Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day and Numbered Days

I wish, wish, wish that every American, old and young, had the opportunity to watch a squadron deploy and then watch them return.  To witness the anticipation, the tears, the tension, and the resolution on the faces of the families as the military beloved walks away.   The families breathe in bravery at that moment and begin life apart knowing that the road will be anything but easy.  I wish everyone could witness this event in real time, and not just the occasional five second clip on the evening news.

The tributes today, Veterans Day, will cause most of us to pause and thank those in uniform who have served us selflessly and silently.  My husband will proudly wear his uniform and travel around numerous events in Warrensburg, MO, shaking hands with veterans and personally expressing his own thanks for the battles they fought before his time and for humbly passing on the baton of freedom for him to carry.   His spirit will soften at their wrinkled eyes, their proud shoulders, and their own thanksgiving for the country that gave them the opportunity to serve. Somehow, they will make him feel as though this country gave them a great gift; the gift of fighting for freedom.  My husband will have more in common with many of these eighty-year-old men today than he has with some of his own peers, and he will treasure the stories they share with him.   He will pass on the conversations with our family tonight and we will, for this moment, feel so privileged to hear of their lives. I've seen these moments shared before and few images make me love my husband more...my tall beloved bending slightly to hear their words; allowing his own eyes to tear as they freely let theirs fall; his protective arm wrapped around their shoulders; and his strong hand that still has days left to fly a jet grasping a weakened hand that holds only a memory of such times.  The forty-year-old pilot connected to the eighty- year-old army private...a bond unexplainable to those of us who have never walked their road.  Side by side they will be, both soaking up one another's presence, encouraged by the other's strength.  The younger in awe of the journey traveled before his time and in awareness that the military too has numbered his own days; the elder in remembrance of wars fought long ago and in slight longing that there are still battles to be fought but they will be accomplished without his own hands.    My husband's thoughts often linger over the fact that what he's doing today, these "conflicts" in the forefront of his mind, will pass and become history; his actions will be one piece of a puzzle.  Lord willing he will live long enough to be the recipient of a handshake by the next wave of military members coming up behind.

Seven months ago, twelve A-10's and several hundred people from Whiteman AFB deployed to Afghanistan to fly close air support for our troops on the ground for our generation's war.
Can I just brag on the A-10 a bit?
The A-10 flies low, boasts an ugly, beastlike appearance, and exists to provide low air support for our ground troops.    When a soldier is on the ground being fired upon, there's no sweeter sound than the hum of the A-10 and the rumble of the Gatling gun as the A-10 does the magnificent job of protecting. This plane doesn't seem to have much time left in our Air Force fleet and for those of us intimately in love with this jet, we will be so sad to see it go.  The jet has spent almost as much time with my husband as I have. The pilots who fly the A-10 have committed to fly with the sole mission of keeping our people on the ground safe and bringing them home.   They could have flown fancier, faster planes, but they love this grassroots mission.  It's all about protecting the troops. Last time my husband was in Afghanistan, this sign hung boldly at Bagram Air Base: “The mission is the 18-year-old on the ground with the gun.  All else is support.”  The reminder to not forget why they were there.  I don't know if that sign still hangs, but its words seem to have made it a little easier for my husband to be away from his family.  The A-10 pilots would reach out and touch this sign every time they left the building for a combat mission.  They understood this thing they were doing was not for their glory; not simply to add ribbons and rankings to their own personal achievements.   The training...this deployment...this airplane...all came down to these missions and doing everything within their power to make sure that the 18-year-old on the ground got to come home to his or her family. Who wouldn't love an airplane with that mission?    I truly hope that if any of my sons are ever the ones on foreign soil fighting a ground war in a conflict I don't understand that someone like my husband will be flying overhead protecting them.

So, we drove to Whiteman AFB a couple weeks ago to watch the A-10's come home from combat. Seven months away doesn't sound long to an Army family, but for an Air Force reserve unit, seven months is a LIFETIME. Ten A-10's flew over the Air Force base as a unit and then one by one they peeled off to make their final descent and land back on Missouri soil for the first time in over half a year. The families waited.  Cheered.  Signs blew in the soft breeze and flags waved proudly.   T-shirts on the children read things like "Welcome Home!"  and "I'm going to get my dad back!" New babies dressed in red, white, and blue.  Life doesn't stop for the months someone is deployed.   It keeps going...important events happen...joyful moments exist...sorrowful times are missed...issues surface...trials braved...and these military families do their best to somehow stay connected, live life together, while thousands of miles apart.

My husband didn't go on this deployment.   Left behind this time around, we saw things differently; kind of from the outside. I thought back years ago to a colonel shaking my older boys' hands as my husband left on a deployment just days before Christmas.  The colonel stated wistfully, "I wish I was going with them.  It's hard to stay behind."    I thought the comment mere words until my husband was the one left behind shaking the hands. I remember clearly the night last September when he came home with the news that this time his name wasn't on the list.   "But don't get your hopes up," he told me, "things change," as if I haven't lived this enough to know.  And things did change, but my husband's name remained absent from the list.  He would stay back this time around and we would simply observe.  Watch them leave, hear the stories of a world far away, and welcome them home.    I'm not sure my husband ever spoke the colonel's exact words, but I saw it in his eyes as he watched the A-10's deploy back in March, "I wish I was going with them.  It's so hard to stay behind."  It had nothing to do with him wanting to be away from his family, but everything to do with wanting to be with his squadron...to put into practice all the training and to protect the 18-year-old on the ground.  My husband loves his job, LOVES his job, and he loves the A-10.  

"The A-10's are flying back home Sunday at noon.  You don't have to come watch.  I'll be there escorting some families, but you and the kids don't need to come unless you want to."  My husband threw the return time of the jets carelessly into the discussion in the days preceding their return.  He reminded me, "You know they don't care if any of us are there.  They just want to see their families."    True.   They just want to hold their wives, touch their kids, and breathe in the relief of being back in America. So, I didn't enter the return date on my calendar.   A date like that doesn't need to be entered; it's known deep in the heart.  My husband wasn't even deployed and my soul was counting down every second until their return.      
"Why has daddy been working so hard?"  one of mine complained the weekend the jets returned.  "Why has he been so grumpy lately?"  another chirped.  Complain.  Bicker. Whine. Complain.  Bicker.  Whine. Oh, how my little ones needed to be reminded.   A little wake-up call.  We've obviously been a little too free lately. They haven't had to count the cost of all of their "blessings" in recent days.  They needed to remember what exactly it is that their daddy does and feel a little humbled at their own "needs."
"Get in the car, Kids.  We're going to welcome some soldiers back home." 

On the day of the return, I ran into a friend,who has five kids, in the squadron hall.   We exchanged a few quick tears of relief before she gathered her beautiful children to be escorted to the flight line.  I captured the moment in my mind of this family minus one walking toward the planes.   That one who was missing was preparing to land and I couldn't help but think, "Well done, Little Mama. You made it!"  My kids and I stood in the shadows of the hangars, cheered loudly, and I silently thanked God for the privilege of knowing these amazing, brave families.  For a moment, my kids were solemn, speechless, full of awe. Families reuniting...beautiful to behold.  Even my teenagers recognized the heaviness and lightness of the moment.  The lightness of joy, relief, and contentment in the reunion; the heaviness of the cost of this moment.

Years ago, at a friend's military farewell, the man retiring said to those young in their career, "The Air Force has numbered your days; you only get a short window to do this thing, so enjoy it."    The veterans can attest to those numbered days.  Even my husband feels the clock winding down on his days of flying; his turn at this job of protection changing as he gets older.   Maybe that's why he volunteered to visit with veterans this morning; to assure them that they are remembered, valuable, and appreciated; their service a piece in the puzzle of this nation's freedom that can never be replaced.

We will look forward to hearing the stories tonight told to him by those who have gone before.  There will come a day when our squadron's well-loved A-10's will merely be shells of the planes they once were resting on the desert sand in Tucson, Arizona.    My husband's strong hands that have throttled the jet through thousands of hours of flight time will be shaking the hand of a younger pilot who will lean in close to my aging husband and hear of his stories while he was in the service.   We will listen tonight to my husband talk of old tales with that future moment in mind knowing that in years to come there will be another young family who might hear of our tales around the dinner table.
And I so hope they take the time to listen.
Happy Veteran's Day.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Not like the Tax Collector

There's sweetness in preschool drop off.  
Little people, little hands holding tightly to mom or dad's hand, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Lunchboxes, sparkling eyes, chubby cheeks, short legs doing their best to keep up with the adult dragging them into the room, joyful teachers, ahhhhh, such tenderness. 
My little preschooler knows one of my most favorite things in the whole world right now is holding his mushy little hand in mine.  His oversized backpack keeps him from racing too far ahead of me into the building and my joy of him keeps me from pulling him along faster than his legs can go.

As August brought the first day of preschool, I found myself deeply thankful that I wasn't a first time preschool mom.  Don't get me wrong, I'd like to look like some of those young sassafras first time preschool mamas in matching workout gear and nicely ponytailed hair, however, if it would mean going back to all that stuff I worried about the first time around...no thanks.   I'll take the mismatched sweats and the unintentional messy bun any day.    This is my fifth preschool rodeo and I'm totally digging being an older mama.    So freeing.   All those crazy things you worry about when you are young and discovering motherhood have absolutely no hold on you when you are older and have teenagers.  Preschool issues are just that...preschool issues. Bring them on. 

The freedom turned to pride about two preschool mornings into the school year.   I found myself secretly daring a mom to talk to me about the importance of packing a nutritious snack (Go ahead, judge my son's Lunchable plus extra bag of chips and fruit snacks.)  I hoped to overhear a conversation about the latest parenting book fad so I could regurgitate the titles of the numerous parenting books that have reached idol status just since I've been a parent.   I took great joy in my preschooler telling stories that would have once required major damage control from my people-pleasing personality.   The preschooler shared that his older brother's girlfriend is called the "Chunky Muffin Girlfriend," and the younger me instantly would have wanted to explain that there was no "chunky muffin girlfriend," but that the baby sister, scrumptiously pudgy and roly poly, is referred to as "the girlfriend," more specifically the "Chunky Muffin Girlfriend," by the two oldest brothers.   An older mama enjoys letting the comment go.   Loooves this moment of uncomfortable wondering.   Because it's HILARIOUS to watch people's faces!   Chunky Muffin Girlfriend? Do they let their son call his girlfriend Chunky Muffin?   No.  No.  No.  Yes, we know it's not appropriate talk, yes, we recognize that their future girlfriends might not appreciate all of the affectionate albeit sketchy names they come up with for their sisters, BUT any home with teenagers lives in the reality that sometimes/lots of times you just have to let things go.  The baby sister adores her brothers and we're convinced all she hears when they tenderly coo, "You precious Chunky Muffin Girlfriend," is "You are the greatest person ever created and we love you to the moon and back."  We have bigger battles in this home than our baby being called "Chunky Muffin Girlfriend." This old mama just relishes the fact that the brothers call the baby any name that suggests fondness.

Pride overflowed fiercely in preschool drop off.   You know you are seriously insecure in other areas if you are abundantly gloating at preschool.  "At least I'm not like those other preschool moms.  Worrying about snacks, schedules, playdates.   I'm free of all that nonsense.    So, incredibly free.   Free. Free. Free."
Sounds a bit like the Pharisee in Luke, "God, I thank you that I'm not other men---robbers, evil doers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.   I fast and give a tenth of all I get."   

Standing in the rain last week, crying hot tears of anger at myself over great impatience, the realization hit me...I'm not living free at all.  Sure, I'm free of all those preschool burdens, but I exchanged them for a new set of chains that still leaves me doubting, insecure, and oh so afraid.

A slave is still a slave regardless of the name of the master.   Perhaps the most dangerous form of bondage comes with pride that blinds us to what/who is holding our chains.   Preschool no longer jerks my chains. However, my ideal standard of homeschooling frustrates, my time management strangles, my margin-less life steals.  I'm no longer bound by feeding ideals, nap times, and my son playing with pink legos, but now I'm tethered to multi-layered sports schedules, fear of teenager freedom, and anger at my inconsistency in living joyfully. "At least I'm not like those preschool moms enslaved by those silly things."   True.  But, pride kept me from seeing that I'd just been sold to a different master.   

I'm sure moms further along than me are thinking, "Girlfriend, this is easy.   Wait till you have adult children completely out from under your control.   Now, that's hard."   I can't imagine.   But, I pray we never look at another's bondage in pride and miss the ties that hold us firmly.  Chains are chains.   It doesn't matter if they are preschool problems, homeschooling struggles, perfection issues, work idols, or family tension, slavery to anything other than obedience to Christ keeps us from the freedom our souls long for.

I pray we are always mindful, always uncovering, the secret chains that bind us.  Just because we might be free from that which enslaves a friend, a family member, or our child, this should never be a source of pride for us, but should encourage us to humbly ask our Heavenly Father what it is that keeps our soul from resting securely on Him.  2 Peter 2:19 "...a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him."  Who is the loudest voice in my life?  That might be a good indicator of who is my master.  Failure...constantly feeling like I'm failing speaks to me often.   The chains grip tight.  

God's word gives freedom.   Freedom because it's perfection is only found in Jesus.   James 2:25 "The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it, he will be blessed in what he does."   How can a perfect law give freedom?   How can a people incapable of keeping a perfect law find freedom in looking intently on that law?  Seems to me that would bring nothing but condemnation...to look at a law impossible to keep.  It's not keeping the law that brings freedom.   It's clinging to Jesus, who kept the perfect law for us, knowing we couldn't, knowing we wouldn't, so freedom in Christ could be ours for the taking.  

Romans 8:1 "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."   

If I feel condemned...like a big failure...it's because I'm struggling to truly believe the promise God has already set before me in His Word.    Truthfully, I actually can't believe it in my own power because I know too intimately the depth of my sins, so I have to cry out for help believing that I don't have to be a slave to anything this world has to offer.

When I fail to be patient...there's no condemnation.
When I spend my time unwisely...there's no condemnation.
When I haven't introduced myself to new neighbors...there's no condemnation.
When my teenage sons call their baby sister "Chunky Muffin Girlfriend"...well, that condemnation is theirs to work through.   Let them wrestle with that...I've got other issues.

"At least I'm not like those other preschool moms.  Worrying about snacks, schedules, playdates."

Luke 18:11-13, "God, I thank you that I'm not other men---robbers, evil doers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.   I fast and give a tenth of all I get.  
But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner." 

Have mercy on us, Lord.  
We are such sinners.
Yet, somehow, there is no condemnation.  
Help us to believe that.        





Monday, August 18, 2014

Daydreaming with the Firstborn

Something unexpected is happening with my firstborn sitting behind the wheel of our car.
A shift in our relationship has slowly been occurring through these last months of driving and I'm only just now realizing the source of this new ground is rooted in his independence.    The independence birthed from trying new things and having the parental confidence behind him that says outloud, regardless of how we are feeling, "You can do this.  We trust you with this."       
A KC Chiefs lanyard dangles his keys around his neck.   Only a new driver feels the need to show off their collection of keys and to jingle them constantly as evidence of maturity...maybe not even maturity, maybe just age.   Keys separate a teenager from their younger peers.  "I'm big stuff.  I can drive.   You cannot.   I can drive.   You cannot."   The keys dance loudly proclaiming this milestone in life.  
Our discussions find new paths; new trails to wander.   Honestly, it's kind of freaking out my mama soul.     
Behind the wheel of the car with eyes securely on the road, my firstborn's heart opens a little more, his words explore with a little more freedom, and his internal world is made a little more public to me.
While I'm dreaming of him successfully merging into traffic without being prompted, "Merge.       Merge.     Merge MergeMergeMerge. MEEERGE," he lets me catch a glimpse into his private world, too. 
I'm learning what it means to daydream with my firstborn.  

I can't wait until my friends and I can hop in the car and drive to St. Louis to see a friend. 
The first time he let me in on that daydream, I jumped into his dream and squashed it.  
Uhhh, not happening.  No way are you and your three amigos driving to St. Louis alone to see a friend.   You realize there are rules about teenagers being in a car with their peers and I don't know what they are, but we are not letting you drive to St Louis on I-70 alone.   You can go,but a parent will go with you.   
Conversation over.   Dream done.   I successfully showed him who was really in charge of all of his future hopes and plans.   Realism needs to stop a dream before it even has a chance to blossom, right?  Everyone needs a voice of reason in the home.  I'm doing my family a favor by pointing out silly trains of thought.   
My family has other names for me. 
Dream killer. 
Kill joy. 

He tries again.   I'm given another chance to hop into his world for a moment and just be with him, but I don't recognize the second chance. 
I think it would be so fun to go to college with a friend. 
What?   I don't hear him saying that it would be more comfortable to leave the people he loves if he got to be with a friend,  I hear him saying that he's going to plan to go to college based on where his friends go, not based on his future goals.  Parental intervention alert! 
You can't plan your entire future on where your friends want to go to college.   If you end up going to the same college, FANTASTIC, but you can't make plans based on where everyone else feels called to go to school.    You need to determine the path God wants for you, not the path of your friends. 
He quiets. Walls go up a little. He didn't want my opinion; he simply wanted to share. 
The dream killing feels a little less necessary when you feel the door to their hearts close.  

Lord, please give me another chance to dream with him; and give me the wisdom to recognize it.   
I'm a glutton for second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth chances.

God graciously gives.  
Eyes on the road having successfully merged without being verbally prompted, he tosses me a conversation,
"I can't wait to have season tickets to the Royals game someday.   I love those games."
I pause.  My mind instantly has three comments, "1)  Cha-ching.   You have to have money to have season tickets to the Royals.  2)  What job are you planning to have that you will actually have the time to go to all 752  games a year?  3)   Since when do you even like baseball?"   
My dream-killing comments catch in my throat.
I swallow and boldly step into his daydream. 
"That would be such a blast."
He simply nods.
The car makes its way to our destination with both of us contemplating season tickets to the Royals.   It wasn't so hard to let his thoughts of baseball tickets live.   Reality will come soon enough and perhaps he will find that season tickets for the Royals cost hard-earned money and it might be more fun to go to an occasional game than to go every week.   Or maybe he will buy season tickets.  There's no harm in letting him dream.   My thoughts capture something I had previously missed; this particular daydream involved living in Kansas City.   He didn't invite me to think on the times he ponders dreams that might take him far away; this time, God graciously let me step into a world where my son lives close.    Baby steps on the daydreaming, I guess.

Later that night with a baby on my hip, the firstborn shoveling cereal (which is a snack 24 hours a day for a teenager) into his mouth, he says, "If I had season tickets to the Royals, I think it'd be really cool to take a different one of my brothers or sisters to each game with me." 
Be.  Still.  My.  Heart.
I want to dance and shout,  "Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Let's daydream about these Royals tickets a little more."
But the conversation is over to him, not open for discussion, and his cereal bowl and spoon head for the sink.    He passes me on the way out and leans in to kiss the baby that has stolen his heart.   For a moment, I'm allowed to reach out and touch his slightly prickly baby face as he connects his heart to his little sister's.    Maybe daydreaming hurts a little more these days because the dreams don't generally include him being near enough for me to reach out and touch him.    

Three years left to daydream.   Three years to conversationally explore all of the wonderful places that God could possibly lead him.   Three years to browse the depths of his future hopes and dreams before the reality of where they might lead takes shape.   The dreams are safe in the confines of our Tahoe.   While they involve this mama walking down paths that don't include me, the mere fact they are voiced should bring joy.    My firstborn's invitation to dream with him says, "Come with me down this path and dream with me of all I might do." Daydreaming beside him is enough.  

The four-year old runs down the stairs wearing a baseball glove and a football helmet. 
"I'm going to be a professional baseball player AND a professional football player."
The firstborn smiles knowingly.  Those used to be his future dreams and hopes.
Time has a way of changing dreams.  
The teenager grabs his football and the too small baseball glove and says,
Well then, let's go practice, NoJo.
I'm so glad the firstborn isn't a dream killer.

As they roll on the ground and wrestle in the grass and catch fly balls and receive passes from "Peyton Manning" and dream of all the plays that involve the four-year old being the star, I beg for another opportunity very soon to dream with the eldest.     
Sweaty and smelly, the "practice" session outside doesn't last long and they re-enter the house with laughter. 
The oldest looks bright-eyed and free from the walls that sometimes guard his heart.
The baby is fussing, breakfast is splattered on the counter, and there is math to be taught, but I sense there's a daydream somewhere waiting to be explored.  

Grab your keys, Zach.  
Let's go for a drive.    

Monday, July 21, 2014

Nineteen Years

Large French fries, Big Macs, Rafferty’s, Red Robin. 
The Jubilee in Rome.  The lost child.

Call sign "Moses"…thank you, Jaks.

Lake Las Vegas.

Alpenglow Stube. 

Third floor.  Bitburg, Germany. 

Broccoli pizza.   Anchovy pizza and cow pastures.

Tucson and rattlesnakes.      

Monte Carlo.  The argument. 

Those statements mean nothing to anyone except to me and my husband.  Yet, both of us, without thinking, will rattle off the exact same memory when we hear those statements.   They are our memories~evidence of our life lived together~markers set that remind us of where we've been and the fact that we've walked this road together.   A shared life.  These seemingly unimportant events and millions more provide a framework for the nineteen years of journeying that we've traveled as a couple.

Greek gyro and food poisoning. 

Worst concert ever.  

Best movie series.   No debate.  (Bourne btw)

JLCK.  (What I thought was Preston's middle name for a month.)

The Peppermill.

Zachary James Smith?? 

Our memories.  Our shared life.   Yesterday, my husband and I stole an hour with just the baby for a date to Lowes and Home Depot for yet another home organization project.    I took control of the music.   Before we knew it, we were touring through memories of our past as I randomly played snippets of songs from our old heathen playlist.     First song, “I'll Be” by Edwin McCain.   "Quick, what do you think of when you hear this song?" I asked him.   He didn’t skip a beat.  Mississippi.   Next song, "3:00 a.m."   "First thought?"  He entered my memory and answered,  "Chad and Susie."    Bingo.  Next.  “Here Without You.”   "Weapons School," he smirked. (We both kinda feel sick when we here that song.)   Moving on.   “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”   "Watching your pregnant stomach move on a houseboat at Lake of the Ozarks right before we had Zach."   The next song on the list, “You and Me.”   He smiled, "Your brother’s wedding."  How about this one, “Home.”  He didn't even have to think.  "Qatar 2007."  Another song, "Chocolate’" He did a little dance in his seat, "Dancing the father/daughter dance with the girls."  
On and on we journeyed back in time.   Songs that don't mean anything, but yet took us back to moments spent together.   As "I'll Be" played, we both could envision ourselves as a young couple driving around Columbus, Mississippi enjoying each other and friends after an exhausting week of pilot training.   Other Matchbox Twenty songs took us back to Germany where their music played almost everywhere we went.  "Jessie's Girl" always makes us laugh as we remember our second son remarking that he wished all Christian music was as good as his favorite Christian song, "Jessie's Girl."  Our memories.   A life uniquely designed by the Lord to be shared together. We are one another's witness to this life we've walked.
Today is our anniversary.  On July 21, 1995, our life as a couple began.    A new family that would start with Preston and I standing at the front of the breathtaking Air Force Academy chapel in Colorado Springs full of love, hope, and excitement at the future.   We confidently stood in front of our favorite people and made a covenant before the Lord that we would live life together.   We promised love.  Support.    Faithfulness.   Commitment.    We promised God would be glorified by us.   We promised to raise Godly children.   We vowed to be one another’s biggest cheerleader.   To fight for one another.   The vows tumbled out with readiness---the statements so eager to be said on that day.   Our love for one another flowed easy.   Nothing, no one, would ever separate us.  Nothing.  No one. The Lord presided.   He sealed our promises with His grace.   He rejoiced in our commitment to bring Him glory.  He knew the children He would knit.  The length of our days.   He saw it all and He entered into our marriage covenant with us.  He would be on our side.  He would fight for us.   Our marriage.   Our family.   When we said our vows, there was no mistaking that His Will would include one another until death do us part.      

We messed with that.  We tampered with God's will.  We turned away.  From God.  From each other.   We chose a hard road.   We took that which was precious and treated it carelessly.  We threw our pearls to swine.  We don't know about drug addictions.  We haven't walked through infertility or miscarriages.  We don't have abusive parents.   We don't know what it's like to lose a job.  There's much we don't know.  Many hard things that we've only read about.  But this is what we do know...we know how it feels to have a marriage in shambles, a family broken, piles of rubble surrounding us brought on by our own stupid choices.  We do know heartache in marriage.    That one, unfortunately, is part of our testimony.     

Maybe that's why my anniversary is one of my most favorite days to celebrate.    I love my anniversary.  I love to celebrate this day side by side my husband.  Because it's evidence that God can resurrect the dead.   He took our lifeless marriage, scarred by lots, and breathed new life.  Just because He's that amazing.   Not because we deserved it, not even because we wanted it, but because He had a plan that included us together.   His plan, His Will, was for our family to work and He made it happen.  All Him.  Nothing in us thought this was possible and He did the impossible.  That's worthy of a pretty big celebration!  

In recent years, we've used our anniversary to remember.   To remember our good.  To remember all of the joy-filled gigantic and minuscule moments that were reserved just for us to experience together.  (Believe me, we spent so many years talking and living the bad, that we try to protect this one day a year just to remember the gift of living precious life together).   Little experiences that have created this life that is uniquely ours.   We make the kids listen to our memories as we walk them through the years. 

Captiva Island.   The run.       
One of our favorite early marriage stories.  We tell the kids how we went for a run at dusk on our honeymoon on Captiva Island.  As the sun set, the sounds of the swamp around us overwhelmed the darkening sky.    Behind us, we thought we heard the rustle of an alligator.    I did not know my new husband had lightning speed.  You don't have to outrun an alligator~you just have to outrun your new bride.    I could barely make out the outline of his body ahead of me as he boarded a bus to take him back to the hotel.    Hours later...(okay, just minutes)...as I ran my fastest up to the bus hoping to be saved from the alligator I knew was nipping at my heels, Preston sat sheepishly hoping I made it.   Or at least that's how I remember it.   He tells it a little differently...like maybe he didn't make it all the way to the bus before turning back and realizing that I was very very very far behind him.   I have no doubt that if we were in that same situation today, he'd sacrifice himself to an alligator for me...maybe because he'd rather not raise six children alone.

Atlanta Airport.   Moving back from Germany.  Rain storm. 
I have the gift of packing.   Or hoarding.   There was a time that you could fly with two bags, each weighing 70 lbs.  I had this down to a science.    When we moved back from Germany, our family had grown to include Josh, so we were allotted eight bags and eight carry-ons.   The bonus was that the stroller and carseats didn't count, so not only did we have hundreds of pounds of bags, but we also had two carseats and a stroller.   A pack rat's dream.    As I carried and pushed our two little boys toting only a handful of carry-ons, Preston managed the suitcases.   Torrential rain flooded the parking lot.    Dozens of people watched as our young family fumbled through the rain hunting for our rental car.  Our boys were crying.   Preston was fuming (at me.)   I was putting on a good act and smiling for all the people inside the dry rental car agency.  The first luggage cart Preston was pushing hit a huge hole and bags flew off in all directions landing in various levels of water.  Preston completely flipped out...in front of everyone.   He was throwing bags everywhere.  The stroller got chucked with Herculean strength across the parking lot.    The boys instantly stopped crying in fear.   I kept my Stepford wife smile and I gritted my teeth and whispered for him to "stop making a scene," which only made him throw more bags.  And he's the calm one of the two of us.  It's probably the only flip-out in the history of his life...and I'm recording it here for all to read.    

On and on.    
We have a bazillion memories.   Nineteen years worth.   On this day, every year, it's good to take the time to remember.   Our most beautiful moments include each other.   Our most heart-wrenching moments include each other.     What a gift to share life with someone.   To know the best and worst of someone and to be able to say, "I know all about you...and I'd do this whole thing again even with that knowledge." 

So, today my family celebrated and thanked God for second chances and new life!
Tonight, we made the kids persevere through watching our wedding video and listened as they laughed over my poofy sleeves and even poofier hair.   
Deep down, I know they are also thankful for this day.   Thankful that we get to celebrate together the beginning of our family.  

All glory to God...
For giving us a life designed specifically with His power in mind. 
For being an expert in bringing that which was dead back to life.  
For bestowing to us His grace and then teaching us how to extend that grace to one another.
Happy Anniversary to my favorite person!  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Dishes and Feet

A dear friend stopped by our house recently witnessing the culmination of a very chaotic evening.  
Dishes overflowed the sink and decorated almost every available inch of counter space in my kitchen.  
Nine children roamed about almost entirely unsupervised.   One fussy baby demanded her need for sustenance.    
Two preteen girls masterfully attempted their first independent try at homemade banana bread. 
Chaos at its most beautiful.   
These are the moments I normally try to hide from people~the completely uncontrolled moments where rules are discarded, messes are exalted, and emotions are high.     
A closed front door gives us permission to live these times PRIVATELY and only those closest are allowed to take a peek.  
Thankfully, this was a good friend.  I let her enter.
Well, I didn't really have a choice.   I did have one of her children that I needed to find.  

She masterfully maneuvered through the toys scattering the floor and plopped down in our kitchen surrounded by the mess of the dinner of a dozen people, banana bread batter, and sticky baby food.
The pots and pans and dishes and cups needed tackled.   The baby protested louder. 
Dishes.  Baby.   Dishes.  Baby.
Easy decision.
The dishes. 
No way I could sit there and look at this disgusting leftover food dripping all over my counter, my sink, and my floor, while nursing my baby.   Baby Hope's delicious chubby rolls of flub told me that she wouldn't starve in the next thirty minutes and her stomach pains could wait a little longer.
I thrust my wiggling, precious baby into the hands of my friend and made a request, "Will you hold this baby while I do my dishes?"   
She stood up, put the baby back into my hands, and said, "No."
No? Not the answer I expected.   She obviously wasn't as good of a friend as I thought.     
"You feed your baby.   I'm going to do your dishes."  
And she rolled up her sleeves, filled up my sink with water, and began to scrub the hardened food off dish after dish.   

I thought about protesting.  
What kind of a hostess allows a friend, who didn't benefit from the joy before the mess, to clean the yuck of the night from the scene? 
My baby settled into my arms as she sensed food was near. 
And I sat there feeding my baby while my friend scrubbed dish after dish, pot after pot, until my kitchen was absent of any sign of disaster.

A servant.  Someone who sees a need and doesn't take into account the lack of glory in the chore. 
One who serves behind the scenes fully aware that there will be no earthly reward in the task.  
As I went to bed that night and thought about this unselfish serving of my friend, all I could think was that she figuratively washed my feet.    She wiped the evidence of my daily journey from the kitchen, scrubbed the junk from the traveling of the day from my people, and left us cleaner than she found us.  

The washing of feet.    Perhaps this was the lesson on service that I'd been after for my children.   Service takes humility.  Humility flies in the face of my house full of big and little sinners.  To do something for another without the promise of reciprocation can sometimes be very painful.  Every day, little voices in my home say, "I didn't make that mess."  "Why do I have to clean that up?" "That's not my game on the floor."  "I didn't drop that cereal."  "They aren't my shoes."  "That toothpaste all over the mirror doesn't look like my toothpaste."  "Those puzzles aren't mine."  "That's not my toilet paper clogging the toilet."  And in stellar acts of parenting, I often squeak back in that high-pitched, insane mom voice, "If I only cleaned up my messes, you all would be living in a complete pig sty."  "  "If I only cleaned up my own dinner, you all would be living in a mess of mold."  "If I only did my own laundry, you all would have no clothes."  And I raise my voice a little louder, "WE ARE A FAMILY.  WE SERVE EACH OTHER JOYFULLY."   The "joyfully" comes out a bit like an animal growl.    

The washing of feet.  This was the pearl I was waiting for in my instruction to my children.  Often I take little nuggets that the Lord whispers to my heart and I attempt to pass them on as a lesson. Sometimes they are well-received.   Sometimes I get an eye roll.   It depends on how well I make the connection and how receptive the heart is that is receiving the nugget.    I waited with excitement for the opportunity to share with a child that serving one of their siblings is comparable to the washing of feet that servants had to do during biblical times.   My children know the scriptures of Jesus washing the disciples feet as an act of absolute humility and service to those he loved.  The Savior of the World washed His disciples feet.   No servant is greater than His master.   We are servants of our Lord Jesus.   Let's wash each other's feet.  That would be the lesson to my kids the next time they protested serving one another in a less than glorious way.          

The seven-year old would provide the first opportunity.  The cousins were visiting and muddy sand toys littered the lawn.   As children raced into the house, she loitered outside.  "Savi~will you pick up all those toys and put them in the bin?"  Such a simple request.  Easy service.  Thirty second job.   Would humility show up?  Not this day. The chin thrusts forward, the hip pops to the side, and a "humph" is exhaled, "But I didn't get these toys out." She stood her ground.   "I know.  Please put them up anyway."  She complied.  Kind of.  Toys are thrown loudly, violently, into the bin to demonstrate the unfairness of the task.  The unwilling servant enters the home irritated.   "I didn't get those toys out."  

The moment I'd been waiting for.   The epiphany waiting to be shared.  The teenagers lazily lounged on the couch and I just knew this lesson for the little sister was going to cause them to turn their haughty eyes to me with pure adoration as they realized the great wisdom of their mother in training their sibling.    I extended the nugget of wisdom to her gently, softly.  "Remember when Jesus washed the disciples feet?    He was literally scrubbing the grime of travel from between their dirty toes as he demonstrated his great love for them.   The Savior of the World served those he would save in a yucky way.  You just served Owen by cleaning up his mess.  In a way, you just washed his feet." 

A blank face stared back at me.   Her eyes squinted and her arms raised in protest.  "I didn't get those toys out.   And I definitely don't want to wash Owen's feet."   Her blond ponytail swished as she stormed out. (So, we obviously have other issues than teaching her to joyfully serve, but one issue at a time, Sweet Jesus. One at a time.)   

I yelled into the next room.  "YOU WASHED HIS FEET FIGURATIVELY, SAV.  FIGURATIVELY."     

She peeked around the corner and shrugged her shoulders, "I don't even know what that word means."    Off she pranced, no longer irritated at Owen, but annoyed that her mother would dare try to teach her lesson and use big words like figuratively.   Crash and burn. 
While Savi didn't quite receive the lesson, the memory of my friend leaning over my kitchen sink, arms deep in suds, cleaning my mess, still ministers to my heart.    No glory for her.   No reward or payback.   The "thanks" from me might even have been a little half-hearted.   Yet, she scrubbed and cleaned my grime just because she's a servant of Christ at heart. 
The washing of feet.  How am I washing my little people's feet these days?   Have I washed my husband's feet this week?   Have I served a friend lately?   Or my church?   Do my neighbors sense that I would humbly serve them or do they see that I'm too busy to take the time?  Lord, give me the grace to follow my Savior's lead and serve others joyfully and diligently.   

John 13:12-17 
"When He finished washing their feet, He put on his clothes and returned to his place.  "Do you understand what I have done for you?"  he asked them.  "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."     


Friday, May 9, 2014

I Will Always Love You

I Will Always Love You. 
I Will Always Love You. 
I Will Always Love You. 
I Will Always Love You.

The sign caught my eye as I raced through the aisles at Hobby Lobby.  These days, I don't do many things in slow motion.  Always on a schedule; always slightly behind the schedule; somewhat a slave to the schedule.  Yet this day, for some reason, I slowed down the half second it took for my eyes to focus on this sign:  I Will Always Love You.  The words repeated at least five times...over and over. If I wasn't also on a budget, I would have bought it on the spot.   I imagined the perfect place in my house for these simple words to hang:  the main level bathroom.  The continuously clogged, "MOOOOOM, the toilet's overflowing again," bathroom.  It gets the most traffic. All of my favorite people spend time hanging out in there.  I'd position the picture eye-level.   Eye-level from a sitting position, that is.

I have great teenagers.  But they are teenagers.  And they are figuring out life and contemplating their faith and wondering what's wrong with their parents and testing out their independence while still kind of wishing they were little kids.  The storms rage of turning into a man...I can't imagine.   Having never walked that road, I truly don't always understand and I don't pretend to.  Sometimes, the teenagers in the home give me that look...the look that dares me to love them regardless of how they are acting.  They know enough to know when they are being disrespectful.  The eyebrows raise~Do you still love me?  They know enough to know when a funny comment is being taken too far.  The joke fades~Love me now? They know how they should behave and often they choose poorly.  The jaw clenches~How about now?  Still love me?  I dare you.   Yes, sometimes discipline is required.  Yes, sometimes a big picture lesson needs to be taught.  But sometimes...sometimes they just need to be loved.   Even when they don't deserve it.   In fact, maybe especially when they don't deserve it.     

A friend advised, "Be their rock.   As the storms of growing up toss them to and fro, be their rock.  And love them no matter what."       

I Will Always Love You.

It would really help if my bathroom could do some of the preaching for me. 
Forget the budget this week, I'm buying that sign.   

And often their struggle with love has nothing to do with their sinful nature and rebellion.   A bad grade on a test.  Am I still loved?  A costly mistake during household chores.  Do you still love me?   The shadow cast from the excellence of a sibling.  Am I worth loving even though I'm not like him? 

In those moments, their fragile hearts question, whether they recognize its asking or not,  Do you love me?   

I Will Always Love You.      
No matter what you do. 
No matter where you wander.
Whether you want my love or not.   
I Will Always Love You. 

My seven-year-old is still vulnerably verbal enough to ask the question after she's been naughty. 
You still love me, right, Mama? 
It is my joy to answer that humble asking:   I Will Always Love You.   No matter what.    
The mere questioning assures me that she wants to be loved by me.     
That my love means the world to her and she doesn't want anything to separate her from it.  

I've been a little numb lately.   Emotionally dry.    Depleted. 
So, I've been asking the same of my Heavenly Father.
Asking Him to remind me how much He loves me.
Not that I doubt His love.   I've read all about it. 
I just want Him to come near and remind me.
To sit with me and sing over me.
To refresh me with His unconditional, overflowing love for me...one of His beloved. 
Because loved people find it easier to love people. 
And considering I've been loving a little numb lately (no one's fault other than my own weariness), I could use the pouring on of my Heavenly Father's love.        
Does that make me selfish?  To desire the Father's love?  
What father doesn't find joy when his children come near and say, "I need you to love on me right now."
My heart struggles to thirst after Him.  How dare I ask for love from Him?   
My lack of self-discipline keeps my mind from rehearsing His words to me.   How dare I ask Him to love on me?    
The trials I see around me distract me from His truth.  How dare I come before Him with such faithlessness? 
Yet, I ask Him anyway.
"Can I climb up in your lap? 
I don't want to leave. 
Jesus, sing over me."  (Mercy Me, "Keep Singing")

Asking seems the greatest expression of my love for Him that I can offer right now.
To ask my Lord to tell me how much He loves me.
Childishly making the request...I know you love me...remind me how much. 
Somehow, it seems in the asking, He leans in a little closer.   
And His love overflows...filling the darkest corners of my heart...flooding the parched segments of my soul.  
Loved people, love people. 
His love refreshes and restores.  
He draws near.  
Just as I would do if my teenagers turned their eyes to me, climbed up in my lap, and said,
Mom, remind me how much you love me. 
Sing over me your love.  
Tell me you will love me no matter what.
Even when my heart strays.   My mind wanders.   My actions falter.   
Will you remind me how much you love me?   

Always.  I will never tire of telling my children how much I love them. 
Even when they don't ask.   Even when the storm rages.  Even when they give me the look that dares me to love them.     
Our Father's love equips us to love on others without protecting ourselves.
To dare loving on others even when it is undeserved.  
We should be the best at loving because we know what it is to be the recipients of undeserved love.  
His love never runs dry.   
And He will never tire of telling us how much He loves us.
Climb up in His lap and ask Him to remind you how much He loves you.
And be refreshed.   

Zephaniah 3:17
"The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  
He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing." 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Diaperless and Content?

It's exhausting to think about other people when you are trying so hard to think about yourself.
The selfish servant.  
Perhaps that would be my name these past weeks if I had a role in the book Pilgrim's Progress. 
Outwardly serving my precious family and painting joy on my face.
Inwardly knowing that I'm such a faker because my heart and mind are not in line with my actions.      
Often, my service to my family is genuine and straight from the heart.
Not always, though.   
Recently, I've found myself going through the motions like a robot and inwardly sulking.   
I can blame post-partum. 
Or having teenagers. 
Or six kids. 
Or a busy husband.  
Everyone has their own "justifiable" reasons for sulking while serving.  
We can rationalize any sin.  Surely we know that about ourselves.     

Who serves me?  And I kind of storm around banging pots a little loud and offering deep sighs of martyrdom when someone in my family asks me to do something that interferes with whatever "service" I'm currently doing.
"No, I can't get you a fork---I'm nursing the baby." 
"No, I won't help you with that craft---I'm making your lunch." 
And somehow I'm annoyed by even the sweetest of requests. 
Annoyed that I'm needed.  
And I hate that I'm thinking about myself so much, but I persist in this vicious thinking that keeps ME in the center and all of my family members as potential enemies for asking anything of me and not meeting MY needs.
Who serves me? 
Who thinks about what I need?"
I might have actually spoken that to my husband when I realized-as we were on the way to a friend's house and going to be gone for several hours-that I had completely forgotten to refill the diaper bag with diapers.  
A diaper-less diaper bag.   The smallest of things. 
That's all it took to reveal my heart.
Who takes care of me?  I asked. 
Why didn't anyone else check the diaper bag? 
Why do I have to do EVERYTHING?  (I speak in absolutes when I'm irritated...or always.) 
Who serves me?
I've thought those statements enough recently that from the overflow of my heart, my mouth spoke. 
Oh, I wish I would have held my tongue. 
But the thoughts were there, and the slight, very slight squeeze of a diaper-less 3-month-old, revealed the ugly nature of what I was holding inside.

My husband, sensing the coming flip-out, gently asked, "What do you need?"
That's all I could say.
I need diapers.  
And I cried over diapers.
Ugly tears.     
And that's not the question he was asking. 
And that's not the answer I wanted to give. 
But it was safe. 
Right now, I Just Need Diapers.  

There was so much unspoken behind his question.
So much unspoken behind my answer. 
And the truth was...I had no idea what I needed. 
It certainly wasn't diapers because I have hundreds of diapers given to me from special friends.    

"What do I need?"  I thought about that question all week.     
Time?  But how much time would I need to truly be refreshed? 
Help?   My husband has done some grocery shopping for me this week and my daughter loves to bless us with fun snacks through the day.     
Service?   A dear friend has taken my son to school almost every day for 3 months and I'm surrounded by wonderful people who regularly take my kids places with them.   Not to mention, my mom is here for a week to SERVE ME.
Appreciation?  My husband is not short on words that express value of me.  I even get the occasional "thanks" from my kids.     
Silence?  Maybe.  But could it ever be quiet enough for me to solve all my issues and think all my thoughts?    
Aloneness?   With six children?   There's not enough time to demand too much of that.           

But truly, what do I need? 
As I stumbled through last week, I constantly thought how I would answer my husband if he dared ever ask again, "What do you need?" 
As I was doing a load of laundry...what do I need?
Stirring a bowl of brownies...what do I need?
Attempting to teach first grade math...what do I need?   
Driving children to soccer...what do I need?  
How exhausting it is to constantly be thinking about yourself and what you need.
As I'm fixing dinner...I think I "need" to go to coffee with a friend. 
Waiting for dance class to finish...I think I "need" to be sleeping.  
Talking to my husband...I think I "need" to be reading.
Every "need" I had made me ANGRY at the task I was doing...and FURIOUS at the people who"needed" me.
What I needed was to not be thinking so much about what I needed!     

Trying to have all my "needs" met for time, help, service, appreciation, silence, and aloneness leads me straight down a bottomless pit of discontent.
This discontent leads me to hunt down what I think I "need" in order to bring myself to a place of contentment.
Lord, what do I need?
Desperately I want an answer to this question because its very asking has made me slightly crazed.     
And the season of life where I'm hovering brought me to Philippians 4:11-13.
Paul says,  "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.   I CAN DO EVERYTHING THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH."  

I need...I WANT...to learn the secret of contentment.
I can find quietness in my soul in a noisy home~by His grace. 
I can find joy changing a diaper when I really want to read a book~through His power.  
I can serve my family when energy seems lacking~in His strength. 
I can value being the one that is needed instead of continually focusing on what I think I need. 
Contentment doing the beautiful task of serving the family that God has given me. 
Contentment with the little moments of quietness God does carve out for me in a given day even with six kids. 
Contentment being a mom. 
Contentment being a wife.
Contentment without a professional title. 
Contentment in doing seemingly insignificant tasks that often seem so unimportant, yet so necessary in running a home.
Contentment in Christ who strengthens me for whatever the "need" is in front of me.
And contentment with a husband who will stop at a gas station so I can buy a ridiculously small, expensive pack of diapers for a wife who forgot to check the diaper bag.

Lord, teach us the secret of finding contentment with whatever it is you have called us to do.  
And may the pursuit of our "needs" never interfere with the glorious privilege of serving YOU.   


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mundane Faithfulness Blog

My sister-in-law recently sent me to a friend's blog.
The blog is www.mundanefaithfulness.com by Kara Tippetts.    
Go there. 
Read her words. 
Go there if you want to see God's grace and mercy. 
Go there if you want to be challenged to fully live each day. 
Go there if you want to see that God can be glorified even when life isn't fair.  
Go there if you want to read beautiful words documenting really hard stuff.  
Go there if you are brave enough to cry. 
It's a blog by a mama. 
A mama of four precious children. 
A mama who is battling cancer.
And her last appointment didn't bring her good news.     

Her recent blog entitled Peace said something that I can't get out of my head.
In fact I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this woman I don't know, her family, and her story woven through her gift of writing.  
This is what she said after posting a picture of herself looking at her beloved husband who was taking her picture:
"If you look close, you can see my heart here.  I'm looking at the object of my affection on the other side of the lens, and I'm saying I'm sorry.  I'm sorry the beautiful in our story is so hard.   I'm sorry I can't fix this.  I'm sorry it hurts so much, but the hurt is evidence of the best of us.  I'm sorry we have to go on another desperate hunt for grace.   We don't get to be the family we saw happily eating dinner after baseball practice.  But I have never been sorry for this life spent looking for Jesus right next to you."  

"I'm sorry the beautiful in our story is so hard."
What kind of grace allows a woman to see beauty in the really, really hard?
I want to know the God that allows for that sentence to even be written.
The God who brings the beautiful through brokenness. 

"We don't get to be the family we saw happily eating dinner after baseball practice." 
I'm instantly overwhelmed by my own family's ability to eat a simple dinner without hearing the ticking of a clock.   The clock that is counting down time left together.  Is it a gift to believe there will always be another meal together?  Is it a gift or a curse?  The assumption that time is ours for the taking.  What would it be like to really view every day as if it were our last?    For some reason, the thought sounds depressing and daunting to me.   Would I want to know if I didn't have much time left?   Or that someone I love doesn't have much time left?   The thoughts quicken the beating of my heart.  Yet, I find myself slightly envious of this woman's ability to squeeze every ounce of life out of the moments given to her.  

This beautiful young mom fighting for her life finishes her blog with this: 
"You might be that family we saw the other night.  You might be going through each moment and not noticing the gift.  Each breath, each hug, each moment is such a gift.  An unbelievable gift.  Don't withhold your love, it's been given to you to give.  Don't let my story grow fear in your own living, but let it give you the motivation to embrace each small moment as the giant moment in grace that it really is."

I'm hoping this woman has many more dinners with her family.  Maybe even some moments of  just plain normal.  Moments to just enjoy her people and to not dread the ticking of time.  And I'm praying for the ability to do as she writes and "embrace each small moment as the giant  moment in grace that it really is."     

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Perfect Parenting

I could rest peacefully at night if I knew that I was in perfect obedience in raising my kids. 
If I knew that my discipline was not exasperating them.
If my expectations were for their own good. 
If I knew that my words were all-wise in content. 
If I knew that I was focused on heart issues and not outward appearances. 
If I knew I always parented with scripture. 
If I knew all my decisions were God-led. 
If my "yes" was always "yes" and my "no" was always "no."
If I was consistent.
If I was fair.
If I loved their father the way I should. 
If I honored my own parents the way I should. 
If I honored my in-laws the way I honor my own parents. 
If I always answered patiently. 
If I knew they saw Jesus in me every day.  
If I was always kind.
If I was never quick-tempered.
If I was never rude.  
If I held my tongue.
If I loved them more than I love myself.  
If I was in perfect obedience as a parent, I could rest peacefully in raising my kids.  
Even if they walked away from Him. 
Because I would know that I had done everything right.  
If only I could parent this way.  
But if I could parent this way, I wouldn't need a Savior.
And if I didn't need a Savior, I couldn't point my kids to their own need for a Savior.
If I could parent this way, I wouldn't need grace.    
And if I didn't need grace, my kids would never see grace in action. 
If I could parent this way, my kids would see an all-sufficient mom.
And if they saw an all-sufficient mom, my kids would never see an all-sufficient Heavenly Father.   

Perfect parenting would be all about me. 
Imperfect parenting drives me and them to Him. 
I despise the sin that creeps into so many areas of my life, especially into my parenting. 
I despise the fact that my kids--more than any other people in my life--see my sin and my flesh-responses that keep me from living a holy, righteous life.
If I'm honest, I'll admit I despise the fact that my kids know without a doubt that I'm not perfect. 
But imperfection displays our absolute dependence on our perfect Savior.
Imperfection shows them that no one on earth is worthy of all their affections. 
But I do know someone who is.  
And then I can confidently say,
"Let me introduce you to your Perfect Heavenly Father."

I can rest peacefully at night knowing that my kids have a perfect parent.   
And it's okay that it's not me. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Happy New Year 2014

Happy New Year 2014, Family and Friends!   Is the end of January too late to post a Happy New Year card?  Probably.  Here's the excuse...we've been a little busy.  You know, the usual...shopping for gifts, trying to keep Jesus the focus, the Nutcracker, Christmas, and oh yeah, a new baby.   The normal December stuff.  We pray you all had a blessed 2013 and that you are tackling 2014 with a renewed joy and hope for whatever the year may bring.   Don't give up on that one year Bible plan yet...you can still catch up!
       2013...As I sat waiting for Zach to take his driver’s permit test just a couple months ago, the baby growing inside me stretched, flipped, and kicked proclaiming her ambitions to be free from the constrains of my belly and set loose to move about as she pleased.  Rubbing her active, kicking feet, I couldn’t help but whisper, “You’ll be free soon enough, Little One.” The doors to the testing site opened and Zach’s big grin declared that he was now officially a driver.  The baby inside me protested her bondage.   The young man in front of me stood tall.  Yesterday…just yesterday…this child holding his driver’s permit was the baby that was kicking inside me.  How did we get here?  Who has dared to permit time to pass so quickly?  Torn with emotion, I looked at my oldest, imagined the baby being knit inside me, and battled two conflicting feelings:  1) We don’t have too much time left with him at home.  2) HOWEVER, WE REALLY NEED AN EXTRA DRIVER!  So, we fight for contentment in every stage of life knowing that the birth of one more precious baby gives us another opportunity to parent from the beginning, but also means that realistically we will never, ever, truly, be alone J.  
       Two teenagers…a preteen…an elementary kiddo…a busy preschooler…and a newborn.  9th grade, 7th grade, 4th grade, 1st grade, preschool, and a three-week old.  We are all over the place emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually at this stage of life.    Talking of dating (Umm, no…because we said so!), learning through friendships (Just be nice!), dealing with temper tantrums (Have some self-control, little girl!), fighting some fears (Have we ever been late to get you at soccer practice? Wait, don’t answer that!), and analyzing whether the preschooler’s active imagination is crossing into a complete detachment from reality (How long do we let him tell this story before we remind him that it’s not real?).  There’s some serious fun and some serious confusion within the walls of this house.  Joyfully, we are certain that with the size of our family, we will qualify for a group therapy rate.      

       Eighteen years of marriage and a baby on the way, seemed the perfect excuse for Preston and I to escape to Hawaii alone for a couple days this fall.   We vowed to not talk about the children…so we spent several days in silenceJ.  Actually, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip and we continually praise God that He somehow has preserved our family through many ups and downs and still allows us to find joy in just being together.   The A-10 once again faces funding cuts, yet Preston continues to promise that he will fly this airplane until its last days.  Plan B?  Graciously, he’s volunteered to pay my way through medical school so I can support the family in our later years.  So thoughtful. One reminder that this would mean that he would have to stay home with the kids motivates him to test for his commercial pilot license in the very likely event that the A-10 has its last flying days during his watch.  He spent his free time working with Awanas and coaching Zach’s high school football team’s offense.  In his next life, he’d love to be a full-time football coach.  Me?  Six kids stretch my managerial skills and time.  Juggling schedules, rides, food, laundry, homework, attitudes, discipline, hugs, more food, and more laundry, requires mainly the skill of battling my very real struggle to serve others JOYFULLY J!  I do love running (to burn off the “who appreciates me?” attitude), I love blogging (to process the “who will serve me?” attitude), and I love reading classics with friends (to escape the “where’s my glory?” attitude.)  In my next life, on a good day, I think I’d do it all againJ.           

ZACH, the Peacemaker, gracefully adjusted to a “real” high school this year.  He played varsity football as safety and still continues to swim and play/ref soccer.   His attention to his studies (he loves writing and history) leads us to believe that his threat to live with us FOREVER is merely a ploy to mess with our minds (which it does.)  God knew Zach was the right McConnell to be the leader of this crew as his love for the Lord and his siblings constantly brings peace to our chaotic home.   A mock trial class last spring gave him the “skill” to stick up for his siblings in a more “official” manner.  “Your Honor, this woman who calls herself their mother is badgering the witnesses!” Teenagers...so fun.  Sigh. 
JOSH, the Focused, is quick about everything he does:  quick to start his studies in the morning, quick on the soccer and football fields, quick to smile, quick to speak, followed by quick to apologize, quick to encourage, quick to recognize faults in others, quick to recognize his own faults, quick to have a great day, and quick to have the worst day EVER (I totally get that.)  He’s our only kid that has stuck with piano (he actually practices) and we enjoy the nights that his music fills our home. He can turn a tense moment to hysterical laughter with one comment and enjoys teaching Noah songs to share with his preschool friends during church (and they aren’t hymns!).
     MADELIN, the Helper, developed some masterful skills to bless our family.  She taught herself to make smoothies (won Daddy’s heart), milkshakes (won the big brothers), apple turnovers (won the sister), cookies (won Noah), casseroles (won me), and asked for a new blender for Christmas (won Grammy and Papa.)  She loves her new baby sister and continually offers to get up in the middle of the night because she loves rocking babies.  (I'm going to take her up on it one of these days.)  She still balances soccer and ballet, and seamlessly transitions from fiercely competitive to beautifully graceful.  Recently, we overheard her leading her little siblings and cousins in the “hush puppy” game.  When we asked about the game, she winked and said, “You know that game.  If they don’t talk, I promised to make them a bracelet.”  Brilliant.               

SAVANNAH, the Tender, bravely fought through many fears and tackled some new things this year.  She played soccer, danced in the Nutcracker, and learned to give presentations during her homeschool meetings.  This coming year, we are praying strength for her to participate in new things without the prepared pep talk and ceremonial tears.  Fortunately, she brings her own “you can do it” section wherever she goesJ.  She’s gentle and compassionate and loves making other people happy.  Her favorite playmate is Noah and she constantly makes sure that his love for sports is counteracted by a good game of Barbie Dolls.  She’s still a cuddler and has heart for serving others and our family.             

NOAH, the Entertainer, has the voice of the most excitable broadcaster and the imagination of Walt Disney.  He talks from the moment his eyes open to the moment they close at night and has yet to finish the run-on sentence he started 2 years ago when he began talking.   His personality is much bigger than his size and we continually joke that he’s an old soul.  He idolizes his big brothers and while they used to pretend to be “Tim Tebow,” Noah puts on his football gear and pretends to be “Zach McConnell, for the SCA Eagles” or “Josh McConnell, for the Lee’s Summit Pirates.”   Watching him imitate the older brothers touches all of us and hopefully puts a little pressure on those brothers to be GOOD EXAMPLES for the little eyes that are constantly watching them!           

HOPE SELAH, the Gift, was born to us on Christmas morning at 2:00 am.   Could there be a sweeter Christmas present?  We rejoiced the early hours of Christmas morning over the birth of our Savior while marveling at the gift of this precious baby girl to us.   As we are still getting to know her, her name speaks our prayer for this year.  Have HOPE.  And SELAH “pause and worship.”      

 That’s our prayer for our family and for all of you this year.  That you might HAVE HOPE and SELAH...PAUSE and WORSHIP, our Heavenly Father who loves us so unconditionally. 
We thank God for each of you.