Saturday, March 18, 2017

No More Naps

For the past eight years, I have had at least one child that naps. For eight years, I have had a small break in the middle of the day to clean up a bit, read a good book or just stare at the lake behind my house and appreciate the quiet. My eight year streak is officially over.

“I’m a big girl, Mommy. I can just have quiet time in my bed like my boys do,” my daughter announced matter-of-factly.  Her “quiet time” has consisted of ripping down the little canopy over her bed, jumping from her bed to the floor and giving medical advice to Pooh Bear and Barbie. My boys napped until five years old (an anomaly, I know) and when I instituted quiet time, they sat in their room looking through books. This has been a whole new experience.

I wish I could tell you I have taken this in stride. I haven’t. I give my kids my all during the morning and I need that hour of quiet time to physically and mentally prepare for the afternoon. I need time to talk to my friends and check out cute shoes online. I need to just worry about me for a tiny bit of the day.  That is patently impossible to do with my daughter destroying her room upstairs. My frustration was mounting on the fifth day of not napping when I looked out at the water sparkling with sunlight. I felt a small voice telling me that I was being given something, not having something taken away.

I took the dog out and breathed in the warm and humid Florida air. I suddenly wanted to go to the pool. I wanted to splash with the kids and feel the sun on my back. And then I realized I could leave right that minute. I didn’t have to wait for anyone to wake up.

I marched up the stairs, bathing suits in hand. “Everybody up! We’re going to the pool!” They peaked out of their rooms, worried that someone had stolen their mother and replaced her with some crazy person.

“But, what about quiet time?” my rule loving oldest asked.

“Let’s play instead. Sound good?”

They all started cheering (literally cheering) and grabbed the bathing suits to get changed. We drove down to the pool with the windows down and the music blasting. I dove right in with them and watched all their “cool tricks”. We laughed more than we have in awhile. I climbed out to warm up and as I soaked in their joy and innocence I suddenly felt grateful. Life with children is never predictable but it is always an adventure.

I’m still instituting quiet time, but my heart has changed. My daughter can jump off her bed all she wants – I’m still taking that hour for myself. And afterward, a fun afternoon is there for all of us to enjoy. It has shown me that so many things in life can be looked at in two ways. We can look at all we’ve lost or focus on what we’ve gained. Whatever we seek, we are sure to find. It’s not always as easy as flipping a switch in our minds but it is possible. Sometimes it’s just about making that decision.

Is there something changing in your life today that makes you feel out of control or frustrated? Look for the things you have gained. Trust that God has something better in mind.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Opportunities to Serve

Our church's praise band was asked to perform before the Crop Walk in Venice and we were thrilled to have been given this opportunity. We always feel honored to share God's love and heart in any way we can. But my kids weren't quite as enthusiastic.

We ran home after church for a quick lunch and some quiet time then headed to the park. Questions filled the van as we bumped down the road. "Is there a slide at this park? Can I bring my scooter?" And then my personal favorite, "Why do we have to listen to you sing twice in one day?" I tried not to get defensive and said, "Well, it's an opportunity to serve God. Maybe we'll help someone know God's heart by singing in the park. We never know when he's at work." This was met by crickets. 

My two younger kids found swings and a climbing tree to entertain themselves while we set up but my oldest stuck close to me. He saw someone with a Crop Walk shirt and a clipboard and immediately concluded that she was the one that was in charge. He approached her without hesitation. "How can I help?" She was a bit taken aback then decided to take him up on his offer. 
"I've got some t-shirts that need to be hung up with clothespins. Can you help hand them to me?"
"Sure!" he said, jumping in with enthusiasm. 

As we sang, I watched him continually go back to this woman for more jobs then zip around carrying boxes and balloons and t-shirts. He didn't stop smiling. When his work was done, he came up on stage between songs for a quick hug. "I'm really proud of your servant's heart," I told him.

"Think she'll give me one of those book marks for all my work?" he asked with wide eyes. 

"Maybe so," I replied trying to hide a little smile.

I'm amazed at him all the time but I was particularly thankful for this glimpse into his heart and soul. So many of our interactions are power struggles (I could start a library with all my strong willed child books) but this reminded me that God has given him the ability to follow as well as lead. I needed the reminder.

Do you have a child that is particularly challenging? Ask God today to show you opportunities to channel their strong personalities. There may be someone that needs their "help" and can give them ways to exercise those leadership muscles.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Serious Talk

I hear my own words repeated by my kids every once in awhile and most of the time it isn't flattering. I hear them say things like,"If you do that one more time I will lose it!" or "That didn't hurt that bad. Shake it off," and it makes me cringe. It's almost as if they record the moments where I'm at my worst but completely forget the times I'm using all the lines I've read from Bible verses, parenting books and seminars. But yesterday, I heard my words come out of my son's mouth and felt truly proud.

"Rosie was just so mean to me!" my oldest said as he tore around the corner into my bathroom. (All hell breaks loose whenever I try to put on a little mascara in peace.)
"Oh yeah? You okay?" I asked distractedly, wanting to stay out of their little dispute.
"She wanted to let the dog upstairs so she opened the gate and I said 'no' and I closed it and she screamed and she got so mad that she pinched me and she pushed me out of the way!" He stood back, wide eyed, waiting for me to rally by his side and put his sister in her place.
"Wow - Sounds like neither of you were being respectful to each other." His little shoulders deflated. He had been so sure that he was completely right. "Ro," I continued, "No pinching or pushing. Ever. Got it?"
"Yeah, I got it," she said as she completed her lopsided somersault. She was obviously very remorseful.
"Luke, if you'd like to keep the dog downstairs, what could you do? Other than fighting over the gate? Any ideas?
"I could get him and bring him down...But she shouldn't let him up there! He gets my Legos!"
"True. But who can you control?"
"Just me," he said in a low voice.
"Right." I got up to hug him and start our school day when I heard my middle child speaking in a firm and low tone.

"Rosie, we need to have a serious talk."
"Okay, Do Do!" This is her nickname for Drew and it still makes me smile. I hid around the corner to listen.
"I know Luke was mean about the gate but you can't pinch him, okay? When you are mad you have to take a deep breath. You can't hurt him. It's not nice. Got it?"
"I got it, Do Do!"
"Okay. I love you, Ro Ro."
"Love you too!"
They hugged and my baby girl ran to her big brother and sincerely apologized. "I'm so sorry for pinching, Luke. So so sorry," she said as she reached out for his hand.
"That's okay, Rosie. I'm sorry for closing the gate."
"Awww, that's nice. I accept your apology."
And finally, they were ready to move on with forgiveness in their hearts.

My Drew did what I couldn't do. He helped her understand that kindness was expected. He showed her that she had to take responsibility even though she felt justified. I was amazed.

I share this in the hope that you remember that your kids truly are absorbing all the good things you are working so hard to teach them. It may not always seem like it, but they are. They watch how we handle disputes between siblings, how we work things out with our spouses, how we work through the stresses of daily living. They are taking notes and practicing along the way. Drew said to me yesterday during a crying jag, "I'm not a grown up. I don't know how to handle all my emotions." I told him that I struggle with the same thing sometimes, even as a grown up. That's why we have each other. That's why we have God to guide us. So let's hope and pray that, as grown ups, we can be good examples. Let's pray that we can be a resource for our kids when things get tough and that we are daily examples of God's love and forgiveness.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Entrepreneurial Spirit

My husband and I have begun Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University and we are learning so much. We have set a rigid budget and moved to a cash system and, interestingly, it's the kids that are feeling it most.

"Can we have McDonald's?" they will ask.
I will pull out the food envelope and show them what's left. "I have $15 left. It usually costs $25. Want to pitch in the other $10?"
"But I don't have any more money!"
"Oh, okay. Then I guess we can't have McDonald's."

They have decided that something has to change. As any good business owner knows, there are two ways to increase cash flow: Cut expenses or increase sales. My boys have chosen to increase sales. They have normal chores that give them $5 a week but they have been looking for some supplemental income. To date they have launched a lemonade stand that actually sold apple juice and soda, a golfing booth (pay $1 for a swing of the club), chocolate covered strawberries (Hershey's syrup drenched strawberries would be a bit more accurate), a daredevil show that featured my five year old being crashed into a pile of boxes by his older brother and a Rainbow Loom bracelet sale. They are course correcting on the way and analyzing what sells the best.

"Every body likes drinks which makes sense because it's hot in Florida," my oldest said to his brother thoughtfully. "But we don't have enough kids in the neighborhood for the golf business."
"But everybody likes golf! I just need a new sign!"
At this, they race off to redesign their advertising and choose a new corner to stand and attract business.

This week, they caught a break. "I went into a store today and the owner asked about the bracelet you guys made me," my husband said over breakfast.
"And I told him you made it. He wants ten in darker colors to sell in his store. He thinks he can sell them for $3 a piece."
"But we were only charging $1!"
"Yeah, but he thinks he can get more. What do you say? Could you make some up for me today?"
The boys raced around the house gathering materials and consulting on color choices. Then my oldest got to work.

I don't know what will happen once the bracelets hit the shelves but I do know that this has been incredible to watch. I never worried about cutting back on my extravagances. I can buy less clothes, less Starbucks, less fancy makeup. But I did worry about giving my kids less. I want them to have everything. And yet, I'm giving them so much more by holding back. They are learning about advertising, pricing, math, knowing their market and calculating profits. Best of all, they are learning about all they are capable of doing on their own. Amazing.

If you are feeling pressure to give your kids more, go easy on yourself. Giving less my give them more opportunities to be resourceful. They just might amaze you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Great Mom

I had the rare opportunity to spend one on one time with my little girl and we decided to make the best of it. "Let's go on a walk, baby girl," I suggested.
"Okay! But I want to ride my bike. My tricycle, I mean. I want to ride my tricycle."
I grabbed it of the hook on the garage wall, buckled her little helmet and we were off.

It was picture perfect for at least two full minutes. The dog walked and sniffed while she rode proudly on her tricycle. "Look how fast I'm going, Mommy! I can do it by myself!" she yelled as she peddled like the wicked witch of the west. Before I could compliment her on her tremendous speed, she stopped to collect some acorns. A wave of nostalgia came over me as I remembered each of my boys riding this same bike and putting acorns in the little bucket on the back. She came over to hold my hand and said sweetly, "I'm going to run now. You can carry my bike home."

I suddenly remembered this from my boys' early biking days. I flashed to walks with that tricycle stuffed in the bottom of a baby stroller or drug behind me as the dog yanked me forward. I decided to learn from past mistakes. "If you rode it here, you have to ride it back babe. I'm walking Charlie."
She looked at my other hand pointedly. "But that hand is empty. You can just carry my bike, right?"
"No, I can't. You are welcome to run to that tree and back and then you have to ride your bike."
"Okay!" she said. I sighed, thankful that this strong willed girl had let it go so easily. But I relaxed too soon.

"I'm just going to run home now!" she said as she blew right past the agreed upon tree and down the sidewalk.
"Don't forget your bike!" I reminded her. At that, she collapsed in tears.

"I want to run! I don't want my bike! I want to run!" she wailed dramatically.
"I know you do, love. Seems like you are really frustrated so here are your choices. Either ride the bike back or push it while you run. Which would you rather do?" She sensed a bit of control blowing in her direction and the tears stopped like a switch had been flipped.

"Riding would be fun!" she said as she ran to the bike.
I took another deep breath, glad the drama was over for the moment when she stopped riding and took my hand once again. "You know," she said thoughtfully, "You are a really good mommy. The best."

I'm not sure if she was trying to make peace or if she suddenly was filled with love for me but I do know it felt really good to hear. This job can really wear a girl out. My kids throw me a new curve ball every day and I have to spend a lot of time trying to perfect my swing. How incredible to be handed a moment like that. Those simple words drained all the stress that had built up in that interaction and reminded me that along with those curve balls we are thrown little gifts every day. They may come in the form of an unexpected hug, a misspelled love note or a piece of lovingly made burnt toast but they are there. Today, look for the gifts that your kids throw you and savor them. They are truly gifts from God.

Coming Home

I have started this post many times, only to find myself blinded by thankful tears. Most of my stories are something that happened in a span of five minutes - I am unsure how to encapsulate five years on one page. But I will try, because I pray that somewhere in this mess of emotions is something that will speak to your heart. Here goes...

My sister and her family are coming home to Florida. This, however, is not just a celebration of a homecoming. This is the celebration of a miracle. Two years ago, my sister and her husband made one of the toughest decisions of their life. Their then six year old son had been in and out of the hospital for three years and was getting increasingly worse. He would start with a cold then, within hours, begin to throw up and eventually lose consciousness. They had twenty minutes to get him to the ER or else...Well, I can't even type what would've happened to this beloved child. 

My sister has always been a fighter. Her strength is unparalleled. She had had enough. She called a meeting with his team (yes, his team) of doctors and told them she wanted a new team. Fresh eyes. Other options. They directed her to a hospital in Denver called National Jewish that offered a three week full assessment. They would run every test, monitor every function of his body and even dedicate a counselor to the family to assess everyone's emotional health. She left the meeting with the referral in hand and booked the flight.

We did FaceTime calls every day to see how it was going, praying for some answers. About two weeks in, she called while I was at my mom's house and everything changed. "Well, he's doing great. He really is. They are learning a lot," my sister said bravely. I could see her fighting tears. "Are you okay, though? How are you holding up?" I asked.
She dissolved into tears. "His immune system is shot. He doesn't have one. At all. It might never turn back on! They basically said he's allergic to everything in Florida. The grass, the pollen...Everything. Because it never gets cold, the plants he's allergic to never die and he can't get better there. They said if we can, we should live here. We should stay here. We have to stay here."

I can remember the huge conflict of emotions. How could it be fair that I wouldn't see my nephews grow up or be able to sit around the kitchen table with my sister? How could that be gone, all in one swoop? And yet, he had a chance. There was hope as well as pain. "Then that's what you'll do. We'll visit all the time. We'll FaceTime all the time and he's going to beat this." We all cried until we couldn't cry anymore then did what the women in my family do; We put on our game face and got ready to do whatever we could for each other. 

Within a month, their house was on the market, a house was rented in Castle Rock, CO, their business was prepared for absentee management and they were gone. Just like that.

I prayed a lot about this. It didn't seem fair. It's so wrong when a child is sick. I could see the toll it was taking on him; I could see the responsibility he felt for the move. Why would God take them away when they needed us most? Why was my sweet nephew so sick?

But God takes his time with things and his purposes are not always immediately clear. As the months passed, Brody got better and stronger. His visits to the hospital completely stopped. He gained weight and started growing like a weed. His color returned to normal and, a year after their move, his immune system kicked back on. She called in tears. "His adrenal gland is perfect! It's perfect! I don't have to panic every time he gets a runny nose!!" We celebrated this miracle and thanked God for it.

Other things grew stronger as well. My sister and I began to talk more than we ever had when she lived here. We would spend thirty minutes talking about real things instead of five minutes in between kids asking for more juice. We began to really appreciate our differences and admire each other for the ways we lived our lives instead of comparing and competing. We understood each other and, for the first time, began to give each other a bit more grace. When we would visit, our rich history would bubble over into story after story and I have never in my life been more thankful for her friendship.

And then He gave us one more miracle. "Katie...Katie, he's better. All better. He's fine; A normal kid! We talked to the doctors and they said he can live anywhere! We are coming home," she said over FaceTime. I felt all the stress, all the sadness, all the joy, all the hope gush out in racking sobs. I could barely breathe. 
"It's a miracle. It's a miracle!" I said over and over again.

I know that every story doesn't have such a pretty ending, all tied up with a bow. But in the midst of things that we don't understand, God is working. He may not answer our prayers the way we expect but he always has our best interest in mind. He loves us and knows our hearts and wants to give us hope and a future. There's a praise song I love that has these lyrics, "Even when you're caught in the middle of the storms of this life, I won't turn back I know you are near. And I will fear no evil for my God is with me. And if my God is with me, whom then shall I fear? Oh no, you never let go. Through the calm and through the storm. Oh no, you never let go. Lord, you never let go of me."

If you are in the middle of the storm, use this as your prayer. He will never let go of you.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

God's Love

There is a twelve year old girl in our life that has, over the course of a year, become part of our family. She still has her parents and sisters but she is a daughter of my heart. She's nothing like me - She's athletic and prefers Under Armor over skinny jeans but we connect in other ways. We bake cookies or she sits on the laundry room floor and talks to me as I fold the 30th pair of tiny underwear. She shares stories of tough teachers or friend situations and I do my best to listen without giving too much advice. I have felt strongly that I wanted to lead her to God but I've been tentative about pushing. I decided early on that I would just lead by example and take any opportunities that God gave me. A few months ago, he started opening that door.

My phone pinged with a text. "Think I could start coming to church with you?" 
I replied quickly, "Of course! Anytime!"
"Oh good," popped up in the green bubble. "I just miss you guys and I would love a chance to see you every week."
"Done. We'll pick you up at 9:30."

And that was that. I knew she wanted to see us more than she wanted to actually be at church but that was okay. We used to live across the street and she could visit anytime. We had moved three months before and I missed her too. I jumped at the chance to check in and give her an extra hug every week.

She has been coming every week for the last couple months and she's starting to absorb some truths about how much God loves her. "So there was a rainbow at basketball practice today," she shared with me. "I told the team what it meant - That is was God's promise to us to always take care of us and never hurt us. Coach pulled me aside and told me what a great thing it was that I was such a light for the team. That was pretty cool."

"What a cool gift you gave them today. They'll never look at a rainbow the same way again."
"Yeah, me neither," she said as she stared out the window and retreated into thought.

Then, last week, she said she'd been thinking about getting a Bible. I decided to buy her one for teen girls so that it was more approachable but still felt a bit uncomfortable about giving that to her for her Christmas present. My husband and I decided to get her a watch, too. She is twelve, after all. But I never should have doubted her sweet old soul. As she unwrapped the Bible, she blinked back tears. "I'm going to be spending a lot of time with this." She looked up at me with wide, appreciative eyes. "Love you."

"I love you, too, sweetheart," I said as I hugged her.
"Here," my husband said, jumping right in. "Let me show you where to start."

As I watched them, I felt so grateful for God's timing. Evangelizing is no easy task. People have so much baggage about religion and you never know what land mine you will be walking into. But I firmly believe this child is a gift to me and that I owe it to her to know how much God loves her. I want her to feel embraced by him and know that He will always guide her. Always. I am so thankful for opportunities to share his love with her.

Is there someone in your life that needs God's love? Buy them a devotional, invite them to church or a small group or just listen and wait for God to open the door. After all, he wants nothing more than for us to share his gifts with others.

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