F.A.Q.

parkers

Last week my wife was out for a walk.  A man who is an acquaintance of ours stopped his car to have a brief chat with her.  He pointed directly at her belly and said, “Looks like you guys don’t know when to quit, do you?”  He said this in reference to the obvious fact that my wife is very pregnant.  Melody did not really respond as she was both stunned by his words, and she is very nice.  But if I had been there, I definitely would have said something.  I will let you decide whether or not my absence was a good thing.

Yes, we are a few weeks away from the birth of our eighth child.  And something about having what many people consider to be a lot of children makes people feel like they need to share things with you.  Complete strangers, when they learn that this isn’t our first child, or our third, or sixth, suddenly want to ask questions or wax philosophic.  Unfortunately, most of this is done toward my wife.  So I am not afforded the opportunity to respond.  Well, that changes right now.  Here are my responses to all the questions, comments and sometimes downright lunacy directed toward a woman about to give birth for the eighth time.

“You do know what causes this, right?”  Yes, we are aware of what causes this.  Are you aware that you are not funny and that joke is tired?

“Is this the last one?”  The last one what?  The last baby my wife will give birth to?  The last child we would gladly welcome into our home?  The last time I will talk with you?  Be more specific.

“I could never handle that many kids.”  I know you and you are probably right.  Wait, drop the probably.

“You trying for your own baseball team?”  Nope, Quidditch.  But we overshot by one.  Oh, sorry.  You don’t know what Quidditch is?  Try some reading.

“You guys must really like kids.”  Nope.  Hate’em.  Just really love changing diapers.

“I bet you guys never get even a moment alone do you?”  Eight pregnancies don’t happen by magic buddy.

“You can’t possibly spend enough time with each one of them.”  Of course not.  We picked out two of them awhile back to just ignore.  Think of it as a sociological experiment.

“How can you afford all those kids?”  We can’t.  How about ten bucks?

“You trying to get your own TV show?”  Yes, actually.  It is a show where I go around punching stupid people in the face.  Today is our first show.  Yay, you get to be on TV!

“Are you Catholic?”  How many Catholic’s do you know with eight kids?  No we aren’t Catholic.  We attend Holy Uterus Church of the Womb.  No, not the one’s who use the rhythm method, they’re apostate.

“Are you Mormon?”  Again, no.  Well some of us are.  We have too many kids to all fit in one car so we attend a couple of churches.

“I can’t imagine eating out with all those kids.”  I can’t imagine eating anywhere with you.

“I just couldn’t do it.”  No one is asking you to.

Now, let me say that most people don’t mean anything bad with these questions or comments.  Many of them are just trying to connect with a world they find strange or unknowable.  Some make it pretty obvious that something about our having this many kids makes them feel guilty for some weird reason.  A few I think actually hate children.  But if deep down you wonder why we would do this, then let me talk seriously for just a moment about why we are about to have eight children.

It is not because it is easy for us.  We aren’t Superparents.  It’s hard.  It’s dang hard.  It’s exhausting.  It tests your patience and your kindness.  Stretches your willingness to give to the breaking point.  I will not pretend that I don’t every once in a while, look at someone who is my age and is almost done raising children and think, wow that must be nice.

We don’t do this because it’s fun (although it most definitely is!!!).  We aren’t having more babies to try to prove something.  We aren’t in a cult.  We don’t believe this is what everyone has to do.  We don’t believe it makes us better than anyone else.

We are having another child because that is the blessing God has given us.  We are willing to have more children because that is the calling from Jesus He has placed on us.  We gladly take on the responsibility of another child because we believe God will provide the patience and stamina we need in the moment we need it.

We are having an eighth child because the seven we already have been the most wonderful, amazing, most life-changing gifts we have ever received.

Nothing has transformed me, matured me, like having all these kiddos.  My compassion is deeper, my patience longer.  I am learning how to love in the midst of difficulties, to be responsible in the midst of chaos.  I am forced to constantly reconsider whether something is actually important (almost nothing is actually important and the list keeps shrinking).  They have taught me the real meaning of wealth, and the utter foolishness of holding on tightly to a few dollars.

The major problem with our world is not too many people, but too few who actually know how to share and get along with others.  My kids and I are learning that lesson together.  You must share to get through even a day at our house.  You don’t have “your room” since there are a couple other people who could make the same claim.  The operative words are “our” and “us” not me and mine.

I don’t want to try to convince anyone that having a passel of kids is the key to life.  But I have had numerous people say to me (and us) that they wish they would have had more children.  I have yet to have anyone say they should have had less (although I know they are out there somewhere).

I love these guys.  Every one of them.  Would have been perfectly happy with seven.  But eight sounds even better.

And now to answer the man who spoke with my wife last week.

“You guys don’t know when to quit, do you?”  Quit what?  Talking to morons?  Yeah I guess we don’t know when to quit.

Or how about: “You guys don’t know when to quit, do you?”  Are you making a fat joke about my wife?  You thought she was pregnant?!

Or: “You guys don’t know when to quit, do you?”  I’ve watched you ___________  ____  _____  _____  ______  ______  ____  _______!”  (sorry, redacted by my wife for being just too mean and accurate.)

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Rick Barry Can Help Your Relationships (And Your Free Throws)

ricky barry

Rick Barry is a jerk.  Seriously.  According to a lot of people.  Most people.  Even family members.  If you don’t know Barry, he is a Hall of Fame basketball player.  Won league MVP honors.  Is considered one of the three or four best shooters EVER.  But, he is just as well-known for two things besides basketball ability.  One, he shot free throws underhanded (granny shot).  And two, he is a jerk.

You see Barry is a perfectionist.  That’s why he shot free throws underhanded.  (listen to Gladwell’s podcast to learn more about Barry and free throws, it’s really good)  Apparently, it is the most effective means of making them.  And Barry made them.  But Barry also expected others to have the same level of perfection when it came to basketball.  He would gripe at teammates for not doing everything to maximize their basketball prowess and therefore the team’s chance to win.  He complains about high-fiving players who missed a shot.  He can never understand why everyone wouldn’t shoot free throws like him when it is obviously the best way to do it.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The kid who practices piano for twenty hours a week can’t understand why anyone would practice an instrument less.  “Don’t you want to get good at it?”  But he probably also doesn’t get the kid that would practice 40 hours a week.  That is insane.

If I work 50 hours a week, I look at somebody who works seventy and say “good grief, get a life, be with your family.”  If someone works 35 I view them as lazy or perhaps entitled.  MY zone is THE zone.  Everyone’s home should be as clean as mine.  Maintain their cars at the same level I do.

But Barry confronts us with something because he is so far down the road.  We all have different “zones”.  Differing levels of expectation and perfectionism.  I know almost no one at Barry’s level.  But if I look honestly at my life and others, I see many different zones, most of which do not match mine.

This is critical as we deal with others in relationship.  I would guess that much of our frustration with others comes from real differences in our zones.  We butt heads because their zone just feels wrong to us.  But it feels wrong for a very good reason.  Because it is wrong for us.  We are not them.  They are not us.  For relationships to work I must be willing to drop the expectation that others will view life, work, relationships and love just like I do.

Who is right, the wife who is mad at her husband for not doing more to clean up dinner, or the husband who goes outside and plays with the kids?   Should we really expect everyone to have the same desire we do when it comes to work and family and friends?

Barry was right.  Let’s don’t forget that.  He had found some seriously better ways to play basketball.  But he found them because of his zone.  But what trapped him was that he could not manage to berate his teammates to move to his level.  Huh.  Something there will preach.

It’s funny.  When I go to the public library I typically wander over to the new book section.  Fiction is on the left, and I peruse it, scanning for anything interesting.  Then my eyes shift to the right.  Non-fiction.  I typically flip through a couple of biographies.  Skim the back cover of some political or sports book.  But my gaze inevitably falls on a particular set of books.  They are about business or entrepreneurship, leadership or maximizing potential.  They urge me to now “Smash It” and “Lead” and “Build my Brand.”  I stare at them for a moment.  And the same thought always goes through my head: “Nah, I don’t want to smash it”.  That’s right, I don’t really care if I maximize my potential.  At least not in the way those books mean it.

Rick Barry believed in shooting free throws underhanded because it was the best way to do it.  He was a perfectionist.  Other’s wouldn’t do it because they thought it made them look like a “sissy.”  What’s amusing is that if I made the NBA, I would shoot underhanded like Barry.  But not because I am a perfectionist.  I would shoot the granny shot because I would want to get along with Rick Barry.  Be his friend.  Relationships, that’s my zone.

One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and others is permission to be different.  To have various levels of desire and expectation.  We must recognize that someone who does life differently than we do isn’t crazy or lazy.  Nah.  They are just different.

The Money Trap

We get by.  Barely.  Well sometimes less than barely.  Between seven kids, choosing to work less so we can homeschool them, and working the type of jobs we do, we struggle.

Now, please don’t hear that as a complaint.  We have all we need.  And much of what we want.  I just mean that our budget is an accountant’s dream.  You end up back at zero pretty much all the time.

We all know that money is one of the things that couples often fight about.  It is the place where power, respect, selfishness, and our fears all meet.  That can be a dangerous mix.  But just because you have very little (or even a lot of) money doesn’t mean you have to let it be the place that sabotages your relationships.  Here are a few simple steps that might help.

  1. Try a cash system.  One of the frustrating money matters for many couples is the opening of the credit card bill.  That is when we discover that we WAY overshot the budget.  And now, because of interest and fees, we have even less for next month.  Instead, at the beginning of the month get your paycheck cashed, and put the money in envelopes labeled with how that money is supposed to be spent.  When the envelope runs out, that’s it.  Of course you have to resist the urge to grab the credit card.
  2. Focus on relationships. Worrying about money produces nothing good.  What if instead you focused your mental and emotional energies on the relationships that matter in your life?  This doesn’t mean avoiding unpleasant topics.  Rather, when you feel yourself beginning to worry, take the kids for a bike ride or go to the park and swing together.  Play with your infant on the living room floor.  Grab your spouse for an impromptu dance session.  You will rediscover that the things you care about the most are actually free.
  3. Set limits on money talk. Budgets and bills and credit cards and payments and salaries can dominate our conversations.  Try setting a limit.  Only talk about finances at set aside moments and for a finite amount of time.  Have a budget meeting, rather than sprinkling monetary concerns into every other conversation.  Financial worries and fiscal concerns will eat up however much time you give them.  So, only give them a little.
  4. Be thankful. This doesn’t mean simply seeing how much you actually have or comparing ourselves to those who have less.  Rather, look at all the ways our relationships bring us joy, help us mature, challenge our faith, and bring us peace.  When I am truly thankful I may begin by focusing on monetary blessings, but very quickly that is overwhelmed by the people who love me and care for me.  A deep session of thankfulness typically leaves us less concerned about stuff and more focused on people.

These are good ideas.  They will help.  But ultimately we have to make a decision about money in our relationships.  Money can be a difficult issue that we work on together.  Or, we can view our partner as the problem.  It is all about how they spend the money, their selfishness, their unwillingness to pitch in.  Just remember, once we view our partner as the opposing team, then we have to win.  And if we win in a war about money against our partner, our relationship loses.

Ode To Mommy

mom-tattoo

I live with a woman. Her name is Melody. Or at least it used to be. The other day, for I think the first time ever, I did what countless parents and grandparents have done before me. I always said I wouldn’t, but there I was, giving in. Yes, I called Melody…mom.

You know what I am talking about. I was conversing with my kids and my wife. I turned and looked at her and said, “Well, mom, what do you think?” What’s funny is I don’t think she even noticed. When seven people have been crying out “Mom!” all day, what is one more voice?

The point is, this beautiful, energetic, dedicated woman I married, has become Mom. Now, I am not talking about her only having an identity as a mother. Please. What I mean is, I have witnessed the transformation of a woman from single, to married, to mom. I know her as a missionary, a counselor, a student, a girlfriend, fiancé, wife, friend. But for these seven little (well, not all little) people she is mom, and forever will be.

I am amazed by her ability to completely immerse herself in this. Sure she struggles, gets stressed, wants alone time. But over and over she gives herself to these tiny beings. She loves them, cajoles them, cleans them, consoles them, feeds them, and hugs them. She immerses herself in being their mom. Finds utter joy in it. She is so completely dedicated to them that I often feel a little selfish and self-centered around her. I fall back on the knowledge that the greatest thing I ever did for my children was get them this mom. I can’t top that!

We often applaud what we think to be the work of mothers. The time spent mopping or washing clothes or changing diapers. But ultimately, what truly makes a mommy is their willingness to pour themselves out. It is not what they do that makes them so special. It is how they give from the deepest parts of their souls.

I know that holidays like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day are a mixed bag for so many people. Bittersweet. Or sometimes just bitter. So, I send hope and healing to all who struggle with loss, or infertility or a difficult past as Sunday approaches.

But I also want to say, that if I could wish anything for you this Mother’s day, it is that you find someone in your life, like the lady in mine. A woman emptying herself for the good of the others God has given her. Just being around them is inspiring. So this weekend I hope you get to spend some special time with a mom. A mommy. And just soak in the beauty of giving.

After Eighteen

Wedding rings

18 years ago this weekend, I married the most wonderful, caring, hard-working, beautiful woman. But as lovely as my wife is, and as much as I looked forward to our wedding, I had no idea what I was getting into. This became quickly evident to me.

Two weeks after we wed, my father-in-law passed away. We knew this was coming as he had been sick for quite a while. He fought just to make it to the wedding. But suddenly, I am two weeks into marriage and there is this massive family crisis. I had no idea what to do. No clue how to be a good husband, much less a good husband in the midst of pain and suffering.

I was suddenly part of a family dealing with a devastating loss. I was grieving with relatives I barely knew, many of whom I had only met for the first time two weeks before. I was an insider but not really. I was family, sort of. And more than anything I wanted to help my wife, but I was woefully inept.

The night before the memorial service we gathered at the funeral home for a visitation. Many family, friends and church people came to show their respect. I did the only thing I knew to do; I stood by my wife and held her hand. Many people came to us and offered a strange mix of congratulations and condolences. It was surreal.

But then, it went to a whole other level. A young couple came up to speak with us. I didn’t know them, but assumed my wife must (as it turned out she didn’t, to this day we have no idea who they were). They offered their sympathy and then the woman said something I will never forget. She said, “My father passed away almost ten years ago. And I just want you to know that after all this time it still hurts the same. It never gets better.” Then they walked away.

I was horrified. I probably should have felt some tinge of sympathy for the woman but all I could think about was my wife. How could anyone say such a thing? My wife stared straight ahead as the couple eased away. She began to shake and I gripped her hand as tightly as possible. I prepared myself for the devastated mourning about to be unleashed. And then she turned and looked at me, and laughed. Not a polite little giggle, but full on laughter. And I immediately began laughing with her. What else could you do?

We pulled away from the crowd and tried to compose ourselves. There was sadness in my wife’s eyes, but also a strange joy. We talked about how we felt sorry for the young woman, but also discussed how we couldn’t believe anyone could say such a thing at that moment. We laughed some more. We kissed. We laughed. We returned to the crowd, stronger and more truly married.

As I have reflected many times about the events surrounding that time in our lives, I always end up in the same place: the two of us laughing in a funeral home. I think in many ways that moment distills the essence of marriage.

Life is certainly not perfect. You don’t get to pick when tragedy happens. And even now, although I believe I am much better equipped, I still don’t know exactly what to do in the face of real pain. But in that moment I learned something so valuable, so precious, so life-giving that it has propelled me ever since. Marriage is about knowing you have someone you can laugh with in the face of death. It is about being able to be truly you, completely you, no matter if that seems inappropriate or counter to the situation. I may not have known what to do in those difficult days, but I had found someone who I could look in the eye and love and laugh with. No matter the situation. I had found something priceless. Not a good wife or great marriage. No, more valuable than those. I had found a best friend, a soul mate, a partner in crime for all eternity.

Every Day Valentine’s

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Valentine’s Day is upon us.  Oh the glorious holiday that wreaks havoc on our relationships.  The day when most of us are unsure what is called for.  Do I make it a big deal?  What if I get her a gift and she doesn’t get me one?  Does that make things awkward?  Is a date mandatory?  If so who decides what we are doing?  Should I try to make it romantic?  (what even is romantic?)

Oh the consternation.  So much pressure for one silly day.  And that is the key to regaining some sanity.  IT IS ONE DAY.  We roll all this pressure into one evening to try to have the perfect night.  But what if we took a different view of days like this?

What if on Valentine’s Day you could do absolutely nothing for the love of your life because all the rest of the year you loved them so well?

What if you didn’t have to do something special because every day you try to shower them with kindness and small acts of service?

What if all the roses and jewelry and chocolate meant nothing because they can’t compare to all the washed dishes, mopped floors, and scrubbed toilets you give daily without complaining?

Don’t hear me wrong, it is great to be romantic, thoughtful and creative for special days.  But that should be an outgrowth of our daily love routine, not a massive break from it.  It takes way more thought and creativity to find little ways to love each day.  It takes serious creativity to maneuver an act of love between picking up kids from practice, getting dinner on the table and making sure someone changes the cat litter.  It really is romantic to unexpectedly vacuum and wash the car, or just get the kids out of the house so mom can take an uninterrupted bath.  Finding ways to love each day, that is the heart of any true romance.

Yesterday I was sick.  24 hour stomach bug thing.  In a house with seven kids, having one parent down (even if it is me) drastically effects the day.  My wife woke up and immediately had to make massive adjustments.  She was a little frantic.  She left the house with many kids in tow and I had no idea when she would return.  Next thing I know, I am lying in bed and my wife is entering the room with a drink in her hand.  A Sprite she picked up at Sonic.  When my stomach is upset, the only drink I want is Sprite.  I didn’t ask for it.  She didn’t make it a big deal.  She didn’t complain about the effort it took to get it with all the other things she had to cover for me.  But it’s more than just a drink.  It is love in a cup.  A relationship distilled down to a moment of kindness.  And for me, it is better than anything she might get me tomorrow. (unless she has convinced Led Zeppelin to reunite and do a private concert in our backyard, then that is better, way better, but short of that)

 

Best Gift Ever!

V0040214 A family playing cards: the husband is looking over his wife

Valentine’s Day is a week away. (Warning-Warning, Alert-Alert, Gentlemen Reread That First Sentence!) Ladies, there is a chance he will get you the perfect gift.  The exact piece of jewelry you would buy for yourself, a big bouquet of roses if you are a flower person, a sentimental homemade craft (sure).  But there is also a pretty good chance he will botch it.  A waffle iron, a giant box of those antacid chalk hearts with phrases on them, a mix tape that would be wonderfully romantic if you owned anything that could play a tape.

So when he comes through or crashes and burns remember this; he may already have given you a tremendous gift, only you haven’t noticed.  This gift doesn’t come in a box or wrapped up in fancy ribbon.  In fact, this gift can never be purchased.  The gift: his view of you.

Over time I have talked with so many husbands who tell me the same thing, “my wife is amazing!”  They talk about how dedicated a mother she is, how hard she works, how well she does all things domestic, how beautiful she is.  One thing I try to always ask when these superlatives start rolling out is “do you tell her?”  Most guys say yes they tell their wife, but…and here is the kicker…”she doesn’t really believe me.”

We can all be really hard on ourselves.  It is difficult to look beyond our faults and failings.  We can be so aware of our struggles that we cannot hear someone’s compliment.

Sometimes it is helpful to look at ourselves through the eyes of someone who loves us.  To see what they see.  So ladies, this Valentine’s Day, why don’t you open up a Husband’s-Eye View of you.  If you did, it might look something like this:

1.  You are the hardest-working, most efficient wife in the world.  You see the specks and crumbs that you missed when wiping the table.  You notice the laundry which is dry but not folded, that rug you meant to vacuum last week, the clean room masking the disastrous closet.  What he sees is a woman who does more to keep a home going than he thought was possible.  A relentless, energetic wife who out of love does more than her fair share of the work.  He has no idea how you get things so clean so quickly!  Before he married you he never would have believed he could be so impressed with someone’s ability to fit dishes into a dishwasher.

2.  You are beautiful.  What you see is gym workouts skipped, too many cinnamon rolls, not enough time to do your makeup or hair like you want.  You notice the lines by your eyes that weren’t there a few years ago.  What he sees is a goddess.  A woman much more beautiful than he ever thought he would nab.  A wife who looks great in a fancy dress or a set of sweats.  You worry about your makeup, he prefers you without!  When you ask if your clothes still fit, and he says you look great, he means it.

3. You are an incredible mother.  What you see is the mismatched outfits and uncombed hair.  You notice that your six-year-old is not writing her e’s correctly and you keep meaning to work on that but where does the time go.  You feel you spend too much time correcting or doing and wish you played more.  Your mantra is “they grow up so fast”.  What he sees is a mother who nurtures and loves his children in ways he can only dream about doing.  A mom so dedicated to her kids that she will sacrifice much of who she is so a child can feel safe and loved.  He sees a woman who says she would do anything for her children, and often does.

For me personally, I am astounded by the routine things my wife does so well.  Like how much my wife can clean up with a single diaper wipe.  I have changed lots of truly horrible diapers.  I use handful after handful of wipes.  At the end I am dirty, the changing table is dirty, and the kid isn’t completely clean!  Yet my wife can clean a similar diaper with one wipe.  How is this possible?  It’s just one more way my wife amazes me.

What if, just for a few moments, you saw yourself through his eyes?  Would your stress level drop?  Would you feel different about what you see in the mirror?  Would you find no need to tackle those baseboards today?  I don’t know.  But rather than taking his compliments as niceties, what if you heard the truth in them?  That he really thinks you are an unselfish, hard-working, self-sacrificing, unbelievably hot, how did I get this lucky, wife.

Enjoy the gift ladies.  You deserve it.