Good Good Father

I hung the bag on the doorknob and called down to my teenage daughter that it was there. She came up from the basement, looked inside and thanked me with her perfect post-braces grin. Inside the bag was nothing special, just new eyeliner and mascara since I knew she wanted them and was running low. Her smile said it all. She was not expecting me to go right out and get them, but I did. I wanted to. I love doing little things for my children simply because I love them. I never knew I was capable of that kind of selfless love until marrying and having children.

The last year has been very strange for me. We picked up and moved our lives to a whole new state and I am not going to lie. It has been hard. Leaving behind everything we loved and starting over was a huge challenge. The kids did great in school. The hubby had work. Then there was me and for me, it was quite lonely. I missed home. I missed going anywhere and seeing someone familiar. I missed my Virginia mountains and knowing which stores had the best whatever it was I was shopping for that day. As I wallowed in my sadness, the question of “what in the world have we done” swirled around my head. Once my calendar held coffee dates and volunteer work at a school where everyone knew my name, but in this new place there was only an empty docket and the only thing familiar were the boxes of our things to unpack. My once cheerful outlook became a sad attempt to keep a smile on my face once I picked the kids up and started my mommy taxi service and dinner. I couldn’t even muster the creativity to reopen my small crafting business. I just didn’t have it in me. Yet. 

Over the course of the past year, God has been doing a work in me, even though I did not know it. I fell in love with studying His Word. I started exercising regularly and joined Weight Watchers to be a healthier me. And everywhere I went, I ran into other women who had also recently moved to my transient new town. One day I started a Facebook group for all the people I had met who were new like me. I figured it could simply be a place where we could ask questions without fear of sounding stupid. I’d also hoped that it would be a place where new friendships could be made. Our little club of fewer than 10 met once for coffee and muffins and had those safe “conversations” on FB about the new chicken place, kids’ sports deadlines, etc. that you have on social media. It was nice, but it was still not enough. Months went by and I continued to have this nagging feeling that I should be doing more to welcome other women and to help them feel more connected. Just last week, I posted on the town’s mom page that I had a group for “newbies” and that we welcomed anyone who is new.  It exploded! We are up to over 130 members, with new people arriving to our area daily. And if I thought our move was hard and far, it does not compare. We have people from South Africa, England, Hungary, Poland, California, Texas, Long Island and half of the state of Ohio! They are using the group exactly as I had hoped. They are finding common ground, answering questions, arranging play dates, coffee meet-ups and outings together! It is so good to read their posts of relief that they are not alone. I may even soon be hosting a Bible or Christian book study! And do you know what started it all? My tears.

Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Our tears mean enough to our Savior to keep them in a bottle! That means they have value. Throughout scripture, we are reminded of God’s sovereignty over our lives, how He goes before us, sometimes leading us through trials while staying right by our side. I know you are asking the question we all ask, “Why?” And over and over in scripture, we are reminded that they are for His glory and our good. Our tears have purpose. 

I never could have dreamed that my season of sadness could turn into an opportunity to invest in others. Through the group, my trial had a purpose, my tears have shown their value and I am gifted with an opportunity to share with a uniquely personal perspective. Who am I that God would love me enough to turn my sadness into gladness? I am simply a daughter of the King. I am so thankful that our Heavenly Father looks for ways to shower his blessings down on his children. He is a good, good Father and I’m gonna need an umbrella. My hair is drenched. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=CqybaIesbuA

Winds of Change

My daughter and I headed down to the beach with quart-sized baggies in hand. We love to look for shark’s teeth and winter is the very best time to hunt. Gone is the sea of Coppertone-covered masses, soaking up rays and playing in the sand. This is the time when the beach can just be and we only have to share it with retired snowbirds from Canada walking their well-groomed dogs. Wrapped up in windbreakers and hoodies, it is good to wear flip-flops again and feel the grit of sand between our toes. I have been collecting shark’s teeth since I was a child and was first introduced to it by my grandfather on Venice Beach, Florida. Of my three children, only my oldest shares my love for the hunt and this time of year, we search until our cheeks are pink and the winter chill becomes too much for our sock-spoiled feet. As always, we began together, but soon separated to cover more ground. After an hour, I began to backtrack behind where she began her search. Knowing she scoured the area well,  I didn’t really expect to find anything new. Then the wind blew. I stood and watched, mesmerized by something so simple and powerful. The wind that was making my hair a mess was also changing the entire surface of the beach. I looked down and saw the familiar black shine and shape we had been looking for all along. Over and over, I stood, then knelt, depositing another tooth into my clear plastic treasure chest. And I smiled. 

We recently made a BIG move, states away after 18 years of marriage in the same sweet town. What seemed like a grand adventure for everyone was soon a real struggle for me. I left a well-established village of my own creation, of like-minded women who became sisters and supporters, co-conspirators in craziness and fellow volunteer-loving, coffee-addicted bargain shopping queens. And while the hubs easily adjusted to his new job and the kids quickly immersed themselves in school, friends and activities, I felt dumped. I felt dumped into a new town where everyone already had their friends and into a big empty house that still didn’t feel mine. Not one to play the victim, I sought out a Bible study at our church, just knowing I would find like-minded ladies there. 

As a late registrant, I was placed into the group that had room. And while they were lovely ladies, I was much younger and in a very different stage of life than the rest. No one else was in the carpool-sitting, activity-juggling, dinner-planning, daily laundry battle stage. It was a good study, though and to be honest, what else was I going to do? I have enjoyed being a part of a group Bible study for years but in the craziness of life, I will admit to being less than committed to the weekly homework. Part of me knew I needed to be a better student of God’s word. There were always so many other more attractive distractions- coffee dates to be had, craft projects to attempt, sales to scour, school committees to join, etc., etc. etc. Sound familiar? 

In the absence of basically all of these, I began to pray that God would help me to love His Word. You will never believe this, but He did! Passages I had read many times before seemed to jump off the page. I began to actually study  and research well past the day’s assignment in the study. I sought out supplemental readings and even began a book on praying for my husband. Instead of treating Bible study like reading Cliff’s notes for the test, my heart and mind yearned to know and grow more! And instead of feeling dumped into this cute little town, I began to feel planted  and to reach out in my own way, in my tiny new circles and began to feel more ME again. 

Isn’t that just like God? It took His winds of change to reveal and teach something new to me. Like those tiny black shark’s teeth, there is treasure just under the surface. Sometimes we just need to wiggle our piggies in the sand a little and wait for the breeze to do its thing.

Above The Waves

There is something so beautifully refreshing about the ocean. I know there are psychological terms to refer to the peace that seems to wash over me watching the waves go in and out, but I know it is something more. My dear Lynn and I always say that the beach is where God is and laughingly say we always want to be where He is! Bring on the flip-flops! In truth, the vast expanse of water put into motion by the same creator who awakens me every morning is my own personal breathtaking reminder. A God that big delights in even the tiny bits that make up me. Amazing.

We always find ourselves at the beach before big decisions. I am sure that is no accident. I am better ready to face new challenges with a fresh-from-the-beach mind. On our way there this Spring Break, we took a detour to check out houses in the town where we will soon move after living in the same beautiful Virginia town for 18 years. My husband has taken a job out of state and has been there since January, coming home on weekends. It hasn’t been easy. Some medical issues and the general busy schedule of life with three kids at three different schools, a house on the market and missing him like crazy should have really shaken us. I say “should have” because honestly, all of that normally would. But we have had a peace about this job, this move, this whole thing from the beginning. And that peace is a gift, especially when you are leaving everything and everyone you hold dear in the place you’ve called home for your entire married life together. 

I didn’t always have peace. When you have struggled with anxiety, doubt, fear, the idea of peace can seem foreign. Yet every time a new worry reared its ugly head, I was reminded that I am in the best of hands. Any plan I might have would not compare to the perfect path He has for me. With each step in this process, from interview to home staging, it became easier and easier to just let go and trust. It really is freeing. 

A song we sang in church Sunday has haunted me since. I’ll attach the link but here are some of the lyrics:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Wherever You would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior

In the Bible, Peter began to sink the moment his eyes were off Jesus. But as soon as his focus was solely on the only one who could keep his life afloat, Peter learned to trust. I can’t be the only one who sometimes feels the waves of life lapping up at me, rising to the point of near-panic. Those are the very times God has chosen to show us just how very loved we are and if we will simply trust, how very willing He is to bear our burdens and save us the anguish of worry. And then something beautiful happens. Faith blooms.

Tonight during his prayer, my baby boy thanked God for his faith. At the time it seemed so awkward to hear and at the same time, so simply perfect. If, as the song says, I will allow myself to be brought to a place where my trust is without borders and rules, with eyes on Him, I will be left standing and not sinking. I know that because every time I lift my eyes and finally give over the very thing that has been gnawing at me, He replaces my worry with peace and shows me why His hands were where it needed to be all along. As a kid, I didn’t really get the whole concept of when we are weak, He is strong. Now I get it. He is and was always strong. It’s just that in our weakness, we can finally see His strength, His arm outstretched, ready to bring us to higher ground with Him. Faith is born.  

Fast-forward to the week later. We have a contract on our house, movers lined up and tonight we made an offer on a home that we feel suits us to a tee. Now we wait. And waiting is okay. I’m still standing on the water, well over my head and the view is beautiful. No flip-flops needed.

Enjoy!

The Little Messes

I reached down to pick up the same Legos I have put back in that basket twenty times this week. Next to it was the scattered pile of post-it notes with stick figures with wild hair in pencil on every one. The muffin crumbles for the snack I asked not to be eaten away from the table were next to the sword I asked not to be brought up from the basement again this week. 

Then I headed upstairs to my teenager’s room, where hangers for clothes that were finally chosen and partially coordinated outfits that were rejected for today’s attire lay on the floor, right in the doorway. Nobody knows how to make a bed without leaving at least one pillow on the floor and toothpaste remnants lay sticky on the rim of each of their bathroom sinks. I must be a complete genius for being the only member of my family capable of replacing the toilet paper roll and for understanding the correlation between hanging up one’s wet towel and not having a putrid towel the next time it is used. But I’ll be the first one called (or texted) when the math assignment is left on the dresser, the braces bands snap during chorus or the zombie nightmare happens again. It’s wonderful and exhausting.

Does any of this sound familiar? Mom of the tornado-like little one, clothes horse high-schooler or the absent-minded middle-schooler, do you ever look around and all you see is work to do? My precious grandmother, mother of 13 used to say, “Life is so daily”. I never truly understood until I had my own home and she was not just whistling Dixie! If the little messes of everyday life feel like they are snowballing and you are about to explode, you are not alone. You need a breather.

Yesterday, I took just that. I left dishes in the sink and laundry in the machines. I made a list of some of my favorite places to shop and I just went! I didn’t buy anything at two of the stores and only a couple of items at TJMaxx, but I had no idea how refreshing it could be just walking around and looking at the “pretty things”, as my grandma used to say. There was no pressure of a particular gift to buy. Just time on my hands and aisles of colorful things to peruse. 

When I came back, the work was still there, but somehow it all looked different. I got a pep in my step about an easy dinner idea thanks to Facebook and it didn’t take any time to rally the troops and get things back in shape around here. There was nothing magical about my 2 hours out except that it was just that- out. Sometimes it helps to step away from something to gain a little perspective. Let me give you a little gem. You can give yourself that little gift. This thing called motherhood doesn’t have to mean give to others all the time at the expense of our sanity. Sometimes we need to regroup so that we are the best version of ourselves and that is a gift to everyone we love. 

Make a lunch date with a girlfriend. Paint your nails. Grab a cup of coffee and pick up that devotional. But do something today that refreshes you. And for goodness sake, pick up those Legos…again. Those things hurt when you step on them!

  

I’ll Take An “F”

“She stole my happy place!” My little boy’s cheeks were flushed and his eyes were doing that hurt puppy thing they always do when his heart is wrenched. It was the last hot day of the summer before Fall’s crisp days were upon us and the play date had gone great…until this moment. Later that night, the fun of playing construction worker and fast-food restaurant with his dear friend was still clouded by one moment. And that made me think.

How many times have we been happily trucking along through our day when BAM- the tiniest thing was said or we realized we really goofed? In that moment, no matter how great things had been going, it seems we have hit a brick wall and lost our happy mojo.

Last week my husband was traveling and I was rocking right along. Unlike some mornings when he is gone and I start us off badly by oversleeping, forgetting to sign papers, fussing at one kid or another for leaving their packed lunch in the fridge or ranting about the perpetually abominable state of my teenagers’ rooms, this was a good one. I got up in plenty of time to make myself presentable, had my kindergartener’s lunch packed and breakfast ready for each kid. Everyone even got to their school or bus on time with a last-minute kiss on their cheek! I was happily tidying up the Legos and sipping on coffee when I got this text.

       Mom! I can’t believe you forgot picture day! 8th graders have to wear “formal attire” like my blazer, dress shirt, tie and khakis. I know you are stressed out because Daddy is gone, but come on! This is important!

Dum. Dum. Dum. Key the failure music. My bubble was burst. My morning was clearly shot. Of course I quickly took his clothes to the school in time for pictures but by then it was too late for me. I was already feeling like I’d failed my kid and no mom likes that feeling. Should he have remembered? At 13, he absolutely should, but so should I. With three kids in three different schools, activities which set a different afternoon schedule every day, a house and a small business to run AND let’s not forget the husband, it’s no wonder I forget things sometimes. For a couple of hours, I even beat myself up about it. It wasn’t until bedtime, when my baby boy said, “I still can’t find my happy place” that I realized what I had done. I’d allowed a temporary setback to steal my joy and cloud my whole afternoon.

When I was growing up, Mama wisely reminded me often that our genuine happiness, our true joy is much deeper than a moment or even a day. In fact, if I base my feelings solely on how I perform or how the day is going, I will surely experience disappointment every time. Those moments and days are like my finished laundry  status- temporal. If I dig a little deeper and step back from the moment, I realize that my feelings are ever-changing, as well. They do not define me, my day or my life. Her lessons on joy point me straight to the Giver of true joy and are a great reminder of those elements in my life that give lasting, sustainable joy. For me, that begins with knowing I am a daughter of the King and what girl didn’t always dream of being royalty? My amazing husband, children and extended family bring me joy (okay, most of the time). And let’s not forget about friends. My girlfriends keep me grounded, provide the necessary comic relief (or laugh with me when I’m the reason for the chuckle) and remind me that I am not alone. 

We grow up knowing that an “F” is bad, but as an adult, I am learning to change my perspective. In those moments of stolen joy, the best way I have found from completely considering the day a flop is to remind myself to claim an “F”, not for my performance but because of the value of three important things: faith, family and friends. I goofed. It happens and in some very imperfect way, every day I am gifted to live and breath, something will. We wouldn’t easily give away our treasure! Let’s stop allowing our joy to so easily be stolen. Tomorrow is a new day, ladies, and our joy is rooted in so much more than a moment. It’s time to reclaim our happy place. 

 

Letter To That Mom

Dear Mom of Two Young Boys at the Movie Theater, 

I want you to know that I saw you today. I’m not saying that because you got up with your two little ones three times before the movie even began or because your children were loud. They were not loud, just normal and excited. I am not saying that I saw you because you stood up to help them sit safely in those seats that constantly fold up and sit too low for young eyes to even view the screen. It was not because you and your young crew were gone for ten minutes at a time when you did leave the theater and found different seats when you returned. I SAW you. 

I don’t know why you came by yourself with those adorable and active boys to a two-hour movie. Maybe your husband works long hours and it has been a challenging week handling it all yourself. Maybe you are a single mom and after a tough week of work you wanted to treat your boys to a matinee, a true treat for everyone and a luxury in which you don’t often indulge. Perhaps it was an escape from the mountain of laundry and the sea of duplo blocks, matchbox cars and goldfish crumbs that you just could not pick up one more time today. 

I want you to know that while you were juggling these active boys, gently quieting their adorable commentary, accommodating their frequent need to move seats and the seemingly constant need to go potty, I heard love in your voice. When others might have thrown in the towel after the third time the popcorn bag fell and just left altogether after the second trek to the restroom, you helped your boys find seats that suited them better for that moment and taught them to hold their popcorn bags tightly. When many, myself included, might have lost it completely and said things that would make them feel like terrible mothers later, you spoke in soothing tones and helped distract them with funny parts of the movie, explaining quietly what they didn’t understand. 

When the movie was over, it was easy to spot you in the theater lobby. Unlike other moms in a hurry to leave, mentally back to the list of tasks to complete before bedtime, you stuck around. Your inquisitive boys wanted to check out the motorcycle video game and you patiently placed them on the seat and helped them pretend they were winning the race. As you and your boys walked hand-in-hand outside, their smiles were just as bright as the cloudless sky. The fascinating thing is, so was yours. 

A few years ago, a friend described a lady she had just met. Her characterization has rung in my ears since. “You could see Jesus on her face!” Mom of Two Young Boys at the Movie Theater, I saw your incredible love for them. I probably would have chucked the popcorn and given “mean Mommy” looks when they popped out of their seats AGAIN. You showed them such patience that I found myself looking at my boy just a little sweeter. I might have made them do the pee-pee dance before going yet another time, but not you. Your gentle ways were inspiring. You were meek and your even-tempered spirit helped your boys truly enjoy their afternoon out. Those toe-headed cuties seemed to bring you genuine joy and peace and I admired your dedication to them. You demonstrated what a good mother looks like when everything is not so perfect. I say that I saw you and that is because even in the darkness of a cold movie theater, the light of the Holy Spirit was bright and I saw your heart. In countless ways, I saw Jesus on your face and from one mom to another, I know that on a day like today, that was not easy. 

Thankful for the lesson,

Jane

Galatians 5:23(NLT)

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

        

This Little Light Of Mine

We knew she was a sick cat, but we didn’t know just how sick…or crazy she had gotten. Our sweet Maizy had been our family’s furry kid, a good resident and well-loved member of our family for almost 13 years, but this summer was different. The “welcome home” presents on beds should have been the red flags to clue us in on the fact that the thyroid treatment regimen was not enough. Then the black light and a twitchy tail told the fuller story and we realized she had been trying to tell us something was terribly wrong all along. So we said goodbye to a cat we loved and now have a house full of carpet to replace. Great.

Anytime we finally see something for what it actually is, there is an “aha” moment. A toddler’s mom can tell you that quiet, darkness and a young one are a recipe for disaster all too often revealed when we least expect it. My sister found that to be the case with a stack of blankets in a dark linen closet and a potty-training 2 year-old. (You can fill in the blanks here.) Our favorite naughty kid moment story is of my husband’s brother on Christmas Eve, climbing up to change the clock’s time so Christmas could start earlier the next morning. He was four. A very sleepy Christmas morning was well underway before everyone realized what he had done! No good is happening when the response from a toddler to what they are doing is “Nuffing”. But in the light, the truth is revealed. I tell my kids, it may take me a while, but I always find out! 

That’s funny thing about light. Its power to reveal sometimes gives us needed answers. Now, they may or may not be an easy pill for us to swallow. Urine spots all over my carpet glowing with the black light like highlighter yellow paint had been sloshed honestly took my breath away. And there are times when it’s not “things” at all. 

I cannot be the only one who grew up in a home where the latter part of Numbers 32:23 was easily quoted. “Be sure your sins will find you out” was quickly memorized if you lived in our red brick ranch on B Minor Street.  In our society, the phrase “come to light”  indicates the revelation of something formerly hidden. In a great mystery or crime investigation, it is often a strange twist of events that makes the revelation intriguing. In our own lives, however, and in the light of God’s pure holiness, I wouldn’t say “intrigue” is the best word to describe how it feels. In fact, it is often uncomfortable at best. Lately, God is revealing to me how very unlike His son I am and I’m not going to lie. It does not feel good. But I know it is necessary, because while being corrected, refined, molded isn’t pleasant, I do want His light shining in and through me. My heart truly desires His holiness. Here lies the beautiful part. When I respond with an open heart and allow the Holy Spirit to transform me, I am better able to shine His light outward. I remember learning the children’s song “This Little Light of Mine” in my Aunt Shirley’s Sunday school class and as an adult, I am still learning why that song is such good training. 

The Bible has tons to say about light to help us along the way. 2 Cor 4:6 says “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” In Ephesians 5:8, he even calls us light! “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” The purpose is my favorite part. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”. Do you see the connection? It’s all about His glory. 

The song “Create In Me A Clean Heart” is a haunting tune and a beautiful prayer. It is taken from Psalm 51:10. The lyrics are:

Create in me a clean heart, oh God

And renew a right spirit within me

Cast me not away from Thy presence, oh Lord

And take not Thy holy spirit from me

Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation

And renew a right spirit within me

I could pray this every day.  I’ll leave you with Keith Green’s simple and powerful version. Enjoy!