Tender

As we drove back from the hair salon, my neighbor Joann thanked me again for driving her.

“You’re very calm, and I like that. Some people aren’t when they drive.”

I smiled a little because ‘calm’ and ‘patient’ are words that many have used to describe me, but, in the last three years, they are words that to me seem the furthest away. I’ve wanted to reclaim them so that my kids would see what others have seen. I’ve gotten a little help along the way, but I’ve also learned a new trick.

I study them, and I savor their uniqueness. Last night, I watched as Chloe ate her ice cream cone. She took a napkin and delicately wrapped it around the cone to keep the melted mess from running down her hands. And I watched her little tongue. She stuck out that little tongue just over the top of the napkin that came up a little too high, and she found the soft cream below. Oh, how she enjoyed that ice cream!

Watching that sweet face, my heart couldn’t help but turn tender. So I watch my children now, and I send up a note of thanks for every ‘Punky Brewster’ style outfit, every nonchalant attitude toward another 100% on a spelling test, and every silly expression that comes out of her mouth. And this heart turns to mush every time I do.

Linking up with the Gypsy Mama for her Five Minute Friday where we write what comes to our minds whether or not it’s exactly right. We spend five minutes getting down those thoughts and don’t change once they’re here. Click below to play along. What makes your heart tender?

 

Sex, Religion, and Gymnastics

photo by Rick McCharles

For the majority of my childhood, the gym was my home. Every day after school, I put on a leotard and my hair up into a ponytail and went to practice. At one point,  I worked out six days a week for four to five hours a day. Spending that many hours away from home, it’s not surprising that many of the lessons I learned about life took place on that square floor mat.

Amidst chalk-filled air and between turns on the vault runway, our group of adolescent gymnasts had conversations about sex that would make Hugh Hefner blush. The hormones among us were out-of-control, and, given the fact that we didn’t have time to date, we verbalized our curiosities as soon as they came to mind, and we had no shame as far as whom we would ask. I’ve heard that teenaged boys are disgusting and that locker room talk is foul, but I can’t imagine anything more crude than what came out of the mouths of us four foot seven girls with pink leotards and matching hair scrunchies.

While we discussed topics that were most unholy, a group of religious coaches formed a protective circle around us. The owner and head coach of the gym was a devout Christian–a Pentecostal– who prayed before every practice with us, and while he did not require that his staff follow his faith, many did.

During my time at the gym, I remember having coaches who were Methodist, Catholic, and Mormon. And while we would ask them questions about sex and when they had their first experience (I know; we had no shame), we also would ask them questions about their faith.

I don’t remember what started the conversation (maybe sex), but I remember sitting on the floor mat with Jerry and telling him my confusion:

“I know that Jesus died for my sins, but I don’t understand why he died for my sins.”

I had grown up Catholic and believed with my whole heart that Jesus died for me–I had that message pounded into my head since I was little–but I had no idea how Jesus ended up on the cross and what his death meant for me.

And there on that dusty mat, Jerry filled in the missing pieces. He explained that in the Old Testament, God had set up a system for the Israelites to follow. God could not allow sin, and we should die as a result of sin, but God would allow the sacrifice of a perfect lamb in place of us. In addition to this sacrifice, the shedding of blood for sin, God also commanded the priest to lay his hands on a goat and pray, symbolically transferring the sin of the people onto this animal. This scapegoat was then sent into the wilderness away from the camp, taking the sin of the people on its head.

God fulfilled the law by sending Jesus. No longer did we need to sacrifice a perfect lamb in place of us; Jesus acted as that sacrifice for all who believed. And like the scapegoat, He took our sins on his head and bore our shame. With his death and resurrection, Jesus died in our place and conquered death so that we can share eternal life with Him in heaven after our imperfect lives here on earth.

When I look back on my time at the gym, sometimes I wonder how I didn’t end up with a carload of kids before I was 20. In reality, I know that we were a good group of girls, and I’m glad for the time we spent talking that didn’t leave much time for doing. And I’m glad for that group of coaches–I don’t know what prayers they sent up for us on their own, but I do know their words didn’t fall on deaf ears.

These ears listened and believed.

Did a sport or coach help to shape you as a person? Did an area outside of the church or your family have a profound effect on your faith? Sharing my thoughts today with Jen.

 

Trust

Some stories in the Bible leave me with a funny feeling. I hate to admit it, but I’d like to skip over the story of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. As a child, I didn’t understand the story. As a mother, the story makes me feel a little sick.

However, the other day I read a beautiful retelling of the story and it came from, believe it or not, Chloe’s Bible. As with our other two children, we wanted to buy Chloe her own children’s Bible for Christmas, and after reading some reviews, we decided on The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones (if you’ve never seen this Bible, I encourage you to click on the link and look at the sample pages). Every story in this Bible points to the coming of Jesus, and the story of Abraham and Isaac is no different.

Lloyd-Jones explains that God never wants anyone to die, and, just as Abraham gathered wood for the altar on which to sacrifice Isaac, God would send His own Son to carry the wood on which He would be sacrificed so we would not have to die an eternal death. But here is the part of the story that stuck with me–God tells Abraham that He doesn’t want Isaac to die; He wants Abraham to trust Him, which he did.

Trust.

photo by Rusaila Bazlamit

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that having a relationship with God isn’t just about faith, believing that God exists and always will exist. No, this relationship requires trust, trust that this God really does love me and really does have the pieces of my life fitting into a bigger puzzle that I might not see on this side of heaven.

There are some skeptics who might say that religion is a crutch, but I couldn’t disagree more. To truly trust that there is a god above watching over me in the midst of turmoil is much harder (albeit more comforting) than believing my life is subject to the whims of chance.

Because in life, there are some events that happen that leave me with a funny feeling. As a child, there were many things I didn’t understand, and, now, as a mother, there are many events that leave me feeling sick. Yet, no matter the event, I am learning that I have to trust.

Many of you already know the story of my friends Wendy and Emmett. This past June, Emmett died after a 17-month battle with stage four esophageal cancer. He was 31 and left behind his wife of almost nine years and a son, not quite four.

Their story tore me up on the inside, and I questioned God more than I should. But after questioning and telling God why He should heal Emmett, I came back to the word trust. I came back to the idea that I read in a Bible meant for little kids–God doesn’t want us to die, and He has worked out a perfect plan to rescue us from the sadness and despair that comes with living on this earth.

While Emmett was struggling with cancer, Wendy and he learned that of all the cancer funding available, only .5% goes to esophageal cancer, a cancer that leads to a death sentence for almost all who have it. This statistic made them mad, the kind of mad that caused them to want to do something to change that fact. After Emmett’s death, Team Emmett, a 501(c)(3) non-profit was born.

I don’t presume to understand God’s plan, but as I look through the pages at teamemmett.com, I find that I can trust. I trust that Emmett’s death wasn’t in vain, for God is holding his piece as part of the bigger puzzle. And I trust that through the anger and frustration that bore Team Emmett, someone else might find hope.

I hope you will take a minute and click on the Team Emmett link above. While I know we cannot all be passionate about every cause out there, I also know that most of us have had a loved one affected by cancer. If nothing else, look at their pages and pray–pray for Wendy and Quinn and the tens of thousands of others who will die from this disease this year. And if you are able, give. Without more research, a cure will not be discovered.

Linking up late with Michelle and Jen today.



 

 

‘Mommy, Look! I’m a Zebra!’

 

One week into January, and I had already thrown my resolution out the window. In fairness to myself, I actually set three goals for the new year, and I was still on track with two. The third resolution I made in the minivan as church was starting, and we were still two minutes away. Clearly, I didn’t give this vow enough thought. Nonetheless, I resolved to never arrive late to church again.

The next Saturday evening, I walked into church five minutes after the service started. Now at this point, I know some of you are already tense at the thought of my lateness. What is wrong with some people? Why can’t they just get ready earlier and not be late? I’ve asked myself the same questions many times.

In fact, we started attending the Saturday evening service because there was a better chance of us getting to church without my having to plead with God for forgiveness for all the yelling and screaming that happened as I tried to get my kids ready. After all, the kiddos would already be up, dressed, and not needing to be fed before I prodded them out the door.

But I was wrong. The longer small children are awake, the more time they have to get into trouble.

Today, I’m writing over at the Dacula Patch, our local on-line newspaper. I’d love if you’d join me over there. And if you like what you’ve read, please let me know by recommending this story on Facebook or sharing on Twitter!

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Blogs You Need to Visit

As I was heading into the new year, I began to think about all the blogs I love and what the people writing them have taught me. I thought I’d share some of these less well-known blogs in the hopes that they will inspire you, too! Here they are, in no particular order:

1. The Sacrifice of a Broken Spirit

Wendy’s blog started out of tragedy. When her husband Emmett was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer, together they started a blog to keep family and friends informed. As Emmett got worse, Wendy did most of the writing, and we all saw what a gift she has. Not only is Wendy an amazing writer, but her faith in God, even (and especially) in the midst of tragedy is inspiring. Before Emmett died, he set up Wendy’s own space to record her thoughts. I thank Emmett for this gift that he gave, not only to her, but to us.

Wendy and I have been friends since we were overly-dramatic 15-year-old girls. Our senior year in high school, our favorite English teacher, in attempt to assuage the fear of leaving our best friends as we ventured to different colleges, pointed out that she and her best girl friends still were best friends and got together once every five years or so since they all lived in different states. After hearing her story, we all began to cry. However, now I see the wisdom of Mrs. Beals, and I am honored to do life with Wendy, even if we only see each other a couple times a year.

2. Small Glimpses of Grace

Elaine was the other friend present in the hallway with Mrs. Beals. She recently started her own blog, and I am so excited to see her writing! In high school, Elaine was always writing, and I remember her first play that she wrote and directed. Now she’s using her writing skills to find God’s hand in her everyday life. Perhaps if she gets lots of visitors to her blog, she’ll start writing even more!

3. Life in a Glass House

I have never met Gaby, but I feel like we have been friends for years. Her blog is honest and full of wisdom and faith. Much of Gaby’s blog focuses on adoption, as her two children were adopted domestically, and her husband and she are in the process of adopting a third child internationally. However, Gaby’s blog will capture the interest of women everywhere (like me), regardless of if they ever went through the adoption process.

4. Graceful

Michelle and I met at a conference and have continued to stay in touch through our own blogs and e-mails. She is transparent and has a heart for finding and following God’s will, especially when it comes to viewing her life in contrast to the lives of those in impoverished situations. You may already know all about Michelle–she has gathered quite the following–as she is a fantastic writer, photographer, and soon-to-be published author! Michelle recently landed an agent, and I am very excited to help spread the word about her and increase her platform. If you haven’t already visited her blog, I encourage you to do so and become one of her newest followers.

5. hooey!critic

Mama Neena is a friend from the days of the ever-trying student-teaching. We learned to teach literature to high school students so that we could become stay-at-home moms after a few years. 🙂 However, Neena’s story is much more inspiring than mine; in addition, to all the duties of a mama at home, she is working on her PhD! Her blog chronicles the life of a stay-at-home-mom-drive-to-college-student with humor and honesty.

6. Just Wondering

Diana is in a completely different stage of life than I, yet I love to grab onto her wisdom. As she writes about retirement, children getting married, and caring for her own mother, I feel like I’m right there with her, experiencing every moment by her side. And Diana is a great blogging friend to have–she is generous in imparting her own wisdom and encouragement in others’ blogs, as well. At this point in my writing, the script has gone gray, and I have no idea why. Maybe that’s a sign that you should go check out Diana’s blog.

7. Not Mommy of the Year

Krista’s blog is full of both beautiful prose and beautiful children. As a working mom of a sweet girl and boy–ages two and under–Krista has her hands full, and she’s not afraid to open up about the struggles that many moms work through. I love Krista’s honesty and the fact that she can make fun of herself. It’s always comforting to know that there is another mom out there who might not win any awards with the public but, instead, with the hearts of her children.

8. Finding Floyd

Floyd is my token male for this list. Floyd has a way of drawing the reader to God and, possibly, a point of conviction without ever preaching. In one moment, he has the reader laughing at the story he has painted of his crazy teenager antics, and in the next moment, the reader is reflecting on the lesson Floyd found all these years later. Storytelling is a gift, and Floyd has it.

9. Sweet Inlows

Lisa and I met after we realized we had developed a friendship online and thought we should develop one in person. Lisa is fun and full of life, and so is her blog. What I love most about Lisa’s blog is her heart for God. She wants to honor Him in all she does, and right now, that is through parenting two beautiful children and supporting her husband. I will never forget one post she wrote about teaching her children Scripture; it convicted me and inspired me, and that post changed the way I taught my children about God.

10. Confessions of a Former Undomestic Goddess

A list of top blogs wouldn’t be complete without another member of my family! Jessica is my cousin, and I am so grateful for social networking to keep in touch with her. This Georgia gal can keep in touch with her Jersey girl via Facebook and our blogs. Jessica’s blog is completely different than the others I have mentioned–Jessica devotes her blog to recipes, fashion, and decor for the home. Her latest blog post is a review of a candle that has a ring inside of it–who knew? (Maybe everyone, but I didn’t, so I’m thankful for her being in-the-know) What makes Jessica’s blog great is her wit–she’s a Martha Stewart with a Jersey girl attitude!

What blogs would you recommend we read? Write their address in the comment section below!

 

Top Ten {Tuesday}

A New Year’s Post for Moms

As the end of 2011 came near, I had a sudden realization that blew my mind: I am a good mother. Perhaps my depression got in the way or my constant tendency to compare myself to others, but finally seeing myself as good for my children gave me a joy that I hadn’t yet experienced.

Previously, instead of focusing on what I did right, I would only see my faults. I began creating a pile of deficiencies, even lumping areas that were simply not my talents with all the areas that I could realistically improve.

I thought I was doing well as a mom to make a home-cooked meal from scratch most nights. That was, of course, until I knew there were moms out there who grind their own wheat and bake fresh bread for their family every morning. I don’t have a cow in the backyard to milk, so I can’t churn my own butter, and I don’t make candles with the beeswax from the insects that visit our home in the spring.

Your home-cooked meals are nothing with your store-bought flour and pasteurized milk! And you rarely even light a Yankee Candle. Failure!

I love reading to my children and thought I was giving them the gift of imagination and communication and enhanced vocabulary and all the wonderful skills that follow a love of literature. That was, of course, until I knew there were moms out there that read Cinderella and then made a castle with their girls from materials they gathered at their local recycling center. After visiting the recycling plant and creating their masterpiece, they decided to whip up some dresses for the ball with scraps from old clothes and their handy-dandy sewing machines. Crafty and green!

Your reading is nothing without a craft to follow! You can’t even cut in a straight line, your kids only like to cut their own hair, and you don’t even own a sewing machine. Failure!

And so I added to the pile that contained a short temper and anxious personality a lack of arts and crafts ability and ability to homestead. Every day I would throw more ‘deficiencies’ up onto the pile until I couldn’t see on the other side.

Until one day….

One day I simply walked up to that pile and pushed it over. Down fell ‘arts and crafts’ and ‘homesteading’ and ‘homeschooling’ and a bunch of other compound words that start with ‘home.’ I picked up ‘short temper’ and ‘anxiety’ and put them in their proper file folders–they were weaknesses, but they didn’t define me. I took a deep breath and thought to myself, My kids are lucky to have me for their mom.

As I write, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only mother who makes piles. We’re hard on ourselves, and, thanks to social media, we’re constantly reminded of a billion areas where we’re not as good as the next lady. We wonder how that mom has time to have a successful blog and raise four beautiful children and start her own company out of the home when we haven’t figured out how to write more than once a week and simply catch up on laundry with our two kids.

We find a thousand a different areas where we’re deficient, when the reality is that we’re not deficient–we’re just different.

And I have one more sneaking suspicion: You’re a good mom, too.

Maybe you make the best home-cooked meals and grind your own wheat, and one day your children will look back and think, “Wow. My mom loved me so much and cared so much about my health that she spent time going that extra mile just for me.”

Maybe you order pizza more nights than you’d like to admit, but you get down on the floor and roll around with your children like a big kid yourself. I, promise, your children will remember a mom who loved them so much that she took time to play.

Maybe you can’t cook to save your life, but you are that mom who can create things from what others would throw away. You come up with the most beautiful crafts, and your children will remember a mom who displayed for them creativity. They will forever be in awe of your industriousness and look back fondly on the time you spent with them creating and seeing treasure in others’ trash.

And maybe you are that mom who works full-time. You don’t have time for arts and crafts–getting dinner on the table is a challenge. However, you don’t let a day go by without sitting down with your children and really listening to them. You rub their heads at night and read them a bedtime story when you’d rather be sleeping yourself. Your children will remember. They will remember a mom who taught them the value of hard work, and they will remember a mom who showed them their value.

There is no perfect mother. We all have our flaws, but we all have our strengths, too. Maybe that strength is simply having the patience to let your two little girls dress you up for your wedding day to the prince with beads and hair accessories that you wouldn’t dare leave the house in for a minute–but you’d spend hours wearing them in your home for them.

This year I think that’s something worth celebrating.

Mama’s Losin’ It

Linking up with Mama Kat to share one of my New Year’s Resolutions. I want to hear from you–it’s time to brag. I give you permission! What about you is worth celebrating?