Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Third Culture Kid

“You Better Watch Out” God

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
(Prince Caspian, Chapter 10)

I lay on my bunk bed at boarding school in Ethiopia. I am just nine years old. My bunkmate stirs below me. I wind my musical Raggedy Ann doll over and over, hoping to get some sleep. Sleep does not come.

I rehash the day. Thoughts swirl: “I did a bunch of wrong things. Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep. I should confess my sins. Hey God, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did today. I hope you can forgive me.”

Still no rest for my eyes and tired body.  I go into a bit of a panic. “Maybe I didn’t mean it for real when I prayed the magic prayer asking God into my heart. If I did mean it, I would not be so naughty.”

I whisper the same thing for the umpteenth time, “Please come into my heart. I really mean it this time. I will be better tomorrow.” Still nothing. I lay there wide-awake.

My mind happily drifts to earlier in the evening, my dorm mother reading us another chapter in the story of Narnia. The image of Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them, floods my mind. “I love Aslan. I wish God was like Aslan. Why can’t He be?”

As I finally drift off to sleep, resting in the comfort of the lion who loves children, I have a flicker of hope: “Maybe He is.”

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For decades, Santa has flooded the Christmas season. A jolly man with a jolly heart. A man who rewards good behavior with toys and naughty behavior with “a lump of coal.” My friend “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did to God as a young girl.

It makes a lot of sense. “He (Santa) sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT! Santa Claus is coming to town.”

Sounds eerily similar to a song from those little girl boarding school days: “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.” YOU BETTER WATCH OUT.

Recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has stepped in to “help Santa.” This Elf is dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent. He or she enters homes to keep a watchful eye on the children, ensuring good behavior during the rough parenting patch when kids are over-sugared and over-excited for Christmas. His or her “job” is to make sure they belong on Santa’s “nice” list. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

Santa. God. Elf on the Shelf. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

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Fast forward 30+ years. I’m a mom of four littles who loves celebrating Santa (in fact, my seven-year old just opened her letter from the North Pole). We don’t have an Elf on the Shelf (only because he/she is not invented yet). But me, this “desperate-to-please-God” young mom, believes wholeheartedly in a this YOU BETTER WATCH OUT God.

I’m stuck in my grown-up mom body as the little nine-year old girl on her bunk bed. God is no different than Santa or Elf on a Shelf. He’s up there watching my every good and bad behavior, ready to reward or “smite” me for each one, his main goal to get me to behave, to be good for goodness sake.

You yelled at your kids today. BAD!

You taught Sunday School. GOOD!

You told that white lie to your best friend! BAD!

You helped your twelve-year-old with their homework. GOOD!

You forgot to pray! BAD!

My relationship with this Santa/Elf on a Shelf/God is a little topsy-turvy. I’m filled with and act from the stranglehold of fear and guilt. Am I good enough today? Is God happy with me?

I hide or at least try to. Why wouldn’t I? I avoid Him. Who wouldn’t? I struggle to feel close, spending all my energy keeping my external, visible behavior under control, hoping it’s enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s utter disapproval of me. UGH!

My internal craving for love and belonging is completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar. YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

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In the middle of all of this, the stories of Narnia reenter my life and I have a reunion with Aslan.  I find three-hour-long radio theater dramatic renditions (absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these tales that I loved as a child. I kill two birds with one stone: share this amazing lion with my own children and at the same time, keep them quiet on long car rides (keeping it real people).

As I reconnect with Aslan, I find again that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once. He is the one I long for and need so desperately, my grownup heart still fragile from the many years of trying to keep myself in line.

That hopeful thought I had as a child flickers again in the darkness of my soul.

God is not like Santa.

God is not like the Elf on the Shelf.

God is not ultimately concerned with “behavior management.”

God is like Aslan.

God is wise. God is playful. God is generous. God is kind. God is mysterious. God is terrifying. God is magnificent. God is beautiful. God unconditionally loves and He unconditionally loves me.  Period. End of story.

No more YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!

My soul settles slowly (I’m talking years of retraining my brain) into a place of love and belonging. Yes, God sees me. He really sees me. He sees that little girl in the bunkbed, fearful, yet hopeful. He sees the young mom who longs to be known fully, and loved completely. He still sees me, the real real me. But instead of “setting me straight,” His beautiful, tender, kind heart sets me free!

My flicker so long ago, “Maybe He is,” burns brightly as a fire of hope that shouts, “YES. YES HE IS.”

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P.S. I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus. I found out that a concerned mother once wrote C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus.

In his response, Lewis offered this relief: “Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”

 

***ONE MORE NOTE:  If you liked reading this, please go back out and “like” it on social media.  Means the world to me!***

Posted in ADD, Celebration, Childhood, Family, Motherhood

He Peed on the Nurse

This was a boy who peed on the nurse when he made his world debut.

This was a boy who wiggled until this mama heart grew weary.

This was a boy who heard the words “no” at least 48 times before breakfast.

This was a boy who had a bit of a rough time following the rules.

This was a boy who gave his teachers a literal run for their money.

This was a boy who found loopholes and leaks around my very-tight parental ship.

This was a boy who sent my very scared mom self straight to my knees in desperate prayer.

THIS IS A MAN who is gaining confidence to be exactly who he is.

THIS IS A MAN who has boundless energy to love those around him.

THIS IS A MAN who can bravely say “no” in all the best ways.

THIS IS A MAN who extends grace to all who need it.

THIS IS A MAN who teaches himself and humbly learns from others.

THIS IS A MAN who keeps his heart open to every new possibility that finds him.

THIS IS A MAN who calms my “did-I-really-do-okay-as-a-mom” inner voice by his tender messages every where I turn.

#thereisgreathope
#keepupthegoodworkmama
#youwillmakeitandsowillthey
#thismotherhoodgigisworthit

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Health, Sabbath

Hello Darkness, My (New) Friend

I jolt awake at 4:40 am.

My husband’s ride for his early morning flight never arrives.

Flying by the seat of his pants (pun intended), he jumps in his car and is off in the darkness.

I lay eyes wide open.

I don’t want to be awake yet. It’s so dark out. I didn’t plan on this.

“Don’t forget. You have decided to heed the call of the darkness this winter,” the Lover of My Soul reminds me.

I stir, don my cozy slippers and venture to the big room with the big dark windows, turn on the Christmas tree and open the wood-burning stove. I leave the rest of the house quiet. Dark.

“Darkness, what do you have for me this morning?”

My Savior greets me softly and the darkness answers.

“You need me this morning, my friend.”

“You need silence to settle your frenzied mind.”

“You need solitude to rest your weary soul.”

“You need stillness to revive your anxious body.”

“You need Shalom (remember your Word of the Year?) to heal your troubled spirit.”

“You need me this morning, my friend.”

Right outside those big, dark windows, the light will dawn in a few moments and display the freshly-fallen snow.

It will be glorious.

BUT for now, I sit in the darkness.

#darkness #beautyinthedark #whatthedarknessknows #hope

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Grief

Advent, The Howl of the Not Yet

O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…

The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love.  The pain seems overwhelming: a cheating spouse, soul-crushing anxiety, an ex-husband who seems bent on destruction, an out-of-nowhere heart attack, a teen in the struggle of his life with substance abuse, babies who are stuck in the NICU, my own grief over huge life-changes and financial struggles that seem insurmountable.   You get it.  You might be in the middle of it.  Like me, your thoughts are shouting, “How long?  How much?  Why?  Why especially right now?”

I love the holiday season.  From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions.  Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few.  (A quick confession:  I like this paragraph more than the first one.  I want to live here.  I want all good things, happy thoughts.)

The four-week period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent.  It’s Advent right now.  Shauna Niequist says,

“Advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning.  Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl.  There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”

Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled.  However, Advent ALSO gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting.   Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable.  But Advent ALSO reminds us there is promise of healing, just as real and palpable.  Advent says “do NOT skip over the suffering.  Do NOT minimize the heartache.  Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.”  This is not an easy place.  I struggle with Advent.  I have difficulty sitting with the grief, the waiting, acknowledging and feeling it.  I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come.  As Emily Freeman says, “I rush to joy.”

Skipping right to Christmas does NOT work in the end.  Rushing to joy does NOT take away the pain.  It does NOT prevent bad things from happening (I was in the ER this past weekend to prove that point…I am fine now).  It does NOT bring true healing.  Advent might be the better place that brings lost-lasting healing.  Advent speaks the deeper truth of heartache and hope, suffering and a savior.  Both are needed in this beautiful, messy life of ours.

God seems to do some of His best work during the seasons of “Advent” in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times.  Especially if we look for those who will “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who will venture into the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us that we are not alone, Immanuel is coming and has come and will stay with us for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.

We still have more than two weeks until Christmas.   Let’s not skip to it.  Let’s stay in the not-yet, the place of anticipation.  Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love.  Let’s be okay in the waiting.  Christmas will come soon enough.  A baby will be here.  A Savior will come.  What is empty will be filled.  Heartache will be healed.  Yearning will be fulfilled.  What is broken will be repaired.  What we’ve lost will be found.  But in the meantime, we wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.

Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

(It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Fourth Verse)

Posted in Charity

Sometimes Generosity Looks Like…

Sometimes GENEROSITY looks like…

…putting a coin in a red bin at the grocery store with the bell-ringer looking on.

…saying yes to your young teenager’s request for a ride to the movies (both ways).

…ringing your neighbor’s doorbell with a tin full of home-made (or even store-bought) cookies.

…texting a hurting friend and saying, “I’m here for you.  No judgment.  Only compassion.”

…allowing a hurried mom with four kids in tow to go before you in the checkout line (#thatmomwasme #thankyoukindstrangers).

…sitting with ten first-graders on Sunday mornings reminding them how crazy God is about them.

…sharing a “Go Fund Me” page on your social media network for a desperate soul.

…standing up on the train and gently whispering, “Please, take my seat.”

…reading one more book at the end of a long, exhausting day with your I-don’t-want-to-ever-go-to-bed toddler.

…writing that Google review for your hard-working, but not-perfect contractor.

…giving your spouse permission to sleep in when littles are up at the “most ungodly hour.”

…granting someone access to your beautiful, messy, sacred, broken, healing heart.

Sometimes GENEROSITY looks very different for each of us. 

That’s a wonderful thing.

#dontcompare #keepupthegoodwork #generosityheals #bringhope

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Family, Grief, Motherhood, Thanks

It’s Strange Here

I sit by my fire alone.

It’s strange here.

A year ago, my third-born was bursting through the door, overstuffed college laundry bag in hand, ready for a week of “rest” in the “best bedroom ever,” along with eating the ultimate “Taylor ham and egg on an everything bagel” sandwich every morning of his time with us.

This afternoon, I was driving him to the airport.  He is off to see his younger sister 2,726 miles away on the left coast.

A year ago, I was picking up my exhausted college baby girl up at the same airport, joy filling my heart as we chit-chatted on the way back to a house filled with family.

Today, my phone buzzes. “Can you send me Josh’s flight info?  Also, can I have the famous jello salad recipe?  I’m going to make it for Thursday.”  She is headed to buy the ingredients to make her favorite Thanksgiving dish at a grocery store I don’t even know the name of.

A year ago, my oldest fed her baby our family-secret sweet potato casserole in the same booster seat we used for her, surrounded by oohs and aahs from cousins and great-grandparents.

On her commute home from teaching second-graders earlier, she chatters away on the phone.  “When do you leave, Mom?  I’m hoping to get my grad school papers done on Friday.  We are just going to eat out with my mother-in-law on Thursday.  I might make the family-secret sweet potato casserole just to have leftovers.  ”  Her two-year-old babbles in the background, “I want to go that way.  I have a raccoon sticker.  I see a tractor.”

A year ago, the second child of my heart was on his way home from a land far away, new puppy in tow, ready to cuddle up on his favorite sofa, eat his favorite NJ pizza, and see his favorite friends.

“Just landed in Florida.  I hope you have a wonderful week” lights up across my laptop screen on Sunday morning.  He’s with his girlfriend spending the holiday with her family.   I can’t even tell you what town he is in.  Maybe somewhere near Palm Beach.  Not sure.

I sit by my fire alone.

It’s strange here.

Feelings bubble to the surface, unlike any I’ve had before.  I’m not sure what to make of them.

Thanksgiving has been together for 27 years.  The three of us.  Then the four of us.  Then the five of us.  Then the six of us.  PLUS, a whole bunch (and I mean a WHOLE BUNCH) of other family and friends and anyone who wanted to join the mayhem.

Pies.  Parade.  Mashed potatoes.  Dog show.  Family-secret sweet potato casserole.  Puzzles.  Turkey.  Football.  Ham for those who hate turkey.  Cousins.  Gravy.  Games.  The famous jello salad.  Beer-tasting.  Pictures (the one at the top of this website being last year’s).

I sit by my fire alone. 

It’s strange here.

No overflowing shopping bags filled with cranberry sauce and giant foil roasting pans.  No beds being prepped for guests.  No Costco runs for last-minute hors d’oeuvres.  Not even one decoration in sight except a pumpkin candle burning slowly behind me.

My husband, away on business, calls in the middle of all the feelings.  “You’re alone.  How are you?”

“I’m okay.”  I say.  “I like it in many ways.  I am glad for tonight.  But I’m glad I will see you soon.”

Tomorrow, I hop on a plane myself to spend a few days with my parents.  My man hops on his own plane the next day to join me.  I won’t be alone for long.

But right now, this alone thing gives me space.  Space to sit with my Savior and sort out this new normal I find myself in.

This new normal filled with sorrow that I am not seeing ANY of my four children.  To shed the tears that need to flow.

This new normal filled with thanks that I am seeing my parents, my groom and a grieving childhood friend.  To allow a warm smile to curl to my lips.

This new normal filled with bewilderment that this is actually where I find myself on the journey (I think Costco might send a search party).  To sit quietly, a questioning “hmmm” filling my thoughts.

This new normal mostly filled with hope that I might have just done this mom thing okay.  To embrace the idea that my kids are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing:  building lives of their own, going on new-found adventures, loving those they are with and best of all, making family-secret sweet potato casseroles and famous jello salads.

I sit by my fire alone. 

It’s strange here.

But it’s really good. 

I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family, Motherhood, Thanks

Be on the Lookout

I have four children. There are many days it’s been hard to be their mom. It’s been a lot of work. But there are times when I catch myself sitting back and asking God why I was so blessed to have them in my life, to get to be their mom. In those moments, my heart almost feels like it’s going to burst with thankfulness. This mom journey has been beyond my wildest dreams, far harder, but also far better than what I even believed could be true.

God tends to do that in our lives. He has surprises for us that are beyond our imagination: something in nature that just boggles the mind, a kind word from a stranger exactly when you need it, a random text from your child that they love you, a job promotion that you did not dare to hope for, and so on. He always has something up His sleeve.

He is much bigger, kinder, more generous, stronger, more loving, and smarter than we can even begin to wrap our brains around. He extravagantly loves us as if there is only one of us. No matter what we face or what we need (you might be in the middle of something that seems beyond fixing and desperately hopeless), soak this in:

God’s limitless, tireless, unbounded, lavish power that transcends our three-dimensional world is able to provide and work far beyond what our limited selves can envision.

This God can do anything and everything. This is not “pie-in-the-sky,” magical thinking. It’s a hard fact. Don’t be afraid to dream big and ask big, but be prepared for even bigger, above-and-beyond bigger.

Be on the lookout today for all that He has for you. Be prepared for more than you can even think up. It will change your life. It has changed mine! There is great hope!

From my heart to yours.

Posted in Celebration, Family, Grandparenthood, Motherhood

Grandmas

Grandmas drive two hours for a birthday party.

Grandmas wear their only “flannel” shirt for the festivities.

Grandmas stand in line for half an hour for twelve balloons to be blown up and then spend half an hour untangling them.

Grandmas ask “Alexa” to play the Blippi tractor song and then ask her to play it louder, singing along just to hear “again, again.”

Grandmas eat chicken nuggets and Rice Krispie treats and halves of grapes smashed onto plaid plates.

Grandmas wear left-over tractor Halloween costumes toddler refuses to don with headlights placed ever-so-perfectly (#seepicture #hahahaha).

Grandmas learn how to capture Boomerang Instagram videos and put it all out there for the world to see.

Grandmas can’t believe they’re a grandma already, watching their daughter’s eyes sparkle with that indescribable mom love, as candles are lit and then blown out (I mean spit on).

Grandmas just can’t handle how cute that little face is and want to kiss it a million times, especially when it’s covered in green icing.

Grandmas clean Amazon out of every miniature tractor, truck, police car, backhoe and excavator and every shirt, pajama set and book with pictures of said things.

Grandmas give “see you later” hugs counting the moments until the next time, which can’t come soon enough.

Posted in Faith, Family, Motherhood

My World Changed Forever

My world changed forever the first time I laid my eyes on my child. More importantly, my heart changed forever the first time I laid my eyes on them. From the moment I saw them, I knew something that I would never be able to “un-know,” the anchoring feeling and experience of unconditional love.

It’s a love that’s hard to explain with words. It’s a love that doesn’t lessen even if I am hurt, angry, sad, weary, panicked, exhausted, confused, frustrated, afraid or despairing. Nothing is able to fully quench it.

It’s a love that doesn’t increase just because I’m grateful, happy, rested, proud, peaceful, hopeful, confident, content, or optimistic. It’s a love that dwells in the secret, sacred space of my heart that’s reserved just for this one person, my child.

The experience of this inescapable kind of love for my now mostly grownups gives me a powerful, albeit limited glimpse into God’s unconditional love for me.

Nothing is able to make God’s love expand or diminish in any way. It’s steady and enduring, permanent and unfailing. This continuing peek into God’s heart for me (and thankfully for them) has the power to radically change me in only all the best ways. It’s a mighty force that brings life and healing the way nothing else can. For me and for them.

“May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.  May you have the power to grasp how WIDE, how LONG, how HIGH and how DEEP His love really is.  May you experience the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge.  It will fill you with the richest experience of God’s presence in your life, completely filled and flooded with God Himself.”  (Ephesians 3:17-19)

From My Heart to Yours

P.S.  The pic above is one of my favorite ever!!

 

Posted in Faith, Health, Sabbath, Word of the Year

We All Need Permission for This

Life is noisy. Everywhere. There are televisions in elevators shouting the latest news-worthy crisis. There are horns blaring from impatient people in the cars behind us. There are children throwing tantrums in grocery stores (I had the distinct pleasure of enjoying that with my grandson just this week). And then there is the constant noise inside our own heads.

There’s something about getting away from the hustle and bustle, the noisy world we live in, to a place of respite and refreshment. Maybe it’s the silence that allows our minds to breathe. Maybe it’s slowing down to hear God’s gentle whisper of love and care for us, placing our burdens only meant for His shoulders. Maybe it’s the surrounding simple beauty that soothes our hurried souls and draws us to Beauty Himself. Maybe it’s the intangible peace we receive and feel in our very bodies when we give room and space for quiet.

Constant. Noise. Drains. The. Life. Out. Of. Us.   Jesus invites us to something very different.   He rarely tells us to hurry up.  He often spoke the opposite to his friends when He was living in this “speed-it-up” world.  He knew (for them and for us) that we humans desperately need self-care and replenishment, restoration and renewal, places that GIVE LIFE.

“Come away to a quiet place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

This place of withdrawal is a gift Jesus so longs to give us, not another “should” on our endless list. He wants LIFE for me and for you, for us in our collective humanity, the most full and abundant life that we are designed for. He knows what we need to be WHOLE and WELL. Rest is not selfish, lazy, or impractical. It is truly freeing and life-giving, a present straight from the tender heart of God for us to unwrap.

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Where is this place of restoration for you? Is it a simple walk around the block listening to your favorite music? Is it laying down for a much-needed nap on a Sunday afternoon? Is it sitting alone in your car watching the sunset from your favorite overlook? Is it putting your phone on “do not disturb” mode for a few hours, giving yourself a break from the constant buzzing and dinging?  Whatever it is, do it often and regularly. Make it a part of the rhythm of your day, your week, your month, even your year.  In the hustle and bustle of ordinary life, give yourself permission to retreat, withdraw and rest.

The noisy world will be calling to you soon enough.

From my heart to yours.

P.S.  I am heading horizontal this afternoon.

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For other posts about my journey toward rest, check these out by clicking HERE.