The Least of These

Sheila with ChristopherThe cardiologist walked into the room, glanced at my chart and asked, “So you didn’t get an abortion?”. As I was 34 weeks pregnant, it seemed an unnecessary question.

For one agonizing night we actually considered it. Twenty-two weeks into my second pregnancy we learned the boy I was carrying had Down Syndrome and a serious heart defect. Though my husband and I detested the idea of abortion, we wondered if we were cruel to let him live. On April 17, 1996 we sat in our living room, numb with shock. “What if sparing him suffering is the only thing we can do for him?” Keith asked our minister, Duke Vipperman, who had come by to talk to us.

“You sound as if you believe it is you who are causing his suffering,” Duke replied. Then he explained that we do not cause suffering, it just happens. Those closest to God, who are most at peace, are often those who have suffered the most. “If you try to ease his suffering by denying him life,” Duke told us, “you are in essence saying you can do God’s job better than God.”

For Keith this settled the issue. He had never wanted to abort, but as a physician he wanted to “fix the problem”–to make sure he was doing all he could for our baby.

I knew I could never go through with an abortion, but it was not just because of my moral objections. I had felt him kick. Even though he was small, I sensed him fluttering at only 14 weeks, and he just kept growing more active. I could never abort him. I loved him. He was my son.

Christopher arrived eleven days early on August 6, 1996. Suddenly he was no longer a medical problem but a tiny bundle who breathed a little too fast, and who stared into my eyes with recognition and, I think, love.

His first two weeks were peaceful ones, as he was healthier than we expected, and we learned all the facets of his personality. He enjoyed being cradled and listening to singing, but would kick and scream in indignation if he lost his soother. When our 1 ½ year old daughter Rebecca visited him, she would lean over the bassinet, pat his blond fuzzy head and say, “My baby?”. I would nod, and promise that we would take him home soon.

But we couldn’t. As his heart began to fail Christopher grew increasingly tired and lost weight instead of gaining it. He was transferred to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children to await surgery.

During the evening, as I sat alone with him in his room, I would hold him and whisper, “Do you know how much Mommy loves you?”. Babies, so tiny and helpless, inspire a purer love than most. It is an unselfish love, since babies–and especially those who are sick–cannot promise anything in return. I am a goal oriented person, yet with Christopher, I learned to sit and just “be”. I had no choice. And in the quiet, I sensed God whispering His own unconditional love to me, too. “Thank you, God,” I whispered, “for the chance to know this precious boy.”

Usually his room was bustling with visiting friends, relatives, and Keith’s colleagues. We even held a dedication service there. The event was somber, for though we were celebrating his life, we all could see how tiny he was for the battle that lay ahead. The doctors gave Christopher a 25% chance of post-operative survival, for he was only 4 ½ pounds.

On the morning of his surgery I was terrified I wouldn’t hold him again. “I want so much more for you, honey,” I said. “But I am glad to have the chance to love you. No matter what happens, I will see you again.”

For five days he recovered well, and the doctors grew optimistic about his chances. But on September 3 Christopher’s breathing again grew rapid. That night my mother watched Rebecca, and Keith and I visited him together. “Mommy loves you, sweetheart”, I whispered as we left his room. It was 9:30 p.m.

He was only 29 days old when he died later that night.

The number of people at the funeral amazed us. Along with family and friends, many from the hospital attended, too. We asked Duke to talk about the importance of Christopher’s life, as we felt so many had discounted him because of his disabilities. “We must not look down on little children, for they are our model of God’s kingdom,” Duke preached. Jesus Himself chooses to identify with them, for whoever welcomes them, welcomes Him (Matthew 18:5). “Christopher was what we are to be: a little one, utterly dependent on God, struggling against apathy and everything that would deny us the sweetness of life.”

The two years since his death have been full ones. I have shed many tears, but I also smile now when I remember him. We have a new baby girl, and Keith is establishing his own pediatric practice. I often think about how different life would be had I aborted him. I would have no memories and no peace. And how do you talk about your pain? People understand my pain when I say I had a baby who died. Would they understand if I had aborted a baby at 4 ½ months? I can visit him at his grave. But most of all, I can look my girls in the eyes and tell them with conviction that I love them unconditionally. And they believe me, for I loved him.

Many may think his was a wasted life. He never came home from the hospital, he never smiled, and he was rarely even awake. But they didn’t watch the faces of his grandparents when they held him, the nurses as they watched us, or the people we have comforted since. They do not know how Christopher changed us. And so they cannot see that his life is much more than those 29 days. Recently Rebecca told me not to be sad, because Christopher is in heaven, and he is happy now. I think she is right. And one day we will meet him again, and the blessing that was his life will be complete.

Sheila’s book, How Big Is Your Umbrella: Weathering the Storms of Life, deals more fully with this story. Find out more here.

Don’t Just Sit There, DO Something!

You can’t expect people to change magically.

 

If you want your home to change, you need to set consequences when people don’t change. And rewards when they do. It’s as simple as that.

 

Or is it?

 

Lori, conducting our book club, says this:

 

This is likely not going to be a walk in the park on a lovely spring day.

The day that I filled the black bag was not one of the our best. My kids tried all of the countermoves that Sheila says to expect.

They tried.

I stuck to my guns. The contents of the bag remains sitting in my closet is getting smaller as they prove that taking care of their things is important. Change takes time! I gave a lot of thought to this consequence. In no way did I want to single anyone out or withold love or acceptance. What I did, I did out of love, and they know that…now.

Sheila offers other ideas for consequences in this chapter and some of them are brilliant! The “jubilee” basket which is taken from the Old Testament. In the Old Testament the land was returned to the original owner after a period of time. (page 133) Just after that suggestion, Sheila mentions how there have been times where they have had to call in the garbage bags! I LOVE this woman!

Another idea that I found useful and one that we have begun to use in my home is the idea, “If you Made the Dinner, You Don’t Clean Up.” She recommends that when children are old enough, they load the dishwasher and clear the table. Let everyone know that if they help prepare the meal then that evening they are off of clean up duty. It encourages help and it encourages responsibility as well as teach them practical life skills. As they get older, have them engage in helping plan meals, which will eventually lead to them preparing a meal.

Sing it Aretha…Sing it girl!
R~E~S~P~E~C~T

Read the rest here, including tips on allowances, how to get kids to “carry their own load”, and more!

Relationship U-Turns

Lori, who has been writing the study, summarizes chapter 5 like this:

In order to grow we have to resist the temptation to blame our unhappiness on others. We will at some point be standing completely alone in front of God explaining our choices and decisions to Him, it’s time for us to take responsibility for these decisions. It’s only in the stripped down honesty with ourselves that we can see where we need to make changes. Romans 14:12 and 2 Corinthians 13:5 are wonderful verses to reference and pray when in this phase of change. (pg 88-92) We MUST face our past choices and come clean in order to stop the pattern of poor choices. Sheila also addresses fears and the importance of examining these fears in order to become completely responsible for our decisions.

*A servant attitude
We all know that as Christians we are called to lives of servant hood, but let’s be honest, it’s not a culturally popular! Being a woman with a servant attitude does not mean that we “lose ourselves in the process.” “That is not Christlike servant hood,” states Sheila. Perhaps the best illustration was that of Jesus, when he washed the feet of His disciples. He was not serving them out of anything but LOVE. Jesus lost nothing by serving them, he instead taught them LOVE. Those men loved and respected Him and it was in his servant hood to them that he taught them.

There is a significant difference between being subservient and having a servant attitude, and that difference lies in mutual respect. In families where mutual respect and responsibility are found, then everyone would adopt a servant attitude, wouldn’t that be a wonderful world? We have to again take responsibility for ourselves. We have to learn to live with this servant attitude that has us doing the things we do for “free.” In a world that tells us that you should be rewarded for “doing,” this can be a trap we fall into. Coming to a place where we model the servant’s heart that Christ had is the path we need to follow. We learn to “give” love rather than “gain” love. (page 100) …

There’s lots more, and you can read it here!

Balancing Tipped Scales

You know that saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing?”.

Or, another way to look at it, “major on the majors; minor on the minors.”

Too often in our homes we major on the minors. We concentrate on cleaning and laundry and looking like we have it all together and don’t focus on God, and relationships, and the things that ultimately matter.

So let’s talk today about how to “major on the majors”.

Here’s what Lori, who’s running the book club, says to start off:

This week as we make our way through the book, we are looking at “Balancing Tipped Scales.”

I had to laugh out loud. It’s in the first paragraph of this chapter that Sheila speaks of, “sitting down relaxing, you may stare off into space and, in the process, notice that your walls need cleaning.” HA! It’s not the walls that I noticed in a recent “relaxation” moment, but rather the glass on the front door. The sun was shining in so perfectly that it ENHANCED its desperate need to be cleaned! I could mind you, clean from dusk to dawn. Dusting, mopping, wiping, Swiffering, but I will certainly not be any happier, right?

We all want contentment really. How can we balance those scales that tend to tip us in the direction of constant cleaning? SCHEDULES, is what Sheila suggests. Schedules will ultimately free us from the “bondage” of housework. It will free us to explore the other gifts and talents that God has so generously bestowed on us. Not to use them is a waste.

The New Priorities Model 

What exactly is the “New Priorities Model?”
Shelia suggests that if we begin “block at least fifteen minutes throughout the week in three different renewing areas- two from “Relationship Care,” two from “Personal Care,” and two from “Spiritual Care,” then we will begin to see a balance approach to our lives. (page 71)
Now I know that scheduling may be the last thing that you want to do. Does that make it sound like I’m making you even more into a drill sergeant than anything else?

But that’s not the aim. Instead, I think it’s liberating.

Here’s the point: if we don’t schedule stuff in that’s important first, it won’t get done. If you decide that at some point today you’re going to read your Bible, you won’t. Something will always get in the way.

If you say to yourself, sometime this week I will go to the gym, you won’t. There will never be a free moment.

If you say, “I will play a game with my child this week when things are quiet”, you won’t. And then you’ll feel guilty about it afterwards.

Do you see what I mean?

And if you don’t do these important things, you’re going to start to feel very exhausted. Because it’s these important things that feed our souls. When we’re not caring for ourselves, and caring for our relationships, but we’re only caring for our homes, we’re never going to feel fulfilled.

Major on the majors.

Read the rest of what Lori wrote here.

 

This Ain’t My Momma’s House

Here’s how reviewer Lori starts off:

We ALL want it. We want to utilize our time for “fulfilling purposes, pursuits and goals,” right? For most of us, if not ALL, housework is something that we HAVE to do and it’s just not a big ball of fun. Sheila tells us WHY we get so little out of those chores that all accumulate into “housework.” On page 51, she lays out quite well why it disagrees with most of us.

Anything that you:
a.) do alone
b.) never get thanked for
c.) never really finish, it just needs redone tomorrow
is likely not going to rate HIGH on the charts.

Given this, most of us don’t greet these tasks with Mary Poppins enthusiasm or have an overwhelming DESIRE to unload the dishwasher or fold the laundry. Well ladies, we’ve been sold a bill of goods. We are given image after image of WHAT a home SHOULD look like, and told that we should be “SUPERWOMEN.” When we don’t feel we meet the standards that we have set for ourselves or we hold to standards of someone else, like our mothers or mother in laws, we are simply setting ourselves up for disaster and depression.

 

Read the rest of what she wrote here.

 

But think about this: Here’s the crux of the matter: our standards can choke us because we’re focusing on the wrong things. We are so caught up in what we should be doing in terms of housework that we ignore what God’s true purpose in our lives.

Does it honestly matter if all your laundry is done, if your children haven’t had a peaceful word said to them all day? What’s more important: the spotlessness of your house or playing with your children?