Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How my Cat Ruined my Chance for a Bestseller

Before my Adulterous Kitten gave birth to triplets last Saturday, I had high hopes for the book that I was going to write. I had planned to re-examine lessons I had learned about being a parent, by looking at mothering again--only this time through the eyes of my 13 month-old Momma Cat. I already had a title; I planned on calling my book of Cat/Mother insight: Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Parenting, I Learned After My Children Were Grown, and My Cat Had Kittens. I figured that while I was watching my young cat care for her nursing babes, I would be reminded of how parenting is very instinctual and basic. In my bestseller, I would remind others that we over complicate things, only creating drama where drama does not need to exist.
"The Three Little Kittens" came into the world 4 days ago, and I have learned, rather quickly, that I will not be learning about parenting from my cat and the world will not be subjected to another book on Parenting, or Cats, for that matter. Luna Lovegood (my petite, orange tabby) was a wonderful  Momma during the birthing of her children.  After the first kitten arrived, she did all of the things that Labor & Delivery Nurses do at the local Presbyterian Hospital--while continuing to give birth to her other two babies. Watching her the first night was sheer bliss, as she covered them to protect and rested with them in the nursery. She was attentive and nurturing, faithful to the draining feeding schedule, unwavering in her commitment--for the first day.
On the second day, she spied the backdoor and pleaded for the great outdoors. Being a Mother myself, I could understand her need for a break. I remember what it is like to  have little ones draining every ounce of energy from you more quickly than a coffee cup could be reheated in the microwave. In our home, we started buying diapers in 1989 and continued without a break until 1997. For 8 and half years, every single day--someone needed a diaper change in our home. So, I understood her desire for a break from the little ones. I  opened the door and allowed her to go out and sit by the pool and enjoy the fresh air. I figured that she would come back refreshed, ready to return to parenting and the pressures of guiding her young. After a few minutes, I felt uneasy about letting her leave my sight, I did not want her to head for the hills of Cat Freedom and leave me to have to hand-feed the triplets. I gathered the Teen Cat Mom into my arms, carried her back into the house and made her return to the nursery. 
Yesterday, when her children were 3 days old, she again came to the backdoor wanting "just a little break". It was such a beautiful day, filled with Spring warmth we anticipate by the end of March. I really couldn't deny her a few moments to unwind and recompose. The triplets had been extra fussy last night, and I figured that a few minutes watching the birds and planning her next hunt would be good for her.
In the midst of my Teen Cat Mom enjoying her time outside, I was doing somethings for my eldest child, my only daughter, to help prepare for her upcoming June wedding. I'll have to admit, I was out of my element in what I was working on and it was frightening to me to have to be operating in an area that is not in my area of giftedness for such an important event. I don't plan events regularly and I have  a certain amount of justified insecurity in doing even a small gathering, let alone a wedding in a backyard, where everything has to be taken to the  venue, and if I do make a mistake and forget something, I am paying a photographer a lot of money to document my error--FOR-EV-ER. No pressure.
Needless to say, I stopped watching the Adulterous Kitten and it wasn't until the "cries" of triplets were starting to grate on my nerves that I went to get her. Well, as most teenagers do, this Teen Cat Mom had other things than child rearing on her mind and had evidently "twittered" all her friends that she was available to party. She was nowhere to be found. Standing on top of the patio table, I called to her for several minutes, certain that she just couldn't hear me and once she heard my voice, she would come bounding back to care for her offspring. No such luck. I called and called. Then, I remember the tasks that I really needed to work on for the wedding. I decided that I would just go back and work a little more, and then come check in a few minutes.
I returned to the house to work on my day's tasks. The next item on my "wedding to-do list" involved using my printer. So, before I could even begin to work with the printer, I had to buy it a drink. Yes, I had to get my printer drunk and then beg forgiveness for the terrible things I had said about it in the past. I am not joking about this--my printer hates me. It really despises my existence, and when it dies and isn't allowed to enter into Printer Heaven, it will be its disdain for me that keeps it out of the presence of God. So, now, as I tried to beg the hating printer to cooperate, I had to listen to the wailing of the triplets in the background. The whole scene waslike something out of Scarface--which I've never seen, but the name fits my mood at the moment.  
It was at about that time that the Bride came home from her day at of college classes and found me in the midst of domestic chaos. She took one look at what was taking place with me, my printer and The Three Little Kittens--and asked, "WHAT is going on, and WHERE is Luna??" I looked at the clock and realized, it had now been an hour since I had let the Teen Mom Cat out; I knew she needed to come back soon, or I would be the one getting up at 4 AM to feed the triplets. The Bride and I went on a "Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty" rampage. While the Bride took her turn standing on the patio table calling over fences, I walked down the street, passing a neighbor with a dog on a leash, who I am certain was judging me for inability to control my teenage Cat. I was a little offended, but after spying on their teenage Dog for a few minutes, I am pretty sure that he is doing drugs, because his intellect was certainly lacking.
And then, with a burst of energy...there she was! Bright and happy, she ran up to us! She was very pleased that we were looking for her. We gathered her up and brought her into the house. The triplets had cried themselves into a pleasant slumber (finally) and so the house was silent, except for their favorite Hillsong CD, which still played softly in the background. I waited for her to run to the nursery and check on them, I was certain that she would be so proud of how I had cared for them for almost 2 hours while she had her Spa Day. Nothing. She just sat there and cleaned herself. She didn't even seem concerned , and unlike human parents, she didn't make a move to go check that they were breathing or that they hadn't been eaten. Then, her little Calico daughter began to mew. The Teen Cat Mom looked over at the nursery as if she had never seen it before. She seemed to have forgotten that she had played Midwife in the box just days before and Nursing Mom in it, just hours ago. Then, instinct (finally) clicked in and the Teen Cat Mom charged  towards her kittens. She climbed in the box and hovered over them, then she lay down beside them and they began to search for a spot to suckle. But, before she relaxed completely into it, she looked up and me, turned her head slightly to the left and said, "What the Heck, I don't remember having kids?!" "Meow".
So, today, the rules have changed. The Teen Cat Mom is no longer allowed to go outside. She is "grounded" for the next two weeks until the kittens are a little more stable. And, I am no longer going to look for examples of how parenting is instinctual and uncomplicated, because it isn't. Parenting is completely complicated and difficult because there is more to it than just following my instincts. If I were to rely solely on my instincts and what came natural, I wouldn't be planning an event to remember for my daughter. In my cat-like abilities, it is not a natural or instinctual thing whatsoever. But, I do it because I love her. I do it, because even when I escape for 2 hours, I never forget that I once played nursing Mom. I don't look for drama, but, it is there and it is painful. It is painful because I cannot just choose to do the things I like to do.  If I were a Teen Cat Mom, I wouldn't have to deal with rental companies, printers or Bridal gown alterations. I would just leave my kittens to plan their own events.  I could say, "Sorry, little kittens, this is not what I am good I don't have to do it. I don't have a natural instinct for it--hey look, a bird!" But, alas, I cannot just do the things that come easily and naturally, I'm not a cat.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What's in your vacuum?

My vacuum cleaner was a gift from my husband to appease his guilt for traveling to Africa. Let me explain. Last summer, a 15 day missions trip fell very gently, and quite suddenly, into my husband's lap, a mere 10 days before he was to depart. The trip included not just him, but our two oldest children, and it did not include our youngest child--or me. The timing of the trip meant that he would be gone on my birthday. It also meant that I would be left to "host" our in-home bible study without him for 3 weeks of Wednesdays in a row. The day that we were preparing to get everyone to the airport, the vacuum threw an absolute hissy-fit and refused to work any longer (perhaps it was because she wasn't invited to go on the trip either). She had been threatening us for some time, and we had been ignoring her rants. But, on this day--she was serious. She was done. On any other day, this would have been a minor annoyance, but on this day, the vacuum's rebellious behavior sent me over the edge.

I sat on the floor and began to weep. I had images of people sho
wing up to my home for bible study and being unable to open the front door due to the knee high deep dust that was sure to pile within the next two hours. My husband grabbed his keys and ran out the door. When he returned, he had the most beautiful blue and orange vacuum with him!

Today, I was using my vacuum and I noticed that she wasn't working very hard. I was surprised, because I have been ever so kind to the lovely appliance, rarely making her do any work. (side note: I am also very kind to my mop and to my iron; and I also dust rarely, thus conserving furniture polish for future generations)
She seemed to be having a difficult time "sucking"; the poor dear was having her own type of appliance asthma attack.

I sat on the floor and began to poke and pull at her
cylindrical body parts. I determined that one of her vessels had to be clogged; she was definitely going to require surgical assistance from me, so I would lovingly treat her. Screwdriver in hand, I unclenched the cylinder that was connected to her heart. I was sure that whatever was blocking her heart from functioning at its fullest capabilities had to be a very large and sturdy object, and I began to wonder who her enemies may be--that they would shove such an enormous object in front of her and force her to swallow it whole.

When the tube came free, approximately 40 tiny air-soft gun pellets fell to the floor. Round, red and plastic--each one approximately 0.05cm, the little pellets danced across the floor in their new-found freedom. As I began to gather the little suckers, it occurred to me how much like my vacuum, we suck things in just one little pellet at a time, and often clog the passage way to our own hearts.
Very rarely are we drawn into a situation seeing the full extent of how it is going to affect us. If we saw a large pile of discontent laying in the middle of the room, we would surely recognize it for what it was and turn away. But, the majority of the time, it is just one little pellet at a time. One little negative thought. One little advertising image. One little disagreeable opinion. One little sardonic comment. One little bitter seed.

There is no way for us to not be "sucking" things into our vacuums, our brains were wired to suck. What I mean by that is this: our brains have been wired by God to be filled with lots of little thoughts! It is our responsibility to make sure that the thoughts we are grabbing onto will not clog our hearts. We have to suck in one little verse. One little prayer. One little worship song. One little comment that will build someone up. One little decision to forgive.
Our brains, like our appliances, deserved to handled with care. We owe it to them to keep them unclogged and sucking things in that will not clog the heart. 

"The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace."
Romans 8:6

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cleaning the Shower with the Apostle Paul

Yesterday, while scrubbing my shower, I used the most powerful weapon known to man to keep the voices in my head in check. In an attempt to overpower my self diagnosed disorder -- C-NeST (chronic negative self talk), I began to quote Romans 12:1-2. It was already taped to the wall of the shower, so there was no reason that I hadn't already memorized and meditated on it prior to yesterday (did you catch the negative talk just then--dang, it's bad). Anyway, I began to memorize this portion of the letter from the Apostle Paul, slowly repeating the words, leaving no oxygen or space for any other thoughts to exist, and after a short time I could say it without concentrating so hard. I began to think of the meaning behind each phrase, and at some moments, each word.
"Therefore, I urge you, my brothers"
He's not merely suggesting this, like,
"hey, you guys should try Greek yogurt!"
to do ourselves a gigantic favor!
"in view of God's mercy"
God has chosen to allow us to live after we fell short of perfection.
What we "earned" was death after the first second of the first minute of our first sin.
And, then, He has chosen to bless us with opportunities
to shower love onto other people,
to enjoy nature, and to benefit from the love we receive from others...
while we deserve none of those things.
"to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,"
give it all as an offering--the tongue, the legs, the mind--
every single part of our 2000 body parts needs to be an offering
"holy and pleasing to God"
Again--the tongue that becomes tamed;
no longer polluting this world with gossip and negativity.
The legs that walk to the car and then into the hospital room;
visiting a friend after a surgery that will leave her infertile.
the mind that decides to leave behind lies;
finding creative ways to glorify Him and encourage others.
"this is true worship."
It's not with a guitar, it's not with drums.
The lights won't come up at just the right moment.
This side of Heaven, we may never hear the beautiful lyrics that go along
with this offering to God, this gift from us, that He calls "true worship".
But, this is what he desires from us as our act of worship.
Give who we are as a sacrifice.
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world,"
Set ourselves apart! Distance ourselves from the lies of this world!
We need to stop believing the lie that we will have to do something of marked and measured achievement before our lives will matter.
That is the pattern of this world!
Crazed Tiger Mothers send messages to the rest of us parents
that we had better raise a child who is a Prodigy.
America loves winners; underdogs who overcome incredible obstacles to achieve
more than the average--and we better figure out how to do that before it's too late!
"but be transformed"
Be different than we would be. Yep.
We would be a certain way without this transformation.
We wouldn't please him.
We need to be transformed to be able to please!
"by the renewing of your mind."
How can we renew our minds?
Can we call the L.A.Times and ask for a renewal?
There is only one way to refurbish our brains.
We have to renovate! Prayer Renovation!
We have to allow it to penetrate--talking and listening--and this takes time!
So, we have to put in the time praying! AND...reading our bibles.
Yes, picking them up, everyday and opening them and looking at the words.
Putting those words into our over zealous brains.
Then. Then. THEN! AFTER we do the renovating! Not before.

"you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-"
We will not always know immediately what to do,
and that is okay, but we will be able to take those queries
and compare them to the scripture we have been reading.
We will be able to hold them up
against the mirror of scripture and see if they match!
And that is how we will find out what God thinks we should do!
Not what Dr. Phil thinks we should do,
not what the latest Healthy Living Green Family blogsite thinks we should do...
what God thinks we should do!
"-his good, pleasing, and perfect will."
Not just what may be a little bit better.
Good. This is the same word that God used to describe his creation.
Pleasing. It is the plan that will be a sweet aroma to the God of the Universe.
Perfect. His perfect will. For us, everyday, there is a plan that is God's perfect will for us.
"Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-
-this is true worship.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-
-his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Romans 12:1-2 (TNIV)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

3 reasons and 3 pennies

One man's junk is another man's treasure.

You've heard the saying, heck, you may have even said it yourself to someone who was planning a garage sale. I had a garage sale this weekend, and while I really dislike getting up early on a Saturday, I am one of those strange souls who likes garage sales. I like them for 3 reasons.

The first is probably obvious--it's an easy way to make some extra cash. I still remember the first garage sale that I made a significant amount of money doing. One Spring weekend morning, back in 1992, my husband was on a trip with the teenagers from our church, and I was home with our two small children. A neighbor was having a garage sale of their own and it was attracting a lot of traffic to our neighborhood. I was up early (refer back to the "two small children and husband out of town" part) and I saw the minivans full of customers piling out of their vehicles, grabbing their treasures and leaving their money with my neighbor. My mind was fully aware of the state of our small bank account, so I wondered if this might be a great opportunity. I hurried into the garage and started pulling out items that we had once dragged all the way to Illinois and, now back to California. I opened the garage and within a few moments had money lining my pockets. I felt like a Proverbs 31 woman, bringing in money for my family! Of course, I am not sure how "noble" my husband thought I was, when he got home from his retreat and I told him I had sold two of his college dorm room treasures--his electric typewriter and his turntable stereo.

The second reason I love garage sales is the freedom that comes with the removal of clutter. I despise clutter. I feel clutter in the deepest parts of me when I am stressed. I have often wondered if this may be a psychological disorder -- how a cluttered room can affect me, but since I have no intention of taking medication for it, my clutter disorder doesn't need a clever name. There are times when I am struggling with an increased anxiety level and I look around my home and I will tell my husband, "Everything is a disaster". Now, in the grand scheme of things--EVERYTHING is NOT a disaster, and I am beginning to recognize that the messy clutter I think is going on in the house, may be going on in my mind. (side note: for those of you who have not been to my house, I am NOT a clean freak--I kinda wish I were because then the house would be as clean as my mind wants it to be.) I know that God is bigger than the stress that clutter can bring and I know that I can't have a completely clutter free environment but I can help relieve some of the stress by removing some extra "stuff" whenever possible. Pulling things out of the piles and the closets and throwing them into the "garage sale pile" gives me a sense of relief.

I imagine, these first two reasons are the common reasons that most people bother getting up at the crack of dawn to push the button on their garage door opener and allow the rest of the world into their car's room. But, I have one more. My third and final reason for loving garage sales is the people I meet. Every time I have opened my door to the world on these early mornings I have met a few incredible people. Don't get me wrong, there are still the "whack-jobs" out in the morning (like the lady who bartered a purse down to the bargain price of 50 cents and then while walking to her car, inspected it and came back to tell me the zipper was broken, which of course it wasn't, it was just twisted, but even if it had been..."you just gave me 2 quarters for it, and I will keep it if is going to cause you that much stress") But, I am talking about the people who I may have never had the chance to meet. I am talking about the "treasures" that they find, and the joy that they express when finding it. I get to be a part of that. I get to contribute to their experience in a positive way. This morning, as my husband had just pulled his very old ban-saw out of the garage, a middle aged woman approached our tables looking at snow globes and nonchalantly stated, "What I really want is a ban-saw". I paused, thinking she was teasing us about the enormous piece of hardware standing just 10 feet from her. When she didn't chuckle at her own joke, I asked her if she was joking. She said she wasn't and at that moment, my husband, my son and I all turned our heads toward the saw.
"You mean, like that?" I asked.
She was so excited that she screamed. Apparently, she had been looking for sometime. How could she know that we, her neighbors just around the corner, had one waiting for her.

But, here is my favorite moment from the morning. A white sedan pulled up and a woman in her 60's got out and began to wander across the driveway, looking at nothing in particular. Most of the big items were gone, and it kind of surprised me that she even bothered to turn off her engine for the few things we had left to sell. After a few minutes, she held up a small lapel pin and asked me the price. The golden pin was a in the shape of a building and across the front of the building it said "BANK" and under the building 3 pennies dangled down. I'm sure it sounds like a strange pin, it makes a little more sense when you know that this pin was donated to my garage sale by my Mother, who once worked as a Bank Manager. I told the woman a price that I thought was fair, she looked down at the pin and then she said, "I want it for my Mother, she's sitting in the car, and this will make her smile." She proceeded to tell me that her Father had died recently and that he had a soft spot for pennies. She said that her Father would always say to her or to her Mother, "A penny for a hug" and that he believed that 3 pennies together were good luck. She said that when he found 3 pennies, he would tape them together and say that they were supposed to stay together, also, if you gave someone 3 pennies it meant they got an extra special hug. She then went on to tell me that when he was dying he told her, "I still owe you one more penny and one more hug". Well, naturally, I told her to take the lapel pin free of charge. The pin was never supposed to be mine, it just came to me to get to her. My Mother brought it to me, so that she would stop at my garage sale and pick it up for her Mother...we just didn't know it at the time.

I guess you could say, I'm a sentimental fool, who dislikes clutter, but at least I am rich.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fear Factor: India

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." ~Meg Cabot

I am not immobilized, I know this because (1) I'm writing. When I get so fearful that the fear is in control, I cannot bring myself to open my laptop, let alone figure out where to place my fingers on the little black alphabet squares. So, the fact that I am caressing this keyboard and letting my fingers do their job means...the fear has not paralyzed me!
I also know that I am not immobilized because (2) I asked for help. I was fearful and so rather than basking in the "what ifs" I prayerfully challenged them with some "then God will" responses. This is how it works:

"What if the money for India doesn't come in?"
"Then God will have to find another way to get me to the other side of the world for this mission."

"What if I try to sell 'honey sticks' to raise the money and people laugh at me?"
"The God will see me through that in His own 'sweet' way"

"What if I send out letters asking for support and everyone decides instead to use my letter as a backdrop for their dartboards or lining for their birdcages?"
"The God will repair the dart holes and clean the bird droppings from my face"

So, in other words...
"What if I am unable to...?"
"Then God will ..."

Immobilization would have found me under the covers in my bed, unable to communicate with one person (let alone ALL of YOU), and envisioning the impending doom that awaited me. Sometimes this place that I hate, this ugly and fear-filled place of ruins, is exactly where I feel the most at home. The pain feels so bad, that it feels good. It reminds me of the feelings that I felt the day my daughter died--and any connection to her (good or otherwise) is still a connection. I know that isn't what people like to admit to--that we sometimes choose to feel fearful or sad. But, being a martyr in our everyday lives does happen. We allow it, or at least I do. I believe the lies of the enemy and I revel in my pain for just a few minutes. But, minutes can turn into hours and hours can turn into months and months have suddenly turned into "that really bad year when I my kids were in Jr. High". So, I have to battle for the sake of being in God's will, which is not depression and fear-filled. For the sake of the living, and for the sake of His will I cannot go to that desperate place.

Going to India is causing me to become fearful. Not for the sake of India. I would never pretend that anything I may encounter would be less than trivial compared to those who live in poverty stricken areas day in and day out. Going to India is making me fearful because I have to believe that God is in control while I am raising the money to get there. Quite honestly, on my own, I do not have the money.

I need to send out letters asking for support and I am fearful. I feel like that 14-year-old girl who walked up to that 15-year-old boy in 1979 and asked him to go to the "Hearts & Flowers Girl's Choice Formal Dance" at La Mirada High School. Standing in the middle of the cafeteria staring up into his dark brown eyes, I presented my request for him to be my date. I can still see his longing for this moment to have never happened, and I can still see his lips forming the word "No." All around us, I can hear the sounds of the other teenagers moving through the cafeteria; the sound of the food scraping off their divided trays and into the trash cans near the lady running the dishwasher. I looked away from him and gulped back tears of disappointment. Unable to know where to look, avoiding his eye contact and the eye contact of my friends who watched from a table, I left the torturous room--uncertain if I would ever be able to face my peers again.

Alright, so maybe, just maybe, I am a little dramatic. I guess I take after my Creator. He is dramatic. He loves drama and He loves that He is the star of it all. He loves that this is bigger than me, because in the end when all the necessary funds come in...He ALONE will get the credit. I can sell my sweet honey sticks, I can have a garage sale--these are the things I can do along the way, but raising $3300.00 is bigger than those things, so when it happens it will all point back to Him.

"For I am the Lord, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do not fear; I will help you."
-Isaiah 41:13

Friday, March 4, 2011

My Green Grass

Put in my place, I couldn't even respond. So, I lowered my head and held my breath.

He saw my eyes rimmed with tears, so he lowered his voice. The waitress, with her coffee pot in hand, who was heading towards the table just moments before, turned and headed towards the elderly couple sitting near the window.

"I'm just saying that you have got to stop thinking the grass is always greener." He practically whispered this time, trying to use his words as a gentle hand to raise my head and make eye contact.

I've known for years that this is how I am lured away from the joyful place in which I could reside. For all that it is worth, it was this green grass that led me into the path of Motherhood so early in my marriage. The belief that if I had a baby...then I would be happy. And, a year later, if I had another baby...then I would be happy. Well, you get the picture...four babies later and a whole lot of diapers make for a lot of running around on that very green pasture. Suddenly, it's not so green anymore; there is a dead spot where the sprinkler is broken and there are weeds around the edge. And, the enemy thrives where I've given him ground. And then, on the other side of the fence, the lovely, green grass would catch my eye and the battle inside my mind would rage.

Over the years, I have taken this to the Lord and tried to let him be the one who satisfies of my soul. Lately, I have had a lot of time on my hands and I want to be a good steward with those hours. I don't want to waste this time that I have at home, but I was reminded this morning that I place value on the things that I do to such a degree that I cause myself a great deal of stress. Unintentionally, I live my day measuring everything that I do. The green, green grass of all the things I should be doing is calling me, tempting me to be dissatisfied. Dissatisfied with me.

Somehow, I have developed a habit of judging myself all day and beating myself up if I am not doing something of "value" with my time. My husband noticed that this was a new habit I've developed. A way for me to divert my eyes from the grass in my yard, and over to "The Yard of Greater Things I Should Be Doing". Even though I am not longing for something material, I'm still chasing. Chasing after something to give me worth. Nothing is ever going to be enough as long as I am chasing after things to give me worth. No activity will ever be enough and nothing that I ever write or do will fill the void. It's part of my battle and some days I do really well at this battle, but, some days, I need to be put in my place.

"The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself"
—Henry Miller