home is bursting at the seams with more furniture, clothing, dishes...stuff than we can reasonably use. We are graced with a full pantry and refrigerator. Our physical needs are met completely.

However, I find myself reviewing spring catalogs, lingering over home decor and longing for just the right thing to infuse my closet with new life.  It's a paradox because I'm already living a new life and don't need a thing to add to it.  I am full.

Gluttony.  Consuming more than is healthy.  Excess.  I'm guilty of it with food and with stuff.  And so, in this season of Lent which has become a renewed spiritual discipline for so many, I'm going to fast from purchases.  I will buy nothing except the household groceries and needs.  The one splurge for which I will plan is for the garden, which will be coming into planting season during this time.

It's easy for me to demonstrate my love for family and friends with gifts (my love language).  So, I'll have to be intentional and gift them with words, time and care.  I will avoid online shopping carts and baskets and take time to inventory our own shelves and boxes.  There is much we could sell or donate or give to others.

Each day, I will give away at least one thing.  I think I can do it!

Follow on Instagram to see what I give away each day, and please share if you choose to do the same.  Do you practice Lent?  Do make a regular practice of fasting (from anything)?  Why do you think this traditional discipline is seeming to make a comeback in recent years?

It's been a while since I've heard from readers and would love the encouragement of hearing from you!