Empathy

From the time I was a little girl, I loved reading. The open pages of a book could take me outside of my suburban neighborhood to any place in any time period. In my mind, I no longer had to be Jennifer, but, instead, I could be Susan discovering a new world with her siblings through the back of a wardrobe. I could imagine that for a moment I had a fiery temper and was not afraid to stand up for myself as I dropped into the life of Anne Shirley. I could be someone else, experience something new by imagining myself in the shoes of those who walked the pages of the novels I read.

I enjoyed identifying with others. I wanted to know what made others tick, why some respond with love when others respond with hate. I wanted to feel what others felt so that I could broaden my own horizons. As a young, white Christian girl, I knew my worldview was extremely different from some who might even sit a few rows down from me in class. Through my adventures in reading, I realized that many of the emotions I experienced–fear, love, insecurity–are common to all of us. However, that worldview helped shape our different responses to those emotions.

When my classmates and I in Mrs. Beal’s Language Arts class began discussing whether George was right to kill Lennie in Of Mice and Men, many of the Christians immediately responded ‘no.’ How could it ever be okay to take another life? However, Mrs. Beals drew out discussion from us, prompting us to look at why George would make such a decision. What did he think would happen to Lennie if Curley and his crew got to Lennie first? Would Lennie have been scared? How would Curley have killed him? Certainly not in the way George did, allowing Lennie’s last thoughts to be on the beautiful future they had planned together. Certainly not quickly and painlessly.

I did my best to empathize. What decision would I have made if I were George? Sure, the Bible says that we shouldn’t kill, but when I put myself in George’s place, felt the love he had and concern for Lennie, the decision didn’t seem so easy anymore.

As an adult, sometimes I wish I could grab the other adults who fill my Facebook feed and put them in a room with Mrs. Beals and a book. Today, I read an article by Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention urging Christians to consider the hateful message the Confederate Flag displays. And then I made the mistake of reading the comments.

“Southern heritage,” “Southern pride,” “I display the flag, but I didn’t shoot anybody.” I read through rationale after rationale as to why South Carolina should keep the flag flying. Eventually, I got to the comments that didn’t even try to hide the racism embedded in them. I stopped when I realized I had tears in my eyes.

Thirteen years ago today, my husband and I were married in the church from his youth. The reception followed at a hall not far from the ceremony, and we had a wonderful night of good food and dancing. Missing from the reception, however, was a cash bar, or any alcohol for that matter. While I would have enjoyed a glass of wine or champagne to toast our joyous occasion, Matt and I decided early on that we would keep the reception alcohol-free. Both sides of our family have dealt with the consequences of alcoholism.

When I look at a glass of wine, I see a drink. I am reminded of anniversaries and special occasions. When some of our family members see a glass of wine, they see abuse. They see fighting and drunkenness and broken relationships. It doesn’t matter that Matt and I have never abused alcohol and drink rather infrequently, anyway. If we would’ve toasted to the beginning of our marriage with a glass of wine, we would have immediately caused some of those we love the most a flood of negative emotions. Thirteen years ago, we had every right to  have a glass of wine at our reception, but we chose to empathize instead.

Yes, the Confederate flag is just a flag. However, it’s repeatedly been used by those who want to spread a message of hate. Whether the flag was used 150 years ago in a war for states’ rights (one of those rights being the right to enslave people with black skin) or 50 years ago as a symbol of the fight against segregation or just a few days ago as a statement of the twisted ideology that led Dylann Roof to murder nine people, that flag has been adopted enough as a message of hate that many can’t look at it and see anything else. Some, however, seem unable to put themselves in others’ shoes and see the world from their point of view.

Today, the issue is the flag, but tomorrow we will have something new that can divide us. I only wish we all had the chance to practice our responses with Mrs. Beals and a book. However, I’ve studied under another teacher who gave easy instructions that I don’t always follow: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). The Golden Rule. We teach it to kids, but we don’t always follow it ourselves. It’s easier to live for self, to not take the time or the energy required to try to experience the emotions that another could be feeling. Oh, how I wish we would try!

The thing about empathy is that it doesn’t require that I change my religious beliefs, my political affiliation, or my group of friends. It does require that I put aside my need to be right for the right for someone else to be heard. It requires that I do less talking, less commenting, and more listening. 

Sitting at my desk in ninth grade, I learned more than the plot to Of Mice and Men–I learned about humanity and our common experience. To borrow from another great book, I tried to follow the advice of Atticus Finch and walk around in someone else’s skin–at least during class when we were discussing books. I trust that if I had the capacity to empathize at age 14, a teenager in the midst of adolescence and all that encompasses, there’s hope for the rest of us now as adults.

For Theresa

Theresa had been part of our family for so long that I can’t remember the first time I met her. She was always a perfectly natural addition to our family, present most days of the week, holidays, vacations at the beach. I remember her at my wedding and meeting my newborn son for the first time. Watching my sister grow up, I also got to watch Theresa.

Lisa and Theresa made quite the pair. I’m not sure another person on earth would agree to watch Billy Madison as many times in a row as the two of them did together or change song lyrics and sing these new lyrics throughout the house until no one was laughing anymore. Or dress up (and they did this was when they were adults!)

Truth be told, I was always a little jealous of their friendship. To have a friend that one could call any hour of the night; a friend who would travel across state lines to lend a hand; a friend to laugh, cry, and get in trouble with; a friend with whom there were no secrets–Lisa and Theresa had a beautiful relationship.

My family and I never saw Theresa without a smile, and she genuinely loved people. My sister and I each had other friends growing up, and, I guess, as is natural, we didn’t always like those other friends. However, that was not the case with Theresa. I don’t know how another person could not like her. Her silliness, her smile, the attention she gave to everyone–Theresa’s personality was endearing.

Knowing her as such a beautiful person only makes her death harder. Why did God allow a person to die who had so much life left? Why take a young wife and mother, one who meant so much to so many people? I don’t know the answer but can only trust the mystery with Him.

A few weeks ago, I walked through my neighborhood. The air was cooler, and the trees were beginning to reflect hues of gold and burnt orange. I couldn’t stop looking up, studying the leaves that blew in the wind above my head.

Fall has always been my favorite season. Finally!–a reprieve from the terrible hot of Georgia, a glimpse of life at its most radiant before the dead of winter comes. But every year my complaint is the same–fall is too darned short.

Maybe that’s what makes fall so special to me. I know I have to get outside, walk in that cool air as soon as it hits, because in a week, I could be staring at gray, drizzly skies while wearing a winter coat.

Fall to me is God’s gift before winter. The leaves on the tree could slowly dry up and fall to the ground in a crunchy mess, but no–God let’s those leaves go out in a bang! Their final breaths are spent, not using energy for photosynthesis, but acknowledging the shorter days and resting, letting the green fade from their leaves revealing brilliant yellows and oranges and reds.

The maple tree in my front has a few red leaves left, and I wish I could pack that color into a crayon. Of course, I can’t; I have to enjoy it while it’s here.

When I think back to Theresa’s last months here, I see brilliance as her life was fading. I watched as my sister left her own family for days at a time to care for her friend, to watch Theresa’s child. I don’t get to witness love like that very often, and I’m so proud of the woman my sister is, the friend she was to Theresa.

At the wake and the funeral, I saw pain in the eyes of so many that loved her, and I could feel the intensity of that love. I listened as friends laughed recounting memories, and I cried when Theresa’s father spoke bravely of his daughter and her precious life. I know there is anger over her death and confusion and a whole other range of emotions that we can’t even explain–and in a way, these emotions are beautiful. The fact that a person could cause us to feel, really feel–it’s amazing.

No, we’d rather not have the winter and the gray that looms over us now. We don’t want to feel the chill in our bones or the wind on our cheek. Yet, we will all face our own winters; Theresa’s just came sooner than we’d like. However, in the midst of our tears, we can look at the love and passion and loyalty that remained when the Theresa we knew faded away. And it was magnificent.

 

Home

“And this is what happens when you jump on the bed! If you would’ve just listened and gone to bed, you would not have gotten hurt!”

As I held a towel to her chin, I couldn’t force the calming words that most with a maternal instinct would naturally say. No, I decided I couldn’t pass up on the chance of creating a Pavlov’s dogs-type connection–jumping on the bed=blood gushing from your chin.

Thankfully, my six-year-old daughter provided comfort while I frantically figured out how to get my youngest to the ER. While she wiped the blood from her sister’s legs, cleaned the bright spots out of the carpet, I grabbed band-aids and made phone calls figuring out which grandparents could provide the best help. I can’t really remember what my son was doing–I think screaming.

It’s a well-known law of the universe that when a husband travels out-of-town, a child will get sick or injured or a car will break down. Typically these events will happen early in the morning on the way to work or school or late at night when everyone is trying to sleep.

When the four of us finally got in the minivan, it was about 10 p.m. My nerves were shot. They were already a little shaky, having just sold our home and moved the five of us into an apartment a few weeks prior. Now, seeing the blood pool beneath the band-aid covering the hole in her chin and listening to my daughter cry hysterically for an entire car ride, I was done.

I was jittery and shaky and could concentrate just well enough on driving to head in the right direction while managing a few “I just wish you kids would listen!” as I changed lanes. I blame this state of mind for my not noticing the needle on the temperature gauge soaring and thinking the sudden jerks of the van the result of a tail-gating pickup truck nudging me along.

When the van kept spasmodically jerking forward after I turned into the hospital, I no longer blamed the pickup truck that abandoned me before the turn. I tried to filter out the screams from my youngest as I deciphered which arrows would take me to doctors who performed stitches. I followed the path that led to the gate entering the ER parking lot, and as I stopped and reached out the window to take my ticket, my van stopped–for good.

Yes, my minivan died right there blocking the entrance to the ER. It let out one last exhale– a brilliant puff of smoke–for good measure while I looked on in utter disbelief. Just like a movie.

That night (or early morning as we didn’t leave the ER until 2:30 a.m.) marked the beginning of what I affectionately refer to as “My Job Season.” At first, I would jokingly (and cautiously) make the Job reference. After all, Job suffered from boils and thieves and his children dying one after another. I suffered from the ‘one after another,’ but 10 stitches, a van dying, stomach viruses, and dropping an iPhone in a puddle all in the course of one week were still not on the same level.

Until one day, it started to feel on the same level.

We had entered a challenging season–an adventure–as we told the kids. We were building a new home and moving to a new area, so the kids would start a new school. Matt and I each had new positions at work. Everything felt fresh and open.

We sold our home quickly at the end of April, a blessing, but a challenge as the home we were building wouldn’t be ready for another couple of months. Two months seemed too long to live with a relative, especially since we still had about a month of the school year left, but not many places provide two-month leases.

We found one for a hefty price, but, hey, we had a place to live. And with little motivation to unpack what we brought with us, we made this apartment our pitstop on the way to our new life.

The kids had their beds, Matt and I had our mattress, and a few random pieces of furniture would suffice for the next two months. In the meantime, we daydreamed about our new rooms and how we would decorate. One night in particular, I pulled out my iPad and surprised Matt with my vision for the guest bedroom upstairs–a room decorated with soft colors and bookshelves and a crib in the center.

We were having a baby.

Immediately, our minds jumped to the future. Would we have a boy or a girl (of course a boy. A boy would bring balance to the force)? What names did we like? How would we tell the kids? Our family?

Telling the family was easy. With the new house, all we’d have to do was give them a tour, and they’d see a crib set up in the spare bedroom. They squeal with delight. We’d all hug.

I couldn’t wait to tell the kids. Their constant requests for a baby would be granted. They’d squeal with delight. We’d all hug.

Matt’s parents found out when we had to leave a birthday party early. I was cramping and spotting and felt the truth was better than leaving without a good reason. My parents found out when the repeated blood tests leaving my arms looking like I was a drug user showed I could miscarry at any moment–or have an ectopic pregnancy–they weren’t sure yet. I asked for prayers and prepared my plan for if I had to suddenly go to the hospital.

Our kids never knew.

After a couple of weeks of uncertainty and praying for a miracle, the doctor said with confidence that it was a blighted ovum. The baby either died early on or never formed, but my body continued to think it was pregnant. I would need a D&C to stop the pregnancy.

In the hospital waiting room, Matt and I took a call from our real estate agent discussing our next steps. In addition to the house not appraising, the builders had left the backyard as a 30 foot drop off from the edge of the house, and we did not think the cliff was safe or appealing. They did not care what we thought.

I remember crying in the car that I didn’t want to think about the house–I wanted to grieve the baby–but we had to. It was Tuesday, and we were supposed to close on Thursday.

We didn’t close that Thursday, and our lease was up five days later. We didn’t have a home.

At this point, I remember not-so-cautiously allowing myself to compare what was happening to Job. In the span of a month, my daughter got 10 stitches, my girls caught a stomach bug, my car died, and I dropped my phone in the only puddle around. When those things happened, I would laugh and say “I’m not sure I can handle much more this week, but, God, you have my attention,” and I would thank Him and acknowledge that my situation could always be worse, my family was healthy; my van and phone were just things.

And then in that same month I found out I lost my baby. I tried to thank God for my other children, but I was sad and angry. “God, what am I doing wrong? What do you want?” I remember thinking. I thought, perhaps, God was just allowing Satan to test me like Job, trying to see if I would denounce Him, and then I was scared.

I lost my baby, and I don’t have a home. What more is going to happen?

During this time, I wanted to search for meaning. So many things happening in such a short period of time, progressively getting worse–there had to be something I was to learn. I wish I could give a profound theological answer, but, honestly, I’m not sure.

I did learn that people are not comfortable with grief. Most people are well-meaning, from the anesthesiologist who tried to make us feel better by sharing that he had a mentally-challenged son (and then shared that ‘two out of three is not bad’ referring to his own children) to the doctors and friends who shared that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage (it was my turn statistically) to the Christians who shared the handy phrase that “God has a plan.”

I was not upset when people shared this fact, just a little weary of hearing it. Yes, I knew that God had a plan–it was only this knowledge that gave me the strength to not throw my hands up in total despair–but I was heartbroken. I wanted His plan to include this baby in my family, and, at the moment, knowing that He had a plan without the baby didn’t bring me much comfort.

It still doesn’t. Knowing that God is good and loving and was grieving with me gave me comfort. Knowing that His plan for us originally didn’t include death brought me comfort.

Reflecting on Jesus walking to Lazarus’s tomb and weeping because He saw the hurt and anguish that all of us would taste as a result of sin brought me comfort. He knew that death sucks, He knew how we would grieve each time we lost a loved one, and He knew the loss and emptiness Matt and I felt when we stared at that empty sac on the ultrasound. That is why He wept, and that is why I felt comfort–not because of this nebulous sounding plan that I couldn’t hold onto in the moment.

As I was wheeled down to the operating room, I found it bizarre that I had to climb onto the table. I’m not sure why–I was conscious and able–but it felt strange to hop onto a table where the thing I didn’t want to happen was about to happen. One of the nurses began to explain that the medicine might burn as it goes in the IV, and I don’t really remember anything else she said.

I remember that I started crying. I knew that there wasn’t a baby and that I needed to have the remains of the pregnancy removed, but this surgery carried a finality with it. There was no longer hope.

As I cried, I looked over at the nurses standing next to the operating bed on which I was lying and apologized. One said, “I know, I know” or “It’s okay”–I can’t remember exactly, but the other nurse, I will never forget. She reached over and placed one hand firmly on my left leg and one on my arm and looked straight in my eyes. She said nothing with her mouth, but her eyes told that she understood my sorrow and was grieving with me. Losing a baby is sad, and no words can make it better.

After the surgery, I woke up and felt strangely comfortable. I’ve joked before that I enjoy a little light anesthesia for the chance to nap. The nurse covered me in warm-to-the-touch blankets, and I remembered thinking that I didn’t want to leave. After all, the apartment wasn’t my home, and a home is where a person should go to grieve. I didn’t want to lie down on our mattress and look at the half unpacked bins and dust. I just wanted to go back to sleep.

Of course, I had to leave the hospital that day, and after a two-month stay at my sister’s (God bless her and her husband, and thank Him that we left and everyone is still alive), my family finally moved into a beautiful home that feels like it was made just for us.

That first morning I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and saw the pink in the sky from a sun on the rise, and I felt such a warmth from knowing this was my home. My home. Such a beautiful word.

I look back on “My Job Season,” and I still don’t know why we built a house for seven months to have us walk away the week we were to close. I don’t know why we experienced the joy of knowing a new life was growing inside me only to learn a few weeks later that we would never meet that baby (this side of heaven). I may never know.

God doesn’t promise us that we will get an explanation of all the trials that we endure. He promises us that He will never leave us in the midst of those trials. And while I can say I would never want to revisit those months again, I will also admit that they gave me a stronger desire for The Lord. This world is not my home–the sin, the suffering, the pain–they are temporary. Yes, there is tremendous beauty here, even in the midst of death and suffering, all glimpses of a loving Father, but they cannot even compare to what is waiting on the other side.

So while I make my new home and thank God for His blessings, I humbly acknowledge the fact that more trials will come. And I know that I’m holding onto hands that won’t let go of me when they do.

*While our kids do know that I went to the hospital, we chose not to give them the details. If you know our family, please respect our decision to not tell our children about the pregnancy. We will reveal those details at a later date and time of our choosing. Thank you.

Still Christmas

Christmas is over, leaving behind the remnants of wrapping paper scraps hidden under legs of furniture and the usual weariness that follows post-holiday. My belly is confused at its remaining fullness and tightness of my pants after a mere three days of rich food and celebration with family, and I’m actually looking forward to eating vegetables that aren’t part of a casserole.

My kids made me proud these past couple of days as they expressed gratefulness and excitement over their presents–exactly what every parent wants to see on Christmas morning. Today we enjoyed a day of playing and building and reading, but tomorrow I foresee a little more ‘normal.’ Laundry for sure and mopping the floor, perhaps, interspersed with Lego guidance and Bey-blade battles.

As I transition back to normal, the hollow stillness that accompanied me prior to Christmas waits again. I had never been profoundly affected by a tragedy prior to the murder of those 20 sweet children in Newtown, Connecticut, but since that terrible Friday, my mind consistently thinks of the victims, the loved ones they left behind.

Perhaps I’ve cried because I am a mother, one of my children in kindergarten, another in first grade, and I see firsthand every day the innocence of children that age. Whatever the reason, for the first time I felt the weight of evil in this world. I saw the loss of innocence for all those children who were instructed to close their eyes as they left the school building and all of us in this country as we wept for them.

As the days went on, I couldn’t help but think of the irony of the season. We were preparing to sing, “Joy to the World” and proclaim “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace(E) to those on whom his favor rests” while our hearts felt anything but joy or the promise of peace. How could such darkness, such evil live among us, and how could the words of Christmas ever speak truth?

I thought of the little babe come to save the world, entering among blood and sweat and his mother’s cries as those 20 children left the world the same way. And for the first time I felt darkness surround me and a stillness about my faith. I didn’t sing for joy, and I couldn’t feel the peace.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay

I didn’t question ‘why’ so much as ‘how.’ I knew my theology and believed it–still believe it–but what comfort could Christ offer any of those grieving parents? Aside for the hope of eternity, what could he do to remove the darkness now?

So I didn’t write. I grieved with the rest of the country. And I thought about Christmas.

Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day

And the more I thought about Christmas, the more I realized it was exactly the point. From the moment Eve and Adam ate of the fruit, God knew He would have to save us. The paradise He created for us was now tainted with sin, and we would forever feel the consequences. We can pass more regulations over who can get guns and what types (and I think we should), but we will never rid ourselves of evil. When Cain spilled Abel’s blood, he demonstrated the evil that dwells within us all.

To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray

Yet God still wants to save us, so we celebrate Christmas. We praise God that this mess is not our home. And we acknowledge that our feelings are appropriate–sadness, despair, hopelessness–because this world is fallen. This mess was never supposed to be. And we wait. We wait for the Savior who came as a newborn child and died as man to come once again and end our misery.

We look for glimpses of Him to remind us of the goodness that awaits–the love that we feel for our children, the satisfaction of a warm meal, the wind whipping through the trees–promises of a new creation where we will cry no more. But in the meantime, we can cry, for the pain is real. We can celebrate Christmas and the promise of joy, and we can return to our routine.

And we wait. As we look for the good, we wait.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Save us from ourselves.

O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy


 

 

 

I Have No Mercy for Kids With Mono and Other Tales

I found out last Saturday that my five-year-old daughter has mononucleosis. Of course like any good parent, I felt sympathy for my poor little girl who didn’t feel well. Then I felt relief. And guilt.

For the month prior, my daughter’s behavior was beyond horrible. Even asking her to put on her clothes was a battle. She would throw uncharacteristic temper tantrums, screaming that she was so tired and couldn’t do it. Her room remained a condemned area, as she refused for two weeks to clean it. She was grounded from a birthday party, the playground, dinner with the family–anything else I could think of–and yet she still refused to put even one dirty shirt in the hamper.

Hannah Grace has always been stubborn; refusing to do chores or taking forever to get ready in the morning was not beyond her capabilities, but she had reached such an impressive level of defiance that my visions of her future all involved jail time.

I spent nights crying in bed. All of my prayers started with her. In fact, I spent many nights after the kids had gone to bed walking up and down the hallway, prayer walking, casting out the demons that surrounded her room in Jesus’ name.

In fact, one night the urge to pray was so intense that I went to her room and laid hands on her sleeping body, assuming God wanted me to perform a mini exorcism. That night, Hannah Grace climbed into bed between Matt and me, and we could feel the heat emanating off her limbs as she snuggled next to us. She clearly had a fever. I figured God was giving me a sign that He was burning up the demons.

A few hours later, the fever was gone, and Hannah Grace was back to her defiant self. She said she didn’t want to go to school with venom in her voice, and I knew it was just another of her evil ploys. After all, I had already picked her up from school previously when she said she didn’t feel well, and she bounced around the house all day. We had gone to the doctor another time when she said her throat and stomach hurt, but her strep test came back negative. Clearly, I lived with a manipulative little faker.

So when the nurse called on Saturday and said, “Hannah Grace has mono,” I felt immediate relief that my daughter was not possessed by Satan. And then I felt guilt that I had thought my daughter was possessed by Satan. And guilt that I didn’t renew her gymnastics classes due to her defiant behavior and refusal to do chores.

Yep, that’s motherhood–doing my best to raise my kids well, seeking the Lord, only to realize that I wasn’t reading the signs He was giving me correctly; having to kneel before my child humbly, asking her forgiveness for not understanding.

And, yet, motherhood, is experiencing the biggest smile in my soul, the kind that runs from my stretched cheeks to my toes, as I watch my son round home plate and jog towards his dad who scoops him up in celebration. An in-the-park home run caused this little boy to run to his dad, his coach with tears streaming down his face because, as he explained, “I was just so happy.” These days are what make motherhood, life, amazing; the constant swinging of the pendulum through guilt and relief and compassion to joy and feelings that I don’t even know how to describe.

But I want to try.

I’ve know for some time what I’ve wanted to do, but, honestly, I’ve been afraid. A few weeks ago, God stirred in me that desire again. I attended Hutchmoot with my best friend Wendy, and I fell in love with the story, God’s story. His amazing Creation. His love story told through the pages of the Bible, a story that doesn’t end with Revelation but is just beginning.

I want to tell part of His story; I don’t know what part or where I’m starting, but I want to tap into the creative spirit that He’s given me, that’s He’s shown all of us by every beat of our heart, each breath that we take.

In order to write, though, to capture these moments of life that point toward God’s bigger story of hope and redemption, I have to give myself permission to let go of my blog. I already haven’t written as much as I would like, and that fact hovers over me and actually causes me guilt and disappointment.

The fact is that I want to write without the need to hit publish. I want to write and continue to write and see where my story takes me, but I can’t unless I release this need to write in this space.

These words are hard for me to type because this place has been such a significant part of my life for the last three years. I have shared my joys, my struggles–most of my heart–right here. And while I don’t have a large following, I am very aware that I have a great following of some of the most loyal and faithful readers out in this strange and wonderful world of the blogosphere. I call many of you my friends even though I’ve never seen you face to face!

Thank you for sharing this journey with me, and, perhaps, one day I’ll have a more substantial work to share with you again. In the meantime, I’m sure I’ll visit this space from time to time as my kids always provide the best material–after all, if I don’t write about it, I”ll forget it. And since I don’t scrapbook, my writing really is the best record of my kids’ childhood that I can provide. And now that I’m freeing myself from this space, perhaps I’ll be better at visiting each of yours.

Please pray for me that I would have the discipline to keep writing. And please continue to pray for my family–especially now that I have two kids with mono (Caleb was diagnosed yesterday…I’m hoping my tiredness and headache are just allergies)!

Three years ago when my husband bought me this laptop, I was angry that he spent this money. However, now I can only thank him. He gave me a gift that I never would have expected by renewing my passion (But please, please, Matt, do not buy me another one…even if parts of  this laptop are cracking).

May God bless each of you as you continue on in His story….


The Gospel According to Mom

As I sliced the red onion before me, I tried to surpress a smile. I was aggravated. My five-year-old refusing to do her homework, instead, distracted herself with a book, and I was tired of walking back and forth to the table trying to refocus her. Except, this time, she held a French cookbook and began instructing her imaginary audience. My aggravation momentarily subsided as I heard her lecture.

“This is the Word of God. The Word of God is very important.”

Okay, little theologian, I thought. What are you going to teach me today?

The spirit in us is God.”

Impressive, I thought. She’s tackling some very complicated issues.

But then her sermon took a strange turn.

“Restaurants are bad. Not all of the food there is healthy. We should eat healthy things. God wants us to eat the healthy food He has given us. You should eat protein. Cheese is protein, and milk is protein. Anything that comes from an animal is protein.”

At this moment, I didn’t know which feeling to embrace–the one that wanted me to laugh or the one that wanted me to close her ‘Bible’ as I listened in embarrassment.

“Fish is healthy. Now, I don’t like fish, but fish is healthy.”

And the lecture continued, a weird mix of our Bible lessons with the Food Network.

At that moment I had the fear that all parents have when they realize that their children really are listening to them, and I had the discomfort of knowing that they could take my words and morph them into some heresy that I’ve never uttered.

I pictured the scenario of Hannah Grace telling her classmate, “My mom thinks your mom is going to hell because you have red jello in your lunch,” or Caleb sitting in therapy crying, “I want to please God, but I just love Doritos too much.

And then there’d be Chloe who would just say, “Mom’s crazy. Pass the fries.”

I hadn’t recalled weaving any talks on the Holy Spirit with facts about hydrogenated oils, but apparently my daughter made the connection. And, frankly, that fact made my vegetables rest a little uneasy in my stomach last night.

I’m thinking this weekend we’ll order pizza….

picture via photobucket.com

The Bike

I hate that I’ve gone so long without writing, not because I have to keep some writing schedule, but because I enjoy it. Nonetheless, between school starting, a new part-time job, and all the other tasks that fill a mom’s day, I’ve struggled a bit. But here I am! My daughter turned five a couple of weeks ago, and I would be remiss to not write a post for her.

I was six when we moved from New Jersey.  Thanks to my dad, I was also terrified. I didn’t understand the humor in his joke that I would have to learn ‘southern,’ so I was already wary of this new place that would be called home.

The difference between these southerners and me was magnified every afternoon when the neighborhood kids took their bikes to the street. I had never ridden my bike in front of my house before, and I was eager to join this new group of kids, even if they did speak another language.

I sat in my pink mound of plastic, three wheels surrounding me, my knees bobbing close to my ears with each push of the pedal. The sound I made on the asphalt as I zoomed by was of a child going a hundred miles per hour, yet every other kid on their big bike flew past me with ease.

I remember the day when my parents took me to the bike shop, the day when I finally became a big kid. I sat on two wheels of glitter and purple, and I felt like a new person. I would no longer ride close to the ground; I would feel the wind touch my face like the kids who flew past me every day.

Almost 30 years later, I feel the magnitude of the moment, the rite of passage attached to riding one’s first real bike. The moment feels a little different this time, though.

I smile as I look on at that little girl who has become a little bigger, moving from four to five in what seems like overnight. No longer a preschooler, she joined the ranks of other kindergarteners a couple weeks before, and now she is ready to speed away in a flash of pink and peace symbols.

Yet when I look at this big girl, I still see the chubby cutie who would exclaim, “I running! I running!” while her feet barely left the ground in what amounted to not much more than a slow speed-walk. When the big girl before me who lost all her baby fat smiles, I still see the dimpled beauty with sparkling eyes who I held in my arms and squeezed close to my neck.

I smile at this big girl who is ready to feel a little bigger, to grow into her age five. I remember my own excitement, and I feel hers.

And I feel what the life of a mom is–pushing my children toward independence while my heart clings all the tighter to their little hands.

And now that I’ve thoroughly depressed myself, I’m going to wash a wet bedspread to remind myself that pushing kids toward independence is not a bad thing! Tell me about your first bike in the comments today.

Stretch


Caleb and I were practicing his spelling words this morning, and he tripped up on ‘fast.’

“F-a-t-”

“No,” I interrupted. “Remember, stretch your words. Say every sound.”

I had heard Caleb’s teacher tell all the students to stretch their words when sounding them out, to say every syllable, every little sound by making the word as long as possible. I enjoyed watching their little mouths as they contorted in every direction try to speak every sound.

“Faaaaaassssssttt,” we stretched together.

“F-a-s-t,” Caleb spelled after hearing the ‘s’ clearly.

As I got in the car that morning, I thought about stretching. We stretch our muscles so they won’t tense up after a tough workout, and we stretch our words to hear clearly those extra sounds; and I thought, perhaps, I needed to stretch my mind that morning.

Since school started, the spaces on my calendar were already disappearing, and I hadn’t even added in my own obligations yet. School, sports, appointments, on and on and on. The muscles in my neck felt tense, and I had that jittery feeling inside. And at that moment in the car, I started to stretch. I said my tasks slowly, focusing on each one, one at time. When I tried to list them too quickly, I got nervous, feeling like I would miss something, but when I stretched, I could take each moment slowly.

I could breathe, I could see, and I could cross one off that list as I took the dog to the vet.

Five Minute Friday

Linking up with Lisa-Jo for “Five Minute Friday.” Have you stretched this morning?


Our First Day of School

The night before the first day of school, I hopped into bed with a little nervous energy. We had packed our lunches and laid out uniforms, including socks and underwear, and there was nothing left for me to do except wait for sleep to come. Seven hours later and ten minutes before my alarm, my little girl asked, “Is it morning time, yet?”

I can’t remember if I awoke early on my first day of kindergarten, but I know, like my daughter, I was prepared. My mother taught me my teacher’s name ahead of time–Mrs. Checkers–so when the middle-aged lady with straight, golden locks asked the class if anyone knew her name, I shot my hand up into the air:

“Mrs. Checkers!” I yelled out.

“No,” she replied and then shared a name that I can’t since remember.

I was embarrassed and confused. My mother had told me that name; she wouldn’t have been wrong. I sat for the next few minutes in my desk dejected until the teacher began to take attendance.

I don’t know how the parapro outside the school walked me into the wrong room, and I’m not quite sure why there even was a desk for me in Mrs. Straight Hair’s class. The first day of school 28 years ago sure was different than it is now, but on that day I was walked across the hall to Mrs. Checkers’s class and joined the students already engaged with that sweet old woman with soft white hair.

Yesterday, my daughter walked into her room with her mom and dad and found the desk labeled with her name. We took a few pictures before kissing her goodbye, and I touched her hair one last time before I walked away….

I wonder what Hannah Grace will remember about her day, that she was the line-leader and wore her white uniform shirt with a khaki skort or what objects she shared out of the paper bag that was to tell the class all about her. Perhaps, I will remember more than she, that she was excited all morning until right before we left when I saw a flash of uncertainty come across her eyes. That her little sister asked me to pick up Hannah Grace and their brother from school because she was lonely. That looking at her smile as she bounded into the van after school, telling me about her owl and the snack the class would get tomorrow for being good, made my heart explode at the cuteness.

I don’t know what she will remember; perhaps, she’ll simply remember the pictures we took to document the day.

But I know what I will remember. I will remember a brave little girl who walked into her classroom, as her brother did the year before, ready to start this new journey…and the brave mommy and daddy who walked out the door, in disbelief that it was already time to let her go.

What memories do you have from your first day of school? From your child’s?

 

School for the Escape Artists

The first social media outlet to go was Twitter. I never even tried Pinterest. Now, Facebook‘s days may be coming to an end.

It’s not them; it’s me, really. I still have my Twitter account, and I think I even have a Pinterest account (though, I’ve never logged on), but I can’t allow myself to use them. I know myself, and I know I’ll start the comparison game. I’ll find all the reasons I’m not doing life right or depriving my children of the perfect childhood, so I’ve decided to spare myself the torture.

I had never thought I’d treat Facebook the same way, but last night I started to reconsider my previous position. Post after post after post were from moms commenting on their children’s first day of school, and the moms were all crying. Those moms whose children won’t start until next week were squeezing their babies tighter, not wanting that dreadful day to come.

My first thought was, What the heck is wrong with them?! However, after reading how many moms were crying, I then thought, What the heck is wrong with me?!

My son starts first grade tomorrow, and the only emotion I feel is excitement. Yesterday, we visited his classroom, cute little desks filled with brand new workbooks and the hermit crab class pet to complete the perfection, and I wanted to start school with him. My daughter starts kindergarten in a week, and the very mention of school brings a smile to her face. When I visualize her wearing her plaid uniform and hair bow, I smile with her.

I know I’m not a bad mom for looking at school as an exciting time, but I can’t help wondering why I’m not more sentimental….

Last night, I lay in bed for a good while before I fell asleep. My mind was full of random thoughts, ranging from the sermon I heard two weeks ago to the bedtime routine of my kiddos when they were three. My mind stayed on the latter.

None of my children transitioned to the toddler bed well, and nap times were extremely difficult. At one point, we resorted to turning the doorknobs around so that we could lock the door from the outside and trap our kids on the inside in hopes of forcing them to sleep.

Caleb was the first child to defy nap time. I remember feeling like the victor after changing the knobs, knowing that I would finally have the ‘mommy time’ to clean or pay bills or just sit for a minute while he rested quietly in his room. That is until I saw him make his way down the stairs. How in the world did he get out? I wondered. After putting Caleb back in his room, re-locking his door, and finding this little boy down the stairs again, I repeated the routine but stayed camped out in front of his room. I would crack the code.

As I sat, I watched the lock magically turn to the horizontal position, and there stood my three-year-old, having pushed open his door with his Lightning McQueen suitcase in hand. I was baffled–until I saw that he was holding the zipper. Yes, my little boy learned how to pick a lock with the zipper on a suitcase.

I promptly removed the suitcase and locked his door again, but Caleb knew that his jeans also had zippers. I couldn’t even lock my son in his room.

I knew Caleb was clever, but I was hoping for different results with his sister. Hannah Grace, however, proved that she, too, had the criminal gene and picked her lock with the prongs of her nightlight. Chloe’s room had a dutch door so that we could see in her room while she was locked out. She didn’t mess with picking locks. Instead, she dumped out the baskets that held her shoes and simply stood on them, reached over, and unlocked her door. Pillows, dolls, and laundry baskets could also give her the extra height if she needed it. When all such items were removed, Chloe flung her body, catching her forearms on the top of her door. She would use every bit of her strength to wiggle up and over the top.

I was no match for them.

locked in

I’m not sure what started the train of thought that led me to thinking about those dreadful days. However, I did figure out why I wasn’t crying about school starting–I was all cried out.

What emotions did you experience when your children started school? Were any of you out there a successful escape artist as a child, or do you have an escape artist of your own?

*photo courtesty of Trevin Shirey via Flickr ‘Creative Commons.’