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Day 27: The Hardest Grace (31 Days of Simple Truths)

31daysOfSimpleTruthsThere is no one in the world more difficult to show grace to than myself.

I can make allowances for your weaknesses, cover your flaws, forgive your mistakes. I can believe the best in you and speak to the good God sees in you again and again and again. I can tell you to not be so hard on yourself, to give yourself space to learn and grow and fail and try again.

It’s hard to show that same grace to me. But I’m learning.

Today I took deep breaths in the hard moments. I made space for reading stories even when it was inconvenient. I left some chores undone. I adjusted the hours I could spend working and the hours I needed to spent on homeschool.

It wasn’t a perfect day. There were definitely some rough patches. But it was mostly peaceful, and I was mostly not overwhelmed. And that is progress.

Here’s to showing ourselves more grace tomorrow.

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Day 21: The Hard Days (31 Days of Simple Truths)

31daysOfSimpleTruthsSo, I read this post from Lisa-Jo Baker tonight and promptly dissolved into tears.

This has been a ROUGH parenting week. And it’s only Wednesday (Lord, have mercy on my soul!). It’s one of the those weeks where I feel like I’m screwing everything up and utterly failing at motherhood. How on earth will I ever prepare these little humans (who I so fiercely love and who are so fiercely making me want to pull my hair out right now) for life? How can I possibly do this when I feel so unprepared myself? When I mess up on the very thing I was just trying to teach them?

There are a lot of moms in my life who make me feel insecure, but really it’s my own fault for falling into the comparison trap. What I want more than anything is to be fully confident that we are doing the best we can for our kids, and it really doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. We’re not responsible for their families, only ours.

I am the worst about admitting when I am un-fine. And I am definitely guilty of finding something to criticize about other mothers so I can feel like I’ve got some edge up on someone, somewhere. I try really hard to reserve these thoughts for strangers, not friends, as if somehow that makes it better. (Um, no. I promise to encourage the next stranger-mom I’m tempted to criticize in my head.)

Sometimes I am afraid to voice the struggles because I’ve heard single or newly married friends say that all the honest, tell-it-how-it-is mommy blogs out there have made them terrified to ever have children. I get this. I have kids and it scares me that some day I might refer to them as chaos-causing little monsters who are turning our home into a frightening, trashed-out wasteland. At what point do we lose our minds and cross that line? Please, God, don’t let it happen to me!

But no, it doesn’t have to be that way. Because my kids most certainly aren’t monsters and they are most definitely treasures. Still, it’s hard right now. Really, really hard.

But first I am reminded that I am not alone. And then I’m reminded that suffering in silence is no good for anyone, ever. And finally, I’m comforted by suddenly recalling a conversation I had at the beginning of September with a sweet couple, now retired and in their 70s. They raised a few kids and lived to tell about it. I shared with them about our upcoming move and other changes on the horizon, and the man smiled at me, eyes twinkling, as he said, “This is a season for surviving. Some seasons are just like that, when surviving doesn’t mean you’re failing and barely scraping by, but it means you’re do something right and pulling the family through a hard place. There will be time for establishing standards, raising the bar a little, but right now, you just have to survive and keep loving each other through it. And that’s ok.”

So I take a deep breath, maybe shed a few more tears, and maybe a few more tomorrow too. But it’s ok. Because we are surviving, and this too shall pass. And we’ll be a healthier family on the other side of it.

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Day 19: Kitchen Therapy (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Food Network's image of the cookies we made. I forgot to flatten mine slightly, but they still came out good, just probably a little more chewy.

Food Network’s image of the cookies we made. I forgot to flatten mine slightly, but they still came out good, just probably a little more chewy.

In spite of my best efforts to slow down and take my time, most days I feel like I end up in a hurry. It’s a race against time to squeeze in all the things that need to be done. I tend to be a more task-oriented person. I used to be feel guilty about this, but that fades more and more all the time, mainly because the world would never get anything done without people like me in it!

Still, especially when it comes to my family, I have to be very intentional about slowing down and letting the moments of connection take higher priority over the to do list. And one of the things that helps me make that happen is cooking.

If I’m in the kitchen, inevitably one or both of the kids want to come help. Or even if they don’t want to help, they tend to gravitate into the room anyway, a coloring book or toy in hand. They’ll sit on the floor and chatter away to me while I do my best to not trip on them or spill anything on them. I love it.

On top of that, cooking forces me to slow down. There are so many things in the kitchen that simply won’t turn out right if you try to rush them. Things like kneading bread or even making mayonnaise (SO easy! Who knew?) become holy moments as I take a deep breath and let go of all the other things begging for my attention to simply focus on the task in front of me.

And whatever’s happening, whoever is gathered, you can be sure there are taste testers always at the ready. So we linger, munching bread or cookies fresh from the oven, getting a spoon to dip into that sauce, sniffing the spices to see what else we should add. It is sacred and nourishing, not only to our bodies, but to our souls as well.

We made these cookies tonight (again!) and this time added 1/4 t. of ground cloves as well. Perfection!

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Day 13: Listening to Anger (31 Days of Simple Truth)

31daysOfSimpleTruthsAnger can be a tricky emotion. None of us are immune to it, but some of us are more volatile than others. It’s an emotion I was afraid of for a long time because it’s not always easy to know what to do with it. The intensity can be . . . well, intense. Explosive. And often, justified.

Both of my children seem to have inherited my strong emotions (Lord, help me!), so dealing with anger that flares and escalates quickly is a regular occurrence. I was trying my best to help them, and I found myself saying, “There’s nothing wrong with feeling angry. We all feel angry sometimes. But it’s what you do with your anger than can get you in trouble. You have to handle it the right way.” And then a teary-eyed child said, “Well, what’s the right way?”

Long pause. Blank stare.

I didn’t know. I’ve spent my life mostly burying it and trying to not explode. When it gets to be too much, I take a shower and have a good cry. I knew how heated my anger could be, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone with it or give the wrong impression or not be a good, gentle lady. So I adopted a cycle of “bottle, sob, berate myself for feeling things so strongly, repeat.” Not particularly helpful or healthy. And now I have two children who also feel AllTheFeels. They needed help, but I didn’t have any to give them.

So I’ve been learning, right alongside them, reading and studying and listening to people who seem to know what they’re talking about. We’re making progress, all 3 of us, although some days, the progress feels painfully slow.

Perhaps the most helpful thing for me so far has been learning to listen to what my anger is trying to tell me, to take those emotions and turn them into a question: what is it I am actually reacting to? What mattered so much to me that it provoked such an intense response?

I had the chance to practice this very recently. Something happened last week that made me angrier than I have been in a very long time. I was shaking with how upset and frustrated I was. And for once, I didn’t bury it or dismiss it or try to spiritualize my way out of it. I gave my husband a heads up that I was furious and it wasn’t his fault but I was going to need to unload (another wise lesson I’ve learned – give the poor man a heads up!). When we were finally able to sit across from each other and he said, “Ok, let’s have it,” it all poured out in torrents. I let myself feel it all and say it all. But as the layers of what happened and who said what and how I felt in the moment and what I wanted to do and what I actually did peeled off, suddenly something shifted in the conversation. I was able to see something clearly about my own heart and what I am passionated about that i had never really identified before.

In the days that have followed (much calmer), as I’ve continued to process and think, the clarity has continued to come. And what could have either been damaging or another thing buried is turning into something that is going to significantly impact my life and some choices ahead of us. It’s been kind of amazing.

i’m no anger expert, that’s for sure. I’m fumbling my way through it as I learn a better way. But one thing I am certain of, our anger is rarely isolated—just anger for no reason. There is something waiting to be revealed about our hearts if we will listen to it, rather than bottling it or letting it poison us.

P.S.: If you know any good secrets for helping children process their anger, I’m all ears!

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Questions That Break My Heart (Hard Conversations with My Kids)

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I was coming down the stairs this morning, a load of laundry in my arms, when I heard my daughter’s excited voice.

“Look, Mom! Our friends are outside playing! Why aren’t they at school?”

With the day’s to-do list scrolling through my head, I was about to murmur a casual “I don’t know” when I remembered going over my calendar before the kids were up. “Oh, it’s a holiday. They don’t have school today because it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day.”

And even as I kept walking to the laundry room, I heard her little voice again. “Who’s that? Why does he get a holiday?”

I felt the gravity of the moment suddenly demand a pause in the morning. I set the laundry basket down and went into the living room to look at my precious daughter and my precious son, who had stopped playing to come listen. Kids have the uncanniest sense about when something matters.

For just a few moments, I did my best to explain MLK’s legacy to their very tender 5- and 3-year old hearts. We talked about racism and segregation and laws that said certain individuals didn’t even count as an entire human being. We talked about separate schools and separate bathrooms and hate and fear. We talked about a man speaking up and literally laying his life down because this was so important.

I looked at those wide-eyes, and I knew what they were thinking of. Who they were thinking of. Their favorite friend from our former church. The next-door neighbor girl. The three little girls who live behind us who told my daughter she was the first friend they’d made in the neighborhood. (Never mind that none of them seem to be able to remember each other’s names. They just yell, “Hi, friends!” whenever they see each other.)

When I paused in my explanations, my daughter said very emphatically, “That makes no sense. God makes people in all colors. And besides, we’re supposed to treat others how we want to be treated.”

She was so matter of fact, so simple in her understanding of the situation. And unlike other hard things I’ve had to explain to her, where I end up saying, “It’s just complicated. There’s not always an easy answer,” this feels different. It shouldn’t be complicated. It really shouldn’t. I mean, at this point, dismantling the systems and prejudices and hundreds of years of tensions—well, ok, these are daunting undertakings. But they shouldn’t be.

I’ve never been able to wrap my head even a little bit around the concept of racism. I think we all have to work to overcome various biases and prejudices, get over our fear of differences; these are aspects of flawed humanity that are common to all of us. But to actually consider someone less than—less valuable, less worthy, less human—over skin color or accents or different homeland? I can’t make sense of it.

Then she asked the question, the one that shattered me: “But this doesn’t happen anymore, does it? Since the law was changed?”

And I have to look into those innocent, hopeful, compassionate faces and say, “Yes, it still happens.”

I don’t dismiss the progress. I don’t dismiss the years of efforts, the laws changed, the reconciliation fought for. But I see my own thoughts and frustrations mirrored in their little eyes: mere progress doesn’t seem like enough when people’s value and humanity are on the line.

I became painfully aware of my own lack of knowledge and understanding of this issue, even of MLK’s incredible legacy, as I talked with my children. I realize I have a lot more research and learning and listening to do. I want to know more so that I can do more.

Our conversation finally dwindled down, but as my daughter walked away, she said with all the sass and stubbornness she could muster (which, in this girl, is quite a bit), “Well, I’m just going to love everybody” and did her little “so there” flip of the head.

Well then, sweet girl, you’re miles ahead of so much of the world already. And I think that’s an excellent starting point.

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Entering in with Trembling Faith

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My Prissy Missy at 9 months old

I cried myself to sleep last night.

Most of my day was hijacked by needing to take my daughter to the doctor, something that pushes me to the brink of my emotions every single time. I don’t handle it well even a little bit. And there’s a reason why.

***

When my baby girl was born, we didn’t get to hold her right away. The nurses had been cleaning her up, weighing her, all the usual post delivery stuff, when another nurse came over to my husband and me and said she needed to talk to us.

I will never forget the fear that gripped my heart before she said a single word.

She told us our baby had a little skin tag at the base of her spinal cord, which could be no big deal and easily removed or could be indicative of spina bifida. Which has varying degrees of severity ranging from relatively harmless to the inability to use her legs. They needed to be very cautious since spinal cords are a pretty serious thing, so they needed to take her immediately for some sonogram pictures to determine what we were dealing with.

And just like that – a huge black cloud over all the joy and anticipation. I was already nervous about becoming a mommy, completely overwhelmed by the whole delivery process and the craziness I was already feeling in my body as the post-birth adjustment began. I remember feeling something go frozen inside me. All I could hear were those words, “worst case, she would not have the use of her legs” and all I could see were all the lovely ballerina things I had set aside for decorating her room. It felt like a cruel trick.

But I mustered up some smidgen of faith, asked people to pray and waited for them to come back and say it was nothing.

We waited for forever, it seemed, before they brought my baby and I actually got to cradle her close for the first time. Apparently she’d been kicking her legs and squirming the whole time, so they were fairly certain movement wasn’t going to be a problem. For now. But still, it wasn’t nothing. My disappointment was intense, but I did my best to tuck it away, to be strong.

What followed were visits from specialists and the process of finding a pediatric neurosurgeon – a practice so specialized that there are only 5 of them within a 100-mile radius of Dallas/Fort Worth. And lots of calls to the insurance company to get it all sorted. On top of the exhaustion of dealing with a newborn who struggled so much to nurse because she did not get to eat for a long time after she was first born.

When she was one month old, we had to take her in for an MRI. And since you have to be perfectly still during an MRI and she obviously couldn’t do that, they were going to have to put her under anesthesia. I was brought a waver specifying all the risks of anesthesia, plus the extra risks of giving it to a newborn, and all I remember is not being able to see as I signed my name, my eyes blinded with tears prompted by the last line of the waver, which said something about “while not common, death is a possible outcome.” It was too much for my new mommy heart.

But I mustered up another smidgen of faith because lots of people were praying that everything would come back normal, and we could finally move past all this, no surgery required.

And so it was with a crumbling heart that I sat in the surgeon’s office for the follow up visit, clutching my husband’s hand, listening to the surgeon explain how she needed the surgery sooner rather than later, before she grew too much, because she had a tethered spinal cord which could either cause no problems or lots of problems and it wasn’t worth taking a chance. I remember my husband saying, “We were praying everything would be fine, that it would be just a skin tag.” And I remember the surgeon’s almost mocking reply: “I could have told you that wasn’t going to happen. I’ve seen plenty of these and they always require surgery.”

My smidgen of faith disintegrated. Why on earth did God not answer this prayer? Why couldn’t He have proved the smug all-knowing surgeon wrong? Why did we have to subject our tiny baby to surgery?

But we did. When she was 3 months old. They had to do the whole thing under magnifiers because she was so tiny. What was supposed to be a two hour surgery turned into a four hour surgery, partly because she was so small, partly because they also discovered a cyst on her spinal cord that they needed to remove.

When we met with the surgeon afterwards, he said the surgery had been successful, they’d managed to get “most of” the cyst, there was only a 20% chance of her spinal cord re-tethering, all we could do now was wait for her to grow.

Wait, what? It’s not over? Just a “wait and see”? They told us potty training would be an important time, that if she struggled to get the hang of it, it would be a possible indicator that all was not right.

I can’t even begin to tell you how stressful potty training was. It’s hard enough as it is – but were the problems normal or due to complications that would mean more surgeries? We managed to navigate that season, but it was not without many, many tears and lots of fear on my part.

***

Which brings me back to Monday in the doctor’s office and me crumbling. They couldn’t quite put a finger on what was going on with her and due to a recent infection she had and her medical history, they decided they’d better order a round of x-rays/tests on her kidneys and other organs. It’s probably nothing, they say, but just to be on the safe side.

And they don’t know what those words do to me. I realize many people have gone through much worse medical issues with their children, at times have even lost their precious treasures in the process. My heart aches for them with a measure of empathy. And just because there are worse situations does not make our struggle any less valid or real – something I am only just accepting and why I am only just able to fully admit my wrestling.

All I want is certainty, to know this issue is no longer an issue, no longer even a faint question mark on the horizon. I want to be able to take care of my children when they’re sick without having to lock myself in the bathroom and weep because I am so afraid.

I’ve been through all the prayer classes and read the books and learned the Scriptures and I know how I am supposed to pray over my children. Full of faith and confidence because ultimately they are God’s, not mine, and He loves them and has a plan for their lives. I try. I do. I declare the things I’m supposed to declare, I reach down deep to find that mustard seed of faith . . . and so many of my prayers for my children end up with me sobbing, pleading with God to please just take care of them, let them be all right. They are not confident prayers; they are desperate prayers.

Because He didn’t heal her before. Because the money for the insane medical expenses was not miraculously provided. Because the surgeon could not say “We got it, she’ll be fine.”

Here is my raw, vulnerable truth: I massively struggle with faith for miracles, especially healing miracles. I work for a prayer ministry, for crying out loud. I hear the voices of a lifetime in church, explaining unanswered prayers as the result of a lack of faith, and I wonder what that means for my prayers over my children.

But then I wonder if maybe, just maybe, God understands my quivering mother-heart. Maybe He sees it as faith that I am still praying at all, in spite of countless disappointments. Maybe He sees it as faith that I keep trying to trust Him with my most precious treasures again and again, even though it is so hard. Maybe He sees it as faith that I am coming to Him every time with all my tears and uncertainty, still reaching and looking for Him in the fog.

Maybe that is faith after all.  So I enter in again and again – into my own heart and into what I believe to be true about God’s heart, that He is far more gracious than we have taught Him to be, that He measures faith far differently than we think. And I wait.

 

*Linking up today with Marvia Davidson for Real Talk Tuesday.

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Beauty Restores

It is a wearying day.

The struggle to find a rhythm in the new season.

Sick daughter.

Rambunctious determined son.

The relentless laundry pile & meals to be made & dishes to be cleaned & dogs to be let out & work needing to be done so bills can be paid.

***

I can feel it – the cloud of Overwhelming coming to cast his shadow.  The webs of Anxiety and Stress ready to spin their traps.  I step outside to water the tomato plants – one more “to do” – and the Beauty of the day calls to me like a long-lost friend.  I know in a moment how to reclaim this day from Heaviness.

Image Source; FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Source; FreeDigitalPhotos.net

***

The sick one moves slower than usual, sits for a rest more often.  But she inhales the breeze and soaks in the sun, and her smile comes.  She is healing as I watch.

The rambunctious one runs, wild and free.  The wind carries him – he is faster, stronger.  He chases stray dogs & searches for treasure rocks & sifts dirt through his hands.  He is coming alive as I watch.

And I – the weary one – I sit with words under the soothing cloudless sky.  I drink them in, I pour them out.  I rest for a moment from the doing and focus on just being.  I am refreshed as I pause, see, savor.

Today these are our green pastures and still waters.  Under the pure, undefiled blue, gently whispered to by Nature’s breath, basking in golden light – He restores our souls.

 

 

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