Monday, May 16, 2011

I'm Hearing Voices!

Profound thoughts happen while in the bathroom.

Have you ever noticed this?  Tonight, while brushing my teeth, I began to hear voices.  But before you send over a squad from the local nuthouse, let me explain.

I noticed the new tube of toothpaste I had just set on the sink and could just imagine my three-year-old, Judah, asking as he cocked his head, “What?  You got a new one of these to clean your teeth with?”.  Next, I glanced over to the lion and frog hooded towels still damp from tonight’s bath and could hear the boy’s laughter as they debated between who’s turn it was to be the frog (most favorite) and who had to be the lion (again…somehow the LITTLE brother is the lion 99% of the time, hmm).  I smiled ruefully at the half empty Kleenex box as I heard my one-year-old, EvaLee, say oh-so-innocently, “Momma!?” when I walked in on her tissue-party the other day as Kleenexes floated like confetti through the air.  I also recalled that I didn’t smile at that moment!  

I paused in brushing, my mouth filling with toothpaste foam and my heart overflowing with memories.  I never fully realized that our children are everywhere.  They are a part of us and their unique take on life is tied into the things we see, the places we go…the person we view in the mirror.  The thought of anything ever happening to any one of them is truly more than a parent could ever bear…but when something really does and that parent is left with just their memories, they must forever see that precious child and hear his/her special take on life in EVERYTHING around them.  I think it’s as if there is a special spot in our heart for each child that ONLY that child fills, they are irreplaceable in every sense of the meaning.
This thought led me to another thought that made my eyes widen in wonder as I leaned over the bathroom sink and stared into the mirror.

Could this be true of our heavenly Father as well?

Could there be a spot in his heart that is uniquely designed for a relationship with us and ONLY us?

Does God look at a fuchsia colored flower and smile to recall that it’s my favorite color?  When he sees a friend of mine that I recently spent time with, does he chuckle at the memory of us putting tutus on our heads and posing for pictures at a children’s museum (What?!  Who would do something like that!?)?  When he sees a mistake I made, one that I would hang my head in sorrow at the memory of, does he feel a tender love towards me…knowing that in our weakness, we become aware in a greater way that we can’t do it alone, that we need HIM?

If we are designed in the image of God ("made in God's image" verse), then is it so far-fetched to believe that God is a parent like us in many ways…a parent madly in love with each of His children despite their failures and “quirks”?  A parent who loves each of us uniquely and longs for a relationship with us?  Is this why He left the 99 sheep to go after ONE (Story about Lost Sheep), because his heart has a hole carved out in it for each of us and only that ONE person can fill that child-shaped hole?

These questions lead to a final question for you, dear reader: Has the special spot in God’s heart designed for a relationship with you been filled yet?  And if not, what are you waiting for?  

It’s a free gift that is extended to us by the BEST Father in the universe...if you are that ONE in the 99, he is desperately seeking YOU.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Murdering Fred

I discovered something rather depressing about myself tonight: I am a PANSY Momma!  This realization dawned on me during my special night out at the park with the kids while I was attempting to get a worm on the hook of the boy’s fishing pole.  

For the last few weeks, the boys have overturned every rock this side of the Mississippi in search of the biggest and juiciest worms to take fishing with them.  Taking them fishing is really something my husband, Bob, does with such joy and expertise and I’ve always been happy to chill with my little ladies and shop or…change their diapers (we haven’t quite graduated to Ladies’ Night Out yet!).

But the last few weeks my Hard Workin’ Marlboro Man (just calling him that because he wears cowboy boots to EVERY function imaginable, not because he likes to smoke ‘em…just to clarify) has been making hay while the sun shines (I.e., the real estate biz is hopping so he’s working 24/7).  Meanwhile, the boy’s worm collection in their buckets is reaching Guinness Book of World Records status so I decided if I didn’t want the worms in our backyard to out populate our town’s population, I better take those little Huck Finns fishin’.

I mean, really, they’re only 3 and 4 years old…how hard can it be?  

They were bursting at their overall seams when I announced this afternoon we were heading to a nearby river to go fishing!  The worms were transferred with lots of T.L.C. to a travel-worthy tote, one WITH a lid as we have enough wiggly-worms in carseats that I didn't want REAL wiggly-worms all over the floor too! The poles were then loaded into the van with a couple seriously excited fisherman tumbling in after them.

The river looked smooth and golden in the light of dusk and the floating dock echoed the sound of the boy’s shoes as they pounded to the end of it, thrusting their lines into the waters within no time.  Their little sister was right on their heels holding the tote with the sacred collection of worms.  Oh, right…the worms!  They pulled up their lines and hurried over to me, time was a-wasting!  

“Mommy, can you get a worm on my hook, I gotta get back to fishing so I can catch a big one!”

No problem, I assured them, reaching into the tote and pulling out a worm.  I had never actually done this but it couldn’t be that difficult.  I felt a little squeamish right away just squeezing the slimy little guy between my fingers but when I attempted to poke him with the little hook, I was shocked to see him flinch.

Did the worm just FLINCH in pain?!  My heart began to race.  Was this going to hurt the little dude?  I tried again, same reaction, the worm jerked away from the needle.  I took a jagged breath as my son’s sneakers shuffled back and forth in the corner of my eye.  I could feel him watching me, waiting for me to do IT.

Great, now I have a witness to this murder.  My heart was pounding harder…faster.  Maybe if I closed my eyes…

I tried again but, with my eyes closed but that made my imagination to run wild: this worm was alive!  I mean, his mom is probably pulling dinner (a piece of dirt?) out of the oven right now and wondering if he (George?  Billy?  Fred?  He did kinda look like a Fred…) would be home soon.  Maybe Fred had been voted “Best Blue Eyes” in his high school yearbook (do worms even have eyes?!).  Fred could be engaged for Pete’s sake!  His wedding could be tomorrow for all I know and here I am, trying to turn him into a Fish Sandwich the eve of the most important day of his worm-life!  The least I could do would be to give him a little something for the pain before I stab him with a HOOK!  

I threw Fred to the ground, my hands still shaking.

What kind of person am I?!  What kind of example am I being to the boys?!  What kind of Mother would murder a nice guy like Fred!?  I’m a PANSY and never even knew it!
“Momma…aren’t you gonna put that worm on my hook?”

I took a deep breath, gotta hold it together for the kids.  I had no idea that fishing was such a violent-contact sport.  Think of all the little Freds out there who die so that we can eat fish!
“Um…you know, buddy, I think we’ll just use the rubber baits today and you can use Fred, I mean--the worms, next time when Daddy takes you.”

It was a fish-less fishing trip but we did catch some good memories and a beautiful orange sun was sinking beyond the hills as we drove home.  I smiled to myself, I had caught a Big One and I wasn’t going to let it get away…a Big Realization about raising a family with my better half.  Their strength may be my weakness and my weakness (or pansy-ness!) may be their strength.  I can’t do it ALL.  I need my man and he needs me (I may not be able to take down Fred but once they bring home the fish, I can fry up a mean walleye!).  

I think there will be one Hard Workin’ Marlboro Man waiting at home that is due a big kiss of gratitude for little things (like taking the boys fishing for REAL) that I never before appreciated.

Now, Fred may have a different point of view…

Dispicable "D"

It was an amazingly fateful day many years ago when I walked towards a man standing tall in a starched black tuxedo with tears in his eyes that met with mine and melted me.  I knew without a doubt that I was about to marry Mr. Right.  What I didn’t know at the time was that he was Mr. Right All The Time.

Love is blind but marriage is a real eye-opener.

The school-rhyme held true for me and Bob Cole, a.k.a, The Man of My Dreams: first comes love then comes marriage then comes the baby in the baby carriage…THEN comes reality.

I couldn’t say the exact day it happened, but sometime after the tan faded from our blissful honeymoon-stay on a tropical island and before the birth of our first child, we rolled over in bed, looked at each other and nearly screamed in shock in terror as we realized: “I married a…HUMAN!!!”

Our fights had moved on the spectrum from cute (during the dating days) to killer (post “I Do” days).  At first it was, “Honey, you are so busy working hard so don’t worry about it but I noticed you forgot to take out the trash.  Actually, I thought it was kinda cute because you are my sugar-smoochie-poochie and nothing you do could ever bother me.” Before long though, it was more like, “Don’t forget to take the trash out again or I’ll go all Nick Nolte on you (please see picture below).

The thing is, some days we just don’t FEEL like being married.  We don’t FEEL knock-off-our-socks, sweep-us-off-our-feet, and madly in love with our spouses.  And when these feelings come knocking, they bring with them a very repulsive and deadly friend that goes by the name of Despicable “D”.  

Despicable “D” has a pretty trashy reputation that is known all around the globe. His presence in someone's life has actually shortened their life expectancy* (*see below for all documented stats) In fact, a researcher from Yale concluded that the effect of Despicable “D” in a person’s life is so dangerous, it is almost comparable to smoking a pack a day.

Despicable “D”  has a negative influence on the mental health of both men and woman that often rears it’s ugly head through depression, hostility and negative personal growth and relationships.  As if ravaging the mind and body weren’t enough, the Despicable “D” goes after people’s pocketbooks too.  Sixty percent of those who have been pillaged by the Despicable “D” are under the poverty line.  

Unfortunately, the Despicable “D” is no respecter of persons and it is not beneath him to attack innocent children as well.  These young victims will sometimes earn lower grades and be less pleasant to be around than their peers.  The older victims (teenagers) are more likely to need psychological help with a year of the Despicable “D” visiting their home.

In studies that compare the children whose parents were affected by the Despicable “D” verses children whose parents died, the children from homes affected by the “D” have MORE psychological problems (more on this below also).  The health of children from these homes is also at risk.  Children affected by the Despicable “D” are more likely to experience injury, asthma, headaches and speech defects.  There is more on the Despicable “D”’s rap-sheet of suffering and pain but there’s not enough room in this blog to continue.

Take a breath right now if you need one.  I understand that well since my heart is heavy too as I share these sickening and mind-boggling statistics about divorce, the Despicable “D”.

Divorce isn’t the easy way out of a marriage, it’s the hard way.  May I now suggest something about those feelings that tell us we’d be better of without him/her…the feelings that say we don’t have the same _______ (passion, love, fun, fill in the blank here) as we did when we were dating or first married?  We need to tell our feelings to take a long walk off a short pier.  We need to kick their butt out of our lives when they are shouting BIG lies into our heads.

There are many things that ignite passion in my Irish blood (and my husband is a passionate man as well) but there is nothing we feel MORE passionately about than this: the “D” word will NOT be an option.  The Despicable “D” may come knocking and he can huff and he can puff but he will not blow this house down.  Good ol’ Mr. RIP VanWinkle is the only way the love of my life will ever get rid of me (now don’t get any ideas, my dear).

Best-selling author and marriage guro, Gary Thomas, puts it this way, “If we get married for trivial reasons, we get divorced for trivial reasons.  Compare yourself to Jesus and tell me if you have any time left over to fix anyone else.  Let us purify OURSELVES (not our spouses) (2 Cor. 7:1).”  I love the biblical concept he presents that is quite opposite to the world’s ideology: the MAIN purpose of marriage is not to make us happy but holy.  

To be quite honest, I’m not very excited about this concept when I’m facing off my sweetheart in some all-important debate (that I can never remember later, why is that!?), because I want HIM to make ME happy.  But in those (rare!!!) times that I die to self, entrust the situation over to God in prayer and let His peace fill my heart then I feel God changing me.  He makes me more like Him.  That is HIS goal (1 Peter 2:5) and I’m striving to make it MY goal too (rather slowly and with some backward steps too as my husband could confirm).

We need to face down the Despicable "D" Grumpy-Old-Men style: ornery and stubborn.  Will you be ornery, mean and stubborn about not letting this be an option?  Because if so, it could change your life and the lives of your children forever.

*Note from author: this is a message written with the audience of married people in mind. Knowing that this audience may include people having gone through divorce, I want to encourage you that there is ALWAYS hope and grace in Christ.  Even a dark and difficult situation can be turned around and (my favorite part) gloriously used in His Kingdom!  Also to be noted: there are biblical grounds for divorce and I am not arguing against those as much as the very petty reasons people are separating over these days.  If you are in a situation of ANY kind of abuse, it would be wise to seek immediate help and possibly a separation while you both undergo professional counseling.  With care and prayers, Tara Cole

Life expectancies for divorced men and women are significantly lower than for married people (who have the longest life expectancies). 3
A recent study found those who were unhappy but stay married were more likely to be happy five years later than those who divorced.4
The health consequences of divorce are so severe that a Yale researcher concluded that “being divorced and a nonsmoker is [only] slightly less dangerous than smoking a pack a day and staying married.” 5
After a diagnosis of cancer, married people are most likely to recover, while the divorced are least likely to recover,6 indicating that the emotional trauma of divorce has a long-term impact on the physical health of the body.
Men and women both suffer a decline in mental health following divorce, but researchers have found that women are more greatly affected.7 Some of the mental health indicators affected by divorce include depression, hostility, self-acceptance, personal growth and positive relations with others.
1 Pamela J. Smock, "The Economic Costs of Marital Disruption for Young Women over the Past Two Decades." Demography 30 (1993): 353-371.
2 John Crouch, "Virginia"s No-Fault Divorce Reform Bill," interview with John Crouch and Jim Parmelee on Television Channel 10, Fairfax, VA,
3 Robert Coombs, "Marital Status and Personal Well-Being: A Literature Review," Family Relations 40 (1991):97-102; I. M. Joung, et al., "Differences in Self-Reported Morbidity by Marital Status and by Living Arrangement," International Journal of Epidemiology 23 (1994): 91-97.
4 Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Doubleday, 2000), p. 148.
5 Harold J. Morowitz, "Hiding in the Hammond Report," Hospital Practice (August 1975), p. 39.
6 James S. Goodwin, William C. Hunt, Charles R. Key and Jonathan M. Sarmet, "The Effect of Marital Status on Stage, Treatment, and Survival of Cancer Patients," Journal of the American Medical Association 258 (1987): 3125-3130.
7 Nadine F. Marks and James D. Lambert, "Marital Status Continuity and Change among Young and Midlife Adults: Longitudinal Effects on Psychological Well-being," Journal of Family Issues 19 (1998): 652-686.
5. Studies in the early 1980’s showed that children in repeat divorces earned lower grades and their peers rated them as less pleasant to be around. (Andrew J. Cherlin, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage –Harvard University Press 1981)
6. Teenagers in single-parent families and in blended families are three times more likely to need psychological help within a given year. (Peter Hill “Recent Advances in Selected Aspects of Adolescent Development” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 1993)
7. Compared to children from homes disrupted by death, children from divorced homes have more psychological problems. (Robert E. Emery, Marriage, Divorce and Children’s Adjustment” Sage Publications, 1988) The DEATH of a parent is LESS devastating to a child than a DIVORCE. (Even I wouldn’t believe this if I didn’t see the statistic myself.)
8. Children of divorce are at a greater risk to experience injury, asthma, headaches and speech defects than children whose parents have remained married. (Dawson, “Family Structure and Children’s Health and Well Being” National Health Interview Survey on Child Health, Journal of Marriage and the Family)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The BEST and MOST Expensive Gift for Children

What’s the cost of a child?  I’ve heard figures tossed out that estimate $222,360* to raise a child from birth to age eighteen.  That includes everything from their first diaper and prom dress until their last big toy (ie, car) and final semester of high school.

Given our current family, that would estimate our cost of child-raising to total around ONE MILLION dollars!  Hey, I guess that means we own a million dollars worth of property!  That figure could make me shake in my Momma slippers…except that prom dresses and football camps aren’t the main cost we consider when we ask this question, “Should we have a child?”

We may pay for our children’s college education.

But, we may not.

We may buy them all their jeans from Hollister (well, if you can find the actual jean through all the tears and holes).

Um...seriously?  This inch of fabric cost money?!
But, we may not.

When we think ahead to what our legacy as parents should be to our precious gifts from God, we don’t focus on giving them just material possesions nor college degrees.  Of course, there is value in blessing our children with things just because we love them.  The concept of grace (receiving something we didn’t earn or don’t deserve) is caught by our kids when we do this and it’s a crucial concept as they grow into adults.  

With that in mind, I think the BEST thing we can invest in our children cost MORE than the most stunning wedding dress (yes, even the one recently worn at the Royal Wedding!) and it cost even more than four years (or more!) at the most expensive Ivy League school…curious?  The cost of leaving an unforgettable legacy to our children canned be summed up with four HUGE figures…here it is…T-I-M-E.

TIME cost us everything.

TIME cost us putting our own BIG dreams aside for a season (though they may be good and wonderful…world-changing even!).

TIME cost us setting down LITTLE distractions (Can the facebook check in wait?  Will we die from NOT answering our cell phone now and then? Will the dusty shelf and dirty dishes still be there after they go to bed?).

TIME is spent EVERY day in making special memories; blowing bubbles and laughing with them while they splash in the bathtub, ignoring the popsicle dripping all over their new white shirt to focus on them as they share a silly joke, reading them a bedtime story when you get home from work instead of turning on the T.V. and putting up those aching feet.

TIME is spent in shaping their character to be Christ-like.  It’s choosing to be consistent and discpline (yes, for the fifth time in FIVE minutes) when he disobeyes and sneaks out of bed.  It’s teaching the siblings engaged in WWIII how to make amends and treat eachtoher with love and respect, in spite of differing opinions.  It’s showing them how to share a smile and warm hug with a special needs friend because we are all perfect and amazingly created by God.  It’s slowing down when we notice the speed sign (or cop!) and joyfully obeying the law.  It’s clasping our hand over our heart when the Pledge of Alligience plays and standing with pride, reminding them that freedom isn’t free and our brave soldiers pay for our freedom with both their time and lives.  

It takes TIME to teach and exemplify the lessons that form these characteristics in their lives; Respect, Care, Gentleness, Self-Control, Compassion, Gratitude, and Courtesy, to name just a VERY few.

And, ultimately, it cost TIME to teach them about a God who stepped out of the endless continuum of Eternity to enter our temporary world as Jesus of Nazareth and spend TIME with us in order to lead us back to Himself.  

At the end of our days (and honey, like it or not, that day arrives for us all), our legacy to our children will be summed up in this; the MEMORIES we shared, the CHARACTER they developed, and, most importantly (because eternity is FOREVER), the DECISION they made about Jesus.

What does this legacy cost us?  It will cost us everything but the reward is absolutely priceless.  It will cost us TIME.

*The U.S.D.A. numbers are in, it now costs an average middle-income American family $222,360 to raise a child from birth to 18. That’s 22 percent higher than it was in 1960, adjusted for inflation. And that doesn’t begin to include college costs.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Who's Laughing at YOU?

Don’t you love “lol” moments, when you really LAUGH OUT LOUD!?  I just had one of those today during a conversation with my three-year-old son.  Here it is:

Judah: Hey!  (while looking out the dining room patio doors)  I just saw a LIGHT black squirrel!

Me: Also known as GRAY, Judah!  (laughing)

Judah: (grinning ear to ear)  Yeah…I always make people laugh ON me!!

Me: Oh, really?  Why do they laugh?

Judah: Behuzz I BONK my head, like this! (does a “Three Stooges” self face punch)

Me: (MORE laughing) I wish that was the only reason we laugh “ON” you, kid!!

The reasons we’ve laughed “ON” Judah include (but are NOT limited to); discovering him giving himself a swirly in our toilet (Eau de Toilet Boy), finding him naked and slimed from head-to-toe in hand soap (Super SOAPer!), and walking into his dump truck dirt-landscape that used to be our living room (Extreme Dirty Jobs: Home Make-over Edition).

I’ll be the first to admit, in each of these situations, laughter wasn’t always the number one idea that sprang to mind.  Sometimes, I had other ideas that usually had me turning into Charlie Brown’s mother…but, I’m learning I’m going to laugh about it eventually, so why not NOW?  

We LOVE to laugh in this family.  Laughter is like slamming down a shot of hope and peace in the midst of a storm (not that I know anything about shots…just saying).  It warms you to the core and makes everything a bit easier to handle.  These are just a few of my favorite quotes about laughter,

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.  ~Victor Borge

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.  ~Yiddish Proverb

When people are laughing, they're generally not killing each other.  ~Alan Alda

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion.  I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.  ~Kurt Vonnegut

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.  ~E.E. Cummings

Laughter is an instant vacation.  ~Milton Berle

I think one of the greatest challenges when it comes to laughter is growing in our ability to laugh ON (i.e., AT) ourselves.  Sometimes I plan our lives so carefully, it takes all the fun out of it…what’s wrong with a “flying by the seat of our pants” option every now and again?!  Lately, when I realize I’m in my Mrs. Control-freak mode, I stop and LAUGH…at ME! I’m such a dork sometimes!  
When I’m in full huffing-and-puffing, ready-to-blow-my-husband’s-argument-down mode, I let out all the hot air in my head and LAUGH at ME!
I ask my man, “I’m making a big deal out of nothing, right?”  (of course, he looks like a deer in headlights as this question sounds strangely like, “Does my butt look big?” to the male brain) and I realize I just need to take a CHILL pill now and then.  It’s OKAY to LAUGH at ourselves! Laughter is a God-given can of WD40 in our lives to make things run a bit smoother.  Let’s use it!   

Who’s laughing at YOU?  Hopefully, it’s YOU! So whether you catch your kid with his head in the toilet or catch yourself being a straight up dork…just LAUGH.  That could make the world (especially your children and spouse’s world) a better place to be!