31.7.09

On Self Discipline


I lack self discipline. I do. It's something I have always failed at. I'm good at being busy, but I am poor at disciplining myself to make the most of the time and resources I have and put in consistent effort day in and day out. It's not because I have no will power, I have plenty of that. It is perhaps that in many areas of my life I am self indulgent and lazy. What's oddest though is that all the times in my life that I remember trying to change this about myself there have been so many voices trying to talk me out of it. They have gone out of their way to assure me that I am fine just as I am, that I shouldn't be too hard on myself.

For example, once I found myself talking to a university counselor because I was not doing my best, and I was dealing with the stress that comes from lack of organization and poor planning. My adult self thinks he ought to have told my 17 year old self, "Yes, you need to be more disciplined, you need a plan, you need to force yourself to do unpleasant things from time to time in order to avoid the mess you find yourself in right now."

Instead he patted me on the head, assured me that I was doing very well compared to some, and told that I would probably end up a professor someday. He gave me all I needed to permit myself to once again slide into laziness and disarray. I knew better, but I was happy for the excuse. I wonder if this encouragement to remain mediocre is a fault of Canadian culture, which is where I grew up, my family culture, or western society in general.

There were notable exceptions of course. The principle who was sure I could so better, and told me so, kindly. The prof who believed in me, the music teacher who could tell I was coasting, barely putting in any effort, regardless of what my grades were. My father recognized it, but will be the first to tell you he was losing the struggle in his own life. So how could he effectively help me to change?

The truth is I was poorly trained. And now as an adult, I must do the harder work of training myself. And I must do it for the sake of my children as well as my own. For if I am not disciplined I can hardly expect them to become so, can I?

The truth is, I need to stop listening to the soothing voices that assure me that I'm doing the best I can. I am often not doing anywhere close to my best. I coast, skate by on minimal effort, fake it with gusto, and my family suffers when I do. But of course, those people who assure me have never seen my best, so how would they know the difference?

I know, God knows, that I can do more, that I am capable of more. I can participate in this life I am living much more fully than I do.

So no more excuses. This is the year of training myself to show up, all the time, to check in, to use what I've got and use it wisely. If I have more than others it's my responsibility to use it, rather than just keep up. Don't you think?

Image by photographerpandora

30.7.09

Good news About Chala

Some of you have been following the story of Chala and the children he cares for, for almost a year now. You may remember this post about the crisis they were all thrown into when his wife left him at the insistence of her mother.

I'm really happy, and relieved to tell you that she has come back, and brought their daughter home again. You can read the rest of the story at the voice, the charis project blog. It's a good story, you should check it out.

29.7.09

She found a dead june bug.


It's shiny and green and pretty. Also, she's never been afraid of bugs.

(Can you tell she's been ill?)

27.7.09

Multitude Monday

holy experience
  • My mil came yesterday to take care of my children for a few hours while I went to church. She even offered to come over night and get up with one or two of them so I could sleep. (I didn't imagine I would be able to sleep anyway, but how lovely to offer.) It was refreshing to have a few hours when I wasn't rubbing backs and cleaning rugs and emptying vomit bowls.
  • The Boy and Girl slept through the night last night for the first time in more than a week.
  • Little boldly jumping into the pool and swimming "all by her big girl self" with water wings.
  • Even though my children are very ill and I've lost a lot of sleep, I have never had a night and morning like MckMama is having. Will you pray for baby Stellan?
  • The caress of warm night air on bare skin. Just cool enough to be refreshing after the heat of the day.
  • Humming birds floating the in flowers near our front door.
  • Dancing with my husband.
  • Work that is meaningful.
  • Bright red home grown tomatoes.
  • The sight of a friend, at his own daughter's wedding, which was planned to be on the anniversary of the death of his infant son several years ago, with his arm around his weeping neighbor assuring him that God can and does redeem all things, and will for him.
  • I was able be there for a friend yesterday when she really needed someone.
  • All these people I have been given to love.

25.7.09

A LIttle Too Much Information

Very early this morning I was finally dropping off to sleep, after several hours of attending to very sick children, as they coughed and vomited and cried and choked. Suddenly I became aware of a new sound, a sort of strangled, panicked, urgent scream. In an instant I was bursting through the door to their bed room, terrified at what I might find.

Only they were sound asleep in their beds. Peaceful for the first time in hours.

But the sound went on. My sleep befuddled brain thought maybe there was a child outside in pain and went to the window.

OH!

That's not distress I am hearing.

Those aren't panicked sounds.

We have new upstairs neighbors, two women, two children.

I got back into my bed and covered my ears with my pillow, trying desperately to pretend I wasn't hearing anything at all and go back to sleep. Which I did. Until the second woman started to make similar sounds. Then I woke up again, and covered my ears again, and tried to go back to sleep, again.

Oh well. What can you do? It's summer, everyone sleeps with their window open.

I took them cookies today and welcomed them to the neighborhood.

23.7.09

7 Quick Takes



1. A while ago I helped a neighbor clean up her house, and get cat diarrhea and vomit out of her rug, and fleas. Also climb over the mountains of dirty laundry to find the floor underneath. CPS was the motivation behind her needing to do it. She and the cat had been sick for some time and somehow a social worker became involved. Her kids couldn't come home until she got it clean. I got the feeling that she barely noticed the mess, or stench. I wondered how someone could possibly let things get like that, and then live with it for so long. I guess it's like the clutter that I ignore building up in the corners of my home. After a while it just seems like it belongs there. But I tell myself it doesn't matter as much, because mine doesn't stink. Well, after several days of having the Girl vomit in little splatters every time she coughs, I've taken to simply wiping it up, spraying it with pink solution, and waiting until this whole thing is over before doing a deep clean of the rug, upholstery, and occasionally even bedding. I guess anything can seem normal if you live with it long enough. Which helps me understand why extreme poverty can be so debilitating. People adapt to things, and sometimes those adaptations can be hard to undo once they are no longer necessary.

2. The hardest thing about a sick child is watching them suffer, and not being able to do anything about it. I watch as they literally stop breathing for a few seconds after a coughing fit because their diaphragm is in spasm. If I could be sick for them I would. But there's no way around suffering. The only way is to pass through it, and come out the other side. It's interesting that some of our most vivid memories of feeling love as children is in the comfort we received from our parents when we were sick. I could be building into them a memory of love and comfort in the midst of pain that may last them their entire lives, may shape who they are for eternity. That makes it a little easier to jump out of bed, again, 5 minutes after the last time I lay down.

3. Did you know delphiniums are poisonous? Do you know how many wedding cakes I've seen online decorated with blue delphiniums? I know this because the bride chose delphiniums as part of her arrangements. I was looking up the type of orchid to see if it was poisonous, and just happened to check the delphiniums as well. They can cause vomiting, and in some cases, if you ingest enough of them, death. Now all of those pretty cakes I saw are absolutely terrifying to me. I wonder how many caterers were blamed for the stomach upset that came from wedding guests eating them.

4. Another lesson from this weekend. I need to trust myself more. When I made the test cake, the icing worked out perfectly. The night I made the icing for real the GH was helping me to put it into bags to transport the next day. He kept making worried noises about how soft it felt. (He knows cake, he makes great cakes. It was he who made the ganache filling for the center. I wouldn't have even attempted it.) I was so insecure about it being too soft I bought some more icing sugar the next day and added it in. Only later did I learn that cream cheese icing slumps more and becomes less stable the more icing sugar you add. Which explains why the bottom layer started to go before I was finished. I would have done a much better job if I had only been more confident in what I knew.

5. It's fascinating to me to notice how much of my former life experiences make it easier for me to do the work I have to do now. Even though I had no idea what it was I would be doing at this stage of my life. Of course, I'm learning even more as I go along, but some parts seem custom designed to make my life easier as I figure out how to do things.

6. One of the perks of living in Southern California is fresh citrus, straight off of the tree. Especially the oranges and tangerines. So good. My kids like to make orange juice in the morning. And most days I manage to not freak out about the sticky residue all over the table after they are done. Of course, it helps that they bring me a glass of it as well. Nothing compares to fresh squeezed orange juice.

7. Number 7 was some thoughts on self discipline. It became so long once I started writing that I pulled it to make a separate post about next week. So I guess I have only 6 quick takes this week because I hear someone coughing in the next room...

This just in. It is surprisingly difficult to change the sheets on a top bunk, especially if you are trying to do it without waking the occupant of the bottom bunk. Also, there is no ladder. How on earth does he get in and out of that bed all the time? Come to our house, where even getting into bed can be an adventure. Sheesh!


7 Quick Takes is hosted by Conversion Diary.

image of oranges by Joe Shlabotnick

22.7.09

Oh I Could Never Do That.

Have you ever heard this phrase? Have you ever said it?

This interview at Conversion Diary got me thinking about this again. In the interview it's mentioned that one of the common responses they get from people who learn they are adopting two children that are HIV positive is, "I could never do that."

Granted it would seem like a huge and intimidating undertaking for many people, not impossible, but daunting. But I've heard that phrase in response to so many things.

"Oh I could never home school my kids. I don't have enough patience."

"Oh, I could never have that many children."

"Oh, I could never learn to cook."

"I could never give birth without an epidural."

"Oh, I could never sew my own clothes."

"Oh I could never live on such a small budget."

Oh I could never...

To borrow a phrase from a book a guy I know wrote, "Your vision of your life is too small."

Why do we say that?

How do we know we could never do that? Have we ever tried?

I think that the common use of this phrase is damaging to people, for two main reasons.

First, it slams the door shut on a possibility before it has been fully examined. By saying that we draw borders around our lives, and the possibilities they contain, and we draw them far too narrowly. Suppose your 4 year old child stares longingly at a concert pianist and then turns away with a sigh concluding, "I could never do that." Would you let that stand? Probably not. How do they know what they can or can't do yet? Neither do we know what our lives could or couldn't be if we place our own arbitrary limits on it.

Second, we say it out of fear and so allow fear to control us. How often have you said, "Oh I could never..." simply because the thought of trying such a thing has you scared, but you won't admit it. Perhaps you aren't supposed to. But choosing to believe that you can't, simply because the idea of stretching that far is frightening, not only limits you, but it makes you a slave to fear and doubt, rather than a person who knows they are free to make choices. Let's be honest here. Instead of saying, "I could never..." try "I don't want to...", or "I'm too lazy to..." It's at least more true, and then you are free to examine why that is if you need to.

The older I get the more I realize that extraordinary things are not accomplished by extraordinary people. They are accomplished by every day normal people whose vision of their life is large enough to make room for them to accomplish it. They are faithful, they work very hard, and they believe it is possible. I want to be like that.

So dear friends, today I exhort you to reexamine the story you tell yourself about your life. Where are you limiting yourself? What kinds of things do you routinely tell yourself you just can't do?

Let's encourage each other to stretch a bit.

21.7.09

Dear Dr. Google

My kids are coughing, a lot. The Girl coughs so hard in the middle of the night that she occasionally vomits. They are wheezing and hacking and it doesn't seem to be stopping.

So I consulted Dr. Google and here is what I have concluded they have.

Whooping Cough

The first symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a common cold.

After about 1 to 2 weeks, the dry, irritating cough evolves into coughing spells. During a coughing spell, which can last for more than a minute, the child may turn red or purple. At the end of a spell, the child may make a characteristic whooping sound when breathing in or may vomit. Between spells, the child usually feels well.

Or,

Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis most commonly occurs after an upper respiratory infection such as the common cold or a sinus infection. You may see symptoms such as fever with chills, muscle aches, nasal congestion, and sore throat.

Cough is a common symptom of bronchitis. The cough may be dry or may produce phlegm.
  • The cough may last for more than two weeks. Continued forceful coughing may make your chest and abdominal muscles sore. Coughing can be severe enough at times to injure the chest wall or even cause you to pass out.
  • Wheezing may occur because of the inflammation of the airways. This may leave you short of breath.

Or,

Croup

Croup is characterized by a harsh "barking" cough and sneeze, inspiratory stridor (a high-pitched sound heard on inhalation), vomiting, and fever.

or,

Lung Cancer

A cough that does not go away or gets worse over time.

Wheezing or hoarseness may signal blockage or inflammation in the lungs that may go along with cancer.

Repeated respiratory infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, can be a sign of lung cancer.

Obviously they are all on death's door, my poor babies. Dr. Google is the harbinger of doom. The one thing they don't have is swine flu, not enough symptoms match.

Still, it may be time to consult a real doctor.

A few pictures of the wedding.

We are recovering from a very exciting weekend. It was a lovely wedding. The kids did really well, but are still not a hundred percent in terms of health.

Here are a few photos, that I didn't take, from a friend who is faster at uploading than I.






The Bride's father has a Civil War sword that has been passed on as a family heirloom. Her grandfather cut his wedding cake with it, as well as her father, his brother, etc. They had photos of the parents and other family cutting the cake at their own wedding arranged around their cake. It was a really original idea.

It was so hot that the cream cheese icing slumped a little bit. But it didn't matter. Ten minutes after they started cutting it, the table looked like a disaster zone, and there was no cake left. I'm assuming that means people liked it. :)
I'll post the recipe and stuff on my food blog after I have a few days to catch my breath. It was an Italian Cream Cake recipe adapted with key lime zest instead of coconut, brushed with blackberry liqueur, filled with white chocolate ganache, and iced with lime flavored cream cheese icing.

16.7.09

Busy, Very, Very, Busy

I finished the flower girl dresses last night. Hooray! They look so cute. I'm sort of impressed with myself. Just don't look too close because toward the end I just fudged a bunch of places rather than finishing it properly. But you can't tell by looking.

In other news, the Boy and Girl are both coughing horribly and sound like they are drowning toward the end of long nights. I'm hoping they quit by Sunday. Otherwise I'm trying to figure out a strategy by which they walk down the aisle, it's outside, and then spirit them away so that they don't cough on everyone and everything. Which will be miserable. Boo.

The GH has been home for the past few weeks as work has slowed way down. It looks like it's only temporary, but it will make for a tighter summer than we had hoped. On the plus side, it's great to have him around, and we have gotten so much of the paper work and planning done for the next phase of The Charis Project. He's taken the kids swimming every day as well, which means they are all better swimmers than they were a week ago, he's that good at teaching them. And he's great at zesting limes.

Today I do the prep work for making enough cake to feed 200 people. That includes zesting 8 whole bags of key limes and juicing half of them. I will be thinking of nothing but cake for the next 3 days.

I'll be forced to take a break though, because Friday night we have dinner plans, and Saturday night is the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. In a way this is perfect, because then I can just focus on cake, not cooking. But there are those pesky details of grooming children and driving places to deal with. Sunday I will hopefully turn all this yummy stuff into something pretty as well. I promised it would taste great,which is does. I made no guarantees about appearance. Making food pretty is the gene that passed from my mother to my sister, and only barely grazed me as it passed by. Wish me luck.

Hope you all have a great weekend. I promise I will try to get good pictures of everything so you can see ours.

10.7.09

One Thousand Gifts-Week 25



Okay so really, it's hardly accurate to call this week 25 since there were those two months that I completely missed, but for the sake of chronology, and ease of titling, just pretend with me. Alright?

  • The GH has this way of looking up from what he's doing whenever I walk by, looking me in the eye, and smiling at me in a heart melting, knee weakening sort of way.
  • Little is talking up a storm these days. Everything she does is accompanied by a constant stream of chatter. I have some favorite phrases things I will be very sad to have gone when she starts saying them correctly. "Me wuv you mama, ahso, too!" for example. Or, "No, me do it my big giwl sewf." (That's "me do it my big girl self" for those of you who don't speak toddler.) Also, "ME DID IT!"
  • Sunday school teachers taking time to pull me aside and marvel at how well my children play together, how kind they are to each other. I marvel as well, and continue to be grateful for such a gift, to them as well as to me.
  • The Girl has cleaned out my gift wrap closet. She keeps taking out gift bags and tissue and wrapping up her favorite things to give to her friends. If I allowed it I think she might be without toys and clothes altogether. She gets such joy out of it. I do my best to not chide her over using up all of my gift wrapping supplies.
  • The long chunks of time when the Boy sits and reads to himself, still a little bit out loud so I can overhear, The Chronicles of Narnia books, or the Wizard of Oz.
  • The kissable curve of a toddler's cheek.
  • Smiling blue eyes in a 3 month old baby boy's face.
  • Kites flying at the beach.
  • The Boy on a boogie board, trying, and sometimes succeeding, at catching the gentler waves near the beach.
  • The kindness of friends.
  • The gift of noticing something lovable in a person that I hadn't seen before.
  • A dip in the pool toward the end of a long sweaty day.
  • Kisses and whispered conferences with Little in the early morning as we try to convince each other that we ought to get up. (Some days I don't want to, some days she doesn't.)
  • The scent of magnolia flowers.
  • The bits of paper that litter the table and floor at the end of a day with the Girl spent making paper dolls. A sign of time well spent, of a home well used, of a life being lived.

The gratitude community is here.

8.7.09

Update-Children's Home


As you know, in June I announced that we needed sponsors for the kids at our children's home in Northern Thailand that we support through The Charis Project. We did not reach our goal of 80 sponsors by the end of June. But we do have a lot more than we started with. And thanks to many generous one time donations as well we have enough to keep things running for another 2 months!

We have no answers yet regarding a new location, but we at least have a bit more time.

Thank-you, all of you for your generous support and for helping to spread the word.

We are extending the sponsorship drive for another month to try and get to 80 before the end of July.

2.7.09

If I were a better blogger...

...I would post every day to start with. Not these fits and gaps that I've been doing. Seriously, has it been 6 days since I last posted? It seems like yesterday.

...I would pick up on the frugal trend lately and post about how to patch holes in clothing, as I have been doing, or turn pants into shorts when they get too short.

...I could start a how to make a wedding cake series, complete with pictures tips and recipes. I would be showing you the test taste that is right now cooling on the table so that I can experiment with the blackberry flavored white chocolate ganache between the layers of the key lime flavored Italian Cream Cake. And I would show you pictures of the fresh flower decorations and icing bags and all.

...I would be letting my readers in on the walk through the gospel of Matthew that I've been taking with my mentoree the past few months. I could write a weeks worth of posts alone on what we discuss every Sunday over tea. My favorite moment was two weeks ago when we reached the end and she said, "I didn't really expect it to be that interesting."

...I would show you how I'm sewing sashes and underlay to two Target sundresses to make them the cutest flower girl dresses ever.

...(I could show you the other sundresses I plan to make, but I haven't had time yet.)

...I could put up a picture of the bunk beds the GH built for the kids and I painted, and the princess curtains in progress on the bottom bunk for the Girl.

...I would put more pictures in my posts.

...I would find time to read all of yours and leave comments.

Alas, I am a very bad blogger, and don't expect to improve any time soon. I can't figure out how to do all that stuff, and still have time to write about it. Thank you all for sticking with me any way. I'm off to ice a cake.

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