Monday, September 30, 2013

A letter to our chidren in an age of sass.

My precious children,

You live in the era of Disney.  You are inundated by sass on every front, and usually it is met with laughter and considered entertainment.  On the teen shows parents are depicted as bumbling fools and the kids are the ones who really understand life, have it all figured out, and go about pressing that point home with a myriad of jokes, barbs, and one-liners.  We limit your exposure to these shows in our home but it is still your friends' homes, online, and in every commercial geared toward your age group.  The jeering at one another has become typical if not expected of our teenagers in America.

But there is an article entitled "The Myth of the Teenager" by Dr. Michael Platt that spoke to me and made me think hard.  What are shows like the teen series we see on television teaching you, the children God has entrusted to us?  
This morning I ventured out to the front porch with my Bible.  I opened up to 2 Kings and began to read.  We had just come off a hard weekend, very busy in mostly good ways but ending with some drama and angst that left a bitter taste in my mouth and pain in my heart.  You are growing up in a hard world and the reality is I cannot protect you from it completely.  Even if you never watch another TV show or listen to another secular song this world and the influence of the enemy are pressing hard at you from all sides.  Because you are Christian kids you are targets, don't ever forget it.  I have been on my knees doing battle for you because I realize that if I don't the odds of your standing under such pressure are not good. I am fighting for you, my children.  Always.  But you have to learn to fight as well.

So today I read about Elijah being taken up to Heaven.  I marveled at Elisha's response, tearing his clothes then taking up Elijah's cloak and realizing the power of this great prophet had been passed on to him.  I got to the end of the second chapter and read this:

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”  And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. 2 Kings 2:23-24

These words literally jumped off the page at me.  These were small boys acting in a way that is considered normal in today's world.  They were making fun of a bald guy.  But this wasn't just any bald guy...this was God's guy.  And look at what happened.  Oh my heart hurts.  Forty-two boys killed by bears for jeering at Elisha.  Harsh?  I think so.  But here is what this passage said to me.

Sin is a big deal. It is a bigger deal to God than we often want to admit.   Even if it is socially tolerated or even acceptable, it is still sin.  God has not changed His mind because the actors on the Disney channel are so cool.  He is not tolerant nor is He politically correct.   And we all need to understand that sin in youth has the same horrific consequences as sin in adulthood.  

Now, I want to be very clear before I go on.

We are under grace, my darlings.  Jesus died to pay the price for our sins so we don't have to fear a bear jumping out of a bush and mauling you for being nasty to your brother or sister.  But the price was DEATH, not a spanking, not a time out.  Sin results in DEATH and if we don't take that to heart then we miss the whole point of our need for a savior.  Jesus suffered a brutal death because our sin...all of it...had to be dealt with in order to be able to be in the presence of God.  Grace is in full effect, not Law, because of Jesus...only because of Jesus.

BUT, you and I both know that there are still very real spiritual and physical consequences to sin.  James says, regarding the tongue:  
With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.  James 3:9-12

Cursing people who are made in the likeness of God is a very big deal.  The forty-two boys died because they jeered God's man.  Well, guess what?  YOU are God's man.   You are His sons and daughters.   Your brothers and sisters are His beloved children as are your friends.  You know I am very protective of you, right?  You know how I will step in if anyone ever tries to hurt you.  Multiply that by infinity and that is the way your Heavenly Father feels about you.  He is fiercely protective of his babies.  All of them.  All of you.

So when you are tempted to call your sibling a name I want you to remember this.  When you blow off a hug or make a snide remark, please remember this.  When you snicker because your sibling said the wrong answer to the question or tell them to scram because your friends are around, remember this.  Our words hold the power of life and death.  We can bless or we can curse with our tongues.  This is a lesson for me, too.  I am not without fault in this department.  I have been guilty too many times to count of this very same weakness.  But peace in our home depends on this.  Feeling connected and loved by your family depends on this.  

I have high expectations of you, my sweet children.  I have seen the Lord working in you and, as a result, have felt the battle raging.  It is about so much more than "being nice."  It is about being godly, about exhibiting the fruits of the spirit, of being in this world but not of it.  It is about shedding light in the darkness.  Yes, I know it is hard.  I know you will fail and have to start again.  But just because it is hard doesn't mean you give up.  Our family is different in so many wonderful ways.  Let's be different in this way, as well!  Show your love freely.  Bless with your words.   Choose words of life and just watch. 

Watch what God does in and through you.

Love, Mom

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In Which We Prove Our Lack of Survival Skilz

My dear hubby and I have kicked around the idea of camping for a long time.
Eight years to be exact.  
About as long as we have talked about getting bikes, which also has never happened.  But I digress.

Ever since last summer, when I wrote about the way DJ responded to a week in the great outdoors, (you can read about it here) I have nagged encouraged my hubby to plan a camping trip.  A tent camping trip, to be exact!   We hemmed, we hawed, we procrastinated, and finally decided it would happen this Fall after the heat of Summer had passed.

Because we may be adventurous, but we are not into sweaty sleeping.

So here we are at Autumn's arrival.  The temperatures are dropping, the leaves are turning, and the time has last!  We joined up with friends, Mr. & Mrs. P, who were also novice campers and planned the "great inaugural campout of 2013."

Only one little problem.  The forecast called for rain.  We watched the weather religiously, prepared to postpone the trip if necessary, but the chances of rain continued to drop as the day of departure neared.  

"Even if it rains during the night, that will be no biggie," we reasoned.  

Famous. Last. Words.

Friday arrived.  We loaded up the SUV, the trailer, and the car...apparently you need a lot of stuff to survive overnight and we were prepared for anything, or so we thought.  I picked up Katie's friend who would be her buffer against all the boys on the trip and we hit the road.  Daddy was still at work and would meet up with us a couple of hours later.

We were so excited, and confident, and clueless.

Winding roads greeted us, pristine farmlands and huge bales of hay filled our view as the hills of Tennessee took my breath away.  I love road trips.  At last we arrived at Fall Creek Falls State Park.  I checked in at the office and drove to the campsite.   I got out of the car and breathed in the fresh air, feeling a bit "Clark Griswold-ish" as I surveyed our surroundings.  The kids climbed over one another in excitement, running into the woods and screaming like a bunch of banshees.  I'm not exaggerating, we are a loud crew.  My apologies to the neighbors!    DJ and I got out the tent and prepared for setup.

No problem-o.  We are SO outdoorsy, and how hard can this be?

We unpacked the tent and poles and suddenly I had a moment of panic.  Dang, there are a lot of poles.  And they are all different colors.  And, durn, this tent is big...where do I start?  

Where are the instructions??

But I didn't let on to my boy.  At 13, he is at the age where he is convinced that mama is clueless about half the time.  This...this was my chance to prove my skills, to show my boy that his mom can be rugged and useful in the wild.  I was going to set up that tent if it killed me and my teenager was going to be all "Wow, my mom is the bomb!

Or something like that.

I chose a random pole, found the matching color-coded pocket, and began assembly.  
Oh yeah, I've got this.  
Start with the stakes, of course.  But we had a problem...I had not brought a tool with which to hammer in said stakes.


What to do, what to do?  Thankfully there was a brick on the ground (no idea why a BRICK was at a campsite, but I was grateful!) and we used it to pound the stakes.  Not easy on bare hands, let me tell you!
Then we started putting poles in pockets.  2 poles in, and I went for the third.  But no matter how much I pulled (pinching the heck out of my thumb in the process) I could NOT get ends of the poles to insert into the little pockets that were supposed to hold them.  I ventured back to the tent bag.  Instructions HAD to be there, right?  

Finally I realized the giant tags sewn inside the tent bag were what I was looking for.  Whew!  After studying them for a few minutes it became clear that there is an order to this process:  I can't just randomly stick poles into pockets, it had to be in the exact order for the assembly to be successful.  After much wrangling and breaking a sweat my boy and I high-fived as we stood before our perfectly put-together tent!  Woo hoo!  

I continued unpacking and organizing while the kids played and, the next thing I knew, my hubby had arrived.  He was so impressed with our tent assembly, even though I asked him to finish pounding the stakes into the ground because they were kinda sticking up.  Just a little.  
Ok, a lot.

Our friends arrived a couple of hours later and the men proceeded to put the secondtent together while the mama's prepared for the mother of all cookouts.  Brats, dogs, and burgers awaited and this group was gonna eat well this weekend!  Diet, shmiet!

We grilled and grilled and grilled some more...

We ate and ate and it was all healthy and organic, I assure you.  
(Pay no attention to the bags of chips...we never touched 'em.  
Except when eating my homemade salsa, cans of cheese dip, and jalapeno dip.
Oh, sweet deliciousness.)

We cleaned up the mess and Mr. P broke out the candy.  Yes, he brought bags of it...Oreos, too.  
I might have eaten some.

Then it started to sprinkle.  We sat in lawn chairs and laughed as the moon rose.  Kids cooked s'mores over the campfire and played and yelled (more apologies to the neighbors, we really are so loud.)  

The sprinkle eventually turned into a drizzle.  The campfire started to smoke.  We started to get damp.  It was time to turn in for the night.  

Daddy and I tucked in the littles and settled onto our air mattress.  Pardon, I mean our airless mattress.
It seems the boys had been using the air mattress as a trampoline and the sucker had POPPED, y'all!  Our air mattress had NO AIR.  Not even a tiny bit!

To say we slept would be a gross overstatement.  But it was all worth it when DJ laid his sweet head down and said contentedly, "This is so much fun."

Yes, my boy, it is.  

We dozed off and on until morning, awakened by pouring rain, aching muscles, and rocks digging into bones and I hauled my creaky body to the community bathroom.  The air smelled wonderful, clean with a hint of last night's campfires still lingering.  One by one our group roused and we realized that the planned breakfast cookout was not going to be possible.  We ended up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because the only alternative was last night's cold leftovers!  But I will say those sandwiches tasted pretty darn good!  

The rain continued.  

We checked the forecast on our cell phones (thank goodness I had a signal!) and it looked like things should clear out by lunch.  We decided to drive the scenic routes through the park and do some sightseeing.  
THAT was a great decision.  
Except our car battery was dead.
I'm not even kidding.
Thank goodness the hubs has mad jumper cable skills, because I do not!

Finally we drove out and beheld the beautiful sights of Fall Creek Falls.  These pictures don't do justice to the majesty of this place.  It was incredible.

Oh, the beauty of God's creation!  We were awestruck at the wonder of the waterfalls, the deer, the rivers, the turning leaves.  My cup was filled and my heart bursting with praise as I looked upon the handiwork of our endlessly creative Father.  It was absolutely amazing.

After a couple of hours of sightseeing little tummies began to rumble.  We decided to do what any camper worth their salt would do when lunch was eaten for breakfast...go to a restaurant!  A buffet, to be the State Park's hotel!  Fried fish, fried chicken, steak fries, fried hushpuppies (see a pattern here?) and veggies (to undo all the fried stuff) filled our bellies and we suddenly got very, very tired.  It was the kind of tired you experience after Thanksgiving dinner, otherwise known as a food coma.  We dragged our fatigued behinds back to camp and were heartened by the fact that the rain had stopped.  Finally!
So, the men decided to go fishing.  The mamas lit a fresh fire and proceeded to organize our soggy homestead, hoping for a chance to do some hiking when the guys got back.

But oh no, the rain wasn't gone.  It began again, growing heavier by the minute.  The guys returned and we realized that it was time to concede defeat.  Boo.  We packed up our wet, muddy gear and got into our cars with happy hearts because even though it was wet and miserable we really had so much fun.

Just think about it:  the kids got to be filthy all weekend.  We had no need for schedules or even meal plans and we had countless bursts of laughter and new smile lines from all the grinning.  It was wonderfully challenging and we made sweet memories.  My hubby said it best:  "If we had this much fun when it was rainy and miserable, just imagine how much fun we'll have when the weather is nice!"

Yes indeed, camping trip #2 is already in the works!  Now we are veterans!  We have endured adversity and conquered it!  I have already purchased more gear and we have it all stowed in plastic bins, ready to be thrown into the car at a moment's notice!  We have caught the bug and we can hardly wait to do it again...
as soon as our chigger bites stop itching.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

About this homeschooling gig...

It's funny.  I never had homeschooling on my radar when I dreamed of becoming a mom.  All those years of infertility and begging God for a child, yet I assumed traditional school would be part of the plan.  I had heard of homeschooling, even knew a few people who had been homeschooled, but the whole thing just seemed kind of weird.

(I just want to say...I am often hesitant to write about homeschooling here because so many of my friends are not homeschoolers and I do not want to sound like I have it all figured out or that homeschooling is perfect.  I don't and it's not. But it is God's calling on my life and, now that we are firmly entrenched in our fourth year of this adventure I just want to tell you that I am so thankful.)

This year is intense.  Our days are long with five needing their educational plates filled.  So much needs to be done and getting it all done sometimes seems impossible.  I am tired.  I am cranky by the end of the day because of the aforementioned tiredness.  Sometimes I wish school would have worked out for us because I really need to go to the gym and oh my gosh the laundry...the laundry, y'all!  And don't even mention the dishes.  It can get ugly.

But God has made it so beautifully clear that this is His best for us, that stretching my brain and my patience and being all together 24/7 is right and good, that even on the hardest days I cannot doubt His calling. Middle school math is tough.  Science lab reports and history essays take a LOT of time.   Teaching first graders how to read, one of whom still has some English to master (the abstract words and concepts in math lessons are still hard for her) is gray-hair inducing.  Try explaining "number before" to an ESL kid:   "It's before...y'know, the number before the number you see right there.  The very next number before, but not the next number...the number before! "
And then there is the other who would just rather be shooting hoops or playing with Hot Wheels and tests my patience to the Nth degree.  Some kids are anxious to learn, progressing quickly and easily.  Others are not and require much repetition and creativity in presentation of the lesson.  Getting the middle child to stay on task when the Legos, clay, or paints are calling her name is tough.  (She is an artiste, people!)  Along with all of these responsibilities, there is the skill of knowing when to put it all down and just have fun...that is something I have to work at.  Standardized tests have to be taken to document progress, certain things have to be completed by the end of each week to keep from getting behind, and with five kids it can be really hard to get it all done.  I worry that I'm not doing enough.  I worry that I am doing too much.  Sometimes I just want to ditch it all and go to the park.  Sometimes we do just that!

I have kids with vastly different needs, learning styles, and struggles.  It has been confirmed over and over again by friends, family, tutors, counselors, and the Lord that it is a good thing we homeschool.  Some of my kids, potentially all of them, could have gotten lost in the school system.  They need the one-on-one, the ability to self-pace, and the freedom to climb up onto mama's lap while reading in order to feel secure and learn at their very best.  Is it hard?  Yes, it is.  This year is by far the most intense homeschooling year we have ever had, no doubt.  But it is worth it to keep my kids' hearts, to be able to pour into them and deal with issues in real time instead of after the fact.  I am stretched thin and often fall into bed at night.  My prayer life has taken flight out of sheer need for His strength and direction to get through the demands of each day.  My front porch...oh my goodness I can't even begin to tell you what a sanctuary that has become for me each morning as I trek out there into the early cool of Autumn with my steaming coffee in one hand and Bible in the other.  The Lord is faithful and He has promised to equip me for every good work to which He calls me.  That is something I cling to, knowing He has got this and that I am in his will even when I feel unprepared and unqualified for the responsibility of teaching these kids.

And then I have the little moments like notes from my children.

I found a note on my desk in the schoolroom from my 12 year old daughter.  It was an assignment, to write a friendly letter.  She wrote it to me...

"Dear Mom,
Thank you for homeschooling us and for being our teacher.  You are the best!  I love you."

My response, once I swallowed back the lump in my throat, was written in red at the bottom of the page:

"You are worth every minute, sweet girl.  I am so proud of you and I love you."

Yes, this homeschooling gig is tough.  It is demanding and time-consuming and often frustrating.  It can leave us feeling isolated as moms because our days are filled with these kids and their lessons and it is hard to find time for ourselves, to have long conversations with our friends, to read the books we want to read.  I have to work hard to order my days so that I don't burn out.  I have to be intentional about allowing myself time to fill up and rest.  But it is worth it.

My children, you are worth it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ouch. My toes hurt.

Verses that are dangerously familiar became alive again to me today.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  (1 Cor 13:4-7 NIV)

I have read these words countless times.  I they were spoken at our wedding and, probably, at most of the weddings of my friends.  I have inserted my name in the proper places (Jeanine is patient and kind, Jeanine does not envy or boast...etc.) in order to get a right perspective of what my attitude towards others should look like.  

I'd like to think I've got this stuff down pat.

And then God chuckles and gives me a friendly wake-up-call, as He so often does.

For the first 18 years of my walk with the Lord I read the New International Version of the Bible.  It is like an old friend, comfortable and familiar.  About a year ago I got wind of the ESV (English Standard Version) which is a word-for-word translation, meaning it is more accurate when it comes to word-studies and the like.  So I have been reading and getting used to the "feel" of the ESV. It is not hugely different than the NIV but there are words here and there that jump out at me as new, especially when reading an extremely familiar passage like 1 Cor. 13.  

Today I was doing our school planning for the week.  One of our weekly activities is learning the "Fighter Verse" from John Piper's of his Children Desiring God website.  I have the app on my phone and each week the new verse pops up along with games, etc. that make it easy and fun to memorize the Scriptures.   

I sat down with my planner and began writing out the verse for this week...1 Cor. 13.  I absentmindedly copied the words until I got to the end of verse 5.  Read the passage here:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  (ESV)  

Now in the NIV it says love is not easily angered.  OK, I'm not perfect by any stretch but I would not have said that I am easily angered.  But the ESV says "love is not irritable."

Irritable?  Um, ok.  Er, ah...yeah.  I mean, well, sometimes I get irritated.  
Alright, alright.  I may have, in recent months, had a teensy bit of an "easily irritable" issue.  

The Word of God is living and active, my friends.  Don't you ever doubt it.

I am SO guilty of this.  My goodness, I cannot count the times I have let out the big sigh and cleaned up the spilled drink because I had just. said. don't. run. with. that. for. the. millionth. time.  

And when my child interrupted my front-porch-time with a long, drawn out story about how their sibling offended them again and one thing led to another and they hit/pushed/insulted/dissed them and I basically gave them the royal brush-off because shouldn't they be able to work this stuff out by now and can't they see I'm spending time with JESUS????

Yeah, I might have an irritation issue.  

So this is the point where I confess and look at my babies with fresh eyes.  This is where I get over myself and choose love over self-centeredness.  This is where I serve sacrificially and love these kids well because, y'all...

time is flying.  This life is short.  God has spoken and I am bound and determined to listen and obey.

Yes, mamas, we must put first things first and choose our babes anew!  It requires admitting our weakness and realizing that the Lord will give us what we need, in His mercy He allows us to enjoy times of respite, but demanding it flies in the face of our role as wives and mothers and insults our families.  Our children have the best chance of understanding God's father-heart, how He pursues them and delights in them, when they see it modeled by their mothers and fathers.  

I must be less so that He can be more.

Love is not easily irritated...may I, may we be vessels through which HIS love flows freely to our children today!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Autumn's Arrival

"Mama, I can't wait for Fall!" exclaims my little boy as he runs joyously through the side gate.  I look at his smiling face and my heart leaps.

"You don't have to wait another minute," I whisper.  "It is coming right now, this very second."

The wind blows and the trees dance in anticipation as the temperature slowly drops.  Leaves tinged with the first hint of gold rustle and sing of her coming.  This, my favorite of all the seasons.  This season of slowing down and sitting a while longer because the heat no longer drives us indoors.  This season of hot chocolate, hot soup, and cinnamon-spiced tea is arriving...right now.

This very second.

Voices leap, carried by the breeze as my children happily rake leaves and make their first leaf-pile.  Laughter and squeals are balm to  my soul and I pause here to thank the Creator of the seasons, the Giver of the harvest.

I could not be happier in this sacred moment.  I breathe deep the woods-scented air and sigh.  This is His gift to me, right now.  This reminder that He is constant, ever-present, and always...always...creating.  Once again Jesus bends low and whispers..."I make all things new."

Friday, September 13, 2013


Well, here I go again...talking about books!  It seems I have a slight addiction but a big problem:  so many books, but so little time.  I plod away, though, realizing I may never complete Les Mis, at least not in the forseeable future.  (I mean, really, did Hugo have to spend hundreds of pages talking about Waterloo?  I'm all for character development but come on!)

So now I am immersed in a few good reads (besides Les Mis...I read a chapter here and there to mix things up) and I thought I would share one of them with you.

I have been a consumer of parenting books ever since I was blessed to become a mom, especially those written by trustworthy Christian women and men who have successfully raised godly kids.  When my big kids were toddlers my world revolved around surviving potty training, tantrums, and picky eating.  But now? Now I am in the throes of teenagers...hormones, emotional instability, crazy busy evenings of church, sports, dance and music activities as well as homeschooling all five of them through four grades at once.  My parenting needs have shifted greatly.
So imagine my joy at finding the book Desperate:  Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson.  I happily picked it up and began to dive into the first chapter, but was quickly disappointed when I realized Sarah's kids are still little.  I can tell you for a fact that I had no business writing a book about parenting a toddler or preschooler while I was in the thick of those years myself.  But I read on, and I am so glad I did.  Sally Clarkson, who co-wrote the book, is the voice of the older woman.  She is the wise woman who has lived through the raising of children, homeschooling, and ministry.  She is delightfully real, and is the perfect antithesis to Sarah's young mom struggles.  The book is written much like a series of letters:  Sarah expressing a struggle and Sally answering with years of wisdom under her belt.
I can now tell you that I love this book.
To read advice from a woman who parented the way I am trying, whose kids were (refreshingly) not perfect and who struggled with seasons of feeling worn down and tired, at times neglecting her relationship with God and the godly women He had placed in her life for each season...well, to read this book has been a breath of fresh air.  I am encouraged that the teen struggles are survivable, that though the enemy wages war I am equipped to fight and win because of who Jesus is and because He has placed me here for such a time as this.  I am reminded that what the world calls success is often radically different than how God measures success.  I am encouraged to catch God's vision for my children and raise them with that in mind, letting Him turn the stumbling blocks into stepping stones.  I am convicted of my own selfishness and self-centered nature and challenged to sacrificially love and train up my children for the glory of God.

This book has been a wonderful encouragement for me in this busy season of life.  I'm so thankful that Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson wrote this book and were willing to share "the good, the bad, and the ugly" when it comes to their struggles and successes as moms.  Reality is always a better teacher than "pie-in-the-sky" advice.  No one is perfect, but the world of Facebook and Pinterest can sure make it appear that way.  This book was a refeshing change and I will probably read it again soon so that I don't forget the valuable lessons I am learning from these two godly women.

By the way, the authors have no idea I am writing this.  I have never met them, nor will I receive anything if you buy this book.  As a friend, I just wanted to pass on to you what has been a blessing to me.  Enjoy:)

And let me know if you read it.  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Miracle of Mercy

She is running across the lawn in too-short jeans, a long sleeved shirt, and rainbow striped socks with monkey faces on the toes.  Her purple headband frames her face and she is still missing her front teeth which fell out six months ago and I have decided she may always have a lisp even after the permanent teeth finally come in.

She is content.  She is happy.  Those words make me tear up as I type because it has taken almost three years to see her consistently content and happy.  Things have been much harder than I expected and I know I have harbored bitterness and resentment because of that.  The Enemy has worked overtime, it seems, and in weakness and fatigue I too often let him snarl unchecked at my fearful heart.

I was afraid.  Afraid she would never attach.  Afraid she would never heal.  Afraid I would never feel the same warmth toward her that I felt toward the others.  Afraid I had failed and let God down.

The two-year mark brought a strange milestone, a last ditch surge of misbehavior and anger, manipulation and lies that scared the heck out of me.  How would I ever break through her heart when all I felt was hopelessness and sad resignation that the future was going to be hard...very hard...for a long, long time?

I thought about her birthmother, thin and frail and hoping I could do better.  Praying her daughter would know love and security.  But one broken attachment after another...three orphanages and multiple nannies... had scarred this little girl more deeply than I realized and just loving her was not enough.

Then she softened.  Her spriritual eyes, they saw Jesus.  Her heart took ownership of His love and she surrendered to us.  Slowly, gradually she has begun to blossom.  She knows I will protect her, draws closer around strangers instead of running into their arms.  She hesitates before giving hugs to friends outside our family, checking my face for a smile or nod of "Yes, they are safe.  You can hug them."  She runs into the kitchen as I prepare meals just to tell me she loves me.

It is not the same as the others.  I don't have the baby years to draw back on.  I don't have memories of her in pink jammies, snuggles in the night, or of watching her sleep with her diapered bottom in the air.  The love I have for her is one that is born of commitment, of a determination to overcome, of a realization that every genuine display of affection is a miracle of God's mercy.  It is the knowing I have failed, yet she loves.  It is realizing I was terribly unprepared for her pain, yet she calls me "Mom."  It is watching her sleep with her head on her Daddy's lap, wrapped in the blanket made by her grandmother and knowing that her first father, her Ethiopian Daddy, must be smiling from Heaven as he sees her become a Daddy's girl once again.  Oh, I pray he sees.

This is the reality of adopting an older child.  The warm fuzzies we want to feel toward these children are often slow to appear but pressing forward, admitting weakness, crying out to God to love her through me because I am running on empty is what has set milestones, one in front of the other, to mark her path forward.  Determining to fight for her even when she resists my affection, asking the Holy Spirit to train her up in wisdom and love, and choosing to stop and notice her excitement at simple things like going to the mailbox all by herself...these are the stones I gather along the way to mark the milestones, mark the miracles.

Three years ago I had just begun packing for a flight to Africa.  Three years ago I had a romantic notion of what "hard" would look like.  Now I know.  It was more difficult than I could have imagined, and I know she still has many struggles to face as she grows up.  There are many things I would do differently, many ugly parts of myself that have been uncovered and laid bare, but this little girl who just smiled at me with a toothless grin has successfully taken ownership of her place in this family and that is nothing short of a miracle.  She is one of us and, finally, she knows it.  She is happy and content.

And I am thankful.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

At the feet of the Master Gardener

There were a couple of spots in the flower beds that have been glaringly empty.  Poor plant choices coupled with lack of attention have resulted in crunchy dead stems and puny growth.

I sense a metaphor in the making, y'all.

I went to the local garden center and purchased a few pretty additions to my garden.  I set to work, pulling up the ugly dead bushes (nearly throwing my back out in the process!) and digging six large holes.

Well, at least I thought I would dig six holes.  Turns out the irrigation hasn't been doing a great job of watering and the sudden arrival of Summer when Autumn is trying to move in just made things worse.  I got my "World's Best Shovel" (yes, that is what the label says) and with a loud grunt stabbed at the dirt.

Notice I didn't say I dug into the dirt.

With a thunk the shovel bounced off of what felt like a brick.  I stood there, trying to form a strategy since the one I had was apparently going to be a dismal failure.  I picked up the water hose and turned it on, allowing it to sit and soak the area for a while before trying again.  The ground was so hard that the water literally pooled on top and took several minutes to even begin to absorb into the soil!  Finally, though, it did and I was able to dig a soggy hole in which to plant that pretty Autumn fern.  Over and over I repeated the process...clear off top layer of mulch, soak, then dig.  At last I had six new plants in place and the ugly stick bushes were literally kicked to the curb.

Then I noticed a pile of leaves littering the corner of the bed, around one of the dwarf magnolias.  I decided to rake the beds and get a head start on the Autumn cleanup.  As I raked, I became aware of weeds.  Lots of them. What the...?  When did they take over my pretty flower beds?  And when did the shrubs get so overgrown?  And look at the hydrangeas wilting...they look awful!  What must the neighbors think about my terrible gardening skills?

There is so much work that needs to be done and how am I ever going to get this all cleaned up?

Sound familiar?

This is what happens when I am not walking in the Spirit.  Suddenly I look at my home, my family, my flower beds, and I see all the problems at once.  I see the laundry piled up on the sofa, the board game left on the floor, the muddy paw-prints across the kitchen floor, the sink full of dirty dishes, the kids arguing, the history lesson that we forgot to finish, my face in the mirror sans makeup and eyes rimmed with dark circles of fatigue and it is all too much.

How am I ever going to get this all cleaned up?  When will I be efficient, have it together, and not be overwhelmed with the weeds popping up in every neglected area of my life?

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42

I sound just like Martha, looking at the growing "to-do" list and working myself into a tizzy.  Suddenly I am painfully unaware of the presence of the Lord because my focus has shifted to the myriad of things that demand my attention and I forget to seek Him first, to ask Him for help, to just be still and let Him do what He does best.

For the truth is, I will never get it all cleaned up.  There will always be dirty laundry.  There will always be dishes to clean.  There will always be dirty floors and weeds in my flower beds because I am a flawed woman living in a broken world.  If I think I have the wisdom, ability, or energy to get it all cleaned up then I am sorely mistaken.  Only Jesus, only the God who brings order out of chaos, who calls me to come and sit a while and let Him handle the things left undone can get it all cleaned up.  There will always be weeds in the neglected places, and I can either kill myself by trying to pull them all from the unforgiving, rock-hard soil or I can sit and soak in the living water of the Word of God.  

After all...

weeds are much, much easier to pull from soft, wet soil than from hard, dry dirt.

Monday, September 9, 2013


I had run errands all morning, trekking out to Lowe's and purchasing plants to fill the bare spaces in my garden since Autumn is making it's blessed appearance here in God's country.  Coral Belles, Autumn Fern, and Ivy will replace the things that just didn't take...refused to grow or flat-out died.

Anticipating an afternoon of dirty fingernails and an aching back tomorrow, I walked into the family room.
I didn't notice him at first.
Suddenly he was right in front of me, so close that I almost stumbled over him.   My eyes quickly took in the bright blue soccer socks, black shorts, and blue shirt.  His face was alight, a bright white smile shining against his summer-ebony face.  His eyes gleamed with anticipation of his game...which starts in two hours.  My heart melted.

"Hello my soccer star!" I smiled big at him, enjoying the interruption of my thoughts.  He grinned ear-to-ear and leaned into me for a long hug.  Oh, those cheeks.  Why can't you stay little, my sweet boy?

These moments are so precious.  In days when things are hectic and verging on chaotic, these unexpected moments that force me to stop and feel, for a moment, the excitement of a child who has been dressed for the game for hours, to realize he is already hearing the cheers that await and imagining the moment when he kicks that ball just right, landing it perfectly in the goal...these are the things that are important and that I will cherish when my children are grown.

Now he sits next to me on the front porch, rocking as I type.  His brown hand rests on the arm of my rocker and his shoelaces need to be tied.  Oh, those cheeks.  They are begging to be smooched...right after I tie those shoelaces.

Friday, September 6, 2013

His Calling

I spent about two weeks writing about character qualities, the ones that top my priority list as a mom and that I hope to instill in these five children who fill my days.  I thought long and hard and hit the "publish" button then was seized by a wave of doubt.  The conversation in my head went something like this:

"Who do you think you are?  You don't have it all figured out.  Heck, half the time you struggle to get through a day without shooting "the look" at one of your kids.  If your readers (if there are any) saw how they were arguing this morning, they way you lost your temper and sent them to their rooms, they wouldn't give your blog a second look.

You are a fake.

You are giving advice when it is you who needs it.

Who do you think you are?"

Oh, how the enemy of our souls loves to hurt us.  Oh, how he jabs and snarls and snaps at my heels as I stumble in the dark.  Oh, how quickly I am prone to believe his lies.

But here's the deal.  If you know me, you know I don't have it all figured out.  The encouragement and advice I post are out of my need.  I am starting my day in the Word, seeking wisdom and strength because I do struggle to get through a day without shooting "the look"...the one that makes them wither because they know Mom has had one of my kids.  Parenting is HARD.  I am not always good at it.  Therefore, I seek wisdom from the Lord and from others who have gone before me.

And when I am blessed to be given a nugget of truth I feel I should share it with you because I know you would do the same.

Who do I think I am?

I am called to write.  I am called to encourage.  I am called to minister hope to my family and to the readers of this little corner of the internet.  I am called to refuse to be discouraged by the enemy's flaming arrows and to stand for what I know is true.

I am called to love my babies well.  Just this morning, as I drove miss Mari home from her Occupational Therapy appointment, we spotted two deer playing together.  It was a mama and her baby.  The mama pounced, planting her feet wide and hunkering low in front of her little one who spun and skipped across the green expanse of freshly cut grass into a grove of trees where the two chased each other with happy abandon.  The dangers of the busy road were only yards away, but that mama in that moment was focused on her baby...
delighting in him.

THAT is what God has called me to do.  He wants me, wants us, to delight in these children, in this privilege of motherhood.  He wants me to sit and ponder the awe in my daughter's face as the deer dance before her and to memorize the smile of my son as he runs through the sprinklers, emerging soaking wet and smelling of well water.  He wants me to admit my limitations and trust Him to complete what I leave undone because He also wants me to take the necessary time to rest and recharge instead of running on empty 90% of the time.

This is His calling.  Today I purpose to follow it to the best of my abilities, and you can rest assured I will share the journey with you.