Friday, August 19, 2011

Is It Bedtime Yet?

There seems to be a lack of communication in my house. For instance, I say in the car as we are pulling out of the driveway, “Does everyone have your backpacks?” Now, when I asked this question, I really did want to know if the two kids I was headed to drop off at school had their backpacks. Evidently, one of them thought I asked if, in his opinion, I was the best mom in the world, because he said, “Yes.” Then, as I pulled into the drop-off area at the school, he decided it was the opportune time to drop the bomb. “I don’t think I have my backpack.” Hmmm. Do you think he decided to do it then because I couldn’t pull over and yank his ears off without causing a huge scene in front of every other parent at that school? Maybe his timing was for the best, because I would probably now be regretting any bodily harm I brought to him, which I would have done if I’d had the chance. Instead, I settled for a good blessing out as he eagerly jumped from the van and raced inside the school. Good timing, son. I’ll give you that.

Later in the day, I asked another child (for the 24th time) if she needed me to sign her reading log, knowing very well that she did since I’m supposed to affix my signature to it everyday and I haven’t seen it in at least half a week. (That is, unless she’s sneaking around on me and she has another nicer mother she keeps around in some other cleaner house for those days when she just can’t take any more of me.) Obviously, she must have thought I asked her to go play rather than bringing me the reading log to sign. I can see how that would be confusing. Later on, when I caught up with her again, I refused to let her out of my grip until the stinking log was initialed. Again, the bomb is dropped. “Hmmm, I guess I left it at school in my locker.” I wouldn’t consider what she received a blessing out. It was more of a serious mommy talk on responsibility. Boring, I know.

Then there was the “Please put up your binder” which must have come out sounding like “Please leave your binder and all its contents spread all over the kitchen table, because we’re about to eat and it will make a great placemat.” After that came, “Supper is almost ready. Give me ten more minutes” which must have sounded like, “I am never going to feed you, not for a million years, just keep begging me until I do.” And let’s not forget my personal favorite: “Put your shoes up, please” which is obviously easily misheard as “Go throw your shoes in your floor and, while you’re at it, wad up your jacket on top of them…and what the heck, why don’t you leave your trash in the floor, too?”

But somewhere between the dance party with homemade strobe lights and the part where I pleaded with the kid wearing jingly reindeer antlers to put his shoes in the shoe rack before he caused his mother to have an aneurism, I was thankful. Thankful that the worst things I have to deal with are messy rooms and forgetful school kids. Thankful that we have food to put on top of that binder and shoes to leave on the floor and a floor to leave them on. Thankful that I am mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted because it means my life is full of life. Thankful for a sweet daughter who just walked in my room and asked if I was lonely in here by myself (I had to laugh…lonely? Try ecstatic!). Thankful for a helpful boy who just needs an extra hug and some good sleep here and there. Thankful for a hilarious little guy who begs for me to show him my "sweet face" when I’m about to explode. Thankful for an adorable little monkey who took his first wobbly steps this week.

And thankful for bedtime. Good night. :)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Weiss Lake (a.k.a. Our Weekend with Noah)

I’m going to do summer in reverse, it seems. Less than a week before we went to the beach, we went to Weiss Lake with our fabulous friends. This trip was a repeat of our trip last summer, which was so much fun we decided it must be done again. This time, however, we decided to do a little reenactment of the story of Noah. We like to disciple all the time, especially on vacation. It was sweet of God to give us that opportunity. Noah should thank his lucky stars (except that he probably didn’t believe in lucky stars) that he was only stuck on that ark with a few hundred (or was it thousand?) animals instead of seven bored kids.

Before we entered the ark, we stopped for lunch and went to the Imagination Place to let the kids run off some energy. Well, little did Kerrie and I know that our admission would include a tour of the Gone with the Wind exhibit at the Center for Cultural Arts. We can now die in peace since we have seen the Gone with the Wind underwear. And I was completely unaware that this movie has been remade in numerous other countries. I was a little disturbed, for some reason, at the Japanese people dressed up in antebellum gear and the Asian lady with her face painted black who was undoubtedly supposed to be Mammy. I can only hope they offer that one on Netflix.

When we finally pulled ourselves away from that riveting exhibit, we headed to the lake. Once we arrived, it seemed that our kids’ swimsuits were attached to a generator that produced thunder and lightning whenever they donned them. We figured it would just be a little while before these passing showers passed on by. We couldn’t have been more wrong. It was more of a sitting and dumping shower. That little shower sat on us for seven hours, dumping 5-8” inches of rain on the map dot where we were. It seemed that we might be using the life jackets we brought in a way we hadn’t planned on.

Ever the optimists, we figured the next morning it would be back to the typical Alabama summer. However, it appears we chose the wrong weekend for summer activities. We’ve always said we’d love to visit Chestnut Bay Resort in the fall, and now we know pretty much what it would be like, aside from the fall foliage. It ended up being lovely weather for going for a walk or sitting on the porch and enjoying the scenery, but not such great weather for swimming and kayaking. Kids have a way of not minding if they’re on the brink of needing treatment for hypothermia, though, so they swam anyway. It was us grown-ups who were big chickens and chose to sit and watch. Okay, Chris got in, but we all know he’s a kid at heart.

So there was a lot more game playing, chalk drawing, and scooter riding than we'd planned.

There is one thing that did go as planned. The food. What is a vacation without good food? Chef Amy whipped up some paninis, Kerrie graced us with her specialty – taco salads – and the Godfather treated us to some pizza pies. We may have been in danger of floating away, but float we would, thanks to all the extra calories.

Fortunately, the resort had some amazing activities planned. The first morning we all got glitter tattoos, because, other than food, tattoos are the other things you need to complete any trip. And glitter just makes it that much better. With Chris and Tom sporting their intimidating dragon and shark, we knew no Chestnut Bay thugs would be messing with us. They considered making them permanent, but decided maybe it wasn’t the way to make their employers happy since they aren’t motorcycle mechanics or professional surfers. (Not that those are the only people who have tattoos. I have friends with tattoos!)

Some other fun stuff included sand art (because who doesn’t want to bring sand home with them?) and a rockin’ street party. Chestnut Bay will never be the same after my rendition of the Macarena and Kerrie’s Cha Cha Slide. Clearly, we had to draw on our wild partyin’ past. I am fully aware that in approximately 3-4 years, our children will not think it is socially acceptable to dance with their moms in public, so we had to get lots of dancing in on this trip.

(For some reason, there's a giant space here. I can't figure it out, so this is my low-tech solution. Imagine a very soothing female voice saying, "Please continue scrolling until you reach the next photograph. Have a nice day.")

When we regrettably had to leave our summer homes and return to our city homes, we had to find some fun activity to make the transition a little less painful. And this is where the real highlight of the trip occurred. For lack of any better ideas, we went to Noccalula Falls. Naturally, this day it was hot and sunny. The train ride is always nice, as are tormenting the caged lion and squeezing through Fat Man’s Squeeze.

But nothing could top the action going on in the goat and sheep pen. Thankfully, our children were completely oblivious to the love triangle playing out before them, but naturally, our husbands were not. After the excited goat and the girl goat were broken up and excited goat and the jealous goat had words (and horns) and began to go their separate ways, Chris and Tom thought they’d try to get them riled up again.

I believe this picture depicts Chris trying to come onto the lady goat and arouse the jealousy of her sugar daddy.

When the sugar daddy goat apparently doesn’t see Chris as much of a threat, Tom tries to talk it up.

I can only imagine the thoughts going through the goats’ minds. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure they’d be more mature than the thoughts going through some other minds there.

I don’t know where to go from here. All in all, the trip was a success. We had lots of fun and now I can identify with Noah in a whole new way when I read Genesis. And Chris and Tom can evidently identify with Noah’s animal friends.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

John the Second Fiddle

I struggle with jealousy and pride. I’m hoping I’m not alone in this, but they are very isolating sins, so I feel alone in this. At different points in my day today, I was faced with comments or situations where I felt like life and friends were moving on without me. Like I was being excluded or missing out. I felt like people were picking others and their activities over me and what I’ve got going on.

The feeling that comes along with jealousy is just an ugly, gnawing emotion that grips me right in my chest. I know it’s wrong. I hate it. But it’s there nonetheless, and I’m left with two options: give in to it and feed it by allowing my thoughts to wander and dwell on it or fight it.

The emotions leave me feeling so hurt and alone that it’s hard to muster up the will to battle it many times. But, thank the Lord, at this point on my walk with Him, He helps me muster up whatever it takes to fight.

So this evening, when the enemy threw another punch at me after I’d been battling all day, I desperately turned to God and His Word. Like any mature believer, I just flung my Bible open and picked whatever it landed on. (I’m kidding about the mature believer thing. A little disclaimer: This may not be the best method of searching God’s Word.) I was short on time. There was a page-ripping baby headed toward me.

The first chapter of Mark lay before me. (I personally feel sorry for Mark. It seems he’s the least popular of the gospels. Maybe he had to struggle with jealousy, too. Though he was dead by the time they put the Bible together, but, hey, it fits with my topic.) It was talking about John the Baptist. Boy, can I identify with this guy. I’m constantly putting on my camel hair coat, eating locusts, and preaching repentance. Okay, so maybe we don’t have all that much in common, but I have always been amazed by him.

John is told all his life that God has a special purpose for him. He amasses this great following and has all the Jews (even the “important” ones) coming out to hear him preach. He’s baptizing gobs of people, so many that he even picks up a nickname declaring him ‘The Baptizer.’ And then here comes this dude named Jesus. Within a few days, Jesus has stolen all John’s thunder and within months (I don’t know the exact timeline here) John is in prison waiting to lose his head and Jesus is out with mobs of people following Him around.

Turns out that God’s purpose for John was to play second fiddle. How many of us hope we can find enormous success at our job only to be completely overshadowed by somebody else at the very height of our success? But that was John’s lot in life. Do we see John getting bitter and having a little pity party with a late-night bowl of ice cream locusts and honey? No. We see him pointing to the One who gives our lives meaning when all we deserve is death. His prayer is for himself to become less and Christ to become more.

There was no room for jealousy or pride in John’s life, because he understood from the very beginning that it was never about him. He knew that the purpose of his life was to point to another. To One whose sandal he was not even worthy to untie.

God reminded me, once again, that this story ain’t about yours truly. If He wants to dismantle what I’m doing and work through other people, then so be it. If He wants to take what I’m doing and change it to suit His purposes, then so be it. If He’s done with me here on earth and wants me beheaded…well, I’m personally hoping that’s not the plan for right now. But you get the point.

“The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:29-30

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

This is one of my favorite quotes by author C.S. Lewis. Undoubtedly he was not referring to a holiday at the sea with four children, two of whom are preschoolers and one of whom is a melodramatic first grader. When we head to the beach, I try to remind myself that I should not go with any expectation of a quiet hour on the sand with a good book or a few moments of floating in the pool without being splashed and jumped on. How silly of me.

It seems vacations at this phase in our life are more about endurance than relaxation. We had to endure the boy with chafed, salt-water legs and the late-night allergic reaction to contaminated gummy worms. We had to endure the scraped and splintered little hand of the boy who just couldn’t keep his paws off the boardwalk rails. We had to endure the potty runs and the nap schedules and the whininess. We had to endure the sleepless nights with a snotty-nosed baby. Looking back, this really was only a fraction of our trip, but since I went with worldly appetites, I had a worldly reaction when those appetites weren’t satisfied.

And then I was so disappointed in myself that I just wanted to kick myself. For some reason, when I’m out of my physical element, my mind just doesn’t seem to be able to focus as well on what I know to be true. It seems that lately most of the times I set out to attain worldly pleasure (when my desires are weak), disappointment looms. That dream vacation can never live up to its billing, or if it does, it must end at some point. When I’m living for the physical, I miss out on the true joy that is available to me. My appetites were weak and the irony is that, in going to the beach physically, I was missing the holiday at the sea that Lewis was talking about. The one that comes from knowing Christ in an intimate way. In desiring and seeking Him more than anything this world has to offer.

So, we’re back at home, and I'm wondering why there are all the songs about sand between our toes and none about all the sand in the suitcases and my washing machine. As I vacuum sand, I find myself enjoying my children more here…because, let’s face it, I have very little expectation of time to myself when I’m at home. I’m back in my element, serving my family and Christ, where my focus is on Him rather than on myself and the pleasures of this world. Maybe this is just God’s grace – the fact that I seem more satisfied at home many times rather than on vacation, since we don’t have a lot of money for trips anyway. (This trip was another generous vacation installment from our very own world-travelling Nana and Papa...and it came with an afternoon of babysitting. No, you can’t have them. They’re ours.)

This all sounds rather depressing, and I don’t mean for it to be. We had many wonderful moments, and my kids only remember the wonderful. We’ll have sweet memories and great beach pics for years to come. But I hate to come back all, “Oh, we had a great time. Our children are such sweet little angels. We’re just one big happy made-up faking it family! Don’t I look great in my swimsuit?” In reality, we’re human. I am many times a selfish whiny baby of a mom and my kids are far from angelic. I fail Jesus many times and sometimes just flat out leave Him behind when I’m on my quest for fun. It’s the hard truth, people.

So, I didn’t want to flash our photos up here and pretend that our lives are anywhere near perfect or that I’m someone I’m not. Thank the Lord for His grace, and I pray that I will not be so easily pleased. I pray that I will be satisfied with nothing less than living a life of purpose. A life that brings glory to God. And if He wants to throw in a few more vacations in there along the way, I won’t say no.

I'm just providing this as evidence in my defense of my behavior. I have a few others if you'd like to see them. In Jack's defense, his legs were red and irritated from all the wave riding he'd been doing.

And I don't have a picture of Sam as he cried from 1:30am until 3:30am, so I'll just have to use this one instead. I kind of hate to post it, though, because I don't want to make all the other babies of the world jealous. He really is the sweetest baby ever. I think he plagues me with his late-night antics so that I'll have something to be thankful for when he grows up, because he's so sweet at this age that I just want him to stay this way forever!

Look. This is my beach. And if anybody comes around here messin' with my beach, he'll have to answer to me, Babyface Bond, see?

Luke's motto: You can never be too safe. We don't know of anyone who's ever drowned in the sand, but Luke doesn't want to be the first.

Matthew and Maddie enjoyed sharing the experience of looking for sea life in the sand and shallow water. Later, they'd share the experience of finding sea life and being stung by jellyfish, but that wasn't quite as enjoyable.

He defends the weak. He keeps evil at bay. Who is he? He's Super Sam. (He just looks like he's ready to rip off his shirt to reveal his super hero cape and fly off to rescue someone.)

Yes. I know. It's hard to believe she's my daughter and not my sister.

Chris is going to be purchasing a shotgun in a few years. Don't say I didn't warn those of you with sons around Maddie's age.

Matthew and Luke Matthew. What you can't tell from the picture is that they were headed for a potty break. Of course. I am happy to report that Uncle Matthew educated the boys in the meaning of the terms "#1" and "#2". I'm pretty sure they can just skip college now.

I am mildly concerned at all the wild things Luke will teach Sam very soon.

Sweet boys. Well, they're sweet sometimes. But what is it in this picture that makes it seem like right under their love and affection for one another, they're ready for a fight at any moment?

I have done my part in providing these two people with grandchildren. And I know they're thankful for that, right?

Luke is obviously devising his next plan for mischief.

Don't let this sweet picture fool you. Emily tried to poison Jack with gummy worms, then she pushed Luke down on the elevator and ran away. Watch these people with your kids is all I'm sayin'.

So, there it is. Our beach vacation in all its glory. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And now I'm going to publish this before I chicken out and go back and just make it cheery. For the record, it really wasn't that the kids were bad at all, it was just my stinky attitude. And now I'm going to stop backpedaling and own the post. Adios!