My Only Hope

The other night I opened the dishwasher and sighed. For the third time, all the dishes were covered with a dusty film, and, having changed dish detergent for the third try, I now knew the soap I was using wasn’t the problem.

“Great,” I thought to myself. I had a sink full of dishes that I couldn’t load because the ones in the dishwasher weren’t clean, and the thought of washing them all by hand was just enough to cause my mind to start to shut down.

I turned to making school lunches instead and ignored the dishes, and while I slapped some peanut butter on bread, my mind began making lists. Matt was going out-of-town, and now the dishwasher didn’t work. I had spent the last two days at the service center after my set tune-up turned into a long list of everything I needed, including new tires and brakes. Day three at the shop was tomorrow. Then there were all the problems and tasks I hadn’t gotten to yet.

The DVD player in the minivan wasn’t working, and we were leaving for a wedding in New Jersey in a few days. I couldn’t imagine driving 17 hours with 3 kids without the ability to play a few movies. And the wedding–I had to pack in addition to dealing with the normal chores of the house (which of course would now take longer because I would be washing everything by hand) all while Matt was across the country for business.

Then my mind began to remember all the tasks that weren’t pertinent to the trip to New Jersey but were still left undone. I wanted to write Junrick.

Every month I set the goal of writing Junrick once a week, but, instead, most months go by with one letter. I really felt the urgency to write Junrick this time, though, when he mentioned in his last letter that he didn’t have a Bible. I, honestly, was shocked when I had learned that he didn’t have one–I guess I always assumed that when we began sponsoring Junrick that some of that money would go towards items like a Bible–and wanted to designate a special gift on his next letter for a Bible in his language.

And I began thinking of Junrick.

His mother wrote most of the letters to us while Junrick was still learning. She told me that he worked very hard doing all the chores around the house while she went into the city to work. He washed dishes and made rice and gave his brother and sister a bath. And, of course, he studied.

I could always tell from each letter that Junrick’s mother thought his only ticket out of poverty was an education. She also sounded so worried, that Junrick was so lucky to have a sponsor, and she didn’t want Junrick to blow this opportunity.

Recently, Junrick began writing to me himself. In one letter he told me that Matt and I were his only hope.

I felt very uncomfortable when I read those words. I wrote back to him and told him how much God loves him. God had brought us together, and Matt and I were so grateful to sponsor him. Whenever I saw a new letter from him, I would rush to open it in excitement. I praised him for the good reports from his mom and emphasized his relationship with the Lord. I encouraged him to stay in prayer and read his Bible. In his next letter, I learned he didn’t have one.

As I finished bagging the lunches, I thought about my problems of a minivan that needed work and a DVD player that was broken and a dishwasher that was useless and a husband who was out of town. And then I thought of Junrick washing all of the family’s dishes by hand and Junrick walking to school and Junrick’s mom working for little in the city and Junrick’s dad who had left the family.

I was ashamed and a little afraid. My heart is for the poor, but I fear that one day when I meet God face-to-face He will say, “Jennifer, you just didn’t get it.”

I know about poverty, I know what Junrick’s life is like, but I just don’t know.

After every letter I send, every missions project I work, I come home. Home to a big house full of furniture. Home to a garage filled with too much stuff so that we have to park our two automobiles in the driveway. Home to a sink full of dishes that held three full meals worth of food for five people. Home to laundry baskets overflowing with clothes I haven’t yet put away.

I want to, but I don’t know if I will ever get it.

I think about Junrick writing that I am his only hope, and I shake my head. No, Junrick–you are mine.

Looking Forward to ‘Goodbye’

photo courtesy of Erich Ferdinand

The last time Matt left for one of his trips, the kids listened as the garage door closed and then cried. They gathered around me in a circle, and the hysterics began. ‘Goodbyes’ are painful, and I’m not looking forward to the next time Matt leaves with a packed suitcase.

The last few months, I’ve had to deal with my own ‘goodbyes.’ They were also painful, but I’ve decided they are for the best. A few months ago, someone pointed out to me that perfectionism is not a good thing. I had always thought that my strong points were that I’m a perfectionist and have high expectations–I work hard until the job is done, and I never turn in sub-par work. People can depend on me. However, this person revealed to me that I’m setting myself and others up for unrealistic expectations.

I’ve really had to process through this idea, something I can’t do in five minutes, yet the moment I owned this fact, I felt like I could breathe a little deeper. I can never be perfect, and neither can those in my life. I can’t change the way others are or our relationships in some cases, but I can acknowledge and work within our reality.

I’ve packed my own bags and have headed out the garage door. I don’t know that anyone is crying (except for me a little), and unlike when Matt leaves, I’m looking forward to this ‘goodbye.’

When I saw the topic for this week’s ‘Five Minute Friday,’ I almost immediately had this idea. However, because I’ve lowered my expectations, I decided I’d write on Sunday, instead. For those new to ‘Five Minute Friday,’ the Gypsy Mama encourages us to write for five minutes without changing our thoughts or editing–we just get the words down. What ‘goodbyes’ have been good for you?

 

Motherhood Summed Up in One Story

The last few weeks have been packed full–spring programs at preschool, sick visits to the doctor, tee-ball practice, birthday parties and holidays–the norm once the warm weather hits. In the midst of all the running, I cut out the trips to the gym. The gym would still be there after all the programs were over, so I would start back into a regular routine after spring break.

Monday was my first day back, and I strangely enjoyed the soreness and stiff muscles that accompanied me on my Tuesday consisting of a parent-teacher conference and excessively long oil change. Wednesday I would visit the gym again.

In the meantime, I finished out my Tuesday with Matt on the couch. We were both drained after a busy day and decided to numb our minds with a little tv before dragging ourselves up the stairs to bed. We had a little company, though. Chloe complained of a tummy ache, so we let her lie down on the couch next to us. Of course she didn’t fall asleep as we had hoped; the thrill of getting her way kept her up and excited, but the intermittent cries over her tummy were enough for me to pull a wastebasket near.

I had passed the last 30 minutes or so half-listening to the tv while trying to achieve something impressive in my games of ‘Words with Friends.’ Matt and I gave each other the look that said it was time to get off our butts and call it a night, so we each promptly moved an inch and settled into a new position on the couch. Chloe also fought the idea of moving upstairs and crawled into my lap.

Of course she would have crawled into my lap before it happened.

I heard the groan but didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. And then I felt what was happening–all over my arm, all over my shirt, all over my pants. I couldn’t concern myself with me, though; that’s what the husband sitting next to me was for. Instead, I rubbed Chloe’s back, trying to calm her, while I waited for Matt to help me move her to the trashcan.

“It’s okay, baby,” I offered in my most soothing voice. I tried to move Chloe away, but I was in an awkward position and dripping with vomit. I did my best to not drip on any undisturbed part of the couch or carpet and thought how much easier this task would be if Matt just lifted Chloe for me.

Surely, Matt would intervene before the second upheaval. Surely he would help me turn her around. Surely.

Unless, of course, my husband was completely unaware that his daughter was throwing up all over his wife because he was checking his Tweets.

As the second upheaval was happening, I turned to see Matt holding his phone in front of his face, not even offering a glance in our direction.

“Seriously?!?!?!” I yelled at him.

Just like that, the Twitter trance was broken.

“She’s throwing up all over the place! How do you not notice?!”

Matt had already scrambled to get paper towels. I wiped the face of Chloe who was still screaming and then grabbed a towel from Matt to clean my wet arm. I decided it would be easiest for the two of us to strip down to our underwear and throw our clothes straight into the washing machine.

As I was delicately lifting the vomit-covered shirts over our heads, I heard a gag sound coming from the couch. I looked over to see my husband cleaning up with a paper towel.

“Matt!” I called out in a tone that spoke ‘you better surpress all gags from here on out since I am the one wearing the throw-up.’

“I know,” he answered, knowing exactly what the tone meant.

I couldn’t really be mad, though. After all, he was cleaning up vomit.

We all made our way upstairs after the evidence of the night was cleaned away, and I washed and dressed Chloe. I took a shower, and then I made my way to bed where Matt and Chloe had already found sleep. I snuggled in next to my baby knowing that, once again, I would delay getting back into a routine at the gym.

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself at the life of a mother. We get to wear the brunt of the throw-up and  have to change our plans daily while, many times, our husbands are clueless as to the chaos of our everyday.

The next morning, I let Chloe sleep and wrapped her warm body in a blanket when it was time to take the other two to school. We spent the first part of the day snuggling as we listened to Elmo’s laughs and Strawberry Shortcake’s retelling of Cinderella, and we gave each other lots of hugs and kisses. And I had to admit, vomit aside, this morning ended up being much better than any day at the gym.

 

How would you sum up motherhood? Dads, how would you describe being a father?

I May Have Shortened the Substitute’s Life

The other day, I mentioned that I never received a detention in my entire school career. That fact doesn’t, of course, mean that I never deserved detention. In all honesty, there was one incident that should’ve earned me a whole week’s detention, and given my guilt complex, I still occasionally dwell on what a rotten person I was on that given day….

After my back injury, I quit gymnastics and immediately jumped into theatre. I loved performing and getting the chance to take on the character of someone I wasn’t. I explored the realm of insanity many times as I was often cast as the crazy old woman, questioned my faith as I portrayed the young girl Anne Frank, and learned how to walk sexy (my most challenging feat) for my role as a tramp.

Acting was very satisfying to me, as I could experience life as someone else without the consequences; I always returned as Jennifer. However, sometimes the line between reality and pure drama blurred. Periodically, those in my drama class would break into fantasy world, and improv would begin.

I remember finding myself in the middle of a fake domestic dispute as my friend and I choreographed a fight scene between a boyfriend and girlfriend. I had fun using some of the moves I had learned in Tae Kwan Do while he enjoyed fake slapping me to the floor.

Weird, I know, but what does one expect when a bunch of dramatic teenagers are thrown into the theatre for a performance class?

Probably not this story.

I honestly do not know how this scene began, but I clearly remember sitting on the front row of seats in the theatre having a fake fight (just verbal this time) with my ‘boyfriend.’ He yelled at me, and I began to cry. My friend came to comfort me, and so did the elderly substitute teacher who was given the task of dealing with we crazies on this particular day.

“You tell me what he did, and I’ll get him out of here! I’ll get him right out!” he exclaimed in anger. Clearly, I looked very convincing as the innocent, broken-hearted girl.

“No, no, he’s just never talked to me that way before, but I’ll be fine,” I choked out through a stifled sob.

“Well, you just let me know. I’ll have him out! I’ll have him out!”

My friend hugged me as I shook my head in understanding.

“Thank you. I’ll be fine; I’ll be fine.”

And at that moment, it was as if the floodgates to hell broke open. Like a line of dominoes falling, one after another students began to pair up, each acting out their own fantasies. In a matter of moments, the theatre auditorium had the feel of Lord of the Flies, minus the pig head on a stick.

There was a stick, however. For some reason that I will never know, other than the frenzy created by the mob scene, one of the students grabbed a 2×4 piece of wood from the backstage area and whacked the glowing ‘Exit’ sign by the side door. This poor old man–not frail, mind you, but clearly substituting for something to do during retirement–looked around bewildered, not sure which fire to put out first.

I sat in amazement at what I had started, not sure how to continue. How could I now go back to being Jennifer when this kind man tried to help me from my evil boyfriend? We didn’t start this charade to cause him stress; we were just weird theatre kids who liked to have an excuse to yell at each other. I certainly hadn’t foreseen the rest of the class starting a riot.

Nonetheless, a riot is what happened. The entire class period was spent in pure chaos. There was no going back.

The whole rest of the day I worried. Would this poor man get fired from substitute teaching? What would he tell our current theatre teacher? Would he go home that night and die of a heart attack?

Theatre was proving more dangerous than the flips I did in gymnastics.

God made sure I paid for my mistake, though. My punishment came in the form of my own third period English class my first year teaching.

I’ve often thought about that substitute teacher, but I can’t even remember his name. If I could, perhaps I’d look him up. He might not be alive, but if he is, I think I owe him an apology.

Any of my high school theatre friends out there–do you remember this incident or our substitute teacher’s name? For everyone else–did you ever take advantage of a substitute teacher?

I’m linking up with Mama Kat today for her Writer’s Workshop to tell about a time I pretended to be someone I wasn’t.

Mama’s Losin’ It

 

Just Like My Girls

I need to work on my reactions. For instance, the other day the assistant principal at my son’s school confided, “I would try for another child if I could be assured I would have a girl just like yours.” After staring at her blankly for two minutes, I decided I should emerge from my shock and paralysis and say something. I should’ve just said, “Oh, thank you,” or something of that nature, but instead I admitted, “They are really tough.” We then shared a moment of confession that our children were not perfect and could, in fact, wear us out.

A few hours later, I wondered if this woman would still want my girls after their afternoon of making ‘smoothies’ with a bottle of blue cheese dressing, bananas, leftover chicken soup, parsley from the garden, milk, and, of course, dirt. I will admit that if she did still want them, they now knew how to scrub the kitchen floor.

However, the next day I was convinced that, no, she would not want my girls after she found out that they stole candy from underprivileged children. Yes, here I was collecting Easter baskets from my son’s school to take to a local ministry, and my girls were climbing over the back seat of the van trying to snatch a quick piece of candy before I got back out of the van to strangle them.

I don’t know how long it took me to leave the school parking lot, but I do remember that once the two-year-old latched onto the four-year-old’s plan, I felt like I was involved in the longest running circus act ever. I would buckle the two-year-old in her car seat, and as soon as I walked around the van to my seat, she would unbuckle and jump over the back to the baskets beneath. As I wrestled with her, the four-year-old would look for her chance to snag a piece, herself. Then I entered panic mode as I knew I shouldn’t beat them or scream obscenities in the Christian school parking lot, but I had to stop the madness. I decided to quietly fling them around while muttering threats through clenched teeth.

I immediately recognized the irony of the situation. Here I was, good Christian mother delivering Easter baskets to spread the message of love and peace, while my girls and I violated at least four of the Ten Commandments in the process.

And once again, I should’ve chosen a different reaction. The rest of my day was clouded with thoughts that I must truly be the worst disciplinarian ever. I could hear the chorus of stern mothers and fathers from a previous generation admonishing me that their children would never act that way, and I decided that none of my friends’ kids from this generation would act that way, either.

I was a failure, and my girls would grow up to inhabit the local prison. They would earn the nicknames ‘White Chocolate’ and ‘Cocoa Puff’ for their string of candy store thieveries. And I would die of a broken heart, my house empty of all sweets because they brought too much pain.

While I replayed the Lifetime movie I directed in my mind, I neglected to remember why the assistant principal the day before wanted girls like mine. My two girls have learned the names of every teacher who helps at carpool. As we pass through the line, they beg me to roll down the window so they can yell their ‘hellos’ to the teachers and share their waves and bright smiles. On days when we stop in the school, my girls look in the assistant principal’s office and wrap their arms around her when she’s at her desk. They bring joy to every person they meet.

And sometimes heartburn, but mostly joy.

They are good kids with strong personalities, much like their brother. Luckily, age five seemed to be the ‘coming of age’ period when he graduated from stealing from the poor and actually started giving. I forget that fact, though. I forget that I actually don’t want a ‘weak-willed child;’ I just want to direct those strong wills toward productive causes. I’d like to think that Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks broke a few rules as children.

I know my job as a parent is extremely important, but I can’t discount the importance of personality, either. I look at my sister and me. I never got a detention my entire school career. My sister met her future husband in in-school suspension. We both came from the same parents. We both are good women; in fact, if I were to say who is the more loving, thoughtful, and generous person, I would have to say my sister. She just happens to do what she wants.

Sometimes I forget that I’m not the only mother who struggles. I’m not the only mom who tells her kids ‘no’ to have that ‘no’ challenged. There are some people who just have to see how close to the edge of the pool they can get before they actually fall in. And, unfortunately, sometimes, they will fall.

I can’t forget, however, that there is no fall too big that God’s grace can’t cover. Of course, I don’t want my children to have big falls. I hope that when they challenge my ‘no’s’ the discipline I give will sink in one day. I hope that the many literal messes I’ve made them clean up will teach them responsibility and the idea that every action has a consequence.

If not, I know I’ve given them the tools to start a successful house cleaning service together.

I know there are other parents who feel as I, parents whose kids do test the boundaries. It’s hard to open up to other parents whose kids are mild-mannered and obedient most of the time. When I see my kids misbehave, I feel like the failure. I feel embarrassed. And while I am not opposed to trying out other discipline techniques offered from others, sometimes I just want to hear that my kids aren’t the only ones who steal from Easter baskets. I want to hear another mom say, “My kid just pooped in the backyard today. What a weirdo.”

Parenting is rough. The responsibility is enormous, and for this perfectionist control-freak, leaving my kids in God’s hands is scary. However, I will continue to do my best to teach them right from wrong and choose the appropriate measure for when their choices are not so hot. And one day, when my kids are grown up and no longer ‘hiding’ underneath the dining room table while eating ice cream or cutting each other’s hair, I promise that I won’t forget that at one time they did. And when that young mom shares that she doesn’t know what to do; her kids are out of control, I’ll say to her:

“Oh, honey, that’s nothing. My girls stole Easter candy from underprivileged children…and I wouldn’t trade them for any other kids in the world.”

What crazy stories can you share about your children? What stories horrified you at the time, but now years later cause you to laugh?