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.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Do I Look Beautiful?

My almost three year old has decided that naps are for sissies. All of my kids have gone through this phase and the only thing I've learned is that I have no idea what works until I try it. Friends with one child will ask me sleep advice and I basically tell them to throw spaghetti at the wall until it sticks. They are all as different as different can be. I've tried many tricks with my daughter to no avail.

There's the firm approach. "Rosalie Rebecca, no more playing. Lay down. Go to sleep." This worked beautifully with my oldest. He LOVES rules. My daughter just falls in a puddle of tears and tells me that I "hurt her feelings" because "that was not nice."

There's the gentle approach. "Here baby, let me tuck you in. Do you need another story?" My middle child prefers this. He is a sensitive soul and needs to feel understood and loved before he can hear a word that you're saying. My daughter, however, enjoys the perks of being understood then does whatever she wants as soon as the door is closed.

We were on phase three last week when I went into her room. The cold shoulder approach. This is where I walk in, take the toy she's playing with and put her back in bed without saying a word. I resist eye contact and conversation, letting her know that I mean business. This time, however, I noticed a shimmer on her face. "Were you putting on make-up, Ro?" I asked, keeping my voice aloof.

"Nope," she said, looking me dead in the eyes then blinking demurely.
"Then why is your face sparkly?"
"I put on lipstick. That not make up. It lipstick."
"Ahhh. Okay. Just so that you know, lipstick is a kind of makeup," I said, trying to maintain any shred of authority I had left in this situation.
"Not really. It just lipstick."
I took a deep breath, knowing that an argument with a two year old would be a complete waste of time. "Okay, babe. Go to sleep." I walked toward the door, mentally preparing an appropriate phase four when I heard her say, "Mama?"
"Yeah, love?"
"Don't I look beautiful?"
At that, I melted. "You are always beautiful, my sweet girl. I love you."
"Love you!" she said as she settled down under her blanket and, within minutes, fell asleep.

She knew I was annoyed with her and needed reassurance. She needed a nap but she couldn't rest until she knew we were on good terms; Until she knew that I thought she was beautiful. I thought about how many times that is true for me as well. I can't listen to good advice without knowing that someone already thinks I am amazing. I feel such complete peace when I know I am loved and treasured. My daughter had no problem asking for that affirmation. Maybe we shouldn't be afraid to do the same.

You are beautiful. You are loved. Don't let anyone tell you anything different.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Living Fully

I read a devotional about a mom with a twelve year old daughter who refused to walk beside her at the mall. She was flashing back to when her daughter was two and they sang Barney together every morning. She wished she had a chance to go back, just for a day, and sing that song with her baby girl. Something woke up inside of me that day. Something that said, "You have the gift of perspective today, right now. You can embrace it fully or rush through it. Your choice."

I've been in an autopilot mode for awhile now. I make lists, I check them off. I get things done. I multitask. I feel accomplished. But somehow, along the way, I started to feel like my kids where getting in the way of all the things I needed to get done. I love them fully - of course I do - but I haven't been fully present. Every "watch this!" and "Mommy, look at this!" felt like a distraction from the pressing things I had to do. I would watch with one eye on the dishes and one eye on the latest trick and they would catch me. "Mommy! You aren't watching!" I would tell them that I would be glad to watch after the dishes were done. But you see, I was never done. There was always one more load of laundry to fold, one more spelling lesson to teach, one more time that the dog needed to be walked, one more text to answer. I wasn't ever getting to the part where I watched with both eyes and all of my mind.

I am reading a book called Bloom. It's a beautiful memoir about a mother gives birth to her second daughter and learns that the baby has Downs Syndrome. The author embraces motherhood fully, completely, with abandon. As I read, I could feel a small voice saying, "This is the mother that you are. Return to it." At first, I felt guilty. (I'm really good at mom guilt. You too?) And then I felt thankful. I'm much happier in a mode when my house is a perpetual disaster because we made a volcano on the counter then decided to build a fort and then take a walk all before lunch. It felt...freeing. Like I had permission to let the lists go and get back to the way my soul wants to raise these children.

Already, we are happier. We made cookies this weekend, destroyed the kitchen, and lived through at least six meltdowns about keeping spit off the cookies and yet, I didn't feel stressed. I remembered buying the house and saying to my husband, "This is the kitchen where our kids and I will bake Christmas cookies together." I got misty eyed even as my son cried about washing his spit and sprinkle covered hands. This is where memories are made. These are the stories I want to tell.

You may have a different way of keeping your house happy and sane. And I love that we all do this differently. I need spontaneity and creativity to feel alive and well. When my house is spotless, it means that something else in my life is a mess. Maybe you need order. Maybe you need routine. Do it, whatever it is, so that you can be fully present in this time of watching cool tricks and washing sticky fingers. It will end faster than we are ready - At least that's what every grandmother tells me. I choose to live in this time fully. Will you join me?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Keep it Up!

"I was just telling someone the other day about your sweet son, Drew" a sixty-something neighbor said to me as I walked my dog this morning.
"Oh really?" 
"Yes, I was telling my friend that I had never met such a kind child. Did you see what he did at Halloween?" she asked.
"When you spilled your candy bowl?"
"Yes! He helped me clean it up and when I tried to give him extra candy, he said, 'I can't take any more - That's your candy to enjoy.' I couldn't believe it! Most kids would just take it all and run!"

She left out the part about my daughter coming right behind him and asking for a third candy bar but I let that slide. "Thank you so much for letting me know! He truly does have a kind heart."

"You must be doing something right, honey. Keep it up!" She smiled at me as she resumed her walk and I was left feeling so wonderful inside.

I work every day to make sure my kids' character is strong. I pray every day that I can teach them kindness and strength and resilience and faith. But this parenting journey is a long one and I spend more time than I should second guessing my choices. This sweet neighbor gave me a gift today. She told me that I am, indeed, on the right track. 

I am going to make an effort this week to seek out parents and let them know something I love about their children. I want to pay it forward. I encourage you to do the same. Tell them a story about their child that made you smile. Tell them that they are doing a great job. We all need to hear it - Be the one to give that gift.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Simplifying Christmas

We had a calendar full of activities on Saturday. Watch the Ohio State/Michigan game with friends, get family pictures taken then go to our community's annual Christmas parade. I geared up for a busy day, not realizing that they would be completely derailed.

"Keith and Sandy canceled the football party," my husband said as we drank our coffee and looked through the Saturday paper. "I guess a bunch of people couldn't come." I was disappointed but also relieved to have our schedule let up a bit. I used the time to take a short nap and watch the game in sweatpants. 

Around 2, the photographer called. "Could you come a little bit earlier? Say 3:00? I had forgotten that we are shooting the Christmas parade tonight as well." I told him that two of the kids were sleeping so we probably couldn't move it up but maybe we could just reschedule. "Really? That would be so great," he said, sounding relieved. 
"Of course. No rush on our end," I said.

A few hours later, I started feeling a little off. I took my temperature and realized I had a fever. "Babe, you should just stay home," my husband suggested. "Luke and I will walk the parade with Sertoma. You just stay with Drew and Rosie and take it easy." And so we did. I made hot chocolate on the stovetop with cinnamon and Hershey's syrup like my mom used to do and we sipped it in our jammies. We watched Charlie Brown Christmas and then decided on a whim to take a walk in the dark to see the stars and look for Christmas lights. It was positively magical. 

As I tucked them in and kissed their pink cheeks, I felt so grateful for all the cancellations that made me slow down. Spending those few hours at home was like opening a beautiful and unexpected gift. It was everything I wanted the holidays to be for my children. Quiet, reflective and full of quality time. I will be shaving down our December schedule, saying no a little more often to the parties and yes to the Hallmark Channel's Christmas movies. I will be making popcorn garlands and ornaments with too much glitter and embracing this time when they still believe in the magic of Christmas. I will be intentionally thankful instead of rushed as I embrace the beauty of this season.

Is your December schedule already packed full of obligations? Take a moment to evaluate it and get rid of things that don't bring you and your family peace and joy. Simplify.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Three Hours

"I just need three hours by myself and I'll feel a lot better," I said to my husband as we unpacked from our weekend in Miami. For those of you with small children, you understand this is almost like asking to win a million dollars in the lottery.

"Well, maybe next weekend I can take them out for a bit and give you a break," he suggested.

I wanted to say, "Or you could just take a vacation day! No big deal, right!?" but instead I thanked him for offering.

We had had an awesome time in Miami (Congrats Jen and Alec!) but after three days in a hotel room, I needed some space and so did my kids. They were exhausted from traveling and staying up late and none of us were in top form. On Monday morning, they thoughtfully took turns having meltdowns giving me at least a 30 second break between each of them. We threw in the towel on school after my oldest cried about being asked to write a bit more neatly and headed to the library. (There's something about the calm atmosphere that's like slipping my kids a Xanax). It worked. Everybody did their own thing and I even ran into a friend that lent me her listening ear.

We buckled back into the car and the crying resumed. "Me wanted more princess books!" my daughter wailed.
"What are we having for lunch, Mommy?" my oldest yelled above her screams. "I think we have breakfast sandwiches. Do we, Mommy?"
"Just a minute, bud. Let me talk to Rosie, first."
"I can't reach my headphones!" my five year old said through tears.
"Okay guys - let's just get home and I'll make sure everybody gets what they need. I promise."

Just then, my mom texted. "Is Luke up for hanging out with me this afternoon? I had a cancellation and I can come over now."

I don't think I've ever texted anyone back so fast. "Yes!"

She arrived just as I was tending to my daughter's "boo boo" and swept in to finish so that I could make lunch. My middle cried about eating lunch and I was officially done with being patient. "That's it buddy. I can't listen to this anymore. I need you to sit down and calm down. When you can talk instead of scream, I can get you what you need." This only escalated the screams and intelligible speech. I walked away, leaving him in a puddle on the floor.

"Come here, baby," I heard my mom say in her most soothing voice. My son picked himself up and curled into her lap. She stroked his hair and his back and slowly his breathing returned to normal. She waited patiently as he calmed down. She looked at me with compassion. "I'll take Rosie to bed. Why don't you take Drew. Luke and I will get out of here once everyone is settled."

Rosie and Drew slept soundly for four hours and Luke enjoyed some time with his Granny and Papa. I took a nap, did some Christmas shopping and finished the mountain of laundry from our trip. God had heard me and had given us all the gift of not three but four hours alone. We were all renewed and the tears and frustration stopped.

I read Mark 6:31 later that day. "Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” I love that God is listening and responding to us all the time. We only have to ask.

Is there something that you need today? Voice it. Ask for it. Trust that it will happen.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Seeing Eye to Eye

"Luke, you and I don't always see eye to eye. But I love that you always share your perspective with me and that you are open to listening to mine. We are stronger because of it," said my husband at dinner. I watched my son begin to relax and accept the compliment. Their day had not been filled with easy camaraderie. It had been filled with conflict.

I was getting ready for the day and, like always, three kids and a dog followed me into our bedroom. Rosie spent her time digging through my makeup and putting eyeliner on her cheeks and blush on her lips. The boys chased the puppy under and around my bed squealing with laughter. Sometimes this makes me crazy but this time I just delighted in their joy and innocence. My husband, however, is very sensitive about protecting my time. He opened the bedroom door and announced. "Everybody out! Mommy is getting ready!"

The protests began before the first sentence came out of his mouth. "But Daddy! We were just playing!" Rosie started crying in earnest and fell in a heap on the floor. My husband was not going to put up with their disobedience.

"Get up, Rosie. Out of here. Boys, out-out-out!" He said as he picked up our daughter and ushered the boys and dog back out to the living room. 

I took a deep breath. These situations are hard for me. I tend to defend the kids and make my husband feel as if I'm not backing him up. I weighed the facts. I didn't mind them being in there but they should always be obedient to their dad. He shocked them with his firm voice and so I felt bad for them and worried about their feelings. I decided to hang back and let them work in out. 

My husband took the dog outside and my oldest was in my bedroom within ten seconds of the door closing with tears in his eyes. "What did Daddy yell at me?! Why does he have to be so mean!?"

"I'm sorry your feelings are hurt, love. You need to go talk to Daddy about it. He's a great listener. He asked you to stay out of our bedroom and I'm going to back him up. Please go out there and wait for him."

"But I want you to be there! I'm scared to talk to him!"

"I'll stand there, but you do the talking. Daddy loves you. He wants to hear what you have to say."

But my husband wasn't ready to listen. He simply said that Luke should have listened and that he wasn't yelling. Luke just thought he was yelling. It was a misunderstanding. Period. He was annoyed that I was standing there and so, knowing that my husband is always better with time to think, I left them both to stew.

A few minutes later I heard the first attempt at peace. "Buddy, I really don't think I was yelling but I don't want to upset you. How can I ask you differently next time?"

My seven year old looked up to meet his daddy's eyes. "You could just say, "Hey Luke, can you please get out of our room so Mommy can get ready? That would be a lot nicer."

"Alright, bud. I'll give it a shot."

Watching two people you love argue is a difficult place and yet, when they reconcile, it makes you realize that sometimes the fighting brings them closer. They were both able to state their case and my son learned what it means to reach across the aisle for a resolution. He learned that his dad is man enough to let go of his own point for the sake of the relationship. He learned that telling somebody that they upset you is much better than harboring anger and hurt. He never would have learned that had I fought that battle for him. As a mom, it's not an easy thing to step out of the way but I know he will be a stronger and better man if I show him all he is capable of doing on his own.

Are you ever tempted to intervene during conflict? Are there times when it would be better let them work it out on their own?
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