Combatting Guilt . . . and Dirty Windows

It's a beautiful spring day here in Western Ukraine. Nevermind that the temperature is hovering right around freezing–the sky is blue, and the sun is bright. It seems appropriate, as here in the Eastern Orthodox world, we'll be celebrating Easter this coming Sunday, April 15. But as much as I love the celebration of Christ's victory over death, this week always has the capacity to fill me with guilt. That's because this Thursday is Chystyy Chetver, or "Clean Thursday," in English. You see, at some point in the history of the Orthodox Church, someone decided that it was a sin to have a dirty home on the day of Christ's crucifixion, and the tradition of Clean Thursday was born. This week Ukrainian women will labor feverishly to ensure that their homes are spotless by Good Friday, with the majority of this spring cleaning taking place on Thursday. If you took a walk in our neighborhood this Thursday, I guarantee that you'd see many people busy washing their windows. In fact, as I sit here typing, I can see one industrious neighbor already hard at work on hers, and it's only Tuesday. 

To help you understand my guilt, I have to let you in on a secret. I don't do windows. I don't mean that I dislike window washing or that I'm too lazy to do it or even that I'm too busy to make it a priority, although perhaps all those statements have an element of truth. No, what I mean is that at some point after having children, I made a calculated decision to stop washing windows. I still clean up the little fingerprints and wet nose art that appear on the inside of our windows, but I only wash the outsides of windows that open into our apartment or give onto a balcony, and in our current living situation, those surfaces comprise only about 50% of the total area of windowpanes. As for the other 50%? Well, I guess I just count on summer thunderstorms to keep them clean enough that they won't become a complete eyesore.

Why do I do this?

Continue reading

Ranting and a Bit of Vinegar

I promise this post will get around to being pertinent to mommies, but first I just have to get a little something off my chest? Okay? I guess I just need a sympathetic ear. Thanks.

Two nights ago an acquaintance called my husband and asked if he could see us. Though it's not unusual for people to want to come over and talk (my husband is a pastor, after all), this guy attends a different church, so we were curious and maybe a little puzzled. It's not like he doesn't have his own pastor. When George asked why he wanted to come over, he said that he just wanted to "bless us." We were a bit nervous, since he was so vague about his intentions, but we set a date and waited.

He came this morning. He started by giving us a thoughtful and valuable gift, and I relaxed. Then he began to tell us, sometimes with tears in his eyes, about different ways that God had worked in his life and about how we had been a blessing to him. He even shared a few Bible verses. I had just settled back in my seat for a leisurely and pleasant conversation, when he said it.

"I'm a businessman, and there's this company . . . "

Continue reading

Lifelong Birthday Blessing

Just over three years ago, I was heavy with child and patiently awaiting the onset of labor. It was to be the second time I gave birth, and I thought I had it all figured out. My due date was November 11, and since my first baby had been born just two hours before his due date, I knew that there was no danger of this one being born on my birthday, November 19. I was relieved, because I really did not want to share my birthday―my own special day―with one of my children, for the rest of our lives. But God, and my second-born, had other ideas.

Continue reading

Out of the Mouths of Babes and Infants

My husband's grandma died last week. My 4-year-old son overheard us talking about it. "She died?" he asked, furrowing his eyebrows. I held my breath involuntarily, wondering how to explain this to such a young child. "Yes, Great Grandma died," my husband said, "and now she's in heaven with Jesus." My son started to giggle with glee! I was shocked and disturbed, until he exclaimed, "How she got there by she's self??" (Translation: How did she get there by herself?) Then I understood.

Lately he has been preoccupied with heaven, often asking me when we can go there. When I explain that we have to wait until Jesus takes us, he says, "But I want to go now!" So when he heard that someone he knew had made it to that wonderful place, he couldn't contain his excitement, and he wondered, How did she do it?

My first instinct was to dismiss his irreverent laughter as merely the result of a lack of comprehension. He didn't really understand death, so he could be excused for thinking that this was a time to rejoice. But suddenly I realized that he understood the big picture much better than we did. In his mind, the specter of death was nothing in comparison to the joy of heaven. His thoughts were not of losing a great grandma but of her incredible good fortune to get to go where he so desperately wanted to be. I looked at his glowing face and smiled through my sadness. All of us adults with the long faces could learn a thing or two from the glee of my 4-year-old.


If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing here. I would be honored to have the privilege of encouraging you on a regular basis!

Nightmare Inspiration

Not long ago I had a nightmare. In my dream the Nazis had taken over the country where we lived. Because my husband was Jewish (he isn't, but in the dream he was), we knew that he and our children were in great danger.

We were all taken to some sort of compound and left in a room with bunk beds. We slept, but in the middle of the night, a seemingly friendly official awoke us to tell us of the regime's plans to create pristine factories to be staffed by the expatriate Americans still left in the country. He seemed to be seeking our advice or approval for this plan, and we nodded our heads as he described how good the conditions would be and showed us pictures of a prototype. It looked wonderful. Everything was clean; even the floors were a gleaming white, and the workers were dressed neatly in starched white uniforms. But in our hearts we knew that it was all a ploy to gain our compliance; our captors did not intend any good for us.

Our fears were confirmed when this same official returned to our room to inform us that my husband and I would be taken immediately, and we were to leave our children behind. "This will be the last time you see them," he said, "so make it good." My two older boys, ages 4 and 2, were standing there, sleepy and a bit confused, and as I looked at them, my heart was in agony. I wanted to cling desperately to them and sob out my heartbreak, but I knew I needed to keep my emotions in check, because I didn't want to frighten them, and I wanted their last memory of me to be positive. Above all, in our final moments together, I wanted to impress on their young minds the importance of clinging to Jesus. He would now be the only one caring for them and our only hope of one day being reunited.

How do you communicate to such young children all that is necessary in such a short amount of time? I stood still, trying desperately to form my swirling thoughts into words that their little minds would understand and remember long after I was gone. The tension of the moment was too great, and I woke up.

Sometimes when you wake in the middle of a nightmare, your heart is pounding and your mind is racing. It takes a few moments for you to realize that it was all just a dream, but when you do, profound relief and sometimes even elation immediately flood in. This waking was not like that. My body and mind were calm, and as soon as I opened my eyes, I understood that I had been dreaming. But though I was relieved, the terror of the dream remained with me, and I lay in bed praying earnestly that, no matter what happened, my precious children would follow Jesus.

Hours later, the effect of this dream was still with me and was subtly affecting my interactions with my children. What if this were the last time I would see them? Had I taught them everything I could about the things that really mattered? Resolving their fights now centered more around teaching them that they were brothers and best friends who needed to take care of each other rather than finding out who was at fault. And I found myself frequently stopping what I was doing just to hug them and tell them that I loved them and that Jesus loves them even more.

This was a little over a week ago, and my eldest son already seems to be developing a different, more caring attitude towards his younger brother. And I think that perhaps I'm learning to enjoy my children more intentionally, even in the midst of the confusion and chaos that they generate. Though I would never want to revisit it, one day I may look back on this nightmare as one of the best things that ever happened to my parenting strategy.

—– —– —– —– —–

What about you? Has something extremely unwelcome ever turned out to be a blessing in disguise?


If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing here. I would be honored to have the privilege of encouraging you on a regular basis!

Our Best Purchase

About two months ago, a friend offered to sell my husband and me her stationary bike. We weren't in the market for exercise equipment, but we're into fitness (er, well, my husband is into fitness, and I like to think that I am, but all I really do is let breastfeeding, carrying the baby, and refereeing my two older boys serve as my weight-loss and fitness program), so despite the fact that we had to get rid of some furniture to fit the bike in our apartment, we said yes. It's probably the best purchase we've made all year.

My husband loves the efficiency of being able to do a cardiovascular workout without leaving home. (Up until now, his favorite workouts were swimming and playing basketball, neither of which our apartment is equipped to handle.) I love something completely different about the exercise bike. It's revolutionizing my prayer life.

Before the exercise bike, I would try to get up early to have some quality prayer time. But since fatigue is the normal state of existence for a mother of small children, I had trouble staying awake while I prayed. Sometimes, I would try walking around the living room to stay alert, but that usually just made me dizzy. The exercise bike changed all that. Pedaling keeps my mind alert, while being stationary keeps my body balanced, which frees my soul to soar on the wings of prayer. And as my workout increases in intensity, so do my prayers. (All this has made me wonder what the exact relationship is within the body-mind-spirit trinity that defines us, but figuring that one out is probably beyond the scope of this post.)

Besides keeping me focused while I pray, the exercise bike helps get me out of bed in the first place. Some mornings I'm more motivated to pursue physical fitness than spiritual fitness. I know–that's sad. And backwards. But that's the way I am sometimes. So on those mornings when the temptation to doze for a few more minutes is nearly overpowering, the mental image of another me with beautifully toned legs and a resting pulse rate around 60 beats per minute can help lure me out of bed and into my unconventional prayer closet. I climb on the bike, and I'm off. Twenty-five minutes later, I've had at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity, I've burned over 250 calories*, and I've prayed my way around the world, interceding for people and situations both nearby and far away. It's a superb way to start the day.

I recently caught my husband taking a long, appreciative look at me. I arched my eyebrows playfully, and he grinned and said, "You've always had a great figure, but now . . ." Just one more reason to get out of bed at daybreak to ride and pray! What about you? What is your favorite place to pray?

———————————–

* I don't think this number is accurate, but it's what the bike's screen tells me. The bike has 8 different levels of resistance, but I've noticed that it takes exactly the same number of revolutions to burn 1 calorie no matter which resistance setting I choose. Will someone please explain to me how pedaling hard uphill for one minute burns fewer calories than pedaling leisurely on a flat surface for the same amount of time??


If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing here. I would be honored to have the privilege of encouraging you on a regular basis!

The Source of All Nummy

I love nursing babies. (You can take that any way you want: either that I love to nurse infants or that I love infants who are still in the nursing stage. Both statements are true.) There is something indescribably precious about cradling a baby and watching his blissful contentment as he draws both nourishment and comfort from your breast.

I am currently nursing my third baby, and I always enjoy watching the different stages that they go through. First there is the newborn nurser with downy hair, wrinkled face, and scrawny limbs. He needs help to find the breast, but once he does, he nurses with total focus, eyes closed, jaw working methodically, the rest of his body profoundly relaxed.

Next comes the impatient nurser, who can't seem to tolerate the slightest delay in starting his meal. (Honestly, I don't know how moms cope when they have to rely on formula to feed their babies. Nothing is quicker than whipping out a meal for a breastfed baby, and yet they still get so bent out of shape about the 2.7-second delay. If I had to listen to the desperate wails of a baby waiting several minutes for formula to be mixed and heated to just the right temperature, I think I might snap.) The funny thing about babies at this stage is how they will act as if they don't really want the meal. Many times I have watched in amusement as my little nurser shakes his head violently back and forth, mouth wide open, lips repeatedly grazing the target, but refusing to latch on! Eventually, however, he settles down and contentedly sucks away.

The third stage is the distracted nurser, and the baby I'm currently nursing is in this category. Distracted nursers are old enough that they usually have rolls of fat and the most adorable chubby cheeks. They need no help finding the breast, and they usually get right down to business. However, they are so aware of their surroundings that they can have trouble nursing in an environment that isn't perfectly tranquil. Any noise or movement will provoke a sudden break in suction and a wide-eyed, accusatory stare. Should the mother attempt to multitask by eating a meal or reading a book while feeding the baby, the distracted nurser is likely to respond with cries of protest. And even if everything is ideal, there is one more thing that can distract this type of baby: his proximity to Mommy. He may interrupt his meal simply to gaze up into his mother's eyes and make sweet cooing noises, as if to say, "Mommy, you're so wonderful. You're the love of my life." And, if he's anything like my youngest child, after this precious little exchange, he's very likely to forget about the breast altogether and start sucking his thumb! It's a hilarious picture: there he is, contentedly sucking his thumb, even though it will never give him any nourishment, no matter how long or how hard he sucks, and all the while, the source of all nummy is within easy reach, just a fraction of an inch from his cheek!

I used to tease him gently about this habit until the day I realized that sometimes I'm just like him. Sometimes I seek reassurance, strength, or fulfillment from things that will never truly satisfy. And all the while, God is right beside me saying gently, "Here I am, the source of all you need. Turn to Me."


If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing here. I would be honored to have the privilege of encouraging you on a regular basis!

Because I Love You

My husband and I come from very different backgrounds. He was raised on a farm in the middle of nowhere in the American Midwest. I spent my childhood going back and forth between suburban Southern California and the Hawaiian paradise I call home.

He's a third-generation Christian missionary, while I'm a fourth-generation Japanese American whose maternal grandparents and great-grandparents were Buddhists.

His mother was very involved in his upbringing, since his father had to work several jobs to make ends meet. On the other hand, it was my father who raised me, since my mother died when I was 5.

He has a twin and seven younger siblings, but I just had one sister until my half brother was born when I was 17 years old.

Despite these differences, when we met, we immediately recognized a soul mate in the other. This was because in all the areas that mattered most, we were the same.

We both love Jesus more than anything or anyone. We both are willing to follow the call of God no matter where it takes us. Our highest ambition is that our lives would draw others to Christ. On our wedding day, I had no doubts that I had made the right choice.

However, there was one detail about my husband that remained a secret until after we were married.

He is a football fan.

I could never understand the American male craze for football, or any professional sport, for that matter. Although I'm not athletic, I can understand having a passion for playing a sport, but I always found it absurd that grown men could get excited enough to spill beer on themselves while watching a sporting event. (Okay, I've never actually seen that happen, but you get my point.)

My father has never been into sports. I only remember him watching the Super Bowl once, and that was only because at the time we were in the habit of going out for hamburgers each Sunday with a group of other families from church. On Super Bowl Sunday, one of the families hosted the rest of us at their home so that the guys could watch the game. Come to think of it, I don't even know if my dad actually watched it, because we kids were all running around outside. I do remember him spending some time in the backyard with me after I slipped off the end of the slide and winded myself. If he had been watching the game, he didn't seem in any hurry to get back to it.

Since I have the deepest respect for my dad, his complete lack of enthusiasm for professional sports became my ideal, and I had little use for any guy who would waste several hours watching a televised ball game. Imagine my dismay when I learned that my husband, whom I respected at least as much as my dad, was an Indianapolis Colts fan! God in His wisdom had not allowed me to discover this trait earlier, because it might have been the end of our romance. But now I was married, for better or for worse, until death do us part, so I knew I had to make the best of it.

Fast forward several football seasons. I now understand the significance of a first down and of sacking the quarterback, and I know when a team might want to do an off-side kick or opt for a 2-point conversion. And though I have always scoffed at celebrity worship, I can recognize the first and last names of the star Colts players, and I even know the name of their former coach. I have to admit it: I've become a football fan too.

With the time difference between North America and Eastern Europe, watching the games always involves either staying up really late to see the end or getting up in the middle of the night for the kickoff, but despite the hassles, I still look forward to the start of football season each fall. It's not so much about the Colts, although if I had to pick a team to support, I don't think I could find a better one. It's more about the romance of a shared interest and of doing something slightly crazy with the love of my life. Because I'll admit it—it's insane to get up for three hours in the middle of the night when you know that the kids are going to wake you up by 7:30. But I think that a bit of shared insanity helps us remember that we're best friends and lovers, not just the parents of our (very adorable but sometimes exasperating) children.

….. ….. ….. ….. …..

What about you? What do you do to keep the romance alive with your spouse?


If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing here. I would be honored to have the privilege of encouraging you on a regular basis!

Whining

Is it just me, or does anyone else find whining intensely irritating? I mean irritating enough to take a normally calm individual and make her start to hiss through clenched teeth while fighting the urge to slap someone?

Please tell me I'm not alone in this.

My 4-year-old whines. I don't mean that he whines just to get attention or when he doesn't get his way. No. Whining is his default means of communication. I don't know why. Maybe it's a stage. Maybe it's one of his personality quirks. All I know is it's driving me insane, and I've been trying to break him of the habit for about two years, ever since he started to speak.

Maybe it has happened, but I cannot remember a single time when I gave him something because he whined for it. As far as I know, I always point out that he is whining and instruct him to ask nicely. This usually means first rephrasing his request to make it polite ("Can you please give me Curious George?" instead of, "MooOOOooommyyyyyy, eeeuuh, eeeeuuuuh, gimme the mooOOOooonkey book!"). Then he has to repeat it in a pleasant tone of voice. The latter sometimes takes several tries, with me modeling how I want him to sound.

You would think that after two years of this he would begin to get the idea. Whining is useless; I might as well be pleasant and ask politely the first time. But as far as I can tell, this lesson is still lost on him. On second thought, maybe he is starting to get it, because there are rare moments when he will thoroughly bless me with his speech. One day he came into the kitchen while I was cooking dinner and said cheerfully, "Mmmmm! You're good at making food, Mommy! I'm hungry!" I was stunned, and it made me want to clasp him to my chest and give him anything he wanted to eat. But usually he just whines and demands things.

One day in desperation I found myself praying in the middle of dealing with him. My conversation with God went something like this: "Lord, I can't take it any more!! This child is driving me nuts!! Why does he have to be so whiny??" And then it hit me. I was guilty of the same behavior as my 4-year-old. I was whining to God. It was a revelation that caused me to reevaluate my prayers. God is an infinitely better parent than I will ever be, but how often do I approach Him with a whiny attitude as if He does not have my best in mind, does not understand my struggles, and is not going to provide for my needs? He deserves better than that. He deserves the kind of praise and trust of provision implicit in my son's charming comment to me in the kitchen. "Mmmmm! You're good at making food, Mommy! I'm hungry!"


If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing here. I would be honored to have the privilege of encouraging you on a regular basis!