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10 months home

When I was in college I went on a couple of mission trips to Romania to teach English using the Bible. Like any overseas trip, it was eye-opening. So much is different: the food, the customs, the language. I remember that one time when, unbeknownst to us, our shower was leaking through the bathroom floor in our flat and down through the ceiling in the flat below us. The landlord came knocking to tell us what was happening but our Romanian language skills were abysmal. We had no idea what he was saying. Like so many Europeans, he was fluent in more than one language—but none that we understood. In the end, he had to speak Romanian to a non-English speaking friend who translated his words into French. A few of us had studied French in high school, so we cobbled together his meaning: your shower is leaking, you dumb Americans. The longer we were there, the less difficult the language barrier became. We learned to point, pantomime, and draw pictures to communicate. We also learned some important phrases, like “Unde este toaleta?” (Where is the bathroom?) But mostly, we learned to be comfortable with the confusion. And we learned that in spite of our differences, there was much more we had in common. Bringing someone into our home who speaks a different language has been difficult at times, especially at the beginning. As of today, our African-born son Ezra has been in the U.S. for 10 months. He can understand nearly everything we say. Although he usually likes us to repeat it for clarity. Me: After we take them to school, we’re going to the store so grab your shoes. Ezra: Mama, what? Me: ( Slowly , emphasizing every syllable ) After we take them to school, we’re going to the store so grab your shoes. Ezra: Oh. Shoes. Yessee, ma’am. It may take a few times but he can get it. When I stayed home from church with his sick older brother on Sunday, Ezra was able to tell me the Bible story they learned in Sunday School. It was like I was a contestant on a game show. Ezra: “Um, a boat. Jesus was sleeping. Rain and crashing waves sound effects. Jesus say, ‘Be Still!’” Me: Jesus calms the storm! But there’s so much more to communicating with Ezra than words and phrases and idioms and explaining why he shouldn’t use his middle finger to point at things. We are still attempting to speak the language of trust and forever and unconditional love to his wary heart. There are times when I am reminded of where Ezra has been and how he spent the first 5 years of his life. Those occasions come less often than they did when he first came home so I sometimes forget that he still needs so many reassurances. This morning was one of those times. Ezra said something unkind to his sister in the car and I said, “Be nice to your sister.” To me, it was a restrained, insignificant rebuke. Full disclosure, I may have had my 7:30 am on a weekday voice which I use to say things like: “Let’s go! We’re late! Where’s your lunchbox?” But I honestly didn’t think it was a full-on Mom Scolding. For whatever reason—Ezra’s head cold or my strained tone—he took it to mean that I was mad. He gave me the cold shoulder while we completed our carpooling duties. Then he stayed in the car after I pulled into the garage, refusing to leave. I left him there to stew for a bit. When he finally came in the house, he sat at his place at the kitchen table, laid his head down, and exploded into snotty sobs. “Mama, no love me!” he cried. “Ezra,” I said, “What is the matter?” I scooped him up and carried him to the sofa. I wrapped him in a blanket and held him in the way I have held all of my babies—his body curved into a J and his head resting against my left arm. He cried with his whole being as I pulled a dozen tissues from the Kleenex box to wipe his eyes and help him blow his nose. He wouldn’t talk. He would only cry. So I started to throw out possible scenarios: Ezra, if you brought a lion in our house and the lion ran to my closet and ripped up all of my clothes so that they were in pieces all over my room, I would still love you. If a policeman came to our door and told me that you stole all the soccer balls in Murfreesboro, I would still love you. If you never learn your colors or your letters or your numbers or how to tie your shoes, I will still love you. If you fuss at your sisters and brother and daddy and me every day for 100 years, I will still love you. If you tell me you don’t love me, I will still love you. Nothing you could do or say would make me stop loving you because I will love you forever, ever, ever. In between hiccuppy breaths, he agreed to a cup of hot chocolate with no less than 12 marshmallows and we moved on with our day. Before Ezra, I don’t think I ever considered how life would be if I felt completely unloved. Sure, I’ve questioned the extent of affection from certain people but I’ve never known an utter lack of love. Now I am learning some truths about unconditional love. Love is a verb, an action, an effort. It is also a noun, a thing, a gift. Love , the noun, has more weight with the addition of our son. Love , the verb, requires constant motion. Love , the word, bears repeating over and over and over. #adoption #unconditionallove #worth

100,000 miles

As we were driving to a soccer tournament over the weekend, my husband and I witnessed a (sort of) significant milestone for our family minivan—we reached 100,000 miles. The lucky moment came while he was driving, so I filmed the clicking over from five-digits to six on the odometer for the sake of posterity. In the more than five years we’ve been driving this particular vehicle, we’ve averaged somewhere around 50 miles a day. For people with a long commute to work, that may not seem like a lot, but it does make me stop and wonder if the destination has been worth the all of those miles. There was once a servant who was given the task to take a long journey to find a wife for his master’s son. He traveled 500 miles (by camel, not Honda Odyssey), and when he got to the appointed place, the servant stopped for a drink of water at a well. He prayed, “Help me to accomplish the purpose of my journey. I will ask one of these young women for a drink and if she says, ‘Yes! And I will happily water your camels too!’ let her be the one. That is how I will know.” Sure enough, a beautiful woman came by and graciously did just what he had prayed for. As she set about giving him a drink along with his camel, the servant watched closely without speaking, resolved to verify that God had made his journey a success. The servant returned with the woman to her home and retold the story of the well encounter to her family. They consented to putting her in the care of this servant, but they asked if she could stay at home for a week or so before heading off to get hitched to marry a man they were related to but had never met. Though this seems like a reasonable request, the servant was already itching to get back on the road. He told them, “Please don’t stop me from going! Now that I know this mission has been a success, I have to get back to tell my master what’s happened.” (To read the full account of the Isaac/Rebekah family drama, start at Genesis 24 and grab the popcorn. Dallas has nothing on these ancient Bible families!) At the end of a long road trip, the last thing I want to do is get back on my camel (or Honda Odyssey). I’m a little surprised by the servant’s response. Knowing the value placed on hospitality in ancient times, this might’ve seemed rude. I sense an anxiety in his words and actions, as if he was overwhelmed with the initial task of finding the perfect wife for his master’s favorite son. He repeats Abraham’s instructions several times, like I do when I’m walking to a different room so I won’t forget why I’m going there. ( Put the towels in the dryer. Put the towels in the dryer. ) He so much wants this journey to be a success, and he can’t wait to get back to prove that all those miles (and camels and gifts of jewelry and clothing) were worth it. When I think back on the 100,000 miles we’ve put on our minivan, I think of trips to visit grandparents and trips to the beach and college tour visits and lots of soccer practice. I think of quiet conversations with my kids when I get them one-on-one, and I think of God’s hand in keeping us safe. And most of all, I think of that blessed feeling of relief when I pull into the garage and I am home.

120 Years

In June of 2012, our family was matched with a beautiful African boy to be his forever family. Wait, let me back up… In July of 2011, my husband and I began the process to adopt internationally, choosing the Democratic Republic of the Congo as our future child’s birthplace. Nope. I’ve got to go back a little further… In August of 2010, our youngest child was preparing to head off to kindergarten. I asked my husband if he would consider adopting to add to our family. He wasn’t ready so I waited and prayed, and I did the thing I’m horrible at doing—nothing. I didn’t nag or scheme or guilt him into agreeing with my plan to adopt. I waited. And we continue to wait. Our son was 15 months old when we were matched to him. Now at 3 ½, we can’t point to any concrete prospects for his imminent release to us. We feel foolish at times. We play the “what if” game nearly every day. ( What if we had started earlier? What if we had picked a different country? ) We pound our fists on the floor when we cry out to God during the low times and we smile and sigh when we get new pictures of our boy. But, no mater what, we still wait. This week, I was reminded of Noah. You know the story: God looked around at the wickedness of His people and decided to start over. He told Noah to build a boat for his family and the animals because a flood was coming. He followed God’s instructions and made the ark. The rains came down and the floods came up (wrong Sunday school song but it works here), and they were saved. Cue rainbow. End scene. Then I got to thinking about how it took Noah 120 years to build the ark. That’s about 43,000 mornings of Noah waking up, dragging his 500-year old body out the bed, and starting another day of carpentry with his sons. And you know how difficult it can be to work with your children. I’m sure there were days when Shem gathered the wrong kind of wood. ( I asked for gopher wood! Gopher wood! Is that so difficult?!) Ham was acting like a…well, a ham, trying to walk across the upper beams like a tightrope walker. And don’t get me started on Japheth! The baby of the family was always complaining about a splinter in his finger or his sandal was rubbing against his ankle or the male and female tigers had attacked him. Always something with that Japheth! Even though it took 120 years to build the ark, the Lord held off the rain until they were finished. He told Noah when to begin and then He watched Noah & Sons Building Co. as they were faithful to his word. He watched them measure every cubit and round up every animal. They continued to work without a definite sign the world would be destroyed by flood and God saw them. This Bible story I’ve heard countless times was a blessing to me, a boon to my sometimes flagging spirit. I believe God gave us a charge, not to build a boat but to save a child. He gave us a start time and I believe He’s watching us as we wait for the finish. It may not end the way we’re expecting (Could Noah have ever imagined he’d see something as glorious as a rainbow?) but I’m trusting God knows how it’s supposed to end. I’m praying we’ll get to bring our Ezra home soon, the same prayer we’ve said every day for two years. And I’ll keep on praying, even if this lasts 120 years. Cue rainbow. End scene.

181 Days

I’ve always been an emotional person. It’s just part of who I am . So what’s the logical activity for an emotional cry baby like me who is waiting to hear news about an adoption which has been languishing interminably long as we approach an important “deadline” (if such a word exists in the adoption world)? Watching home movies, of course. I recently took our videocassettes to a place where they can convert them to DVDs. I picked them up on Saturday and we spent the whole weekend watching them. I sat next to two 11-year olds and an 8-year old on the sofa while we saw babies and toddlers take first steps and blow out birthday candles. We listened to tiny, high-pitched voices sing the ABC song and “Jesus Loves Me.” I wept. The only thing missing from this tear-fest was some major hormones…oh, wait…I had that going on, too. The one section we didn’t watch was the birth of our son. My husband did the videoing (I was too busy pushing a human out of my body). He didn’t start filming until after our son was out and in my arms, getting kisses. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize what was in the periphery of the shot. Let’s just say I wasn’t ready for that kind of close up. When I took that cassette to be converted, it came with a backstory, a plea, and some nervous giggling. We decided to put that one on its own separate disc so I could do some cropping later. Other than that X-rated scene and the random 20 minutes of a dog show when someone from work borrowed our camera, it was priceless. It made it all the more difficult knowing how much we’ve already missed with our son who is in Africa. We’re sick of missing holidays and birthdays and regular days and EVERYdays with him. We’re sick of wondering if this will have a happy ending or any kind of ending at all. Here’s the truth: we’ve been in this additional wait for 181 days. This doesn’t include the year we waited to be matched and the nine months after that before this wait began. But here’s another truth: it doesn’t matter how sick we get of waiting. It just doesn’t. We’ll wait. We’ll wait for the email or phone call, and we’ll live in expectation of it everyday. That the human heart is capable of processing this overwhelming amount of emotions without imploding is as miraculous as it is commonplace. Nevertheless, I’ll be grateful when I can feel this and so much more with our boy in my arms, getting kisses.

19 years and counting

19 years. Four kids. 2 minivans. 1 apartment and 3 houses. 6,935 nights to say “I love you” to my husband before falling asleep . We met in college, you a junior with a plan and me a freshman without a clue. We were introduced by mutual friends, then we became friends. We went on friend dates: Sunday morning church, restaurant group dates, putt-putt golf, and that one time we tried to fly a kite in the park. After a couple of months of being friends, we fell in love. Well, the falling part happened before the title of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” became official but it stuck. For me, it started pretty much the first time we met and you offered to refill my little sister’s drink at the Subway restaurant where you, me, my sister, and three or four of my friends were eating lunch on a hot day in July. Then, a week or so later, I watched you befriend a bunch of awkward-looking freshman boys sitting alone at a student orientation event. Each time I saw you show kindness, you became even more attractive. Growing up, my idea of lasting, romantic relationships was fairly mundane. I thought it consisted of the man doing the following: 1) You ask a girl to couple skate and the DJ plays “Uptown Girl” just as you both skate to the center of the room, lights focused on the strikingly beautiful couple who can skate backwards and “shoot the duck” like pros. 2) You ask a girl to Pizza Hut where you share a medium 2-topping, drink Coke out of those red tumblers, and you play “Elvira” on the jukebox. 3) You go on the show “Family Feud” and when Richard Dawson asks you to introduce your family, you refer to your wife as your “lovely bride of 25 years.” As it turns out, none of those things have happened in the past 19 years we’ve been married or the three years prior to that when we were dating. (And I’m not hinting to go roller skating, to eat at Pizza Hut, or to sign up for the Family Feud. I promise.) When I think of those youngsters, it feels like I’m remembering scenes from a movie about someone else, a different couple. Did I ever not know everything about you? Like how you sound like Darth Vader when you sleep? How you never like to be barefoot? How you’re amazingly gentle with tiny babies? Was there ever a time that you only knew the things about me that I wanted you to know? My insecurities and my bad habits were never on display for you when I was 18 and you were 20. Suppose that was us—those cute kids without any gray hair or stretch marks or worries beyond finals for that semester—then what a journey this has been. And the craziest part is that even as great as that first love feeling was, it’s a million times better now than it was before. (Well, maybe not the stretch mark part.) We decided all those years ago that we’re both in this for the long haul. You and me. No matter what. But you make it easy, like making a commitment to be faithful to chocolate or sunshine, and then sticking with it. So even after all these years, I still love that boy who was kind and funny and smart. Or to quote the Oak Ridge Boys: “my heart’s on fire…Giddy up, oom poppa, oom poppa, mow mow” #anniversary #marriage

5 Month Update

Ever since our Congolese-born son came home to America almost 5 months ago, we frequently hear the same question from friends and family: “How is Ezra doing?” Depending on the situation, sometimes our answers are brief and sometimes we have time to go into more detail. The following is me going into more detail: He wakes up every day around 6:15 and tiptoes into our room. (At first our mornings were punctuated with the sound of him throwing doors open and slamming doors shut. Fortunately, we’ve communicated the importance of a quiet house when most of its occupants are still asleep.) If my husband and I are both already up, then he goes with us to the kitchen to start his breakfast. If one of us is still in bed, he’ll snuggle in for a few minutes. For breakfast, it’s not unusual for him to eat a bowl of cereal (Alphabet cereal is his favorite. He calls it “A-B-C-D”), a couple of ham rolls, and a fried egg. Often he’ll wash it all down with a cup of hot tea. This kid can put the food away! It always makes me think of a page in the Richard Scarry book Best Word Book Ever . There’s a bear who eats a whole page full of breakfast foods: waffles, pancakes, toast, cereal, etc. That’s our boy. He’s not necessarily a picky eater but he doesn’t like everything I make for him to eat, especially my attempts at cooking Congolese cuisine. If I offer him something he likes he’ll say, “Mama, I love-ee dis!” and if he doesn’t like it he’ll frown and say, “Mama, I no love-ee dis.” After the big brother and big sisters are off to school and Daddy (which, by the way, is what he’s now calling Brent instead of Papa and it’s possibly the sweetest thing ever) is off to work, then Ezra and I are ready for some Mommy-Ezra time. I’m pretty sure I never played with my older three kids as much as I play with him. Partly it’s because the others were close enough in age that they always had each other as playmates. And partly it’s because I feel a lot of guilt saying no to that face when he says, “Mama play ball-ee?” We usually spend a good half an hour or so playing some kind of ball in the basement: soccer, football (mainly an excuse to say “hike” and to tackle each other), basketball (with laundry baskets on opposite walls). He gets frustrated with me because I don’t play the same way as Knox and Brent so I can eventually steer him toward some other activity. Am I throwing the games to get out of playing ball? No! How dare you insinuate that! My particular favorite activities involve drawing roads on the driveway with sidewalk chalk for his Matchbox cars and making houses out of cardboard boxes and other things we find in the recycling bin for his grab-bag shoebox full of Little People, plastic animals, and Lego characters. He has an extraordinary imagination. He can take any object and make it come alive in his hands. One day he spent more than an hour making two refrigerator magnets—one of Mickey Mouse and one of Winnie-the-Pooh—have some sort of epic battle on the kitchen table. I had no idea how much animosity existed between those two characters! After he’s had a big lunch and played a little bit longer, we start the process of the afternoon nap. It involves some mandatory bathroom time, no less than three picture books, and an acoustic guitar CD I used to play for my kindergarten class when I was a teacher. After naptime, the rest of the day is a blur of activity. There’s pickup lines and supper preparation and team practice drop-off. When he hears the screech of the garage door opening signaling Brent’s imminent arrival, Ezra hides behind the kitchen island or just inside the door so that he can jump out and scare him. Like any sweet daddy, Brent pretends to be scared by this daily phenomenon. He goes to sleep quickly after a shower, three more books, “The Lord’s Army” song, and some prayers. Our social worker told us that bedtime is especially important for kids like our son who, though happy, healthy, and connecting with his new family, need a release from the stress of trying to figure out what’s going on around him—What’s she saying? What’s that smell? What is expected of me? Am I doing this right? Ezra seems to understand a lot of what we tell him. He’s always asking for me to explain pictures in a book, or the storyline in a movie, or the conversations of his siblings. But other than food-related words, he doesn’t say a lot of English words to communicate what he needs. Still, his limited English vocabulary is increasing slow but sure. We’re already to the point where life with Ezra is routine. It’s not a life without its challenges but it doesn’t surprise me to see his face every morning peeking around the corner or hear his voice in my head before I go to bed. This person who we tried for almost four years to bring into our family is here. It’s like finally meeting your favorite celebrity and then going grocery shopping together.  No big deal. Whatever. This is totally normal. But of course it is a big deal. I love-ee dis.

A Golden Afternoon

For the first 6 ½ years of our marriage, my husband and I lived in Memphis. The majority of that time was spent in a modest, brick house built in the 1950’s on a sidewalk-lined street shaded by dozens of towering, deep-rooted trees. As is often the case in older neighborhoods, many of the homes were inhabited by elderly people—some couples but mostly widows. It was a quiet street nestled in the heart of such a busy city and we loved it. Beside the fact that our best friends lived across the street, the main reason I look back on that home so fondly is because it was the place we brought home our newborn twin daughters. Our girls lived there until the weekend they turned 2, when we moved to Murfreesboro. Next door to us lived an older woman named Golden Crenshaw. The first time we met, I was playing with my barely crawling babies on a blanket in the front yard. Ms. Golden walked over and invited us to her house to meet her housemate. I nervously entered with a baby in each arm, eyeing all of the breakable knickknacks in the warm living room which seemed to tremble in the presence of such small and possibly destructive children. Ms. Golden introduced me to her late husband’s aunt. She was a tiny, frail woman well into her 90’s and I was instructed to call her “Aunt” (I have no idea what her name actually was). The women asked me about the girls—their names and age. They asked me where I was from and what brought us to Memphis. Ms. Golden inquired about my name. “Abby? Is it short for Abigail?” she asked. “Yes, ma’am,” I answered politely as a wrangled my restless babies. “But no one really calls me that.” “Well, we shall call you Abigail,” responded Ms. Golden. “Won’t we, Aunt?” She said a little louder. And that’s just what they did. In all the universe—other than the person who calls me back to see the doctor while I’m waiting in the waiting room, only Ms. Golden and Aunt called me Abigail . In spite of their precise attention to decorum, they exuded warmth and acceptance and a genuine interest in a fairly exhausted young mom. It’s like how some people can wear the color yellow while others just can’t. They could pull off the Formal Southern Thing without seeming stiff or snobbish. Ms. Golden did most of the talking with Aunt chiming in every once in a while to answer her niece-in-law’s question. Aunt would mostly stroke my daughter’s baby soft hair with her worn fingers and smile. They told me about Ms. Golden’s late husband and her daughters, one of which had also passed away. That first afternoon, they shared their stories and asked me mine. Over the next year or so before we moved away, we’d visit from time to time. They gave the girls matching dolls for Christmas which the girls would eventually take on many walks down those lovely, shaded sidewalks in their miniature pink doll strollers. I recently found one of those baby dolls, abandoned and unused lying face down in a dark corner of the play room closet. I picked it up and thought about that hot afternoon with Ms. Golden and Aunt. Then I thought about the other women who early in my marriage encouraged me and valued my thoughts: our church’s custodian who told me I was beautiful even though I was nearly 9 months pregnant with twins and ridiculously swollen. The scores of women who brought us meals after the girls were born. The doctor’s office receptionist who gave me diapers from her own baby’s diaper bag when I ran out during a long day of appointments for my 18-month old who had a broken arm. Women who were there for me just when I needed them and others who were there the rest of the time. When it seems that the world tries to convince us that we should tear each other down to make ourselves look better, I will think of these women. As Helen Keller—the inspirational author and speaker who had to rely on others to be her eyes and ears said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

A boat for the outcasts

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, my husband Brent and I went on a little river trip. We were accompanied by our captain, a guide (let’s call him “Larry”), and three strangers from Canada. (Not that it matters, but if this was  Gilligan’s Island , I think that I would be playing the part of Mrs. Howell.)   This particular river is chock-full of crocodiles. In fact, according to Larry, it’s the second most crocodile-infested river in the world. And those animals are no joke. They are HUGE…like make-you-believe-in-dinosaurs huge. When you see one slyly swimming along and following your boat, with just his eyes poking out in front of him and his giant tail cutting S's in the brown river water behind him, it makes a land-loving girl like me question the sea-worthiness of the vessel. These massive creatures can grow up to 20 feet long! Fortunately, we all made it back in one piece, but while aboard, Larry told us an interesting story.   This stretch of the river is hemmed in on both sides by jungles teaming with all kinds of wildlife, including primates. We heard peaceful howler monkeys before we ever saw them, their throaty calls warning each other about our presence. We also saw capuchin monkeys. As cute as they appear to the casual observer, they can be aggressive and bloody-thirsty. Larry told us about one little fella he named Caesar (after a character from  The Planet of the Apes  movie).   Apparently, Caesar was a part of a family of capuchins, but he developed a case of mange, which Larry claims he got from eating cookies and other junk food given to him by well-meaning tourists. One day, Caesar’s family tried to push him out of a tree so that he would fall into the river and become a snack for the crocodiles. His troop saw Caesar and his sickness as a liability, so they wanted him gone from the group. Lucky for him, he was able to hop onto the roof of a vessel similar to ours, and the captain ferried him over to the other side of the river, where he could eat nutritious food and recuperate far away from his assassins.   Over the years, Larry would regularly reconnect with Caesar, now healthy and strong and still living on the other side. While the river in this section isn’t especially wide, the two sides might as well be a million miles apart for the existence of those sneaky, hungry crocodiles. Larry said that we had a 1% chance of swimming successfully from one side to the other without being eaten. (I can’t actually say if that statistic is true because none of us aboard that Costa Rican  S.S. Minnow  tested his math.)   It’s a commonly held belief that primates resemble humans. This phenomenon can be observed in the ways we communicate, have fun, display emotions, use tools, and, I’m sad to say, how we function as a part of a community. How often do we dismiss those who are struggling or displaying weakness? How about when someone seems to be dragging us down? Do we find ways to help him, or do we calculate the costs and attempt to shove him out of a tree to save ourselves the bother?   One thing that separates us from capuchins (besides our capacity to eat cookies without developing mangey fur...thank goodness) is our ability to examine the life of a man named Jesus and try to live like Him. Through Christ, we see someone who touched lepers, ate with tax collectors, and spoke to women with bad reputations. He welcomed the outcasts. In our communities, we’ve got at least three choices: we can be the selfish, shoving capuchins or we can be the cruel, prowling crocodiles or we can be the boat—a safe vessel to transport the hurting to where we know (from experience) is the best place to heal.

A day is like a thousand years

How often do you say the following: “It seems like just yesterday” or “This is the longest week ever”? A minute will always last 60 seconds and an hour will always last 60 minutes but it doesn’t always feel like it. Time should be a concrete concept but it seems so fluid. I have a friend who recently told me about an out-of-body experience she had while holding a new mom’s infant daughter. A precious 4-month old sat in her lap and my friend was instantly transported more than 17 years in the past to the nursery of her own now-teenaged daughter. The years disappeared in a mist. Suddenly she was the new mom with the tiny daughter. The sweet, baby smell, the touch of soft baby skin—it felt like it was just yesterday. Tearful, my friend felt that time had passed too quickly. When you’re anxiously waiting for something to happen, time seems to slow to a crawl. It was true when you were a kid, waiting for summer vacation or Christmas morning, and it can still be true for adults. Time stretches out in front of you like an endless horizon. It’s January, bleak and cloudy, and you look at your covered swimming pool, thinking, “We’ll never get through with winter. Summer seems so far away.” Then there are periods of time and phases of life that seem to go quickly and last forever simultaneously. The anniversary of something tragic like the death of a loved one or a long illness or the day a spouse moves out and moves on, can create a desire for introspection. Upon examination, you might realize that while you’re living through it, your heightened feelings make time tick slowly. Your anger and frustration burn so brightly that little else enters your mind. This concentration slows everything down. But when the phase is over, you look back at the towering mountains you climbed and the raging rivers you crossed, and you wonder how you got through it in the amount of time that has passed. Intellectually, we know that time is a fixed thing. We check clocks and watches and cell phones often throughout the day to gauge what we should be doing and where we should be going, and we rarely question what we see. But emotionally, time is not fixed. And our perception, however unreliable, can become our reality. It’s okay if time feels fluid. In the Book of James, we read that “To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.” He measures time differently, too. So maybe, in the end, it’s not the quantity of time we’re given—the number of seconds and minutes and hours that pass in a lifetime, but how we spend those minutes that really matters. #time

A few things I’ve learned about parenting…

Being a parent is really hard, so much harder than I thought it would be when I played “house” with my baby dolls growing up. Dilemmas involving my kids arise nearly every day that call for some major, on-my-knees prayer time: when to step in and when to let them fail, grades and friends, time management and basic courtesy, boundaries and responsibilities, actions and reactions. It is not for the faint of heart. I am fairly reluctant to write a “Parenting How-To” for anyone to read, partly because I am sometimes a failure at this job and I don’t want anyone to accuse me of thinking I have all the answers. There are times when I lose my cool. There are times when I prioritize in a wacky, mixed-up way. I have done and said things I have regretted, all while wearing my “Mom Hat” (assuming there’s a hat for everything we’re expected to be and do). But just like any job, parents have days when they rock at their stuff and days when they should’ve stayed in bed. My kids are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but—as of right now as I type this—they haven’t stolen any cars and they don’t kick stray dogs. Keeping those parenting credentials in mind, allow me to lay out a few of the things I’ve learned about parenting. Don’t give young children too many choices . They will begin to suspect that they are the boss of the family which should actually be your job. While we’re on the subject, while they are allowed limited input, don’t let your kids tell you what to do. You don’t have to be ugly about it. It’s just the cold, hard truth. I am not above saying the following to my kids: “You’re not the boss of me.” In fact, I said it earlier today when one particular little fella said I shouldn’t go past the bank before we met up with some friends. “I am the driver. I am the adult. I am the boss.” (Repeat this to yourself several times a day if you have a preschooler…or a teenager.) Tell them stories about you. When our girls were small, they used to say, “Mommy and Daddy, tell us a story of when you got hurt.” (I’m not sure why these painful stories were their favorites but sports enthusiasts and accident-prone people have a lot of these in their memory bank, ready to be withdrawn.) Our kids now know stories about things that happened to me and my sisters growing up. They know about family trips my husband took with his sister and parents when he was little. They could tell you about the time my husband fell on a toothpick and it was embedded in his side and he had to go to the doctor to get it removed. These stories become a part of their legacy and inheritance (and a cautionary tale about toothpicks). Answer their questions. When your 3-year old asks where babies come from, don’t blow her off, waiting for the perfect opportunity to explain the miracle of life with age-appropriate charts and graphics. Give her a basic answer to her question, such as: “They grow inside their mommies.” See if this satisfies the question. That may be all she needs but if she asks more questions, then answer those, too. You don’t have to feel comfortable explaining “The Birds and the Bees” to all kids, just yours. Ask them questions. For the past nine years, I’ve had elementary-aged kids to walk to school. (I’ll get to start all over again with a kindergartener next year!) This was the perfect time to ask them questions. “How was school?” and “Fine” can only get you so far. Over a period of time, you’ll be able to get more specific as you build on prior conversations. There’s lots more that I could say about parenting: Don’t hold grudges. Have reasonable (yet high) expectations. Read books to them. Apologize when you mess up. Try not to embarrass them. Get to know their friends. Be a good example of kindness and generosity. Among these, the best advice I could give anyone is this: Tell them you love them and act like you like them. #parenthood

A good laugh

The following is a recent conversation with my 6-year old son, a newcomer to the English language: Ezra ( from the backseat ): Mom, konk konk. Me : Um… Ezra ( a little louder ): Konk! Konk! Me : Okay. ( feeling defensive ) Ezra : No. You talk “what?” Me : What? Ezra : Hamburger. Me : Hamburger. Ezra : Hamburger stinky on a bus. Ha, ha, ha. Now, you turn. Me : Oh! ( just beginning to figure out what he’s talking about ) Knock, knock. Ezra : What? Me : No. You say “who’s there?” Ezra : Who there? Me : Boo. Ezra : Boo what? Me : No. You say “boo who?” Ezra : Boo who? Me : Boo hoo? Hey, why are you crying? Ezra : Me not crying. Me not laughing either. Boo Who not funny. Stinky Hamburger is funny. I’ve never been all that great at remembering jokes. Usually, if someone puts me on the spot and asks me to tell a joke, I draw a blank. And anyway, who really laughs that hard at a knock-knock joke or a posing of the eternal question about the chicken who crossed the road? To me funniest material is anecdotal. True (and probably exaggerated) stories about people in familiar but absurd situations. Anecdotes just close enough to my own reality to be applicable delivered by a true storyteller are comedy gold. I don’t mean to give the idea that my brand of humor is overly highbrow and intellectual. Years ago, my husband, sister, brother-in-law and I laughed like lunatics for half an hour just by blowing into our hands to make tooting noises in their living room. It was a magical recipe of exhaustion, late night, funny sounds, and adults acting like kids. We’ve never attempted to recreate the situation again. A keyword search of “laugh” in the Bible reveals a mostly not-so-funny picture. Several references are from Abraham and Sarah’s exchange about the improbability of them becoming parents at such an old age. Then there are the “We’ll become laughingstocks” references in the Old Testament made by the Israelites questioning their obedience to God in all things. Surprisingly, the overall depressing book of Job has a sizable share of laugh verses along with Ecclesiastes’ “a time to weep and a time to laugh.” All in all, it doesn’t reveal that God has a particular fondness for laughing. In other words, we may not have Open Mic Nights in Heaven for rising comedians. In spite of the lack of comedic evidence in the Bible, just knowing that we’re made in His image makes me believe that God loves a good chuckle. (Plus He makes us go through puberty. Surely He cracked up when He first invented that one.) There’s nothing quite like a hearty, tear-producing laugh. One that makes you have to cross your legs so you don’t wet your pants. One that lasts longer due to your company of fellow laughers. One that makes your abs hurt like you’ve been doing 100 sit-ups. One that makes you sigh satisfactorily when you’re finished, wiping your eyes and rubbing your sore cheeks. We may not find humor in all the same things, but I feel pretty confident in saying that all of us love a good laugh. My favorite stand up comedian taking a bow. #funny #joy #laugh

A grateful heart

I have a sign in my kitchen which has been there for more than a decade. It reads: “GIVE THANKS: Oh Thou, who has given us so much, mercifully grant us one more thing—a grateful heart.” As I was looking at the sign the other day, I realized that I had no idea where the quote originated. Other than the slightly flowery wording and the outdated Thou , the sentiments could’ve been written at almost any time in history. With a little help from the Internet, I found the name of the author of those words which appear on my kitchen sign. It was written by a clergyman/poet in the 1600’s named George Herbert. He had been born into a wealthy family, but Herbert had set aside his family’s prestigious position to pursue a life of academic and religious service. He was employed at Oxford college, where he didn’t bring in much money. Some of the letters Herbert wrote to his mother survived. In them, we read of his ongoing illness, which required him to eat a restricted and expensive diet. Herbert wrote that he was in constant anxiety about money and his health. He wrote his mother, “I always feared sickness more than death, because sickness has made me unable to perform those Offices for which I came into the world.” It’s interesting to pick up a piece of poetry or prose and instantly get insight into the writer’s state of mind. No matter that it was penned so many centuries ago, George Herbert’s “Give Thanks…” seems to be a reminder to himself as much as an exhortation to others. He was telling us to declare God’s unlimited generosity. Be thankful. And for that gratitude to seep all the way down to our hearts, we need God’s help to get it there. Depending on our present difficulties, we may need even more of God’s assistance to actually live a thankful life. It’s just the unfortunate reality that most of us aren’t naturally grateful creatures. Three hundred years later, acclaimed and beloved author C.S. Lewis was also on faculty at Oxford. He left us a treasure trove of his words and thoughts through his books and letters and sermons. In a letter Lewis wrote to an Italian priest, he said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” Whether it’s the Psalmist’s call to sing to the Lord with grateful praise or the Apostle Paul’s charge to give thanks to God the Father for everything, or if it’s a poor college professor’s reminder to ask for help in appreciating our blessings or an author’s words about gratitude in the face of both good times and bad, this Thanksgiving let’s all pray for God to give us a grateful heart.

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