Friday, December 17, 2010

Marriage Marathon

Don’t tell me how long you have been married. Tell me what you have been through together.

I heard this statement and loved it!

Bob and I have been married for the birth of four kids, the loss of one. We have been through two shocking medical test results and a son that defied odds to be born. We have held our baby boy then held each other as he was wheeled away for two different surgeries. We have prayed together as we waited in a ER room with our children four different times.

We have shared three homes and five cars. We have gotten lost on road trips and shared delirious conversations as we tried to keep each other awake on the long drives home. We have celebrated wedding anniversaries everywhere from a lovely bed and breakfast to take out on our living room floor. We have shared a goodbye to a dear grandmother and celebrated special moments with others we are still blessed to have with us.

We have packed and unpacked boxes, painted walls, put together kid toys, tickle-wrestled each other to tears, laughed and cried during great movies and ran to the store at 1 am for a pacifier. We have held each other with a new sense of gratitude after a scary car accident and been speechless with joy for some of the gifts that have been given to us.

We are running a marathon together. A marathon called marriage. It’s blood, sweat and tears at times. But knowing there is someone at your side sharing the trek with you is one of the most profound blessings this side of Heaven.

Thank you God that I finally came to my senses and said YES to a crazy guy named Bob Cole.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Secret

The Secret unabridged CD by Rhonda Byrne & contributors

I would love a Lexus SUV. I like designer clothes. And my husband and I have started the designs for our “dream home” in the sweet by n’ by.

But that is not WHO I am. Those things could never be ME. The moment my identity becomes part of something I drive, a place I live or clothes me or my kids wear then I’ve got some serious self-butt-kicking to do.

Somewhere along this journey of life, I made a choice that I could have things but I would not let them have me.

Maybe it’s because I grew up without most of those things and I was still happy. Or maybe because I had some of those things later in life (well, not the Lexus) and I realized it didn’t change a thing. Maybe it’s even because I had the privilege of living for a year in a little village in Mexico where NO ONE had those things but they were some of the most content and generous people I have ever met.

Whatever the reason, I am glad that what I have, what I don’t have and even what I do for a living doesn’t define who I am.

The choice to be content is one I have to remake sometimes, especially when the temptation to compare creeps into my life! And when that happens, I fall back on THE SECRET.

“I have learned THE SECRET of being content in any and every situation. Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. THE SECRET is I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME.”

The author of this verse was writing it from a jail cell where he was falsely imprisoned yet still was content. It makes driving a used mini-van and buying clothes from Target seem almost glamorous! Wow, I have SO much to be grateful for. So much to be content with.

Well, that’s pretty simple. THE SECRET is out.

*But if you were planning on blessing us with a Lexus SUV, please feel free to. I would be content with that too.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Ugly Truth About Me

Why I watched “The Ugly Truth” is somewhat of a mystery. It’s not one I’d recommend because it has some pretty crude humor. I watched it on a night Bob had to work late and I had NINE baskets of laundry piled like Mt. Kilimanjaro around my bed, begging to be folded and put away. I guess it was something to watch while I did one of the most MUNDANE task in the universe (whoa is me!).

So I find it pretty funny that it seems God used “The Ugly Truth” to open my eyes to some ugly truth about me. I was watching the star (Katherine Heigl) play out a role where she was a control freak and I thought to myself, “Hm, she seems pretty normal to me. Wait…what does that mean?! Could I have some control-freak-ishness in ME?”

This thought, of course, was followed by the five stages of grief, beginning with DENIAL. “I am not a control freak! I just like plans. Okay, I love plans. And I will admit that when plans don’t go as…planned I get a bit bent out of shape. Okay, REALLY bent out of shape. But I can go with the flow…as long as it’s flowing the way I want it to go!”

Next came ANGER. “C’mon, I am a good person! What are you saying here, God? Don’t I sing along with Carrie Underwood ‘Jesus take the wheel‘? Okay...I let you in the passenger seat. Well, sometimes I may ask you to stay in the backseat. BUT I DO TRY!” (Also in this stage I realized maybe my hubby calling my Mrs. Marx wasn’t a term of endearment like I had thought!)

This was followed with BARGAINING. “Okay, here’s the deal, God. I will try not to be a control freak if you make sure things go the way I want them to.” Enough said.

Then, DEPRESSION. “I give up.”

But, alas, there is hope with ACCEPTANCE! “YES! I do try to be in control of everything: from how the dishwasher is loaded to how my husband shows me he loves me. I need help, God! thanks for using something so crazy to show me the light!”

I really thought God was on my side (of letting me be in control) back in the day when I had my “60 Qualities in a Man” list. This was a list of what I was looking for in my future husband that I had begun at the age of 12 and steadily added to it until I met Bob at the age of 24. It was organized by categories (personality traits, spiritual traits, looks, etc.) and was a little checklist I used when I was in the dating world to determine husband eligibility.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately for Bob perhaps) most guys could barely make a number past 20 (unbeknownst to them of course) and it was “Sianara, Sweetheart!” Well, after a few dates with a spontaneous farm boy named Bob, I was shocked to see he had scored 59 out of 60--that’s a solid “A”! My plan was on track! (And in case you are wondering what he missed, it was “older than me”…yes, I would have changed that too if I could have!)

I’m realizing God may have let me think I was in control and had found just the guy I was dreaming about so He could get me to marry my opposite and shake my world up! And Bob has done just that, in the best of ways. He is a solid dose of realism to my idealism. If it weren’t for that, I may still be trying out for the Brady Bunch show.

Christmas time is a perfect example. I wake up with more than visions of sugar plums and fairies dancing in my head. I imagine our family (reminder: four children ages 4, 3, 1 and 2 months) stringing popcorn and cranberries for the tree while Christmas music plays as we decorate our warm home with laughter and joy. Bob is so kind as to warn me (the realist), “Don’t even try this, honey.” But DO I LISTEN? Nope.

So, here we go…and there goes my sanity. Here is what really happened: the popcorn is used as grenades in the boy’s Darth Vadar vs. Luke Skywalker battle, the Christmas music is drowned out by the sound of breaking ornaments and a crying baby and the only laughter to be heard is my delirious laugh as I realize: This is not going according to plan! Bob’s arms wrap around me and he whispers, “Just go with it.” And I am learning to do just that. By the end of the evening, we were all having fun. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that I have tied the boys to chairs with the Christmas lights…hmm…only joking! Mostly.

Take it from an X-Control-Freak (maybe I’m still in the denial stage…), sometimes life is just about “going with it”. Things may not always go according to MY plan, but the One who sees the whole picture, including our future, has a better plan anyway. And I promise that the next time I join Carrie Underwood in singing “Jesus Take the Wheel”, I’ll actually let him have it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Poop Happens

Parental Advisory: My story from tonight is not for those pregnant with their first or intending to become pregnant. I don’t want to freak you out.

Little did I know when Bob left for a meeting after dinner, it was the calm before the storm. This should be a simple affair tonight with the kids I thought. Baths and bedtime for four little sweethearts.

I rounded up the three oldest and into the tub they went, well equipped with loads of toys and bubbles for a fun bath time. It was fun until Gideon (age 4) and Jude (2) jumped out of the tub with appalled cries of, “EvaLee (1) pooped!” To which Gideon added at least ten times, “Gross!” and “Disgusting!”. Yes, it was.

So out comes an innocent and adorable little wet blonde, then loads of toys to be disinfected and of course…the…you know.

Jude (still potty-training) must have been inspired, because he hopped onto the potty to go #2 also. Naturally, this was the time the baby decided to wake from her nap and was releasing a torrent of screams from downstairs in her swing. I pause mid-clean-up to run down and get her and when I returned, Jude had also paused mid-poop to join his naked brother and sister on the bed, OUR bed, to have a super-fun jump jam! Only, he forgot to wipe.

Yes, our washer and dryer are still running as I type.

I get him back on the toilet (where he continues his business), finish cleaning out the tub and clothe my naked children, all while trying to hold a hungry and impatient baby girl. Who was also filling her drawers.

As we say around here: Poop happens.

It would be safe to say nothing tonight went as planned but I am learning life IS the unexpected! As I was wiping cute tooshes and spraying disinfectant, the words of a wise old man I know (my dear husband) came to mind, “You can often see a person’s character not by how they ACT but how they REact to life.”

What do we say and do when life throws us an unexpected twist? When the story we are living has a messy plot and we were hoping for something more like a fairy-tale?

I have had lots of practice these last few years to improve my reaction skills! Not that I have wanted the practice, but it sure seems God thinks we can handle it. Maybe because He never requires us to do it alone. In fact, if it weren’t so messy, I think I would try to do it without any help--even His. Especially His.

 It would make perfect sense for the God of the universe to have more important things to do than help a frazzled mom going through kid-chaos. But He did say, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:4-6) I’m thinking He might have been picturing my night tonight when He said this. Especially the “lacks wisdom” part. Although my favorite part of this verse is the “without finding fault”…isn’t that the best?

God could point out all the ways I handle things wrong before He gives me what I need, you know, to make sure I do it right next time. But He doesn’t, He just gives me grace and I’m pretty sure He’s smiling when he does.

I’m also pretty sure I’m going to have more “poop happens” days, more chances to REact to the unexpected in life with a smile…and thank Heaven, more of God’s grace to do it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Trash Talk

This morning began in style: with a good ol’ white trash fight. Literally. Let me explain…

I won’t even pretend we are one of those couples…you know, the ones that are teddy bears and coochie-coo darlings everyday. I got a wee bit o’ Irish streaking through my veins and it has bestowed on me more than just freckles.

Here’s the scoop:
6:00 am. Vrrrooommm… (loud garbage truck driving past our window, can you tell I may be under the influence of my toddler boys?)
Me: Oh, dah-ling, did you remember (since I reminded you a million times last night) to put out the trash as it’s overflowing since you forgot it last week? (or something like this)
Bob: Nope, oops.
Me: OOPS!? What in heaven’s name are you thinking?! Seriously, what in the world?! People will confuse our yard for the garbage dump if we don’t get rid of our trash today because we have enough now to fill the Grand Canyon! (I never exaggerate)
Bob: Oh, well. Gotta go to work.
Me: ________________ !?!? (if you are a woman reading this, feel free to use your imagination here)

So much for wife of the year.

Most of the morning I was feeling pretty justified, in fact, my plan was to not talk to Bob until he got on his knees, begging forgiveness. Mature, right? Suddenly, something on the radio caught my attention.

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil. 4:7-9)

Well, maybe some of the things I was ruminating over about my dear husband were mostly true but I guess they wouldn’t pass the “lovely” test. I was busted, God had a better way for me to handle this situation than my Silent Monk Maria plan.

Another thought also came to mind. I once heard a widow lady say the hardest thing for her to hear after losing her husband was the way wives complained about their men. She said, “I would do anything to have back and leave his dirty socks on the floor!” 

That memory really convicted me. I’d rather have him forget to take out the trash the rest of our lives than not have him with me at all. I am so blessed to have a good man that works hard for us everyday, tickles and wrestles with our kids every night and kisses me goodbye every morning.

So I told him this and hauled all my other stinkin’ thinking out the door.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Miss Manners Mama

I always knew once I was a mom, I would have to teach my kids some etiquette 101. I figured it wouldn’t come naturally. But I’ll admit that when I gazed lovingly into the face of my first newborn, I never imagined them shoving peas up that adorable little nose.

I also never imagined some of the “Etiquette Rules” I would have to enforce around the Cole household. Here’s just a sample:
*Never eat what someone else has regurgitated and put back on their plate.
*Don’t put your feet on the table while you are eating.
*Don’t eat your fork. Eat WITH your fork.
*Don’t shampoo your hair with gravy.
*Stop asking why, just say YES MOM! (Hmm…one I thought I’d never say)

And here is my all time favorite (just pretend it’s a broken record playing in the background and it won’t seem so annoying), “Sit down. Sit down. Sit down. Sit down.”

Needless to say, teaching kids manners some days seems fruitless. But we (and our children) are encouraged from Philippians 2:14-16 to be “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” I don’t know about pure, most days I’m happy if my kids are just somewhat clean.

Yet I believe a child’s small act of saying a sincere thanks and even clearing a plate off the table when they are done eating can help them shine like stars in the sky! In a world of thankless-ness and selfishness, small acts of kindness DO matter.

So my fellow Miss Manners Mama, let us trudge on through this messy kid world and promote chewing with mouths closed, saying please and thank you’s and not convulsing when anything other than chicken nuggets touches their plates (around here they say “It’s not my favorite” after they try one bite).

Let us help our children shine like little stars even though teaching manners can indeed be a thankless job!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Costume Party!

“I’m living in a material world, and I am a material girl!’  Does it ever feel like your kids could accurately sing this song?!  Trying to raise kids who are NOT materialistic feels like fighting against the tide most days but I do believe it CAN be done, so help us God!  We will need His help to do it!

My mom gave me a list of free and inexpensive toys that grow our children’s imagination shortly after I had my firstborn.  It has been a great reference point as we expanded our family…and I will post it tomorrow as I can’t find it right now.  Like I said, it’s been so cherished that I lost it.

But I do recall what one of those items was…COSTUMES!!  Even us grown-ups like those, why else would we go out dressed up like silly maids and scary pirates for Halloween parties?!  It’s just so darn fun.

“The List” recommended a bin or box of costumes and ever since Gideon was old enough to take off his pants, he has had a variety of career options to try out: pirate, Transformer (what is the pay for those guys these days anyway?), Star Wars Jedi knight, Spiderman and more.

My life is never dull.  Here I thought I had just regular kids…but that is not so!!  One minute they are Clark Kent (“Just a regular guy” they say as they stroll by) and the next minute they are in a phone booth (i.e., a pillow fort) and jumping out (singing the theme song) to my GREAT surprise as SUPERMAN!

I came about all these costumes in typical Mom Cole-fashion: bargain hunting and being a creative cheapskate.  Most of them were garage sale steals, thrift shop throw togethers and alas, their all time favorite costumes of super-heroes with capes were actually my old tablecloths I cut up and sewed on the back!  (as pictured)

You can do it, Super-mom!!  Grab an big basket (heck, even a laundry basket works), sew on some capes (who needs tablecloths anyway when kids are so darn messy!?) and let their imagination take flight…literally!*

*Disclaimer: not responsible for any injuries caused by young children thinking they really are superheroes and jumping from tall objects with no regard for the pain that may be inflicted upon them.

build your own space explorer

(Creative & Cheap or FREE!)

1. Puzzles Fun for any age.  They can provide hours of fun while teaching 
patience and logic.
2. A Costume Trunk Include clothespins with discarded outfits to customize the fit.  You can get all sorts of shoes and dress up clothes at garage sales or thrift stores.
3. A Craft Box Include crayons, markers, scissors, stickers, glue sticks, string and plenty of paper.  Leave the kids alone (depending on their age!) and let their creativity bloom!
4.  Legos Kids love these tiny plastic squares.  They can built and create almost anything with these-cars, rocket ships, castles, houses or entire cities.  This isn't just for boys.
5.  Balls  You can kick them, throw them, shoot them, roll them or even sit on them.  Get as many sizes and styles as you can!  Your kids will play with these from childhood through adulthood.
6.  Dolls Give them clothes to change them, bottles to feed them and blankets to keep them warm.  Use a box with a pillow and a towel for a bassinet.
7.  Puppets  Help your kids make their own hand puppets out of socks or papier-mache.  Use a table with a blanket over it as a stage.  Then let the show begin.
8.  Cardboard boxes  From shoe boxes to refrigerator boxes, it's amazing what kids can do.  The more variety and number of boxes the better.  Add duct tape to join boxes and markers to decorate them.
9.  Bug Jar & Magnifying Glass Go on a bug search and examine what you find with the magnifying glass.  Teach your kids to safety scoop up the critters and place them in a sealed, clear plastic jar with some holes on top.  Watch the bugs a few hours then let them go!
10.  Play Money & Toy Cash Register  Play store and stock it with empty food boxes or cans.  Provide a pen and stickers for pricing.  Then take turns being the cashier or the customer.

*From the book "List to Live By"

Friday, November 26, 2010

God Math

Has anyone ever tried to figure this one out: God takes 1 + 1 and makes 10,000...or 500...or 22. One person doing one little thing with the talent He has given them and it can turn the world upside down. It’s crazy. It makes me smile.

I have this friend named Tammy Rada who God is using to make 1 + 1 equal a lot of change. She heard about a little 5-yr.-old girl named Emily who was just diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor is located on the stem of her brain thus an operation to remove it would be out of the question. Treatment possibilities look grim. Meanwhile, the parents are commuting to a special treatment hospital and staying in a hotel they could not afford while awaiting a spot to open at the Ronald McDonald House.

It’s a situation that moves most of us to tears including Tammy but then she moved to action. She acted as God’s hand of care on this earth because it is so true that “All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.” (James Russell Lowell) She did what she could and that was to let everyone she knew about Emily, asking for them to give what they could to help this hurting family: a gas card, $5, a prayer.

I spread the word about what Tammy was doing to my circle of friends and another dear friend moved into action too. She got mad. Carol Sheahan didn’t want to just accept the grim outlook from the doctors, not until she rallied people to get on their knees and petition God on Emily’s behalf. She spread the word and got people praying and I know God is still using her one act of uniting people to pray to keep them believing for a future of hope for this girl.

It keeps going. It happened again yesterday when I mentioned to my mom, Pat Bradbury, what was happening and without hesitation, she pulled out her purse and pressed some money into my hand, “Buy them a gas card from us too. And we’ll tell everyone at our church to pray.” When we act, we are letting God act through us.

I love seeing God’s hand at work, working out BIG answers to little problems of 1 + 1. I love how He took a few little pieces of fish and bread from a willing kid and fed over 5,000 people. I love how he takes a little piece of faith and moves a mountain. A little talent. One dollar. A single act. One willing heart.
I don’t know what will happen to this sweet girl but I know what isn’t happening: nothing. Something changed because someone cared and didn’t let it stop at a care.

It really doesn’t make sense to me but God takes the little talent or gift we entrust to him and invest it towards eternity in such a way that it would bring down Wall Street if it could be recorded on the charts. That is God math.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What If?

Somewhere between changing a dirty diaper and tossing a pancake onto a plate for my little peeps, I froze and thought: “What if?” What if…I miss it?

What if I rush through my day, through my week, through this LIFE and don’t take time to BE God’s hand of love. To SEE God’s hand of love. When this thought popped up, I didn’t feel guilty or even condemned. It was a GOOD thought really because it inspired me to get BUSY.

Not that I need any inspiration to get any busier than I have been these days. With four kids under the age of four (all still at home…with me…24/7. Did I mention 24/7?!), I have plenty to do! So I am not referring to the running-in-the-hamster-wheel-of-life-busy. More like a busy getting to what could answer that “what if” question that is leading me to an open road of adventure and mystery. That question is grabbing me by the hand and throwing me out of my comfort zone. Did I ever mention how comfortable my comfort zone is? So…it’s been uncomfortable but yet thrilling.

And this thrill…this JOY that is a result of kicking up some dirt down this unknown road has inspired this blog. Simply because I want you to come with me. Well, not with ME really (though I bet it would be a blast to road-trip with you!) but rather with God.

Don’t freak out-I promise not to get religious on you. Religion is boring. Take it from an X-PK (that’s code for x-pastor’s kid) who was around church most of my existence. I’m thinking more: REALationship with a VERY REAL God who doesn’t want to SIT in a darn (PG-13 rating here, ha!) pew on Sunday and then DO NOTHING Monday through Saturday. Meanwhile, we are surrounded by a dying world in need of a serious trip to the ER that is trying to cover their injury in silly band-aids. Will ya’ll join me in some triage work on this journey? In some little steps that just may bring about a BIG change? In saying, “Yeah, I’m little. But God’s big. (Veggietales songs sum up life well!)” Can that be enough? I think so. Isn’t it a relief to know it’s not all on your shoulders? That God has the super-powers but yet chooses to save the day THROUGH US? (Crazy, right?)

I am a classic over-analyzing Mom who is fighting the guilt wars (Did I give my kid enough veggies today? Read to him enough books? Discipline her correctly? Laugh and play with them enough? Teach them to be responsible? Prepare him for school well enough? Give her too much sugar (obviously since she’s bouncing off the walls…)?? Etc…etc…blah and blah!). Thus, the thought that “you must become less so I can become greater” (Jesus’ idea, not mine!) is liberating! It’s amazing to think all I have to do is the tiny step of obedience God leads me to take. Then, ta-da!!! HE takes over! HE is the star, not me (thank goodness because I heard the camera adds ten pounds…). HE is the One who actually makes the plant grow. I just got to put that seed in the dirt. Yeah, I can do that.

Will you come with me? This is just thought #1. Next blog? The front-line reports of HOW we are putting some love into action. Be ready for some smiles (who can’t smile at how cool God is walking on this earth in scuffed up sneakers worn by imperfect people?!)…some tears and some serious fears (I have got them…remember? We are now leaving the comfort zone.).

And what if we don’t do this? What if we don’t leave our comfort zones NOW? Well, why not now? Will we truly ever be less busy? So I have sleepless nights with a newborn this week, but as they grow, won’t it be sleepless nights with worry when my teen is out past curfew? Will the list of home repairs ever really get shorter (hint, hint, honey, if you are reading this! Ha ha.)? Will the errands ever cease? Will I one day just wake up and realize, “My gosh, my house is cleaned. Errands all done. Home projects complete. Finances in perfect order. Kids gone for the week. I have TONS of free time…whatever will I do? Oh, NOW is a good time to be God’s hand of love. I finally have arrived!”

Well…I am not planning for that though it sounds kind of nice…really nice…okay, back to reality. So, I am choosing (isn’t everything in life a choice?) to start TODAY. Messy home or not. Three kids in diapers (no joke) or none. Bad hair day (or year) or not. I am thinking anyway that it’s hard to relate to a perfect person and since no such fellow exist, let’s dive right in. As is.

Because one day in the sweet by and by I’ll be standing face to face with my BFF (Best Friend Forev, good ol’ grade school memories!), my King, my Savior. And when Jesus says, “Were you faithful?” (Thankfully he doesn’t require us to be successful, just faithful, whew!) I sure hope I won’t say, “I was going to be…once I wasn’t so busy.” I really, really, really want to be able to reply, “Yeah, Jesus. I was BUSY letting YOU love people through me.”

Let’s get busy.  Because...WHAT IF?