December 25, 2014

This year in review and a bloggy-Christmas Card.

Twenty fourteen was the year of surprises, joys, and sorrow.

January found us celebrating Isabel's eighth birthday. She has officially entered the "tween" years and she knows it. She is a joyful, kind, loving, creative, moody, passionate, stubborn, and determined child and we are enjoying discovering the wonderful girl God has created her to be.

February was Matt's birthday. As Matt's year as a Clinical Pastoral Education resident at Self Hospital in Greenwood was nearing to its end, we began considering our options. One option was to pastor a church again. Another one was to seek a second year of CPE residency to gain more experience. The third option was to apply for a position as a student in a supervisory program (SES), to eventually train those entering their own CPE residency.

We prayed, searched, and talked and we decided that Matt should apply to the SES program at Palmetto Health Baptist Hospital in Columbia, SC. He interviewed closed to his 41st birthday and received a call in early March that he had been the one candidate accepted from among many applicants. I was so very proud.

In April I had a birthday. We'll try to forget about that as I'm nearer to forty than to thirty now.

In May Matt graduated from his residency at Self and we began to make preparations to move to Columbia, about an hour and a half away. We put the house on sale and started making weekend trips to find a place to live in our new town.  We also traveled to Kansas to visit my mom and step-dad. Turns out it would be our last visit as my mom moved to Pensacola, FL a few months later and Gene is soon to follow.

In June we loaded a truck with one third of our belongings and crammed them into a two bedroom, one bath apartment in Forest Acres, Columbia. Bruno, our 12 year old dog, had the hardest time adjusting to all the changes but he rallied up and eventually learned to tolerate living in a tiny apartment with no yard.

July in Columbia is hotter than in Greenwood but we fought valiantly with snow cones and pool-side, the best feature of our new abode. The kids and I worked on making friends, getting to know the city and preparing for a new school year.

In August our Noah turned seven and started second grade. He is my little engineer, hilariously funny, affectionate and thoughtful. We joined a new Classical Conversations, Swim and Gym at a new Y, found a ballet studio for Isabel, and started the school year in a new setting, while Matt worked on finding his place at the new hospital.

September brought the most difficult Monday of our married life. A phone call sent us rushing to the hospital where we met the rest of Matt's family to say good bye to his dad who passed away suddenly that morning. The rest of the week was a blur of funeral arrangements and tearful conversations we did not expect to have.

In October we celebrated Halloween with our new church, Columbia First Church of the Nazarene, by participating in a huge Trunk-Or-Treat they do for the community surrounded the church. We also buried my sweet father-in-law in his final resting place in Oconee, GA, next to his beloved father and mother-in-law.

November saw us back in Oconee, for our traditional Thanksgiving with Matt's mom's side of the family, still trying to adjust to holidays without Grandaddy, which will never be the same.

And here we are in December. We celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary and today we are celebrating Christmas with Abu and Abu Gene in our tiny home in Columbia. 

This year brought us the surprise of a move we didn't know we would make, the joy of a new career for Matt and of discovering a new town for our family, and the sorrow of losing someone we loved beyond words. Through it all, though, our Jesus' presence was clear and strong around us, before us, and behind us. His hand guided us, encouraged us, soothed us, and comforted us.

We pray 2015 is filled with His love in your lives. Thank you for walking this journey with us, for your prayers, your good wishes, and your love. And, as the song says, "may Christ find a dwelling place of faith in our hearts" next year (Dwelling Place by John Foley).

Merry Christmas, dear friends and family all over the world!  

November 25, 2014

For When You Feel Less Than Good Enough

I can be a hypocrite of the worst sort.

Whenever I hear my children belittling each other or, worse, themselves, I am quick to instruct. I tell them to never forget that they are God’s design. That they are His masterpiece. And that when they talk badly about each other or themselves they are calling God a liar, telling him that He made a mistake when He created them, and tearing down God’s beautiful work.

And yet, I often talk as if God made one big mistake when He appointed me as their momma. I set expectations for myself that are impossible to meet and then I berate myself at the end of the day for not meeting them.

I didn't realize how much this had become a pattern until a night, not long ago, when Matt became angry with me. He does not get angry with me very often. He usually has infinite patience with my crazy but that night I saw frustration in his face and heard it in his voice.

“Would you allow anyone to talk about your best friend like that? How about your daughter? Why do you talk about yourself like that, then?” he asked me, clearly irritated with me.

Someone asked me recently what God has been teaching me lately and I didn’t have to think too hard or too long about this: shortly after Matt’s challenging question we were listening to a masterful preacher’s sermon. He stated that most Christians believe IN Jesus but precious few actually believe HIM. He asked us to pray and ask Jesus what promise of His we were having a hard time believing. 

I knew right away: that I am a good enough mom for my children.

The story of how my children came into our family leaves little doubt that they were placed with us by God. When they found themselves in need of a family, God chose Matt and me to raise them. I know that from the depths of my heart.

And because I am so deeply conscious of this I take the responsibility very seriously. I did not grow up in a Christian home; raising children God’s way is something with which I’m not familiar. So I read parenting books and blogs, I pray daily for wisdom, I ask Matt to help me find my blind spots. 

I am doing the best I can possibly do to be a good mom and I know that…in my head.

But my heart has a hard time believing it, especially when I have a hard day and feel like I've blown it as a mom. Then my doubt and insecurity manifest themselves in ramblings about my shortcomings and questions about my ability to parent well.

Which is what I was doing, out loud, the night Matt lost his patience with me. I guess I was going on and on about what I had not done right as a mom that day and wondering, out loud, if these children would not have been better off with a different woman. 

And then Matt raised his voice and shut me up.

So, the afternoon of the sermon I prayed for the faith to believe Jesus’ promise that I am the right mom for my kids. That He does not make mistakes. He talked to me about grace and reminded me that grace is hardest when it is self-administered. 

God is more interested in my obedience than in my skills. He has made this clear in many areas of my life in which He has asked me to serve when I felt less than equipped. 

Mothering is one of them.

None of us are perfect mothers and I think that is by design. Knowing that I have to rely on Him for the wisdom, strength, and skills that I need keeps me sensitive to His promptings and His guidance.

This is true.

But...I’m learning that there is a great difference between being realistic about my limitations and my need for His help, and focusing so much on my shortcomings that I forget that He has chosen me to parent my kiddos. 

The One who made me, who knows all my virtues and my flaws better than I know them myself, thinks enough of me and trusts me enough to place these two treasures in my care. 

And still often I don’t offer myself the same grace I would offer any of my other mom friends to be…well, flawed mommas in need of Christ.

The night of the tirade Matt had had enough of hearing me talk about how I blew it that day. He asked me to tell him some of the things I had done well as a mom instead. 

I was quiet and he was sad. 

He told me that what he sees is a woman who loves her children, who works hard at raising them well, and who has much to offer them and teach them. And that God sees me that way as well. 

It is not by accident that those children are mine and I am theirs.

Extending myself grace can be a struggle, especially on the days when parenting seems the hardest, but with Jesus' help, I'm working on seeing my efforts with the same love-filled eyes with which He sees them. 

October 21, 2014

You're no good, you're no good, you're no good, baby, you're no good.

One rainy afternoon a few years ago, I gave each of my kids a puzzle to complete. Noah had picked out a Spiderman puzzle and promptly set the box before him, ready to study it. Brow furrowed, he tackled the work starting on the corners and the edges like a good left-brain thinker. Isabel, my right brained child, started with the most random pieces, singing as she worked, and when I tried to show her the box so she could be guided by it she exclaimed indignantly: "No, mami! I want to be surprised!"

I should have known then what our journey through homeschooling would be like. Isabel draws on every paper and she devours books. I can't keep the bookshelves full enough for her. Noah sees everything as a problem to be solved and categorizes the world in terms of which parts of it can be built out of Legos. She is all creativity and he is all logic.

It is not surprising that math has been a struggle in our house from the beginning. One curriculum did not challenge Noah enough, while it brought Isabel to tears of frustration daily. Finally I had to choose two different curricula, which can be challenging, but it has restored the peace and love for learning in our home.

I still have to sit with Isabel and work through the math lessons. She and I spend a good bit of time each day hunkered down over the math book, playing with manipulatives, drawing the problem out, and such. With Noah all I do is give him his work and send him away to do it. He comes back if he has a question but for the most part he only comes to show me what he did and get his many check marks.  

Which is why I was so surprised a few weeks ago when they came home from church with a little "About me" quiz in which one of the questions was: "Are you good at math?" Isabel had answered "yes" and Noah had written "no" and I was utterly confused. That is until I thought about our math journey and had an "aha" moment.

I know Isabel struggles with math and I know how discouraged many girls become about their math and science skills by the time they hit middle school. So I have been telling her day after day how good she is at math because she does not let it defeat her. My mantra to her has been: "You are good at math because you work hard at it!"

I realized that while Isabel hears this day after day, I had not told Noah he was good at math because I assumed he knew this to be the case since it comes so naturally to him. But because I did not spend as much time working with him and telling him how proud I was of his efforts, he thought he was not any good at it.

So we re-defined what "good at" means in our home. You are good at something when it comes naturally to you, but you are also good at something when you don't let it beat you, when you work at it until you master it, when you don't give up. We decided you are not only "not good" at something when you don't even attempt it.

This morning I found an article that resonated with me and with the approach we've been taking. Here is the link for the article in its entirety:

The author talks about the difference in Western and Eastern cultures' understanding of struggle.  In our culture we think of struggle as a mark of lack of skill or intelligence. If you struggle with something then you are obviously not good at it. Eastern cultures view struggle as a "predictable part of the process of learning" (Spiegel). You're supposed to struggle. Everyone struggles some time. In fact, their academic lessons are designed slightly above the pupil's skill level. They believe it builds character and emotional fortitude.

And I'm beginning to agree.

I don't think there is anything wrong with telling your children they are smart, but when it comes to academics our family does not value being intelligent as highly as we value being persistent, hard working, teachable, and giving your best effort. A child who is willing to work hard and do their best, even if the work is difficult, will learn much more than a a child who is smart but refuses to do anything that does not come easily to them.

We are not filling our kids' heads with the song: "You are good at everything!," thus creating children who don't understand their limitations and have an unrealistic sense of their own selves. We are simply teaching them that just because something is hard they should not stop trying with the excuse: "I'm just not good at it." Of course our kids attempt, almost daily, to get out of something by whining: "This is haaaaarrrrrd!" I guess they expect me to say: "Oh, my darling, sweet baby, then you don't have to do it, my love" But they have learned it just does not work with this momma.

We understand that life and God will have a way to help the kids hone their interests, discover what they are particularly skilled to do, and put them in the path they should follow.  But while they are under our care, we will not put confines to their potential and dreams by pigeonholing them into only pursuing what is naturally easy for them to do. 

October 13, 2014

Any Ordinary Monday

It is the ordinary days that are the most terrifying because they dawn so innocently. It was just an ordinary Monday. A common Monday in September. It came as all Mondays do, with the morning sun. It was, just like every other Monday, slow to start, grumpy, and ready to fight. We woke up, got dressed, had breakfast and thought nothing of it. Just a Monday among Mondays. That is why the news shook us to the core. Because nothing bad is supposed to happen on a plain old Monday in September.

But it did.

The call came and we dropped everything. Books were left open and scattered on the table. Breakfast dishes were left dirty on the kitchen sink. And when we returned, only to pack for a long and painful week, we knew that such ordinary Monday had turned our world upside down in ways ordinary Mondays should not have the right to do.

It has taken me more than a month to collect my thoughts enough to make any sense of them. I have lived a month of ordinary days that have me scared to the bone. Every unexpected phone call has made me pause, like the weeks after a wreck find you flinching each time a car approaches. 

My life has not been filled with unexpectedly painful phone calls. I've had two so far, and both have shifted me and wrecked me differently. The first one, thirteen years ago, put me in a dark spiritual hole out of which I crawled back tender and more aware of God's presence in the midst of tragedy.

This one has gotten me thinking about numbering my days. "Teach us the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom," says the psalmist (Psalm 90:12). I had underlined this in my Bible at some point and I revisited it this month with new eyes.

That Monday in September jolted me awake to the brevity of life. "Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away" (Psalm 90:10). My father-in-law was young by our world's standards, and healthy. Nobody expected him to go so quickly and so abruptly. It sounds trite until it is true: nobody knows the moment time simply runs out. How does God take that knowledge and transform it into wisdom for living well?

I've heard people say that you should live each day as if it was your last. I am too literal and I find this too impractical. I would like to spend my last day in Ecuador, surrounded by my whole family. But that is not a possibility every day. So I've been meditating on what this verse means to me in my everyday life.

Over the last month Matt and I have spent time thinking back on all the "lasts." The last time we saw him. The last time we talked to him on the phone. The last time he helped us fix something in our house. The last anniversary he celebrated with his wife. The last thing he did, the last thing he said, the last minute of his life.

My kids and he had a tradition. He would record Tom and Jerry for them for weeks and when they came to see him, they would sit together and watch episode after episode. The last time we saw him, about a week before he died, Matt and I said no to a Tom and Jerry marathon for reasons neither one of us understands now. Of course, we didn't know it would be the last opportunity but it is painful nonetheless.

Wisdom, for me, has come in taking to heart the concept of "last." I don't want to live in fear or morbidly reminding myself that every moment can be the last. But I do want to live wisely remembering the brevity of life. 

My father-in-law's last words to his wife were "I love you." He may not have known he would be with Jesus not five minutes later, but that was the type of person he was. He never missed an opportunity to say "I love you," to encourage you, to remind you that you were special to him. He counted his days wisely and made the most of them.

And when he died, the hole he left in the world, the depth of pain that was felt, and the crowds of people who came to honor him are a testament of the wisdom with which he lived. Even in his death he left me a legacy of knowledge and love. He taught me to open my eyes to what it means, in my life, to number my days and live each one fully.

It means saying "yes" more often. It means not letting Matt leave without a kiss every morning. It means not going to bed angry with each other. It means not waiting until later to apologize to my children. It means leaving the mess in the kitchen alone in exchange for a few minutes of reading with Isabel. It means taking a moment to "ooh" and "ahh" over Noah's latest Lego creation when I have a mound of papers to grade. It means ending each conversation with "I love you."

And it means so much more. But above all it means cherishing those who are still here. Every day. Every moment. 

Because we don't know when an ordinary Monday will come to shatter our world. 

**Comments closed**

April 16, 2014

The Last Piece of the Puzzle

"Where is Isabel?" Matt asked me while we were washing dishes together last night.

"I have no idea" I replied.

Simultaneously we gave each other the same bittersweet look.

"It's nice, you know?" he continued.

"I know" I said.

And I knew we both understood exactly what the other one was thinking.

A few days ago we babysat the darling 1-year old of a dear friend. As we chased him around the house, we were both reminded of a time when we could not look away from our babies for fear they would stick their fingers into a socket, eat a leaf off the plastic tree, or pull the dog's tail too harshly. We were always "on."

Now we are at a point in our lives when we don't have to know where in the house our kids are at all times. They can run their own bath, pick out their own clothes, fix their own breakfast! And we no longer worry when the house is filled with silence. It is welcomed rather than ominous.

But I'm still learning to accept all this.

For a long time I had a puzzle piece dated January 2011 hidden in my wallet. It resulted from a sermon Matt preached in which he asked us to write an unfulfilled dream, the missing piece in our life, and give it to the Lord to handle. Mine just said: baby.  I am an only child and I always knew I wanted more than one kid. Once I became a mom for the first time I realized I really wanted six but I was alone on that one, so we settled for three. At the time of that sermon, we had already been blessed with two.

They say women just know when they are done having babies. I have found this to be true. I have friends who are not finished after ten babies. Others have said "enough" with one in each arm. For me, three was my number. So when Matt preached that sermon I had been ready for our last addition really since the day I held my first baby in my arms.

I gave my little puzzle piece to God that Sunday and asked Him to either take my desire for another baby away or fulfill it once and for all. In the years that followed we felt led to pursue medically assisted conception once and two international adoptions, all to no avail. Yet each time we felt guided by the Lord to continue on the journey. Doors opened and "coincidences" happened. We knew we were walking the right paths but at the end of each one, there was no child.

I learned through this time that God asks us for obedience and He measures success in our willingness, not on the results.  We did as He commanded us to do and we walked down the roads He set before us. And we grew and learned and changed with every seeming "failure."

Through these years God has grown my gratitude for the two babies that I have. He has shown me the important job I have in raising them. He has taught me a thousand different lessons about being a mom of these two littles. And He has reminded me that we are in a sweet spot in our lives and that this is just not the right time to add to our family.

God never did take away my desire for another child. At least not completely. He just peppered with a heavy dose of contentment. I no longer ache for another baby today, right this minute, ASAP. But we are not saying "no" to the future. We go around the sun too many times to say never.  I don't know what our family will look like tomorrow. I just know Matt and I are not finished with little tykes, somehow.

Even in a small way, I feel like Paul with the thorn in his flesh, and like Paul, I have not been freed from my "thorn". I have just been given peace and a reminder that God is sufficient for me. To be honest, I have days when I still don't understand and my momma-heart hurts, but He has asked me to trust him daily because He knows the desires of my heart and, like a loving Father, He would grant them if they were good for me.  

So I threw the puzzle piece away a little while ago and we remain a family of four.

For now...  

March 31, 2014

No longer Thomas, the doubter

I have been David, confronted by Nathan, shamed and found out. Redeemed and given a second chance.

I have been Peter, thoughtless and big-mouthed, passionate and bold. I have denied Christ and I have been restored.

But above all, I have been Thomas. Doubting Thomas. I have walked with Jesus and I have seen his work. I have been faced with his grace, lavished by his mercy, surrounded by his love. And yet I have doubted.


I doubt.

I doubt daily.

I say: “Unless I see the wounds on his side, the piercing of his hands, unless I see them…I will no longer believe!”

And over and over Jesus shows me his wounds, tells me the story of how He died for me.

Over and over.

Day after day.

Long after I’ve been David redeemed, long after I’ve been Peter restored, I am still Thomas doubting.

And I’ve worried: will his patience run out? Will He tell me one day, “Enough already, you faithless girl!”? Will He tire of the endless cycle of my doubt spitting in the face of the endless cycle of his faithfulness?

Then He speaks.

My eyes fall tiredly upon a story I have read a hundred times before.

There is a father whose child is dying. He comes to Jesus for help and is faced with a phrase that has become familiar to us today: All things are possible  for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23, NLT).

And this father utters what is becoming my life verse:
I believe but help me overcome my doubt.” (Mark 9:24, NLT)

And with those few simple words from a man I’ve never met I have been set free.

I am free to confess my doubt honestly and openly because Jesus did not chastise the father. He did not cast him aside or called him faithless. He met this man at the point of his desperate need and healed the boy.

Such love.

Such patience.

All God is asking of me is to take one step towards him (I believe!) and admit I have no more faith to take another (Help my doubt!). He will come to me and give me grace to walk the rest of the way.

He is not angered by my confession of my need for him. Neither is He surprised. I think He is glad to know that I know that I don’t have it all together. That is not by my works or my strength that my faith grows.

My faith does not come from my own struggle to believe but by his power alone, and by his willingness to keep showing me his wounds and telling me the story of his sacrifice.

And so I learn, because of this father’s tale, that I don’t have to remain a Doubting Thomas. When doubt creeps my way and faith seems to elude me, I become the father and repeat brokenly and trustingly “I believe BUT help me overcome my doubt!

Over and over.

Day after day.

January 27, 2014

Trash Day

On errands one Saturday morning I took the kids to the city dump. I needed to throw away an old mattress, but when they asked me why we came I jokingly answered I had come to dump them off. I knew that 6 year old and 8 year old kids don't really understand sarcasm, but they seemed more amused than worried as they loudly protested, laughing.

I kept the joke up reading the names of the bins: "Furniture," "E-waste," "Wood." I asked the kids to help me find the one that said: "Children" on it and they giggled and yelled, "No!"

Suddenly I heard them gasp and tense silence filled the car.

**Today I'm contributing to my friend Christy's One Fun Mom site for "Overheard: How They Make Us Laugh." Please click here to read the rest of this short post and leave me a note to say you did. I love hearing from y'all!**

January 16, 2014

You say public school, I say homeschool...let's NOT call the whole thing off!

Lately, I have read several articles and blogs written by parents who have chosen to send their kids to the poorest public schools on purpose. The articles highlight the impact these families are having in their public schools, and how they are shaping their community by their involvement.

Let me be the first to give those parents a standing ovation and applaud their efforts. They are changing the world in their own little corner and I say to them: “Way to go!”

But it concerns me that in many of these articles, especially in those written from a Christian perspective, there is often a subtle message woven among the narrative aimed at those of us who have not made the same choice: “You are wrong not to follow our lead.” And if the message is not stated, or even intended in the article, you will definitely find it among the comments that ensue as a response.

I have also read several blogs and articles written by Christians who believe public education is dangerous for our children and that parents should homeschool or invest in private Christian schools for the sake of their future. Those people feel just as strongly in their arguments and beliefs.

Can I tell you that, personally, I think that to take either stance has too narrow a focus and possibly shows a lack of understanding about the way God works to further his Kingdom in this world?  

I get that the choice of schooling is a hot topic among Christians today, and the debate can get pretty intense on both sides. 

I understand that. 

But see, while there are certain absolutes spelled out in Scripture for us, the choice of how to school our children is not one of them. God places different calls and passions in our hearts and I’m thankful that He does, or nothing would get accomplished here on earth.

I realize that proponents of each side will say that there are Biblical nuances within each choice:

Proponents of public education discuss putting the greater good of society above personal agendas, and the effect that strong Christian families have in the public realm. 

Opponents of public school, on the other hand, talk about the importance of weaving the Word of God into our daily teaching in every area of our lives, which, of course, can’t happen in public education. 

I’ve heard just about all arguments from both sides.

The problem is that working for the greater good of our community and raising children submerged in the Word of God are not meant to be mutually exclusive. When God calls a Christian family to homeschool or to attend a private Christian school He is not calling them to forget about the needs of the rest of the community. And when He calls a Christian family to send their kids to public school, He is not calling them to disregard raising their kids in his Word and disciple-ing them daily. 

Where did we get those ideas?

Maybe your family was called to send your kids to the poorest school. Mine was not. But we are definitely both called to love our neighbors, raise godly children, care about the poor, and work for the good of the world both THROUGH our choice of schooling and IN SPITE of our choice of schooling. That is definitely an absolute with which I hope we can agree.

Can we also agree that we all have the same goal: to raise godly leaders for tomorrow who are compassionate and fiery world changers? How God has called us to do it is a personal family decision that should be made prayerfully. 

But neither public education nor private/homeschooling education are "the only way" to accomplish this goal.

Ultimately, no matter your choice of schooling, we, the parents, are primarily responsible to teach our children about the world and about the Lord. It is our job to teach them to fight racism, poverty, and injustice. It is our job to teach them to love their neighbors, no matter who that is, to take care of the world we’ve been given, and to love their God above all else. 

Our choice of schooling may mean we face different challenges in accomplishing these goals but I believe we should encourage each other on rather than judge or measure each other up.

I believe in a God who is bigger than my choice of school. If He has called me to homeschool and He has called you to send your kids to public school, it means He will empower us equally, yet differently, to raise our children according to his plan for their lives.

I don’t believe public school is evil. I used to be a public school teacher and I loved my job. We chose to homeschool for many reasons. None of those included separating our kids from “those kids,” or keeping them in a bubble. It had to do with multi-lingual learning, tailored instruction for learning issues, and many other things. But above all it had to do with obedience to our family’s calling.

If you are in the public school trenches every day and especially if you have chosen the poorest schools on purpose, I respect your schooling choice. I celebrate it even. But please don’t tell me that my choice is less worthy. Homeschooling moms work very hard and have strong convictions as well. 

Let’s cheer each other on, let’s challenge each other out of complacency, but let’s not discount each other. After all, we really are on the same side, we belong to the same family, and we play for the same team.