Thursday, June 27, 2013

Home Again

And all at once, 26 days had passed and we were in the road to Mentone.
Suddenly I was driving through the mountains and up, up, up to where the trees opened with a smile to let me see the valley below.  
In the blink of an eye I was using every last ounce of self-control to drive just above the speed limit because I was in the same town as my girl.  The signs pointed to her and I drove, though I wanted to fly.  
Siblings slept in the back, not used to being roused at 5:30 am but willing because they missed their sister terribly.
As we neared the camp they awakened, grinning with anticipation.  We slowly wound our way down the dirt road to the enchanted forest, where Cabin G awaited.  They spotted her first, leaving the dining hall flanked by friends.  I parked and almost ran to Cabin G, waiting for her to cross the bridge.  Waiting to lock eyes with the piece of my heart that I had missed so much.
And there she was.  That smile.  We met on the bridge and I relished the feel of her   leaning into me.  I breathed in her earthy scent, a month of camp showers, bonfires, horses, and sweat.  I checked the status of her braids, happy to see them intact and noticed how dark her skin had become after a month in the sun.
My daughter is so beautiful.
Her siblings grabbed her and hugged hard.  I love how much they love, how hard this month had been for them.  I'm so grateful that they love to be together.  
And now we are home.  
I love how she ran and jumped into her Daddy's arms when she saw him.  I love that I can hear her voice drifting from the pack porch as she teaches her sisters how to splatter-paint.  I love how she sits close to her big brother as they watch TV.  I love that I can hug her any time I want.
And I love that, though she misses the rhythms of camp life, she is glad to be home.  She grew up a lot this month.  The Lord worked in her, gave her new wisdom.  She has shared a hundred stories and, no doubt, has a thousand more to tell.  
My heart is so happy.
These are sweet days.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

No Greater Joy

Our sweet church has hosted our second annual Vacation Bible School this week.  It has been an incredible week of fun, games, and learning about this great God who gives us everything we need to stand strong for Him!  I have been part of a team of three ladies who lead the "Epic Bible Adventures," portraying the stories of King David, Queen Esther, and Nehemiah so far.  I have loved watching the kids totally forget who I am and buy the idea that I am Esther, receiving hugs from sweet ones who just want to meet Nehemiah, and getting the thrill of realizing some of them are hearing these stories for the very first time.  What a privilege!

Last night we were telling the story of Jesus.  All of it.  Even, and especially, the hard parts.  My three youngest have been there, listening and soaking in Truth, and yesterday I had this feeling...

Let me back up.

Remember Christmas Eve when my sweet Drew gave his life to the Lord?  Well, when she saw the celebration and excitement everyone had for him, Mari decided she wanted to do the same.  But we knew this wasn't "it."  We knew that her heart's motive was for attention and not for Jesus, so we explained that this is something she can't do to copy someone else.  We told her that God would let her know when it was time, that it needed to be a decision she makes because He is leading her.

I began to pray for her, asking Him to draw her to Himself and help her see her need for Him.

Fast forward to yesterday.  As we prepared the story room for the children, we created a "tomb" in one of the closets.  It looked eerily realistic:

We had a large cross and a real crown of thorns.  We stressed the suffering of Christ, how much He loves us and how He took our punishment...the innocent dying for the that we could be reconciled to our Father.  We led the children to the tomb and pulled off the sheet which sent five white balloons soaring to the ceiling amids the gasps of the kids.  Then we flipped on the lights and celebrated, singing and dancing to "Soon and very soon, we are going to see the KING!"

I watched Mari take it all in, praying for this to be the night.  I asked Him to help her see, to help her get it.

We wrote the names on paper hands and each child placed their hand on the cross.  Then, during the finale, our youth pastor clearly explained the simple, beautiful gospel to the children.  As the story of our feeble attempts at doing things our way, and how that always fails, was told a young man came down the aisle...bent under the weight of the cross.  
The cross covered in their handprints.

The kids were so quiet.

Each group of children was led to the foot of the cross until they all sat under it.  I watched Mari.  She kept looking up at it, her eyes huge and her face so troubled.  

I prayed.

Then they were led back to their groups where they could discuss what they had just heard with their leaders.  I walked over and sat near her group because I wanted to hear, I did not want to miss what I felt was about to happen.

Mari was talking to miss Heather, asking a lot of questions.  Heather told her that she could go home and talk with her Mommy and Daddy about these things, then looked at me with a smile.

"I think she is close."

My heart pounded.

I gathered my kids and began walking back to the story room to set it up for the next day.  Gracie, my 8 year old, met me in the back after hugging her leader goodbye for the evening.  She walked straight up to me and said "Mom, I think Mari is close."

I did a double take.  "Close to what?" I asked.

"Close to becoming a Christian.  I can see it in her face."

I was speechless.  Lord, what are you doing?  

After we had the story room ready, we got in the car.  The kids were unusually quiet.  I broke the silence.

"What did you think about tonight?"

Mari spoke first.  "I just keep thinking about that crown of thorns and..." she trailed off.

"And what?"


Drew spoke, "Mama, she's crying."

"Why are you crying, honey?"  

She began to sob uncontrollably.  I pulled into a parking lot, got out of the car, and sat in the back with them so we could talk.  "Tell me what you are thinking."

"I just keep thinking He won't come down off that cross."  Sobs.  Precious, beautiful sobs.

I talked with her about why...why He didn't come down.  "Do you realize he could have gotten off that cross if he wanted to?"  She shook her head, not understanding.  "Jesus could have climbed down and stopped the whole thing, but He didn't.  He hung there until he died.  Do you know why?"

Deep breath.  Tears streamed down her cheeks.  "Because He loved me."

Yes!  "Yes, honey He loves you!  He loves you so much and He knew that if He didn't die and pay for your sins that you would never be able to go to Heaven.  So what do we do with that?"

"We obey."

"Nope.  That's not it.  Jesus wants to be your best friend.  He wants to be in charge.  How do we put Him back in charge?"

"We ask Him into our heart?"

"Yes!  That's right!"

She thought for a moment.  "Maybe I can do that when we get home to Daddy."

"Sure, you certainly can."

Then she looked at me.  Her eyes were urgent.  "Can I do it right now?"

"Yes, you can do it right now."

So at that moment, in the parking lot of Culvers, Gracie, Drew and I held hands and sweet Mari gave her life to Jesus.  Gracie and Drew wept tears of joy.  I was a mess.  Mari looked at me afterwards and I smiled through my tears.

"Do you know what you just did?  YOU just became a Christian!  YOU are a new creation!  The Holy Spirit just came into your heart and He is going to help you obey God.  Now you are not just my daughter, you are my SISTER!  You will get to go to Heaven and we will all be together forever!"

She giggled.  Drew burst into tears.  I asked him why he was crying and he wailed,
"Mari's a NEW CREATION...waaaaaaaaahhhh!" 

Gracie looked at her little sister with the sweetest of smiles.  
"I am so proud of you.  When we get to Heaven I am going to ask if we can be roommates!"

My cup, truly, runneth over.

I have no greater joy than to know that my children, all of my children, are walking in truth.  

All of my babies are forever safe.  Thank you, Jesus.

Holding Up

Before Katie left for camp, we had to give her a "camp 'do" that would get her through the month with little maintenance.  She usually keeps it in a ponytail, but that would not work for camp because she has extremely thick and tight curls that she cannot comb through on her own...and a terribly tender head.

Oh, the irony.

So we decided to cornrow her hair into pigtails that could easily transition to a pony tail.  She HATES having her hair braided, but she knew it was the best decision.  It took me about three hours to braid her and she sat like a champ.

This was our final result...

Now last year, as the month progressed, I KNEW the day my girl swam without her swim cap.  Those braids that had been so tight and neat suddenly began to fall apart after the first week and I was all "NOOOOOO" because I KNEW...

those tangles and knots would not be combed out for two. more. weeks.

It was gonna be ugly.

Fast forward two weeks.  Combing out a tenderheaded girl who is tired, emotional, and missing camp?

Yep, it was U.G.L.Y.

I asked her WHY she didn't wear her cap and she said, "because my counselor said I didn't need it, that I might lose it so I should just not worry about it."

All I could do was sigh.

So this year we practiced.  
"What do you say if they tell you not to wear a swim cap?"

"That I need to wear it to protect my braids."

"YES!  Don't forget!  Do not let them talk you out of it!  And if braids start coming loose find a black girl and ask her to fix it."

I'm not kidding, people, this is a big deal.

So this year, upon her arrival in Cabin G, I pulled her cute-as-a-button counselor aside and just let her know that miss Katie needs her swim cap AND, if a braid starts to unravel just braid it back.  No big deal.  Katie didn't know I had this convo and I walked away feeling more hopeful that her homecoming would not include a painful detangling session.

Every day, I watch the photos.  
I look through hundred of them for a glimpse of my beautiful girl.  
I look for a smile, a window into her days, signs of new friendships,

and braids.  

I cross my fingers and hold my breath when I see a closeup and so far, y'all, the braids look AWESOME!  One week to go and she has transitioned from pigtail to ponytail and those cornrows are neat and clean!  Woot!  If you are a mama of a curly girl I KNOW you understand!  She has successfully maintained the camp 'do and I am so stinking happy!  

5 more days til my chickie is back in my nest!  

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


I got my first "I'm a little homesick" letter today.  It was written Sunday afternoon.  My heart hurt, knowing my girl wrote this three days ago and she just had to get through it on her own.
Of course, she is  not on her own, because I have prayed all month for God to reveal Himself to her in a fresh and tangible way.  And if you are a Christian, you probably know that He most often and successfully uses suffering to bring us to the Throne.  So reading the letter was bittersweet.

It is hard to sit back and let God be the God of our children, isn't it?

As a mom, I work very hard to steer my children, to "train them up in the way they should go," so that they will grow up knowing what living for Jesus looks like.  But there comes a point where I have to sit back and trust Him with THEM and let. me. tell. you...

It is not easy.

So here I am today, reading and rereading her letter.  Since Sunday, I have seen many photos of her smiling and laughing and obviously having the time of her life so I'm not worried.  I just pray He met her there, in that lonely place.  I pray she felt His arms tighten protectively around her as she cried.  And I pray she feels Him now, in her joy, as the last week of camp unfolds and she prepares to come home.  Reentry can be tough after a month of heaven-on-earth.  But I can hardly wait to love her back into my nest.

Seven more days.  This time next week she will be sitting next to me in the car, talking my ear off.

I am so ready.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Bride

My three youngest and I were driving down the road, on our way to some Tex-Mex awesomeness (Chuy's, y'all!  Can I get a witness?)

So as we drove my sweet Drew, age 6, piped up with another out-of-left-field question.

"Mom, this might be inappropriate to ask about."

"Mmmhmm?"  I stifled a laugh.  I imagined we were about to head into a discussion of armpit hair or private parts...or kissing.  (You can tell he has older sibs.)

So he continued...
"Is it true that we are married to Jesus?"

I smiled in relief out of pride.  "Yes, it is!  If you love Jesus, then you are part of the Church.  And the Bible says the Church is His bride!"

Three sets of eyes stared at me in confusion.

"You know how, when a couple gets married, the bride hides behind the door while the groom stands at the front of the church and waits for her?  That is how it is with us!  We are His bride and we are hiding here on the Earth, waiting until it is time for the ceremony!  Then, when it is time, He will fling open the heavens and we will meet Him for a beautiful wedding and celebrate with a FEAST!"

The girls sighed, envisioning the romance of it all.  Drew's wheels were turning, though.  I could see it written all over his face.

"So, when you married Dad did you hide behind a door?"

"I sure did!"

"And, Mom, I bet when he saw you coming he said 'Now THAT is one BEAUTIFUL woman!"

I.  Love.  My.  Life.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Break it up!

The 6 year olds have been in the inflatable pool for hours and suddenly started arguing.

"Ok, guys," I warned, "If you are gonna start fighting I guess we're finished swimming."

Gracie jumped in the middle and held her arms out to separate them.  "Oh no, Mom, they're not arguing!"

She looked at them both intently.

"GUYS...let the past be behind you!"

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Regarding Trust

Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

When I look from a distance, I don't see the hard.
When I drive by a wheat field in Indiana, there is peace and beauty and white clouds gracing blue skies.
I don't see the farmer up at 4:30 in the morning, the dust flying from behind his tractor as he plows the field.
I don't see the bills piled up on the kitchen counter, screaming for attention.
I don't see the worry-lined face of his wife when he pushes himself to the limit in the heat of summer, working desperately to provide for his family.
And I don't see the callouses on his hands from years of hard physical labor and the way he falls into bed at night, exhausted.  
I only see the fruit, the beauty and bounty that his blood, sweat and tears have produced.

Trust is like that, you know.  It is built by years of piling stones of remembrance, one upon another, as we learn to rely on God.  Trust does not come easily or naturally.  It is the result of being pressed and pushed to the limit and reaching the limit and then, at last, realizing God is there, carrying us beyond the limit into the place of peace.  The place where the fields bow under the breeze and we see that, once again, He was faithful.

Trust is sitting quietly by the riverside, clean and calm after a storm that washed away all the dead branches that had fallen and the leaves molding on the water's edge.  It is knowing He brought us through the storm for this moment, this breathtaking moment of communion with Him.

Trust is coming down from the mountain, knowing the peak rises behind us.  It is believing that the valley is part of the beauty of the mountaintop.  It is remembering all the valleys we have trudged through with muddy shoes and tired legs and the feeling we have when we reached the summit and sat, just sat and looked and breathed the sweet mountain air deep into our lungs.  

Trust is a moment of looking back and forward all at the same time.  Remembering His faithfulness in the past causes us to trust He will be faithful today and tomorrow.  It is grace, grace in which we stand through the blood of Jesus, that allows us to rejoice because we have hope, blessed hope that when we reach our limit God will be glorified.
When we reach our limits He will carry us beyond them, fill us with His love and that state of total dependence and trust...we will reflect the radiance of the Father.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Stalker Mom

One week down, and I miss my girl so hard!  But I am extremely thankful for the pictures that are posted by the camp each night.  They are my daily lifeline to glimpse into the camp life she is getting to enjoy right now.

The camp photographer does an AMAZING job of capturing the days.  She takes between 200 and 250 photos and posts them online the next day where mamas like me can peruse the sea of faces and look for our girls...a hand, a familiar shirt, the back of her head in a crowd and, occasionally, a full and beautiful closeup of her joy-filled face.

Joy.  Yes, that is why I let her do this.  Camp is joy for her, and I would not deny her that for the world.

Today the photos were of the sock hop.  Girls crowded on the gym floor dressed in rolled up jeans, bandanas, and poodle skirts.  I smiled when I saw her in that poodle skirt we thought we would NEVER find.  We almost forgot she needed it and ordered it just 3 weeks before camp, hoping the size was true and that it wouldn't look, you know, little girlish.

But it is satin with a black poodle prancing.  She wore it with a white t-shirt and blue bandanna but her best accessory was that smile, that beautiful smile topped with the sparkle in her eyes.

She is having the time of her life.  And I love that so much.  I love that she gets to live this and be shaped by such a wonderful experience.  I'm so thankful we can do this for her, even though I may need bifocals soon from peering closely at over 200 photos each night for a glimpse of her left eye.

2 1/2 weeks to go.  18 days.  As much as I want time to fly on my end, I know she is hoping for the opposite!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Ignorance is Bliss

If my girl knew how much I miss her, she'd feel guilty for having so much fun.
If she knew how I stalked the camp website for a glimpse of her in the two hundred photos that get posted each day...a braid, her profile, her brown arm draped over the shoulder of a friend...I'm sure she'd be much more aware of the camera.
If she knew that last night I sighed as I cleaned up the kitchen and put away the leftovers,what would have been her portionbecause I'm used to cooking for seven and not six, she might worry.

But she doesn't know, and I will keep it that way.  I will continue writing perky "I miss you's" and tell her how much I love her in letters every day.  I will continue to pray and trust Him who loves her, somehow, more than I do and wait.

This letting go business is for the birds.

19 days until my chicks are all back in my nest.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Love is tough.

The absolute hardest part of parenting, at least for me, is letting God be God.
When my children hurt, I want to fix it.

But God, He is in the refining business.  

He has walked me through many fires and, though my flesh would choose to spare my children pain, I am at the point of having to trust Him as my children suffer through trials of their own.  I am learning hard truths, learning that when we dedicated them to The Lord He took that seriously.  

They are His.
I cannot rescue them.
I should not rescue them.

I can only love them, stand with them, and get down on my knees for them.
When tears trickle down their beautiful faces, I can kiss their wet cheeks.
When sobs stick in their throats, I can gather them into my arms and hold them close.
When the innocence of childhood is stripped away and they realize the world is fallen, I can point them to Jesus..who will make all things new.

Parenting in these years is a dying to self that I did not know was possible.  It hurts.  But I know my God understands my pain because He watched His Son suffer and, though He could have stopped it with a Word, He did not.

I must trust Him to refine my children, to make them as pure as gold.  I must step aside and let Him do what He does best, instead of fighting tooth and nail to prevent what I know will result in spiritual maturity and depth of heart in these children He had entrusted to me.  Ease will never result in strength.  Smooth waters will never build their faith.  

Yes, Lord, I trust you with my babies.  I do.  Just help me to turn their sweet faces upward when they weep, and protect them when they are weak that they may remember who they are and Whose they are.  

And thank you for always, ALWAYS being true to your Word. 

Thank you for holding them securely in the palm of your hand.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tears and Joys

You may (or may not) have noticed my blogging vacuum the past couple of weeks.  There is always an excuse for that sort of thing, and this time is no different.
Remember last summer, when Katie (at the ripe old age of ten) went away to camp...
for a month?

Yeah, I blocked it out, too.

But my girl, she's gone and done it again.  I dropped her off to live with 300 of her best friends for 26 days (not that I'm counting) of good, clean fun with a huge dose of Jesus right in the middle of it all.

She has counted the minutes until camp's opening day since her arrival home last summer.  The anticipation has been palpable, and she was ready to go without looking back.

At least, until the family made her cry.

Friday night, at bedtime, we gathered to pray.  We circled our girl and began with the youngest, praying for safety, for fun, for us not to miss her too painfully much.  Mari began and made it through relatively smoothly.  Then Drew, praying sweetly for his big sis and holding it together until he said "amen."  Gracie, though, had been weepy for an hour already so when her turn came she couldn't talk past her tears.  She wept, and the sweet sadness of it destroyed this mama and I cried with her.  Katie started to cry, realizing just how hard this was for us all and battling guilt for being so excited.  Gracie continued to pray through sobs and then, out of the middle of the room, rose a sound I have never heard before.  A sound that nearly struck us all deaf.
Drew stood up and turned into his daddy, wailing AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS...

We all burst into uncontrollable laughter.  I'm talkin' tears mixed with snot, shaking and stomach-aching laughter.

He wailed and cried and we cried and laughed and it was just absurd.  Sweet, beautiful, sentimental, heart-felt, and absurd.

We hugged and prayed some more, and daddy took Drew to his bed (still wailing) and Katie melted into my arms.

"I'm going to miss you so much, Mom.  You are my best friend."

Words I have always hoped to hear from my daughter.

"You don't have to go, honey.  Remember this is what you wanted, we would never make you go."

But she DID want to go.  She was not having doubts about her decision to go, but that moment of separation, that moment when the last goodbye is being said and you know the next step is out the door is hard.  No matter how exciting what awaits may be, the moment of separation is always, always hard.

And let me tell you, if I didn't know she would have the time of her life and be forever glad that she had gone to camp there is NO STINKING WAY I could endure my baby girl being away for 26 days (not that I'm counting).

Saturday morning we got up at 5am, climbed into the car with my friend and fellow camp-mom, Margaret, and her daughter and drove the 2 hours to Mentone.  Katie was so excited she was about to jump out the window when she finally saw the sign.  We unloaded her stuff, got her cabin assignment, and I watched the sweet reunions of these girls who had forged friendships last summer.  I met her counselors, Peggy and Francis and let me tell you these girls are PRECIOUS.  I'm talking sweet as Southern tea, good godly girls, bubbly and fun and oh-my-word they had PINK twinkle lights strung in the rafters of the cabin!  I could have eaten them with a SPOON, y'all!  Katie obviously liked them immediately and, well, I decided I might have to adopt them when camp is over.

Do you think their parents would mind?

After the cabin was appropriately appointed and she had all her stuff organized just so, we walked across camp to the gym.  We visited with Phil and Marsha, who run the camp, and had cookies on the lawn and then it was time.
Time to go.
Time to trust.
Time to watch my baby walk away and spend 26 days (not that I'm counting) away from her mama.

It was time.

I hugged her hard.  I hugged her with all of me.
"You're not crying are you?"
"No," I lied, forcing the tears not to spill and the lump in my throat to settle back down.  "I just want to hug you hard because I won't get to do it for a month!"

I love you's were exchanged, a kiss on her beautiful forehead, and I was back in the car with my friend.  As we drove away, I saw my girl walk down the road with her counselor, Francis.  She was already in jeans and cowboy boots, headed toward the horses.  She was talking a mile a minute, gesturing with her hands and she saw me watching out of the rolled-down window.  I smiled and waved and willed the tears to stay back.  And I watched her walking, confident, not looking back.

And we drove away.

23 days until I hug my girl again.  Yeah, this mama is counting.