Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Fine Line Between Complaint and Grief

I recently heard a talk that left me wondering "is there a difference between complaining and grieving?"  The speaker was sharing both how the Lord had brought her through very difficult trials (which was a real blessing to hear), and also how we as fellow Christians could minister and be mindful of the trials of another.  The second part was what led to my questions, my musings, and what (I hope) the Lord is teaching me. Here goes... they kind of build on each other, but are interrelated.  Hopefully it is somewhat coherent. :)

1. Grief is real.  It's a part of this life, sure as breathing.  For Christians, suffering is guaranteed, even escalated, because of our faith.  But it's also redeemed, given purpose, given a Presence.  We are comforted in our suffering by the One who knows us best and loves us most, we are assured that this suffering is doing wonderful things in us, and that it will make us happier in the long (eternal) run.  Our Savior picked up every bit of leftover bread when He fed the multitudes-- would He ever waste our sufferings?

2. We are commanded to share each other's joys and griefs.  That is, there will be times when someone else is crying when we feel like laughing, and we are supposed to put aside our desire to whoop and holler and try to enter into their grief, as if it were our own.  There will be other times when our pain is so deep that we wonder how anyone anywhere could even smile.  In those times, we are to give thanks for another's blessings, and rejoice with them.  WOW!! I remember reading something that Richard Wurmbrand, who was tortured for 14 years in Soviet Romania for his confession of Christ and continued preaching of Him, wrote-- something along the lines of "I remembered that somewhere, some believer was full, some believer had his children around him, some believer was worshiping God freely, and so I could rejoice for them, with them, even in my prison cell." (Read his description of the priest who taught him this here.)  Talk about humbling. 

3. The Biblical command to 'do all things without complaining' is not a gag order on grief.  We CAN grieve without complaining, but we have to watch ourselves!  Picture this:  an obviously-pregnant woman enters a room, sweating in the July heat, ankles swollen and face tired.  She immediately begins bemoaning how uncomfortable she is, how hard being pregnant is, how she just wishes the baby would hurry up and be born.  That's complaining, and it probably isn't exactly "helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it might benefit those who listen." (Eph. 4:29)  As my mom often chided us, "That's the sort of talk that got Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years!"  Picture another scenario, though:  the same obviously- pregnant woman comes into the room, and at the question "how are you?" she says, quite seriously "I am having such a hard time being pregnant right now.  I really could use your prayer-- everything hurts and I haven't slept a solid night for 5 months now."  That's not complaining, that's grieving (at least as I see it), and any one who hears that-- man, woman without kids, woman with 5 kids, woman wishing she had kids-- can and should acknowledge that her grief is real, and do what they can to ease it, whether it be with encouraging words from Scripture, with reminders that something beautiful will come of this pain, prayer, a glass of cool water, or a big hug. But expressing our pain, our emotion, our questions, our confusion, can be a part of grief, an asking for burden-sharing, even of worship-- just check the Psalms!-- and doesn't need a Phil 2:14 "do all things without complaining!" slapped onto it.

4. Different kinds of grief are... different, but all potentially equally painful.  Suffering naturally turns us inward and make us so selfish.  When I hurt deeply, it is all too easy to let that pain become the lens through which I interpret everything around me.   "How could she share her struggles? Can't she see that MY pain is the worst? How dare he laugh around me?  Doesn't he know I'm suffering?"  You get the idea.  But that's just not Biblical.  If I'm a Christian with a chronically painful back, and my sister in Christ is crying because she didn't get accepted into the study program she wanted so badly, we can both validate each other's grief.   We can put our arms around each other and say "we're both hurting-- let's take our pain to Jesus together."

Two areas I've felt this and seen this at my stage of life are singleness v. marriage and infertility v. child-rearing.  I've heard things like "Don't complain about how hard your marriage is to your single friends.  They don't want to hear it."  Similarly, I've heard "If you're having a hard time being pregnant, only talk about it with people who are 'like you' (as in, people who are not infertile)."  I think both of those are dead wrong. Of course, I don't think that complaining is ever right, especially not about one's husband, whom we have vowed to honor and are commanded to respect (Eph. 5:33), BUT to say that one can only share one's sufferings with one who has suffered the same sorrow kind of defeats the point of verses like "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).  It doesn't say anything about only sharing burdens like the ones we already carry.   That would imply that our pain is more valid than another's. Honestly, I think it's very helpful for singles -- who so often are tempted to make an idol of marriage-- to hear the struggles and heart-aches that marriage can bring.  Similarly, it is a good reminder to the one who is overwhelmed and weary from day-and-night childcare to hear that others would give anything to have a child.  And the converses are true.  Other griefs act as great perspective checks.

5.  It seems the best way to share grief is to first just listen, probably hug, too, and then offer to pray (possibly right then & there).  However, hearing a litany of "what not to say" is only so helpful.  If we rather start at the point that everyone has hurt, and probably means to comfort, we'll be way better off-- less offended for sure-- than expecting everyone to walk around eggshells around me because "I'm suffering."

So back to the beginning, and also the conclusion... everyone has hurt.  I read Proverbs 14:10 as a depressed and confused 6th grader and was struck by its truth "Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy."  We are all the walking wounded, despite the smile and clean clothes.  For some, the hurt is clear and public, perhaps painfully obvious:  the broken engagement, the death of a child, the sudden loss of a job.  Their grief is easy to spot, so easy that these grieving are likely to crave anonymity instead of sympathy.  For others, the pain is buried deep, darkly shrouded, the despair so often borne alone:  the spouse addicted to pornography, the dream that must be buried yet again, the secret hope so long deferred, a long loneliness that wears down the soul.  Talk to anyone long enough, though, and you will find a fellow sufferer.  Our challenge in Christ is to extend a hand, then put our own shoulder gently under the other's burden, and together face the Light. I like how the ESV puts that verse-- "The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy."  Let us not be strangers!

I guess the one-liner swirling through my mind after typing and thinking and praying a bit on this is: let's SHARE our burdens, without complaining, yet without guilt.  What are your thoughts?  Anything to add or share?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

And She Threw it Out the Window, the Window, the Second-story...

I was just reminded of that old children's silly-song; the one that turns every nursery into a defenestration event; "Mary had a little lamb, it's fleece was white as snow, and every where that Mary went, she threw it out the window, the window, the second-story window; with a heave and a ho, and a mighty throw, she threw it out the window... Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater, had a wife and couldn't keep her, so he put her in a pumpkin shell, and then he threw her out the window, the window, the second...."  You get the point.

It kind of reminded me of my day yesterday.

Well, no, I didn't exactly throw my daughter (or my sheep) out the window.  I didn't really throw anything at all.  Actually, I didn't really do anything, except memorize the crack and hole in our ceiling, just above our bed, and close my eyes a lot.  So what got thrown out the window?  Well, all my plans.

We'd just gotten back from a trip-- ok, please excuse the trip-summary; I just can't resist the urge to chronicle-- Two Fridays ago, Ryan, his sister Courtney (who'd stayed with us a week), Eowyn & I drove down to Greenville, SC, meeting Ryan's step-dad (otherwise known as "Poppy") in Knoxville and drop Courtney off with him (I almost choked to death in MacDonald's, but that's a long story involving speculation as to the condition of Adam & Eve's DNA, extra-salty fries, and a very stubborn couple).  We listened to Eowyn screaming, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (review coming soon on my blog), and pulled in to my parents' just in time for a quick dinner and settling Eowyn in with Nina & GB.  Then Ryan & I drove up the road for our first-ever Marriage Retreat.  I'm sure I'll post thoughts on that later, but for now, I highly recommend it for every one; young, old, newly-wed, on the rocks, whatever.  The one we went to was put on by Family Life, called A Weekend to Remember, and it was very well-done.  Solid, thought-provoking, Biblical, and accessible (so lacking so much of the time!!).   My sister & bro-in-law were there, too, as were several other folks we knew from around town.

Two Sundays ago we enjoyed a big family lunch with several of my aunts & their families, my sisters, and my grandparents, at my mom's house.  Eowyn was very happy to see us back, which of course was gratifying.  Then Ryan flew out to Chicago for three days, while E & I visited old friends, enjoyed Lake Keowee on Uncle Steve's new boat, were so encouraged by my parent's church small group (Eowyn caused quite a stir by dancing during singing, then saying "AMEN!" every time anyone mentioned Jesus' name during prayer), were spoiled by Nina (my mom), had a little road trip down to visit my baby sister at Clemson University, and spent time with family.  Ryan flew back in to Greenville and we all enjoyed walking around in the magnificent down town area, and checking out houses for sale in the area (no, we aren't moving yet).  I'll have to post pictures soon, especially of the Children's Garden, which was just superb.  You wouldn't think a toddler would get excited about a garden, but oh, she did.

Saturday we drove up to Abingdon, VA, to spend the night and much of Mother's Day with Grandma & Grandpa Presley.  We went to church with them, and Grandpa grilled steaks for us all after wards. Eowyn really showed off for them, tickling every one, playing with all the toys, and being very obedient, cuddly and sweet.  After church we drove home... with poor Eowyn only taking a 1 hour nap instead of her usual 2+... she was a basket case.  The only way I could keep her from crying hysterically- and not an angry cry, but a "my world is falling please don't leave me, Mommy" break-your-heart sob, was by holding her hand.  She's never really wanted to do that before, going down the stairs excepted, so I thought that was sweet... but two hours later my shoulder was sore and I had really hoped to get more mending done!  Oh well... by God's grace we made it home, unpacked the car, sorted the mail, and I even got 2 loads of laundry thrown in.  We talked to all our moms to wish them Happy Mother's Day, and Ryan's Dad to wish him Happy Birthday, and called it a night. I fell asleep composing my To-Do List:
Unpack.  Plant the cuttings brought from Tia Olga's garden.  Weed, thin, and finish planting garden.  Make chicken stock.  Thaw beef stock.  Render beef tallow.  Meal plan & get groceries for week, starting the GAPS diet for Eowyn & I on Tuesday.  Finish mending projects.  [If time, blog about 3 children's books I read while gone.  Plan music & Spanish lessons for summer.]
I could do that, yeah, no problem.  It would be good to get everything in order and jump back into life at home.

I woke up Monday with a sore throat, though, which didn't surprise me too much; I've been fighting one off and on for three weeks now, and it rears its head whenever I don't get enough rest and/or eat too much sugar (usually traveling supplies both circumstances).  I nursed Eowyn, helped her potty, then we both went back to bed.  Two hours later I awoke from a stressful dream and realized that I was cramping my neck.  When I moved to rearrange my pillow and stretch, sharp pain exploded in my neck.  Any movement of my head brought severe pain.  I moved my arms, legs, even shoulders just fine-- it was just my neck.  I could tell it was muscular, not a nerve being pinched-- there was no accompanying metallic tang or twangy feel.  Still, it hurt, my position making it worse.  I had to move, to try and ease the pain.  As I did, I started to cry.  Ryan woke up and reached for my hand.  "What's wrong?"  "I can't move.  My neck hurts so bad.  I can't move."

Next thing you know, Eowyn was up and crying, too.  Poor Ryan.  Mr. Not-a-morning-person had a baby who wanted Mommy and a Mommy who couldn't move to hold the baby.  We finally got her to snuggle on my chest; I could stroke her hair but couldn't look at her.  And that was pretty much our day.  Ryan took Eowyn to the store to get us some food.  He grabbed Tangled from Red Box, which was fun.  He put Eowyn to bed and heated up enchiladas for me.  He called around trying to find someone to watch Eowyn, then decided to just watch her himself and call the day a wash as far as work went.  He put my hair in a pony tail when I couldn't do it myself.  He cut up my steak into bite-sized pieces.  He poured me water and kefir and brought me ibuprofin.  The only time he was a less-than-perfect nurse was when he put stuff just out of my peripheral vision, leaving me to feel around blindly to find it.  But that was quite innocent, and each time it happened we both laughed, which was nice.
Me?  I did... nothing.  No shopping, no stock, no gardening, not even any book reviewing.  I did rest, and snuggle Eowyn, and watch Tangled and Lord of the Beans and most of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  I took a nap.  Towards the end of the day I was able to get up and bring the laundry up (very slowly) and even put it away.  I was able to find a nice light book that I could hold up above my head without tiring my arms.  I was able to read a good-night story to Eowyn and give her a bottle.

My plans went out the window.  But instead of making me fume and fuss, I was able to just enjoy the day of rest.  I didn't get much "done," but I was able to be cared for by my husband, and daughter.  (Every time I cried or made a sound in pain, she'd rush over to me saying "Hug!", and would comfort me with kisses-- oh the sweetest little kisses ever)  It was a day of receiving, not of giving.  Of resting, not of working.  It was what God had ordained for me.  I'm sure there are parables there, but I haven't really tried to find them yet.  It's just where I was yesterday, and still am in part today, though I have been able to do much more, so I thought I'd share.  Maybe God is trying to teach me that I want to see myself as the Do-er, when sometimes He wants me to be the Rest-er.  Or maybe He's trying to teach me to Rest even as I Do... like Jesus was fed as He did the works His Father sent Him to do.  Hmmm...

Maybe tomorrow I'll go outside and try to pick up the pieces of those plans, if they haven't blown too far.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Venting Cry

Before having a child, I remember everyone talking about how moms would learn to tell the difference between a "hungry cry" and a "wet diaper cry," etc.  Thanks to my years of baby-sitting experience, I already could usually tell the difference between a mad temper cry, a tired "fuss," and a wail of sadness... but as to what was causing the sadness-- dirty diaper, temperature, sickness, hunger, lonliness, I had no idea.  Newborns don't really have temper cries yet, so that distinction wasn't much help.  I wondered if I was the only mom to have no idea why her child was wailing, and figured "No way.   Kids have been screaming for thousands of years; I can't be the very first wife to look at her husband and answer his 'Why is she crying?' with a rather distraught 'Because she's a baby?  Your guess is as good as mine!'"  Comforting as that was, it didn't help much in the moment.

Eowyn's not a newborn, anymore; she's a toddler with quite a large bi-lingual vocabulary.  She usually can tell me what she wants in her own words, or I've known her long enough to have a good guess.  So why bring this up now?  Ryan & I were reminded of a cry that every mom needs to know exists:  the "Venting" cry.  Bear with me just a moment while I offer some help to those who are where I was 18 months ago.

1. Your baby isn't crying to be mean.  This is so hard to remember at 5 am, after a long fussy day, 4 mid-night feedings, and 9 + months of sleep deprivation.  But she isn't trying to frustrate you, or to pitch a fit; she's just 6 weeks old and is going through a growth spurt.  Or she's 5 months old and getting her first tooth.  Or she's got a cold and those aches hurt.  But resist the urge to yell at her to for once think about some one else's needs, and pray for grace to sustain you both.

2. Make your own "is it this?" checklist.  Instead of first offering food, which can comfort anyone but isn't usually why a baby cries, make up a routine in your mind of things to check- like: something wrong (an arm stuck in a blanket, or a paci dropped), temperature (is her arm cold or is she sweating?), diaper messy, time (more on a flexible routine in a sec), fever or swollen gums, and last of all, food.  I would wear Eowyn in an Ergo carrier when she was having a particularly hard day (or when I was).

3. Flexible routine.  Honestly, this is what has "saved" my sanity as a mother.  Because I have a routine, I know what Eowyn is used to at any given point of the day, and what she therefore most likely needs.  From 8 weeks-ish on, I fed her on a loose 3 hour schedule (never to the point of making her cry if she was hungry or counting minutes), starting at whatever time she woke up for her first feeding.  (When I went back to work I set my alarm for 5 am to feed her so I could nurse her on my breaks at school.)  Then we did a feed-wake time- sleep cycle until the next feeding.  As she got older, I adapted it so I fed her, then she was awake until her next feeding, then slept for 3 hours until her next feeding.  Like I said, it was very flexible, and Eowyn napped in her carseat, in her crib, in her cradle, or in her Ergo while I ran errands.  Why am I bringing this up?  Because it made her cries far more predictable.  It also alerted me to something different going on if she was crying when she wasn't usually hungry, or napping sporadically-- I knew it was a growth spurt, or a tooth, or a sickness, or eventually, time to change routines (to 3 1/2 or 4 hour cycles, or to drop a nap).  Honestly, I think this is really how experienced moms read their children's cries!

4. The Vent Cry- I grew up around babies, starting with 2 baby sisters, and moving through 18 younger first cousins, innumerable baby-sitting charges, church nurseries, and nannying jobs.  This was SUCH a help in new-motherhood.  One of my earliest memories is actually of 3-year-old-me assuring our panicking baby-sitter that "it's ok; sometimes Mama says they just have to cry."  Babies get easily over-tired, overwhelmed, overstimulated, and just want to be left to fall asleep in peace.  Not so different than us, huh? =D  This brings me to the origin of this whole post:  Eowyn's behavior on our drive home today.  It was past her nap-time by over an hour, and we put her in the car seat and drove off.  About 5 minutes into the drive she was wailing, asking to be held, to get out, to get down.  Louder and louder came the cries... then up came the bo-bo (her blankie), and mid-cry, she conked out, mouth open, bo-bo to her cheek.  Just like that.  If I'd been at home and a younger mom, I might have tried to console her all sorts of ways, hugging her, patting her, singing, when all she really wanted was to go to sleep with her bo-bo.  That started me thinking ...that's something all new moms need to know!  Sometimes babies just vent.  You can't make it better by holding them, you only make it worse.  Sometimes, the best thing for everyone is to put Baby in his crib, with his bo-bo (if he has one), kiss him, and close the door.  They vent their fatigue for a few minutes, then ...blessed silence.

So, to sum it up:  Babies are always trying to tell you something with their cries.  Sometimes, it's just "can't you leave me alone!?"  Humbling, but true.

PS.  Do not try the Vent Cry on your husband.  Use your words. :)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Broccoli-Cheddar Soup, GF version

My mom makes this wonderful soup, and Eowyn and I have been gobbling it up.  Any recipe that contains broccoli which I will gobble deserves to be shared; let's just say it ain't my favorite veggie.  But, I am resolved to find at least one method of preparation for each and every formerly-hated vegetable that I truly can enjoy.  So for carrots, it's being cut up and put in a pot pie, or roasted along with sweet potatoes, red potatoes, and onions.  For cauliflower, it's being baked in a cheesy-oniony sauce.  For cabbage, I've found a tomato soup that uses quite a bit, as well as cole-slaw & colcannon (soon I'm going to have to make lots of saurkraut).  This is my new favorite way to get in my broccoli:

Broccoli- Cheddar Soup, GF (with dairy-free option)

3 cups chicken broth (or water saved from boiling or steaming veggies)
1 onion, chopped
4 cups broccoli, chopped
dash of garlic powder (or 1 minced/pressed garlic clove)
1 t dried thyme (or 1 T fresh thyme)
2 bay leaves
4 T unsalted butter, olive oil, coconut oil or palm shortening (non- hydrogenated, of course)
2 T cornstarch OR 4 T rice or corn flour (optional)
1/2 t sea salt
ground pepper to taste
2 c full-fat milk (could use coconut milk for a different flavor, or almond milk)
2 c shredded cheddar cheese  (could substitute with cubed red potatoes, added in first step)
shredded chicken, turkey, ham or bacon (optional)

1. In large saucepan, mix broth, onion, broccoli, garlic, thyme and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are soft (~10 min). 
2. Remove bay leaves.  Puree soup to desired consistency, either with immersion blender, traditional blender, food processor, or by using a potato masher. 
3. Melt butter in saucepan.  If using a flour, whisk in along with salt & pepper.  If using corn starch, first dissolve in 1/2 c of the milk, add the salt & pepper, then whisk into butter.  Add cheddar, stirring until it dissolves.
4. Add to broccoli mixture and cook until blended.  Add in meat if desired.  Serve with corn chips, gluten-free crackers or croutons.

This soup is great re-heated, and is thick enough for my toddler to feed it herself (fairly =D) effectively.  Nice and filling, too!  We are planting lots of broccoli & cabbage in our garden this year, so we'll be using this soup more than once, I guarantee!

NB:  as always, I recommend using organic animal products, and local/pesticide-free produce when possible.

What recipes do you like for veggies you always thought you hated?