Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reflection and Waiting

What a beautiful Christmas season we had! I realized, as we entered into the Advent season and I was making my list of things I hoped to do with my family and friends and for myself, just how much I missed last year while Tom was here in Colorado and the kids and I were still finishing up our time in Louisville. This left me feeling immensely grateful for the extra measure of grace the Lord provided us last year as well as the amazing people we had around us  - in Colorado and in Kentucky. 

Last year we didn't put up any Christmas decorations in our apartment in Lou; instead we were busy sorting and purging and packing and saying our hasty goodbyes. We drove for two days before Christmas and arrived late Christmas Eve, just in time to enjoy a nice fire in our new apartment, have the kids "open" (**ahem** pull out of the Wal-Mart bags...) their new pajamas and throw blankets on the floor in one of their bedrooms to sleep on. Tom and I spent Christmas day unloading the truck. Many of the traditions we had come to cherish were simply by-passed and put off, with good reason, of course.

This year I was able to settle into the Advent season and reflect. I thoroughly enjoyed decorating our apartment, perusing our Christmas music to put together my own playlist, and reinstate some of the traditions we had to bypass last year. As a family we decided to celebrate Advent together with a fast of sorts and a family devotional. I bought candy canes and made hot chocolate from scratch so we could decorate the tree together. We read a different Christmas book [nearly] every night, cut snowflakes out of paper, made a count-down chain, and watched our favorite Christmas movies. 

Having grown up observing Advent with my church for the 4 Sundays before Christmas, culminating in a solemn, intimate, candlelight Christmas Eve service, I did not always stop to think about what it all meant. This year it was like something clicked for me that hadn't before: Advent is a celebration of the waiting. My dear friend and pastor, Laurie Thornton, gave a beautiful teaching on waiting and a God who waits just before Advent started, which really got me thinking. There is truly something magical about this season and about the fulfillment of the promise God had given to His people so many generations before Jesus actually came as a baby in Bethlehem. 

Now, if you know me even a little, you may not find it hard to agree that I am not typically a very patient person. For example, I finally made cake (from a box) the right way - meaning, I used the hand mixer for the full 2 minutes, not just until everything looked sufficiently combined - and realized there is actually a reason they instruct you to do it that way! The cake came out so spongy and moist... Yes! It was in that moment that I realized why I'm just not that into baking - so many dishes and ingredients for one recipe and so many time-consuming steps... 

Anyway, I digress. As I was reflecting this Advent season and thinking about how patient my Lord is with me and how very long those people who were alive when Jesus was born had been waiting for the coming of a Savior, I couldn't help but praise my King with gladness. He really came! He really rescued! He really sought and pursued and sacrificed! All of this He did for me. And for you. How can my response be anything but worship?

I must confess: I could often be found getting emotional and tearing up, especially for the first couple of weeks of Advent. Certain songs or Scriptures or greetings or gatherings simply made my heart swell until I felt it would burst. 

When I read of the promise foretold in Isaiah 9, my heart races with excitement and anticipation.
Darkness and despair will not go on forever... The people who walk in darkness will see a great light... For You will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders... For a child is born to us! A son is given to us!.. And He will be called: Wonderful! Counselor! Mighty God! Everlasting Father! Prince of Peace! His government and its peace will NEVER end!.. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven's Armies will make this happen! 
I mean, WOW! That is a promise from Almighty God and He has fulfilled it and is fulfilling it! Yes and amen!

And the lyrics! Oh, the songs of Christmas are always so special to me and some of my favorite to sing, and this year I found so many of the words of my favorites - from long ago and from recently - touching the deep parts of my soul that aren't often exposed to sense. The lyrics to this verse of O Holy Night especially got to my heart this year:
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
and in His name all oppression shall cease!
This brought tears to my eyes every time, especially with all that is happening in this country right now as well as in Myanmar, where the organization I work for supports children in dire situations, not to mention every other nation in the world. Jesus is breaking chains and abolishing oppression!! He has promised!

I may not have succeeded in checking off every activity on my list and we may not have succeeded in reading the book and devotion every night of Advent, but I'm not bothered by any of that. The things that mattered the most to me were time with my family, peace in our home, seeing the beauty and joy around me, and celebrating the waiting and the promise fulfilled. We enjoyed a wonderful candlelight Christmas Eve service downtown Wednesday night - exactly one year after we arrived as a family to our new home in Colorado Springs - and a fine, peaceful, relaxing Christmas day as a family and with new friends. My heart is full. I enjoyed many a silent night, pondering and reflecting in the warm glow of the twinkle lights decorating my living room. As I reflected, I rejoiced.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lingering Christmas Album Giveaway!

This Christmas season we are celebrating Advent as a family in a way we never have before. The Advent season is a time for expectant waiting and celebration in anticipation of the coming of our Lord Jesus. This is the first time I've really engaged my heart in the concept of waiting and anticipating. I find myself expecting miracles and rejoicing in the promises of God in a new way. I find myself resting and feeling and pondering and reflecting.

In fact, that is my word for this season: Reflection.

And this word has especially impacted my listening preference this Christmas season. My playlist is full of emotional, nostalgic, reminiscent carols and works that often bring tears to my eyes and sighs to my lips. I love allowing my heart to feel and to feel deeply.

So when my friend, Karla Adolphe, started talking about making a Christmas EP a few months ago, my heart skipped and twirled at the notion of what could be. And, dear friends, she did not disappoint!

Talk about waiting with great anticipation! As she started planning and producing, Karla shared on her blog about the process and kept her friends and fans updated on social media with teasers and tidbits that kept me on the edge of my seat. I was especially intrigued when she released the name of the album: Lingering. This so perfectly accompanies my posturing of reflection this season and I could not wait to get this in my ears and let my heart linger in the haunting beauty of Karla's voice and heart.

Karla released this 5 song EP on Monday, December 1, available to download for only $6! I passionately implore you to go download it right now and get it in your ears.

All 5 songs on Lingering are downright magical! Four of them are some of my all-time-favorite classic carols and one is an original work that I adore. Truly, this woman is an artist! I am inspired and mesmerized by how she has taken liberties and added her own flare to the songs I love so much without losing the integrity of the melodies or the nostalgia of the music. Her original song, "All Your Glory," is raw and deep and stirs emotions in me I didn't know I wanted to feel. The way she uses words to express the deepest things in my own heart gets me every time. I am blown away by her talent again again and with this album she has raised the bar once more by playing every musical track you hear! That's right, she is the only instrumentalist on the album. I love the way she pushes herself and works to hone her craft. Her humility and genuine excitement are just beautiful reminders of what an amazing person and treasure she is.

I have the privilege of offering a giveaway of this album here on my blog. In fact, I am giving away 2 free downloads! Here's how you can enter to win one of the downloads for yourself:

You will receive one entry for each of the following actions; you can enter up to 2 times on my blog and once a day on Twitter or Facebook. The winners will be drawn by random selection and announced on Wednesday, December 10, at 3:00 pm, MST.

  1. Comment on this blog post. I'd love to hear your thoughts, your favorite Christmas carols, what word you have for yourself this Christmas season, or a favorite Christmas memory!
  2. Share this blog post on Facebook or Twitter. Please be sure to use the hashtags #mackushlingeringgiveaway and #lingering in your post so I can keep track of your entries.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Grocery Store Saga

Seriously, grocery store parking lots are one of the most frightening things for a mom - especially a mom of three young children (all under age 8).

It all started yesterday…

But first, a little back story:

We are now budgeting for a weekly grocery trip, which means I am responsible for meal planning and shopping every week, which means that because it is summer I must find it within myself to muster up the energy and will-power to cart all three of my strong opinionated passionate beautiful mini people to the grocery store EVERY WEEK.

You may think this is no big deal, but, honestly, there are weeks I would rather climb Mt. Everest barefoot.

Please don’t hear me wrong or throw judgmental glares or condescending power-mom stories my way. I absolutely adore each of my children and love to spend time with them. The cold hard facts are, though, that: 

My 3 1/2 year old son is still in the messy process of learning to be patient and control his temper, which often times results in him yelling, screaming, jetting off into cart traffic at the slight mention of not getting what he wants, and pulling things off of shelves. You can accuse me of failing and not doing enough because he should have these social faux pas under control by now, but I will simply ignore you because I am already exhausted and have worked very very hard to get him to this point and am proud of him for asking to go to the potty instead of not saying anything and peeing all over the floor in the cereal aisle and for not carrying on his screaming and kicking fits for the entire time we are in the store and for not kicking, biting, or yelling at innocent passers by for no apparent reason. We have come a long way, people!

My 6 year old daughter can be a bit of a space cadet; I affectionately call her my daydreamer. There is not a time we go into a store and I don’t have to pull her out of the way of a grandma barreling down an aisle in full power-walk mode with a cart full of Metamucil, bran cereal and cartons of milk, because she is dreamily reaching for a pretty ribbon attached to a shiny Minnie Mouse balloon full of helium. It typically takes at least 4 times of me asking her to move before she clues in and begins to utilize kinetic energy, which is frustrating because she has an impeccable ability to stand exactly where I need her not to. Today I firmly warned her that I was going to run her over, but forgot to address her directly; a poor gentleman a few feet in front of our caravan stepped back and appeared to be frightened, saying, “I thought you were talking to me! I was ready to run.” I smiled and laughed lightheartedly and assured him that if I was talking to him, I would give him a warning as I had my daughter.

My 7 1/2 year old daughter is a lot like me: Loves lists and order and perfection and appearing to have it all together. She falls apart when all of these things fall apart because, let’s face it, all of these things do fall apart at one time or another - or all at once, as it usually goes in the grocery store. She is my list-keeper and takes her job quite seriously; so much so that she often panics when I don’t get bread yet because it is the next thing on the list but bacon and frozen veggies are located on the way to the bread. A typical trip with her at the helm of the list involves at least one moment where she throws the list on the floor and walks to the other side of the aisle with her arms crossed, muttering something along the lines of, “Fine I just won’t do anything anymore.” Again, she’s a lot like me.

Apart from their individual tendencies that come along with their amazing and unique personalities and characteristics, there are the interpersonal issues. One of the big ones for my kids is doors; also who is walking where; also what kind/color/style of cart we have; also what color dish they get to eat out of; also who gets to help; also who is being treated like a baby… Oh, I should stop there because the list would seriously just keep going on. This is a natural and beautiful part of them growing and learning how to relate to other people in life, as well as discovering their likes and dislikes and all that good stuff. But boy is it a hassle on the grocery trip! Sometimes these things feel so overwhelming I struggle to bring my children out of the house at all.

So, you see, going grocery shopping with all of my mini people in tow is quite a feat.

Back to yesterday…

I had a day of errands and housework planned for our Friday. It had been a couple of days since the kids and I had done anything outside of the house, so I decided to let them play at the park in the morning instead of doing the shopping then. Then I had a friend ask me to watch their kids for the afternoon because they were in a bind so I decided to help them out - which also gave my kiddos time with their friends - instead of doing the shopping then.

Which left me with needing to do the shopping today: Saturday. 

There was no chance of pushing the trip back any further because we are out of all breakfast foods and sides and have very few comprehensive options for meals. If we didn’t go today, we would be surviving on microwave popcorn, grilled chicken, spinach, and eggs. 

Now, I have learned that if I absolutely have to go shopping on a Saturday - especially at any of the main options such as King Soopers or Wal Mart - it is best to go very early, as in before 9am. Anytime after then it is a madhouse and all hell breaks loose. This is tried and true, people.

One of the worst choices I made in this scenario was to go at lunch time. (smh)

I was not up for an early rising today; I was tired after a long, arduous week of this whole mommy thing. So breakfast was a little later than usual.

And I had promised them yesterday that we would go to the library today, which needed to involve them getting their prizes for all of the hard work they have put into reading this summer (The oldest earned her super cool robot-hand-grabber-thingy for completing the “extra credit” 25 hour prize goal! So proud of that one.) as well as picking out some new books and DVDs to bring home.

By the time we finished up at the library and made it to the grocery store, it was the worst time of day on the worst day of the week to go grocery shopping with all three of my children.

I girded up my loins and decided we were going to buckle down and get it done. I put my best foot forward and gave them the best pep talk I could concoct, once I finally found a parking spot that wasn’t miles from the front door and was only a couple of spaces away from a cart return. 
The pep talk looked a lot like this:

Me: You will repeat after me. Ready?
Them: Yes, Mommy.
Me: I will not ask Mommy for anything.
(They repeat)
Me: I trust Mommy to get everything that I need.
(They repeat)
Me: I will not throw a fit, even if I do not get what I want.
(They repeat, somewhat hesitantly)
Me: I will treat everyone with love and respect.
(They repeat)
Me: I will stay by Mommy.
(They repeat)

Hope rose in my heart as I anticipated all of these things being remembered and this trip going magically smooth.

And then we got out of the car.

Walking through the grocery store parking lot is akin to navigating a mine field when you have three small people with you. We have many serious conversations about why it’s important to not go running ahead but stay close to Mommy, why we don’t walk in the middle of the road but stay close to the side, why we watch for the back lights on the parked cars because they may be backing up but not able to see someone as short as my children, etc. Each of my kids could quote these precautions to you with ease, but executing them is another thing entirely.

We made it through the lot without a mishap and I started breathing again when we got through the front doors. 

Some one had just left a beautiful, empty cart right in front of me, facing into the store and ready for me to simply walk up to and push forward. There was a moment where I swear I saw a beam of light shining on the cart and angels vocalizing in harmony.

That moment was quickly shattered by the commotion my children began to make about wanting the cart with the car on the front for my son to ride in. This is where things really started to go downhill and, in hindsight, I should have put my foot down and not given in to their desires.

After securing the requested cart and getting everyone settled, I tried pushing forward and not letting this minor situation throw off my groove. 

Do you know these carts I’m referring to, the ones with the car on the front? If you don’t, you must not have kids or you miraculously have never taken your kids to the grocery store that has them. If you do, you can sympathize with me about how absolutely ridiculous they are. The turning radius on these is worse than a 15-passenger van full of wild and crazy teenagers on their way to a Superchick concert. I have never found one that actually has all of its wheels on the ground at the same time and doesn’t pull to one side or another. The actual cart space is significantly reduced. The buckles are always broken either to the extent of complete uselessness or to be no longer kid-proof to open. Today the cart we had may as well have not had any wheels on it at all because it was like pushing a brick wall down the aisle. I believe my words as we began down the main thoroughfare were, “Well, at least I’ll get a work out today!”

I proceeded with caution to the produce section. Cherries and grapes were on sale and spirits were high! Perhaps a perfect run was still within my grasp…

As we were about to turn the corner to move on to the next section, my buddy boy informed me of his need to use the restroom. 

Now, I must say that I am elated about the fact that I no longer have any children in diapers, I do not have to take the entire house with me to go anywhere for any amount of time, and all of my children are quite independent in the bathroom department. All of that being said, I know that having to take a potty break in the midst of a grocery trip can be a recipe for disaster. It tends to throw off our game like a bird dive-bombing the pitcher on the ball field. But when the boy has to go, the boy has to go. I considered myself fortunate enough to still be on the same side of the store as the restrooms this time, which is pretty much a miracle.

I waited as they all went potty, because we do not do the stop-3-times-for-one-at-a-time-to-go, we do the it’s-now-or-you’ll-hold-it-forever and my kids have clued into this quite well. When asked if they also have to use the restroom, coupled with the knowing look they receive from me, all of my children most often respond with, “I’ll try.” Once we got rolling again, my list and plans were far from my mind and I started shopping like I did in the old days when I didn’t follow a budget or a meal plan or a list very well. Oh well.

We didn’t have a real meltdown again until we hit the cereal aisle, which was of the utmost importance to all three of them because we were OUT of cereal… again. (Sheesh we go through a lot of that stuff!) There was much arguing and bargaining - I think one of the sisters actually tried to bribe her brother with precious coins to agree with them so they could get the flavor they wanted - and after tears and yelling commenced, I gave in and got both kinds that they wanted instead of one slightly healthy option and one sugary option, which was met with cheering from the children and instant regret from me.

Moving down from the cereal and beating myself up for being a pushover and not standing firm but giving in to fits, I wanted to melt into the floor and disappear. But there were still a few items left on my list. 

Of course that was when the littlest one got upset about some unknown offense and took off running into the front of the store, almost giving an old lady in a visor a heart attack. I charged after him and swept him up into my arms, kicking and screaming, to sit him in the front seat of the cart where he wouldn’t have any more freedom. He screamed. And kicked a little. But we moved on anyway.

Then there was an issue with the oldest deciding which kind of fruit snacks to pick out. She had been so easily set on a flavor of cereal but just couldn’t come to a conclusion on which of the 5 options of fruit-flavored gummy shapes she liked the most. At this point my patience was melting down and I was struggling to keep it together.

Only a few other minor things transpired as we picked up the paper towels and dairy products and searched for the path of least resistance to the checkout line. By this time, all of us were tired and hungry and I felt a bit frazzled but was desperately trying not to let my kids see that.

Deep breaths; deep breaths. 

We finished up at the checkout and I denied their begging to ride the penny pony, feeling a little redeemed in my parenting abilities because I had said no and stuck to it. A strange calm seemed to finally settle over them as we headed for the door, which I was incredibly thankful for in the anticipation of navigating the minefield of the parking lot. The youngest obediently placed his hand on the cart and the girls fell into step beside me.

We crossed the first part of the parking lot without any trouble. But then we started to get close to our car.

It would so happen that BOTH of the cars on either side of ours were about to back out of their spaces and NEITHER of the drivers were paying any attention and neither were my own children. 

As the one to the right of our car began to back up, I realized my middle child, totally in la-la land, was walking straight toward the vehicle already in motion and yelled her name, which startled her a bit and brought her back to reality and my side. I looked up from that incident just in time to see my son narrowly missed by no more than an inch when the car to the left of ours began to back out.


Like I said: Mine field.

My boy’s eyes were as big as baseballs as I reached for him and pulled him against me while I pressed my back to the rear of our car. 

Thankfully the lady who almost hit him stopped when she saw me. It makes me sick to think about what might have happened if I had waited a split second longer to look that way. She was sure in a hurry to get out of there though, because as soon as I had all of my babies under my wings like a protective mother hen, she kept right on backing out. She did roll down her window to make sure everyone was okay and apologize, which I appreciated.

I immediately scooted all of my children into the car as soon as the other cars were gone and breathed a sigh of relief and a prayer of gratitude.

I don’t know if I was physically shaking as I put all of my groceries into the back of the car, but I was in a bit of shock. It took no small amount of strength to keep myself from falling to pieces and bawling my eyes out when I got in the car. Once I had myself composed, though, I did make sure to tell each of my babies how much I love them and how thankful I was that no one was hurt.

My youngest looked at me with all sincerity and said, “Mommy, I should remember to hold a hand next time.”

Yes, buddy; yes you should.

So as I finish the cold remains of my morning coffee and consume the last of the leftovers from the fridge, my precious little ones quiet in their rooms for the afternoon after eating lunch and settling in, I am very thankful. Life can be a crazy train of madness, but it can change in just the blink of an eye. I know I am safe in the arms of my Father and I know that Jesus holds my babies in his hands, regardless of any circumstance that arises. But I am incredibly grateful that tragedy did not strike today.

And next time I will go to the grocery store by myself, just to save a little sanity for all of us.

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