Keep me as the apple of your eye.... (Psalm 17:8)

Growing up, I always wanted to be someone's favorite. I was the middle child in a blended family, so always felt pretty much like I just was...there. I wasn't the oldest. I wasn't the pretty one. My father died 2 weeks before I was born, and I carried with me the idea that I brought back really bad memories for my mom, who was distant and depressed most of my life. My stepfather was unemotional (unless he was angry or disapproving) and unloving.

My sister and I loved being with our extended family. They were funny and loving and we felt special. But even then, we were kept separate from them, so we don't share a lot of the same memories. My mom moved us away from them early in life, so we only were able to spend summers here and there with them. We never were able to spend time with our father's side of the family....something I still struggle with today. I long to know them better, but feel at 48 like I've missed that opportunity.

As adults now, we find that we are just...on our own. We have each other, my sister and I. At Christmas this year we commiserated over it as we watched my children try to fit in, but they had that same look on their faces that Melissa and I had. We just weren't an intricate part of that family. We didn't belong. We weren't their favorite.

My children don't even know my mother. The last time she visited, Tucker and Griffin were 2 and 4. She has never met Annie. They quit asking about her long ago, after years of asking why she didn't visit, didn't call, didn't remember their birthdays.

I should interject here, lest you feel sorry for my kids, that Paul's mom adores the kids and spoils them. They love her so much....we all do. She drops whatever she has going on to help us out when we need it. She travels hundreds of miles to babysit when we need her. They are the grandmother that my kids need, and I am so thankful to God for her. 

I longed to be special to someone. As I got older, I wished that some boy would come along and adore me. I wasted a lot of time and gave away a lot of my heart to some fellas that were not worthy of it. But that is a. another story and b. the reason I want my kids to court, not date.

One day I was reading my Bible and came across Psalm 17:8 and it just gripped me. Keep me as the apple of your eye. Was *I* the apple of His eye?  I looked it up and found this as explanation:
 Apple, of the Eye:
ap'-'-l: The eyeball, or globe of the eye, with pupil in center, called "apple" from its round shape. Its great value and careful protection by the eyelids automatically closing when there is the least possibility of danger made it the emblem of that which was most precious and jealously protected.
And it all made sense to me. I am most precious to God. My children are jealously protected by Him. Earthly relationships are just that.....earthly. Eternally, my family is loved and prized and viewed as precious by the Creator of the universe.

My Christian family has always taken care of us. In illness, childbirth, postpartum depression, emergency's the church that has shown up and loved us. Taken care of us. Made us feel important, remembered, and cared for. It was people that sometimes barely knew us that were the hands and feet of Jesus. It was truly Christ in them...the hope of glory.

So while I may long for someone to love my kids  like I do....someone to show up at their games and recitals, someone to tell them they are smart, funny and handsome....I know that we are blessed beyond measure to be members of a worldwide family of believers that love us and pray for us. From the Kings in Ecuador to the Rayburns in Argentina. The Stewarts in south Asia. The Benders and Lawrensons on the Outer Banks. The Howells in south Florida. The Samplers and The Fowlers. Our phenonmenal family from Our Lady of Perpetual Help, who taught us the beauty of their faith and the love of family.

And more than anything, we are loved by God the Father. We are the apple of His eye. We are that precious and protected part of Him.

This morning I read on a friend's Facebook page the link to a piece about the poor. One of the responses to her post was "I'm tired of helping those people".

It actually hurt my heart.

The person said that she was tired of people on food stamps being able to shop at "high end" stores while she shopped at Aldi's. That she had tried feeding homeless people that threw her food back at her, wanting only money.

I hear that a lot, and it never fails to make me cringe. You see, I have spent a lot of time around impoverished people. I have worked alongside them. I have fed them and clothed them and taught my children to love them because they are, after all, created in the very image of God.

I certainly can't make a case for every person out there that is on food stamps or medicaid or holding a cardboard sign in an effort to collect a few bucks, but I can speak for the people that I have come to know and pray for and, well, actually love. 

First, let me start with the "I tried to give them a Big Mac and they said they didn't want it" people. One gentleman shared with me that he couldn't eat fast food because it gave him wicked diarrhea, and when you're on the street, diarrhea and no public restrooms in sight are not a good combination. Use your imagination here.....and let's just leave it at that.

I've never heard (which is not to say it hasn't happened, of course) of a homeless person turning away a healthy sandwich or fruit, water or crackers. Their bodies are malnourished (even if they're obese; see the latest study by the NIH on homelessness and obesity) so they actually crave nutrition. I heard a homeless woman at Wendy's one time turn down a Frosty being offered to her, saying, "I can't eat that, it makes me snotty." I could tell by the giver's face that she was appalled that a homeless, poor woman wouldn't accept her $1 charitable gift. But think about it. Dairy makes a LOT of people mucous-y. If you are living outside in allergy season, do you really want more snot in your head than you already have? Did this woman know how to verbalize that? Obviously not. But to become offended and walk away to tell your friends that you graciously tried to give a homeless woman a Frosty and she refused it.....well, that's a great story to tell, isn't it?

After all....those people don't really want our help, now, do they?

And what about those freeloaders at Whole Foods buying organic apples when I'm buying my $5 bag of pesticide ridden ones at Wal Mart?

First of all....very few poor people can crunch their food stamp budget enough to buy organic, but if they can and do, then more power to them. I rather like the idea of a poor single mama buying organic for her children. However, that is not the common thread of poverty. Most food stamp purchases are for cheap, non-nutritious foods, because they are, well, cheap. Most moms know the value of bread and fillers when they have a lot of mouths to feed and we're trying to stretch a meal. My mom was  a big pasta filler. She'd make a goulash for a family of 6 with one pound of ground beef and 2 pounds of noodles. My sister one time told me she made a Chinese stir fry for her family with ONE chicken breast, a few veggies, and rice. Rice, potatoes, pasta and bread are dirt cheap and can fill empty tummies. What I tend to see in too many shopping carts are bologna, bread, ramen, and little debbies. You can buy a LOT of crap for your allotted EBT money each month. Organic veggies? Notsomuch.

And really? I think if Jesus were going to head down to feed some hungry people, He'd pretty likely give them the very best.

Shouldn't we do the same? 

Guilt....a good thing?

Mommy guilt. It's a common phrase heard all the world over. For no matter who you are or where you live, along with the title "Mama" comes a familiar feeling: guilt. It all starts with the need to make a decision about something.

Epidural or medication-free.

Breast or bottle.

To circumcise or leave intact.

Vaccinate or not.

Make your own baby food or buy pre-made.

Cloth or disposable.

Homeschool, private school or public school.

Work at home, outside the home, or stay at home.

The list is never-ending. And as you're bound to discover, everyone has an opinion. And most are passionate about it. While it makes for good debate on the playground or message board, let's face it: when you get home and are alone, we all tend to question our decisions. Are they the right ones for us? For our family?

And as most of us have found out, guilt comes into play at some point.  Not to say sometimes we don't have a choice. I was fortunate to stay home for 7 years while my kids were very small. Now I'm back to work full time.  Do I need to be home? Absolutely. Do I have to work? Absolutely. Do I feel guilty enjoying my job? You bet. Do I feel guilty not even being a room mom? Yes indeed.

See? There is no easy answer for some questions.

But some decisions? The data is there.  How we rationalize interpret it is up to us. Recently I got into a conversation with someone who was afraid that moms might feel guilty when I suggest they should breastfeed instead of formula feed. My response is simple: do we patronize the moms that choose to smoke? How about the ones that choose not to put their infant in a car seat properly? How about the ones that leave their little one strapped in said car seat in the middle of the summer and run an errand?

I have looked a mom in the eye and told her that if she formula feeds, her child will have a *100% increased risk of ear infections, 178% higher risk of diarrheal disease, 257% higher risk of hospitalization for respiratory infections, 64% higher risk of diabetes,  and a 56% higher risk of SIDS.....and I've had that mother look straight at me and say she chooses to not breastfeed.

To which I reply, "You go, girl. I'll see you and that precious bundle of yours at 3 a.m. in the ER." "Please consider the facts, and call me if you have any questions or change your mind."

Guilt is a motivating factor for many. Many moms have heard my plea and agree to breastfeed. Many of them go on to breastfeed for a year or more. Some breastfeed while they are in the hospital and then quit the moment they hit the door. They tell me in follow up calls that their milk dried up or they weren't making enough or the pediatrician told them they had to wean. And you know what? I praise those moms for giving their baby those few days of colostrum. I tell them that the colostrum still sealed their babies intestines and their precious ones got antibodies and all sorts of good things that can never be taken away.

According to the journal Pediatrics:
“If 90% of US families could comply with medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants ($10.5 billion and 741 deaths at 80% compliance).” 
I hate guilt. But it does serve a purpose. It keeps me from eating another brownie. It gets me to quit playing Words with Friends and go take a bike ride with my kids.

And it just may persuade one more mom to breastfeed.

*statistics from The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding