Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Let your girls be ladies.

So, this is a relatively easy one for me. I am the mother of a VERY feminine, VERY girly, VERY estrogen-driven female. (I am bracing myself for the testosterone that is coming in March.) Girliness comes easily to Abi. She is completely and totally afraid of all things reptilian or with antennae, never had to be told not to stick something in a light socket, and hasn't eaten a single stick or blade of grass in her entire life.

She's SUCH a girl.

And while it's easy to raise a girl like Abi in a million ways, I am also acutely aware that she is constantly watching me, patterning herself after me in ways that often frighten me. And this fact causes me to be more vigilant about training her to be a lady on purpose.

I love the picture above. For one thing, I am SO TIRED of one gender or the other being blamed for the downfall of our society's values and ethics. When God put man and woman in the Garden, He told THEM, as in male AND female, to be fruitful and multiply... told THEM to work together... told THEM to rule and have dominion in the earth. So, women-- to blame men for the world's problems is only 50% of the story. And men-- vice versa.

I am all about parenting on purpose. Yes, there are many moments just "caught" that our children get by the natural ebb and flow of a household living together. However, there is nothing worthy of "catching" if the parents' core values and beliefs aren't lining up with the Word of God... the ULTIMATE Old School. Here's the part where many of my more "new school" readers will tune me out, stomp their feet in protest, and think I came from the Dark Ages.

I'm okay with that. ;-)

Parents, if you're raising a daughter, please hear me out.

While I am all, and I mean ALL about raising my daughter to be equal to any man, I am VERY aware that she is not capable of doing the same things he can do. I am aware that even though she is strong, decisive, and brilliant, there are some things that God naturally designed her to default to a man for... to let him lead her in many ways. This is not about finding her a gender appropriate job-- if she for some bizarre reason wants to be a mechanic, more power to her. We'll send her to the best mechanic school on the planet. (However, I am totally convinced a woman shouldn't be President... so sue me.) This is about cultivating female qualities inside her. Making her into a true lady, whether she is a teacher, a race care driver (please, Lord, no), a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker.

So what qualities should we bring forth in our young ladies? What are the morals and cores that we hope she catches from us? What are we preparing her to be?

Humility. This is a virtue sadly misunderstood by the world as a whole. We take humility to mean being beaten down, oblivious to our strengths, and always taking the backseat to someone else's desires or wishes. Not the case at all. Humility is simply the art of knowing that even though you ARE all that and a bag of chips, you don't have to prove it to anyone. Your life itself will show how awesome you are. Humility is a mom choosing to stay home and rear her children, though she has a college degree on her wall. Humility is wiping up vomit from the bathroom floor and washing it from the hair of a sleepy two year old, even though Daddy slept right through it. Humility is a homecooked meal in the evening, even though both parents worked just as hard that day. Humility is a heart felt apology, even when she knows she's right. Humility is admitting you're not physically strong enough to move the entertainment center by yourself and asking your husband for help. It's knowing your strengths and being very familiar with your weaknesses. Humility is a crowning jewel of any confident woman.

Modesty. A friend of mine recently sent me a message on facebook, telling me she was buying underwear for her daughter... a little girl, size 5/6. She found underwear in that tiny little girl size that said, "Girls Rule, Boys Drool" on them. SERIOUSLY? Why in the HECK should a 5/6 year old's underwear say ANYTHING other than the days of the week? I'll tell you why. Society is programming our daughters to showcase their bodies instead of their beauty. They are teaching our girls from kindergarten that there's no harm in being "confident" (which isn't really confidence if you have to flaunt it, btw) in your sexuality... no repercussions for being precocious and mature beyond her years. I may be in the 1% of people who feel this way (and again, I'm okay with that), but I have a problem with sweatpants that have writing on the butt that girls wear in public! Why is it ok to dress my daughter, whether she's 5 or 17 in clothing that draw attention to her rear end or her breasts? Wise up, parents! It's the "little foxes" that spoil the vine. I'm not saying we dress our girls like they live on a cultish compound, nor am I saying we shouldn't teach them to be confident with their body image. What I AM saying is that a modest girl or woman doesn't need to advertise what's underneath those clothes! Leave something for boys to wonder about! If we can instill in our girls where true beauty comes from, she won't need to have the word PINK written on her butt when she goes to Wal-Mart. She'll turn heads by the way she treats the cashier or thanks the pharmacist. Which takes me to the next virtue...

Thankfulness. Kids complain-- ALL. THE. TIME. And about everything. This isn't fair, that's not fair, she got more than me, he's being rude to be, I hate my teacher, school is stupid, this is cheesy... I HATE COMPLAINING. And I do not tolerate it. When Abi tries to complain (which isn't often because we don't foster this environment in our home), we immediately thrust the responsibility on her to do two things. 1- Find something to be thankful about in that situation, and 2- Be a part of the solution. Fostering an atmosphere of negativity and complaint fosters entitlement mentalities, and takes the joy right out of life. Where do we get this idea that life can only be enjoyed if all the stars line up correctly? I love the verse found in Ecclesiastes that says, "If you wait for perfect conditions, you'll never get anything done." A heart of unthankfulness makes us think we can't enjoy life unless A+B =C. Sometimes A+B= X and we must find ways to be thankful in any equation. If thankfulness is missing from your daughter's life (or son's or YOURS), be thankful on PURPOSE. MAKE yourself notice the simple things that you tend to breeze by and then point them out to your children, outloud. Trees, flowers, cooler weather, a clean house, hot food on the table, and freedom to worship God as we choose. Talked about those things lately?

Manners. Okay, seriously. MANNERS, PEOPLE. First of all, you can't expect your daughter to have manners if you're calling her a stupid idiot, or telling her to shut up. Practice what you preach. I blog about this alot, I know. But I can tell you from both sides of the equation how much manners matter... both as an educator for ten years and as a parent. GREAT FAVOR is given to children who exemplify a heart of kindness and consideration toward others. "Yes, ma'am," "No, sir," and "Hi, Mr. Tommy" are ways that apparantly just cavemen spoke. Lately, two children have asked Abi why she says, "Yes, ma'am" while talking to me. That makes me sad. Our children are CERTAINLY equal to us as humans, and CERTAINLY in the eyes of God. Their value is equal to the oldest person alive. But they are NOT our peers, and we're not teaching them to "respect their elders..." Especially in the way they speak to us. End of story.

Diligence. Recently, I walked into Abi's room to find her clothes strewn out in about five different directions. I said to her, "I do not mind picking up your clothes for you. IF you're willing to pay me 50 cents for every piece I pick up." Needless to say, I didn't pick up any clothes. Oh, you know the moments. Your kid is in Publix with you. She gets a box of cereal and runs up to you with it... "Mom, can we get this cereal?" You say no. She sticks it on the nearest shelf. Not a big deal, or so it seems. However, diligence says we put it back where it belongs because someone will have to. Or, she gets home and kicks her shoes off in front of the TV, where they stay all evening. When it's time for the bedtime cleanup, you're tempted to pick her shoes up and put them near the door where they belong. Diligence says, "Please put your shoes by the door so you know where they are in the morning." Or, come homework time, and the complaining begins. A "typical" response is to let her grumble because, after all... what kid loves homework? Diligence says, "If you'd like to complain, that's fine. When you've finished this page, I'm going to toss it in the trash and let you try it all again. And we'll do this over and over until you can do it without complaining." Sounds tough, I know. But fact is, one day we won't be available to pick up shoes and monitor attitudes. We've got to get them trained both inside AND out by then.

The ability to love her man. This topic alone could go on all day. But I'll be succinct. Teaching her how to attract him into her life and let the bugs drop where they lay. Teaching her to rely on her man without being codependent on him. Teaching her to be weak so he can be strong. Teaching her WHEN to be strong. Teaching her to care for her home, his castle. Teaching her to build him up with her words. Teaching her how to cook so she'll knock him off his feet and win his heart in the process. Teaching her how to let him chase her... how to actually draw the chase OUT of him toward her. Teaching her how to put her foot down when she needs to. Teaching her how to partner with him and walk alongside him but at the right times letting him take the lead. Teaching her to love him- heart, soul, body, and with her very life.

Of course there's more. The scope of womanhood encompasses so many emotions and so many roles. But back to the original picture at the top of this post.

By training our ladies to be ladies... even if that means she climbs trees in her spare time, we are training her to naturally cause the men around her to step into their rightful roles as gentlemen. Her inward beauty will evoke the best from him. Oprah Winfrey once said, "We teach people how to treat us." Parents, here's our wake up call. Train your young ladies to live their lives so that the thugs and wanna-bes that will try to catch her heart will merely fall to the wayside as she moves forward in her womanhood. If we train her to BE the right person, she will DRAW the right person to her.

It's really that simple. Honest.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lessons From Infertility

Alot of you who follow this blog know our story. Some of you have been with me since day one of my journey with Rod, some sixteen years ago. However, most of you aren't familiar with the road we've traveled.

Today, for some reason, I knew it was time to tell the story.

Rodrick and I started dating in August of 1995. We got engaged in February of '96, and married on November 9, 1996. It was the beginning of a beautiful thing. After being married for a year, we decided we were ready to have children.

We had no idea what would come next.

When you get married, you give little thought to "what happens if we don't get pregnant?". It never even entered my mind. Not for a second. So you can imagine when, after one year of trying flew by, and there was no baby, I was a little surprised. Year two rolls by, and I was concerned. Year three, and I was panicked.

This is the part where most people say, "Why didn't you do something medically by then?" Our lives were busy, to say the least. We were full-time youth and children's pastors, and our house was literally a rotating door of teenagers all the time. We were not "prepared" for infertility, because it was kinda just a given that we'd have kids because we were kid crazy. Life moves on. And really, it took three years before the reality hit me.

We were dealing with infertility.

Oh yes, I went to doctors for my yearly check ups. I'd tell them my symptoms and concerns, and how I was worried about the fact that we had no baby after trying for three years. The response, without fail, was "You're young. You've got time."

Almost seven years into our marriage, we (I) finally mustered the courage to begin fertility research, to dig deeply into why this wasn't happening on its own. Rod had his tests. My first appointment was scheduled. A few days before, I decided to take a pregnancy test, to skip a step, as I knew before we proceeded, they'd want to know if I was pregnant or not. I peed on the stick. Turned the shower on. Grabbed my towel. Glanced at the test.

There. Were. Two. Lines.

I'm pretty sure I sank to the floor. Two lines. TWO LINES. And here she is.

Three months after Abi was born, we decided to start trying again. Hoping and assuming it would happen easier this time, we ran into parenthood raising a newborn daughter and believing God for a sibling for her to grow up with. Well, the same story takes place in this second act. Months turn into years and we found ourselves seven years down the road again, and no new baby. We make the doctor's appointment. A trusted friend and mentor of mine asked me, "What month are you wanting to be pregnant by?" I said, "I can wrap my heart around July."

We go to the doc. He looks at records, does his own assessments, and decides to put us on Clomid (an ovulatory drug). Month one, no baby. He discusses with us that if nothing happens by the third month, he will refer us to another specialist. Second month, double the dosage. I wake up one morning, knowing I needed to take a test.

There were two lines. TWO LINES. AGAIN.

It was July 5. And here HE is.

For most of the world, fertility is as natural as breathing. It's 1+1=2. For the other part of the world, the lows of infertility are unspeakable. This is a foreign world to most of you, so on behalf of those struggling, can I educate you for a few minutes?

Here's the deal.

When people you love are around you, rejoicing in their conceptions and welcoming new lives into the world, you want to rejoice. But you want to run. And scream. And punch them. And rejoice. All at the same time.

When the holidays roll around and Christmas cards of chubby babies in Santa hats come to your mailbox, you want to rip your mailbox out of the ground.

A man and a woman are a FAMILY. They are no less a family than a "family" with 5 kids. Children do not define a family unit... the marriage union does.

When people tell you they're pregnant, and they apologize for being so, it doesn't help matters at all. Do not apologize for being pregnant. You did nothing wrong. And please send the desiring mom the invitation to the baby shower (if she is your friend), as awkward as it sounds. People who have a hard time getting pregnant don't want to be made exceptions to the rule. Avoiding them, refraining from talking about the baby, and pretending you aren't excited about your coming arrival only makes the struggling woman feel even more of the "odd one out." Just be normal.

Never, ever, EVER ask someone who has been married a while, "Are you guys not going to have children?" Or, "So, when's a baby coming?" Your intentions are good, I know. But really. That's one of those questions that may not have a pleasant answer. It's like rubbing salt in a wound everytime a person struggling with conceiving has to answer it. Because there's no answer. I cried MANY times after that question was asked, in my car or bed, after the fact.

Avoid phrases like, "Well, it must not be God's will for you to have children." SERIOUSLY? Another terrible thing to say is, "You can always adopt." Adoption is not a runner up option. It's not a consolation prize. It is beautiful and wonderful, and believe me... if someone "needs" to adopt, they know it, so you don't have to give them that option.

Mother's Day is hard. If you're CLOSE to someone, send them a note. Otherwise, just walk away from that. It's just one of the 365 that aren't easy to get through if you're struggling.

Don't assume since someone isn't a parent yet (or ever) that they need to borrow your children. Babysitting is one thing, and most are glad to offer it. But your children are not their children, and "loaning them" to them is not filling the emotional hole in them.

Encourage-- don't harass-- them. Special Bible verses, handwritten cards, and sweet texts now and then will really lift their emotions. But don't see them as a charity case. They need empathy, not sympathy.

If they want to give up, let them. They will most likely come back around in their own time. Some days are easy, and some are extremely difficult. It's a roller coaster ride. And not a fun one. Sometimes there's cotton candy at the end and sometimes there's nada. Zilch. Nothing.

Those who have struggled with infertility see stretch marks, ligament pains, morning sickness, and uncomfy kicks as reminders of God's favor. And when you say things like, "Whew, I'm glad that stage is over for me," it really does sting. Because for those of us who struggled, we longed for what you had day in and day out. It's something that once we have it, we don't take it for granted.

Not long ago, I was in Atlanta with our youth on a retreat. In the CNN building, I saw this monument. And though it was honoring the military, I found its truth to be paralleled to what infertility feels like.

Am I saying those of us who dealt with infertility and then had a baby or two love our children more than those of you who got pregnant effortlessly? Absolutely not. Am I saying our children are worth more? Definitely no. Let me close with this truth.

If you've ever fought for something- for love, for a job you want, for freedom, for a baby... the price you've paid carries GREAT weight in the understanding you have of the value of that prize. So, when you're complaining about running from soccer to ballet to Scouts to football, please remember. Someone near you would give anything to make those drives in the evenings or get up with a crying baby in the early morning hours. Someone close by would give all their earthly possessions to have to deal with the snotty noses and snotty attitudes that make you want to get on a boat and sail far away. Someone right around the corner would love to be able to snap their fingers and hear, "MOOOOOM, LOOOOOOK!!!!!!!" five hundred and eighty-seven times in three hours.

I was that girl.

To all of you who are struggling-- my heart is full for you.

And I get it.