Better than February

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I woke up this morning feeling discouraged. It all started when I happened to remember that today is January 27th.  Much to my dismay, there are still four more days to go in this month. As I shuffled to the kitchen to start my morning coffee, there was but one thought in my weary brain:

Will January ever end? 

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Honestly, I don’t know why this particular month has seemed to drag by so very slowly. But it has, with one long day following another.

The two toddlers have been snotty-nosed, cranky and into everything that’s not tied down.  And if I’m not dealing with toddler tantrums, then it’s teenager angst. I can’t tell you which one is worse. Honestly, they are both bad.

January just also happens to be the month for our recertification as foster parents. It’s only slightly less harrowing than getting certified the first go around.  Together, Jon and I had to complete 15 hours of online training. Excuse me, but I’m so busy chasing our duel tornadoes (aka the foster babies) that I hardly have time to do anything else. Finding 15 hours to complete training is like asking me to find a needle in a haystack. Fortunately, I somehow managed to find them, so that particular stressor is finally behind me.

I haven’t been to church in 3 long weeks. Sickish toddlers kept me away two Sundays. The other Sunday I was out thanks to a two year old boy’s first science experiment involving a bottle of Zantac (that he somehow managed to open in spite of the child safety cap) and some kitchen cleaner. Concerned that he may have ingested some of the concoction, I stayed home and kept in close contact with a kind lady from the Poison Control Center.  Thankfully, no symptoms other than hyperactivity were noticed and calamity was once again avoided.

Then there is my house, the one which is once again for rent or for sale.  I could probably write an entire  blog post about that, but I won’t. It’s suffice to say that my current situation is nothing short of baffling. Changing renters should be simple enough. One renter moves out. Another one moves in. And yet this time around it has been anything but simple. I have never before had anyone threaten me to never contact them again, much less a person who was living on my property. <SIGH> Well, I have now. It happened this January.  And I didn’t even realize there was a problem between me and my former renter.

All month long it has been one thing after another. To me, it seems that …

January has become my prison. 

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Last Friday, my sister had her baby. Sweet little Mallory Piper was born via C-section at about 8 am on January 23rd, weighing in at 7 lbs 15 oz.  She is perfectly healthy with the most adorable chubby cheeks.  And I can hardly wait until I get to meet her in person.

In a way, it seems unreal that Mallory is already here.

Perhaps you can remember when we were picking names and debating on genders right here on my blog late last summer? It really wasn’t all that long ago, and yet it almost feels like a lifetime has happened between then and now.

One thing about grief is you never know what will blindside you. For example, I never anticipated my niece’s birth to bring up an entire host of intense emotions. But then again, I never anticipated my father wouldn’t be around to see the birth of this granddaughter.

I remember his delight as he announced to me what my sister had already told me, that he would be getting a new grandchild. While I cannot remember if he predicted this baby would be a boy or a girl, I do know he was tickled pink when Brooke announced she was expecting another daughter. And I certainly recall how he adamantly insisted that no grandchild of his would ever be named Hazel because a long time ago he had a mean teacher name Hazel and he had never liked the name since.

Now Mallory is with us, but my dad isn’t … and that leaves me with a strange lump in my throat that mingles with the joy and excitement of being an aunt again. As much as I already adore and love that sweet baby girl, her arrival makes me miss my father’s presence a little more. I definitely wasn’t prepared to experience these feelings along with my niece’s birth.

But truthfully, I wasn’t prepared at all for January 2015.

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Ask my children and they will tell you that I am often reminding them not to wish their lives away.

Enjoy being thirteen,” I tell my middle girl. “I know there are so many things you want to do … drive a car, go on a date,  You will be Sweet Sixteen you know it. But thirteen will never come around again.”  (Of course, I don’t tell her that very few are the number of adults who would actually voluntarily live through being 13 again.  She’ll discover that soon enough on her own.)

I know Geometry is a pain in the rear, but instead of wishing you could go back to elementary school, focus on the good things about being in the 10th grade.”  (Of course, the high school sophomore doesn’t want to heed that advice. It’s much easier to moan and complain.)

But lately, I haven’t been able to take my own advice either.

I’m stuck in the middle of January, and I can’t get out.

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Paige, Lately God has put you on my heart, and I’ve been praying for you.  What I’d really like to do is something that would help and encourage you. Can I take the two little ones one day this week? My girls and I would enjoy spending time with them and giving you a bit of a break.

I thought I was surely hearing things.

It was Sunday afternoon. Just that morning, while the rest of my family worshipped at church, I sat at home with two small children and prayed, “God, I just need a break. I’m weary and worn and I can’t go on much longer.

Now my friend had called me out of the blue, with an offer so sweet it felt as welcome as drops of water on parched, dry lips.

All month long I’ve felt alone in the trenches, forgotten in the battle, desperate for some piece of encouragement. Day after day I get up, put on a brave face and continue to soldier forward into the fray that has become my daily life … aching for February, and hoping that with it will come a blessed relief to my soul.

But here was my relief.  And it came while it was still January.

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The God of the Bible has many names, and one of my favorites has always been El Roi, which is translated as “God Who Sees.”

I might have felt alone, but God always saw me. He didn’t forget about me, and my little life currently filled with so much stress.

And while I desperately desired nothing more than a new month on the calendar as a hope of getting some peace restored, God sent someone to minister to me right in the middle of the longest, driest month of my life.

When my January wouldn’t end, God gave me something better than February.

He gave me a friend.

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Yes, it’s still January and all my troubles are still here. But I have been reminded that I am not alone … and today, my friend ministered to my heart, bringing to me a taste of God’s peace and love right in the middle of winter in my soul.

I am thankful for friends who do such nice things in the middle of January. I am grateful to be loved by a God who sees me and loves me and cares about my heart.

And both of these things are better than anything February might bring.

Two are better than one … For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  ~ Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10

Thank you, Lauren … you’ll never know how very much today was needed. I’m grateful for a friend like you.

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A Christmas Birthday

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Although the entire Christmas season is generally a magical time, there is something spectacular about Christmas Eve.

When I was growing up, I had many favorite Christmas traditions: baking, decorating and delivering Christmas cookies to some of the elderly members of our church; listening to Chrsitmas music; watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life or Bing Crosby in White Christmas (and, for some strange reason, The Sound of Music ) all of which came on the TV as this was before the time of VCRs and DVD players.  Singing Christmas carols at church all through December; pulling decorations out of the box and hearing my mother recount where she had gotten them; caroling around the tiny village with my church; sipping hot chocolate in the glow of the Christmas lights. These were a few of my favorite things.

But there was one special thing about Christmas in my family that seemed to make the holiday extra exciting.  My mother is a Christmas Eve baby.

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I was always slightly jealous of my mother’s Christmas Eve birthday. How wonderful it seemed to me to be able to share a birthday with the baby Jesus! The lights, the decorations, the foods, the carols, the parties and gifts  … why all of those wonderful activities and traditions must make a Christmas birthday seem to last forever! And who wouldn’t want to extend their birthday celebration out for as long as possible?

The countdown to my September birthday began as soon as school started in mid-August. I was prone to making construction paper chains, snipping one strip off each day as a way of marking the time. I remember always hoping to receive lots of birthday gifts, delighting in the fact that inevitably I would be the center of attention on the day of my birthday.

But my mother never expected anyone to remember or make a fuss over her birthday. She didn’t seem to care if she only got one gift labeled for both birthday and Christmas among all the wrapped presents under the tree, and seemed to actually prefer to think about what good things she could do for others instead of thinking about how people might pay attention to her. And perhaps most of all, she seemed to insist that her three children put our Christmas focus on the Christmas Child in the manger and the reason for His Holy birth.

I suppose a part of me figured she did those things because she was all grown up and grown ups aren’t supposed to love their own birthdays quite as much as little children do. And yet I don’t think that was the case at all. My mother, it seems, was always gracious about her birthday and not prone to expecting a big to-do over it. I know this because …

My mom as a toddler ... pictured with her father.
My mom as a toddler … pictured with her father.

Tucked away in her wedding album was a letter, written in my grandmother’s beautiful cursive, the paper yellowed and dated December 24th of the year my mom turned 4 years old.  Most Christmases, I pulled it out and read it to myself, wondering about the little girl who had grown up to be my mother. I would looked longingly at the old photos of her childhood, thinking how her white-blonde hair, bright blue eyes and sweet smile gave her the appearance of a tiny angel without wings.

The long letter basically recounted my mother’s 4th birthday party, an event in which all the neighborhood children came because Santa was going to be there. When it came my mother’s turn to sit on Santa’s knee, she asked him to bring a doll to a little girl who didn’t have one to play with … my grandmother recorded her as saying, “I already have a lot of dolls and toys.” Even my grandmother seemed to marvel at her oldest daughter’s generosity.

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As a child, I believed that my mother got to share her birthday with Jesus because she was so very lovely and good … and I wished I could be that lovely, too.

I know my mom will read this and later on tell me that she doesn’t know where I get my ideas from, but I know deep down how wonderfully special my mom truly is. She has a generous spirit, full of concern and love for others. She is gentle, selfless, kind, and unassuming. Her outlook on life is positive and full of hope for the future.

And yet, as wonderful as my mother is, her Christmas Eve birthday is NOT the reason for the celebration. It’s another birthday that must always take center-stage … the birthday of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

There is a common Christmas saying:

Jesus is the reason for the season.

The only thing is that Jesus can’t be just the reason for the season. He needs to be the reason for our every action, every day of the year.

And tonight, as I think about my mother (of whose birth it is said was so late on Christmas Eve that she was nearly a Christmas Day baby), I feel so very grateful that she taught me the importance of loving and worshipping the Holy Baby in the manger every day of the year.

May you celebrate the birth of Christ today, tomorrow and every day to come … Merry Christmas and joy to the world!

The First 24 … and then some

It’s been a little over 24 hours since two precious babies were dropped off at my home … our first placement as a foster family.

I can’t give out names or identifying details about the children left in our charge, but I can say that we are loving on a set of siblings. A little boy with blond hair and big brown eyes who is not quite two years old and his baby sister (age nine months) with the most adorable round face, big blue eyes and a smile to melt your heart. For the purposes of my blog, I’ll refer to them as “Lil’ Man” and “Cutie-Pie.”

As cute as these two are (and they are oh-so cute), it’s been a wild, chaotic, stressful night and day around here.

I had forgotten all about babies!  I know I’ve mothered three from infancy on, but I have apparently grown rusty on all things baby.  Jon and I realized that our schedule just hasn’t been thrown a curve ball … our schedule has been thrown out the window! We are now marching to the beat of two tiny people, who eat and sleep and even take baths on a schedule.

Cutie Pie arrived with a nasty cold and cough. Is there anything worse than a baby with a rattly chest?! My momma’s heart wants to just rush her off to the doctor, but we don’t even have a pediatrician yet. And she’s since is fever-free and mostly content to play, I figure our over-the-counter medications can keep things under control until Monday morning.

Lil’ Man is busy, fascinated by everything electronic or highly breakable, and extremely LOUD. He’s definitely a normal almost two-year old. His speech is very garbled, but we can hear him mimicking us from time to time. So far the only time he is quiet is when he is sleeping or watching Barney … Good old Barney is still entertaining to toddlers  and irritating adults all these years later!

The five big kids in the house are delighted to help. Tonight there was actually a small bru-ha-ha over who would get to bath the babies. These two are not in need of loving hands to hold them, play with them, feed, them, rock them, or sing “The Itsty-Bitsy Spider” for the 50th time in a row.

So if you are wondering how we are doing … well, it’s just like any other house with two babies under two.

Thanks for the prayers and words of encouragement. We are completely dependent on prayer right now, and trusting that God will continue to help us find our footing in this exciting time.

Now, I’m off to start another load of laundry! It’s amazing how much laundry two little people can create!

Finished! (Never mind … I’ve Not Even Begun)

Yesterday afternoon about 1:30 the phone call finally came.

Our paperwork is complete. Jon and I are officially logged into the foster care system and available to take a child into our home.

Whew! For a while, I wasn’t sure it was ever going to happen.  Those first few weeks, everything flew into place. I couldn’t seem to get it to all slow down.

And then everything came to a sudden halt.

Not only did things not move forward. It even seemed we were taking steps back. I found myself questioning our motives and wondering if we were up to the challenge. A minor family crisis involving one of our five children almost made us decide to close the door on this ministry.

But we decided to wait on God and let Him either close or open the door.

We waited and watched … and very slowly the last few steps were accomplished in an orderly manner.

And with that one phone call, I sat back and breathed a big sigh, “It’s finished!”

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I only thought it was finished yesterday.  What was finished was nothing more than the beginning.

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Today the phone rang again. Almost at the same exact time.

Again, it was our foster care worker with news … two kids on their way to our home.

And suddenly, just as quickly, all the relief of yesterday vanished. My heart is turning in a million directions. I’m overwhelmed with nerves and heartache, while at the same time eager to do what God has asked me and my family to do.

Any time a child is placed into foster care, there has been a tragedy. An awful thing has happened. And yet to have the chance to love on these two precious babies is an opportunity I  want to embrace.

I’ve got just an hour to get ready. I’ve got just a few minutes to get things together. There are a million things to do, or so it seems. Put the crib together. Straighten in the nursery and make sure there is nothing a toddler shouldn’t have laid about. Baby proof the living room. Start supper because I imagine cooking once they arrive will be hard to accomplish. And yet I sit here writing …

Because my heart is breaking… Two babies ripped out of their home … so even though they are coming to me where I will keep them safe and fed and hopefully happy, these two precious ones have already been through something terrible to bring them to my door.

Because my heart is anxious… Will I have enough energy for this? Can my family take the stress and strain of caring for two small children? Are we going to regret this decision or will it be the best thing we’ve ever done?

Because my heart is filled with excitement… God has asked me and my family to dare to love and we’ve said yes. It’s always thrilling to see how God will use us and there is a part of me expecting great and wonderful things.

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Yesterday, when I thought those words, “it is finished,” I recalled how those were the final words Jesus uttered on the cross. We call that day Good Friday, not because His suffering was good but because through it all humanity gained salvation.

Today is a good Friday in my home and in my life. Not that it begins to compare to the Good Friday of Easter, but rather because it signifies that we are following God in faith, dependent upon Him to meet our every need in this endeavor.

It’s good because God will meet us where we are and will give us all we need. This much I know to be true.

Still … if you think of the two babies heading to my home and of my family as we welcome them with love, I would love knowing you are praying with us and for us.

Because we’ve not finished anything. We’ve only just begun.

Let’s Try to Name that Baby

In early 2015, I will be an aunt again! My sister is having a baby … and now, after much debate (which you can read about here) we finally know whether to buy pink or blue bibs!

All along I’ve been guessing her new baby is going to be a boy, dreaming of onesies decorated with jungle animals, blankets edged in blues and greens, and plenty of toy trucks and balls galore.

Boy, oh boy!  Was I ever wrong!

My sister is having another girl … and quite truthfully, I am still tickled just as pink! There will be dresses trimmed with lace, hair bows, dolls and tea parties. Oh, I can hardly wait to meet my newest niece!

Photo Credit: Designed by godofopathy at  www.wordans.com
Photo Credit: Designed by godofopathy at http://www.wordans.com

For the past week or so, my sister and I have been discussing names via text messaging. This is probably the safest way for us to handle discussions on this topic. I’m not naming any names but one of us used to pick weird names for our dolls and stuffed animals. We’ve been arguing quibbling over names ever since.

This time the list of possible names has approximately one that I really like: Abigail.

The rest of the list is consists of names that are cute but I would never chose for one reason or another, as well as several names that cause me to question my sister’s sanity. None of them are quite as bad as something like Bertha, but a few of them are just a step or two away.  Hopefully, my brother-in-law won’t like those options any better than I do.

My sister doesn’t always choose strange names. Her younger daughter has a beautiful name, Bethany Sage.

Immediately upon finding out this newest addition was going to be another girl, I thought how sweet it would be if her daughters had rhyming names. And, in case you hadn’t thought of it yet, Sage rhymes perfectly with Paige.

Personally, I think Abigail Paige is an adorable name! It’s timeless and classic, with a Bible name thrown in for good measure. In my unsolicited opinion, this is the sort of name you cannot go wrong with giving to a daughter. Besides, I am quite certain that “little Paige” would love sharing a name with her favorite aunt.  Unfortunately, my sister has not been agreeable to my suggestion.

My sister’s oldest daughter is actually her step-daughter so she obviously didn’t pick out her name, which is Madison Rose. However, there is a little connection between those two girls and their middle names. Perhaps you noticed it too.  Rose and Sage are both color names, as well as plant names.  Though I am positive this wasn’t a pattern my sister intended to start, I see no reason she should stop now that it is going.

That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time compiling a lengthy list of appropriate names to help my sister continue this pattern when picking out a name for baby girl #3.  For example, Violet is a lovely name that is also both a color and a plant. I also came up with a list of just color names: Scarlett, Ruby, Amber and Pearl. My list of plant names included Daisy, Lily and Ivy.

Of course, I am not the only one sending my sister suggestions. My mother suggested the very unique name Teal, going along with the color theme.

The name Hazel came up in a recent conversation with my sister.  Not only is it growing in popularity thanks to its appearance in recent books and movies, but it is the name of a color as well.  I also pointed out that it could even be short for the plant named Witch Hazel, which may seem like a bit of a stretch but I thought I’d mention it anyway since there is the naming pattern of plants and colors to consider.

However, when my dad heard about the name Hazel being a serious option, he ranted that he was not at all in favor of naming any of his granddaughters Hazel because once when he was in elementary school he had a mean teacher by that name. Apparently, nearly 60 years later, he is still holding a grudge.

…sigh…

If only we could all agree on a name …

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Of all the things associated with having a baby, perhaps agreeing upon the name is the hardest part.

Consider for a moment these questions one must ask before naming a baby:

Should the name be traditional, popular, unique, old-fashioned or ethnic?

Should the baby be named in honor of a relative or friend? After a beloved character in a book or movie?

Should the spelling be traditional or creative?

There are sometimes additional “rules” which some parents require names to meet before using on their second, third, and fourth babies. These might include certain standards such as names only starting with certain letters or choosing names that fit a specific pattern (for example, presidential names). Sometimes it’s even things like desiring the entire name to contain an exact number of syllables.

It is at this point in baby name conversations that I always pause to wonder about the Duggar family.  How on earth did Jim Bob and Michelle ever manage to find 19 names all beginning with the letter J that they both liked?!  This is perhaps the biggest naming mystery for our generation.

Once all these questions have been answered and the “rules” have been followed, then the parents (who we must remember are two individual people and likely have vastly different opinions) must somehow actually pick a combination of two (or maybe three) names that they both like and can live with, all the while praying their baby will grow up to like the name as well.

Talk about a daunting task! It’s a wonder any of us have names at all!

Speaking of almost not having a name …

My grandfather didn’t have a name until he was nearly a year old. I suppose his parents couldn’t agree upon what to name him. For months he was just called “Nookie” until they finally decided to name him James Herbert. I guess we can all be thankful that they didn’t decide to stick with Nookie.

Actually, I can relate to my great-grandmother’s reluctance to name her baby. Don’t get me wrong … naming my children wasn’t a horrible experience. In fact, many parts of the process were definitely fun. Thumbing through baby name books while pondering the plethora of fantastic names out there from which I could choose, daydreaming about raising a child with various names, asking other moms (and dads) how they named their children and hearing some wonderful tales. I’m so glad for those memories.

And yet, as the weeks turned into months, I found myself fretting that I would ever find the right name for my unborn child. It’s big task to give someone the name they will have for all of their life. What if my baby grew up to hate their name? What if they hated me for giving the name to them in the first place?

Honestly, the pressure is enough to make me wish that babies came to this earth with a little stamp on their tiny bottoms:

This baby’s name is ______________. Love, God

(Of course, the blank would be filled in, otherwise it wouldn’t alleviate the enormous task of having to come up with a wonderful name. And since God would be doing the naming, both parents and child would think the name was completely perfect.)

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Photo Credit: www.tidewaterparent.com
Photo Credit: http://www.tidewaterparent.com

My husband Jon and I have never named a child together.

We are currently raising a blended family of five children, and are preparing to open our home to foster children in the very, very near future. Truly, our house is overflowing with the blessing of children!

Yet, Jon and I both have hope that one day God will give us an additional blessing, a child together. In that case, we would obviously have the task of naming such a child. There have been a handful of discussions regarding the names we might give to a future child, and based on those conversations I can explain in one word how I feel about the idea of finding a name both Jon and I can agree upon:

Worried.

My husband and I share a lot of the same likes and dislikes in many areas of our lives. Names for children is not one of those areas.

Perhaps it is a good thing that foster children come already named!

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There is one name above all names.

Hundreds of years before He was born, Isaiah wrote:

He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. ~Isaiah 9:6

And then, in the months prior to His birth, His earthly father Joseph was told by the angel:

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. ~Matthew 1:21

If you don’t know who I am referring to, it’s Jesus Christ.  He is the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us. His name has the power to bring salvation to a dying soul, break the chains that keep prisoners bound, and set the captives free. It’s the only name in heaven and on earth that matters.

When I wake up in the Land of Glory, and with the saints I will tell my story,

There is just one name I’ll proclaim.

It’s Jesus, Jesus, Jesus … the sweetest name I know!

Gender Bender

My sister is having a baby, and y’all, I am tickled pink! Or is it blue? Either way, I am one ecstatic “aunt-in-waiting!”

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Hopefully, it won’t be long before we learn whether or not we need to start buying dresses with bows and lace or blue jean overalls.   But there is one thing we already know for certain.: This baby will either be a girl or a boy.

By the way, just for the record, I am voting for a boy. My sister Brooke already has two girls. Her poor husband is the only male in the family.  I am positive what Chris needs is a little more male bonding. Besides, my parents have more girl grandchildren than boy grandchildren. It would be nice if my sister could help even things out just a bit.

Honestly, I don’t know what makes me think I can forecast the gender of my sister’s baby.  I have an 0 for 3 record on predicting the gender of my own children!  That’s right. I didn’t guess a single one correctly, and everyone knows there is a  50/50 shot of getting it right.

Now my father, on the other hand, has a reputation for guessing baby genders correctly. I don’t know his trick, but I personally think he is at least a predictable as the famed Chinese Gender Predictor. In fact, just the other day, I was telling my sister that if the Chinese Gender Predictor and my father ever are in agreement upon the gender of an unborn baby, the expectant mother needs nothing else to confirm it.

(By the way, my sister took the Chinese Gender Predictor test and it says she is expecting a boy!  No word as of yet on what gender my dad is predicting, but I’m still picking boy.)

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When I was growing up, I wanted to have three or four daughters. I planned it all out.  Their names would all start with the same letter, and I would dress them in matching dresses. They were going to play piano and sing and paint beautiful pictures. And because our home would have no boys, there would be no wrestling or ball playing or loud burping (or worse).

I am so glad God saw fit not to answer that prayer!

Instead, He blessed me with children of both genders and I am a better person because of it. (Now, hey … don’t go poking your bottom lip out if God only gave you children of one gender. I’m sure there is a good reason for that too. I’m just enjoying my own blessing. I’m sure your blessing is cool too.)

Anyway … I really do love having both boys and girls. I honestly don’t have a favorite gender. And yet, I have to say if I were forced to pick only one gender, I’d go with a boy for no other reason than it makes purchasing underwear so much easier.

That’s right. Buying underwear for boys is infinitely easier than buying undergarments for girls. And as the mother of three girls, I ought to know! In fact, just last month we had The Great Underwear Fiasco at my house, the likes of which the world has never known.

The problem with having five children consecutive ages is that everyone grows out of everything at approximately the same time. So in the month of July, all five of our children suddenly outgrew every pair of underwear in the house. Not one child had underwear that fit correctly.

In case you haven’t been shopping lately, let me inform you that underwear is not cheap. Underwear times five is really not cheap. In fact, I was concerned that buying such a large amount of underwear at one time would break my budget.  I stood in my kitchen, looking at the empty refrigerator and bare cabinets, debating with myself if it would be more beneficial to buy food for the hungry horde or underwear so that they weren’t running the streets in the buff.

I went with the underwear. Later on, I would question my decision, though I am certain the neighbors are grateful for my choice.

Underwear for boys is easy. You go to a single aisle. The underwear is sized in a very easy to understand system as it matches up with pants sizes. The choices are simple as well. You can buy briefs, boxers or boxer briefs. Once the style is chosen, all that’s left  to decide  is if you want white or colored underwear. Easy-peasy. I successfully found underwear for all the guys in my family in less than five minutes. Not a problem.

But this was not the case for girls’ underwear.

To begin with, the underwear was located over an area of five aisles. For the first ten minutes, I wandered around in that section aimlessly, trying to figure out where I should even start.

Perhaps the biggest difference between men’s and women’s underwear is that in the ladies’ department, sizes of underwear do not match up with sizes for other items of clothing. For example, my underwear size is MUCH smaller than my pants size. I am not sure if this is supposed to make me feel better about myself or what, but I actually find it to be something of an annoying hassle. But it is especially problematic when the teen and tween girls you are buying for don’t truly wear women’s-sized clothing but no longer fit into girl-sized underwear. You can see how difficult this can make shopping for underwear.

By the time I figured out what sizes I was looking for, I had a raging headache. But I wasn’t done yet. I still had to figure out what style of underwear to buy for each girl. I’ve already discussed how men have just three basic styles. This is not so for ladies. Over in that section, the styles are limitless!

I don’t know how long I stood there staring at all the options. Should I choose hipsters, low-rise, or boy briefs? (I didn’t even consider bikinis or thongs as options for my girls).  Should the fabric be microfiber or some silky blend?  With lace or without? Seamless? Tummy control? (No, I am the only female in my family who needs that.) What colors and designs should I choose?  The options were overwhelming!

“Whatever happened to just plain cotton briefs?” I moaned to a fellow shopper.

Around and around the area I went, searching desperately through the piles of underwear, looking for something, anything that would fit and still be decent enough for a 11, 13, and 15 year old girls to wear.

I finally pulled over a store employee. “Help me!” I said frantically. “I just want to buy some underwear for my girls that doesn’t make them look as if they are going on their honeymoon!”

An hour and a half later, I emerged with three packages in hand. Once I got home, I presented the underwear to my children. My two boys muttered a half-hearted thanks and tossed the new packs of underwear on their beds. I haven’t heard another word about it since. All I can assume is that the underwear fits and they are wearing it … and if they aren’t, then I probably don’t want to know.

The girls, however, were not pleased with my choices. I chose the wrong colors, got low-rise instead of hipsters, and picked fabric that was uncomfortable. Not one single female in the house was happy with their new underwear.

Because I am in general a people pleasing sort of person and because I love my daughters, I voluntarily went back to exchange the unopened packages of underwear for more suitable options. But even my second round of underwear shopping for girls had less than desirable results.

The gnashing of teeth and rolling of eyes was nearly as terrible as that of the monsters in Where The Wild Things Are!  There were tears, complaints and even sighs of disgust. It was at this point I sat my girls down for a “come to Jesus” meeting over the new undergarments. “Wear it or don’t wear it! I do not care. But there will be  NO MORE COMPLAINING.”

That was a month ago. Just yesterday morning, I overheard one of the girls stating to her sister, “I need new bras. These old ones don’t fit quite right anymore.”

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Perhaps you have heard … Facebook now gives users more than two choices of genders to choose from when creating a profile. I’ve read varying reports of the actual number of choices, everything from 50 up to 71 different genders.

I thought that was crazy, but then I read about various groups (including the AMA) pushing for gender to be deemed “imaginary.”

photo from Elle Magazine
photo from Elle Magazine

Gender imaginary? Hardly! In fact, gender is one of the first things we know about our children. It’s clearly evident from the moment the baby emerges from the womb. Penis or vagina? Boy or girl?

No. Gender is real. Gender is essential. Gender is a gift.

Genesis 1:27 reveals that God gave humans and creatures gender.

He created them male and female.

And I am glad there are only two … I don’t think I could manage shopping for underwear with any more genders than that!

Tulip Trees, Growing Girls and a Few Throw-back Thursday Thoughts

First sign of a Louisiana spring ...
First sign of a Louisiana spring …

The tulip tree has always been my favorite. Perhaps it is because those fantastic magenta blooms seem to signal spring is on it’s way. And spring has always been my favorite of all the seasons.

This year I’ve longed for spring a bit more.  Most winters have only one day with some sort of wintry precipitation. Many years I never even pack away my beloved flip-flops.  But any fascinations or daydreams of living in snowy winter wonderlands that I might have harbored deep in my mind have long faded, leaving me with frozen feet as I continue to slosh around in the wet yuck left behind from four frigid ice storms. The days have been far colder than my warm Southern body is used to bearing; wind and ice have been no match for life in Cajun country.  While I can’t say that I exactly prefer the reading on the thermometer to closely match the spiciness of the local cuisine, I don’t really want to slip and slide on ice either.

Just this week I have started to notice all the purple flowers blooming on all the tulip trees about town, even as the icicles once again hung 3 inches from the roof of my house, making those beautiful blossoms look ridiculously out of place.  And yet, as always tulip trees in the spring bring a smile to my face.   Before long, days will be warmer, the sun will shine brighter, the azalea bushes will burst forth in brilliant colors, the heavenly scent of gardenias will hang heavy in the air, and everyone will turn into a gardener of sorts.

Thoughts of spring is not the only thing popping into my mind upon seeing a tulip tree in full bloom.  I also see this image in my head:

My sweet girl, Julia, at age five ...
My sweet girl, Julia, at age five …

… an early spring afternoon not so long ago, when a little girl came racing into the house declaring that I must immediately come and see “the most beautiful tree in the world.”  Before I could make any response, she ordered, “Grab your camera, Mom! I’m changing my clothes. This is a photo opportunity!”  And it was … it really was.

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Even her brothers got in on the fun … first Nathan who insisted on a photo with his afternoon snack, followed by a rather silly Joel.

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I cannot really fathom five years have passed since that afternoon. Joel is nearly 14, Nathan will be a teen boy before long and that sweet little girl has grown into a ten year old young lady. She’s doubled her life!

I’ve noticed a trend. I seem to struggle more with motherhood and parenting as my children grow older and older. I’ve not yet found my feet in parenting tweens and teens. Oh, I love those kids of mine … all five of them. But, well, it’s a much more weary job now than it was when they were babies.  I miss the sweet smell of baby hair, snuggled up in a rocking chair even at 2 am.  I miss tiny clothes, the pitter-patter of little feet, chubby hands holding mine as we crossed a dangerous parking lot together, and books before bed (always followed by “just one more” and I would give in to another bedtime story for I could never resist reading to my babes).  Something I think that if I could, I would turn back the clock of time and capture it all again.

And yet there are blessings.

Conversations are never boring. Their questions no longer border on the insane sort, but rather challenge me to think about what I believe and why.

I can share my favorite non-kid books and movies with them and delight as they discover characters to cherish.  Last month, I encouraged Julia and Megan to read Anne of Green Gables.  Each day they had to update me on the latest happenings in Avonlea, as Anne and Diana’s adventures unfolded. And then earlier this week, as the ice kept us in again, we watched the movie together, all of us swooning over the dashing Gilbert Blythe.  As much as I loved Brown Bear, Brown Bear and Goodnight Gorilla, I find it infinitely more enthralling to discuss The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or the antics of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

I finally get their jokes. I am no longer just laughing at the cute things they say … I am laughing with them over the wonderful things they say. Somehow there is a rather deep pleasure in this sort of mature connection. A pleasure, I must admit, I never expected to discover.

 

A wise woman once told me, “The days are long but the years are short.”  It’s true. There is no turning back the clock and getting the baby days back again. My kids are growing up. It’s bittersweet … a proud sort of pleasure that burns the back of my throat and stings my eyes as tears threaten to fall. And yet, what wonderful people they are and how amazing that I get to witness first hand the transformation of child to young adult.

And somehow, whenever I notice the tulip trees beginning to bloom, there grows  within me a hope of warmer days and sunshine as the dead of winter begins to transform itself into a beautiful spring.

 My sweet girl, Julia, age 10 ... she still likes tulip trees best, just like her mother.

My sweet girl, Julia, age 10 … she still likes tulip trees best, just like her mother.

Babies, Mothers, and God

On Monday afternoon a royal baby was born, and it seems the world is celebrating the arrival of this boy, the third in line to the British monarchy. I must confess that I’m as captivated as the next person, eagerly anticipating the announcement of his official name, wondering if Kate and William will take him to the countryside mansion of his maternal grandparents as has been speculated in the media frenzy, envisioning the grandeur of the congratulatory gifts which must be arriving at the palace from the four corners of the globe.

Ten years ago today a little gray-eyed girl entered this world. She is youngest of my five children. As we have prepared to celebrate the anniversary of her birth, I’ve paused to remember the long days that have so quickly flown by, as if I closed my eyes for just a moment and like Rip Van Winkle awoke to a world in the future. How is is that all of my children have reached double digit ages, my oldest just three years away from earning the right to vote?

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Introducing Julia to her biggest brother, Joel.

Even though my baby isn’t a baby anymore, I still don’t feel like I have this parenting thing down. I wonder how much longer I’ll continue to feel like I’m just muddling through the days, trying to get everyone on a schedule, though we’ve definitely moved from adjusting feeding and nap times of infancy into  revolving my days around chauffeuring my teens and tweens to various activities all over our city.  I’ve never quite grown use to the sleepless nights, whether I’m roused by a hungry baby, a crying toddler, a sick child or unable to sleep from worrying over a teen-age issue.  And of course, a decade later,  I’m still working to lose the last of the baby weight. (I have a feeling Kate won’t struggle with that nearly as much as I have though.)

As I’ve reminisced about my own adventures in motherhood and watched for news of Kate’s first few days with her own newborn, I’ve been reminded of all the things I’ve learned over the years about children and motherhood. Normally, I’m hesitant to sharing any sort of parenting thoughts because as soon as I do I have a feeling that my children will prove me wrong.  However, in honor of Kate’s new boy and my 10 year old girl, I’m making an exception … which I might regret tomorrow, though hopefully I won’t.

 Ten Things My Children Have Taught Me

  1. Tickling someone who is already mad usually does not help the situation.   However, well-timed bathroom humor will almost always bring about giggles.
  2. Sleeping habits of tweens and teens are strangely similar to those of a newborn baby. When you are ready for bed, they suddenly come to life. And when it’s time for the rest of the world to wake up, they are out cold.
  3. If you want your child to tell you what’s really on their mind, take a bathroom break, or make an important phone call. Other prime talking times are weeknights after 10 pm, during the middle of your favorite TV program, or on long car rides after dark.
  4. There is no such thing as a childproof home. And when you hide the Christmas presents, the only person unable to find them is the one who hid them in the first place.
  5. There will come a day when your child’s idea of fashion will cause you great embarrassment in public places. There will also come a day when your child will no longer let you show any signs of affection outside of your home. Apparently this is when you have become an embarrassment to your child.  Both of these situations are painful to experience.
  6. Some of the world’s greatest mysteries are only understood by children. Some examples are: Why red is the preferred color for balloons and popsicles, how to tell who got the bigger slice of cake when the difference is practically imperceptible to the adult human eye,  why siblings will fight over one particular toy even when each child got the same exact one in their own Happy Meal, and why the wrapping of a gift is always more fun to play with than whatever was wrapped inside.
  7. Love is not a feeling. Love better be an action because there are plenty of mothering moments when I’m just not feeling the love. Since when did any mother feel like cleaning up puke at 2 a.m.?
  8. God’s got a word for mothers no matter what the situation.  Check out 1 Corinthians 15:51 which is perfect for mothers of newborns:  “Behold! I will tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”  And for those of us with children learning how to drive, we can read 2 Kings 9:20 which says: “The driving is like that of Jehu, son of Nimshi — he drives like a madman!”  (If this doesn’t convince you that the Bible is always relevant to your life, then I don’t know what will!)
  9. Invest in a pair of high-quality knee pads. There is nothing like parenting to teach a person all about praying without ceasing. I thought I prayed a lot when my children were infants, but now that I’ve got a house full of teens and tweens I’m realizing that was just the warm-up session.
  10. Days are longer than years, at least when it comes to raising children. I’ve lived days that lasted practically an eternity. Yet the past decade flew by so quickly it seemed as though I barely had time to turn around.

In spite of all the overwhelming chaos, baffling mysteries and exasperations that comes from raising kids, most mothers (myself included) admit our lives are enriched because of our children. I suppose this is because being a mother is about more than just raising a child to adulthood.

Mothering is about learning to love unconditionally, the way God loves us. It’s a call to duty, taking on a job for which I feel unprepared, and along the way finding I possess an inner courage I never knew was there.  It’s about learning to give the process of child rearing all I’ve got, and then when I think I’ve got nothing left to give, discovering it was never about me in the first place. Rather it was always God in me, working through me, covering the multitude of messes I’ve made with His perfect grace.

With each child, my faith has increased. With each child, my understanding of God has grown. And even though I often feel like there is less of me, as if I’ve somehow lost who I was somewhere between rocking a baby and teenagers, I know there is more of God in me than there ever was before I became someone’s mother.

Perhaps this is what the Psalmist meant when he wrote “children are a gift from the Lord.” Perhaps the blessing of children isn’t actually the children themselves. Perhaps the blessing of children is that by raising them we get more of God in us.

I suppose Kate is just like any other new mother … completely enchanted with her newborn son, gazing at his sleeping face, allowing him to grasp her finger in his tiny hand. If she is like me, even changing those first few diapers is somehow strangely sweet and precious in a way I’m quite sure only a new mother can truly appreciate.  I hope Kate loves being a mother. I hope her son brings her joy beyond her wildest dreams.

But mostly, I hope that Kate will find more of God as her faith grows from the biggest challenge life has to offer.