Sometimes I forget to spit out the seeds…

Posts tagged ‘Family’

13 Things Parenting Teens Has in Common with 80’s Song Titles

I’ve been a mom for almost twenty years.  I’m about to have five teenagers in my crew, for about a month, until the oldest turns twenty.  I thought by now I’d have mastered the art of parenting, or at least feel fairly confident in my ability to shape these almost-adults.  But I’ve found myself in countless conversations over the last couple of years with fellow moms-of-teens, and we’re all kind of floundering.

We all have the same “I don’t know what to do” look on our faces, as we reminisce about how easy it was to parent newborns and toddlers.  I’d rather be up rocking a crying baby than be up worrying and waiting for the kid breaking curfew, no question.  Why didn’t we know it would be this hard?  To all the moms who came before us….you must have told us – of course you told us!  We’re sorry we didn’t listen.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Not only do I love my teens, but I genuinely like them, too, most of the time.  We have fun together, and I love watching them have fun with each other.  When they talk to me about stuff, it’s a party in my heart while I try to play it cool on the outside. But I’ve realized that the hardships of parenting teens and young adults have a lot in common with popular 80’s song titles.  For real.  Check this out.

  1. When your kid’s face is so snarky and full of attitude that you want to slap it right off, you remind yourself that he’s still that Sweet Child O’ Mine.
  2. When you need a moment (or 50) to calm down, but you realize that she’s going to keep having this argument With or Without You.
  3. When your mom-friend confides that her child has done something equally as heinous and stupid as the thing your child did last week, you both shake your heads and sigh, Another One Bites the Dust.”
  4. When you’ve laid out the rules of the house as clear as can be, but you realize that he will never stop trying to Push It.
  5. When you try to be the cool, fun mom and agree to a sleepover with 10 of her best friends, then lay in bed staring at the ceiling as they giggle and slam doors All Night Long.
  6. When your kid drives off by himself for the very first time and Every Breath You Take is a painful struggle until he pulls back in the driveway again.
  7. When they violate your trust and you take their phone away, they act like it’s the End of the World as We Know It.  (You should be familiar with this move from the toddler years.)
  8. When you think you’re pretty hip and in touch with the current culture, but your kids remind you Time After Time that you haven’t got a clue.
  9. When he rolls his eyes every time you yell,Call Me” as he’s leaving to go hang out with his friends.  (Ok, maybe “text me” would be more accurate; but seriously, why won’t they just do it?)
  10. When your brain spends equal time shoutingShe Drives Me Crazy” and “I’m gonna Keep On Loving You.”
  11. When your kid thinks your rules don’t apply anymore, even though he’s still living in your house, and you’re tempted to tell him to just Beat It, but you also really don’t want him to leave.
  12. When you have multiple children and every 13th birthday has you anxiously thinking, “Here I Go Again.”
  13. When you have no idea if you’re doing it right, but you are Straight Up just Livin’ on a Prayer, and having Faith that God will cover your mistakes and it will all turn out ok.






Jumping Back in to Books

I remember reading books sitting in trees, under the yellow forsythia bush, and on swings.  I used to read while eating, blow drying my hair, and sunbathing.  I spent summers checking out stacks of books from the library every week.  Reading was an obsession.  Looking back in envy at the unlimited reading time of my childhood, I wish I’d read a little less “fluff” (think Sweet Valley High and The Babysitter’s Club) and a little more quality literature.  But all the same, I was hooked on books.

Then I got a job, went to vocational school, got married, and started my family.  Life got very busy, like it does for everyone.  And I just….let books go.  I can’t believe I did it, but I let adult responsibilities crowd out one of my greatest loves.  For years, I rarely read a book outside of the board books I read to my toddlers.  Once in a while, at the library with my kids, I’d grab something off the “featured titles” shelf, and hope it would be worth my time.  I missed reading, but I had no idea how to jump back in.  What would I even choose?  Where would I begin?

Five years ago, we bought a house with a school room.  A room just for homeschooling, and it was lined with bookshelves.  Suddenly, I had what felt like limitless space for books.  I started buying books at every rummage sale, and every time I went to the thrift store.  I bought titles I’d heard of before, books by authors I knew, and just about anything that’s considered a “classic.”  Then I just started reading them.

Last year, I discovered through a Facebook group (of course) that people often read multiple books at the same time.  I saw pictures of other people’s “book stacks,” and it was like an epiphany.  It had never occurred to me to do that, but I definitely wanted to try it.  In 2018 I read twenty books.  That’s a small number, compared to many of the book fiends in that Facebook group; but for me it was a joyful accomplishment.

I read a few classics, including A Farewell to ArmsPeter Pan, and The Color Purple.  I read Unbroken, the story of Olympic runner-turned-POW Louis Zamperini.  I read three of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants books (definitely in the “fluff” category, but so fun), and two books in the Anne of Green Gables series (I’d somehow never read beyond the second book before).

Then I found this beautiful gem on a list called “15 Books to Get Totally Lost In.”  I did get lost in it, and was disappointed when I reached the end.


One of the most interesting books I read had been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years, and was a gift from a descendant of the original owner of our 200-yr-old farmhouse.  It was written by a member of her family that grew up in our house, and was filled with fascinating tidbits about the farm that used to be here.


I’ve got a lot of good reasons to make time for reading.  It’s important for brain health, which is a definite plus since muddling through my kids’ teen years is sucking brain cells away on the daily, I’m sure.  I’m increasing my knowledge and honing my writing skills by exposing myself to many different authors and genres.  I’m setting a good example for my kids, many of whom are already book lovers.  And most importantly, it brings me joy.  I feel like an important piece of me has been found.  Though I never really lost it, I allowed it to get buried, and I’m so incredibly pleased to see it again.

Sandpiper Hill

While teaching my children how to write, I’ve noticed that some of them protest the most when the assignment involves sensory description.  They think it’s too hard, or it’s boring, or it’s just unnecessary.  What they don’t yet understand – at the stage in life where the present is larger than life, the future stretches blankly and endlessly, and the past is small and populated with memories that are deeply embedded but hidden – is that sensory details are more powerful than even the words themselves.

We’ve all experienced a random whiff of something that immediately brings us back to a certain place.  I have a few bottles of perfume that smell just like 7th, 8th, and 9th grade…each one very specific.  The first few bars of a song on the radio can trigger a very specific image in our mind.  A picture has the power to cause old feelings to well up uncontrollably.  Our senses are inextricably linked to our memories, and it’s really a very precious gift.

I want to tell you the story of a place that will forever be a part of me.  A place that brought me so much joy that twenty-five years after I was last there, I can still remember…..everything. That place is my grandma’s house on Sandpiper Hill Road, in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.  It’s a town on Cape Cod that got a mention on an episode of “Dawson’s Creek,” which I admit gave me quite a thrill.

Grandma, my mother’s mom, is my last living grandparent.  She lived with her husband, John, in the house on Sandpiper Hill Road, for about a decade, as best I can figure.  We visited Grandma and John every year around Labor Day, which often meant we were there for my birthday, too.  Cape Cod was a magical place for me.  There was the drive-in theater where I watched “Back to the Future,” then shopped my heart out the next day at the flea market held at the same spot.  The many warm-water ponds gave us incredible beach days.  The seafood restaurant we always went to probably had great food, but I only remember the lobster-shaped lollipops they had.

Those memories are rich and vibrant in themselves.  But that house.  It occurred to me several months ago that I could check out the house on Google Maps.  My grandma and I were pen pals, so I had written her address many times as a child; the name “Sandpiper Hill” came easily to my mind.  I typed it in the search bar and it immediately popped up.  I could tell right away that this was the right place….from the areal view I could see that the road made a 90-degree turn to run parallel to the ocean, just as I remembered.

I clicked on the street view and started to navigate.  I didn’t know the house number, but I was sure I could find the house. I went down the road a few clicks and saw that I was heading into town, with a supermarket coming up on the right side.  It was all so familiar, and I began to get excited.  But into town was the wrong way, so I did a 180 and headed down the tree-shaded road.  Up ahead I could see the road start to rise up the hill, and my heart beat a little faster, just like it used to do as I sat in the back seat of our station wagon.  At the crest of the hill, the road was no longer shaded by overhang, and the 90-degree turn I’d seen from up above was straight ahead.  And that meant that the house would be directly to my right.


I turned and looked at Grandma and John’s house.  It was different now….a whole second story had been added, so the face of it was very changed.  But it was still familiar.  The gray cedar siding.  The yard made of sand with tufts of tough grass scattered throughout, where they used to dig a hole for the clam bake.


Looking to the left, I saw the windmill in the neighbor’s yard.


Just past that were the wooden stairs leading down to the rocky beach on the bay side of the Cape, where we dug for hermit crabs, collected shells, and played on the wall of rocks.


In my mind I could still see the rooms inside.  Right through the front door was the open family room and kitchen.  There were bright blankets on the couch and always a little bit of sand on the floor, tracked in from the yard.  The kitchen was where Grandma cooked lobster and mussels, and served up boysenberry ice cream.

In the front corner of the house was the bedroom where I slept, in a twin bed with windows all around.  I’d lay there with the warm, salty breeze swirling around me, reading books, writing and drawing, and in the later years, dreaming about boys.

Down in the basement apartment, there was a cricket who lived under the refrigerator, and John had us convinced it was Jiminy Cricket, himself.  One year when my uncles were visiting at the same time, they helped throw me a surprise party in that basement.  I think I was turning seven, and I got blue clip-on earrings.

It’s funny how memories work.  You can’t always predict what’s going to stick.  The sights, sounds, and smells that do get cataloged in the recesses of our brains are powerful.  I recently visited my Grandma, and she was brought to happy tears at the memory of a song her mother used to sing while cleaning chickens.  It’s often the simplest of details that carry the most weight.  Do you cherish lovely memories like the ones I have of the house on Sandpiper Hill Road?






Jesus Had Our Back

My family has been very fortunate. In our immediate, nuclear family of mom, dad, and four sisters, we’ve experienced few truly difficult situations. And then last year, we entered what my mom at one point called “the darkest chapter.” The GRACE, looking back from this point, and the HOPE, looking forward, are almost indescribable. We’re now closing that dark chapter, and I want to tell you, unequivocally, that –

Jesus had our back.

My baby sister, Christina, is 18 years younger than I am. We didn’t grow up together, but as she approached adulthood, we grew infinitely closer. We started to really feel that sister-thing.

Christina met a man, and fell in love. We all loved that man, too. My children were drawn to him. My husband became fast friends with him. When that man was marrying my sister, and his friends bailed on him, my husband stood up with him at the altar as his best man. We were happy and excited to add that man to our family.


One year later, that man decided to quit our family. In the most abrupt and shocking way possible, he ended his marriage to my sister. I had been praying for them for a couple of days, because Christina had asked me to. I knew they’d hit a rough patch, like every marriage does. But I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d receive a text from Christina with the word “divorce” in it. I stared at my phone in disbelief, then turned it to my husband so he could read it. His face fell in shock and confusion.

At first, we all prayed fervently for reconciliation, but it quickly became apparent that the man had no interest in that. A group of that man’s friends, including my husband, tried to meet with him – to encourage him, to support him, to mentor him in this hard thing called marriage. He refused. He cut all ties…. ghosted himself…. dropped a bomb and walked away. He changed his status on social media to “single,” and deleted all photographic evidence to the contrary.

We had to tell our children that their uncle was leaving their aunt, and leaving our family. I sat, with my husband clutching my hand and tears running down his face, as we told our older children exactly what was happening. At first, we told our little ones just to pray for him, but later had to explain the full truth. A few months later, our then-five-year-old mentioned her uncle in the same breath as her great-grandpa who had died. She said she was sad about them both, and it took my breath away. She seemed confused, because she knew her uncle hadn’t died, but that’s what it felt like to her. He was there at every birthday, holiday, and family gathering as far back as she could remember; and then one day he was just gone. But children are resilient, more than I ever realized; they are, and will continue to be, absolutely ok.

As the days, weeks, and months went by, and more details were revealed, I became angrier than I’d ever been in my entire life. As a person who never cared much for swearing, I was surprised at the language circulating in my brain. Regular words seemed painfully insufficient. I asked God where He was in all this. Why hadn’t He warned us? Why did He allow my sister, who was always seeking Him for her future, to choose a man who would do this? Why hadn’t there been some colossal sign that none of us could ignore?

Most Christians I know have tried to rationalize the intricate web of free will, God’s will, and His omniscient nature. We eventually have to be willing to suspend our confusion and grab hold of faith, knowing that our human minds are just not capable of truly understanding the Almighty God or His ways. We know He’s intrinsically good, and that’s enough. But when we’re faced with tragedy or betrayal, we wonder “why?” all over again.

And then, I began to see God work in me, turning my consuming, blinding anger into compassion. I realized that what was missing in that man, what allowed him to walk out on his promise with seemingly no hesitation or remorse, was a confident knowledge of how much he is LOVED by Jesus. I was able to pray for him instead of curse him. I’m not saying I was instantly “over it,” because the anger, even now, creeps up on me again and again. There are times that I feel more anger than anything else, as more of his actions come to light. It feels like an endless cycle of choosing to forgive, being blindsided by some new piece of information, and giving in to the vengeful fantasies which can never be fulfilled. But my Jesus is always bigger than the anger, and He pulls me back around.

While I was struggling with how this affected my family and me, I was trying to be there for Christina, while not knowing exactly how to do that. She processed what was happening to her with grief, anger, courage, venting, faith, snarkiness (laugh so you don’t cry all the time!), prayer, patience, strength, and intelligence. Some things that she went through I saw right as they were happening. Other things she held close and then downloaded to me all at once, which was overwhelming at times. But I knew that Christina needed to be free to deal in her own way….there was no blueprint for her to follow.

I also began to realize that the stereotypical Christian response of “God hates divorce” is very simplistic, and even misleading. God created the covenant of marriage, and it is in His perfect design for it to be permanent during this life here on Earth. And so it grieves Him when that covenant is treated casually, violated, or destroyed. It also grieves and angers Him to see His children mistreated, abandoned, belittled, abused, and neglected. I think it’s so, so important to emphasize this point: while God does hate divorce, and in the perfect world He created no marriage would end that way, what grieves Him the most is the damage that is done to His children.

When I really began to see what God was doing for Christina, I was amazed. I knew He had been there even in that first, devastating moment, holding her in His arms, as she received the biggest blow of her life. I absolutely knew He’d be faithful to her. And yet….He did things in her that I never expected; that sometimes I didn’t even understand. He protected her in ways I couldn’t have imagined, preserving her precious heart for the future, when it easily could have been consumed with hardness and bitterness. As I watched Him work miraculously in her life, I was in awe of His GOODNESS, and MERCY. Wow! I can’t wait to see what’s next for this fabulous sister of mine!

God knows the plans He has for [Christina]. Plans to prosper [her], and not to harm [her]. Plans to give [her] HOPE and a FUTURE. ~Jeremiah 29:11

The Last First Loose Tooth

My husband thinks I’m a little crazy.  Maybe I am, but I’m fairly certain it’s the standard sort of crazy that comes with being a mom, or maybe just being a woman in general.  He thinks I’m crazy because I get emotional over things like giving away baby clothes, switching from a car seat to a booster, and long “baby” legs hanging off my lap.

My daughter’s loose tooth stirred up emotions in me that, surely, a tiny tooth is unworthy of.  That husband of mine looks at me with a cocked eyebrow and amused smirk whenever these things come up, but I can’t help it.  You see, this daughter….this 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter….she’s our baby.  She’s THE baby.


It happens in every family.  It isn’t always the same story, but it’s the same ending.  Because childbearing comes to an end.  No one goes on having babies forever.  (Damn, you, menopause!)  Those babies grow, and they grow fast.  Mothers all over the world urge younger mothers to savor it, because it goes by so fast.

Some couples make a decision to be done with adding to their family, and so they know when the last is the last.  They savor every milestone, knowing they won’t observe it ever again.  Maybe that makes it easier, or maybe it makes everything bittersweet.

Some couples think they know when the last is the last, and then are surprised with a second (or third!) round of lasts.  I imagine that’s all kinds of emotional ups and downs.

Some couples don’t realize they are in the “last days” until they are well into them.  Perhaps secondary infertility comes upon them, or they had planned to have more but changed their mind.

I fall into this last camp, of being caught unaware.  My babies arrived at fairly regular intervals – every 18 months to two years – for twelve years.  My family grew steadily, and we rejoiced and thanked God for every blessing.  We knew He would plan our family perfectly!  And while I knew there would be an end, I didn’t know when it would be for us.

I still don’t know that it is the end, but as I mentioned before, my “baby” is going on five years old.  When that tiny tooth came out, in the middle of dinner, and I exclaimed and teared up and declared her to be “so old” yet “still my baby,” my family chimed in.

We listed all the things that are no longer part of our lives….nursing, diaper bags, pacifiers, sippy cups, strollers, and car seats.  And then my kids melted my heart when they expressed their desire for more siblings.

“I want a baby brother!”  My youngest boy is my number three child, with five sisters following him.  Since he was able to talk, he’s been wishing for a little brother, and as a teenager, he still feels that way.

“I want TWIN baby brothers!”  The idea of a baby boy is a novelty after the string of girls, so that sentiment is shared.  And of course…twins!  So much more exciting.

“Hey, maybe Baby Sawyer is already on the way.”  My oldest son, who is practically a man (sob!) chimed in with this comment, accompanied by a big grin.  We had the name Sawyer picked out for the last three pregnancies, and yes, it was due to our obsession with LOST.

I smiled through my mixed emotions and thought, “Wow.  God is so good!”

In January, I wrote about the sense of failure I struggle with, never feeling I am doing a good enough job with my family.  This night, though….the night of the Last First Loose Tooth….filled me with relief that something had gone right.  It was just a few minutes out of what might have been a difficult day, but to God be the glory!

There was no, and never is any, expression of, “Ugh, no!  No more babies!” from any of my children.  Sometimes you hear of kids from large families who grow up to renounce and detest the idea of many children.  My heart aches at that possibility, but so far, so good.

My children know family is important.

My children know babies are blessings.

My children know siblings are valuable.

Mama might be crazy, but she sure is blessed!





New Year, Same Me

I admit it.  A brand new year gives me all kinds of glorious visions of a better me.  Technically, I don’t partake of the whole “New Year’s resolutions” thing.  I don’t write it down or make dramatic declarations, but if I’m completely honest, it’s there – almost as intoxicating as those rows of empty spiral notebooks, pretty binders, and new pens that make back-to-school time my absolute favorite.

As 2015 came to a close, I thought about how long it had been since I had blogged.  When I finally checked in here, I was surprised to find it had been seven months since I published anything.  My heart panged with guilt as I recalled the stone on a shelf above my desk, with the words “write every day” on it.

I didn’t keep that commitment, and I missed a lot of writing potential in the second half of the year.  Mundane summer “adventures.” A new doctor who offered hope and ultimately had some success in treating my whacked-out self. Home school struggles.  My grandma passing away.  A busy soccer season with three of my kids playing for a local Christian school.  The kitten who showed up at my house, wouldn’t leave, and adopted himself into my family.  My baby sister’s  whirlwind engagement, bridal shower, and wedding.

Opportunities missed, though  not lost, since there are no rules about blog posts having to be current events.  I mentally added my dry spell to the running list of failures I had going in my head.

Like a flashing neon sign, the word “failure” was plaguing my subconsciousness, and I had been vaguely aware of it for months.  It was clouding my days and giving me sleepless nights. I’m not normally a sarcastic person, but my brain was giving me a very bitter lashing on a daily basis.

Every mommy blog and meme on the internet:  “I know it feels like you’re not appreciated and that you’re not doing life well, but you’re doing great, Mama!  Go motherhood!  You are succeeding!”

My bitter brain:  “Uh, yeah.  No. You don’t just feel like you’re failing.  You actually ARE.  You suck at everything.”

My middle and high school students are behind in their school work, and they don’t seem to care.  FAIL.

I haven’t worked on painting the interior of our home in over a year.  FAIL.

I frequently lack in patience with my little ones, and probably don’t read to them enough.  FAIL.

My teenager doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life.  FAIL.

According to a spiritual gifts test, mine is hospitality, and I never invite anyone over.  FAIL.

My bathrooms are never quite clean; my laundry is never caught up; our sheets don’t get washed nearly often enough.  FAIL.

I’ve lost count of how many years behind I am on scrapbooking.  Ok, no I haven’t – it’s 10.  Ten years behind.  TRIPLE FAIL.

Now I’ve cataloged a portion of my transgressions, and I’ve sat on it for a few days.  Stuck.  Unable to tie this thing up as something other than a keeping-it-real, honest motherhood kind of post.  God knows, I could write a truck load of those.  Having eight kids has given me plenty of material for that kind of thing.

I went to church yesterday asking God for direction.  Not just in my writing, but it was definitely on the list.  We sang the song, “Boldly I Approach (The Art of Celebration)” by Rend Collective.

When condemnation grips my heart
And Satan tempts me to despair
I hear the voice that scatters fear
The Great I Am the Lord is here
Oh praise the One who fights for me
And shields my soul eternally

I know that most of the “sins” listed above aren’t really sins.  Laziness or procrastination may have played a minor role in some of them, but mostly they are simply life happening.  But does that matter to Satan?  He will tempt me to despair over anything he can get his hands on.

The truth is I am NOT enough.  But my God always is.  Sometimes that means  He equips me to do things better, and beyond my natural ability.  But sometimes that means that His grace covers my deficiencies.  And I am grateful; for even when I suck at everything, God is somehow glorified.








Embrace Your Place

I got a call from my husband at about 11:00pm.  “We’re at a gas station now, but I think Jr.’s going to need an x-ray tonight.”  Ugh.  Seriously?  I was in my pajamas, settled in bed with my laptop, thinking about actually going to sleep soon.  But my husband had to get up and out the door for work in the morning, and I did not, so it was logical for me to take the kid to the ER if he did indeed need to go that night.

My 15-yr-old son walked through the door, shivering because it was freezing outside and he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, in too much pain to change after playing basketball at our church’s open gym night.  He also was holding a paper towel full of ice on his wrist, and it was dripping coldly all over him.

As soon as I saw the pain in his face, and how gingerly he shuffled down the hall, my annoyance at being disturbed vanished. “Can we get a coat on you?”  He winced.  Nope.  I threw a sweatshirt over his shoulders and grabbed a blanket and my purse.

In the next 18 hours (after three hours in the emergency room, an inconclusive set of x-rays, a visit to the orthopedist, a temporary cast on his possibly-broken wrist, and a padded and wrapped possibly-broken elbow on the OPPOSITE arm) I began to do something I had not done in quite a while.  I took care of my son.

I held doors open for him.  I buckled his seat belt.  I held the ice pack on his wrist when his hand went numb.  I put pills in his mouth and held a cup to his lips so he could drink water.  I untied his shoes and pulled them off.  I prepared him food and drink when we got home, and tucked a blanket around him on the recliner before I passed out on the couch.

In the days that followed, I continued to serve him.  There was so much he couldn’t do.  Put his sweatshirt on and off.  Put his socks on.  Wash his hair.  Open a pill bottle.  Pour himself a drink.

This first-born child of mine is independent with a capital I and has been since he was very young.  Yes, he’s still needed me.  To talk to him.  To teach him.  To guide his decisions.  To drive him where he wants to go.  To grant permission for the things he wants to do.  To embarrass him by dancing in the kitchen.  But he hasn’t NEEDED me.

There’s something different about serving him now than there was before.  Babies and toddlers need parents to provide for their every need.  To do everything for them.  The willingness to do those things springs from our love and adoration of them.  But then they learn how to do things for themselves, in leaps and bounds, needing us a little less every day.  We rejoice with pride at their new accomplishments.  But there’s also a pang, with each step toward independence, at the unprecedented separation.  It’s as it should be…..and yet….

I have served this boy-man of mine through this time of healing, and it has been my pleasure.  I’m reading my own words here, and I know it seems like I’m romanticizing something small and mundane.  Of course my child, who is closer to being grown than being born, doesn’t need me to care for his physical needs anymore.  Of course, when the need arose I took up that care again, willingly.  So why all the emotional blather?

This past weekend I attended a women’s conference called IF:Gathering.  My church hosted an IF:Local simulcast, and I was there for over 15 hours over two days, worshiping God, enjoying time with some amazing friends, and being fed spiritually.  What I gleaned from the women who shared from God’s Word and their hearts is worthy of a dozen blog posts.

From my notes:  Embrace your place….when God is ready to use you, He will find you!  and Service is preparation for battle, not performance.

In our small group discussion time, we addressed a question about how to focus on the eternal a midst the practical.  A wise woman in my group (a.k.a. my mom) reminded us that during the years when our lives are consumed with the 24/7 acts of service associated with raising children, we are also ministering to their souls.  We are attending to their eternal souls with our practical, mundane, sometimes thankless service to their physical needs.

Whether they are just hours old and completely vulnerable, or approaching adulthood and quite capable….

Whether the ones you are serving are your children, parents, and siblings….or your neighbors, friends, and strangers….

Serving practical needs IS eternal, because those you are ministering to have eternal souls. 

Mothers, your mothering makes you great.  Your service to your children is service to your King, and it’s preparing you for whatever He has for you in the future.  Never, ever, believe the lie that what you do is only valuable in the moment.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Weddings and Funerals

As a child, I never would have imagined that in adulthood, there would be family members I would only see at weddings and funerals.  I don’t mean distant branches of the family tree, but close relatives…. grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins.  Even as my cousins and I seemed to have less in common as we got older, I still envisioned adulthood peppered with family reunions and occasional holiday gatherings.  I have written before about the gradual absence of all but my immediate family. But inevitably, that wedding or funeral comes around.

My grandfather died last week.  He was a very handsome Italian-American named Joe; the first generation of his family to be born in America.  Family rumor has him as one of 13 children, but everyone I’ve talked to can only name six of them; the rest are assumed to have died in infancy.  I have memories of he and my Armenian grandma taking us to the donut shop for donuts-on-a-stick and stickers from the vending machine by the door.  It seemed that every time we visited, he was eating basturma (I remember it pronounced BAS-too-mah), which is air-dried, cured beef.  He was always thrilled to see us; so proud, and so protective. Coast bar soap reminds me of him, and I’m not sure why.

At 87 years old, and in failing health after a couple of strokes, Grandpa’s death was not a surprise.  A midst the predictable feelings of sadness, there mingled a few other emotions as I began planning the logistics of our trip to bid him farewell.

Stress as I made arrangements for leaving our children behind while we spent two days in New Jersey for the viewing, funeral, and burial services.  My in-laws were more than willing to watch them for us, but I needed to type up instructions so the kiddos wouldn’t try to con their way into endless screen time and no chores.  Also on the docket were a light school plan and medical authorization forms, just in case.

Indecision as I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to bring our 3-yr-old with us.  She is needy at bedtime, and also my “baby”.  She would be a great buffer for those awkward moments with estranged family members.  (She ultimately came with us and was spoiled rotten.)

Embarrassment when I thought of showing up overweight after not seeing many of these people for several years.  Adding to that embarrassment was the struggle to find appropriate clothing to wear when I haven’t been shopping for my larger body.

Anger when I thought of those family members who’d shunned myself, my parents, and siblings with no explanation.  For years, I’d known the time would come when we’d be forced to spend time together.  That time had come, and it felt like I was about to enter a hostile middle school cafeteria.  No logic.  No rules.  Just “I don’t like you.”

Excitement when I thought of the ones whose love is evident.  The ones it is a joy to spend time with, no matter how long it’s been.  The ones I can talk to and laugh with and be myself with.

Anxiety at the thought of actually leaving my children, although I had no doubt that they were in capable hands.

I spent the week praying for grace, strength, safety, and peace.  I prayed that Jesus’ love would shine through me, regardless of what was going on around me.

In the end, the good moments far outweighed the bad.

The bad…. In addition to the terrifying drive around Philly, there was the anticipated family angst.  The “shunners” were very inconsistent with their shunning.  One moment avoiding eye contact and bee-lining it away from me, and the next carrying on what seemed like normal conversations, but felt like a big game of “let’s pretend.”  It was unnerving, confusing, and a little sickening.  But those moments were few.

The good…. I got to see many family members and friends, who all came together to honor my grandpa.  I enjoyed great conversations, good food, and laughter.  My grandma did not make her usual inquiry about whether or not I was pregnant again, to which she generally responds “thank God” when the answer is no.  In fact, she proudly announced to several people that I have eight children, and told one of my sisters what a blessing my kids are.  Wow.

I came home feeling inspired to make more of an effort to remain connected.  I thought about hosting a family reunion when our house is more hospitable.  I kicked myself for bringing my camera and not taking any pictures, especially of all the cousins together.  I don’t know if anything will change in our family dynamics.  My bet would be on “probably not.”  I feel sad but resigned to that fact, and just grateful for the good times that we had this week.

My grandpa and I weren’t really very close, but every time I saw him, his face lit up with a smile.  He liked to tell the story of when I was little and just learning to walk.  I’d fall forward and end up rump-in-the-air to reveal a heart on the bottom of my diaper cover.  I’m 36 years old, and until he lost the ability to talk a few years ago, that was still a memory he shared often, and with joy.  And he called me “my Michelle.”

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Family is Everything

I spent the first six years of my life surrounded by extended family. My cousin Joey was my first best friend, and our moms helped each other with life….one watching the kids while the other went shopping; drinking coffee and chatting on a regular basis. There were grandparent, aunts and uncles, and second cousins nearby, and very much in my life. Many of us would even go on vacation together every year, to a resort in the Catskills. I remember the entire caravan of cars pulling over when I got carsick. I’m not even sure how they made that happen without cell phones.

On Christmas Day, 30 years ago, my family moved to another state. My father’s profession is very specific, and jobs weren’t to be found just anywhere. He saw an opportunity and took it. My cousins then became my first pen pals. Family gatherings suddenly occurred only 2-3 times a year. It was a tough transition for my mom, I know, but as I remember, it was rather seamless for me.

Birthdays were celebrated with just my parents, my sisters, and myself.  Thanksgiving and Christmas were small affairs, as well.  There were no grandparents at choir and band concerts, talent shows, marching band competitions, or even my high school graduation party.  It sounds kind of sad, but in reality, I never felt the lack.  I credit my parents with that amazing feat.

They never spoke of the absence of family; at least not with us kids.  They made a lot of effort to keep those other relationships close, and didn’t complain when it seemed to be a one-way street.  But when it came right down to it, and those people were missing out on our growing up, my mom and my dad filled every gap.   We were always enough for each other.

When I began to have kids of my own, I started to realize what had been missing in my life.  The way my kids are growing up became a clear contrast to my own childhood.  While I never felt deprived, they surely are blessed.  Every birthday party is attended by grandparents, several aunts and uncles, and cousins.  Every soccer, basketball, and baseball game is attended by one or both sets of grandparents.  They’ve grown up in the same church as my in-laws, and more recently, my parents as well.  I’ve rarely needed to find a babysitter outside of the family.

Christmas Eve is always at my parents’ house (pizza bread, shrimp cocktail, and antipasto!).  After our own morning traditions on Christmas Day we head to my hubby’s parents’ house (ham, turkey, broccoli salad, pink stuff!).  Later in the day, my parents come by our house to hand out presents.  For Thanksgiving, we alternate years; each year content to be where we are, but missing the other side of the family, as well.

We do have family members out of state, most notably my sister and her family.  We miss them so much, but we make the effort to keep close, despite the distance.  We also have some family that we rarely see, though they are close by, and that is sad.  But our cup is overflowing, and I’m so thankful for that.  I’m thankful that God hasn’t put it on my plate to be far from family, as I know He’s done for others.

This fall, a wonderful thing happened to my family.  My grandma and step-grandpa moved to town!  We haven’t been able to visit them for several years, due to health-related issues.  Now they are only 25 minutes away, and will be present at birthdays, holidays, and many things in between.  My children are now getting to know their great-grandparents, which I think is amazing.  Their childhoods are so richly steeped in their heritage, and I hope that will resonate with them throughout their lives.

Family is not an important thing.  It’s everything.  ~ Michael J. Fox

Children are the Best Medicine

There’s a lot of darkness in this world.  Depression.  Illness.  Lack.  Anxiety.  Crime.  Loss.  Sorrow.  Sometimes it all comes at once, closing in on us.  We reach out in desperation for something to hold on to, to keep us from swirling away in that darkness.  I reach out to Jesus.

I reach out for comfort and clarity.  The comfort usually comes immediately, as soon as I say His name, because I know He is there.  But clarity.  That one can evade my grasp indefinitely.  And the harder I strive for it, the more elusive it becomes.  I think Jesus wants us to have clarity, for sure.  He wants us to step forward in life with confidence in His plan.  But He also wants us to trust Him.  If we had the whole picture, we’d have to push really hard against the temptation to let that trust shift to ourselves.  So He only gives us a glimpse.

Instead of trusting “the plan,” I’m forced to simply trust in Him.  Trust in what I know for sure.  That He created me in His image.  That He loves me more than I can grasp.  That He wants only good for me.  That I am righteous through His sacrifice.  As I circle around, clinging to those truths and waiting for what comes next, I’m still in the midst of my hectic life, keeping it together for the sake of my family.

It occurred to me, the other day, that the Lord has orchestrated my life for such a time as this.  He has given me the medicine I need to bring back my joy, and then bring it back again and again when I lose it.  He has given me children.

I am in a somewhat unique position.  While I do not have a baby right now, nor do I have any adult children, I’ve got pretty much everything in between.  The joy in parenting is different for each stage of childhood, and right now, I feel like I’ve got it all!  God has blessed me with eight amazing little (and not-so-little) people.  Not just for a lifetime; not just for eternity; but for this day.   I want to bring you an ode to my children….the tools through which God is the “lifter of my head.”

Fourteen-year-old boy.  It is surreal and almost giddy to see him, so tall, strong, and handsome.  I see that when he gently roughhouses with his tiniest sister, he’s not just avoiding his school work….he actually enjoys it.  He rolls his eyes and runs away when his sisters try to tackle him, but I can see that it pleases him, and he lets them catch him.  We are still working on respect, but he is getting it.  He’s working hard.  He’s still a kid, and would rather be playing, but when we call on him to help out, he does it diligently and with 100% effort.  Joy number one.

Thirteen-year-old boy.  He recently offered a greeting and a goodbye to family members, unsolicited, and unprompted.  That is huge for this boy.  My heart swells to see him engaging in conversations, looking others in the face, and smiling when he does it.  With a memory like a steel trap and a voracious appetite for reading anything and everything, I can see that God has equipped him to overcome those blind spots in his mind.  While his stories and his LEGO creations are intricate, he finds pleasure in simple things, and the whole world knows when he is amused.  Joy number two.

Eleven-year-old boy.  I see him seeking out the little boys at church, letting them hang on and pummel him.  He begs for a baby brother;  but while he is waiting for God to give him that, he embraces his role as big brother to five sisters.  In school, he struggles only against his desire for perfection.  Learning comes easily to him, and I am glad.  He loves to hear, “I love you,” and always says it back.  He might even let me hug him.  Joy number three.

Nine-year-old girl.  This beauty is a fascinating blend of her father’s athleticism and her mother’s introverted mind.  His singing voice, my book addiction.  Her insanely thick hair gives me vain pride, and her nurturing attitude makes me smile.  She still climbs into my short lap, with her long legs, for a snuggle.  On the brink of adolescence, tears come more easily to her now; and while I know that the coming years may be filled with emotional upheaval, I’m excited for what we’ll get to share.  Joy number four.

Seven-year-old girl.  I see her big smile – teeth overcrowding her little mouth – and freckled nose, and can’t help but smile back.  Her laugh is at times a guffaw, and so contagious.  She’s usually included in the “big kid” activities, but she’ll also take the lead with the younger kids, engaging them in a tea party or block-building marathon.  When doing chores, she does more than is required of her, without complaining.  Her servant heart is emerging.  Joy number five.

Six-year-old girl.  We call her “Brutus.”  Since she was a baby, she has come at life with a great force and boundless energy, sometimes trampling those in her way.   She stubbornly refuses help when she’s reading, often books that are beyond her ability, and just makes up words when she is stumped.  The results are pretty hilarious.  She is fearless, and thinks she can do it all.  Even her rascally escapades exude creativity and ingenuity.  Joy number six.

Four-year-old girl.  Her fake-looking eyelashes are ridiculously beautiful on a child, and her eyes captivate me.  Four is a fun age, filled with curiosity, drama, and rapid learning.  She speaks with a bit of a lisp.  She admires the older boys in her life….brothers, cousins, and friends of theirs.  They can usually tolerate her hanging on their arm or putting their name in a song, because she is so adorable.  I think she forgot how to walk, because she seems to leap or skip wherever she goes.  Joy number seven.

Three-year-old girl.  She will be three in one week, but it seems like she’s already been three for months.  I’m not one to rush through life’s stages, but she has been a very articulate two-year-old.  We crack up daily at her observations and explanations of  life.  Her snuggles lift my spirit immediately.  If you’ve never had a toddler bury their face in your neck while patting your back as you embrace, I highly recommend it.  Even her fake tantrums (“fake” because she’s not really upset), with her arms folded and an exaggerated pout on her face, fill my heart to the brim.  Joy number eight.

I could write for days about both the trials and the joys of motherhood.  But the Lord has brought these joyful moments to the forefront for me….like one of those trippy hidden pictures that were all the rage in the ’90’s.  You’re looking at a crazy, swirling, confusing, and frustrating mess.  Then all of a sudden, you see it.  The picture seems to magically rise to the surface.  And I realize……children are the best medicine.