Observant Participant

When I write during my daughters’ nap time, my computer sits on the dining table with the cord plugged into the wall behind me. It’s fine while I’m sitting alone, but once my little girls come downstairs, I have to put away my laptop. Otherwise, without fail, at least one of them will trip over the cord or kick it out of the magnetic connection by walking through it; no matter how many times I remind them that the cord is there! As exasperating as it is, I do the same thing. I’ve plowed through others’ feelings because I was so concerned with carrying my own. I’m certainly guilty of being so distracted by my phone that I’m barely listening to what my husband is saying. Only to hear him later ask me in frustration, “Do you ever listen to me?” I’m often so busy with making dinner or cleaning up my house, that I ignore my girls who just want some one-on-one time with their mama. Lord, please give me the eyes to see and ears to listen to what’s really important. Help me to be an observant participant in this life you’ve given me.

Once This, Then That

Once I turn 16, I can drive.

Once I graduate, I’ll move to where I want to live.

Once I have a real job, I can buy a house.

Once my acne clears up, I’ll wear expensive makeup.

Once I meet the right guy, I won’t be alone anymore.

Once we start dating, he’ll fall in love and give me a diamond ring.

Once we get married, we can have a baby.

Once my baby stops nursing, I’ll get my body back.

Once this kid is potty trained, life will be so much easier.

Once she starts going to school, I’ll have more time for myself.

Once I get my blog together, I’ll feel like a writer.

Once I get a book published, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something.

“Once this, then that” can take up our entire lives. How selfish these statements sound all piled up together. Can I ever just be content with what I have, with circumstances as they are? We all want something better, easier, newer, and complete. But it all takes time and effort. Nothing of value is immediate. Today, I read Romans 12:12 to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in affliction, be persistent in prayer.” Once I learn to be content and find joy in all circumstances, that’s when I can enjoy the process of life. Once that occurs, life also will become less about me, and more about God.

Saving the World

My oldest daughter, Noelle, was wearing her Captain America cape, my youngest was in her pink Anna cloak, both of them dressed their Elsa gowns (it’s all about Frozen in this house) on New Year’s Eve. “Come on, Autumn! Let’s go save the world!” my oldest called to her sister trailing behind her, as they scrambled down the stairs. Just a few days later, a horrifying display of hostility, anger, vindictiveness, and destruction ensued in our nation’s capital. On top of the countless other acts of violence and hate in recent memory, my heart has been so heavy for my girls, aware that this is the world they have been born into. But, I cannot remain in that head and heart space. I cannot be buried in my phone with that awful “smiley face above my nose,” (as my oldest calls my furrowed brow) while I ignore my girls and get sucked into reading the latest atrocious headline. As the mother to my girls, I am called to read God’s Word and pray. Oh, pray, dear Mamas.

We made the difficult, but prudent decision to keep our girls home with me as their teacher this year due to the pandemic and my husband’s job. It’s so easy to allow fear to decide that I will homeschool my girls all the way through college. But, God didn’t bring these babies into the world just for my benefit, or for my husband’s pride, or for our amusement, and certainly not to hide away from the world. I think back to how Jesus’ mother Mary must have felt when Jesus was a toddler. He was so innocent, so loving, so happy, and the world was everything the opposite, as it is now. When Jesus was a tween, she and Joseph nearly lost their minds after looking all over for him. They finally found Jesus in the temple, where he was teaching and asking questions beyond his age. She must have felt both proud and terrified, that her baby boy, the son whom she could not keep hidden forever safe from harm, would soon be grown up and on his own. He had his own calling on his life. He would not follow in his earthly father’s (albeit step-father’s) footsteps and be a carpenter all his days. Mary was faithful to teach Jesus the Scriptures and then let him out into the world when it was time. Even to the point he was crucified in front of her, murdered by a senseless, angry mob. How her heart must have shattered when she heard Jesus cry out, “Father, forgive them! They don’t know what they’re doing!” She, his own mother, could not yet understand the depth or the significance of his sacrifice until later.

My prayer for my girls is that God would act as baleen, filtering out the negative, impatient, distracted words or actions against them, and that only the positive, true, life-giving things feed their souls. I pray that they never lose that sparkle in their eyes or the magic in their imaginations. That they would always believe that every person, no matter what they look like, will respond to a wave and a smile, and has a story worth sharing. That their childlike faith would grow deep roots, giving their souls, hearts, and minds an anchor to cling to, when it seems that everyone and everything has failed them. May they believe it down to their toes that God is with them always. I pray that silence and stillness would be a comfort to them, particularly in this ever-distracted age, because only in that space does God make his voice heard. May they never succumb to earthly, temporary temptations that slink around and claw at them for attention. I pray that they keep their minds fixed on that which is true and right, extraordinary, pure, and beautiful. I pray that God sets angels to keep charge over them all the days of their long lives. As their mother, I would love for them to not have to experience pain, or heartache, or sickness, or financial hardship. But I don’t want them to live comfortable, easy lives, either. I want them to be brave and be bold, to take risks and stand up for what is right, and let their lights shine so brightly that everyone who meets them will see that they’re different. A kind of different that draws others in. A kind of different that doesn’t spotlight themselves, but the kind that declares the love of Jesus inside them. And my prayer for myself is that I would trust God with my girls. I realize they will inevitably make decisions that don’t make sense to me, circumstances will not always comply with my wishes, but I will trust that God has plans for each of them, plans for their good, and plans that will change their generation for good.

My Gramma Betty

I got the call last Saturday morning that my 97 year old gramma Betty had a heart attack. On Tuesday, January 26, 2021, Gramma decided that it was time to leave this world. Blessedly, my mom and her siblings all got to say goodbye in person. My daughters and I said “We love you” in a Marco Polo video that my aunt played for my gramma just before she closed her eyes forever.

Last week, grief washed over me in waves. On Wednesday, I read my two little girls Miss Rumphius, and I could barely squeak out the words as I was overcome with heartache. As a little girl, I remember sitting in the middle of the couch in Gramma’s family room with three books, Miss Rumphius, Goodnight Moon, and Blueberries for Sal in my lap, and Banjo, their black lab, at my feet. Poppy would be sitting to the left of me, closest to the bay window where the sun streamed inside, reading the newspaper with his long legs crossed, and Gramma would be buzzing around the kitchen preparing dinner. Gramma always made sure that books I could read were visible on the sewing table in front of the bay window, and she knew those books were my favorite. Miss Rumphius, Goodnight Moon, and Blueberries for Sal were the first books I bought when I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, Noelle. As I read Miss Rumphius to my little girls, I imagined Gramma encouraging me to make the world more beautiful, just as little Alice Rumphius’ grandfather had told her to do, and to pass that guideline on to my girls.

For the past several years, Noelle and Gramma had corresponded through hand-written, “snail-mail” letters. I would tuck my own note inside the envelope, along with Noelle’s letter, which was essentially a pretty card on which she had practiced writing random letters, and Gramma would respond to my letter starting with “Dear Noelle.” My hand-written notes to Gramma were all written from Noelle’s perspective so that Gramma could get to know her great-grandchild, despite seeing her just once or twice a year. I looked forward to sharing with Gramma how well Noelle was doing in preschool and that her baby sister, Autumn, had taken her first steps. Then as time went on, I wrote that Noelle and Autumn were learning to swim, to which Gramma replied that she was happy they were learning so young, since she herself had only just learned in her late-eighties. I wrote to her that Noelle had started gymnastics and that she loved it, and is incredibly strong. Gramma wrote back that she used to be a gymnast too, and that she had a picture of herself (probably among other boxes of photos too high for her to reach) when she was about 10 years old, balancing on her arms, with her feet touching her head. Noelle and I read that and laughed together, trying to imagine that scene. As my aunts and uncles were cleaning out Gramma’s home, that very picture was discovered. I immediately showed it to Noelle, who broke out into a grin, and then she tried contorting herself in the same way. She can get her feet to her head, but by laying on her belly, not her forearms. “Maybe when I’m ten, I can do that too!” Noelle told me. Yesterday I received an invitation for Noelle to join the year-round pre-team program since she is showing such promise in her regular gymnastics class. I grabbed my computer and was about to proudly announce the news to Gramma, only crumpling with the realization that she wouldn’t be on the other end of that email.

I’m heavy-hearted that Autumn, my youngest, will not have the opportunity to write letters to Gramma, or really remember her in person. I’m so sorry that I won’t be able to update Gramma on Noelle’s progress with this new and exciting gymnastics adventure. Since the start of the pandemic, I have been homeschooling my girls. Since my Gramma specialized in teaching children to read, I asked her to share with me all she knew so that I could teach my girls to read. She sent me a bookmark with helpful tips and a list of the most common words children should know. I’ve started making flashcards and, incredibly, my girls are absorbing what I’m teaching them! I want to teach my girls to read and love books, just like how Gramma taught me. Most of all, I hope they somehow make the world more beautiful, like Miss Rumphius and my gramma both did, and that my girls figure out what that means for each of them.

mouthpiece design

These words swirling and floating through my mind

like leaves caught up in a gale

must escape me.

They must be wrestled and pinned down

before they can leave my mind to rest.

The pen in my hand my weapon

the paper journal pages my battlefield.

I must be still and listen to how those words should flow

waiting for inspiration and wisdom and honesty to coax them out.

Reading God’s word is how I fill my soul

and in that overflow the words come.

This is the plan God designed for me to be his mouthpiece.

Jesus wept, a Fresh retelling

Today before I put my girls down for a nap, we settled in to the oversized upholstered rocker in my youngest’s room. Me in the middle, with my 4 year old on my left and my 2 year old on my right, the Illustrated Storybook Bible in my lap. While reading the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead through their young, innocent eyes, it gave me a fresh perspective of Jesus. Jesus knew that Lazarus was ill, and yet he decided to stay an extra two days where he was before making his way to see Lazarus. By the time he arrived at Lazarus’ house, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Stank dead. Jesus was great friends with Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. But still he made them wait. He knew that God’s glory would be displayed to an even greater degree if he waited. Martha met Jesus as he came into town, and she understandably was upset. “Why didn’t you come when we first told you he was sick?” I can hear her asking with her hands in the air. Jesus didn’t get upset then. He calmly told her that Lazarus would rise again. Then, Jesus saw Mary. This is the same Mary who would anoint Jesus’ feet with perfume, and wipe them off with her hair. She was heartsick over losing her brother. She asks Jesus the same question Mary asked him. “Where were you?” with tears running down her face. And Jesus breaks. He cries. He can feel their pain and sorrow. He knows they think he brushed them off, he feels their rejection. He feels their desperation. Even knowing he was about to perform an incredible miracle, Jesus still cried. Maybe he knew he would be feeling these same things in a matter of weeks, when he would be carrying his cross.

this was written in (a little over) five minutes for Five Minute Friday. Also, I know it isn’t Friday. But as long as it’s in the same week, it counts! To read other works on this same topic of FRESH, click here.

Mama’s alone time (FMF post)

Since the start of the pandemic, my little girls, aged 2 and 4 have been at home with me. Every. Day. Some days are great fun, especially if they have “good listening” days and we can get some homeschool in, which is me coming up with ways to make teaching letters and numbers and counting fun. We’ll also do projects with glue and glitter, or paint, or play dough. Most recently, I’ve figured out a “sensory bin,” which is simply a deep container that I’ll fill with dried beans or lentils and I got them some cute wooden scoops and little wooden jars with lids and wooden tweezers to work on fine motor skills. I will also read them LOTS of books and Bible stories on the couch with blankets over us. Along with keeping the house from looking like two tornadoes swept through it and making meals, that doesn’t leave a ton of time for me. Some days, I can handle it better than others. When the girls go to their rooms for naps, that time is absolutely precious to me. My youngest still takes naps, but the oldest simply reads or plays quietly in her room. If she comes downstairs before it’s time, I will freak out inside, almost angry that my quiet respite has been interrupted. My alone time is the time for me to reset. I’ll read my Bible, journal prayers and thoughts, and maybe sneak in some time to write. Once the girls go to bed after dinner, it’s “Mama and Daddy time” so that I can intentionally spend time with my husband. That afternoon nap time is the only alone time I get. I think back to last January, when I was so excited that both girls would be in preschool this year, and that I was going to have two whole mornings free each week. HA! God clearly had different plans for us. I really am thankful for the time I get to soak up my girls when they’re this young, even on the hard days or days where my alone time is cut short. Their hugs and kisses, and “I love you’s” and faith in Jesus makes it all worth every second.

This was written in about 5 minutes based on the word TIME this week for Five Minute Friday, a group of encouraging writers. To read others’ posts on the word TIME, click here.

Follow the leader

I took my two girls for a walk yesterday, so we could enjoy the warmth of a sunny NC winter’s day. My oldest, a firecracker of a ginger, has an intense need and desire to take the lead and direct us all. Thankfully, my youngest daughter has no such need or desire, and will happily hang back with me and hold my hand in her small, warm, often sticky, little fingers. My oldest will plow ahead, sometimes at a gallop, and I have to call to her from behind, that she must remember to stop at the stop signs, or to wait for me at the next tree or mailbox so that we can catch up. Other times, I have to tell her to come back because we aren’t going that way, but she still is determined to lead without having any idea (sometimes) of where we are going. I laugh, because it reminds me of myself. I’m also pretty sure that God is chuckling to himself, too. Oh, how the gift/job/chore/lesson of parenthood reveals to us in such a tangible way how God sees us!

How I tug and pull angrily on that leash

wanting to drag myself

where I want to go

without a clue where I’m heading.

Blindly and stubbornly

I forge ahead,

face set in obstinate defiance

without a map or guide or plan.

I storm around in aimless circles,

Get scratched by angry branches,

blindsided by distracted drivers,

Trip over uneven patches obscured by shadows

Until my heart is depleted of it’s former belligerence,

my scraped up hands become empty,

my body utterly exhausted and bruised do I collapse

into God’s patiently waiting, outstretched hands.

The silent tension of motherhood

All is quiet in the house

apart from the metronomic snores of my husband

and the heat clicking off and on.

Both girls sleeping in their beds,

snow sprinkled trees outside.

Morning footprints now slushy imprints

in the yard.

Crumbs on the table call to me

like relentless gnats.

Let me relax and enjoy this silence!

This rare stillness over the house

before I must get up and be awake,

alert, and energetic.

Present for my sparkly-eyed little girls

so full of life and energy.

Sometimes I feel like I am their battery source-

I start to sag and wilt as they wind up to a frenzy,

my love for them blessedly replenished overnight.

I know the squeals of excitement and belly giggles

will not last forever.

The little dirty socks haphazardly strewn about

will not always clutter my floors.

Those sticky, little handprints will not always

adorn every wall, chair, or hard surface.

How I savor this time and all at once

look forward to my girls growing up.

Holy vs. Earthly endings

This post was written for Five Minute Friday, a group of encouraging writers, with this week’s word: CONCLUDE. Written in five minutes, with no real editing or proofing. If you’d like to read other writers’ posts on the same word, click HERE.

I remember in elementary and middle school, the “cool” way to end a story was for the main character to wake up, with the whole story having been a dream. Even today, thirty years later, coming up with a solid ending that ties everything up into a neat bow is probably the hardest part of writing. Perhaps because, in real life, conclusions aren’t always neat. They almost always are unexpected. They’re messy and sad or shocking, abrupt. Cliff hanger endings in tv shows are somewhat expected, especially when it’s the season finale, but only if there will be a new episode to pick up where you left off in a few short months. When reading books that end without resolution, I get angry. As if the whole book was a waste of time and energy reading. But, real life is exactly like that. Sometimes we will don’t get the chance to say goodbye, I’m sorry, or I love you. Sometimes the bad guy goes free, the disease isn’t cured, the dirt ball gets away with the scam. Thank God for hope. That in heaven, all pain is released. All tears are wiped away. All questions are answered, and maybe vengeance just doesn’t matter anymore to our once outstretched puny fists, in light of the holiness and glory of God.