Fifteen: An Open Letter to my Oldest Son on His Birthday

Dear Joel,

Fifteen?! Seriously, kid … you have got to stop doing this. Enough is enough. It seems like every time I turn around, you are back at it again, blowing out candles and getting people to bring you gifts. If you would just look at this from my perspective, I think you would see how all these birthdays are not only making you grow up quicker than I’d like, but it’s aging me as well. Really, it will be okay if you would just lay off the birthdays for a year or two.

Okay, okay … I’m just kidding around. I really don’t want you to stop growing up. I just wish you wouldn’t grow up so quickly.

But now that I’ve gotten your attention, I’d like to  take this opportunity to tell you how proud I am of you, and what a joy it has been to be your mom for the past fifteen years.

You know, there was a long time when I wasn’t sure I’d get to be anyone’s mother. I want nothing more than a baby of my own, but for close to three years it seemed like that chance may never come for me.

April 4, 2000
Joel and me on the day he was born …     April 4, 2000

And then, rather unexpectedly, God gave me you.

Before I became a mother, people told me all sorts of things about parenthood. Much of it was true, but none of it prepared me for loving you.

From the very beginning, my experiences with motherhood have showed me one thing:  Expect the unexpected. Things rarely work out the way I anticipate. But, I’m glad to say that most of the surprises have been good things.

Right from the start, my plans for being a mother went on a completely different path than I ever had worked out in my head. You see, I figured I would have a houseful of girls, all pink and perfectly frilly. But when I found out that you were a boy … well, I was overjoyed.

Before I knew it, my home was filled with boy toys, boy activities and boy noises. Wrestling with your brother, throwing balls in the house, burping contests … these are things I never had to teach you. While I must admit that I really don’t understand what it means to be a male and sometimes boy behavior annoys me, I’m so very glad God saw fit to give me the son I didn’t even realize I wanted.

Sumo wrestling with your brother
Sumo wrestling with your brother

Of course, the unexpected joys didn’t stop after I found out I was expecting a baby boy. You see, I thought I knew what it would be like to care for a baby, but you turned everything I thought I knew upside down, and mostly in a delightful sort of way.

For example, one of my earliest unexpected delights was bringing you home from the hospital as a newborn and discovering that you were practically sleeping through the night. I could feed you at 11 pm and you slept peacefully until around 4 am. I marveled at how most parents of newborns complained of being up several times a night with babies who constantly want to eat or who seemed to have their days and nights mixed up, while my baby slept like a champ from the very beginning. There was no doubt in my mind that I had one special kid to call my own.

Age 4 ... reading a map at the zoo.
Age 4 … reading a map at the zoo.

Several years later, I found myself driving you and your siblings halfway across the nation to see your father. In that era of life without a smart photo or GPS to direct me, I found myself unable to drive and read the map at the same time. Afraid of getting us hopelessly lost, I prayed, asking God to help me stay on the right roads. I hadn’t gone another 10 or so miles when I realized that you were sitting in the backseat, following our path on the map in your lap. You were only seven and yet somehow you navigated me from north Louisiana to remote cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, once again amazing me by doing the unexpected.

Sometimes I say I don’t like surprises, but because of you, I’ve learned to treasure those unforeseen moments.

At your request, we celebrated President John Adam's 271st birthday ... complete with cake and ice cream.  Only for you, Joel. Only for you.
At your request, we celebrated President John Adam’s 271st birthday … complete with cake and candles. Only for you, Joel. Only for you.

One of the best things about being your mom is that you have a way of making me laugh. Perhaps it is because you do so many unexpected things. Perhaps it is because you are just a funny sort of guy.  Whatever the reason, being your mom is a hoot!

Your quirky sense of humor; your crazy antics. I enjoy the playful banter we often share with each other. You’ve kept me laughing for the past fifteen years. And you know what the Bible teaches us about laughter … it’s like good medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22).

But sometimes life isn’t all fun and games. You’ve taught me a lot about how to get through tough situations instead of being stuck in a place of anxiety or worry. Because of you, I’ve discovered that bravery comes in all sorts of forms.

You must have been about six years old when I realizes what a brave boy you really were. At that time, you were terrified of water being on your face, especially water anywhere near your eyes. I never quite understood that fear, but I could tell it was rather deep-seated. One afternoon, all of the cousins were playing together outside. I noticed you watching all of the kids drinking water from the hose … and I could tell you were torn between not wanting to be left out and the fear of doing getting your face water. It was pure agony watching you wrestling with yourself that way.

Drinking from the water hose never killed anyone ...
Drinking from the water hose never killed anyone …

Yet just a few minutes later, I watched in wonder as you squeezed your eyes tightly, leaned forward, and took a sip of water, boldly braving the splashes to your face. Another unexpected moment from you…

 

Then again, I shouldn’t have been surprised. You’ve always been an overcomer.

Taking a ride down the zip line
Taking a ride down the zip line

Do you remember the time we spent the weekend with another family for a big homeschooling get-together?  There were lots of kids, big and small and in-between sizes. Some of the bigger kids were taking turns riding a zip line. Oh, how you wanted to go down that zip line! It was one of those times when I couldn’t do anything to help you … all I could do was watch and wonder if you would gather up the nerve to give it a try.  And just when I thought you had given up on the idea of attempting that daring feat, I heard the sound of kids clapping and cheering. I turned around just in time to see you finish your first ride on the zip line. As your feet touched the ground, a smile broke out on your face that was a bright as a thousand beaming lights.

Joel, there is nothing shameful about experiencing feelings of fear, for it is just part of being a human. However, it is what we do with that fear that builds our character.  Watching you that afternoon, I learned a lesson about facing our fears head on. I was reminded of how often the words “Don’t fear” or “Do not be afraid” appear in the Bible. I pray you never forget God is with you even in your biggest fears.

As a parent, it’s been one of my biggest joys and responsibilities to teach you about the character of God. Just as He doesn’t want us to fear, God also loves a cheerful giver.

The pile of gifts you bought for children in Iraq.
The pile of gifts you bought for children in Iraq.

Over the last fifteen years I have been inspired by your selfless generosity. I’ve always been especially proud of your requests for your 7th birthday when you asked your friends to give you money to buy schools supplies and clothes for the soldier’s in your father’s Army unit to give to the children in the Iraqi villages near where they were stationed. That you would do such a big thing at a young age is still so very amazing to me.

Parish-Wide Math Bee Champion ... Again!
Parish-Wide Math Bee Champion … Again!

Joel, you are an intelligent and bright young man. I knew it when you were a tiny boy, but every so often I am reminded of it again … such as when you taught yourself to read before your fourth birthday or when you won the parish-wide math bee two years in a row.

When you were in the first grade, you wanted to know which Dr. Seuss book was most-loved. You decided to take a poll and asked the local library if you could conduct a survey. To my delight, you  got lots of participants and created a fun graph to display with the results. It wasn’t just the activity that impressed me, but also the sheer joy you obviously had while doing it.

You with you Dr. Seuss poll results, which were on display at the public library
You with you Dr. Seuss poll results, which were on display at the public library

I love that you are an eager and passionate learner. This has been a character trait of yours since you were a very young boy.

I’ll never forget the day you first learned about Abraham Lincoln. Not quite four, you were fascinated by the tall man with the tall hat who lived long ago. Within just a few weeks, you were taken with everything presidents, a passion that lasted for the next several years and included you writing personal letters to every living President and First Lady.

Dressed as Abe Lincoln
Dressed as Abe Lincoln

Among the items I’ve saved for you are handwritten letters that you received from Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Lady Bird Johnson.

Later on, your fascination turned into an interest in politics. Seeing you participate in activities like Teen Pact, Camp Joshua, and serve on the state 4-H Citizenship Board are just further reminders that this is a God-given passion and He gave it to you for a purpose.

And you have other gifts too, like your talent for public speaking. It comes so naturally to you. I’m always so proud to see you serve as that Master of Ceremonies for our homeschool praise night, or go compete in another 4-H speaking contest. You just do it so very well that it gives me a certain parental joy to see you succeeding.

Touring a local news radio station
Touring a local news radio station

This past winter, you and I took a tour of a local news radio station. I could see the light in your eyes, as you took everything in and asked so many questions. You’ve mentioned before that you might like to be a radio broadcaster, especially for a sports or news station. And I can see you doing those things …

You may not be familiar with Eric Liddell, but he was an Olympic runner and a missionary to China. He credited as once having said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure. “*

Joel, when I see you working with numbers and talking statistics, reading about and discussing today’s big political issues, or speaking to a group of people, I feel God’s pleasure reflected in you. I hope you do too, for each of these are God-given gifts.

Sometimes I wonder if you ever will run for a political office or if you will be be a DJ on a news radio station or perhaps be a statistician for a politician … maybe you will do something else, completely unexpected. But, whatever it is that you decide to do with your life,  I know you will stay true to the honest principals by which you have been taught to live.

Age 4 ... writing "incredible" on the driveway in chalk
Age 4 … writing “incredible” on the driveway in chalk

Joel, you are an incredible young man, the God-given answer to one of my deepest prayers.  I know He has a purpose for your life, good things He has called you to do throughout your years on this earth.

 

 

 

 

Even though I realize that this means you’ll be celebrating more birthdays and you’ll grow up into a man sooner than I really want, I’m also eager to see what God has planned for you.

Joel and me ... Nov. 9, 2014
Joel and me … Nov. 9, 2014

I couldn’t be any prouder or love you any deeper.

~Momma

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For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. ~Ephesians 2:10

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BaptistGirlConfession

 This post is part of the 2015 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. If you are visiting due to that, thanks so much for popping in to read today’s post. I hope you will leave me a comment so that I can return the visit to your blog. I love to connect with other bloggers and readers. If you are a regular reader, I hope you’ll stick with me during April when I blog about the stories of my faith.

 

*While this quote is often attributed to Eric Liddell, it was actually written by Colin Welland for the script to the movie Chariots of Fire.

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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.

Driving Myself Crazy

Tomorrow my son has a doctor’s appoint in New Orleans, and I’m terrified.

I’m not scared because it likely my boy has a terrible disease. This appointment has nothing to do with anything of the sort. Yes, we could find out some potentially life-changing diagnosis, but chances are the geneticist is simply going to tell me I’ve got a very tall , very healthy young man on my hands. It’s what I’m expecting and even if things go a different why, my soul is already at peace with the appointment.

So what, you might wonder, has me in such a frantic state of mind. The answer is simple: driving.

 

driving crazy

I’ve never liked driving.

I much prefer riding, as long as I can ride in the front passenger’s seat. If I must sit in the back, then I need lots of cold air and a pillow, and maybe a dramamine, in order to keep myself happy. For as long as I can remember, I suffer from car sickness. Back seats, trying to read anything (including a map), being too hot or too warm or not having enough air movement … all of these things make it worse. Thankfully, I’m not the sort that vomits. I just get bad headaches and feel incredibly nauseous until the vehicle stops moving.

I never get car sick when I am the driver. Therefore you might expect I’d want to always drive. That’s not the case either. Insane as it might sound, I’d much rather ride than drive.

Why, you might wonder, is this the case?

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Perhaps it is because I grew up in a one-light town.

This light wasn’t even your standard stop light. No, it just blinked, a  slow cautionary yellow blinking light at the Y-intersection in the center of what most people would even hesitate to call a town.

When I left home for college, I didn’t have a car. I always caught a ride with friends, back and forth from home to school and back to home again. The campus was small enough to walk, and I was fortunate enough to have several friends with cars who could drive me off-campus on occasions when I needed a lift.

It wasn’t until I married that I had any real experience with big city driving. Over the years, I’ve driven in a lot of big cities:  Newport News, VA; Monterey, CA; Houston, TX; Austin, TX, and Savannah, Georgia (which, by the way, is the capitol of one-way streets going nowhere). I can handle driving in traffic. It’s not a huge problem.

So why, you might wonder, is traveling over to New Orleans freaking me out?

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Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m not a map girl.

Oh, I can read a map, but I cannot remember it in detail in my head and I certainly can’t read it as I travel down the road (either as the driver or a passenger). When I need to get to a place that I don’t already know how to find, I either get verbal directions (from another passenger or perhaps even beforehand if the area is one with which I am already familiar) or by paying close attention to the roads and visual markers as I ride around in new places.

I’ve been to New Orleans several times, but I’ve never been to where I am going and I’ve never driven the route I am about to take. While I’ve studied the map in preparation for this driving experience, I am scared I am not going to remember it as I attempt to navigate my way tomorrow morning.

My big fear is taking one wrong turn.  Then there I’ll be …  lost … with my son … in New Orleans … near the French Quarter. I literally feel as if I might be one terrible half-step from catastrophe.

Fortunately for me, I’ve got an ace up my sleeve.

Exactly what, you might wonder, could this possibly be?

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Have I mentioned the particular child going with me on this New Orleans adventure is a mapping genius?

I’m serious. This is the kid who asked for a road atlas for Christmas this past year. He already had one, but some of the pages were getting worn out and he desired to have the most recent edition in case there were any “minor changes to roadways.” (His words, not mine.) It’s actually the fifth road map I’ve bought him, not counting the two he stole borrowed from his grandfather’s house.

This boy of mine has been reading maps for as long as either of us can remember. Sometimes I wonder if he was born with a map in his hand, only I was there and I’m pretty sure he came out empty-handed. When he was a toddler, the TV show Dora the Explorer used to frustrated both of us. I was frustrated by the repetitive songs. He was frustrated because the maps were “always the same.” (Again, these are his words. I’m just reporting the facts of the story.)

When he was seven years old, this boy directed me from rural north Louisiana all the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. I drove. He told me where to go. We made it … me behind the wheel, him riding shotgun with a map, and his two younger siblings sleeping and fighting in their carseats in the back of our packed minivan. I wondered at the time if he would someday be a trucker.

So what, you might wonder, is my big fear about this trip seeing as I am taking along an incredible navigator?

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Fear of failure?

Probably. I don’t like the idea of not succeeding. And in my mind, succeeding would be me backing out of my driveway with full confidence of knowing exactly where I am going, which turns to make, where to park, how to find the particular doctor’s office I need in a rather large and intimidating hospital, and knowing I’ll get us both safely home in time for dinner.

Fear of dependence on another person?

Definitely. It’s hard to depend on someone else for your safety.

Especially if that someone is quite a bit younger than you.

Especially if that someone is your child.

The older my children grow, the harder it is for me to let them actually grow up, especially in areas in which I have never really felt successful. Already my son is better than me when it comes to getting around new places, and he doesn’t even have a driver’s license … and won’t for another two years, at least.

Tonight as I am preparing for tomorrow’s journey, I realize in the morning I am going to depend upon this boy I birthed to get me to our final destination. How can this possibly be when I vividly recall changing his diapers and teaching him to use a spoon? I’m still instructing him on the finer points of good manners and praying that some of what I teach him regarding Algebra 1 sticks in his brain.

It feels so hard to swallow my pride and let him take the lead. And yet tomorrow he’s going to be in charge. I know I will actually be the one behind the wheel of the car, but I’m going to be relying on his judgement … whether I’m ready for it or not.

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I think there is another issue at heart here as well.

Trust in God.

Do I really believe God is always with me, as He has promised? If I did, would I really be so worried?

This is as much a test in trusting God as it is in learning to hand over trust to my son.  What I know deep inside is that I can either continue to drive myself crazy with the fears running around in my brain, or I can decide to take a deep breath and trust in God to lead both me and my amazing teen boy through the journey we must take tomorrow.

After all, each day is nothing more than a lesson in learning to trust. Some days are just harder than others.

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand. ~Isaiah 41:10

Irreplaceable

The phone rang at 7:30 am, but I didn’t hear it. Ten minutes later, I saw the missed called notification, indicating my husband had called but left no voicemail.

Immediately I called back, asking if he was needing me to do something for him.  “No,” he answered. “I was just calling to ask you on a date … for tonight. How about going with me to watch a movie?”

Jon and I rarely get to go to movies. Truthfully, I’m not much of a movie person. (I realize this is a strange fact, but the honest truth is I hardly ever desire to see a film.) Jon, however, loves movies and would probably like going to the theater on a regular basis. Yet, as the parents of five kids, we don’t often have the extra money in the budget to afford soaring ticket prices. Movies, for us, are a rare treat.

So when Jon asked me on a movie date, I immediately knew Jon for some reason felt this movie was important for us to see.  I had to say yes.

It turns out the movie Jon wanted to take me to see was a Focus on the Family one night event at movie theaters across the nation.  The name of the film was Irreplaceable, documentary-style  movie exploring the idea of family and why it matters in light of history, psychology, religion and today’s culture.

I was captivated from the moment the film started. Tim Sisarich, the New Zealand director and host, asked honest questions about the importance of family to society, especially in light of how the idea of family has changed in recent years and with the direction our culture is declining. Sisarich examines how the devaluing of sex led to the decline of traditional, long-lasting marriage, which further the idea that parenthood (particularly fatherhood) wasn’t a role to desire or take seriously. All of this has led to the demise of the family and ultimately the weakening of our culture.

Initially, it seemed Sisarich was going to just serve as a host, asking questions to the various experts and providing dialogue during transitions. But soon we catch a glimpse of Sisarich’s background … and as the documentary moves forward, Sisarich’s personal story unfolds as well. As a viewer, I felt even more engaged with Tim Sisarich as he walks through his personal story of a broken family.

Following the movie, Jon and I were able to talk deeply about our own past failures (both of us having been divorced and Jon also being the child of a broken home), our struggles (with step-parenting), our desires (in our marriage, as parents and step-parents and for the future of our family). For this reason alone, Irreplaceable was a film worth seeing.

My favorite part of this documentary came toward the end when Sisarich comes to the conclusion there is really no such thing as a perfect family. However, there is such a thing as a redeemed family, one which despite the brokenness of life on earth chooses to love God and love each other.

This is what Jon and I are striving for together. No perfect, but perfectly redeemed by the grace of God.

In case you missed the one night showing of Focus on the Family‘s documentary Irreplaceable, there will be an encore showing on May 15th.  The Focus on the Family blog has more information about the movie and the encore theater showing of the film. Click here to find out if there is a theater near you hosting this film.

Not sure if you would be interested in viewing Irreplaceable? Here’s the trailer.

 

I is for …

“Hey, Momma … can you tell me what instant means?”

I paused from putting on my make-up to look at my ten year old girl. “Julia, are you sure you don’t know what instant means?”

“I thought I did, but I got confused so I thought I’d ask,” she responded.

“Generally, people use the word instant when they are talking about something that happens very, very quickly, almost immediately.”

“That’s what I thought … but if that’s what it means, then I don’t understand this at all.” With that, she shoved the Sunday morning comics at me, pointing to the ZITS panel.

( Please humor me and click on the comic so that you can enjoy reading it in a full-sized version.  Be sure to click the back button to finish reading the rest of my story, which will now make a lot more sense.)

zits.php

 

I took the comics page, and quickly read through the strip, chuckling as I remembered my family’s polaroid camera. Seems like half of my childhood photos are polaroids. I recalled the exciting wait to see the picture develop before my watching eyes, the thrill of holding the photo just minutes after it was taken.  It certainly felt instant at the time, especially when compared to dropping off film at the local drug store and waiting a week for the photos to be returned.

“Mom … why are you laughing? What is so funny?” demanded Julia, her hands on her hips. “Really, I don’t get it.”

“Well …” I began, but then paused, trying to figure out where to start.  “Let’s see … okay, when I was a little girl, most cameras used film. You had to take all the pictures on the film first, and usually there was somewhere around 12 to 24 photos on each roll of film, though some film canisters had more.”

“Yes,” Julia sighed. “I know about film.”

“Ok, well, once the film was completely used up, then you had to take it to get it developed. Until then, you didn’t know what your photos might look like.”

“Why didn’t you just look on the back?” Julia asked.

“The back of what, dear?” I looked at her out of the corner of my eye as I tried to apply my mascara.

“You know … the camera?”  Julia sounded slightly annoyed.

I laughed again. “Sweetie, I’m not talking about digital cameras. When I was your age, there wasn’t a preview screen on cameras.”

Julia looked confused. “So …. how did you know what was going to be in the picture?”

“You had to put your eye up to the  corner. There was something like a little window. And when you looked through it,  you could see what was going to be in the photo.”

“Oh.” She paused, as if she were trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle. “Well, I guess it was a good thing you could just go  to CVS and plug up the camera to see the pictures before you got them printed out. That way you wouldn’t have to pay for any bad ones.”

“Oh, Julia,” I laughed. “You couldn’t even plug these cameras up to a computer anywhere. The person who owned the camera had to take the film out of it and then send it off to be developed. It would take several days, sometimes up to a whole week, before you would get the photos back. Most places didn’t have the one-hour developing. And even if they did, you still had to pay for the bad ones.”

Cocking her head to the side, Julia asked, “Then … why did you bother?  It seems like back in the old days, taking a picture must have been a lot of work. And it certainly was not instant.”

With that, she flounced out of the room, satisfied that her mother had indeed grown up in the stone age.

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letterI

 

I is for Instant.

Since the crazy conversation with my daughter, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this instant era in which we are living. It’s not just the digital pictures, either.

We have instant communication through text messages, emails, Facebook, Twitter and other social media.  There’s instant banking through online services or ATM. The news is so instant I can practically read about it as it happens. And if I am bored, then I can stream a movie instantly to my computer or TV.

The result is a life of no waiting. Everything happens at warped speed.

But is this such a good thing, after all?

The Bible talks a lot about waiting on the Lord. I don’t exactly how many verses there are in the Bible on this instruction, but I can think of at least three times the Psalmist encourages us to wait on God:  Psalm 20:22, Psalm 27:14, and Psalm 37:14.

Truthfully, in my life experiences, there have been few things more agonizing or trying than waiting on the Lord to answer a prayer, especially when His answer seems to be slow in coming. Waiting means submitting myself to His authority over my life. Waiting means depending on His timing rather than my own. Waiting means I am giving God the glory and not myself. And yet, that’s exactly what God encourages us to do … wait on Him.

Today I am reminded that though I live in an instant age, it’s good to do some waiting. It helps me learn to lead a life that is more pleasing to God … and besides, a little waiting never hurt anyone.

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. ~ Isaiah 40:31

What’s God asking you to wait for in your life? How is this time increasing your faith?

F is for …

letterFMy eight-year-old daughter Julia peered at me, confusion etched into her round face. Amidst the chaos of Christmas morning wrapping paper and laughter, she held the contents of her gift: a small white card on which was drawn a simple fish.

“What does it say?” I asked.

Julia studied it for a moment, and then she read the words printed on the card aloud.

“What will you name me?”

Slowly, a small grin spread across her face, until she had a look of  sheer delight.  She let out a small gasp. “Really, Momma? A fish? You mean, I’m finally getting a pet …”

To say Julia was excited about owning her very first pet would have been a complete understatement. For days she could talk of nothing else. The wait until the pet store reopened after the holidays seem to be unending. Julia’s excitement mounted as she counted down the hours until she could go and pick out her already beloved fish.

Finally, the much anticipated day arrived. Julia raced into the pet store and hurriedly found the area of the store in which the fish were located. She nearly swooned from the excitement when she saw the floor-to-ceiling tanks filled with fish in every color, shape, and size imaginable. There in the corner we saw a shelf filled with small glass bowls. In each bowl swam a single betta fish.

The manager brought Julia a stool to stand on so she could carefully inspect each fish. She solemnly peered into every bowl, sometimes talking softly to the fish contained inside while other times silently stroking the glass.

As I watched my daughter go about the serious task of choosing her pet, I began to fear that this could be a torturous process. There were so many fish from which to choose that the process seemed to be overwhelming even to me. No two were alike, and each one seemed more stunning than the one in the bowl next to it. Brilliant reds, shocking blues, soft purples, iridescent greens … there was even a shimmery gold one with bright orange and black flecks resembling a leopard print.

My 13 year old daughter Maddie spotted an unusual blue betta fish with tiny black stripes. It had spiky fins which somehow gave it the look of a bird’s feather. She tried in vain to get her younger sister to choose this spectacular specimen, but Julia was not impressed.

Ten year old Megan pointed out a fancy betta fish, vivid red in color with fluttery fins that whorled around it in the water. The manager, who noticed Meg’s interest, said, “That’s a Half Moon betta. Very pretty. Quite popular. A bit more costly. It will set you back $20.” As I steeled myself for the task of telling Julia we were not going to buy the $20 betta fish, I realized that my littlest girl wasn’t interested in this one either for she was already quite enchanted with another fish.

With a quick glance, I looked to see which fish had captivated my daughter, discovering with surprise the fish at which she gazed so lovingly was truly the most unremarkable in the entire collection of dazzling fish. It was a dull, pale pink, and its fins weren’t very long, wispy, or elegant. Yet my smitten daughter watched with rapt fascination.

When Julia caught my eyes, she exclaimed, “Oh, Momma … did you see how she follows my finger! I’ve found my fish!”

So that’s how it came to pass that we took home the plainest betta fish in the store. I must admit I felt twinges of disappointment in Julia’s final choice. I had expected something more exotic, something more flashy.

Julia did not seem to notice or share my disappointment. Instead, she beamed all the way home as if she knew she had found a rare treasure among all the glittering gems.

Once home, Julia named her beloved fish Sushi, and cared for her as if she were the most amazing fish on the planet. Sushi lived in a glass bowl on the bedside table next to Julia’s bed. She never missed a meal. Her glass bowl was kept sparkling clean.  It was obvious that Sushi’s presence brightened the small bedroom.

As the weeks went by, I began to see such beauty in what I originally thought was just an unremarkably plain fish. Sushi would swim over as I entered the room. She seemed aware of my presence. And when Julia summoned me to watch Sushi perform a special trick, I had no more doubts that this plain little betta fish was indeed a unique treasure.

Unfortunately, a few months after Sushi came into our home, Julia noticed a small bump on her side, near the fin. Obviously, there was nothing we could do but watch and hope our little friend was okay. Time passed. Sushi’s bump grew larger. It effected her ability to swim. I knew she was dying, but Julia continued to hold out hope.

Then late one night, Julia came to me in a panic. She had woken to the sound of splashing water, and had discovered Sushi laying on her side, flopping around in a jerky sort of manner. Hugging Julia, I said, “Baby, I am so sorry, but I think Sushi is about to die. There’s nothing more we can do.”

Through her tears, Julia said, “Well, I’m going to pray.” And she did. I stood in awe as I watched Julia pray for a miracle for her fish. And when she stood up, she seemed convinced her small fish would live, not just through the night but for a long time yet to come.

Sure enough, in the morning, Sushi was swimming around her bowl, peppier than we had seen her in months. As Julia fed her, I watched with rapt fascination as the little miracle fish practically inhaled her food. I felt grateful our special friend had survived the night.

Sushi lived on another two months, before quietly passing away while we slept. There were tears as we said our final goodbyes because Sushi was more to us than just a beautiful, flashy fish in a bowl. She was a good pet who brought a lot of happiness to our home.

After Sushi’s death, I recalled my initial emotional response to fish Julia had chosen. I didn’t think she had made a good choice because Sushi didn’t have a beautiful outside appearance. But after the fish came home, I began to see my first impression was wrong. Suddenly, as I remembered the plain little fish, I felt God whispering in my heart, reminding me how He loves to use the unexpected and unworthy to carry out His plans.

He used an elderly man to father an entire nation of peoples, as numerous as the stars and as countless as the grains of sand upon the shore.

He turned the uncertain stutterer into a man who would confront a pharaoh, bring forth plagues, and lead an entire nation out of slavery.

He used the very youngest and smallest soldier in an army of underdogs to overcome the impossible giant.

He found the coward hiding in the threshing barn and used him to lead a tiny ragtag army into battle to defeat their unbeatable enemy.

He took the young virgin maiden barely old enough to leave her parents and brought forth from her His perfect salvation.

And that salvation … well, it turned out to be a babe born in a barn instead of King triumphant in battle glory.

It was this same God who called out to a few weary fishermen, with their torn and empty nets, asking them to follow, using them to bring His gospel message of hope and peace to the far corners of the earth, so that He might turn them into bold fishers of men.

And He even uses the insignificant, like a plain betta fish, to be a reminder to me of forgotten truths:

His ways are not our ways, for He continues looks beyond outer appearances, into the heart of each soul. 

He still calls out to the weary.

He still uses the small, the weak and the scared. 

He still defeats the enemy with the wounded sinner. 

And He promises to us that He has great plans for our lives too … if only we are willing to be used for His glory.

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F is for the Fish who reminded me God wants to use me just as I am.

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.”

~ 1 Corinthians: 26-31

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.