Me and my little lightbulbs in the bluebonnets!

Me and my little lightbulbs in the bluebonnets!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

To the toddler mom who commented on my teenager ...

It's been a while since I've posted. I can only say that this has been quite a year of life lessons ... many of which I will share very soon. For now, I feel compelled to write about an encounter I had just last night.

She was standing there after what I can only assume had already been a harrowing day, a baby strapped to her chest, another crawling on the nearby carpet and a toddler, tired from his gymnastics class, weeping from exhaustion. It was summer, after all, a time of going and doing, hot summer days and not-early-enough nights.

That's when she noticed me, standing with my almost-13-year-old son, who had recently shot past me in height. His self possession and maturity must have struck her, as I could see a quick glint of jealousy streak across her face. I recognized that look. I'd had it not so long ago when I was the mom of little tots, which elevated my joy to the heavens while sapping my strength. I remember coveting the phase of life other moms were in: children able to go potty alone, able to dress themselves, tell me if they were hungry or tired or sick.

"I can't wait until they are that big," she said to me, a half smile on her face as if to say, "I'm only joking." And she was. Sort of. Certainly she loved her little bundles, loved cuddling their fresh-washed bodies as she read them bedtime stories at night; loved seeing the newness of everything through their eyes; loved teaching them how to function on the most basic level. Yet, she also wasn't joking. She also needed a break. She is tired; she feels an unrelenting giving of herself only to look in the mirror and wonder where she went to. I know. I remember.

Looking at her with what I hoped was understanding, I could only say one thing: "Don't wish it away."

If I'd had had more time to expound I would have said more. So, to all of you tot moms, listen to my words carefully. Because right here, right now, I'm telling you (and her) what I know you've already heard so many times but still needs repeating:

Don't wish away the 725th time you are asked to read Winnie the Pooh. Pretty soon, they will be reading on their own and then you'll look back and wonder when was the last time you read to them.

Don't wish away their begging for you to swim just one more time. One day very soon, they are off with friends, splashing and squealing, barely registering your presence on the sidelines.

Don't wish away the long nights of rocking, singing, holding and nuzzling your child to sleep. I know you want to just go downstairs, pour a glass of wine and watch Real Housewives for a little bit. But stay a little longer, sing another song. One day it will be the last one they let you sing.

Don't wish away the hot playground dates or snow cone trips. I know their smelly, messy and repetitive, but one day sooner than you think, those days will be a dim, distant but lovely memory.

Stay a little longer at the party, savor the good and the bad, thank God for each precious fleeting moment. These days feel like they won't end, but I promise they do, opening up new seasons, new experiences and exciting journeys. But for now, walk slowly down the path you are on. Drink it in. Soak it up.

Because one day, before you realize it, you will be looking up into your child's big beautiful eyes at the young man he's becoming. The little boy will be gone. And you will wonder where the time went.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Why I Pray for ISIS

"I just don't understand, Mom," my 11-year-old asked me yesterday morning. "Why would people hurt other people just because they don't believe the same way?"
      Our conversation was one held in thousands of other households across the globe, but for us, it was unique. All these years I've shielded my children from the world's chaos and destruction. I've ceased watching the news in their presence, unsubscribed to newspapers and guard their online activity like a hawk watching over her babies. But at a certain point the world intrudes and we must face these discussions head-on and with spiritual awareness.
     I used the opportunity to explain that hardened, dark hearts don't feel remorse for such actions. That, for reasons we can never comprehend, they feel this is their spiritual duty.
    "But," I stressed, "the scripture is very clear about what to do with our enemies. We must pray for them."
     The look on his face was pure shock, rimmed with slight confusion. How can we, he asked, pray for such people?
     In fact, these are the very people who need our prayers. The darkest of hearts can only be awakened by the purest of light: that of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who can turn a life around and scatter evil from the shadows. Revolutions must take place from within, and, in this case, it must begin with a heart change.
     We can reflect on Saul, the Christian killer, who once reveled in his own blood lust. Once saved by the grace of Christ, he repented. I believe, too, that this can happen within the ranks of ISIS.
     I know it's a simplistic solution. It does sound a little kumbayah, and maybe it is. Still, I am compelled to utter this prayer nearly nightly.
     Do I think there is no place for military action in this situation? I leave that to the professionals to decide. Am I saying this that magically through prayer these hardened criminals will turn away from their ingrained idealism? Whose to say. Stranger things have happened. I don't claim to know the future.
    But what I do know is that I am not on the front lines with an AK-47. My only bullets are those of prayer, my only weapon the hope that comes from the Lord.
    I don't know what tomorrow holds for us or my children. The Bible, written during a time of similar unrest, tells us not to worry about tomorrow. Yet, there are times my prayers are overrun with worry.  In those moments I stop and I pray for the hearts of men I will never understand and I hope never to meet. I pray that they will be forgiven and that they will turn from the evil that has consumed their spirits. Joy and love and understand can't thrive in such darkness, yet the Lord can overcome even these obstacles.
    So, I pray. And I pray some more. I hope you'll join me because, while it's painful and difficult to pray for our enemies, it may be the most powerful weapon we have against those who would try to wrench such hope from our hearts.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Walking Along the Road

You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.

I have spent six years in a blissful Norman Rockwell-esque existence with my two boys. But yesterday, the bubble popped around my fragile world. That's right. My oldest son is now an official middle-schooler. He graduated, despite the fact that I was all but shackling his ankles to his desk in an effort to keep him in his safe little cocoon.

You see, I live in a sweet front-porch community where the elementary school sits smack dab in the middle of my neighborhood. Every temperate morning, I walk my kids to school and then back again at the end of the day. We literally stop and smell the roses growing alongside my neighbor's picket fence and the kids clamber up trees on our route home. It's heaven. And I don't want it to end.

But, it has, at least for one of my boys. I realize that I will never again walk my oldest son to or from school for the rest of his life. And this, my friends, is enough to send me straight into my pajamas with a case of Hagen Dazs.

Although his little brother will remain at our lovely little school with its lovely little desks, my oldest will now venture into the world of pre-teendom. He'll get acne and start liking girls. Pretty soon, I won't be welcomed with huge wide-open arms at school. Instead, I'll be shunned, like the drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.  (You know he needs to be there, but that doesn't mean you like it).

So, now that the inevitable has taken place, I suppose I must make peace with it. He will get taller than me. His voice will change.  He'll continue to grow up.  And, I know that's the point. But it doesn't quell the ache in my chest or alleviate this feeling that time is just sand slipping through my fingers.

But, still, I am thankful. I'm thankful for the "walking along the road" that we have had the privilege of enjoying. Those walks have sometimes been tearful, sometimes celebratory. Sometimes, quiet and other times teaming with excitement. As I've walked with my two boys at my side, I've seen seasons change, in both the world around us and in their own lives.

For six years, we've enjoyed streams of conversations, sometimes serious, other times silly. I look back on these times with praise and joy, mixed with a dull ache. They are days I will never be able to reclaim, and I know that.

Yet, as we walk along the road with our children, no matter how short the journey, we should always remember that every minute is precious. Every second is a grain of sand that will quickly escape our grasp. Only God can hold them.

My challenge to each parent out there is to take advantage of the moments you have to "walk along the road" with your child.  Every conversation, no matter the content, is important. Make it count, make it a memory. And then, remember to thank God for them. Because, much like the fading light of a perfect day, they will too quickly be gone.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Into the Valley: Loving Your Spouse Through a Layoff

It took my husband and I a couple of years to fully recover from the near year he was out of work. We were wrecked emotionally and financially. When it happened we had two tiny kids at home and I was a work-at-home mom with my own small business, which wasn't nearly enough to keep us afloat.

My husband felt kicked in the teeth. A big, tough manly man, even he was reduced to tears on occasion as we groped through this new territory. The worst part for me was I didn't know how to support him.

No one I knew had been through this, especially with little kids to consider. And, as our checking account dwindled so did my husband's morale. He worked odd jobs, pulled weeds, handed out fliers throughout the neighborhood advertising handy man work, anything to keep even a little money coming in.

And in my lowest moments, when it didn't seem that God was hearing my prayers, it seemed life would sink even lower. A bill would come in we couldn't pay or a job that Dan had interviewed for would fall through. It was a maddening push and pull of hope and fear.

Eventually we were blessed with an opportunity for Dan to work with a nearby company. He wasn't just employed, but he was close enough to pick kids up from school or attend recitals. In the years since, we've had the chance to mentor people through this same difficulty, knowing how hard it is to find someone - anyone - to lean on in such times.

Here are five tips we usually give couples struggling through this daunting situation. I hope they help you or others you know.

1. Don't blame each other. 

Emotions are going to run high. There will be moments of desolation and weariness. That is no one's fault. Know that your husband or wife was a victim of circumstance, and they couldn't have changed the outcome. Instead of fueling a tense situation with blame, consider how you might serve your spouse. Take them out for a drive. Speak kind words into their soul. Make their favorite meal. Oftentimes, we fight with those we love as a way of combating our own feelings of inadequacy. A loving gesture is often the greatest salve for a wounded spirit.

2. Don't have the same bad day. 

This was actually my husband's idea. He being the more even-keeled of the two of us, knew this would be an emotional struggle for me. He looked across from the table at me in the beginning and said simply,"We are both going to have bad days. But we just can't have the same bad day." So, the decision was made: whoever got their first could claim the bad day. The other person's job was to build up, encourage and lighten the mood a little. I believe this strategy saved our marriage.

3. Distract yourself. 

Thankfully, my husband's layoff occurred in the spring and summer when there were plenty of free activities in the area. If we had been mired down in the job hunt for too long, one of us would pick a place to visit and go. Sometimes it was just to a park, sometimes to a Farmer's Market. We made it a little mini staycay, visiting places we didn't get to see that were nearby. Not only did this break up the monotony of our situation, but it also helped us enjoy the opportunity we had to be together as a family after years of Dan's commuting hours away. And on the cheap, too, I might add!

4. Avoid social media. 

Aside from anything related to job searching, you should avoid social media content. As awful as it may sound, it's just really hard to be happy for others when you are going through a tough financial situation. Seeing posts of vacation pictures or new car purchases will only feed your depression. And it could possibly feed feelings of frustration toward your spouse that he or she doesn't deserve. Instead, pick up the phone or visit someone in person. That way you are getting one-on-one interaction, which is important, but avoiding the onslaught of hundreds of people's triumphs.

5. Don't bail on church. 

It's tough to drag yourself into the pew when you are struggling. They pass the offering plate, and you wonder if you can afford to place that $20 bill in there. What will that do to your grocery budget for the week? But, as most pastors will attest, church is not about the offering plate. It's about connecting with your community of believers. It's about praising and praying to God, even in the midst of despair. True, He will meet you anywhere, but only in church can you feel the prayers of hundreds of others swirling around you.

Don't be afraid to be honest with your pastor about your situation. Not only can he be a source of counsel and comfort, but he may know someone in the congregation with a job opening or connection to one. Never underestimate the power of community or prayer.

When Dan finally was hired on at his current company, it was a welcome relief. But it took a long time for both of us to trust our new situation. However, we never doubted our commitment to one another. And, in the end, I know it made our relationship ever stronger. We now know that we will walk with each other through the valleys without quaking. In the end, that is what God's divine marriage plan is for. If just one of these tips helps you toward that end, I'm thankful we endured it so we could be a blessing to you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Day My Son Stopped Believing

I knew it was going to happen. Like most red-blooded American parents, we perpetuated the Santa Claus myth knowing full well that our bright boy would one day wise up to our plot. He'd figure out the "truth," and deep down I'd prepared for him to be bitterly disappointed; maybe even fight feelings of betrayal. But what he did instead sort of stunned me.

Just the other day we were talking about Santa when my 10-year-old looked at me with a smirk. "Mom," he said. "C'mon. I know how it works."

"Whatever do you mean?" I asked in mock innocence. "How does it work?"

He proceeded to whisper, so as not to give away our little secret to his 7-year-old brother, that he knew we bought the presents. At first I was not sure how to respond to this conversation between us. Should I fain shock? Should I stand by our contention that a man in a big red suit ho-ho-hoed his way down our chimney and sprinkled goodies around our tree? Do I deflect?

That's when he really stunned me. "Thank you," he said, wrapping his arms around my neck in a hug. 

This was not the result I was anticipating. He was fine. Pleased, even, it seemed, to be in on the secret. But inside I was shattered. Here it was, the first of many layers of innocence falling away from my once-little boy.

I'm not going to pretend that this didn't sting. In fact, I cried myself to sleep that night, praying to God that He could stretch these years just a little further. But I know the truth. Growing up is inevitable.

Today it's Santa Claus. Tomorrow it's the Easter Bunny (not that he still believes in the Easter Bunny, but oh, the day when he decides he's too old to hunt eggs!)

I often feel that I'm standing at the top of a snow cap, holding desperately to a sled threatening to plunge down the hill at full force. I know my grip is slipping and any minute the sled of childhood will be out of my grasp heading toward maturity. This is the part that hurts, that I can't stop it no matter how much I tighten my hold.

So, now we stand in the light of truth. I realize I can't have a stranglehold on my children. They will grow up. And Santa, unfortunately, is one of the first of childish things my son is leaving behind him. Still, I think with a smile at his reaction. Instead of bitterness, his was an attitude of thanksgiving. Instead of ruining his brother's illusions, he showed tremendous graciousness and joy in participating with us.

He's eager to talk up Santa to his brother, and even, if begrudgingly, smiled for a photo with the big jolly man this year. My son is participating in the fun, and that, it seems, is making Christmas even more special for him this year. 

When I think of it in this new light, I realize it's not so bad, this growing up business. Eventually, there will be no more serious Santa talk in our home, but it doesn't have to mean the magic is gone. It just means the magic is maturing.

With that in mind, I think I'll loosen my grip a little on that sled. Instead, I've decided to jump on and enjoy the ride with my kids as long as they will let me. And, who knows? Maybe the scenery gets even better from here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Seven Years of Birth and Bravery

Today marks a birthday. And an anniversary. My youngest son was born seven years ago today, which, on its own is very hard to believe. It seems just yesterday I was holding his tiny little hand for the first time. Now, I see him sprouting into this young man full of vigor and lifethirst that astounds (and exhausts) me.

The day he was born marked the first day of my first real faith test. You see, up until that day I had worked full time for the same company for nearly eight years. I loved my job, but the call to be with my children was greater than my corporate ambitions.

This, let me point out, was not an easy decision. My husband and I prayed and talked and prayed some more before I finally went to my boss with the idea of forming my own company so I could work from home. He tried to entice me with a part-time option, but I knew it had to be all or nothing. Thankfully, he believed in me enough to give it a shot.

My husband and I made the same amount of money in those days, so my not bringing in a full-time income was going to be a huge risk. But, feeling led by the Lord, we did what we felt we needed to do.

I often tell people it was like jumping off a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. The ship I was on was very comfortable, even fun. It had all the security I needed; I knew it would float in the midst of a storm. Still, how could I find out if I could swim if I didn't jump? So, that's what I did. 

Now, suddenly here I was with a newborn, a toddler and a new business. That's when the depression hit. I don't remember a lot about the first month after I brought Beau home. I was swimming through muddy waters at this point, dissolving into a puddle of tears for no reason several times a day. My mother finally drove me to the doctor where I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and given a mild anti-depressant.

Before too long, the waters cleared a bit and I could see a little better where I was going. The days, at first, were still challenging. I was suddenly wearing sweatpants instead of dress pants, carrying a diaper bag instead of a briefcase. I was growing human beings and a new business. It was, to say the least, daunting.

I can't even begin to count the number of times Beau accompanied me, diaper bag and all, to business meetings with new clients snuggled into his baby carrier.

We kept swimming.

Over time, I figured out how to balance diaper duty and conference calls, and still managed to work with my toddler on his ABCs.

Today, that toddler is 10 and his little brother is 7. They are amazing little people, full of fun and life, intelligence and imagination. And I can't imagine not being here to witness it.

I won't lie. There have been moments over these last seven years (particularly when wiping poop or barf off of something) when I have had nostalgic longings for the "working world." 

I've often wondered what would have happened to my career had I not left at its height. But, then I look at those two beautiful faces and remember the firsts I witnessed in person: first smiles, first walks, first days of school, first heartbreaks.

I realize that I might have abandoned the ability to buy an expensive home, new cars and fancy vacations for my family by making the choice I did. But, in the end, I realize how much more we have because we followed God's guidance.

I wish beyond words that every woman had the opportunity and ability to chart their own course. Because, as I celebrate my son's birthday, I also celebrate the seventh anniversary of a brave choice - one that has given me much more than I deserve. One that I am ever thankful for.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Take Your Hands Out Of Your Pants!" and Other Things I Never Thought I'd Say Until I Had Boys

I used to be an equal opportunity thinker. As a Southern quasi-feminist, I always thought the only real difference between boys and girls was strictly anatomy. I mean, we're all human, right? That was before I had to RAISE boys. They have a tribal instict that is not nearly as prevalent in girls, making them part human and part animal. I say this with love, of course. Because, while, keeping them clean and clothed presents a challenge, they are the greatest huggers ever, and those are well worth the effort.

Need evidence that boys are part animal? Here are seven things I never thought I'd say before I had these little lovable critters: 

1) Yes, you have to wear underwear. Always. 

I actually spoke these words to my 6-year-old when he insisted this was an option. I'm convinced he will grow up to be a nudist someday. You see, boys think that most clothing is not so much a necessity as it is a consideration. And, if you can actually wrestle them into something passable as clothing, they will find a way to shed it as soon as possible, as evidence by the trail of socks I have to pick up throughout the house every day. 

2) Stop killing your brother! 

Thankfully, this was during a pretend sword fight. But, when sticks are involved, sometimes you have to step in. Given how they play together sometimes, however, I do wonder if this is a comment I may have to utter in a real-life situation one day. Let's hope not. 

3) That's not where we pee! 

This was to my now 10-year-old when he was 6. I caught him peeing in the front yard as cars passed by. Boys seem to view the entire outside world as their own public toilet. The only place they seem to have difficulty urinating is actually IN the toilet. Go figure. 

4) Take your hands out of your pants when you talk to me. 

My 6-year-old seems to immediately assume this position whenever he's stationary. Reading a book. Talking to me. Watching TV. Why is this comforting? I have no idea. But, it's an on-going issue that my female brain is still trying to comprehend. 

5) Don't talk to your brother while he's on the pot. 

Really? Why must I even HAVE to say this? It seems my boys are constantly having deep and meaningful conversations with each other when the other one is going to the bathroom. This. Is. Beyond. Me. Not to mention, highly inappropriate. If I'm still saying this when they're teenagers, then I think therapy is a must - for them as well as me.

6) Stop sticking things up your nose. 

My 6-year-old followed in his father's footsteps when he was just 4 years old by lodging no less than six green beans up his nostrils. We couldn't believe it! Just when we were poised to rush him to the ER, he sneezed them out, much to our relief. But, since then, he's continued to experiment with other objects, like rocks, forks and straws. At one point he managed to lodge the tiniest Lego coin (literally two millimeters in diameter) into his ear canal. After I (breathlessly) eased it out with a pair of tweezers, I lectured him on sticking things into his ears. Still, there could be a whole cache of toys in there I know nothing about. Go figure!

7) Take the bucket off your head. We're going to church. 

When my oldest child was around 2 years old, he received a Wendy's meal in a bright orange Halloween bucket. After lunch, he commenced to wearing said bucket on his head. Everywhere. All the time. We would go to the store, he'd put on the bucket. We'd go for a walk around the neighborhood in his toy car, on came the bucket. He even slept with the darn thing. He did this for nearly two years. I was, officially, the mother of the bucket head. And, you know what? I didn't really mind. I mean, how many times can you actually get away with wearing a bucket on your head? Not when you're an adult, that's for sure (unless you want to be committed). So, he wore the bucket until his head got too big for it. Not all boys wear buckets, but costumes in different forms seem to come with the territory. So, if you are having boys, my advice is stock up on helmets, swords, cowboy vests and toy guns. You're going to need them.

Needless to say, much of my scolding has to do with bathroom matters. I'll never quite understand what in the world boys are thinking, but I do know there's never a dull moment. And, you know what? I wouldn't change a thing. Well, maybe I would wish they could aim better, but otherwise ...