Saturday, May 8, 2010

MY KIDS AND ME - Chapter 2

“Falling in Love” or “When Mama Ain’t Happy”

Now, some of the titles for this book may seem a little strange to you and totally unrelated to life with my children. This book is about what I learned from them. One of the great lessons of my life has been that I affect those around me. My mood swings, my disposition, my attitude all affect not only my children, but the people with whom I live and work.

This is valuable knowledge in living a happy life, whether you’re raising children, flowers, or chickens. If you believe you’re an island, you’re going to have a hard time raising children…at least happy ones.

Did you know God saw the importance of “atmosphere” when He created the earth? It was “without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” So the first thing He did was to create light. He could have made us in such a way that we could have moved about in total darkness if He had wanted to. But He made light so we could enjoy the beautiful flowers He intended to make. He made night, so we would feel drowsy in front of a cozy fire, and He also made night for romance. Didn’t He? Yes, He did. Romancing with your Sweetie takes on a dreamy dimension at night…candlelight, soft music…Don’t you ever think about why God did what He did in the beginning? Or do I have an over-active imagination? I don’t think so.

The memory of the atmosphere we create in our home is going to stay with our children for the rest of their lives. Their disposition and their temperament largely depend on the atmosphere at home. We’re taught, and I agree, that children are born with certain “bends.” In a family of say, eight children, for instance, all raised in the same atmosphere, same parents, same night time routine, one child will be easy-going and always happy. Who cares that not everyone loves him. He is going to love you, and get along with you. Sleeping in the bedroom next to him will be a little girl who has fought her entire way through the day. She loves the challenge of keeping everyone in line. She doesn’t really care how many enemies she makes during the day, just so by bedtime she’s been able to get at least one sibling in line, with as much punishment as possible.

But at least from my experience, when children grow up in an orderly household, where Mama is happy, usually everybody else is, too. And if she ain’t…neither is anyone else.

So what does “falling in love” have to do with anything? I pray this prayer for several of my children every morning: “Help _______ and _______ to fall in love with ________ and to love it more than any other place on earth.” Because if they don’t, neither will their children. Their children will grow up hating the place where God has called them.

I say this from experience. I literally hated San Cristóbal when we moved here thirty-eight years ago. I won’t even be pious and say like I have in the past, “but as I got to know the people, I began to fall in love with San Cristóbal,” because that’s not really true. I’m not talking about people…I’m talking about places. I’m talking about the place where you are right now. Maybe you’re lying in a hospital bed; maybe you have to cook dinner from a wheel chair, or in a hot steamy kitchen. Ask the Lord to help you to fall in love with where you live.

I can still remember the almost eerie feeling of walking the streets of San Cristóbal when we first arrived. There were no flowers in the yards, or at least if there were, they were not visible from the sidewalks, because San Cristóbal is a colonial town, and everything is gray, and concrete…that was my first impression. Gloom, adobe walls, narrow streets, ugly, ugly, ugly everywhere you looked. That was in February, 1972. Thirty-eight years later, the streets are still narrow, the walls still hide what could possibly be lovely gardens, and the sound, almost like a castle-echo, is what you hear if you walk down the streets this afternoon. So what has changed? I have changed. Not even the people have changed. They’re still very “Coletos,” a term applied to people from this little mountain village. No, the one who has changed is me…or is I…or am I, to be grammatically correct.

I love my town more than any other town on earth. The climate is an average 72 degrees. I live on the outskirts of town, but it’s still noisy, with street vendors, and occasional religious parades, and water trucks that sell my bottled water. I love sitting in my bedroom with the drapes drawn before daylight, and knowing exactly when to turn off my porch light, because the birds start singing at precisely dawn.

No place on earth can compare to my town. I wasn’t born here, and I didn’t grow up here, and I’ll guarantee you, it wasn’t love at first sight. It was a gradual falling in love.

I don’t know if my children were old enough to feel my hatred for this town years ago. They may not have known what made me cranky, or critical, or crabby. But I was, because I lived for the day when we would make cross-country trips from southern México where San Cristóbal is located, to the United States. And I’m ashamed to admit the thoughts I used to have about never coming back.

In my book, Tom and Me, there is a chapter called “I Stayed.” I don’t know where you are, but if you don’t love the place where you are, more than any other place on earth, the only way you’re going to “fall in love” with it is to stay there. Stay put. Know how you do that? You don’t leave.

I’m afraid our children are growing up to hate the place where they live, simply because we don’t make it a happy place.

I don’t know what circumstances are making you unhappy with your surroundings, but you can make it very pleasant and a happy place for your children.

So if it isn’t the people that make a place happy, what is it? I say it’s the memories. We’ve made memories with our children in the most desolate situations, in the unhappiest times of our lives. I remember the time Anna was only two months old, and we were returning home from the States. We had a bad wreck, and our pickup and travel trailer turned over. Miraculously we survived. By then we had five children, and the trailer was actually our home. But some of the most precious memories I hold dear to my heart are those made that week in the hotel room where we stayed while our insurance company was settling with the man who caused the accident. With a family of seven, including a baby, you can imagine the laundry…and no laundromat! I laughed until my side hurt at the sight of my husband “changing cycles” as he washed clothes in the bath tub…from gentle to spin to regular to rinse…how the children laughed as Daddy did the laundry.

The scary moments?...the terrifying feeling of reliving every moment of the wreck…yes, they were there. But what I remember most was the picnic down at the river, making new friends at the hotel, hanging my laundry out on the hotel roof, and using the closet shelves as kitchen storage. Like falling in love in a romantic atmosphere, precious memories are what make for a life long love affair with the place where God has put us.

There’s a divine element in falling in love. Worldly love affairs are all about the physical. But true love from God is more about the spirit, that nameless, indescribable attraction toward the one we truly love. If you leave God out of the picture, and out of your life, I don’t know how you make sense of anything in the first place. That’s what tears families apart…looking for that perfect town, that perfect job, or school, or church, even, can create an unrest, a dissatisfaction not only in us, but in our children as well.

Whether it’s peanut butter sandwiches under a shade tree in the back yard, or reading to our children, or playing games, you can make some happy memories. When you’re not happy, neither are your children. Fall in love with the place God has chosen for you to live. And so will your children.


Jolene said...

Great second chapter! And such a great reminder at the importance of the atmosphere I am creating in my home. Thank you!

I love you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mrs.Sloan.This really spoke to my heart.I need to love where I am and be a happy Momma.Thank you for your wisdom.
In Christ,
Muffy Stephenson

The Woodford's said...

Dear Mrs. Sloan,
I just "happened" upon your blog, and So appreciated this post. We are new (less than 2 years) missionaries to Hermosillo, Sonora, and I admit, the first year was horrible, and while this one is getting better, it sure hasn't been wonderful. I know it's been me that's been the problem, and I'm thankful the Lord has been slowly but surely changing my heart. Your post reminded me of my responsibilities once again. May the Lord continue to bless your work for Him!

Love in Christ,