Monday, April 21, 2014

When God Bonks You On The Head

The evening it happened I knew I should write about it. Yet, my wound was too fresh, my shame too raw. I would sit down to blog and an internal argument would ensue causing me to put my experience back on the shelf. One voice would whisper: “You should share this with other Mamas.” A competing voice would say, “No, it’s too soon.” The first voice would counter, “At least write it as a reminder to yourself.” The dissenting voice would reply, “Let’s just move on.”

Then, Saturday, I read this interview with Jeannie Cunnion about her new book Parenting the Wholehearted Child, and I knew it was time.

Last month a business associate contacted my husband and me to let us know he was going to be traveling through our town during a road trip with his family. Through our business interactions my husband and I have developed a friendship with Tom, but had never had the opportunity to meet his family. This seemed like a great chance to connect our kids-and for me to finally meet the wife of whom he so often speaks.

It was a Monday afternoon when their van with Indiana plates made its way to our town. It was Tom’s kids’ Spring Break—but just an ordinary school day for us. The boys had soccer practice right after school, then I ran to pick up a gluten free dinner I’d ordered to accommodate our guests. It wasn’t ready, so we were a bit behind schedule. Frustratingly, the half hour margin I had built into our afternoon was gone.
In case I have never mentioned it in this space, I have two anxiety triggers—running late and feeling like I am inconveniencing people. I am AT MY WORST when I feel like I’m putting people out. It has been a painful process for me to realize that I disrespect my own family members (the people I love and value most) from this anxious place of trying to be respectful of others.
The kids & I hurriedly pulled into my driveway with our dinner in the trunk at exactly the moment our guests arrived. I went into Host-zilla mode and spouted instructions to the kids.
“Go immediately inside and change from your soccer clothes and come directly back downstairs to greet our guests. Do NOT get distracted.”
I waved to the guests, unloaded the food quickly, then did a quick glace around the downstairs to make sure we were ready to receive. As I was making my way to the front door I heard the sounds of Mario Kart coming from the dark mudroom. My heart rate quickened. Stupid screens…I peeked around the corner to see my P, head down, playing a handheld device. Whaaaa?
And this is the part where I gulp hard (for the first time).
I lost it.

“Hey!” I exclaimed as a popped him on the top of the head like I was ringing a bell for service. “What on Earth do you think you are doing?!?”

I promise this is NOT how I ordinarily handle my children. If you have ever dealt with a sensitive, anxiety prone child with a propensity for zoning out you know this is exactly the WRONG way to get their attention. The emotional whiplash from being jerked back into reality rarely works out well.  Predictably, he started crying. His big tear filled brown eyes looked up at me as he stammered, “What did I do?”

Feeling justifiably angry I said, “I told you to go change clothes. I made it very clear we were in a hurry. And you are in here playing a VIDEO GAME!?”

Still crying, appearing bewildered and sad he said, “But, Mom, I did change. I did what you said.”

And although I still have no idea how he managed to do so that quickly, a double check of his appearance confirmed his story. He was sporting the same exact colors he had been wearing before, but he was in clean clothes.
In other words, I completely overreacted and behaved like a very unkind and upsetting Mama as a result of jumping to the wrong conclusion. My heart sank. I was so ashamed. I literally fell to my knees before him.
For months I have been preaching/teaching/praying for him about how to handle his anxiety—how to take a breath, slow down and NOT jump to conclusions. And in an instant I had embodied every bad example. Now my innocent child was upset and of course, the front doorbell rang.


Through tears of my own and a huge sigh I said, “P, I was wrong. I overreacted. I did everything I tell you not to do. I was worried and upset and I freaked out. I am so sorry.”

Oh ,the irony that I wanted to ‘impress’ my guests with our appropriately dressed family, good manners and a welcoming home—and I left them standing on the porch while repaired a spirit I crushed inside. I glanced at the door, then into the brown, bespectacled eyes of my boy.
“I am really, very sorry. Will you forgive me?”

“Yes, " he replied with sweet sincerity, "Will you forgive me too?”

“Oh, you don’t owe me an apology, buddy. You did the right thing. I was the one who was wrong.” I gulped again.

I hugged him tight, then anticipating the third ring of the bell from a family of five that had been driving all afternoon, I dashed to the door. With my best ‘together’ smile I greeted the guests and welcomed them into our ‘lovely’ home. And I felt like a fake. In my desire to offer a 'home' to our company I had hurt one who lived there.
An hour into our visit, while discussing the humility of parenthood, I confessed why they had been left on the porch for a bit. Ironically, I got the sense that the humble authenticity was probably the thing that made my guests feel most welcome of all. And I wondered again why we don't all try to live more from this place of 'real.'

Make no mistake, I am not proud of my behavior...but my freak out wasn't the end of the story. As I humbled myself God was able to redeem even my yuck.

That night as I was putting P to bed I brought the incident up once more.

“When Jesus forgives, it is handled. It’s done. You don’t have to keep going over it again and again. But, P, I have to tell you, I still feel terrible about the way I handled things earlier. I am so sorry my heart hurts.”

I could barely make out his face in the darkness, but there was no mistaking the feeling of his skinny arms wrapping themselves around me neck.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”

I choked back tears.
So often in hurtful situations both parties share parts of the blame—but not this time. In this scenario it was clear. I was the offender. My boy was the offended. His forgiveness was freely offered—in the tenderest of ways—above and beyond. And I felt a sense wash over me that THIS is grace. Unearned. Gifted to my embarrassed, repentant heart.
This is the picture of love that I hope I never forget (and to offer to others). A sincere apology from a contrite heart, met with kindness and a sweet embrace.
In some respects, the whole situation was God's way of bonking me in the head. Waking me up from my little world where all of my kids' heart development depends on me. It's just not true. I have a responsibility, indeed, but clearly it's not all up to (or about, ahem) me.

Obviously, I wish I could always be the good example. I regret the way I handled my son’s heart. I pray the Lord will continue to work on my patience. But I was blown away by the reminder that God is working in my boy's heart to nurture a tenderness that I can't take much of the credit for.
The same is true of my other ones. God doesn't ask me to be a perfect Mother. In fact, Scripture testifies time and again to the fact that I CAN'T and I WON'T. The point is for my children to worship GOD not ME. My responsibility is not to be their Savior, but to point them to Him. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pollen, Pets & the Promise of Easter

I adore the blooms of Springtime in Georgia--the warm sun, splashes of color on gentle petals and pops of new green growth--but the pollen is absolutely brutal. We are all sniffly with scratchy throats, but my R's allergy-induced asthma makes him especially miserable, which takes its toll on the rest of us. :)

Trying to learn something from every experience God allows on this Earth, I was thinking about pollen as yet another example of something that brings life--and misery--sometimes simultaneously. The very mechanism that brings beautiful blossoms means breathing treatments, headaches and sleepless nights.

You take the good with the bad--because while a world without breathing treatments would be nice, if it came at the expense of Spring even my stuffy, coughing boy wouldn't take that trade.

Similarly, we are dealing with the loss of our precious little orange kitten, Leo. He disappeared without a trace two weeks ago today.

We've scoured the neighborhood, posted flyers, prayed and hoped. One of the teachers at school shared with my K about a boy kitty she had, similarly aged, who also disappeared after being neutered only to return 13 days later. With that story of hope, my trio shelved their 'dealing with it' until today--day 14.

My animal loving P's heart is flat broken. Tonight he sobbed as he recounted every story he could remember of Leo's 6 month old life. We flipped through pictures and my little man honored his memories of our kitty. P lamented that he was planning to teach Leo to high five the next day (when he disappeared.) He recalled how his fur felt, how his purr sounded and a story about one time when Leo slept all night in his bed without our knowledge.
Through sniffles he earnestly asserted, "It was a looong night, but it was worth it."

As I knelt at the side of P's bed there was a part of me that wanted to rush my boy through the pain...make him some promise that it would all be OK. But that wasn't true. He's lost his beloved pet and his heart hurts. That is real life.

So I listened and loved and hugged. I sighed, gulped, prayed silently, and couldn't help but note that this was the first of many of heartbreaks I will have the agonizing privilege of walking through with my children.

Gut wrenching...but part of the deal.

The very tenderness and love we have prayed the Lord would cultivate in our childrens' hearts--leaves them vulnerable to the inevitable heartbreak of a broken world.

And I am pointed back to Easter. Christmas is a glorious celebration that Jesus came to this world to dwell among us. Easter is the brutal reason He had to leave.

Honestly, I don't enjoy Holy Week. As an optimist, walking through the darkness and hopelessness the witnesses of the events felt makes me squirmy. I don't want to linger in the dark parts, I want to fast forward to the celebration Resurrection Sunday...but doing so cheapens the very thing we celebrate.

And it is the same with the struggles, hardships and heartbreak of life.

Those who have struggled to catch their breath have a greater appreciation of breathing freely.
We embrace Spring because it's been a long, cold Winter.
And we hold tight to those we love because we know we aren't promised their presence tomorrow.

We fall on our faces in gratitude for the gift of life that cost Jesus His--and that we could never, ever achieve for ourselves.

Lord, I pray I won't rush through the uncomfortable--of Holy Week or of life. May I, instead, look for your Reedeming Hand in it all. You are worthy of my trust.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Apologetics of Parenting

The tension hung so thick in the air it could be cut with a knife. There was plenty of fiddling and jitters. Adults and children alike were visibly taking slow deep breaths and therapeutically exhaling. Thirty children sat in straight backed chairs awaiting their turn at the mike.

And even as the atmosphere was one of tremendous support and encouragement--cheers, applause, high fives--there was no escaping the pressure to perform the participants were feeling. It was the long awaited Spelling Bee.

Misspelled words were greeted with groans from their teammates--and occasional tears from the students who had worked so hard only to stumble on a word. As a student of people, I couldn't help but watch the reaction of the parents as much as their students. Simultaneously brutal and beautiful.

On the way in and on the way out parents bonded over their nerves/concerns for their kids.
"Well, I have a very anxiety-prone little person."
"His struggling self esteem could really use a victory."
"She is terrified of getting eliminated on the first word."
"Mine didn't study. We'll see how that works out for her."

And again at the end as we were leaving, we apologized some more.
"We are working on sportsmanship."
"He is learning to deal with disappointment."
"I am trying to teach her to manage expectations."
"This will be a good lesson in work ethic and how details matter."

We were equally tender co-laborers sharing our worries and concerns, venting some of the stress we were feeling and watching our children working through their developmental issues ON A STAGE.

But if I'm honest, I was also doing a bit of 'expectations management' on the front end and 'damage control' on the backend. My pride (a constant work in progress) wants other parents to know that I KNOW my kids aren't perfect.

I want it to be known that I am proud of them, yes, but I am also AWARE of what is going on with them. I can get all tangled up in fear that my kids will be labelled "the bossy one," "the crier," "the know-it-all." Out of my fear, I can become defensive--an apologist even.

Advocacy is a role of a parent--but not the only one. And as our children age they must learn to advocate for themselves. Sometimes I fear I sound more like an interpreter for my children or a Public Relations Rep than their loving mother who knows they are just working it out.

It happens at Spelling Bees, at athletic practices, on field trips, playdates and in recitals--really awesome parents discussing their children with a mix of pride, worry, fear and love. Our hearts are generally in the right place. It's the approach I am pondering.

I was recently having a conversation with a fellow mother about an issue her child was facing at school. As she realized that her child had indeed been at the center of a little controversy, I saw the dread in her face. I found myself saying, "Hey, I've been there. They are children and they are working some things out. They ALL are. This is what childhood is about."

Parents, we have to remember that we are in this together. We share a mutual goal of raising up these little people to be equipped for the work God has already planned for them. Let's cheer one another on, support each other and refuse to label anybody else just yet. The road is long and we are on this journey together.

May we remember these 'quirks' are their uniqueness. Their struggles may one day be their strengths. And those amazing inborn strengths? Our role is to help our kids discover them, hone them and apply them to the right things.

I don't need to run around apologizing for my children. Neither do you. That time is much better spent praying, honing, encouraging, training.

And the conversations with other parents? They are VITAL to our sanity--but I pray they will be marked by grace and camaraderie rather than defensiveness and apologetics.

We are all better when we work together in truth, in love and in grace.

Monday, April 07, 2014

I See You

I am not much of a runner, but I frequently find myself pulled to the beautiful analogies the sport offers. Recently, I have been thinking about the marathon aspect of life--and more specifically the way the length of this race lends itself to running partners/groups changing with the pace and the terrain.

Humans seem drawn to tribes/clubs/community. Throughout history, survival has often depended on the safety found in group settings--leaning on one another. I believe it is a part of the way God made us--to be His body, the sum of many parts. And yet, I can't help but ponder how my groups change over time--especially in this phase of life.

A 20 year history of my 'people' includes various inner circles:  my family, my high school clique, college besties, my post-college/young professional group and then the new 'couple friends' marriage brought and parenting cohorts soon after. Every few years it seems to change--not because of big conflicts, but as a result of the shifting demands/circumstances of life.

There are so many people I respect, love, appreciate and enjoy--and yet there are only so many 'close friends' one can really keep. And I resent that sometimes. I wish there was time and space for regularly connecting with all the cool, inspiring, smart people from my past and present. I feel like I can learn so much from them and their experience, pace and technique on this journey. It is just not realistic.

As our children age, even some of the friends I've had the longest become more difficult to connect with--will our husbands jive, are our kids similar ages, will distance/schedules allow for meaningful visits? Our visits are intentional and rich--but few and far between.

I have wonderful people in my life. Yet, I run into ladies out to lunch that I just know I'd like (but whose kids are all at another school), or pass women at church I respect who attend a different service/Sunday School class/small group. In my own school carline many mornings I look across at a parent I think I'd really enjoy knowing better. But life seems to have us in different places.

We are 'running the race set before us' and many days it leaves little room for all the meaningful connecting this extrovert would like to do. The reality of life is that everybody can't be our running partners. We are in various spots on the course. And that's normal and ok.

Yet, I want these women to know I am cheering for them--that I have mad respect for all the ways they are contributing at home, in the community and by using their gifts in the world. It meant the world to me a few months ago when a friend texted me a simple "I see you." I've tried to incorporate a lot more 'seeing' and 'cheering' into my daily life.

So, for what its worth, I'm declaring a new catch phrase to communicate the respect I have for so many of these women--"I see you."

It sounds so silly, but my heart wants it to be a way of life--encouraging others in the trenches.
I see you leading that women's ministry.
I see you and your years of devotion to Moms in Touch.
I see you hunkering down at home because your husband/kids need that in this season.
I see you going back to work, filled with both anxiety and excitement.
I see your devotion to foster families in this town.
I see you homeschooling.
I see your faithfulness.
I see you bearing the weight of being a special needs parent.
I see you worried over the health of your child.
I see you just trying to make ends meet.
I see your weariness.
I see your kindness to the least of these--even though you are not doing it to be seen.

And I am learning that life is so much richer when we just pause to see each other.

May we be the great cloud of witnesses that cheers for all the other runners in this race--whether they are before us or behind us--blowing us away with their speed and prowess or obviously struggling to catch their breath. In the few races I've actually run, it's the best part--the overwhelmingly supportive atmosphere that seems to convey: "Hey, way to go you just for being out here giving it your all."

I want to be a part of a community that operates with the same mentality.

Oh, Lord, I pray...teach us to SEE and to SAY "Keep running. Your goal is worth it. I see you."

Friday, April 04, 2014

Raising my Walter Mitty

My P is a day dreamer. He lives for reading, video games and drawing--things that take him into a fantasy world far more exciting than his daily life. He is bright, creative and funny--but it is sometimes difficult to connect with him. I borrowed a slogan from a friend who describes it as "living in a happy place that we have to dial long distance to reach."

I adore my son for many reasons, but honestly, the fact that he is a puzzle that takes time and patience to unlock is one of his finest qualities. As an extrovert who loves to communicate and longs to be understood, I am fascinated by the fact that knowing P is a right you have to earn. Few people get true glimpses into his heart and mind, but what a delightful gift he is when you get there!

A few weeks ago I watched "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." I understand the literary work is quite different than the movie, but what relished about the film was the chance to get a sneak peek into the mind of a person that escapes reality by delving into an imagined world where he is the hero--brave, strong, confident and capable. Meanwhile, people in his real life dismiss him as spacy and clueless.

I won't spoil the movie's plot, but ultimately, Walter Mitty is faced with the choice to continue living 'safe' while imagining his desired life or make 'daring' real life decisions in line with his fantasies. Although it was a work of fiction, it has weighed on me to connect these lessons to an application for my boy.

I read with interest an article explaining one of the reasons boys love video games so much is because they get to be the hero. They can accomplish things (new high scores, beating levels, unlocking characters) much faster in a pixelated world than they can in real life--and that feels good. This realization offered some perspective to the screens that are so often my parenting nemesis, but it also challenged me to look for ways that my boys can find those feelings of heroism and accomplishment in real life. (This is a work in progress.)

An extrovert raising an introvert is a unique challenge. I love my boy and all the gifts his life offers to the world. Helping him find a voice--especially in our family full of other (louder) ones--is a journey.

I am grateful for P as a living, breathing daily reminder to slow down and invest in getting to know people who don't always wear their heart on their sleeves. I'm learning that like my P, many of the quietest/fringe people are full of little known treasure. What joy to discover it!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Sweetest Gift

I vaguely remember receiving the plush musical toy as a shower gift 10 years ago. It was from my aunt and teenaged niece--attached to another gift I don't specifically recall. The sun/flower with an Eric Carle-type caterpillar attached was set aside with other toys.

Hospitalized bedrest came, tiny babies were ushered into the world quite dramatically and then tucked away in the NICU for several weeks. When our wee little ones came home, wrapped as burritos with monitors and wires, days and nights were a blur of joy, diapers, bottles and sleeplessness.

Somewhere in the Fall of 2004, the fog began to lift and my then 5-6 month old babes started to 'attach' to special toys. My tempermental R seemed to find soothing in the sweet melody from that sunshiny/flower (we still weren't quite sure which it was designed to be).

As our babies turned into toddlers, the bond between my R and "Sunny" was solidified. He didn't have a special blanket or pacifier. Sunny was it!

For the last 9 years, Sunny (AKA Sun-Sun) was a very good friend. A scary night-time awakening was frequently saved by locating him under the covers and pulling the caterpillar string that caused the music to play. I remember smiling as I heard the melody over the baby monitor when R grew a bit older and began to learn to soothe himself.

Even as my 'tough guy' has grown, Sunny has remained. Each morning when R makes his bed, Sunny assumes his place under the covers, at R's feet where he likes to sleep. (Oh the years I spent searching for him in the tangled sheets during particularly restless nights!)

A couple of months ago after a visit with our precious family friend/former sitter, Annie, and her new baby, R announced, "I think I want to give Sunny to baby Hudson."

We took a few weeks to ponder the idea. I put Sunny in a drawer to make sure we were ready. Occasionally I would find that he had made his way from my drawer back into R's bed. I wondered if the time had in fact come--or not.

And then today as we were preparing to go and meet Annie & Hudson for ice cream after school R cheerfully reminded me, "Don't forget Sunny!"

The handoff was adorable. My R is a man of purpose and he handled this like a champ.
 It seemed so sweet, so right.

And my heart was at peace, too. And then a couple of hours ago I got this from Annie. Sunny assuming the position in his new home, with a little boy the same age my R was when he fell in love with him.

New home 2014 (with Hudson)
Old home 2007 (with R)
A torch (or sun if you will) has been passed in the tenderest way.

Time marches on.

Sunday, March 30, 2014


As we sat in the worship service this morning my heart felt like it might burst and yet completely at home and secure all at the same time. I experienced a huge involuntary exhale followed by a wide grin. My husband was holding my hand, worship music surrounded us and I tried to freeze it all as a tiny glimpse of the peace of heaven.

The funny thing is, I don't even remember what song was playing. My children were in various stages of slouch and mumbling much more than singing. I realized it had nothing to do with the lyrics or the momentary circumstances. It was, instead, a celebration in my heart of place, time, community and priority.

There is a lot said and written about church--what makes a good one or a bad one, the different types, the reason for it. People 'like' or 'dislike' styles, preachers, atmospheres, musical genres, times and locations...but this morning as I felt so alive, free and refreshed just being there I tried to pinpoint why.

No church is perfect. It is, afterall, a group of sinful people gathered in a space. But by virtue of seeking to know Him more and taking a collective pause from the world to praise God, it becomes sacred.

A few weeks ago my husband & I attended a great marriage enrichment retreat. For us, the most meaningful part of the weekend was an exercise in family vision setting. The facilitator gave us a worksheet that walked us through a process of discovering what we valued individually--and when we thought we were at our best as a team.

It surprised even me when I got to a question asking us to describe specific times and places where I felt best as a couple and one of the first things that came to mind was sitting in church during worship music. As I sought to explain why, I realized it is because on Sunday mornings my priorities are in order. In a dark room, surrounded by community, singing the truth of who God is--we are sequestered from noise and distraction, focused on what is most important.

I love the picture of my eyes looking up (to the screens), my lips professing what I believe (through song), my ears hearing others with a unified voice (singing the same lyrics) while holding hands with my partner.

Truly, everything else falls into place in that moment--largely because there is no room for insignificant worry or thought when our focus is right.

God is the head and the body takes its proper place under Him.

Alas, at 9:55 we are released and walk down the corridor into the bright light of 'real world.' We will scatter to places with competing voices and crowded schedules. But I pray we take with us the peace and perspective those sacred moments bring.

I am so grateful for the church.