If I could bottle up only one sound from my childhood, it would be the sound of my mother’s voice reading to me.
Some of my earliest memories are of us reading together on the couch, my brother and sister and me all clamoring to sit as close to our mother as we could. My mother’s soft voice read to us fairy tales and nursery rhymes, Dr. Seuss and Aesop’s fables, little Golden books and Bible stories straight out of our big children’s picture Bible. For a half hour or more each night, we sat enchanted by the words and the sound of her reading aloud.
This daily ritual continued long after I could read for myself. Not a day went by that my mom didn’t read a book to me, from the time I was too young to remember straight through elementary years. Even after I started Jr. High, my mother still often read aloud: short snippets from magazine articles, a particularly captivating paragraph from a book she happened to be reading for her own enjoyment, a chapter from the Bible in preparation for the week’s Sunday school lesson.
Sometimes my mother would help me study by reading my school textbooks aloud to me. Once, in college, I was frustrated with a very lengthy poem I needed to read for my literature class. I had returned home for a weekend visit, but spent the majority of Saturday in tears over the assignment. That evening my mother sat on the edge of my bed and read the entire poem aloud to me. Suddenly the poem made sense. My frustrations ceased, and I understood what the poet wanted to convey.
My mother always knew the best books to read. She was the one who introduced me to the wonderful stories that contained characters who became like special friends:
Scout and Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird
Anne, Diana, Marilla, and dear, sweet Matthew from Anne of Green Gables
Father Tim and his large dog Barnabas from At Home in Mitford
Ramona Quimby from Beezus and Ramona
Jo from Little Women
Sara Crewe who indeed was The Little Princess
One Christmas, my mother bought me an boxed set of The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Those tattered books, read and reread countless times over the years, still line my bookshelf. Those stories are so ingrained in my mind that Mary and Laura, Ma and Pa feel almost like my own family.
One of my favorite parts of going to elementary school was the Scholastic Book Club orders. My mother always let me order at least one book, usually more. And if we walked into a bookstore, we almost always walked out with at least one book. I think it was hard for her to say no to book purchases.
Years ago, when my teens were toddlers, my mother called to tell me she had ordered books for my children for Valentine’s Day. She asked me not to open the box until Valentine’s Day to keep it a surprise for the kids. A few days later, a box arrived on my doorstep. I dutifully set it aside. One the morning of Valentine’s Day, I gathered my kids around to open the box together. Sure enough, inside were three new picture books, one for each child. But also in the box, were TWO books for me. It was maybe the best surprise gift I have ever received.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
A day or two ago, I received an email from BookBub, a free service that helps readers discover books. The email asked the question:
What book are you thankful your mother introduced you to?
The email went on to share the answers from several BookBub employees. The books varied from more recent books such as the Magic Tree House series and Harry Potter to older classics such as The Outsiders and various novels by Judy Blume.
Naturally, I paused to determine my answer to this question, but I couldn’t come up with just one book.
(Well, actually I could. I’m grateful my mother read the Bible to me and encouraged me to read the Bible for myself. But I almost consider the Bible to be far more than just a book, so it feels wrong to give that as my answer.)
My mother introduced me to so many books and characters that it feels impossible to pick just one. However, I’m grateful my mother introduced me to reading … but not because of the books or characters or authors.
I am grateful my mother loved reading for because she loved it, I did too.
And reading gave me:
a love for words and the thoughts they convey
an appreciation for good literature
a head start in academics
an entire world of experiences at my fingertips
imagination and creativity
the pleasure of visiting libraries and bookstores
sharing excitement over discovering new books and authors
writing and the power of using written words
But perhaps the most important gift of reading was a way to connect to my quiet introverted mom. Somehow, in the pages of books, I found a way to enjoy the world with my mother.
So on this Mother’s Day Weekend, when I have so very many reasons to be thankful for my Mama, I’m recalling one of the more precious memories from my childhood … reading with my mom.
Thanks, Mama, for reading with me. I’m so grateful that you did.
This past weekend my oldest son competed in his second collegiate debate tournament, and made it all the way to the quarterfinals before getting eliminated.
I am so stinkin’ proud!
You might be thinking to yourself:
“Quarterfinals?! It’s not like he actually won or anything … he just made it to the top eight. I don’t understand why are you so excited.”
Well, let me tell you…
That boy of mine has been giving speeches since he was quite young. But he had never debated at all until last spring. Now, six months later, he is competing with the college debate team at Louisiana College. I can’t help but think that’s pretty impressive.
However, I have to admit that just having the ability to debate impresses me.
To begin with, debating is a skill. One must learn how to logically present a case, while being able to strategically point out the flaws and fallacies of their opponent’s position. This takes lots of practice to hone and develop. I suppose I could learn debating techniques and tactics, but the truth is that I don’t want to learn. You see, debating stresses me out.
Debate feels a lot like arguing, which is not something I enjoy at all. Maybe if I had more experience, I would begin to feel comfortable engaging in friendly debates. But for the most part, I try to keep my life free of debates, whether it’s with strangers on social media, my friends in real life, or with my family and loved ones.
Let’s just say, I avoid debates at all cost.
Although there was that one time I purposefully debated Nate the Great.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
This is my younger son Nathan.
We sometimes call him Nate.
Nate rhymes with debate. I should have thought about this when I was naming him. I regret to say that I didn’t even consider it. Not even once. Never even crossed my mind.
You see, he may look like an easy-going California Beach Boy with his blonde hair and blue eyes , but this kid loves to engage others in what can only be described as informal debates. He is so skilled at debating, that unsuspecting people (like me) don’t even realize a debate has started until you are already talking in a voice that’s a bit too loud and a tad too high.
In fact, the greatest debate I ever participated in was against Nate the Great. Yes, the same cute kid pictured above. Hard to believe, but it is 100% true. I’ll gladly tell you the tale, but allow me to begin by sharing the moral of my story:
Don’t ever let a cute boy with dimples woo you into a debate!
Chances are, it won’t end well.
Back when I was a single mom, I often entertained my children on long car rides with music. We loved to sing along to lots of oldies, and some of our favorite songs were from the 60’s.
On one such trip, Joel (who was about 9 years old), and Julia (who was approximately 6 years old) were singing loudly with me to one of our favorites songs: When I’m 64 by The Beatles.
Nathan (age 8) was not singing.
As the song ended, Nathan said in a very cranky voice, “That song made no sense.”
“Sure it does,” I said. “But even if it didn’t make sense, it is still a fun sing along song.”
“Momma … Have you ever really listened to the words?”
Let me step out of my story for just a moment. If you aren’t familiar with this particular Beatles song, you might want to take a listen by clicking on the photo below. It isn’t necessary to enjoy the rest of the story, but it might be helpful. Besides, it’s a fun song to know. You can listen if you like … takes about 2 1/2 minutes. My story will be ready to continue below once you return.
I started singing (off-key): “Will you still need me? Will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”
Nathan glared. “You see? That’s ridiculous! Of course, she will still need him. But he might as well face it. She will NOT be feeding him anymore by then.”
“I guess I don’t understand, Nate. Why can’t she feed him anymore?”
Nathan gave me a look of disbelief. “Well, mom,” he sighed. “She will be very old by then and most old people have shaky hands. I bet she would drop food everywhere if she tried feed him! Besides, he just said he was 64. Most people who are 64 can definitely feed themselves. He should at least be able to make a sandwich or something!”
I chuckled. “Nathan, it’s not talking about spoon-feeding, like you would a baby. It’s just talking about cooking meals and eating together at the table. I’m positive a wife will continue to do those things for her husband, even when he is 64.”
“His wife?!” Nathan sounded incredulous. “He’s not singing about his wife! This song is definitely about his mother.”
Now it was my turn to feel stunned. I stared at Nathan briefly, before turning my eyes back to the road and my driving. Trying to focus on the task at hand and keep up my end of the debate was harder than I expected. “Um … no. You are wrong, Nathan. It’s about a girlfriend or a wife. The man is wondering if they will still be together many years from now, when they are both old and gray. He wants to know if they will get married and live their lives together, which is why he is singing, ‘Will you still need me, when I’m 64?’.”
I thought the argument would end there, but Nathan was not about to give up.
He shook his head vigorously and said, “Nah… Girls think about getting married, but guys try NOT to think about weddings! That’s how come I know for sure he is singing to his mother. He is asking his mom if she will still love him and want him to be home even when he is all grown up. That’s the kind of thing boys think about!”
I felt like I was in a quandary. To continue talking to this child would be nothing more than participating in a silly argument. Perhaps I should just drop it. But that would almost as if I were admitting to my son that he was right. And I definitely didn’t want to do that!
My mind whirred. What if I engaged him further in this debate by logically proving to him that he was wrong? Yes, that was the ticket! If I could get Nathan to see the fallacy of his own thinking, then he would have to admit that I was right.
“Nate,” I ventured cautiously. “How about instead of us arguing, we listen to the song again … only this time we will both pay close attention to the words. I can pause the CD every few lines so that we can talk about the words together. I bet in the end we will both be able to agree on exactly who this man is singing to. Are you willing to listen one more time?”
Nathan paused for a moment, considering my proposition. “Okay, I will listen with you,” he finally said. Then he took a deep breath and finished his thoughts. “But I already know he is singing to his mother.”
For a moment, I considered just letting the kid win the debate … but then I changed my mind and said, “Just try to listen with an open mind … okay, Nathan?”
I restarted the song and the bouncy tune began:
When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a Valentine,
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
I paused the cd. “See, Nathan … right there, the singer says he wants to know if she will still be sending him a valentine. That definitely something that a girlfriend or wife would do, and not a mother. Valentines are exchanged by people who are in love, not between mothers and sons.”
“Well … YOU gave Me a valentine this year.” Nathan pointed at me first, and then at himself for added emphasis.
“Yes, well that’s different. You aren’t old enough to have a girlfriend or a wife. Lots of mothers and fathers give their children small gifts on Valentine’s Day, but once their kids are all grown they don’t usually do that anymore. For example, this past year I only got a gift from Mr. Jon. He’s my boyfriend. We are dating. My parents didn’t give me a Valentine’s gift. That’s because I am all grown up now. Understand?
“Yes, I do. And that’s exactly how come I know this singer is asking his mom about Valentine’s gifts. He doesn’t want to ever get married, but he still wants to get Valentine candy. So he is just making sure he understands what to expect. If his mother stops sending him Valentine gifts, then he will have to buy that stuff for himself.” There was a small pause, and then Nathan continued, “By the way, I’m not getting married either, so I hope you will keep on getting me Valentine gifts too.”
I sighed and restarted the cd.
Will you still need me, Will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
You’ll be older too.
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.
I stopped the cd again.
“Did you hear that, Nathan? He is telling his girlfriend that he will stay with her if she would like for him to stay. It’s another way of telling her he would like to get married.”
“That’s not what I heard,” Nate said, with a grunt.
I sighed. “Okay, Nathan. Tell me what you heard.”
“He said that when he is 64, his mother will be even older. Everyone knows really old people need someone to stay with them. So he is offering to stay with his mother when she is old. All she has to do is ask. I think that’s a great thing for a son to do for his mother!”
I had to laugh. “I agree with you on that one point, Nathan. It would be a great thing for a son to do for his mom. However, I’m still thinking he is singing to his girlfriend.”
I could be handy, mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You could knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
I reached out and paused the cd again.
“Sounds like two people who are married to me! Mending things around the house, gardening, hanging out together, going for long drives … “
“Sounds like boring stuff to me! That’s definitely not the kind of thing married people do together!”
Stifling a laugh, I said, “So Nathan, what exactly do you think married people do together?”
“Not that sort of thing! No man is going to want to go for a long car ride with their wife. If I were married and wanted to take a car ride, I’d go by myself so that I wouldn’t have to talk. I could listen to my own music and drive really fast without anyone telling me to slow down.”
I couldn’t tell for sure but I thought I saw him give his big blue eyes a slight roll.
“I’m not sure you have a good concept of marriage yet, Nathan. You are still a bit young to really understand it. You see, it’s not about doing exciting things together all the time. It’s really just about sharing life and being with each other … even when you are just doing boring things. Besides, a son really isn’t going to want to do things like sit next to his mother while she knits a sweater.”
Nathan harrumphed. “I probably know more than you think. For one thing, his mother is old now. She can’t get up on ladders to change light bulbs. Her son is 64 and that’s pretty old, but he can still climb a ladder. He wants to be there to help his mother. That’s why he told her he would do things for her, like plant her a garden.” He stopped for a minute, as if collecting his thought. Then he continued, “Of course, it could be that he likes vegetables and he knows if he plants them his mother will cook them for him to eat. I think he’s just a really nice son who wants to take care of his mother.” Nathan sat for a second in thoughtful silence. Then he said, almost in a whisper, “I just don’t understand why he is so worried about whether or not she will feed him …”
Grandchildren on your knee
Vera, Chuck, and Dave
“There! There! You see, Nathan … grandchildren! The singer is saying he wants to get married to his girlfriend, and then someday they will have grandchildren together!” I felt sure that this point would win the debate!
However, one glance over at Nate told me he wasn’t accepting this as the final answer either. Sure enough, Nathan spoke up, “He’s talking about his children … which are also his mother’s grandchildren.”
“But I thought you said he wasn’t getting married.”
“I didn’t say that. I said he didn’t want to get married. Sometimes guys don’t want to get married, but then it happens anyway because some girl tricks him into falling in love. He just knows that if he ends up getting married, then he will probably have children, too.”
I sighed loudly and started the cd once again.
Send me a postcard
Drop me a line
Nathan suddenly reached out and stopped the cd. “Postcards!” he said triumphantly. “Only moms send postcards. Girlfriends write love letters.”
“My mother has never sent me a postcard.”
Without skipping a beat, Nathan retorted, “My mother hasn’t either.”
Give me your answer, fill in the form
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?
With that, I reached out and fast-forwarded to the next song on the cd.
“Why did you do that?” Nathan asked. “That song wasn’t even over yet … and I thought you really liked it.”
“Suddenly, Nathan, I don’t like it nearly as much.”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
No doubt about it. I lost my debate with Nate.
But it wasn’t all bad. I learned an important lesson about intentionally starting a debate with a naturally argumentative person over a very minor issue: Basically, don’t do it!
But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. ~Titus 3:9
Yet the Bible doesn’t say never enter into a debate. In fact, it says the exact opposite. We should always be prepared for a debate regarding our faith!
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. ~1 Peter 3: 15-16
It just matters how we go about the debate. When we focus on listening to the other person, on responding to their thoughts instead of trying to “win” the argument, and when we remain humble and speak from a place of love … well, that’s what debate is all about.
I’m not like Nathan. I don’t think debate is fun, and I probably never will. But I can follow my son Joel’s lead and learn how to debate. Because while debating isn’t pleasurable, it’s not evil either. And who knows where it might lead …
You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the Gentiles. ~Matthew 10:18
In my case, the Great Nate Debate didn’t take me to any wonderful places. But it did give me one of my favorite parenting stories to tell. And truthfully, I can’t wait until the day Nathan’s children come to visit me and I can tell them all about the time their Daddy debated me over the meaning of a silly Beatles song.
Saturday morning there was a big dilemma in my bathroom, but I suppose it really started on Friday night.
You see, that’s when I found the toothbrush on the bathroom counter next to the sink.
It looked like my toothbrush, but I thought I had put mine away already. However, now that I am in my mid-40’s, my kids constantly point out that my old memory isn’t as sharp as their young brains. Therefore, I figured I must have only thought I put my toothbrush away. So, I picked it up, threw it in the toothbrush drawer on my toiletry organizer, and went to bed.
That was Friday night, when all was still well with the world.
Jon couldn’t find his toothbrush. He looked high and low, but to no avail. His toothbrush could not be found. Several minutes into his desperate search, he asked me if I had seen his toothbrush. I hadn’t.
At least, I thought I hadn’t.
Then it hit me. Maybe that toothbrush by the sink wasn’t actually my toothbrush after all. What if it really belonged to Jon?
Sure enough, when I opened up my toothbrush drawer, there was one tube of toothpaste and two nearly identical toothbrushes.
Identical brands. Identical styles. Even the colors were oddly close. One was a sort of lime green and the other was a slightly darker, more tealish green.
Did I have lime green toothbrush? Or maybe mine was the teal blue one? I couldn’t remember.
Unfortunately, Jon couldn’t either.
He tried laying each toothbrush in his toiletries to see which one looked right. He couldn’t see any difference between the two.
I tried picking each one up and looking in the mirror to see if one appeared more correct than the other as I held it in my hand. I couldn’t tell. In fact, that little experiment only made me more confused about which toothbrush actually belonged to me.
It was no use trying to figure it out. Our toothbrushes were hopelessly mixed up.
But perhaps the biggest shocker for me was the realization that even after seven years of marriage … sharing drinks, tasting each other’s food (using the same utensil), and kissing on a daily basis … there was no way on God’s green earth that I would even consider for a brief moment sharing a toothbrush with this man. Not even for one morning. That would definitely be taking germ-swapping too far!
Oddly enough, this is not the first time I’ve had issues with toothbrush sharing. In fact, one of my mother favorite stories to tell involves me, my siblings, and a red toothbrush.
To really understand the story, you must first know that my mother staggered our bedtimes.
Give me a moment to take a rabbit trail here…
Why on earth would you stagger bedtimes? This just lengthens the amount of time it takes you to get everyone into bed. I used to think this was the way it had to be done, like it was some unwritten parenting rule. And then I had five children. Staggered bedtimes? Putting one child down every half hour? That lasted about two nights, and then everyone got the same bedtime.
Anyway, back to my mother’s version of the toothbrush story …
One night she happened to be in the bathroom when my little sister brushed her teeth with a red toothbrush. Half an hour later, she noticed my brother brushing his teeth, also using the same red toothbrush. (You can guess where this is going, right?) Yep, half an hour later, I brushed my teeth … with a red toothbrush.
Apparently, we all liked red, so we all claimed the red toothbrush.
To hear my mother tell this tale, you would think we were quite old when this happened. But, I’m thinking it’s more likely to have happened when we were all rather young. Perhaps I was six years old, which would make Reid about four and Brooke around two. I guess I could have been as old as seven or eight. I realize that six years old is plenty big enough to know better than to share a toothbrush. But I am guessing that I didn’t know I was sharing a toothbrush with my siblings. After all, we had staggered bedtimes, w which meant staggered teeth brushing times as well. Therefore, it’s safe to assume I had no idea which toothbrush my brother and my sister were using. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
(A little side note:This is yet another good reason to send all children to bed at the same time. By doing so, you will ensure that your children will not be able to use the same toothbrush … or if they do, a fight will break out. Generally, children do not willingly share anything, including toothbrushes. Now, back to the story … )
Obviously, my mother was extremely appalled to discover her children were into toothbrush sharing. Being a good and conscientious mom, she couldn’t let this horrid habit continue. The next morning my mother went straight to the pharmacy and bought three brand-new toothbrushes. A blue one for Brooke. A red one for Reid. A purple one for me (Paige).
This was the start of the color system.
Eventually, the color system grew to include many areas of our life, from plastic drinking cups to school supplies. If my mother had to buy three of any item, and there was even the slightest chance we would fight over which item belonged to which person, she color-coded. Brooke always got blue. Reid always had red. Usually I had purple … but sometimes I ended up with pink, which caused me great grief because pink was about the last color I wanted associated with my name. (Even back then, I was grateful I wasn’t a boy named Patrick.)
(Here’s a Parenting Tip: The color system only works if you name your children so that it is easy to match them with a color. I actually tried to implement it with my five children, but there aren’t any colors that match up with names starting with J, M, or N. Still I was determined to use this idea, so I randomly assigned colors. Naturally, I forgot which child I assigned which color, and they fought over who got the “cooler” colors. Then there was a period of time when all of them wanted orange to be their color, and they fought over orange items daily. Oddly enough, no one’s name starts with O! So while I might not see the brilliance of staggered bedtimes, my mother had a distinct advantage over me with her implementation of the color system.)
The color system worked wonderfully, and I am sure it simplified my mom’s life in many ways. Now if a blue cup was left on the kitchen counter, my mother instantly knew who forgot to put it in the dishwasher. Blue = Brooke. If there was a purple folder of schoolwork strewn across the dining table, she hollered my name because she knew Purple = Paige.
And it certainly solved the problem of the communal toothbrush!
On Saturday, I went to the store and bought myself a new toothbrush. I decided ahead of time to purchase purple. It was safer to go with a color I could remember belonged to me.
As I stood there in the store, looking at all the toothbrushes, I felt a twinge of jealously. There are no colors starting with the letter J, which means Jon has far more color options than me. Lime green. Teal blue. Bright red. Flashy orange. Why, I suppose he could pick a new color every single time he needs a new toothbrush!
Meanwhile, I’ve been using purple (or sometimes pink) toothbrushes most of my life. I would like a little variety from time to time. But experience has taught me the hard way, and right there on the toothbrush aisle of Walmart I realized the importance of sticking with a system that actually works. So purple it is … because Purple = Paige.
As I reached out to pick out a purple toothbrush from the rack, I was struck with the thought that I have my mom to thank for teaching me this life lesson. She’s a wise woman who taught me many, many things … but I bet that she never thought she would have to teach her children how to keep up with which toothbrush belonged to them!
Isn’t parenting odd like that?
You find yourself saying things to your children that you never imagined you would have to say out loud to another person.
“Of course, if you stick rocks up your nose you won’t be able to breath.”
“Plastic dishes are not oven-safe.”
“Quit brushing your hair with your toothbrush!”
As parents, we are constantly teaching our children. We train them in a myriad of ways, giving them daily lessons on a wide variety of topics, from the obviously big ones (how to manage money) to the insanely ridiculous ones (don’t share your toothbrush). We hope when our children leave us, they don’t forget the important lessons we’ve taught them over the years. It’s why I am so grateful for the assurance God gives us in the proverbs:
Train up a child in the way he should go;
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
My oldest biological child is turning 18 tomorrow.
He’s not nearly old enough to be eighteen. Yet somehow he is … and that boggles my mind!
Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of contemplating lately: Have I taught my son everything he needs to know to be prepared for life? What did I forget to tell him that he absolutely has to know before he leaves for college in the fall? Does he know how to jump his car, change a flat tire, cook a fried egg, or sew on a button? Is he prepared for adulthood?
I’ve been seeing a lot on social media lately about how the millennial generation doesn’t have many of the basic life skills that previous generations had. “Adulting” classes are actually gaining popularity. It’s rather sad to me that this is a needed thing, and at the same time it causes me to stop and ponder how well I’ve done at teaching my son the skills he will need to live a successful life.
Deep down, I know the biggest life lessons I need to have taught my son are simple:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.
Seek first the kingdom of God.
Let the Lord direct your paths.
When he was born, I started teaching him about the Lord, and over the years I have prayed daily for him to know these truths. I know that if he has these lessons down, if his focus is on the right things, if his faith is intact … well, then everything will turn okay, even if he doesn’t know how to sew on a button.
Although, now that I think of it, maybe I would add just one more lesson to that list:
Julia had her first knee surgery at the tender age of 12, thanks to bad genetics and a knee injury that resulted from running in the house. (There is a reason mothers tell their children not to run inside the house.)
Two years later, my daughter has gone through months of physical therapy, as well as acquired an extensive collection of knee braces. Some are full-leg braces; some simply support only the knee area. She has two different hinge braces that allow a range of motions. Her current brace has a steel rod in the back to completely immobilize the knee. (If you know of someone who needs a knee brace, give me a call. We probably have one in stock that will work!)
Julia and I have been through quite a bit with her right knee.
Still, being told she needed a second knee surgery wasn’t something I felt prepared for. I felt even less prepared when the doctor informed me that during this surgery, he would be giving my girl new tendons. Repairing an injured knee is totally different than reconstructing a knee. Somehow it all felt so much more invasive.
Actually, the point I began to grow truly concerned happened at the very moment Julia’s orthopedic surgeon mentioned that the new tendons would come from a donor. Specifically a cadaver donor. At the word cadaver, I stiffened (pun intended!) … not so much because the idea of using tendons from a cadaver bothered me, but rather because I feared what my teenage daughter’s reaction might be.
Julia either didn’t notice or didn’t care or just didn’t know what the word cadaver meant. She had no response or reaction whatsoever. Rather than try to figure out the reason behind her non-chalant attitude, I decided right then and there that I wasn’t going to risk drawing attention to it by asking her questions. And so for the next two months, no one said anything at all about the use of cadaver tendons in regards to Julia’s upcoming knee reconstruction.
In fact, nothing else was said about tendons at all until the very morning of the surgery when the doctor came by to see Julia right about the time she was getting ready to have her initial dose of “happy” meds.
“Looks like you are nearly ready to do this thing. We’ll get those new tendons grafted on in no time, and…”
“Wait!” Julia interrupted. “What do you mean ‘graft on new tendons?’ Where are you getting them?”
The doctor paused and looked at Julia for several long seconds before answering, “Well, we have these tendon grafts that we will put in your knee. They will soon attach to the other muscles and ligaments and bones, so that your knee will be properly supported. It’s really pretty simple and before long you’ll have a brand-new knee.”
“But where are you getting these grafts?” Julia persisted.
“I ordered them from a medical supply company,” he answered with a smile. And with that, Julia’s wise doctor quickly moved on to discussing her care after surgery.
I thought that would be the end of the discussion.
Within two hours of coming out of surgery, Julia was not only awake, but also asking questions. “Mom, where are my old tendons? Did he take them out of my body? And I still don’t know where the new ones came from.” Thankfully, she was still in a rather groggy state, so it was easy to distract her.
But soon the anesthesia wore off. As Julia’s mind grew more alert, she continued to pepper me with questions about her tendons, both the new ones and the old ones. The more time passed by, the more intense her questioning became. My tactic of being vague wasn’t working as well, and yet I couldn’t imagine telling Julia the entire truth either.
After we got home from the hospital, I told Jon my fears of her reaction if she ever discovered exactly where those new tendons came from. “She might well cry for hours once she finds out! ” I fretted.
Jon reassured me. “Eventually, she will stop asking questions and life will move on. Until then, it’s okay to give her vague answers. I don’t think you should tell her lies, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to lay out the full truth about exactly where those tendons came from until you think she is ready to handle that information.”
I felt only slightly comforted at my husband’s words. The pressure continue to build. I knew my daughter well enough to know that as soon as she could, she would ask me about her new tendons again … and again and again.
Not very many hours passed until my prediction came true. As the rest of the family left for church and other Wednesday night activities, Julia was left alone with me. The door had barely shut behind the last person when the questions started.
“So mom … did I trade tendons with someone?”
I smiled (sort of a weak smile) and said, “You are really curious about your new tendons.”
“I guess. I just want to know about them.”
“Well, Julia … trading with someone wasn’t an option. The doctor said your tendons were in bad shape. They were stretched out and floppy. He even described them as being frayed. No one can use a tendon like that.”
“Yeah … I see your point. I figured that wasn’t right. But where did they come from? Tell me … please … come on. I mean, they had to come from somewhere. You just can’t make a tendon out of plastic.”
“You are right about that. Tendons aren’t made from plastic.”
“So, did the doctor take my tendons out of someone’s leg who had an amputation?”
There was a long pause as I waited, unsure of what to say next.
Then, almost as if talking to herself, Julia continued. “No, that wouldn’t make sense. If their leg was amputated, then probably their tendons would be in bad shape too … maybe even in worse shape than my leg.”
Again, there was another long pause. I looked down, unable to watch Julia’s face for fear of giving something away. I could tell her mind was racing and whirring with ideas. Part of me was fearful she would figure out the answer, and yet I was fascinated to see how she worked through various ideas logically.
“Or maybe they took my new tendons out of a dead person … WAIT … that’s it, isn’t it? I must have dead person tendons! Oh, my gosh! I think I have figured it out! Mom, tell me! Am I right? Do I really have dead person tendons?”
I glanced up, still not able to really speak. But that’s all it took for Julia to know with 100% certainty that she had stumbled upon the truth.
“Oh, I am right! I figured it out all by myself! Just think … I have dead body parts inside of me. That means … oh … oh … wait, this is almost too weird to think about, but you know what that means, Mom? It means I am both dead and alive at the same time! Now that’s crazy!”
I watched as her shock turned to giggles and finally to full-blown laughter. This child wasn’t upset about having cadaver tendons; she was delighted about it!
It wasn’t long before her siblings came home, and Julia wasted no time letting them in on her amazing news.
“Nathan! Come here! I gotta tell you something you will never guess! Get this … I am DEAD on the inside! No … really, it’s true. The surgeon put dead person tendon’s in my legs, so while I am alive on the outside, part of me is dead too! Isn’t that the coolest thing ever?! It’s the weirdest thing to think that I have some random dead person’s tendons!”
Actually, that wasn’t the weirdest thing.
The weirdest thing was the next question my daughter asked …
“Hey mom … do you think you can find out the name of the dead person who gave me my tendons? I mean, if we found out, then I could go to their grave to say thank you. It’s the least I can do.”
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Julia isn’t the only one who is dead, and yet also alive.
You see, I am also dead in my sins, yet my spirit is alive in Christ. Let me explain …
Over in the New Testament of the Bible, there is a verse that says the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)
But actually, you can find that lesson right at the very beginning of the Bible … smack in the middle of the Garden of Eden, right about the time when Adam and Eve first sinned and brought forth a world filled with all sorts of woes.
Before sin, Eden was perfect. Not only was it a beautiful paradise, but there was no death, no animosity between creatures, no heartaches or sorrows or sickness. Life was perfect for Adam and Eve.
Perhaps best of all, there was but just one rule for them to keep:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden,but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eatof it you shall surely die.” ~Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV)
But read Genesis chapter 3 and you discover that Adam and Eve didn’t obey God’s one simple rule. They allowed themselves to be tempted by the snake. The snake asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Eve, who knew the truth, answered back that they indeed could eat freely from any tree in the Garden except for one. And she added, “God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it or you will die.'”
And the snake … oh that cunning snake … he replied, “No! You will not die. In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Pride. It’s the downfall of nearly every human on this planet. We think that we know as much or better than God Himself. We get ourselves into all sorts of trouble because we refuse to do what God has shown us is right, believing our own way to be better than His.
So Eve, wanting to be like God, ate the fruit. And death entered the world.
Or did it?
When I was a child, I used to think, “But Adam and Eve didn’t die! They just got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and God made them some clothes to wear. The snake was right. They didn’t die!”
But they did die … eventually. And that’s the thing my childish brain didn’t grasp. The truth is that had Adam and Eve never sinned, then they would have never ever died physically. They would have lived right there in that garden paradise forever.
But they did sin, and death entered the world on that awful day.
In fact, even though the physical death didn’t come in that moment to Adam and Eve, the world’s first death actually did happen on that day. God Himself killed animals in order to make clothes for Adam and Eve. In this way, the very first death was also an act of love.
Yet all of it happened because of the sin of human pride and willful disobedience.
The root of all sin is found in the very words of the serpent. “You will be like God!” And right there is the core of it all … we humans think we should be like God.
The Bible tells us this can never be. We are unable to be like God.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9)
God is God and we are not. How simple it sounds! Yet it is incredibly hard to lay down our arrogance and pride. We want more than anything to do things our way, to believe that our finite minds comprehend things better than God.
But the truth is, we have very little ability to keep ourselves from sinning, no matter how hard we might try. Have you tried not telling a lie? Not judging someone else? Not listening to gossip? Just as Adam and Eve managed to sin when there was only just one rule, we are prone to sinning too.
Unfortunately, all sin comes with a cost … death.
Remember Romans 8:10? For the wages of sin is death.
One sin. Not multiple sins repeated over and over. Not a lifetime of sinning. Not when your sins outweigh the good things you did during your life.
No, the Bible is clear. Sin (singular) brings about death. And not just physical death, but also a spiritual death.
God, who is holy and righteous and perfect, cannot be in the presence of sin. So, if you are a sinner (raise your hand here), then you are doomed to be separated from God eternally.
But God is not only a God of justice. He is also full of mercy.
Think back on Genesis and the Garden of Eden. Imagine those moments just after Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Emotions they didn’t know immediately flood their souls … recognition of their nakedness, shame, fear of God finding out, trying to find a way out of their current situation, the sting of failure. None of these emotions had ever been felt in the perfect world of Eden before sin.
The Bible tells us that God finds Adam and Eve hiding in the bushes. He talks to them and they confess what they have done. God would have been completely right had he killed them on the spot. After all, He told them that eating the fruit would cause them to die.
Instead God clothes them.
Love. Mercy. Compassion. It’s all there in that one moment.
The Bible tells us something else about God. He never changes. Ever. (Don’t believe me? Read Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 13:8, and James 1:17.) If God never changes, then just as He had love, mercy, and compassion for Adam and Eve, so He does for us.
Adam and Eve still had many consequences as a result of their sinful disobedience. There was a price to pay, as well as an eventual physical death that they should have never had to experience. But they also got to experience God’s mercy.
The good news is that there is still mercy for us today.
God doesn’t want any of us to die and be separated from Him and His love for eternity. So He sent His son Jesus to live a perfect life (in an imperfect world) without sinning a single time. And then Jesus took the punishment for our sins … and though he died on the cross, Jesus was not defeated by death. He conquered it by rising from the dead. And because of that, all we have to do is surrender our pride and our hearts to Him. To admit our sin and our need for a perfect God. To lay down doing things our way (because we think our way is better), and live instead doing things God’s way.
And then, even though we all will eventually die physically, our souls will spend eternity in the presence of God. In other words, even though our bodies are dying day by day, our soul is full of the life found in the Holy Spirit of God.
So just like Julia said … I might be dead in my sins, but I am alive in Christ Jesus!
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. ~Romans 8:10 (ESV)
~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~
My daughter Julia had some really bad knees, but thankfully she was able to get a new set of tendons that came from a cadaver donor. At the end of her recovery, she’ll have knees that work better than ever. That’s a wonderful gift, and we are so grateful!
I don’t need new tendons in my knees. Chances are, you don’t either. But every single one of us is dead on the inside, trapped in our sins, desperately in need of the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The good news is that God is waiting to give you this amazing gift … and trust me,
4-H Grows a Legacy
Joel Thompson, Lafayette Parish
Louisiana State Citizenship Board Member, 2014-2016
“I am a fourth generation 4-H member. My great-grandmother, grandfather, and mother were all 4-H members who went on to become 4-H agents, 4-H club leaders and life-long 4-H volunteers. Their example taught me what it truly means to pledge my head, heart, hands and health to the betterment of my club, community, country and world. As a result, 4-H has become more to me than just winning blue ribbons or attending summer camp. It is a foundation for my future that connects me to my past. I’m proud to say that 4-H has always been a huge part of my life, and thanks to my family’s 4-H legacy, I’m sure it always will be.”
Yesterday, the above photo of my son Joel and his quote about 4-H was shared on social media by the Louisiana State 4-H Office. It’s part of a new 4-H marketing campaign in which 4-H members, leaders, volunteers and alumni share the positive character traits and values that being involved 4-H helped to grow in their life.
When Joel was first invited to be a part of this marketing campaign, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to emphasize. After all, 4-H has taught him and his siblings so many skills, far more than just the basics of how to give a demonstration or how to sew on a button. It’s given him opportunities to grow as a leader, to serve others in meaningful ways, to prepare and give speeches, and even how to be a good competitor (especially when you don’t win).
But as we talked, Joel and I both began to realize how 4-H is more to us than just a club. Like me, Joel knew about 4-H long before he ever joined at age nine. From the time he was a toddler, he heard the stories of how his grandfather, my dad, showed blue-ribbon winning 4-H lambs. He would stand next to me in the kitchen as I told him how I started cooking when I was nine, all because of 4-H …and I heard my grandmother tell me those same tales as she showed me how to cook when I was a child.
For Joel and for me, 4-H is sort of like a part of our genetics. It’s who we are and what we do as a family. Neither of us can imagine life without 4-H.
I am grateful for the heritage my father and my grandmother gave me and I hope my children carry into their futures a 4-H legacy. Yet, as much as I love all things 4-H, there is a far greater legacy I am thankful that my family gave to me and that I want to give to my children and someday my grandchild. It’s a legacy of Christian faith.
4-H may enhance my life and teach skills that I might not otherwise have learned. It is a source of education and entertainment that I’m so grateful to have. It’s a huge part of my life … but if it ended tomorrow, my life would not end with it.
Jesus, on the other hand, is the creator and author of my life. He formed me and fashioned me. He numbered my days, gave me a purpose, and has already prepared my future (both here on this earth and afterwards in heaven). From the time I was an infant, my father and my mother told me the stories in the Bible, prayed with me and for me, and encouraged me to accept Jesus as my Savior. My grandmother sang me hymns and listened to me recite Bible verses. The biggest legacy of my life is the legacy of Jesus.
The Bible is clear. Salvation cannot be passed down parent to child. It is a decision that each person gets. However, I can leave behind a heritage that will help guide my children and future grandchildren to the Cross.
Today, I’m thankful for those in my life who walked before me, faithfully following their Savior, showing me the way to Jesus Christ. And I humbly ask that the Lord might allow me to leave behind a legacy for Jesus for the generations who walk after me as well.
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter…things that we have heard and known,that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony … which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children,so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments. ~Psalm 78: 2-7
Each spring, Megan and I have the same conversation. It goes something like this:
“Megan, I need you to to start thinking about what you want to submit to the Writes of Spring writing contest at the library.”
“I don’t want to enter this year.”
“I didn’t ask you if you wanted to enter. It’s just a part of our homeschool and your education. All of my students enter.”
Megan pokes out her bottom lip and whines, “Can’t I skip this year? I don’t know what to write about and I hate trying to come up with a topic. Besides, I won first place last year. That means I should get a year off.”
“You tried all those excuses last year. They didn’t work then and they won’t work now.”
“Whhhhhyyyyyyy! It’s like torture. I hate it.”
“Why do you hate it so much, Megan? You’ve won first place three years running. You are a great writer.”
“I hate it because I have to come up with a topic that fits the categories and then I have to keep it to just 750 words. And once I”m done, then you and dad edit it and find all my mistakes. Once the mistakes are fixed, then I have to turn it in … and that is just the beginning of that long wait to find out if the judges liked it. GiGi! I can’t do it again! It’s too hard! Besides, I don’t want to be a writer. Please don’t make me!”
“Sorry, Megan. Even if you don’t like it, even if its hard, and even if you don’t want to be a writer, you still have to do it. It won’t kill you to enter again this year. No one ever died trying to write a 750-word essay or story. Besides, I’ll help you find a great topic. I’ll bet together we can come up with a fabulous idea.”
Megan is a good writer. She has won first place in the parish writing contest for the last four years and twice placed third in her age group at the state level. But she doesn’t want to write.
Well, she said has plenty of reasons. But mostly, it’s just not her idea. I’m forcing her to participate in an activity for school that she doesn’t want to be a part of. And if that isn’t reason enough, what I’m asking her to do isn’t an easy task. It’s hard and requires lots of work. Work she would rather not do.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about myself and how I am often the same way.
For a couple of years, Jon and I prayed diligently about a family ministry we could do together. I was thinking along the lines of serving in the kitchen of our local homeless diner once a month, or maybe taking a family”vacation” to do some sort of ministry. We tried several avenues in our town. To my surprise, they all failed terribly.
“What is wrong?” I pondered. “Doesn’t God want us to serve Him?”
Then I thought maybe God might allow us to adopt. Orphan care has interested me since my college days. Several adoptive families are among my close friends and relatives. So, Jon and I embarked on gathering information for what I just knew was our big ministry … but can you believe that door slammed shut as well?
“Fine,” I thought. “We’ll just wait and let God show us what He wants us to do.”
Interestingly enough, this was God started whispering and working in odd ways. Before I had time to blink, the craziest thing in the world was happening to my family. Something so illogical and spectacular that it could only be God at work. He called us into fostering.
Can I just pause right here and tell you that fostering was not anywhere close to my idea of a great family ministry? Not at all. This was not anywhere on my version of Paige’s Life Plan.
In fact, when we first started talking about it, I was so scared I could hardly believe I was even allowing myself to consider the idea. Who wants to take in foster children? You work hard to love children who come with tons of baggage. And then just when you start to make headway, the kids go back. You don’t have anything to show for it in the end. No thank you, Fostering is not exactly how I envisioned making a difference for God.
But God has a way of convincing you to do even those things you don’t want to do. Remember Jonah?
So Jon and I got all signed up. Before long, we were ready for our first placement. Barely two days passed by and we had a phone call, asking us to take in two foster toddlers. A boy and a girl. We took a deep breath and said yes, unsure of what to expect.
At first, getting two foster babies was exciting. It took about 3 hours for the excitement to wear off, and reality to set in. Fostering babies, as it turned out, was exactly what I was initially expecting … work.
Our foster babies came to us as neglected children with all sorts of emotional problems and delays. Screaming matches, hitting and pulling hair, biting, defiance of every sort. Day in and day out we deal with their negative behaviors, trying to teach them more about how to be loved and accept love from others and experience some of God’s love. Some days are better than others.
This morning started off as one of those other sort of days. I no more than put the two of them into the booster seats to eat their breakfast when they commenced to a screaming and screeching match against each other. Soon, their antics included throwing food.
As I walked into the dining room to deal with the chaos, I sighed and thought, “And this is how you want me to serve you, Lord?”
“Yes. Only I want you to do it with a glad and grateful heart.”
OUCH! Not only did that small reprimand sting me, but it surprised me. You see, I’d rather have a big writing ministry. Unlike my stepdaughter, I wish I had writing success … books to publish, a website/blog that drew thousands of readers each week, speaking opportunities, conferences to attend, etc. Seems to me that a writing ministry would be an amazing way to serve God.
Or why can’t I serve God by going on a short-term overseas mission trip? What about working with some larger ministry like a pro-life group or volunteering to feed the homeless? I have a lot of great ideas about how I think I could best serve God.
Instead, God has called me and my family to love two bad babies who desperately need to be loved unconditionally.
It’s a process, but I am learning to be grateful for my callings in this life … all of them. Wife, mother, a homeschool teacher, writer (because I know God did call me to faithfully write for Him). Even foster mom.
Oddly enough, most of what God has asked me to do for Him won’t bring me personal fame or glory or recognition. It’s just hard work.
Even then, God wants me to do all those things with gladness. It’s not easy or fun all the time, but when I persevere and push through with a heart thankful for the chance to do anything for God, then I allow Him to get the glory and He blesses me with more opportunities to do His great works.
What has God asked you to do that you wish He hadn’t?
How have you learned to be grateful for even the hardest of God-given callings?
My son looked at me and nodded his head. “Yes, ma’am.“
“Everything? You did it all? Even math?“
“Even math.” He was looking me square in the eyes.
“Okay. Well, I was just checking because I didn’t see you sitting at the table with your school books at all. Seems like you’ve been outside most of the day. I trust you are telling me the truth.“
“I am, Mom. You can trust me.“
Two hours later, I walked into my son’s bedroom to lay a pile of clean laundry on his bed. I noticed his math workbook opened … and not a single answer was written on the pages.
About that time, I heard him in the hallway. “Hey,” I called out. “I thought you said you finished all of your schoolwork, even your math.“
“I did, Mom. I already told you that.“
“Yes, well … I found your math book on your bed and there isn’t anything written on it. Looks like you haven’t done math after all.“
“Oh. Well, I thought I did.“
“Do it now. All of it. And double check the rest of your work. If you want to go to youth group tonight at church, you need to get all of your schoolwork completed.“
“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a sigh.
Shortly after supper, my husband rounded up all the teens and tweens to take to church for our mid-week services. (I always stay behind to put toddlers to bed and have a bit of quiet time for myself.)
As the gang walked out of the door, their Bibles in hand, I put my hand on my son’s shoulder and asked, “Did you finish all your schoolwork?“
“Mom, this is the third time you’ve asked me. It’s all done. Why don’t you believe me?“
“I did … until I saw you didn’t tell me the truth. If you are faithful to answer honestly, then I can always believe what you say. But when you go down the slippery slope of lying, I cannot trust you. I’ll be checking your work while you are at church. If you didn’t do it, now is the time to ‘fess up.“
“It’s done, Mom.” And with that, he jerked out of my presence and ran to get into the car with the rest of the family.
I kept my promise and checked the schoolwork.
Would you believe it wasn’t done? None of it. The math pages still blank. Science and history lessons incomplete. Grammar not even started. Furthermore, I discovered he had done the same thing for the two days prior.
I was waiting when he walked in, and sat him down for a “Come to Jesus” meeting at our dining table. Caught in a web of deceit, all he could do was admit he had lied to me more than once and accept the consequences given for his behavior.
But in my heart, it wasn’t over. Why did my son lie? This child had never been one to shirk his schoolwork before and generally was on top of all his assignments. He isn’t lazy by nature. So what was he gaining from misrepresenting himself?
I still don’t know the root cause other than this:
He is human, and humans are liars.
God is not a liar.
That’s a rather astonishing thing if you think about it. This world is full of liars who can’t be trusted (myself included). Yet God is so perfectly faithful, I can trust everything He promises will come to pass.
So what are His promises? Here are a few:
~He will meet all our needs. (Psalm 34: 9-10)
~Peace (Isaiah 26:3)
~Help overcoming temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13)
~Protection (Proverbs 18:10)
~Hope (Jeremiah 29:11)
~He will be always with us (Matthew 28:20)
~His return (John 14:2-3)
I’m thankful God never lies and I can rest in His faithfulness to me.
My nearly three year old foster son continued to yell from his carseat in the back of my minivan. “You not listenin’ to me, GiGi. Not go this way. Go that way!” He pointed his chubby finger in the opposite direction.
“Sweetie, I know this isn’t the way back home, but this is the way I have to go right now. I’m taking Nate to his class and in order to get there we have to drive this direction.” I tried to break the news to him gently, but I braced myself for the toddler tantrum I knew was about to ensue.
“No!” he screamed. “I not wanna go this way. I wanna go that way!” He began kicking his feet for added emphasis.
Five minutes later, the toddler rampage was still in full force with absolutely no sign of an end to the kicking and screaming. “Turn awound! Turn awound!” he yelled. “I told you not go this way!”
Silently, I continued to drive on in the direction of Nathan’s class, trying hard to ignore all the commotion going on in the back of my minivan. Instead, I was pondering the possible causes for this extreme tantrum. Normally my foster son loved car rides. So what was the problem today?
Perhaps he was hungry? No. I fed him a snack just before we left the house.
Was he sleepy? Surely not. He took a two-hour nap after lunch.
Maybe he was getting sick?
But before I had time to consider this possibility, the screaming toddler stopped to take a breath. In that brief moment, my son Nathan spoke up. “Hey, K* … Are you crying because you want to drive the car?”
The crying stopped almost instantly, replaced by small hiccupy breaths and little snuffles. K gazed at Nathan as if he wasn’t quite sure what to say.
Well, did you know you have to have a driver’s license if you want to drive a car?” Nathan had successfully captured his foster brother’s complete attention, bringing the tantrum to a standstill, at least for the moment.
“It’s a rule,” Nathan continued. “And if you don’t follow the rule, a policeman might stop you and take you to jail. Do you have a driver’s license?”
K continued to stare at Nate, still not answering but obviously interested in what his older brother was saying.
“You have to be sixteen years old to get a driver’s license. Are you sixteen?”
“I two.” K held up two fat fingers.
“Yeah. You’re two. I’m thirteen. Neither of us is old enough to have a driver’s license. Do you know how old Gigi is?”
K beamed as he answered, “GiGi WAS forty-two. Her had a birfday. Now GiGi forty-tree.”
(This line of questioning was actually a brilliant play on Nate’s part. One of our foster son’s favorite games to play is answer questions about the people in our house … age, eye color, gender, and so forth. And he usually wins! It’s hard to trip this kid up!)
“That’s right. GiGi is forty-three. She is old enough to have a driver’s license. Someday you and I will be big and we can have a driver’s license, too. Then we can drive whichever way we want to go. But today, GiGi is driving and she gets to decide which road to take. And that’s okay because she always knows how to go back home. We just have to let her do the driving while we sit back and enjoy the ride. Ok, buddy?”
“Ok, Nate,” he said.
And just like that, the toddler fit was over.
If everything comes your way, you are driving in the wrong lane. ~Author Unknown
Earlier this week, my oldest son got his driving permit.
As we walked out of the DMV and across the parking lot to our car, Joel held out his hand.
At first, I wasn’t sure what he was wanting. I was fairly positive he wasn’t asking to hold my hand. He hasn’t done that in years. For a second I thought maybe he was attempting to give me a high five. But I quickly realized that’s not quite his style either.
Then, in what has perhaps been the most surreal moment in all of my years of parenting, it dawned on me. My son wants the keys to the car.
For a second, I seriously considered telling him no. After all, I cherish my life and I wasn’t sure I was ready to risk it all on a ride with a brand-new driver, even if the driver was my son.
Quickly though, I realized saying no in this situation wasn’t a good option. All I could do was suck it up, say a prayer, and place the keys in his outstretched hand.
Twenty-five minutes later, we pulled in our drive, and for the first time since he had started the ignition nearly half an hour earlier, I was able to take a deep breath. Joel had driven me home, and I had lived. He hadn’t killed me, or anyone else for that matter. The car was still intact. There was much to be thankful for.
In fact, as I reflected on our drive home, I more realized he had done a spectacular job of driving. By the time I walked through the door and laid my purse on the kitchen counter, I was practically glowing with pride.
“Maybe,” I thought, “I could get used to this. It might be nice to be chauffeured around town.“
Two minutes later, I felt a wave of nausea. Joel is the first of my five teens to start driving. “Oh, no,” I groaned, putting my head in my hands. “This is only the beginning! Pretty soon, all the kids will be getting permits followed by a real driver’s license. It will be just one after the other after the other. I might not ever drive again for the next half dozen years!“
And just like that, I’m no longer in control of my own car!
Last night, I lay in bed thinking about how hard it was to let Joel drive me home.
He did great. He wasn’t speeding or driving too slow. He stayed in his lane, never came close to hitting anything, and obeyed all the traffic rules. I had absolutely no reason to feel scared.
And yet, I kept wanting to grab hold of the wheel. At times the urge was so strong that I had to actually sit on my hands!
Well, I’ll tell you. Joel was now in the driver’s seat; I was just a passenger. And quite frankly, I didn’t like finding myself not being the one in control.
And if you stop to think about it, that’s a pretty silly reason, especially since the goal of parenting is to take the infant you are given and help that child grow into an adult who is completely capable of being in control of his or her own life.
Whether I like it or not, I’ve been preparing for this day all of my son’s life, starting with letting the two-year old version of my boy choose between wearing the blue shirt or the red shirt, all the way until Thursday afternoon when I relinquished the car keys in his hands. The reality of just how close this boy was to manhood and how very little control I had left in his life was somewhat overwhelming.
The more I pondered these sobering thoughts, the more I realized idea of being control was the likely cause of little K’s mysterious tantrum as well. He loves to choose for himself … which song to sing, which book to read, which snack to eat. I suppose in his toddler mind if he could pick between two shirts to wear on Wednesday morning, why couldn’t he choose which direction to travel on Wednesday afternoon?
And then, I felt a tugging in my heart, the familiar urging of the Holy Spirit for me to take these thoughts a little deeper. There was more to this than just toddler boys who want to be in control of the car and teen boys who have actually grown big enough to take control of the car. There was also me and my own desires to be in control left to consider.
But am I in charge? Really?
No, it’s just an illusion that I’m in control of my life, too. Yet, I buy that lie hook, line and sinker nearly every day, believing this is my life and somehow I’m completely in charge of the way things go.
But deep down in the very pit of my being, I know that I’m not in control of my life … not anymore than I am in control of the car when my teenaged son is driving.
So, if I’m not in control, then who is? And this is an answer we all know as well, whether or not we want to admit it.
God. All throughout the Bible, we are told God, who created everything from nothing, is in charge. He gives us life (Job 12:10), works all things together for our good (Jeremiah 29:11), and promises to never leave us (Matthew 28:20).
And just in case we don’t get it, there is this verse to consider:
Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside His control. ~ Hebrews 2:8
There is nothing, not one thing, that is outside of His control.
And for me, that means when toddlers throw fits or teenagers grow old enough to drive, when the dog dies or the tile on the bathroom wall starts to crumble and fall to the floor, when someone you love hurts your feelings or the doctor says he can’t cure you, when there’s no money in the bank to pay the bills or you find yourself lost as a goose and you can’t figure out which road to take to get back home …
In other words, in every situation of my life, all I need to do is just take a deep breath.
And then hand the keys back to God.
He’s already got the wheel!
The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.” ~ Isaiah 14:24
*K is our foster son. Legally I cannot share his name or image here, though I’d love to show you his adorable brown eyes and mischievous grin.
A dozen years ago today, I gave birth to a baby girl.
I realize that it is probably strange to recount the details of her birth at this stage of the game, but then again the thing I have enjoyed most about giving birth to Julia (besides Julia herself) is retelling the story of her birth. I’ve shared it many times over the past dozen years, relishing the complete disbelief of my listeners … but trust me, every word I’m about to write is 100% true. I might be a writer, but I’m not creative enough to write fiction.
Julia wasn’t what you might call a “planned baby.”
She took us all by surprise, right from the beginning.
I already had two tiny boys, born just 19 months apart, both of whom were the results of infertility treatments. So for someone who thought she might not even have one baby, learning I was about to give birth for the third time in less than three and a half years brought about a state of compete and utter shock.
My military husband was transferred to a new duty stationed ,Fort Stewart, Georgia (near Savannah), just about the time I entered into the third trimester of my pregnancy. An intense nesting instinct immediately kicked into high gear. Getting settled into my new home, finding a church, connecting with a few people in hopes of finding a couple of good friends were my major concerns. I knew I would need all of those things to be in place before my baby girl made her appearance.
Of course, nothing went according to my plan.
Two interesting things happened that first week in Georgia:
First my husband, who was now assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division out of Ft. Stewart, was told he would be deploying to Iraq to join the rest of the troops storming through Baghdad during that spring. He was put on 12-hour recall, meaning he might leave for the war zone with a few as a dozen hours notice. (Remember … I’m new in town. I know absolutely no one. I have two toddlers, and I’m six months pregnant with a third child. And now I learn that before our furniture arrives or the boxes get unpacked in our new house, my husband will very likely already be deployed to Iraq. These were fun times, y’all. Fun times.)
Secondly, at my first visit with my new OB, I learn I had something called polyhydramnios, or in layman’s terms “too much amniotic fluid.” While not completely dangerous, it does increase the risk of complications during pregnancy and birth, as well as indicate that there may be a problem with the infant in utero. It also makes the mother’s protruding stomach even larger than normal. I was already … (ahem, how shall I put this) … rather fluffy to begin with, so you can only imagine what I looked like by the end of this pregnancy. (However, lest any pregnant women happen to read my blog and become fearful of this terrible fate happening to them, there is no reason to worry. In fact, chances are quite excellent this will NOT happen to you. Polyhydramnios only occurs in about 1% of all pregnancies. What can I say? I’m just lucky.)
To say the least, the summer of 2003 was like a wild roller coaster ride. Literally, from one hour to the next, we did not know if my husband would be deploying to Iraq. Some days we were told he would be gone before nightfall, only to have those orders reversed hours later.
In between the emotional turmoil of the guessing game as to when my husband might deploy, I was now going to the doctor weekly for ultrasounds and non-stress tests to ensure my baby girl was growing correctly. Meanwhile, my stomach grew at an astounding rate. By the time my due date rolled around, my fundus height (which should have measured 40″) was a whopping 54″ … meaning I literally looked like a very bloated beached whale.
I felt like one too … And I hadn’t even gotten around to giving birth yet.
Thursday, July 24, 2003, 7:30 am
Did you notice that time? 7:30 am? I am sorry to say that this was not the time my beautiful baby girl entered the world. No, this was my actual appointment time with my OB-GYN.
Pause with me for just a moment and consider this question: Who sets up an appointment for an irritable pregnant woman for 7:30 in the morning, especially one who is already past her due date and feeling more and more with each passing day like a can of biscuits about to burst open? Not any sane person, that’s for sure! Then again, as my story will show, the medical staff handling my pregnancy wasn’t exactly the most sane group of caregivers.
None the less, at that ridiculous time of the morning I waddled my enormous self into Winn Army Community Hospital to see my OB.
Wait a minute. I think I have actually gotten ahead of myself in this retelling. I should probably back up just one day, to July 23rd, which also happened to be my due date.
Like many a pregnant woman waiting to give birth, I was disappointed as my due date got closer and closer and I had no signs of an imminent delivery. I hoped and prayed that the date circled in red on my calendar would actually be the much anticipated birth day. Instead, I got another surprise, and it wasn’t a good one.
My husband once again received official orders to deploy to Iraq. This time he was scheduled to leave on Friday, July 25th. I realize that you are probably wondering why this is important enough for me to bring it up yet again. After all, I already mentioned this very thing had been happening all summer long. However, this time around I realized I could use actually use this to my advantage. Naturally, like any expectant mom, I wanted my husband to be with me for the arrival of our child. Considering my previous baby had been born a full two weeks after his due date, I knew that I might still be several days away from giving birth. But now I was hopeful that with this news of impending deployment, I could at last finagle a way for Miss Julia to make her arrival much sooner than her big brother.
That’s why on the morning of July 24, 2003, I went to my early morning appointment with my OB and did something I absolutely do not regret. I cried. Actually, that’s not accurate. I bawled. I made sure I wore a lot of mascara (not the waterproof kind either), and then as soon as the doctor walked into the room I just let the tears roll. I must have looked half-crazed precariously perched upon that table with my belly halfway across the room, sobbing as if the world had come to an end. That poor doctor didn’t know what to do.
Finally, he said, “Perhaps we could induced labor? You are passed your due date now.“
“Today?” I sniffled.
The doctor looked at his nurse, who quickly said, “You only have one other planned C-section for 2 pm. I think we can get her into a room on the labor wing by noon.“
Moments later, I happily snatched those admit papers and raced back home to get my packed bags.
“Pitocin, here I come!”
The labor itself wasn’t particularly eventful … unless you consider that two hours into labor my husband’s orders to deploy were cancelled. I gave him a threatening look and said, “If you so much as tell a nurse or a doctor, which results in them deciding to pull this pitocin plug, you will wish you had gone to Iraq after all!” Fortunately, for him and for me, no one kicked me out of the labor unit.
That was probably the most exciting moment … well unless you consider the moment when my water broke after six hours of labor. Remember how I had an excess of amniotic fluid? Well, in the rush of fluid, that little girl of mine decided to go with the flow, so to speak, and made a very rapid entrance into the world. In fact, she was born so quickly that I wasn’t even fully dilated. As a result, I needed quite a few stitches to correct things in that area. But none of that mattered the moment I saw her fuzzy black hair.
As I gazed at my newborn, I couldn’t find a single flaw on her smallish 20 inch frame. All 9 lb 10 oz of my daughter was stunningly beautiful. Trust me, I inspected every one of her rolls of wrist fat and carefully examined her charming double chin. She was absolutely perfect!
I was completely content with my cuddly baby girl. Julia Chambless had arrived at last, and I was on cloud nine for about two hours. Then I got moved over to the mother-baby wing of the hospital and the rest of my stay at Winn Army Community Hospital became like something out the Twilight Zone.
First there was my introduction to the ward by the head nurse, who brusquely told me where I could find my own linens should I need to change my bed sheets and where to pick up my food when I got hungry.
I was still contemplating this peculiar hospital where apparently patients made their own beds and retrieved their own food, when I was abruptly ordered to step upon a set of scales. “Hmmmph!” the head nurse grumbled. “For someone who had such a big baby, you didn’t really lose that much weight today! Hopefully you will have dropped some more pounds by tomorrow morning.“
By the time I got to my assigned room, I was feeling more than a bit uneasy about what to expect during the remainder of my stay at the army hospital. But soon enough I was enraptured once again by the sweet baby girl placed in my arms. After a sweet late night feeding, the two of us settled down to sleep, her precious newborn snuffles filling my ears.
In the wee hours of the morning, I woke up to find a strange man standing in my room. “Excuse me. I’m from the pharmacy, just delivering your medications. Be sure to read the labels before you take any of them. Oh, and ask the nurse if you have any questions.” With that, he shoved a brown paper sack into my hands and walked out of the room.
In the morning, I groggily recalled the nighttime visitor and thought for a moment it must have been some weird drug-induced dream … until I saw the paper sack on my nightstand. “Strange,” I thought as I opened the bag of pills. “Most hospitals the nurses personally deliver all medications at the appropriate times to ensure they are taken properly.“
Later in the morning, after I fed my sweet girl, I called the nurses’ station to see if I could have her taken back to the nursery area so that I could clean up. To my surprise, the nurses refused to take Julia to the nursery, insisting I needed to learn to care for my infant myself. “But I have two toddlers at home! I know how to take care of an infant. Besides, I want to take a shower and wash my hair. I’m all alone right now and I didn’t want to do that with just me and the baby in the room.“
“You’ll be fine,” the nurse stated flatly. “Just lock the door if you are that concerned about someone stealing the baby.” With that, she hung up on me. I sat there for several moments, receiver in my hand, pondering the situation. I wasn’t so much worried about my baby being stolen, but in my two previous birthing experiences I wasn’t allowed to shower or move around much without another adult with me in case I became light-headed or fainted. In light of that, it now seemed ludicrous to lock the door while I took a shower.
Who were these crazy nurses looking after me?!
The insanity of my hospital stay continued over the next couple of days. Nurses rarely came by my room to check on us. While I enjoyed the peace and quiet, it did feel odd to be left alone. Always before my room felt like a revolving door with nurses walking in and out at all hours of the day and night, poking and prodding and asking questions. Now, I felt completely ignored. Was I healing okay? What about my baby? Surely the whole point of giving birth in a hospital was to have someone looking out of things that might be amiss.
After two days, I was more than ready to go home. However, Julia had been born around 8 pm in the evening. Due to some sort of law, she could not be discharged until she was more than 48 hours old. Therefore, I expected to spend three nights in the hospital before taking my baby girl home. To my surprise, the nurses came in at 10:30 pm on the second night and unceremoniously handed me a packet of discharge papers.
“Now?” I asked. “I figured we would be discharged in the morning. It’s awfully late at night to leave. My husband is not even here anymore. He left over an hour ago to go back home.”
The nurse gave me a stern look. “We discharge whenever the patient is ready to go home, not based on the hour on the clock. You’ll just have to call him to come back to pick you up.” With that, she turned on her heels and left the room.
All I could do was pick up the the phone to call my husband. Thankfully, my mother was in town to help out and so he didn’t have to rouse the sleeping toddlers for this late night hospital discharge.
Half an hour later, he walked into my room, and I buzzed the nurses to let them know I was ready to leave. But the nurse who took my call simply said, “Ok. Be sure to follow up with your baby’s pediatrician. Congratulations and enjoy your baby.“
Dumbfounded, I said, “That’s it? I can just walk out?”
“Yes … unless you need something else.” The nurse sounded confused by my questions.
“Uh … no, well, not exactly. I just figured you had to wheel me out to the car or something. You know, to check my bracelet against the baby’s to make sure we matched each other, ensure we had a car seat that was properly installed … you know, the normal discharge routine.“
The nurse’s sugary laugh felt anything but kind. “No, sweetie,” she said. “We aren’t the law. The baby is all yours. There’s no need for us to hold your hand on the way out.“
So, just like that, I walked out of the hospital, with my husband carting my suitcase and me carrying our daughter in my arms. If felt so odd and surreal that it was practically unnerving … but then, that’s the way I had felt all along. Why should this moment feel any different?
From conception to birth and beyond, I felt completely unprepared for Julia
To begin with, Julia entered this world as something of a drama queen … at least when compared to her brothers. They were both easy babies, adapting to my schedule quickly. Mothering them was somehow natural. Not so with this third child of mine. I felt as if I never could quite figure her out.
Julia cried straight through the first three months of her life. After the colic passed, she still refused to sleep unless she was touching me. Many a night I slept next to her crib, my hand grasping hers through the rails. Other nights I held her in the rocking chair for hours on end. I remember crying one night because I missed my own pillow. Crazy I know, but it is the truth. Julia was a hard baby.
She was also an impossible toddler. Julia bit, hit, pinched and kicked her way through toddlerhood. For an entire season, Julia wasn’t allowed to be left in the church nursery. I had to stay with her because her behavior to the other children was so bad. Then there was the fact that she didn’t talk until she was nearly 3 years old, and even then her speech was so garbled no one understood half of what she said.
Poor Julia. She was such a tough child to raise that I began to fear she was turning out to be sort of little girl only a mother could love. Believe me when I tell you I loved that little girl. I just wanted others to love her too!
Then Julia turned four … and something changed. The difficult baby and impossible toddler, turned into the most pleasant preschool girl. She has been a true delight ever since, constantly surprising me with her generous spirit and fun-loving personality.
Outgoing. Friendly. Enthusiastic. Warm. Compassionate. Julia is the sort of person who never meets a stranger. Her friends are numerous and she loves them all passionately. Big-hearted and compassionate, she finds something good in everyone.
Earlier this week, Julia attended a birthday party of a friend. The large group of tween-aged girls were going to be having special manicure wraps that have become a recent fashion trend. But Julia came home without a manicure. When I asked her why her nails weren’t done, Julia shrugged and said, “I don’t know, Mom. I got to talking to another girl and just never got around to it. It doesn’t matter. I can always do my nails another time.“
Later, the mother of the birthday girl shared with me her perspective of the party. She said most of the attendees knew each prior to the party, but one little girl didn’t really know anyone other than the birthday girl. As the party got started, she seemed to be on the fringes of the group, looking uncomfortable and lonely. When the mom encouraged the child to join in the nail wrapping manicure, the little girl said she didn’t really like to have her fingernails painted and then went off to sit by herself. (Can’t we all relate to how it feels to be in middle school and the outsider in a group of kids?! Is there any thing lonelier in the world than that?)
Then my friend said that she noticed Julia left the main group. She made her way over to that young lady, and quickly engaged her in a happy conversation. Before long, the little girl was smiling and laughing with Julia just as if they had been best friends for ages. My friend said, “Oh Paige, I felt so terrible for my daughter’s friend who was lonely at a birthday party. And then I saw God using Julia’s wonderful gift of hospitality to make her feel welcomed and wanted. I am so very thankful that Julia was there, and that she was willing to do what God created her to do.“
The past few days, I’ve been pondering about how this time next year I will have five teens in the house. Y’all that as a lot of hormones! When Jon and I married four and a half years ago, we knew the day would come when we would have a home overrun with teens. Now it is our reality, and I have to admit that mostly I’ve just praying God will see me through to the other side of these teenage years.
But perhaps I’ve been praying wrong all along …
Maybe what I should have been doing is simply asking God to teach me more about Himself through these amazing people that He has given me the responsibility of loving and caring for each day. These amazing young people aren’t burdens, but rather reflections of Him … if I am just willing to look through the rough edges down to their hearts.
After all, just this week, the youngest of them reminded me through her own selfless actions about how to share God’s love for others by simply taking the time to care for someone else above myself.
But then again, God has been using her to change me for more than a dozen years now. And I’m rather glad He made her mine!
Happy 12th birthday to my precious Julia!
You are wanted and loved …and I see the very fingerprints of God all over you!
It was raining yesterday when the white DCFS van pulled into the driveway. It all felt so strangely familiar as I took hold of two toddlers … only this time, instead of being met with scared, blank eyes, that sweet toddler boy saw me and a big smile lit up his face.
“GiGi!” He stretched out his arms to me, and as I pulled him close, he melted into my arms.
It was also raining on September 12th. I remember because that was the day I first met the tiny duo that rocked my world.
I will never forget how the rain fell as if it would never stop as the white DCFS van pulled up in our my driveway. My sister-in-law held an umbrella over my head, as I reached in and pulled out a plump baby girl with big blue eyes. A social worker followed behind us, clutching her older brother tight to protect him against the rain.
For five months, those two kiddos were a part of our family. And then just as quickly as they arrived, our precious babies left.
That was three months ago.
All spring my phone has remained strangely quiet. I had only two calls from the DCFS, and neither placement worked out in our favor. Honestly, I was glad for the reprieve. My attention was needed elsewhere … A rental property that I own (located several hours from my actual home) needed some extensive work, my grandfather passed away, and my son had major surgery.
Yet, it was also a season in which Jon and I often discussed our decision to be foster parents. Is this still what we felt called to do? Was it worth the cost to our family? We agreed that we felt called by God to do this work and that we should keep our home open to children who needed a loving home. And so we waited …
Yesterday about lunchtime the call came through. Two children in need of a home … two year old boy and his one year old sister. The same sibling set we took in last fall and loved on for five months.
Would we take them back?
Of course. How could we possibly say no?
Only this time Jon and I said yes to the call knowing the cost involved. We know the commitment will require more of us than we thing we possibly have to give, and yet somehow we always find we have enough.
We already know the bittersweetness of being foster parents. The is an immense blessing that comes from loving these tiny sweethearts, and yet the fact remains that these are someone else’s babies. The only reason we get to love them is because something horrid happened in their lives in the first place. It’s a reality we can’t escape.
Jon and I know that chances are great these babies won’t be with us forever. It could be weeks or months, but probably we will have to give them back. And yet, until we do, we love them just as if they are our own children. To do anything less would be wrong, even though in our humanness we have a desire to cushion our own hearts from the possibility of pain associated with losing someone we love.
This time it would be different. This time we aren’t naive. This time we know exactly what saying yes means … and still it is the only answer we have.
Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. ~James 1:27