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.

 

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P is for …

Find a penny. Pick it up.

All day long you’ll have good luck.

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My mother was always the best at finding pennies on the sidewalk … or in the parking lot of the post office or the playground at the elementary school. Once she even found an old Indian head penny as we strolled down the gravel road that snaked behind our rural home. Another time she found a peso from Mexico even through we were hundreds of miles from the border at the time.

My mother was always the best at finding pennies on the sidewalk … and under sofa cushions, behind furniture, and even in the washing machine. My siblings and I soon learned to empty our pockets before we threw our clothing into the laundry basket. Once my mother found an extremely old coin stuck between the floorboards of a century-old home.

It wasn’t just coins. My mother seemed to notice other interesting objects … a rock with a fossil imbedded on one side, an empty bird’s nest fallen to the ground, the casing of a locust clinging to a tree limb, the first leaf to change color in the autumn.

Quiet, kind, gentle, observant … these are words that describe my mother. In her mild and loving way, she gave to me a foundation, strong and sure. From her life, I learned how to live mine. Though I cannot begin to recall all of the wonderful life lessons she taught me, I can say that the very wisest thing I learned from her can also be found on a penny:

In God We Trust.

My mother is a woman of deep faith. Her trust in Christ has remained certain, strong and true all of her life. Never wavering. Never failing.

In God We Trust.

At my mother’s side, I learned scripture, verse by verse by verse … words to cling to when days where dark, words to bring joy when tears fell, words to give hope when all seemed lost. As I grew into adulthood, I discovered these words bring to my life a fullness which I could find no where else.

In God We Trust.

At my mother’s side, I learned how to pray … a connection to my Heavenly Father, a constant source of wisdom, a never-ending source of strength. Conversations of gratitude to begin and end my day, as well as regular moments of seeking heavenly discernment.

In God We Trust.

At my mother’s side, I learned firsthand the characteristics and values of Christ … joy, love, kindness, gentleness, peace, and self-control among others. And thought I’m still learning exactly how to apply this attributes to my life, my mother was my first and best example of how to live a Christ-like life.

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P is for the penny … and for it’s reminder of my mother who taught me the most important truth of all.

In God We Trust.

 

G is for …

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G is for Germany.

In a little less than two months, three of my children are headed there. Joel, Nathan and Julia are going over to visit their father, who has been stationed in Germany since last September. They will be spending approximately six weeks of the summer with him … from Memorial Day all the way through Independence Day.

Can I just be honest and admit I miss them already? I do. I think about it so many times each day, already dreading the very moment they will step onto the plane and fly away from me.

Encouragers in my life try to remind me of the fantastic opportunity being handed to my children. “They will learn so much in Europe! Think of all the amazing things they will see and do. What a blessing for them!”

I usually nod my head in agreement because I understand, so completely. And yet … honestly … I just wish they didn’t have to go. I’d rather them stay home with me.

Even so, I’ve been helping them prepare for the trip. I bought a book for learning German phrases. Ever so slowly,  we are working our way through the lessons, with me learning along next to my children. My dear friend Esther is German. She moved to the States 20 years ago or so, after she married an American soldier.  One day soon, Esther is coming over to give all of us some cultural lessons about German life. “Perhaps,” she said, “I will even prepare a German food.”   I’m looking forward to that. I might even try out a German phrase or two on her, just to see if I am anywhere near the correct pronunciation. Mostly though, I’ve just been surprised to discover that, despite my desire to keep my kids home, I feel incredibly grateful to be involved in this part of the trip, even if it is just the preparation before leaving.

Lately I’ve wondered if my emotional reaction to my children’s upcoming trip to Germany might be something of a delayed grief. Seven years ago, another trip to Germany was in the works. It was my trip, one which I planned to take to visit their father on his 2 weeks of R&R during a deployment to Iraq.  I read all the German travel books I could find, wrote long lists of places I hoped to see and visit, spent hours scouring the internet for places to stay, tucked away every penny I could spare to cover the costs of our European vacation.

Unfortunately, the expectation of that trip never came to pass. Instead, the unexpected happened. My marriage fell apart. He walked out on fourteen years. I have never really understood why.

Grief is an odd experience, so different for each person to process. Yet, counselors tell us every person in mourning goes through through the same stages before they reach a place of acceptance: denial, isolation, bargaining, depression, and even anger.

I am not an angry sort of person. Truthfully, I’m an emotional stuffer. It takes me a long, long time to get good and angry. Unfortunately, when I do, it takes me a long time to get over that anger.

I can clearly remember the day not too long after my ex-husband left when I woke up mad, more offended than I’d ever felt in my life. Strangely, at least initially, my impassioned outrage was focused mostly on the loss of my trip to Germany. My entire life I had wanted to travel overseas, particularly to Europe. Years of dreaming. Months of planning. Now, after plans had been made, it wasn’t going to happen. I had gotten that passport for nothing. It was a bitter pill, stuck in my throat. Nothing I seemed to do could make it go down.

Over the course of the past seven years, I’ve worked through most of the indignation resulting from my divorce. Well … at least everything except the trip to Germany. Until recently, it didn’t come up all that often. Perhaps from time to time, as I opened the firesafe box looking for a birth certificate or some other important piece of paperwork, I would notice my passport tucked away safely inside, never used. Irritation would surface, but soon enough it would subside again.  For the most part, this was a non-issue, or at least that’s what I thought.

But now, with my children’s trip to Germany clearly marked on the calendar, I realize I’m still dealing with one last emotional wound,  dating back seven years. The memory of that unused passport still haunts me.  As I help my children get ready to travel to a place I’ve never been but longed to see, I have felt God wanting to resolve the ache of that loss.  A loss I’d rather not think about or face.

Seven years ago, in the midst of the deepest sorrow of my life, I discovered the truth in the words of the psalmist:

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.   ~Psalm 34:18

God was certainly near to me in those days. Over time, in His care, my ashes became something beautiful. And that gives me hope.  Though I may still ache a bit over the loss of my own trip to Germany, I am choosing to see it as a gain for my kids, who certainly would not have this opportunity if I not lost mine. I expect my heart will be sad while my children are away. Even so, I can trust God will be near to me in those moments, and continue to bring good out of the losses in my life.

Learning the truth of that promise has definitely been worth the cost of an unused passport.

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.