Holy Gratitude

June 27, 2011

I have had the honor and privilege to co-lead a Women’s Co-Dependency group through our church’s recovery ministry for the last nine months or so.  It has been amazing to see these women – some of whom are quite broken, others who just feel a bit stuck –  come together each week to work through curriculum, bare their souls to each other, and form a community to aid in their healing and recovery from unhealthy relational patterns.

This kind of thing is my cup of tea.

I have always felt a bit out of place in the group.  I’m significantly younger than most of the women.  I have a loving husband and three great kids.  I am not in a place of crisis. I have, however, walked some hard and lonely and frightening roads in years past as I struggled with anxiety and depression.  At first I really felt like, “Who am I to think I can help these women?  What do I know?  What experiences have I been through that can compare to many of theirs?”  But they have graciously received me and accepted my presence and leadership.  And I have come to a vague sense of peace that, while I haven’t gone through horrendous, traumatic circumstances, I’ve had enough pain to have empathy.  I got healthier myself, and broke free from distorted thinking, and I believe God has called me to share some of that with these dear souls.

My gladness for my blessed life, and the way God has protected me in so many ways from evil became painfully apparent again this last week.

We were going through the section in our book about “Distorted Sexuality,” talking about the ways that our bodies have been used by others, or choices we’ve made to use our own bodies in unrighteous ways.  As I did my homework before the class, I thought and I prayed.  And I had nothing to write on the blank lines of this chapter.

Praise God.  He knows that I’ve messed plenty of things up in my life, but this area has remained whole and untarnished. Dave and I have enjoyed a faithful marriage and all that entails.  I was protected and cherished as I child. And I am so grateful.

But it was a hard experience that night, listening to the tearful confessions of regret about sexual choices, and worse, the damage inflicted upon many of these women when they were just children.  The resulting shame and misery have left scars on these dear women, and as much as I am grateful for my clean past, I felt like an intruder that night.

The group is so safe that I don’t think anyone resented my lack of vulnerability in this area.  There was nothing to be vulnerable about!  When I expressed my conflicted feelings, they assured me that they wished beyond anything that they could have the same claim to purity.  Of course they did.  It is a gift.

And it’s a gift that has been highlighted for me since last week.  I feel a stronger bond to my loving husband, and gratefulness for our marriage.  I feel more tenderly toward my children, knowing that thus far, they have been sheltered from that particular brand of damage to their hearts and bodies.  And I have a holy gratitude toward our good God, who is a good God to these women too, redeeming their lives, making all things new.  I’m glad to be part of the process of joining with them on that courageous journey.

Praying Mantis Hope

June 23, 2011

Our youngest daughter is a budding entomologist. She loves all sorts of creepy crawlies and saved up her own money this spring to purchase a pod of praying mantis eggs. After six weeks of anticipation, the things finally hatched. Hundreds of mantids were scurrying out, and I bravely captured a dozen or so, which we placed in separate jars. A few have died, a few were generously given away to other bug-loving pals, but we still have five of the little critters. They have all molted at least once, and some have now molted twice.

They really are fascinating creatures.

I was watching one just this morning as I drank my coffee, (I fully acknowlege my nerdiness) and realized that he was in the very process of molting. It was truly bizarre. This tiny, tan mantis hung upside down and slowly, painstakingly began wriggling down out of his old skin to emerge, bright green and slightly translucent, and nearly twice as big. The old skin remained behind, completely intact, just empty.

Like in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, when the children note that the stable is bigger inside than out. Well, sort of like that.

As I watched I noticed that he would wiggle a little way out, then rest, just swaying slightly as he seemed to gather up the energy for another wiggle. The first set of legs (the “praying” ones) emerged first. As each new limb struggled its way out of the old shell, he would wave it around experimentally, then be still, waiting and working on his job: to be totally free of the old skin.

Once he was out, he seemed clumsy and awkward, probably not used to his new big self.

If anyone is still reading this rambling description, thank you for indulging me.

I couldn’t help but to slip into an allegorical mindset as I watched this little guy’s transformation. My life has seemed a bit harder than usual recently, with many (frightening) attempts to “do the next right thing,” only to have no apparent success. Every venture has felt like seeing an open doorway through which I should walk, only to have the door slammed in my face as I got near it.

Mixing metaphors, I am. Back to the mantis:

What if these struggles are like God’s plan to have me emerge, failing in what I thought He planned for me to do, but bigger, stronger, and cooler once I press through? What if He put these trials in my life not to have me sail through, small and triumphant, but to change me through the pain to emerge a different sort of Leanne? A more trusting, peaceful Leanne. A Leanne with a faith that has been enlarged and stretched, albeit painfully, with times of resting and regrouping. A Leanne who comes out fragile and clumsy at first, but when her new skin hardens up and she gets used to her new limbs, she is so much more effective than before in catching juicy fruit flies to feast on…?

Okay, eventually all metaphors break down. But hopefully you get the picture of my anagogic observation of a molting praying mantis.

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A Slight Lament

June 21, 2011

There’s probably some blogging rule that you shouldn’t write a lament post after a several-months-long hiatus from blogging.  But, here it is.

We just took our house off the market.  After an average of four showings a week, before each of which I neurotically cleaned and made sure the house was perfect, we got one offer that was rescinded after two days.  The stress and emotional upheaval, the fear of not finding a townhome that worked for us in our community, and the uncertainty about the future was tough, to say the least. I was getting especially tired of the many trips (fleeing the house as potential buyers came to inspect) with our dog Piper breathing hot dog breath down my neck and shedding copious amounts of fur in our minivan.

We finally had to accept the fact that this market is terrible, and even when we dropped the price super low, no nibbles.  So, we’re staying.

And we’re happy to stay.  We love the house!  We just aren’t sure quite how we can afford it.

After 12 years of being a stay-at-home mom,  I was hoping to get a job at a preschool nearby.  Well, after sending my transcript to a local college to see about equivalencies with California State Requirements for being an Early Childhood Education provider, I found out today that, no, none of the coursework I did at Wheaton College in attaining my degree in Christian Education will suffice.  I am a little frustrated.

I do have other ideas for becoming gainfully employed, but I thought that teaching preschool, while not something I want to do for a lifelong career, would be a great job to work part-time while my kids are all in school next year.  It would feel more significant than selling junk in some retail store, and I truly love the preschool years of discovery and learning and personality formation.  I delight in them.  And I can still recite Piaget’s theories about cognitive development and rattle off Erik Erikson’s stages of development.  And I’ve raised three children and worked in all ages of Kids’ Ministry at church for years.  But no, I’m not certified to teach preschool.  Sheesh.

I’m also lamenting that the winds of change are blowing.  The fact that I am able to look for work, since Bridget will no longer be in preschool or half-day kindergarten, is a new thing.   My identity has been stay-at-home-mother-of-young-children for so long.  I’ve been fortunate to be able to stay home with the kids full time.  But, finances are tight and it sure would help for me to be working.  Still, the insecurities of what I can contribute and if anyone would want to hire me weigh heavily on my heart.  And change of any kind sort of freaks me out.

There it is: the grumbling, complaining lament of a mom who isn’t all that badly off in the grand scheme of life.  But that’s the reality, and I wanted to blog about it.

A “Sick” Dad

March 29, 2011

Last week Dave was asked to do a presentation for Lucy’s 6th grade English class. They’ve devoted the entire month of March to learning about “healthy living,” and Lucy’s wonderful, energetic teacher asked Dave to talk about living simply. Other parents have come in throughout the month to speak about their various vocations like dentistry, massage therapy, and financial management.

Most people remember middle school as a painfully awkward time, and Dave felt the burden of speaking to Lucy and her classmates in a fashion that would not embarrass her or shipwreck her social life forever. In fact, I think he was more nervous about this particular talk than any of the presentations he done for crowds of over 100 adults. He practiced, he fretted, he created a power point.

Lucy seemed pretty confident in Dave’s ability. She’s proud of her dad. In fact, she compared him to a previous guest speaker who she said “was kind of dorky, not cool like Daddy.” (How cute is that?)

Dave did fine. Lucy informed him when she got home from school that everyone in her English class told her that they really liked her dads’ presentation. In fact, I think he may have received the highest compliment of his career to date. A boy with whom she also has math class during the last period of the school day made a special point of pulling her aside and saying, “Your dad is sick.”

Translation for those of us that are no longer cool and young: really neat and impressive.

Silly

March 4, 2011

Just a quick little post to recount two cute things Bridget said this week:

“But I want yellow eggs and ham!”  (Said after I cleverly added green food coloring to the scrambled eggs on Dr. Seuss’s birthday.  She originally was enthusiastic about me making green eggs and ham, but the sight of the greenness freaked her out.)

“You know, I’m kind of a tom cat.” (Said in the context of explaining that she likes to play with boys.  I think she meant tom boy, but how cute is that?  Tom cat!)

Stories and Snuggling

March 2, 2011

I am a reasonably affectionate person. I must say, though, that it is not really my personality bent to hug friends excessively.  I’m not averse to giving friends a hug when I see them, but I really don’t need a hug from people, if you know what I mean.

With my children, it is a lot easier to give plenty of hugs and touches.   Human development classes  and child-rearing books reiterate how important, even crucial it is to give plenty of physical affection to children.  I’m realizing though, that the older my children get, it feels a little less natural and comfortable to grab them and hug, nuzzle their cheeks, kiss their foreheads.  My little Bridget?  I can hardly keep from constantly sweeping her up in my arms to hug and tickle and squeeze.  But Lucy, my sweet, lovely 12-year-old… well, it just doesn’t flow as naturally.  She’s just about as tall as me.  It just feels different. And yet I know it’s still so important.

Recently, I’ve hit upon a good way to ensure that plenty of snuggling happens.  Reading aloud, side-by-side, on her bed with a blanket tucked around both of us.

Lucy is an amazing reader.  The child devours books like a flame devours a dry stick of wood.  But, who really gets too old or sophisticated to not enjoy being read to?  So, I’ve been reading the Jonathan Rogers’ Wilderking Trilogy to her recently. Right now we’re on the third installment, The Way of the Wilderking.

She loves this time.  And I do too.  She is resentful and annoyed if one of her sisters comes in while we’re reading.  “This is Mom and me time,” she informs them airily if they intrude.

Not only is this cozy, slow-down and snuggle time, but the content of this good story is helping us to connect in new ways too.

We recently listed our house for sale and Lucy, of all the kids, is the most reluctant to move.  She dislikes change, she loves having her own room, she worries about the future.  So, while I read aloud and come across passages like, “You do what you have to do.  We all do.  Life in the canyons isn’t what I had expected, but it’s a very good life in its way,” Lucy and I look at each other meaningfully and talk about how this truth applies to our lives.  In the book, the silly and profound and hilarious character of Dobro, a “feechie” in the story (I can’t explain, just read the book!) keeps retelling an old feechie tale that ends with the words “Time to leave these neighborhoods.”  Lucy and I have begun saying this to each other whenever selling-the- house-talk comes up, or when we’ve looked at some townhomes we might try to purchase.  It’s softened the blow, a bit, to have this shared story to laugh about and apply this little saying to our situation.

The power of Story!  And the magic of snuggling!  Even snuggling a somewhat-awkward-but-still-awesome-kid-who’s-nearly-a-teenager.

New Adventure!

February 28, 2011

We listed our house to sell last Thursday.  This was a really sudden occurrence.  We’ve been doing the Dave Ramsey budget for several months, and knew our financial situation was tight, but until February 13th, I hadn’t really considered this idea.  (Dave confessed to me that he’s been thinking of it for some time, but was a little nervous to suggest it to me.)  Well, I did shed some tears thinking about it.  I love our home.  It’s big and bright and in a cul-de-sac and I’ve finally gotten all the rooms painted and situated and my little garden is well established in our tiny back yard.  I love our location and our neighbors and just about everything about this place.

But that’s the reality: it’s just a place.  A place where we live and laugh and eat and clean and fight and carry on our daily lives.  Really, we can do that anywhere.

And I’m so happy that we are not in a position of foreclosure, or needing to do a short sale.  We bought our home nine years ago in our fledgling little community and it’s worth more today than it was back then.  Not many of our friends can say the same.  We’re looking to downsize to a town home in our same community, and (God willing and the numbers work out) pay a lot less for our monthly mortgage and have some money in the bank.  Worth it?  No question.

That’s not to say I haven’t had some more tears.  Grief over this “necessary ending.”  And fear about how things will work out.  (Will our house really sell?  And when?  And will we be able to find a townhome that will work for our family?  And will the timing work out??)  But all in all, I’ve been peaceful.  I’m praying God’s blessing on this endeavor.  And somehow, I’m seeing my sweet children and my dear husband in a more poignant, cherishing sort of light.  We are what matters, not where we live.  I keep thinking of that verse  “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.”  (Luke 12:48)  How much I have been given!  Healthy, great kids.  Loving marriage.  Sound mind (most of the time. ;))  How can I not trust that God will provide abundantly what we need in this time?

So that’s where we’re at.  If you’re looking for a great home, let me know!  🙂

Guinea Pigs, Revisited

January 21, 2011

Some longtime readers of this humble blog may remember an incident I had with our guinea pigs a couple of years ago.

I have had another guinea pig experience that rates much higher.

Ebony is our beloved black guinea pig.  She is sweet and very tame.  She is happy to sit in your lap, especially if you have a sprig of parsley for her to munch on, and just let you pet her.  Often, she lets out little cooing noises of pleasure when you stroke her back.  I love this piggy.  (Almost to the point where Dave and others have questioned my sanity.  That is the level of affection I have for her.)

So a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed that she seemed poorly, I was concerned.  She didn’t want to be pet.  She squealed in discomfort if I touched her.  And she was constantly scratching herself, to the point where her skin was all gross and flaky looking, and her hair was falling off.  And she was hardly eating anything.  Pitiful, indeed.

Now, as much as I love her, I wasn’t about to fork out the money (and psychological well-being) to take her to the exotic pet veterinarian.  I don’t have the money.  And even if I did, I don’t know that it’s morally appropriate to spend hundreds on a rodent.

So, I did what everyone does when in doubt. I did a google search and diagnosed her myself.  Mites.  I was sure of it.  How and where she got them, who knows?  But how to treat them? Well, that became clear.

I went to the feed store and bought a $6 tube of ivermectin.  It’s a horse medication for parasites or something.  The dosage was for a 1250 pound animal.  Obviously, I needed to do some serious math.

I borrowed a kitchen scale from my culinary neighbor.  I weighed sweet little Ebony (in a container, of course!) and found her to be 478 grams.  With sweat beads breaking out on my forehead, I carefully did the math division problem and titrated down a fraction of the gooey paste meant for a huge horse.  Even this fraction was way too much, so I diluted it with vegetable oil and carefully squirted two tiny drops in her mouth.  (All I read on the internet warned me that an overdose could be fatal.)

And then I watched her.  She seemed the same, but she was still alive by that night so I thought the dose was okay.

And now this is really going on and on and even I am getting bored of the story.  So here’s the upshot.  She’s doing great!  Skin is healing up!  She gained more than 25 grams in 2 days.  She’s no longer furiously itching herself.  And she’s scarfing down her food and timothy hay and fruits and veggies in  alarmingly large quantities.

And I have to admit: that was a satisfying, cheap accomplishment.

Stories and Soul-Work

January 10, 2011

It’s been said and discussed so many times, and by so many more eloquent people than I, but it bears repeating: stories, the right kind of stories,  are so fabulous for growing character and enriching the soul.

I’ve been reading aloud the Chronicles of Narnia to Bridget recently.  (I’m also reading a book series aloud with Lucy – The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers [highly recommended] and we’re reading the Harry Potter series aloud with Phoebe.  Although Dave usually beats me to the punch with that read-aloud.  In fact, he’s reading it to her now, even as I type!)

As I was saying, I’m reading the Chronicles to Bridget and she loves them.

We just finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader last week and as I read a section near the very end I had to pause and wipe a few tears away.  Why?  Reepicheek.   This valiant, chivalrous, heroic Talking Mouse had spent the days of his life always ready with his sword to challenge injustice or to protect someone’s honor.  This noble Mouse, as he prepared to go on alone in his tiny coracle in search of Aslan’s country, “took off his sword (‘I shall need it no more,’ he said) and flung it far away across the lilied sea.”

Bridget was listening with rapt attention.  It was an interesting part of the story.  But I was nearly undone.  I think in my life, sheltered and blessed though it’s been, I’ve seen enough pain and misery and heartache to more fully grasp that idea that the Land we’re all seeking will be one where swords are no longer needed, safety and honor and dignity and peace will prevail.  And that longing… how does C.S. Lewis capture it in so few words, so simply?  So profoundly?

Though Bridget was not shaken by this idea like her blubbering mommy was, I hope and trust that the idea of the courageous Reepicheek no longer needing his sword in Aslan’s country will stick with her. She already beautifully grasps the notion of Aslan being a sort of Christ-figure.  And again, these stories are helping to shape her idea of what this God is like.

We’re on to The Silver Chair. Jill and Eustace and Puddleglum have “muffed” three Signs so far, Signs that Aslan Himself gave Jill at the onset of their quest.  I closed the book after finishing the chapter where they’ve arrived in Harfang, the giant’s castle, and asked Bridget what she thought of it all.  (I really try NOT to spoon feed my children these notions.)  She said, “I think Aslan is going to come to them.  And He’s going to say it really kindly.  But it’s going to be bad.”

How much more is she grasping the fact that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen His glory…full of grace and truth”  (John 1:14), than if I had tried to sit down and explain that verse to her?

Few things fire me up like learning soul lessons through a good story.

Our littlest daughter, Bridget, is coming into her own.  She’s been a feisty little one since her birth, lo these five and a half years ago.  She started Kindergarten this fall and has become quite artsy and crafty, loving her newfound skills of writing and drawing and creating.  She had a blast during the Christmas season, making cards for anyone she could think of in her room at night, or ornaments, or decorations.

Well, Christmas is over and the void in her soul from the need to create needed to be filled.  So, she’s started celebrating Valentine’s Day, a little early.

And, she and I worked all morning to make a new Valentine’s Day outfit for her dolly.  She’s also clutching a beloved toy dragon that she got for Christmas.  (And she looks kind of disheveled here; I am aware of this.  This photo was taken during

that delicate stage in between “I took a bath and got my hair washed” and “Mom attacked my hair to make it look presentable before school.”)