Posted in musings

stifled prayer

 

I live my life with a wall around my heart.

It’s not that I don’t love people, or care about people – I just don’t want people to know my weaknesses. I don’t want to admit those weaknesses to myself.

When hard things happen, whether it’s a chronic struggle like mental illness in a loved one or working while my husband gets more time at home with the babies, or an acute problem like a sick baby or a lost iPod, my brain immediately starts calculating all the different options I have. All the ways I could respond to the problem, all the potential outcomes, all the strategies and decisions and backup plans. I want to be the strong and competent woman, who meets life with confidence and grace, and never lets her head fall under the waves.

And I bring that attitude with me before God.

I keep that wall up even when I pray. Walls tend not to be easily assembled and disassembled, after all.

Limerick has been dealing with a high fever since early Saturday afternoon and I didn’t think to pray about it until tonight (Sunday night). I was just so wrapped up in nursing him, taking his temperature, giving him fever reducers, making him comfortable, and wondering what was making him sick to think about it. The plans, the automatic response of confidence and control, took over. I didn’t doubt my ability to take care of him well, so I didn’t feel the need strongly enough to pray about it. Do you hear how strange that sounds? I believe in a God who can heal the dying, and I believe that He cares about every detail of life, and instead of taking my sick baby to Him I try to handle it all on my own?

My worry, my need to be strong and take care of the people I love, prevents me from doing what they need most: interceding for them to God, lifting them up to Jesus. My desire to keep things under control and handle situations calmly and competently interferes with what ought to be my first line of response.

Soften my heart, Lord, and tear down my pride. Let me come to You humbly at all times and in everything, not only when the need is too great for my own strength and intelligence; let me put my fears to rest trusting in Your providence. Loose my tongue and gentle my heart, that I might lift the needs of the world to You instead of trying to fix them on my own.

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Posted in musings

orange blossoms in the spring

The orange blossoms are beginning to open.

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The scent of them in the air – spicy, sweet, alluring, richly complex yet somewhat warm and light – is one of my favorite things in the whole world. I can’t think of another smell quite so wonderful (although the smells of yeast bread rising and new babies snuggling come pretty close).

In the sunshine, in the middle of the day, in the backyard or kitchen just feet away from our tree, the smell makes me want to bask in the sunlight, dance with my boys, overflow with hugs and kind words – it elevates the positive, surrounds me with energy, fills my heart with simple joy.

In the twilight, caught on the edge of the cooling breezes, it makes me think of balconied rooms hung with muted orange, lit with candles, where a woman awaits her lover as the curtains rustle over the open window. It is the seductive, entrancing scent of the blossom that hints at love as it breathes in on the wind.

(I told my husband these thoughts and his eyebrows shot pretty far up… he brings me back to earth pretty quickly sometimes 🙂 )

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The bees are loving the blossoms as well. Our tree has more blossoms than any other tree I’ve seen around town, so there isn’t much out there to draw the bees away from us yet. But so far they ignore the babies, and the babies notice them just enough to say “bumblebee! buzz buzz buzz” and then move on 🙂 Hopefully we’ll make it through the spring without any stings! If not, I suppose bee stings are a part of life.

What is blooming near you all?

Posted in family life, musings

unplanned babies (the blessing of limerick)

After Rondel was born, we struggled a lot with the transition from “couple” to “family.” I had PPD for months, my husband was exhausted from being up with a sleepless baby and trying to encourage a miserable wife, and Rondel was becoming anxious and easily overstimulated. We were all on edge and our margins were just about the lowest they’ve ever been. And so, clearly, we thought it was the worst imaginable time to have another baby.

Although at that time I didn’t quite grasp the theology of the body that informs the purpose and ethical applications of sex, I had an instinctual dislike of contraceptives, for various reasons: I didn’t like having to take a pill everyday with hormones that were going to influence far more than just my reproductive system, barrier methods felt awkward and incomplete, like we weren’t actually coming together in the one flesh of marriage, and we obviously weren’t at a point to consider permanent sterilization as a means of contraception. So we were charting and tracking and being really careful – and then we found out we were pregnant, just 7 months after Rondel was born.

It wasn’t our plan at all. Looking back at the charts, it makes no biological sense that we got pregnant when we did.

But you know the beauty of it? Because it wasn’t our plan, because we were walking through the tension of stewarding our resources well while remaining open to God’s plan for new life, we were relieved of the constant fear that we’d made a mistake every time that things were difficult. This baby wasn’t our choice – he was God’s choice, and God is someone we can trust.

And as the months went by, we saw the profound good that Limerick brought to our family: the pregnancy hormones that snapped me out of PPD, the reevaluations of my lifestyle and parenting choices that made me a gentler and less anxious mother, the small and vulnerable baby that showed Rondel how to care for someone weaker and more needy than himself, the bold and mischievous toddler who is helping Rondel learn to share, negotiate, and adapt even as he learns those things himself.

If we had made it about our plan and our wisdom and our choices, Limerick wouldn’t be here, bringing his incredible blessing into our family – and that is a huge reason why, now, I would not choose to contracept or sterilize. Who knows what other unforeseen good God wants to bring into our lives? Why would I want to close myself off to that blessing, just because I cannot picture it clearly in my mind now?

Posted in musings

restorers of streets to dwell in

Did you know that there are over 20,000 children in the foster care system in the state of Arizona alone? There are 21,455, actually, according to the newest release from the state. Even if you assumed the state average of 1.97 children per family, you have over 10,000 families disrupted and troubled in significant enough ways to warrant the state removing the children from the home.

I can’t even imagine that many people, in my own state, destroying their own lives, the lives of their children, the relational fabric of the family that should be the source of love and security for their children. It’s staggering.


I’ve lost count of how many times, over the past 2.5 years, I’ve commented to friends or coworkers about how incredibly lucky we are to have both my parents and my husband’s parents in town and willing to help us out. I’d say we’re even luckier that both of our parents are still married – so not only do we have the unconditional support of our families as we begin raising our own children, we have the example of a committed and enduring marital love to model and emulate.

In our state, last year, there were 40,005 marriages and 24,214 divorces, so I think it’s fair to say that most new parents don’t have the kind of familial role models my husband and I have in our parents. When these new parents are single, young, unemployed, or living far from extended family (or for other reasons don’t have the support of an extended family), it becomes even harder for them to consistently give their children the home and family life that they need and want. I don’t think my husband and I would be able to give our boys the family-centered, consistent, loving care we want for them without the support of our parents, at least not during this season of our lives, and so it makes sense to me that people without that support network are going to find themselves stretched to the breaking point: no respite, no role models, no encouragement, no margin, and the constant gnawing fear of failure and sense of inadequacy.


Unfortunately, it’s not just the breakdown of the family that hurts struggling families: the crumbling of the greater community is more damaging than we might think. If we don’t know our neighbors, if we don’t have close friendships with people who live near us, if we don’t have trusting relationships with people of different ages and in different stages of life than us, if we don’t have any groups of people with whom we can interact for mutual support and encouragement, the stresses of life are going to hit us like tidal waves, and there will come a day when they overpower us. With a community support system, a family is much more likely to be able to handle marital difficulties without seeking divorce, to weather unemployment without ending up on the streets, or to make it through chronic stresses without turning to drugs or alcohol or sex – and all of those things will benefit the children of that family, and thus in turn benefit generations to come.

But how do we rebuild a community that’s broken? How do we reform the social bonds that have been torn asunder, and step into the breach for the hurting and lost parents and children in our society?

I’m not totally sure.

We can start by getting to know our neighbors, and offering them a helping hand when they need one. While I’m sure there are tangible needs even in high-income neighborhoods, we might make more of a difference living in a lower-income or mixed-income neighborhood, where families tend to have less margin and more stress, and less disposable income to keep them out of the home and away from their neighbors. We can model strong marriages and loving families by putting God first in our own homes, and then by opening up our homes to our friends, our neighbors, and those in need. If we are creative, courageous, and hospitable, we can do a lot, by God’s grace, to rebuild the fabric of community in our local areas.


One of my friends, who works for a local foster care licensing agency, recently made me aware of a program called Safe Families that endeavors to create the kinds of social and community networks that could prevent family breakdown in the first place. They partner families together for support in crisis in several different ways. In the most drastic case, a family who wanted to help could be a host family, to temporarily take in children at a crisis moment in a situation that hasn’t escalated to abuse or neglect (in which case the state would step in) – maybe a parent is going to drug rehab, or is facing temporary homelessness and doesn’t want their children to be on the streets; maybe a couple needs a week to work through their difficulties and disagreements to keep their marriage together; maybe a single parent is going to be incarcerated and needs someone to care for his or her children for a month or so. By stepping in to help families at these junctures, host families enable parents to get the help they need to straighten out their own lives without losing their children to the state and the foster care system.

Another way of helping families and rebuilding the community through Safe Families is to become a family friend: someone who can babysit, mentor young parents, make a grocery run, be a listening ear at the end of a hard day, share meals together, or advocate for families seeking resources for their children. I have a feeling that while you might start doing this as a way to help people in a generic charitable way, you will probably end up being lifelong friends with at least one of the people you are partnered with! And having the program partner you with the other family removes some of the awkwardness fellow introverts may have in getting to know our neighbors in a meaningful way… 🙂


The social problems in our nation feel overwhelmingly large, sometimes. The divorce rate, the abortion rate, the sheer number of children in the foster care system, the increasing poverty rate, the fear and apathy and isolation – the numbers and emotions pile upon us like an avalanche of despair. And to be honest with you, I don’t think there is anything we can do on a top-down, national level. Human hearts aren’t changed by a new law, and our current presidential candidates don’t give me much hope for policies that will encourage human dignity, strong families, and tight-knit communities. But there is much we can do on a local level. We can transform the neighborhoods we live in; we can rebuild the communities around us, one person, one family at a time. I have been, time and again, too full of either pride or timidity to take action; but maybe, if we are faithful and unafraid, if we pour ourselves out for God in our communities, in years to come, this will be our memorial:

“And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.” – Is. 58:13

Posted in family life

gently night-weaning

For various reasons, the time has come to begin night-weaning Limerick. He still co-sleeps, in a sidecar crib, and has always nursed to sleep. It was the path of least resistance for so long… but now, 15 months later, it has become a sleep crutch that prevents him from resettling when he wakes briefly during the night and thus wakes me about every two hours all night long. And the older he gets, the more difficult it seems to be for him to drift off while nursing, because he wants to engage and interact with me the whole time!

However, while I was convinced of the need for night-weaning, I was also convinced that I didn’t want the process to be one of prolonged or solitary crying. If he was going to cry, I was going to be there with him; if he was inconsolable and clearly not settling on his own, I was going to slow the process down and go at the pace he was able to handle. So I brainstormed some ideas for a new routine, and explained everything to Limerick a few times before implementing them, so that he wouldn’t be taken off guard when we did something new at bedtime.

“First we’ll nurse with the light on,” I told him, “and we’ll snuggle and talk about the day and pray together. Then, after you’ve had some milk, I’ll lie you down with your head on the pillow in your crib, tuck your bunny in next to you, pull the blanket over you, give you your bottle of water, and turn off the light. I will lie here right next to you and sing you a lullaby, and you can go to sleep.”

Why these steps?

First, the time of nursing and talking gives us a chance to connect at the end of the day, without any other people or distractions around, which is particularly important on days that I’m gone at work for hours. I want him to know that his bedtime isn’t just a task for me to accomplish, but a special time of calm and quiet for us to share. Also, he is still young enough that I want him to keep nursing, even though I can’t physically deal with the nursing all night long!

Second, the little details of the bedtime routine help to provide continuity and consistency from one night to the next, without making things too long or complex. The pillow helps keep his head elevated when he’s congested and the bottle of water gives him something to suck if he wants or a drink if he’s thirsty still after nursing (since my supply is getting pretty low, and it’s dry here in Arizona!)

Turning the light off after nursing helps to separate nursing from sleeping, so he doesn’t roll back to me for “kikis” after I try to situate him in the crib. This was a mistake I had been making on previous attempts!

Finally, Limerick loves music, and he seems to be far calmer physically when he has something to do with his mind – like listen to the words and melodies of songs. So the lullabies (whatever I happen to remember or make up) help him to relax, which in turn helps him to fall asleep.

As we were going through the routine, I narrated each thing that we were doing, reminding him of what we’d said earlier, until I ended by singing some old lullabies. His breathing slowed. His body relaxed. His hand holding the half-empty bottle dropped to his side. And I slid off the bed and went downstairs.

This was just the first night of the new routine. We’ve now had four nights of the new pattern, and in addition to falling asleep without the incessant nursing that was driving me crazy, he seems to be sleeping for longer stretches as well! Considering he is also teething right now, I’m quite surprised at how well this is going. Night 3 was a bit rough for him, and we ended up nursing a little bit more after the lights were off to help him calm back down, but he did eventually go to sleep on his own without crying alone or feeling like he was abandoned or unheard (it’s amazing how much calmer he got just from me saying, “You are really upset right now, huh?”). I’ve even been able to put him back down after a night waking in this way, which I didn’t expect to be able to do for a few weeks still! So there is hope, fellow gentle parents with poor sleepers 🙂 We can take care of ourselves and our babies in ways that won’t leave either of us resentful, bitter, or hurt.

Posted in family life

turning trucks into boats

Limerick was having a rough time this morning, between teething and a late night on Friday, so I took some time to try to put him down for an early nap (which didn’t work, unfortunately). When we came back downstairs to see what Rondel had been doing unsupervised for the previous half hour, I found him in the back yard:

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He’d taken some parts from his big HotWheels construction set, set all of our Duplo people (including the bear and the puppy) up in it, and was pretending that it was a boat sailing on the water.

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He moved all of his trucks out of the way so the boat would have room to sail around, and told me how maybe the boat would tip in the water and the bear would have to help pull the little boy back onto the boat.

I’ve never heard him play anything related to boats before, and I’ve never seen him use the Duplo people with other types of toys before. He was so excited about it 🙂 I was excited too, because it showed me that he could imagine a toy to be something it was not, and use it that way in his pretend play. In other words, he’s not locked in to seeing a truck as a truck, all the time.

It’s so neat to watch him at this age, discovering his imagination and creativity, coming up with situations and stories and keeping himself occupied with his own head and hands for a good 45 minutes without any problem. He’s so different from the baby he once was, not because the core of his self has changed, but because he’s grown and matured so much, and it’s my privilege to watch and guide and love him as he grows.

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – random pieces of life

The ladies at Like Mother, Like Daughter were encouraging this week’s {phfr} to be about desk space, since an organized and clean desk is such a great jump start for productivity and clear thinking. Unfortunately, my desk is in a very dimly lit room and I didn’t have opportunity during the daylight hours to try to take a picture of it! So in the spirit of the link-up I cleaned and organized the horrible mess that was my desk and then enjoyed getting some HOA work done on the newly-emptied surface. It really does make a difference, having it clean!

{pretty}

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We are in the height of citrus season here in the low desert, and my parents have quite a few trees, so on Monday afternoon we took some time to make orange marmalade, candied orange peels, and candied grapefruit peels. The jars in the picture above are of the orange syrup left over from boiling the peels – the flavor is quite strong and sweet and makes a good addition to different types of drinks. I think it would be good with just some sparkling water but my mom has an old-fashioned in mind 🙂 She’s not as much of a lightweight when it comes to alcohol as I am!

{happy}

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Our garden has really become a play space. On Tuesday I watched my nephew and niece for a couple hours and they had a great time exploring the dirt and plants in the garden; I’m not sure who slipped this little construction crate under the cilantro, though! It looks like a little elfin summerhouse to me – I can just imagine the little people frolicking in the dappled green light under the leaves, and resting for the night in their hideaway.

{funny}

Because the weather has been so unseasonably warm, our little orange tree has begun budding already. Its branches are beginning to encroach rather significantly into the yard, but it had been trimmed ruthlessly and ignorantly before we bought the house and suffered a lot of sunburn as a result, so we’re giving it a few years to heal before we try to trim it again. So, some of the branches are at just the right height for Limerick to explore, and he’s been quite intrigued by the new flower buds. In fact, he’ll stand at the tree, oblivious to the world, picking all the flower buds off, saying “flower bud!” each time and then dropping them on the ground or into a cup. Some of the fruits (flowers?) of his labor he then put on the edge of the raised bed garden, for no reason known outside of his own small head…

{real}

If I had gotten a “before” picture of my desk, that would have been my {real} picture for the week! I had pre-Christmas decorations, old mail, HOA papers, the remnants of a Christmas craft, some chocolate and essential oils, and some items destined for Goodwill, all piled up on a table no more than 30″ square. Even the “after” picture could be {real}, though, tucked away as the desk is by my husband’s school desk, his weights and bench, the vacuum, and a couple large bookshelves… all of our random things seem to have ended up in the same place, which is also the only way to get into the backyard, so there’s always a bit of chaos going on. But it is cleaner than it was, and that makes me happy 🙂

Go check out the rest of the link-up!