Unending Love, Amazing Grace

There was a time in my young adult life where I had 3 car seats in the back of an old Isuzu Trooper, a gold beast which had neither air conditioning nor any creature comforts whatsoever. The children, all lined up ready to go, would eagerly await being spritzed on their tiny heads, windows rolled down as we headed to our destination and the sun blazed, kids unaffected and having a great ride. Mommy, on the other hand, cursed (or blessed, depending on the car) with curly hair, would have to bring a change of clothes because the window can’t be down when your hair is as wild as mine. 

While we’re on the subject, later in my motherhood journey I drove a van, now complete with 4 children, that first lost its heat and then lost its air conditioning. For 18 months I drove that unfortunate automobile, whose other charming feature was the lack of driver’s side window function. It was fun to pull through any drive-thru and open my door, said me, never. At this point PTSD was in full effect triggered by unresolved car issues for a complicated variety of reasons. In the winter the kids wore their coats in the car and brought their favorite blankets. In the summer I packed bottled water and rolled down the passenger side window because it was the only working window. 

Following those two memorable vehicles was a Subaru station wagon that was not able to idle or it would overheat. I had to turn it off at every stop light. It also didn’t have enough working seatbelts so not all of the kids could be in it (safely) at the same time. Let’s say bungee cords were used and praise God we never got pulled over. I wish I was kidding. And that’s just a random sample of the cars I’ve driven. 

Paycheck to paycheck, every unplanned event unable to be reliably covered, living in scarcity for the simple reason that I was so busy surviving I wasn’t even thinking about thriving. I knew nothing about prosperity. And I’m not talking about Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel nonsense (yea, you heard me. He’s a fraud.) I’m talking about sound financial Biblical principles that enable us to live for God in such a productive way that we no longer have to be slave to the lender, and we can save for the future while giving to those in need, a life I knew I wanted but had no idea was within my grasp.

It would take me being introduced and reintroduced to these principles over the course of many years until my brain was able to absorb the truths in a way they could be put into practice, i.e. about a year ago. Along the way God used several examples to illustrate His point in retrospect:

One evening I was walking into the home I shared with Addison, 4, Ayden 2, and Avery 1, as the wind blew furiously. I needed to buy diapers for the boys and I had a $20 bill in my pocket to do just that the next morning. I always have a plan, as anyone who knows me well will tell you. That evening after bath time and stories, I set my clothes out for the next day and remembered I had the cash for the diapers in my pocket. I reached for it to no avail. As I searched every conceivable location, I began to panic. It was nowhere. I fell asleep defeated, knowing I would have to reach out to my mom for help, which of course she would gladly do but wow, did it ever hurt my pride to have to ask. Sins #1 & #2 that have held me captive in my own stupidity for years: Planning Without Praying and Pride, and maybe they’re synonymous but regardless, there you have it. Luckily grace would find me the next day as we made our way to the car, baby Avery on my hip as I happened to look down and saw the $20 bill in the grass. It must have fallen out while I was digging in my pocket for my house keys, but by the grace of God there it remained during the craziest wind storm for me to discover it and know that despite every imperfection and flaw I was still loved. I remember crying, humbled temporarily by the overwhelming love my father had for me. 

These kinds of stories permeated my early life as a parent. The God who died for the sins of all spent so much time chasing down this unbelievably stubborn sheep to prove to her how loved she was. He chased me and I ran away, he chased me and I ran away…I felt so incredibly unlovable, and I was determined to prove my worth…a pursuit as useless as the directions on a shampoo bottle. Maybe if I were a less ferocious being, calmer, not as determined, prideful and pig-headed, perhaps then He could have reached me sooner. Maybe, but that’s just not the case, and for whatever reason He chased me down until he found me in the corner of my living room, February 16, 2019, crying after a night of vomiting from sheer grief. And then in my first ever moment of actual surrender he led me to the life I now live. I didn’t have to earn it or deserve it, I just had to be willing to accept it. 

During this new time in my life I have learned truths I am now (finally) willing to obey and principles I wish I knew earlier but am grateful to be able to pass along to my children so that their lives are decidedly different. If I’m being honest, I don’t mind a bit if my kids experience discomfort financially or otherwise as long as it teaches them to appreciate what they have and work for what else they want, but I can’t unknow what I now know and there’s a whole new world out there that can guarantee a future free from a scarcity mentality, thriving instead of surviving, free from the constant worry…and THAT is what I want for them. That is what I will teach them and pray that they follow – not for themselves as much as to the glory of our Lord, who, in His infinite mercy, has plucked me out of self-reliant arrogance and into a wellspring of people who love me, and whom I also love. One in particular… Things happen, and God knows just how to make lemonade out of lemons to HIS glory every time. I’m so happy to be part of some Jesus Lemonade, complete with the perfect ice and the exact right amount of tartness.  

So as I look back not so fondly on parts of my past, the one constant comfort I had during those tumultuous times is my children. Every precious moment, every weird game full of arbitrary little kid rules, every snacking phase and fashion craze, every nightmare (real AND imagined), every second spent with their tiny sick bodies curled in my lap, my lips pressed against foreheads to check for fever, every sporting event, every play, every camp…every everything…it was worth every second of all the heartache endured and instead of a tragedy, it gets to be part of a glorious transformation story that will forever be part of our collective and individual legacies.  

I used to spend so much time wondering why I was allowed to endure the searing pain, the lack of clarity that would have led me out so much sooner, but now I understand, why not? If this is what it takes for me to be impactful for the Kingdom then so be it. I’m here for His glory, not the other way around. What a privilege to be able to see clearly as each of my own children and those that I now have the privilege to help care for enter into a phase of their lives where imparting these truths can spare them from regret. That alone is worth every tear. God has given us each a story, and the main character is always God. Why? Because 100/100 times he uses our weakness for His glory, to draw other imperfect people close to Him. This world is so temporary, so let’s put our faith and trust in the one who can see us through and lead us TO our destiny. I never fully understood this until recently, but everything we do here on earth affects eternity. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”- John 8:32. Indeed. Rest in that truth, my brothers and sisters. And in the meantime let’s lead others to the peace we live for, and let’s do it together. We can’t unknow the truth, so now we have to act on it. All of it. 

Idiomic

I was driving home a few years ago with Aubrey and lots of other camp kids. If you know me you know I have an extraordinarily high tolerance for chaos and shenanigans. Noise doesn’t often bother me, I am not easily fazed by kids wrestling each other or throwing things or arguing, I can conduct business with a baby on my hip and a few toddlers clinched to my legs – it’s how I roll. But I heard the expression on the radio “a walk in the park” to explain something simplistic and enjoyable and I began to wonder if the people who use these idioms actually HAVE children. Let me tell you, radio commercial people, if you ever actually took a literal “walk in the park” with children, you’d know it’s no walk in the park.

Alyssa and I have met the definition of insane several times over with our sadistic, yet eternally optimistic view of such things as walks in the park. 

July 2006: “It will be fun to take the kids (SEVEN children ages 6 months to 7 years) to the mall for lunch and ice cream. Ooh, maybe we can go into some stores and look for matching outfits for the babies,” said the delusional sisters.

4 hours, 2 screaming babies and 5 worn out little people later, we headed home in defeat, swearing off trips such as those for the foreseeable future. The next day we decided that perhaps the park would be a better idea. So we packed the diaper bags and the coolers full of sippy cups, bottles, clothes, wipes, snacks and hand sanitizer. We took a blanket and envisioned sitting on said blanket with the babies and watching the tiny children play happily on the playground surrounded by butterflies and birds chirping happily. What we re-learned is that sitting does not actually happen at the park. Neither does walking. Chasing, however, is definitely happening, as is first aid, 16,000 trips to the bathroom, digging mulch (if you’re lucky it’s only mulch) out of a baby’s mouth, and pushing the swing. Lots of pushing the swing happens at the park.

Ten years later I would like to say we had gotten much better – that we no longer met the DSM-5 Criteria for Delusional Disorder. I’d be lying. Hence 2015’s trip to the beach, and then the little town on the beach, and then swimming in the pool…and on and on it goes. Our vision of what any outing will be like is literally NEVER accurate, yet we continued to try to attain this utopian ideal of family time based on nothing but a fantasy.

Only 2 of the 7 children remain at home, and what we have learned the hard way is that ANY chance to have everyone in the same space is ideal family time. It’s still loud and chaotic. We still have messes to clean, meals to plan, the occasional hurt feelings to soothe and even first aid to administer sometimes. The infrequency, however, makes the time feel that much more precious. 

It isn’t easy to slow down and cherish moments when children are small. The physical and logistical demands of parenting young children are overwhelming at times; it was hard for us to appreciate that it would not always be this way – until it wasn’t. First it was one last pack of diapers to buy for Ava when they came to visit, then it was the last trip to the park with all 7 because the older 5 were too cool for playgrounds. The next thing we knew we were attending the first graduation, then the second and third, and thanks to COVID not the fourth and fifth but they left the nest just the same. “Time marches on”, so many older, wiser parents would say to us. “Enjoy them while you can, because one day they’ll all be grown.” 

At the time I couldn’t envision “grown” but I did think that perhaps it would be great to not have to wipe any more bottoms. I was also fond of the idea of sleeping through the night, a vague notion then. Now I look back at those times that felt (and were) so trying with not only a fondness, but also a thankfulness that I was blessed enough to experience them. It is often in hindsight that we glean the greatest appreciation.

God wastes nothing. He can use every part of our story for His glory. Walking through those times when the kids were small seemed then mostly like barreling through a blizzard searching for shelter, hoping to survive until we found it. But when the kids talk about their childhood, they describe it more like frolicking in a sunny meadow without a care in the world, and honestly from the 20,000-ft view, I don’t see as much snow as I thought there was at the time. 

So that’s my nugget of well-earned wisdom: eventually they wipe their own behinds, they sleep through the night, and in our case a vast majority of the day, they will stop needing you to do everything and start wanting you to go away. I’ve said this before but you will become utilitarian at best (cue: “I need money/ride.”) But don’t be sad, because they also eventually FaceTime you when they have questions, or are excited after their first day at a new job. They will need you in a much more balanced way, and seeing them achieve their dreams will make every sacrifice, every “blizzard” worth its weight in gold

It’s Time

Thanks to the crappy weather the plans for this evening got changed, but instead of pouting I decided to create a delicious from scratch meat-free dish. While chopping the spinach and carrots, a few pieces dropped on the floor. George and Luna got so excited until they realized what it was and then they both looked at me like I owed them money. Luna then disappeared to eat some used feminine products and as I chased the remnants down the stairs I realized two things…I should have closed the bathroom door and when given a recipe, I can create something pretty freaking amazing. 

Lately I have been mildly obsessed with financial planning. For lots of years I have lived in survival mode, but for the past few years it has occurred to me that this is no longer my reality. The foundational principles of financial management have never escaped me: I know that all we have belongs to the Father and we are merely stewards, but lately I have been reintroduced into relying on God solely even when I am not financially destitute.

Once upon a time…

Let me lay the groundwork by saying we had no training in finances when I was growing up. My mom filled out my FAFSA but after that the rest was up to me. Investments? Savings? Stocks? I had NO IDEA what any of that was. One day I found myself a single mom of 2 babies with nothing but my own income to support us, which was not enough, in secular terms. We lived in the house my dad built that I was supposed to raise my family in after my parents got divorced. Every idea, every plan I had carefully crafted from childhood was just gone. I needed another place to live that I could afford. I had also been praying for a church, an experience I had not encountered since I was 9. To say I was overwhelmed would have been the understatement of the year. (Real talk: Ayden didn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time, I worked full-time and it got to the point that I no longer wanted to live. I called Brook Lane to see if they’d admit me. I was as desperate as I had ever been. Lost, alone except for my mama, and ready to give up.) 

Mom, aware of my fierce determination to find a church home, told me about a church her best friend attended and suggested we go there, so we did. First Baptist Church in Martinsburg became our home for the next 13 years. Imagine entering elementary school as a 25 year old student…that’s where I was spiritually. I left off when I was 9 but God had been chasing me every day since. I thrived at that church. I was introduced to people who loved me in ways I never knew possible, I had opportunities to serve…I couldn’t get enough.

One of my church friends introduced me to a Christian radio station and on the way from work to get the kids there was a financial segment. Each day I would turn the station because who wants to listen to Christian financial advisors? Well, one day as I agonized over how I was going to find and afford a place to live the show finally broke through my stubborn ADD. The topic was tithing, of all things. I listened intently, like I never had before, and learned some biblical truths I have not always lived by but at the time changed my life.

It turns out that everything we have belongs to God and money is a tool He’s given us as He sees fit to glorify the Kingdom and spread the Gospel. Talk about countercultural! So after that show I surrendered my finances to God (which I would then take back to my detriment several times…don’t YOU make that mistake) and the first actual miracle occurred in my life.

An apartment became available that I wanted so I called the property manager and she held the apartment until the end of the week for me. I scraped and saved every penny for the deposit but the day before it was due I still needed $118. After I picked the kids up from daycare I stopped to check the mail; between all the bills and advertisements there was a handwritten envelope addressed to me with no return address. I opened it up and inside was a check for $118. I was so stunned it still gives me goosebumps. I told zero people about the issue I was facing much less the amount needed to make it happen.  

But God…as I remained faithful so did He, meeting every need we had. I needed diapers….I came home from work to a pack of diapers on my porch…that’s a real example! I came home several times after praying over a need to find it met, tangibly, on my PORCH.

The point is simple…He promises to provide all we need through His glorious riches as long as we give him access. When I’m desperate it’s easy to give Him access, but when I have what I need and then some that’s the real test, isn’t it? And for most of us in the United States that’s the reality…we have more than we need but we don’t want to surrender the excess to Him. 

My unsolicited financial advice to us as an uncertified-in-everything advisor, is to surrender all that we have to the One who gave it to us in the first place. God gives us the recipe, we need only follow it. I would like to take that a step further and commit my life to glorifying God with ALL my resources, not just financial. Time, talent and treasure…it’s all His anyway. Only when this surrender happens will we be able to fulfill our calling. It’s time. 

Stay the Course

I had a conversation with a recent graduate of Berkeley Springs High School last weekend at the Naked Olive. My first thought was, “Young lady put down that drink! You’re 15!”. She saw the look of concern on my face and said, “I’m 21. I graduated with your son.”

Good grief. I’m officially old. But with age comes wisdom, usually. So as this young lady and I talked the conversation turned to education, specifically how it’s being handled during such a tumultuous time in history. I told her about all the interventions and extra supports our school system has in place, about all of the efforts of our staff to account for each student, as well as all the frustration and tears. As our conversation came to a close I said, “We will do whatever we have to do to make sure our students learn what they need to know. I’m just not sure what that looks like yet.”

This precious young lady looked at me and said words that I’ll treasure forever:

“Thank God for people like you who give us hope.”

It had been a particularly defeating week for me in some ways and those words were, I believe, divine intervention. Every time I feel like giving up in my life, God has always used someone else’s words as an outstretched hand. Thankfully I’ve always embraced it, stood up and continued walking forward.

My gift to you is just that – acknowledgment of your steadfast efforts and encouragement to stay the course. We don’t do what we do to be acknowledged, but I want you each to know that I see you, and if I see you others see you. The impact you are making is profound now and will endure as part of your legacy.

First I want to acknowledge Kristen Tuttle and everyone at the board office. You have the impossible job of keeping our kids safe, educated and fed, all while adjusting plans daily, sometimes hourly, fielding calls from parents and guardians, maintaining hope in your staff…I can’t even imagine how difficult that is and how heavily it weighs on you, but you are doing a great job. Stay the course.

Beth Golden, I know you’re part of the board but you need your own paragraph. You wear so many hats, and you wear them all beautifully. Thank you for helping me do my job, and for all the endless hours you out into being a perfectionist. Now sit down, eat cookies and stop organizing stuff. (Just for a few days!!)

Sandy Mellott, you have served the Boys and Girls Club well during this time, coordinating food, making sure the kids had access to tutoring, seeing that your families had support during the holidays…your commitment does not go unnoticed. 

Christie Butts, Amie Tutor, Amie Middlekauf and Michael Wilder, each of you has taken the reigns of MC After 3 at your site so well it makes my job so much easier and more importantly, enriches the lives of the children and families we serve. MC After 3 teachers, you are an integral part of that dynamic and I thank each and every one of you for your creativity and flexibility during this time. Our kids will undoubtedly be better off as a result.

Rhett Beckman, Jamie Harris, Les Morris, Mitch Nida and all of our amazing administration at each school, you are all doing a great job. Any time I need you, you’re only a text away. I know you’ve got my back and I’ve definitely got yours. You also have the impossible task of seeing that our students learn despite the barriers many have…you and your teachers have come up with some really creative solutions and made access to a virtual education more effective by the day. Speaking of teachers, Dee Hiles, you will always have a special place in my heart for the encouragement you’ve provided my daughter and all of your students. Your words have been the difference between hope and despair, and that, my friend, is powerful.

Dawn Beal, Cindy Hill and once again Rhett, you guys have been my Monday crew since March. I see the hours each of you put into what you do, the special effort made by you to add joy and a taste of normalcy for our students as they come through to pick up meals. You are also my source for off-color jokes and stories that just make life better in general. 

The Morgan County Partnership is always top-notch, but Angie and Sheima set the bar so high. You guys have worked so hard to create incredible Positive Action content for each school that we can share through our app as well as our very own website at positivevaluesnetwork.com…what you do is immeasurable and we are all better for it.

Parents and guardians, there are so many of you that I know and love…this is hard stuff, to be the education facilitator on top of regular parent/guardian duties. Will these people ever leave the house again? Why do they eat so much? Why is it the only time they need us is when we are on a work call, or in the bathroom? I don’t know the answers, but I do know that it’s just as if not harder on them than it is on us. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time, and let us never forsake the gathering of our minds together to share ways we’ve remained sane. 

Last but not least, our students…your lives have changed so drastically. I can’t even begin to understand what you must be experiencing. Loss of time with friends, not being able to do extracurricular activities, being forced to spend unending amounts of time with siblings and parents (even though that’s blessing for you, right, Aubrey, Lily and Maddie?…Is that a yes??). But seriously kids, we are all working hard to make sure you’re taken care of in every way. Keep moving forward. As a wise meme once said, “If there is a difference between success and failure, it is the moment you don’t give up and the moment you do”. 

This community is exemplary. We are all blessed to be part of such a network of committed, consistent humans. I am honored to be among such a diverse consortium, each using their gifts and talents to selflessly affect positive change. Sometimes the best things in life come out of the worse situations. 2020 had a bumper crop of lemons; in 2021 let’s be famous for our lemonade. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Morgan County!

Perpetual Progress

2014: In my glorious woodshed we still have no water. It was a wonderful surprise to find out we are down to one toilet. Then someone (about 4’3, blonde, 60 pounds…) had the brilliant idea to give the kitten a catnip-filled mouse. She freaked out, hopping like a lunatic and darting at breakneck speed from one end of the house to the other until it all caught up with her and she began wretching. Oh, but not in one place. Vomiting scared her, so she ran away from herself every time, resulting in trails of green bile the entire length of the carpeted hallway. Exhausted and overwhelmed, she slept it off in a shoebox. I’m pretty sure she had a hangover the next day.

Sometimes life gets overwhelming for me because I take on too much (like the kitten eating a week’s worth of catnip in a few minutes). Other times it’s because of circumstances outside my control (like being a kitten and trusting human children). This time it’s both. You would think that knowing I have a lot to do would spur me to action. You’d think I would be proactive; instead I am like a deer in headlights.

Case in point, my van named Betty White almost died on me last night. It was a close call that could have possibly been avoided with a simple trip to a mechanic. I left her idling while I talked to a friend and when I got back in she was dinging frantically, telling me she was overheating. I made it to a gas station and bought coolant, opened the hood and dumped it in. The magic serum worked and we evaded disaster. As a bonus, the heat began to work again. Who knew? Ayden, after taking this all in, said, “Mom, Antifreeze fixes everything. Maybe it could fix our cat problem.” That’s my boy. Here, kitty kitty…

Update: I didn’t feed the cat antifreeze that day. Living next to Route 9 fixed the cat problem, sadly. Now we have puppies who take it upon themselves to try and get run over by chasing cars, you know, just for kicks. My car is fully functional and so are my toilets. Life is much more comfortable in so many ways. It’s nice to look back and realize the work I’ve done has paid dividends. 

“Make tomorrow better than today” was once a fortune in my cookie. It makes sense. We have to keep moving forward. This current state of affairs feels like trudging through knee-deep mud on some days. I have my eye on the prize, but I still occasionally get sidetracked. My shoe gets stuck in the muck and comes off, causing me to purposefully pause and get my act together before I take another step. And guess what? That’s ok. It’s ok to stumble as long as we recover and then keep moving forward.  Unfortunately not everyone chooses to move forward. Some people make their life in the muck. To each his or her own, of course, but I can promise you that if you keep moving forward eventually the mud dries, becomes solid ground and then gets covered with gorgeous green grass. 

I choose to keep walking forward, making every day better than the last. Hand in hand (because I don’t have to social distance in my illustrations), we walk through the yuck, holding one another up, until we reach firmer ground. It is my privilege and also my responsibility to use the God-given talents I have to encourage others. I encourage my children and those entrusted to my care to find their talents and use them for the betterment of others. It is in this selfless act that we find our true purpose. Loving and serving others creates for them and for us the solid ground we all desire even when the world is still messy. I want to be the reason someone keeps moving forward, and I am infinitely grateful for the people to call me out when I am anything other than excellent. Seek out those people who love you enough to tell you to knock it off, who hold out their hand to help you out of the hole, self-inflicted or otherwise. Be that person for others, and guide the children in your life to discover their gifts and passions. Feed the cycle of goodness, because it’s starving, and hang in there…better days are just around the corner.

Irrational Juxtaposition

Within the past few weeks I have superglued my hand to my steering wheel, locked my keys in my car and got stuck in a car wash resulting in a nasty dent on the passenger side of my beautiful car. I’ve also experienced some spiraling into dark places in my mind as the enemy whispers lies. To say this past month has been bad for my self-esteem would be an understatement. 

Today I spoke with a friend who said she had just felt “off” these past few weeks. It helped to know someone else was experiencing the fatigue and frustration that this pandemic has created. I haven’t felt like myself in about a month. But instead of really doing the work of introspection and problem solving, I fell into the familiar coping strategy of demanding others give me what I lack. Blaming, being insecure, trying to cover up the real issue by garnering things I’m not yet equipped to have, and all of that has twisted my sense of self-worth and rendered me seemingly powerless. I first used the word “forgotten”, but I think I really mean powerless. 

Being without power is an illusion, though. I found a great article in bustle.com about regaining your power and this quote stood out:

“Complaining suggests that you can’t feel the way you want to until someone or something changes…it breeds self-victimization, and there’s no position of lesser power…than that. When you interrupt the impulse to complain, you recenter your agency in the situation – and empower yourself to actually do something about what’s bothering you.”

I have found the worst thing I can possibly do to myself is make comparisons. That holds true for all of us. It’s hard not to, though. Someone always has a better job, more well-behaved children, a bigger house, more education, fewer pounds or wrinkles…it never ends until WE end the comparison. Maybe that means taking a break from social media, or simply choosing the quiet of prayer and letting God tell us what we are truly worth. All I know is that I am no good to anyone while living in the shadow of self-doubt. In fact, I do damage. I place demands on people they were never meant to satisfy. “Fix this thing only I can fix but don’t want to deal with” is a surefire way to send people screaming in the opposite direction. And so unbecoming of who we are called to be in Christ.

I’m struggling. I don’t like the world we live in right now. It feels foreign, divided, contentious, disingenuous and oppressive. But what is NOT going to fix that is a new house, a new car, or any type of major life change. What IS going to fix that feeling is watering the grass we are standing on, working through the emotional landmines and embracing the life we have RIGHT NOW as training ground so we can look forward to even better times in our future.

It’s all about choice. I can only speak for myself and hope my fellow brothers and sisters can relate to the emotional train wreck we cause when we dare to compare. Adam and Eve wanted more than they had and look where that got them (and us). My personal choices don’t impact all of human kind, but they certainly impact the humans I need to be kindest to, so I will choose more wisely in my future about whom I aspire to be and limit that simply to Summer, daughter of the King, and live my life accordingly. 

Sister Sister

            I’ve posted this one before but it bears repeating. So many times I find myself being led to slaughter by the enemy as he reminds me of my shortcomings. I trudge toward my doom carrying baggage from the past, believing I am unworthy of love. Then I stop and remember who my Father is. I put down the baggage I was never meant to carry, turn around and head home. As I grow in Christ, the length of time I believe the lie has gone from years to months to days to minutes. We need to be tuned in to Him so we can hear His voice telling us to come home. Satan will never stop trying, but God will never stop giving us a way back to Him…

Once upon a time there was a darling little girl whose daddy bought her a pony and whose mama read her stories; she was blissfully singular. Then along came Alyssa, a precious little usurper. When the firstborn realized this tiny, bald, wrinkled person was for keeps, she made it her life’s mission to form a unique, unbreakable bond with her and live happily ever after in sibling harmony. But first she had to be hazed.

            I really wasn’t that bad of a big sister. I may have occasionally broken something and blamed it on her. There could have been times I spit on her head from the top bunk, or told her she was impregnated with a watermelon after she ate a seed. There is a slight possibility I gave her a haircut that made her look like she was attacked by tiny lawnmowers. If she admits to an irrational fear of the Easter Bunny, it is definitely NOT because I hid outside the bathroom window and told her the Easter Bunny was actually an evil jackrabbit. (It made her cry and I got spanked – justice was served.) I’m sure I could go on with more heartwarming examples of sisterly love but suffice it to say it was a hit-and-miss relationship in its formative years.

            It was during those years that I attended Vacation Bible School and learned about Jesus. I decided to ask Him to be the Lord of my life (see John 3:16). From that time until this I sometimes feel like Jesus is hazing me. He wasn’t/isn’t. At least not with the “Let’s do this and see what happens” kind of attitude I had when I put my little brother in the dryer or locked him in the toy box. 

            It has been through these trials, many that are senseless, self-made disasters and some that are not, that God has attempted to raise me up. I have a desire to cooperate, but I fall short every day. I, too, have skeletons just like everyone else. But instead of hiding them, I am using them to build a ladder – every day I reach higher ground until building-sized pieces of the past look like ants as I survey life from the clouds.  It’s amazing up here, and nothing short of Jesus Himself will make me step down the ladder, and since He Himself placed me here, I only go up from this point. 

            It’s no coincidence that Alyssa and I are sisters. God’s been knocking on the door of our hearts for years, urging us to tell our story. We have messed up, but that isn’t the end of the story; it’s the part that invites you in to experience the grace and forgiveness that’s waiting for you. Let’s all be siblings together. I promise I won’t come to your junior high school and demand you take off the shoes you stole from me. Hypothetically. (Sorry, Alyssa)

Outside the Lines with Sailor Skulls

* Another flashback worth repeating, as I go through “Round Two” with teenage girls…

This evening I shopped for a homecoming dress as “the mom” for the first time ever. I was under the misguided impression that I was cool and could help in this milestone event.  What I discovered was quite the opposite. I am but a medium for transportation and money. My opinions are less than important and furthermore I have no right to have them. 

Me: “Look, Addison! This (short, fluffy, glittery ADORABLE) dress is cute!”

Addison: “Yea, if I was in 5th grade.”

Me: “Okay, what about this (perfectly pretty, age-appropriate) dress?”

Addison: Gives me an Elvis lip and says in a very disgusted tone of voice, “I don’t think so.”

Many moms would now give up. Not I. This is my first child. So I persisted in pointing out awesome dresses and she continued to shoot them down, as if anything I liked could not possibly be the right dress because I have social leprosy. (A fact long ago established but still hard to accept.) 

Speaking of leprosy, Hot Topic is loud, dark and full of strange clothing resembling Halloween costumes. I say this because I’m irrelevant. (And if being irrelevant means I’m not into 7/18” gauges in my CHEEK then so be it.) Hanging on the wall of this bizarre store from another planet was a dress that caught the eye of my blue-haired daughter. It looked like a sailor dress but had skulls on the pockets. If she was animated her eyeballs would have become giant red hearts. 

Me: “Are you serious? You can’t wear Halloween costumes to Homecoming.”

Cute 20-year-old sales girl ignoring me completely: “Do you know some girl came in and wanted that dress and said they weren’t allowed to wear skulls at her school?” Then she exhaled and shook her head, as if she was completely flabbergasted by the audacity of it all.

I wanted to say they could probably wear skulls with SKIN ON THEIR BONES AND EYEBALLS IN THEIR SOCKETS but I refrained and remained an invisible observer as Addison contemplated what shoes she would wear with this dress that was still on the wall of weirdness.

Being the persistent woman I am, I insisted we go look at Macy’s, “just in case.” What a waste of precious time. 

Me: “Look!!! This is so YOU!” I said as I pointed out a funky yellow and black dress with a zipper. “Or THIS!” as I shoved a black lacy dress that looked like something regurgitated from the 80’s in her face.

Addison, sighing: “Nothing is as good as the sailor dress.”

Whatever. Guess what dress she’s wearing to homecoming? She was bouncing around like a little kid, so I got over my disappointment of being no help pretty quickly. In yet another failed attempt to engage and be relatable I asked if she was going to “take a selfie and post it online.” 

“Mom,” she answered, completely exasperated. “I don’t want everyone to see it!” 

Duh.

As soon as I get this thing figured out a little more I’m writing a book called “Parents of Teens: Shut Up and Drive”. But seriously, I am glad she is her own person. I really am proud of the young lady she is becoming. God made each of us as individuals for a reason. If we were all the same, life would be unbearably boring. We absolutely need beige in the crayon box, but we also need electric blue. God must think so too, and teenagers are the proof. 

Side note: Let the record state that one day, teenagers, you too will have children who will see you as utilitarian at best. God also has a sense of humor. Enjoy your youth while you’re still cool. 

Interdependent Unity

I have a graduate degree in communication but there are days when I may as well revert to cave drawings, as those would likely be more effective. Anyone with a teenager can certainly relate, along with anyone in a relationship. I have a majority of days where I am on top of my game, and then I have days like yesterday.

One of the most important lessons I learned as a young person was that no one could hear me when I was mean. I may have been saying something that, at its core, had value, but the way I chose to say it canceled out any merit. Incidentally, I learned that lesson as a teenager – likely because that is when the need for it to be taught became apparent. There may have been a wooden spoon involved in the lesson…

Mom was good at object lessons (please refer to previous sentence). She taught me to evaluate my end game. If it truly is to cultivate understanding then how I communicate my feelings is just as important as the message I’m trying to convey. I still sometimes fall short, however. When my emotions are overwhelming I can be too aggressive in how I speak. My words become armor in an attempt to protect myself from rejection, but that is altogether counterproductive. The profound effect of feeling safe, though, is that when I fall short it is only for a brief moment in time and then I wake up and realize my old habits have no place in my current life.

It is only within the past year and a half that I have found my voice. There is no longer fear in my heart when I express an opinion; for the first time in my adult life I can say what I feel – be authentic – even if it isn’t met with agreement all the time. For many years I fell for the mirage of unity instead of the truth that embodies this beautiful concept. 

Our pastor said something that resonated with me; unity will not always mean agreement. We can live in unity and not agree on everything. Nowhere is this more important than in relationships. Two people who agree on everything are living a lie. To disagree is to acknowledge the uniqueness of one another. And to be met with grace and understanding during times of disagreement only serves to strengthen bonds, not undermine them, which is what our culture would have us believe. If you’ve ever doubted that God has a distinct purpose for healthy communication(and a sense of humor) take a moment to consider how differently men and women communicate. 

He said to Adam that it isn’t good for man to be alone so he created a helpmate for him. Isn’t that sweet? Until Eve decided to question the command of God and cause mankind to be kicked out of Eden. (Hey Eve, thanks, by the way. Childbirth is super great, thanks to you. Remind me to tell you how much I appreciate it when I get to Heaven.)

I feel like there are nuances of that story missing from the text. Allow me to fill in the blanks:

 God created Eve for Adam. Adam is happy about it! 

Adam: “Flesh of my flesh! How I love you!” (That’s Adam being happy about it.)

At first Eve is overcome with a deep sense of love for her man. And then she started thinking. She walked away to gather her thoughts. “Did God make him say that? He didn’t seem genuine when he spoke. His eye contact was off. What else was he thinking about?”

Eve (walking back while yelling): “Of course you love me. I’m your only option!”

Adam: “…buuuut…wait, what?” (Adam is now thinking it was easier to just name the animals. He is also wondering where the instruction booklet to his woman was located.)

Poor Adam. When Eve talked to the serpent he knew he shouldn’t have gone along with it but this chick was batsh*t crazy and he couldn’t risk another conversation where he ended up with scrambled brains. 

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years. Men (and boys) compartmentalize. That’s why they can fight and then an hour later be playing basketball together. They speak (at least the genuine ones) from the heart with no strings attached. What they say is actually what they mean. I think that is SO WEIRD.

In the female world, everything is connected. Our day mood bleeds into our evening mood. Things that have happened, are happening and will happen in the future occupy our headspace. All at once. We notice what a man says, how he says it, interpret 10 different possible meanings, pick the worst case scenario and then get angry at him for daring to say such a thing. (The “thing” could be, “I can do that for you!”)

Us: “Why? Why can you do that for me? Because you think I’m incapable? Because you don’t need me anymore? I thought I mattered to you. Is this the end for us?”

Man: “…ummm…wait, what?”

Sorry, fellas. It’s all part of the authentic package of your woman. And rest assured, no matter how crazy we seem, the crux of the matter will always be that we want to live in unity with you, heading the same direction, changing the world for the better alongside the men we love. God created us this way, in my humble opinion, because there is no better petri dish for personal growth than that which requires a man and a woman to communicate effectively. Hang in there, guys. It’s worth it. God promises.

Class of 2020 – Covid Chasm

Avery was 4 when he informed me of his plans to move out when he grew up. He said, “Mama, when I’m big I’m going to have a house that’s just mine, but you will have a room.”

“Oh? Ok. What will my room look like?” I asked, playing along.

“It will have rainbows and butterflies,” Avery responded.

“What will your room look like?” I asked.

“Duh, mama. Skulls,” he answered.

It was precious at the time but I couldn’t help but be surprised at his forethought. His older siblings had declared they wanted to live with mommy “forever”. Yet Avery already had a life plan independent of being cared for by me. 

As he grew I imagine he hated every moment of being forced to try fruits and vegetables, take naps, brush his teeth, wear appropriate footwear, clean his room…but now he stands before me as a man who is fiercely independent, making his own way. I find myself searching for ways to care for him without undermining his independence. Now the ceremony of all ceremonies up until this point in a person’s life has been put on hold or cancelled – I get stuck, as a mom, in this place of self-pity and wishing things were different. I was looking at his cap and gown we ordered months ago with full certainty that this week would be the week we celebrated his achievement of high school graduation. I would have been shuttling family from airports and planning a party to honor my son. Instead we have been allotted a time for him to walk alone across a stage. Don’t get me wrong, I understand, but the gap still exists between expectation and reality. 

As we, and especially our class of 2020, mourn the loss of normalcy, it’s ok to be disappointed. Today was supposed to be different than it turned out to be. Today our BSHS Class of 2020 should have been gathering together for one last time as seniors in high school before moving their tassels, tossing their hats and stepping off the stage as high school graduates, ready to move to the next chapter in life. But God has chosen this class to endure and overcome, as they will. He will fill in the gaps between expectation and reality, and if we let Him, He will pick up each of us and gently place us where we are meant to be. 

Class of 2020, you don’t have to have it all figured out, because your Creator already does. As each of you moves forward in your journey, allow Him to lead you in every decision. And my precious Avery, I simply could not be more proud of the young man you are. My heart is full as I watch you fulfill your dreams of independence. It seems like yesterday when we had that conversation, your sweet chubby little face excited to tell me all about your future, yet here we are, on the doorstep of that very dream and I struggle to let you go. I will miss you, sweetheart. No matter how old you are, wherever I am is your home. You will never be alone, and you will always be loved. Congratulations, Avery and congratulations Class of 2020!