Monday, December 12, 2011

What Exactly Did Mary Know?

"Mary, did you know... that your baby boy would one day walk on water..."
"Mary did you know... that your baby boy would give sight to a blind man..."
"Mary did you know... that when you kiss your little baby, you've kissed the face of God..."

I'm guessing that while Mary did have a general idea of where this thing was headed, she had no idea the gut-wrenching sacrifice she herself would make for the world's benefit. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Ever since I became a mom, the Christmas story has taken on a new dimension. It actually started two weeks after Abi's birth, when I sat in a theater watching the just released Passion of the Christ. There was a point in the movie when I literally felt my heart break like I've never felt before. If you're a mom, chances are, you remember the part well.

Jesus is carrying his cross down the alleyway. At one point, he stumbles. Mary flashes back in her memory to once when Jesus was in a similar alleyway as a child of probably 5 or 6, and he fell while running. In her memory, she ran to Him, scooped Him up into her arms, and soothed Him as only a mother can. In her reality, her 33 year old son fell in front of her, and she ran to Him to soothe Him- only to no avail, as the mission ahead of Him provided no comfort. As I sat there in the theater, I remember a sob emerging from my throat, thinking how she must have felt to have her hands so totally tied- watching while her heart was beaten beyond recognition and scorned for crimes He did not commit.

For her.

Every year, since I became a mom, Mary has become one of my Christmas heroes. (I don't idolize or praise her, so please don't freak out at that comment. Geesh.) Fact is, Catholic or Protestant, we can't ignore the fact that she played a vital part in the Savior of the world bearing my sin. She said yes when she was approached with the offer of an eternity.

I am convinced- She had no idea what she was saying yes to.

None of us do, do we? We get married, decide to have children, and we jump in with both feet into a world we are in no shape, form, or fashion prepared for. Being a babysitter, an aunt, an uncle, a caregiver... none of it prepares you for the massiveness of the task at hand when you can't send the kids home at the end of your day. There's mounds of work, worry, stress, and strain to accompany the tremendous joys. For every high, there's a low, and for every bad day, there are a million good ones. There's feeding, weaning, potty training, sleep training, temper tantrums, busted lips, skinned knees, bruised egos, and broken hearts. There's hugs, kisses, snuggles, hand holding, and silliness. No one prepares you for the endless seasons of monotony when they're newly born, and no one tells you about the unpredictable chaos in the toddler years.

Bottom line- you don't know what you're doing or where you're going when you say yes to becoming a parent.

Back to Mary. How could this girl- whom theologians guess was 13-15 years of age- possibly know what lay ahead of her as a parent, nevermind the parent of the Prince of Peace? She was given a pretty good heads-up that this was kind of a big deal when the angel Gabriel appeared to her and gave her the challenge... and once again when the prophet Simeon said to her that "...a sword would pierce her own soul." But did she really get it?

Did she really know that He would be a stranger in their hometown?
Did she know he would challenge His elders at the age of 12, and tear the temple to pieces in righteous anger as a man?
Did she forecast His daredevil side- that would touch a leper, a woman with a bleeding disorder, and allow a prostitute to wash His feet with her tears?
Did she see ahead of time that her Son would raise a dead girl from her slumber, spit in the dirt and heal a blind man, and break cultural taboos with an encounter at a well?
Did she know He would have a choice whether or not to continue on- and choose to keep going, even when His sweat would turn to blood?
Did she know He would have Heaven's armies at His disposal, and refuse their services?

We have this idea that Jesus was basically a child who never played, never made a mess, never had that twinkle of mischief in His eye... But we forget He came to this earth as a MAN. Not a Deity. He got dirty. He had to learn to potty like everyone else. He spilled His milk and had to wash His hands like any other grimy boy. Know that part of the old Christmas carol- "But little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes?" Um, yeeeeeeeeah. Right. You're born in a barn, lying on a mound of hay, and you're not going to cry? Whatever.

I'm sure there were seasons when to Mary, Jesus was just another child. An active boy with His earthly father's penchant for woodwork. A growing teenage boy with stinky laundry and a messy room. Mary was His mother- the one who provided His lunches, washed His underwear, and packed His bag for sleepovers. But I'm sure with each passing day and especially as each birthday came around, she wondered how many days like these were left with her boy before He fulfilled what He was born to do.

I wonder about my own children. Will Abi be a nurse in an orphanage overseas? Will Walker join the military or play college football on the other side of the country? Is Abi going to say, "Mom, I want to live in LA?" Will there come a time when Walker will only come home for Christmas? **Sigh** Every Christmas morning is one closer to them leaving my nest. Each added candle to their cakes means they are an inch closer to moving out of my arms and into someone else's.

But Mary's Son? He moved from Heaven, to her arms, to a cold and splintery cross for a display of God's love toward a world that would shun Him.

My son may serve with a badge on his shirt. Her Son served by stripping Himself of badges and honor.

My son will have skinned knees and will lose a tooth every now and then. Her Son was beaten beyond recognition to heal my wounds.

My son will be separated from me while he pursues his dreams, and there will come a time when I cannot rush to his side to fix it. Her Son was separated from His Father because He became the sin of the world and when He cried out to his Daddy, there was no answer. This is all so He can always answer MY cries.

My son will grow up in a circle of love and adoration by his family and his peers- constantly affirmed of his worth and his greatness. Her Son was rejected by His own friends and family. He was mocked, ignored, and even the one closest to Him pretended not to know Him in the darkest hour of His life.

My son will love his mama. Her Son died for His.

Her Son couldn't deal with eternity without Walker in it. Her Son gave MY son life.

So, come to think of it- my son is also a key player in this story, isn't he? If he had been the only one to need Mary's Son- the only one to gain from His sacrifice- He would have come for him.

I'm thankful for Mary- for her willingness to say yes to a plan that would rip her open and cause her heart to be both shattered and redeemed at the same time. I'm thankful for Jesus- for His choice to push through sweat and blood, agony and defeat, in order to win the ultimate prize- MY son.

Because of Mary's example, I feel a deeper calling as a mother to give my children to their Maker, 100%. If an unwed teenage girl can pull herself together to raise a child in the Middle East, and then wait with baited breath for Him to take HIS last breath and save the world... Surely I can raise mine to serve Him.

And then summon the strength to let them go wherever He leads them.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fear or Caution?

So, it was something no parent likes to hear.

I was standing at the sink, washing veggies, and I have the TV on in the background. "A Lake County school employee was arrested for child pornography on his home computer." I say to myself, "Of course he was. What's new?" Then, the moment when my stomach dropped.

The reporter said he was reporting from my daughter's school.

MY daughter's.

The place where we entrust her for nine months of the year, seven hours a day. Where she makes friends and trusts teachers.

One of my daughter's safe places.

Let me say this right off the bat. I love- LOVE- our school. It is organized, it is cheery, it is friendly, it is loving. I have never one time felt uneasy or insecure leaving her there. The staff is attentive, they are innovative, and they are serious about loving and educating kids. In fact, the teacher turnaround rate is really low because the teachers love being there so much. There are teachers and staff there now that have been there since my sister was in school there, some 13 years or so ago.

We love our school.

And let me interject here, this is not a pro-school/anti-homeschool post. One thing I love about this great nation is we each have the prerogative to educate our children as it best suits them. Just a disclaimer. Let's move on.

Upon hearing the news that this man, who has immersed himself into a place that in my opinion, is sacred and precious, I was furious. FURIOUS. How did he fall through the cracks? How did they let this parasite, this monster into my child's bubble?

Immediately, our principal sends home a letter. She's on the ball. The records show that he has passed every background check with flying colors and has never had a record of child molestation of any kind. Obviously, this makes me feel better. My next step is to interrogate Abi as gently as possible. I did- she didn't know him. Again, reassurance.

However, news was released a couple of days later that two girls confess he actually molested them at his home.

Fact remains that while MY daughter is safe and was shielded from this man's sickness, there are at LEAST two families whose lives have been torn apart by this news. And that's not even counting the endless stream of children who were exploited in those images and movies.

When you hear news like this, especially when it literally hits close to home, your first instinct as a parent is to smother and bubble wrap. Meaning, "I will keep you here with me, and when I do send you out, I will wrap you in layers of protection and teach you to trust no one, ever." And while there's elements of truth and valor in both of those methods, we cannot- CANNOT- afford to parent our kids out of fear.

Here's the deal.

The world is a beautiful place. There are beautiful, wonderful people who prove to be key instruments of God's love all through our lives. And just like there are beautiful people, there are ugly ones. Who are dark, have unconquered battles of perversion and shame, and want to prey on the weak in futile efforts to reclaim their own power.

They both exist. Side by side. On this same rotating ball.

Let me be clear on one thing. Fear is NEVER a friend. Ever. It is paralyzing, it is cunning, it is deceptive, and it is controlling. It cannot help us, cannot assist us, and only makes us paranoid of even the good things in life. Once we look through the lenses of fear, we only see the world in jaded colors, failing to see reality as it exists. Every stranger is an enemy through those glasses. And in the process of seeing through the eyes of fear, we miss lifetime opportunities that could have changed our lives for the better.

Now, CAUTION is a different story. It is the awareness of the negative around our children, and our ability to navigate through those dark forests appropriately. It is not sticking our heads in the sand, but looking at issues square in the eye and judging boundaries and guidelines accordingly. Caution means that I am not letting the fear of what may or may not happen dictate my decisions, but I AM aware that as I parent my kids, they are dependent upon my ability to forecast ahead. In fact, caution means being frank and real with our children about world information they need to be aware of on their age level. We sat down and explained the accusations and the confession of this school worker to Abi. It wasn't fun to do, but part of our job as her parents is to educate her on truth, not shield her from it. In giving her the truth, we are giving her tools to handle any situation she may face in her future. We are giving her power.

So how then? How do we know if we are parenting out of fear instead of caution? How do we know which line we're on?

Fear says, "If I keep you chained to me, then and only then will you be safe."
Caution says, "I will set appropriate boundaries to give you the chance to meet new people and experience new things, but it will be at my discretion."

Fear says, "There are people waiting in the shadows to hurt you and take advantage of you."
Caution says, "You're going to be hurt and disappointed in life. But my job is to make those opportunities as few as possible by navigating you around hurtful situations."

Fear says, "I have to be the voice for every decision you need to make... after all, I'm the only one who knows what's good for you."
Caution says, "My job is to teach you to recognize and rely on the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of you, who will never fail to lead you in the right path for your life- because it's not healthy nor possible for me to be with you your every waking moment."

Fear says, "It happened to me, and it will mostly likely happen to you."
Caution says, "It happened to me, and I choose to use my experience to gain the proper tools so to equip you to know what to do in similar situations."

Fear says, "The moment you're out of my control, you will get hurt."
Caution says, "Your safety doesn't solely hinge on my presence, but also in the facts that God cares about you, you know right from wrong, and you have the power to say NO to ANYONE you choose."

Just the other day at lunch, Abi said she gets "really nervous when Daddy swims in the ocean because a Great White Shark may come and eat him." She cried and cried. Rod said something so simple, and so profound.

"Abi, I will not let fear of 'what if a shark comes' stop me from swimming in the ocean, because swimming in the ocean is something I like to do."

Parents, it's important to be attentive ourselves to the voice of the Holy Spirit concerning our children, and equally important to teach them how to heed His nudges themselves. But we cannot hear Him if the loudest voices in our heads are the voices of past hurts, present panic, and future fears. Live in the now.

And rely on the fact that HE loves those kids more than we can.

There's something to be said about that fact.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas On Purpose.

I honestly don't know anyone who loves Christmas more than I do.

As long as I can remember, I have appreciated the sacredness. The magic. The feeling. And contrary to what people say, the appreciation and anticipation I feel about the month of December doesn't lessen as I age. If anything, it strengthens.

I love the shopping. The crowds (which says alot coming from someone who is slightly crowd-phobic). The colors. The bustle. The parties. The full calendar. The music. The sappy Hallmark movies. The wrapping. The baking. The eating. Santa. Creating Ellie the Elf's mischief. The look on Abi's face as we get closer to the big day.

All of it.

With each passing year, I see my time with my children getting shorter and shorter. When I was at "home" for Thanksgiving (North Alabama), I thought about how when my grandparents were providing Christmas for my parents and their siblings, they didn't yet fathom the time when they would wake up childless on Christmas morning, their offspring scattered all over the map, snug in their own homes, creating their own traditions.

Without them.

No, when you're a parent of small children, you are up to your eyeballs in class parties, Santa's lap visits, wishlists, and holiday shopping meltdowns. You start off with great intentions, but before you know it, crisis management itself steals December from your hands and it's January 2nd... And you feel like you missed it all.

I am all about doing living on purpose. If you follow my blog at all, you know I look for deliberate moments to teach my children in. Do I hit every moment? Nope. Do I try to? Nope. But I have learned that if I will find what I am looking for. So as best as I can, and as my energy allows, I look for opportunities to parent on purpose. Which brings me to Christmas.

My childhood is PLASTERED in good memories of Christmastime. I cannot remember one single bad Christmas... not even the year I remember lying on the couch with a stomach virus as there was some fun church party I was missing. Know why? My mom made Christmas something that was so tangible, so real, you could touch it everywhere. We didn't have alot of money. In fact, I didn't know how poor we were until I look back now. No telling how long they saved in order to get me that boombox that year, or that leather jacket I just had to have in 1991... But honestly, that's not what stands out in my mind. Know what does?

A lit tree, with colored lights because colored lights are my favorite.

Cookie crumbs from Santa's snack on Christmas Eve.

Chewed carrot crumbles on the driveway Christmas morning.

Mom attending every single school party, baked yummies in hand, until I was in highschool.

Christmas music wafting through the house all the time.

Watching the original Grinch and claymation Rudolph with my dad.

Sitting in the kitchen with Mom while she did what she does best.

Our kids are unfortunately becoming desensitized to simplicity. They prefer gadgets to board games. They'd rather text us than talk to us. They had rather see the movie than read the book. This is the age we live in. And there's parts of it that's ok. However, if we want our children to look back on Christmases with smiles on their faces, we have to make it so... ON PURPOSE. I have decided to outline a few ideas for you, one for every day of the month, so you can get back to the warm fuzzy feeling that is Christmas, and duplicate it in your kiddos. This isn't in any way to box you in, but to spur your creativity on to think outside the box. Some ideas will take an evening, and some only 5-10 minutes. Feel free to switch the days around, and feel free to omit and change what you wish.

DEC 1- Bake cookies. Together. Even if it's the pre-made pull apart kind. Pour milk and eat them all. Easy.

DEC 2- Visit a local park that's lit up. Even if it's cold. Play on the playground equipment. (Yep, you- an adult. **GASP**)

DEC 3- Write a card/email/letter to a soldier.

DEC 4- Turn off all the lights except your tree lights and play hide and go seek.

DEC 5- Watch "Elf" on USA channel, tonight at 6 PM EST. (Yes, I just recommended TV)

DEC 6- Hang candy canes all over your house while the kids are at school. On bookshelves, the tree, light fixtures, curtain rods, door frames... a prize goes to the person who finds the most as soon as they all get home from school.

DEC 7- "Christmas With a Capital C" movie at FB Church. Not local? Go to church somewhere. That's Christmasy all year. :-)

DEC 8- Make everyone wear a Santa hat from the time they get home until they go to bed. If you catch them without it on, they have to eat a slice of fruitcake.

DEC 9- All night Christmas movie marathon. ABC Family or Hallmark movies, pizza, soda, and then later egg nog and popcorn. Until everyone's asleep.

DEC 10- If you're in Lake County, FL, come to hayride and bonfire at FB Church's new property. If not, take a walk through a Christmas tree farm as a family. Breathe it all in. These smells will be gone in just a month.

DEC 11- After church, let your lunch settle and take your nap. Then, line the fam up for a chocolate milk relay. Divide into two teams. Everyone gets a straw. Pour two giant glasses or pitchers of chocolate milk. When the Christmas music starts, the first person runs and starts drinking with his/her straw. When you yell SWITCH, the player runs back and tags the next person proceeds. First team to finish their milk wins. Not enough players for teams? Have a contest, one-on-one to see who can drink his or her milk the fastest! BRAIN FREEZE!

DEC 12- Red and green dinner night. Be creative, but all foods must be Christmas colors.

DEC 13- The Twelve Days of Christmas begins today! Find as many variations of the song as possible and play it until your family pulls their hair out.

DEC 14- Santa Beard! Put Vaseline on a player's face. Then see how quickly you can put cotton balls all over the place and make the coolest beard ever.

DEC 15- Write a letter to Santa. Each person. Even your grumpiest teenager. And mail them to the North Pole.

DEC 16- Go to the library and check out at least 3-4 children's books on Christmas. Tonight, read them outloud. Then, read the REAL Christmas story, from Luke. Compare the fiction ones to the real one. What's hard to believe about each story, even the real one?

DEC 17- Put everyone's names in a bowl. Draw names. Give every person a dollar (plus tax). Go to the Dollar Tree. (Do this in shifts if you need to, to keep the secret). Each person buys for the person whose name they drew. The gift must be something that represents that person's place in the family. Like: "I bought you these Sour Patch Kids candies because sometimes you're grumpy, but inside you're really sweet." Or "I bought you this box of Band-Aids because you always make me feel better." Go home and each person wrap their gift. Put under the tree.

DEC 18- One week until the big day! Decide as a family to do an outreach together at some point this week. Sit down and discuss ideas like: cookies to police station, a plate of Christmas dinner to a shut-in, reading the Christmas story in a nursing home, or Christmas caroling around the neighborhood. Put it in ink on the calendar for a day this week. Leave space in whatever day you choose to bless people who cannot really "bless you back". (This is not to be confused with tomorrow's activity...)

DEC 19- Bake cookies and treats for special people in your lives and take them to them as thank yous. Leave some in your mailbox for mail delivery person, take to your child's pediatrician and dentist, and drop off some to your child's teacher at church. Nothing says "thank you" like something from your kitchen.

DEC 20- No TV tonight. Just Christmas music and board games. No overhead lights, either. Tree lights and candles. Just because.

DEC 21- The Polar Express comes on tonight at 8:30 EST. Seriously? Don't miss it. Everyone wears pajamas. Not optional.

DEC 22- Walk around your neighborhood and look at Christmas lights. No one lit up on your street? Walk anyway, and pray for each house, outloud. Take turns. Speak blessings on each residence. May feel weird at first. And if it's too weird to "pray," just say "I hope the people in that house are healthy all year." Or, "I believe the people in the blue house will get the new roof they've been needing this year." Speak blessings!

DEC 23- Getting CLOSE! Tonight, make everyone a cup of hot chocolate. Sit in a circle and play the ABC game. "This year, I was thankful for Allison. She's a good friend." Next person- "This year, I was thankful for the new Baby." If you have older kids/teens, do it the more challenging way, where each person repeats everything they have heard, adding their letter to the roster. For instance, the person with "E" as to remember what A,B,C,and D said before adding their E.

DEC 24- Christmas EVE! So many fun things to do. For starters, go to breakfast together as a family. Open your dollar gifts from each other. Find a church service to attend. Have communion together as a family. Watch "It's a Wonderful Life," tonight at 8:00 EST on NBC. Drive around and look at lights one more time. Somehow, they'll look differently after tonight.

DEC 25- The BIG DAY! Before presents are torn into, pray together as a family and thank God for His abundance in your lives this year. Draw attention to the fact that without His Gift, today would be just another winter day. After the demolishing of gift wrap, employ little hands to clean up before toyfest begins. Eat breakfast. Play. Be a kid all day long. Laugh. Snort. Take photos, both by camera and in your heart. Referee the fights. Let them "not" share their new toy, just for today. Through the day, take time to gather each precious face in your hands and look into their eyes and speak love into them. Send them to bed. Sit down. Breathe.

And enjoy the ride.

Merry Christmas, Moms. Merry Christmas, Dads. Make it count. All of it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

To My **gulp** Daughter In Law.

I get it now.

My nephew has paved the way for how I will feel raising a son. He's practically my "other" child. He tears at my heart and just the sight of him- just the sound of his name- can literally make my heart warm instantly. I am totally smitten with admiration for his giant, chocolate eyes, his luscious bottom lip that I kiss every time I hold him, and his signature mean face. He's my buddy. And right now, his mom, his Gia, his Grammy, his Bug (me)... well, we're the ladies in his life. But one day, his hand won't quite fit inside mine anymore. He won't light up at the sound of my voice, nor will he give me those tiny snuggles when he's sleepy. He won't crawl at lightning speed into my arms when he wants to be held. In fact, he won't want me to hold him at all.

He'll find another girl whose heart she'll give to him. And he will take it and cherish it all his life.

The even BIGGER problem here is that if I can't imagine sharing Legend with another woman (I hate sharing him with his grandmas, I admit it...), how in the WORLD will I give my SON to a woman to take care of?

Right now, as I write this, Walker is wadded up in a ball above my bellybutton, making me feel a little less than comfy at the moment. Earlier, he was doing the moonwalk. Before that, the Ally McBeal baby dance. He's a joyful little man.

And right now, I am completely, totally, and literally his world.

I can hold him all to myself, not yet having to share him with his grabbing Aunt Lori, his smoochy Gia, or his smothering big sister Abi. He's all mine. His daddy provided his blood, and I supply everything else. His food, his shelter, his warmth, his comfort. But the day is soon (not soon enough) approaching that I will usher his body into the world that's a little colder than my womb, and I will share him with loved ones, friends, and a world that is waiting for his arrival.

But that's not the big deal.

One day, I will have to share him with HER.

More than likely, somewhere on this planet, there's a mom who is carrying her. Or maybe she just gave birth to her. Maybe their family is close by... perhaps I pass them in Target. Or maybe they are overseas somewhere, speaking a foreign language. Regardless, she exists, or soon will exist, and the Maker Himself has arranged for my son's path to cross with hers. He has planted the seed in Walker's heart even now, that her beauty will catch his eye, her laugh his ear. And though I know how the story ends, and I know my son will be happy all his days as a result of this arrangement by Majesty...

I don't like her right now.

I want this young lady to know exactly what this mama thinks about her. So here it is.

Dear Young Woman Who Has Stolen My Son's Heart,

I know you. Well, let me rephrase that. I know OF you. I'm a girl too... a little worn around the edges, more so than you are. Probably older than your own mom. Probably a little more outspoken. And definitely more aware of the gift I'm giving you than you are at this point.

See, I know the cost of his life. I waited to see his heartbeat on the screen for seven years. Seven. Long. Years. I dreamed of him a million times, in black and white at first... then sepia tones... and then in vivid technicolor. I know what it's like to pine for him before he was even formed. I loved him passionately first. And I will love him until my heart beats for its final time.

I am carrying him in my womb right now, but that doesn't matter. In my mind's eye, he is strong, stinky, and slightly obnoxious, the way every man is. He comes from a long line of men. Not boys. Not pushovers. Men. Manly, strong, wise, and gentle men. So though he's the length of a zucchini and the weight of a pack of hamburger meat, he's my big, strong, strapping boy.

By the time you read this, his dad and I will have nursed him through infancy, first steps, skinned knees from bicycle accidents, banged up lips from playing ball, and sat through 25,321 hours of sports events. We will have made him chaperone for his older sister's social shenanigans, set up countless tents in our living room, and asked him endless times if he is wearing deodorant. No telling how many gallons of milk we've purchased, how many large pizzas have been delivered, and how many dozens of cookies I've had waiting on him when he got home from school.

We loved him first. I KNEW him first.

I know exactly how many freckles are on his face. I know every birthmark. I know the story behind every scar that he wears like badges. I remember every Christmas gift, every birthday party, and every time he slept somewhere besides under my roof. He needed ME when his heart was broken the first time. He needed ME when his laundry was piled up in his closet floor. He needed ME when he had a fever and hurt all over.

But it's come to my attention, now he needs YOU. Ugh.

I also know that I have prayed for you since his gender was revealed. That you would be a woman of virtue and integrity. That you would know the incredible worth that was placed on your life by Holiness before your conception. That you would dress so to catch my son's heart first, and THEN his eye. That you would be being trained to raise your children to know God, simply by watching your life. That you would be a living, breathing example of femininity and grace. That you would be able to manage your household with skill. That you would know when to put your foot down to my hardheaded son, and know when to submit to his leadership.

But mostly, I've prayed you will love Jesus Christ. And that from that love, you could love my boy with your mind, body, and soul.

My boy has been given the best example he could ever have on this side of eternity to pattern his life by. His father is a daddy. He has loved me so well for many years and guided me through many gray times. He is tough, he is strong, he is handsome, and he is rugged. But he is tender, he is gentle, he is meek, and he is loving. Perfect? No. But close enough for my heart. My boy has seen his parents work it out and work it through. He has seen dedication and the sacredness of a marriage covenant. If nothing else was given to him, I promise you he knows how to be committed to you for all his life.

If you're the one, we're going to be in each other's lives for the rest of mine. I don't know your own family situation. I pray you're intimately close to your mom. But if not, I look forward to having the opportunity of being a mom to you over time. Here's what I can promise you.

I will not be perfect.

I will tick you off sometimes.

I will not intrude into your personal lives, though I will mumble to myself when you're not listening.

However, if you give me a platform into your life- if I earn that from you- I will do my best to guide you and educate you like a mom-in-law should.

I will defend you, trying my best not to believe my boy first. I'm aware there's two sides to every story.

I will be the best grandma that's ever lived.

If he ever loses his mind and puts his hands on you in anger, I will break his bones into a million pieces, no hesitation.

I will pray for you every single day of my life.

If you need me, I will be wherever you are in the length of time it takes my plane to get there.

What I expect from you. It's alot simpler, your part.

Love my boy. The best you can. Nothing more, nothing less is needed.

So, there you go, love. At this point, I still don't like you very much.

But my heart already loves you.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Let your girls be ladies.

So, this is a relatively easy one for me. I am the mother of a VERY feminine, VERY girly, VERY estrogen-driven female. (I am bracing myself for the testosterone that is coming in March.) Girliness comes easily to Abi. She is completely and totally afraid of all things reptilian or with antennae, never had to be told not to stick something in a light socket, and hasn't eaten a single stick or blade of grass in her entire life.

She's SUCH a girl.

And while it's easy to raise a girl like Abi in a million ways, I am also acutely aware that she is constantly watching me, patterning herself after me in ways that often frighten me. And this fact causes me to be more vigilant about training her to be a lady on purpose.

I love the picture above. For one thing, I am SO TIRED of one gender or the other being blamed for the downfall of our society's values and ethics. When God put man and woman in the Garden, He told THEM, as in male AND female, to be fruitful and multiply... told THEM to work together... told THEM to rule and have dominion in the earth. So, women-- to blame men for the world's problems is only 50% of the story. And men-- vice versa.

I am all about parenting on purpose. Yes, there are many moments just "caught" that our children get by the natural ebb and flow of a household living together. However, there is nothing worthy of "catching" if the parents' core values and beliefs aren't lining up with the Word of God... the ULTIMATE Old School. Here's the part where many of my more "new school" readers will tune me out, stomp their feet in protest, and think I came from the Dark Ages.

I'm okay with that. ;-)

Parents, if you're raising a daughter, please hear me out.

While I am all, and I mean ALL about raising my daughter to be equal to any man, I am VERY aware that she is not capable of doing the same things he can do. I am aware that even though she is strong, decisive, and brilliant, there are some things that God naturally designed her to default to a man for... to let him lead her in many ways. This is not about finding her a gender appropriate job-- if she for some bizarre reason wants to be a mechanic, more power to her. We'll send her to the best mechanic school on the planet. (However, I am totally convinced a woman shouldn't be President... so sue me.) This is about cultivating female qualities inside her. Making her into a true lady, whether she is a teacher, a race care driver (please, Lord, no), a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker.

So what qualities should we bring forth in our young ladies? What are the morals and cores that we hope she catches from us? What are we preparing her to be?

Humility. This is a virtue sadly misunderstood by the world as a whole. We take humility to mean being beaten down, oblivious to our strengths, and always taking the backseat to someone else's desires or wishes. Not the case at all. Humility is simply the art of knowing that even though you ARE all that and a bag of chips, you don't have to prove it to anyone. Your life itself will show how awesome you are. Humility is a mom choosing to stay home and rear her children, though she has a college degree on her wall. Humility is wiping up vomit from the bathroom floor and washing it from the hair of a sleepy two year old, even though Daddy slept right through it. Humility is a homecooked meal in the evening, even though both parents worked just as hard that day. Humility is a heart felt apology, even when she knows she's right. Humility is admitting you're not physically strong enough to move the entertainment center by yourself and asking your husband for help. It's knowing your strengths and being very familiar with your weaknesses. Humility is a crowning jewel of any confident woman.

Modesty. A friend of mine recently sent me a message on facebook, telling me she was buying underwear for her daughter... a little girl, size 5/6. She found underwear in that tiny little girl size that said, "Girls Rule, Boys Drool" on them. SERIOUSLY? Why in the HECK should a 5/6 year old's underwear say ANYTHING other than the days of the week? I'll tell you why. Society is programming our daughters to showcase their bodies instead of their beauty. They are teaching our girls from kindergarten that there's no harm in being "confident" (which isn't really confidence if you have to flaunt it, btw) in your sexuality... no repercussions for being precocious and mature beyond her years. I may be in the 1% of people who feel this way (and again, I'm okay with that), but I have a problem with sweatpants that have writing on the butt that girls wear in public! Why is it ok to dress my daughter, whether she's 5 or 17 in clothing that draw attention to her rear end or her breasts? Wise up, parents! It's the "little foxes" that spoil the vine. I'm not saying we dress our girls like they live on a cultish compound, nor am I saying we shouldn't teach them to be confident with their body image. What I AM saying is that a modest girl or woman doesn't need to advertise what's underneath those clothes! Leave something for boys to wonder about! If we can instill in our girls where true beauty comes from, she won't need to have the word PINK written on her butt when she goes to Wal-Mart. She'll turn heads by the way she treats the cashier or thanks the pharmacist. Which takes me to the next virtue...

Thankfulness. Kids complain-- ALL. THE. TIME. And about everything. This isn't fair, that's not fair, she got more than me, he's being rude to be, I hate my teacher, school is stupid, this is cheesy... I HATE COMPLAINING. And I do not tolerate it. When Abi tries to complain (which isn't often because we don't foster this environment in our home), we immediately thrust the responsibility on her to do two things. 1- Find something to be thankful about in that situation, and 2- Be a part of the solution. Fostering an atmosphere of negativity and complaint fosters entitlement mentalities, and takes the joy right out of life. Where do we get this idea that life can only be enjoyed if all the stars line up correctly? I love the verse found in Ecclesiastes that says, "If you wait for perfect conditions, you'll never get anything done." A heart of unthankfulness makes us think we can't enjoy life unless A+B =C. Sometimes A+B= X and we must find ways to be thankful in any equation. If thankfulness is missing from your daughter's life (or son's or YOURS), be thankful on PURPOSE. MAKE yourself notice the simple things that you tend to breeze by and then point them out to your children, outloud. Trees, flowers, cooler weather, a clean house, hot food on the table, and freedom to worship God as we choose. Talked about those things lately?

Manners. Okay, seriously. MANNERS, PEOPLE. First of all, you can't expect your daughter to have manners if you're calling her a stupid idiot, or telling her to shut up. Practice what you preach. I blog about this alot, I know. But I can tell you from both sides of the equation how much manners matter... both as an educator for ten years and as a parent. GREAT FAVOR is given to children who exemplify a heart of kindness and consideration toward others. "Yes, ma'am," "No, sir," and "Hi, Mr. Tommy" are ways that apparantly just cavemen spoke. Lately, two children have asked Abi why she says, "Yes, ma'am" while talking to me. That makes me sad. Our children are CERTAINLY equal to us as humans, and CERTAINLY in the eyes of God. Their value is equal to the oldest person alive. But they are NOT our peers, and we're not teaching them to "respect their elders..." Especially in the way they speak to us. End of story.

Diligence. Recently, I walked into Abi's room to find her clothes strewn out in about five different directions. I said to her, "I do not mind picking up your clothes for you. IF you're willing to pay me 50 cents for every piece I pick up." Needless to say, I didn't pick up any clothes. Oh, you know the moments. Your kid is in Publix with you. She gets a box of cereal and runs up to you with it... "Mom, can we get this cereal?" You say no. She sticks it on the nearest shelf. Not a big deal, or so it seems. However, diligence says we put it back where it belongs because someone will have to. Or, she gets home and kicks her shoes off in front of the TV, where they stay all evening. When it's time for the bedtime cleanup, you're tempted to pick her shoes up and put them near the door where they belong. Diligence says, "Please put your shoes by the door so you know where they are in the morning." Or, come homework time, and the complaining begins. A "typical" response is to let her grumble because, after all... what kid loves homework? Diligence says, "If you'd like to complain, that's fine. When you've finished this page, I'm going to toss it in the trash and let you try it all again. And we'll do this over and over until you can do it without complaining." Sounds tough, I know. But fact is, one day we won't be available to pick up shoes and monitor attitudes. We've got to get them trained both inside AND out by then.

The ability to love her man. This topic alone could go on all day. But I'll be succinct. Teaching her how to attract him into her life and let the bugs drop where they lay. Teaching her to rely on her man without being codependent on him. Teaching her to be weak so he can be strong. Teaching her WHEN to be strong. Teaching her to care for her home, his castle. Teaching her to build him up with her words. Teaching her how to cook so she'll knock him off his feet and win his heart in the process. Teaching her how to let him chase her... how to actually draw the chase OUT of him toward her. Teaching her how to put her foot down when she needs to. Teaching her how to partner with him and walk alongside him but at the right times letting him take the lead. Teaching her to love him- heart, soul, body, and with her very life.

Of course there's more. The scope of womanhood encompasses so many emotions and so many roles. But back to the original picture at the top of this post.

By training our ladies to be ladies... even if that means she climbs trees in her spare time, we are training her to naturally cause the men around her to step into their rightful roles as gentlemen. Her inward beauty will evoke the best from him. Oprah Winfrey once said, "We teach people how to treat us." Parents, here's our wake up call. Train your young ladies to live their lives so that the thugs and wanna-bes that will try to catch her heart will merely fall to the wayside as she moves forward in her womanhood. If we train her to BE the right person, she will DRAW the right person to her.

It's really that simple. Honest.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lessons From Infertility

Alot of you who follow this blog know our story. Some of you have been with me since day one of my journey with Rod, some sixteen years ago. However, most of you aren't familiar with the road we've traveled.

Today, for some reason, I knew it was time to tell the story.

Rodrick and I started dating in August of 1995. We got engaged in February of '96, and married on November 9, 1996. It was the beginning of a beautiful thing. After being married for a year, we decided we were ready to have children.

We had no idea what would come next.

When you get married, you give little thought to "what happens if we don't get pregnant?". It never even entered my mind. Not for a second. So you can imagine when, after one year of trying flew by, and there was no baby, I was a little surprised. Year two rolls by, and I was concerned. Year three, and I was panicked.

This is the part where most people say, "Why didn't you do something medically by then?" Our lives were busy, to say the least. We were full-time youth and children's pastors, and our house was literally a rotating door of teenagers all the time. We were not "prepared" for infertility, because it was kinda just a given that we'd have kids because we were kid crazy. Life moves on. And really, it took three years before the reality hit me.

We were dealing with infertility.

Oh yes, I went to doctors for my yearly check ups. I'd tell them my symptoms and concerns, and how I was worried about the fact that we had no baby after trying for three years. The response, without fail, was "You're young. You've got time."

Almost seven years into our marriage, we (I) finally mustered the courage to begin fertility research, to dig deeply into why this wasn't happening on its own. Rod had his tests. My first appointment was scheduled. A few days before, I decided to take a pregnancy test, to skip a step, as I knew before we proceeded, they'd want to know if I was pregnant or not. I peed on the stick. Turned the shower on. Grabbed my towel. Glanced at the test.

There. Were. Two. Lines.

I'm pretty sure I sank to the floor. Two lines. TWO LINES. And here she is.

Three months after Abi was born, we decided to start trying again. Hoping and assuming it would happen easier this time, we ran into parenthood raising a newborn daughter and believing God for a sibling for her to grow up with. Well, the same story takes place in this second act. Months turn into years and we found ourselves seven years down the road again, and no new baby. We make the doctor's appointment. A trusted friend and mentor of mine asked me, "What month are you wanting to be pregnant by?" I said, "I can wrap my heart around July."

We go to the doc. He looks at records, does his own assessments, and decides to put us on Clomid (an ovulatory drug). Month one, no baby. He discusses with us that if nothing happens by the third month, he will refer us to another specialist. Second month, double the dosage. I wake up one morning, knowing I needed to take a test.

There were two lines. TWO LINES. AGAIN.

It was July 5. And here HE is.

For most of the world, fertility is as natural as breathing. It's 1+1=2. For the other part of the world, the lows of infertility are unspeakable. This is a foreign world to most of you, so on behalf of those struggling, can I educate you for a few minutes?

Here's the deal.

When people you love are around you, rejoicing in their conceptions and welcoming new lives into the world, you want to rejoice. But you want to run. And scream. And punch them. And rejoice. All at the same time.

When the holidays roll around and Christmas cards of chubby babies in Santa hats come to your mailbox, you want to rip your mailbox out of the ground.

A man and a woman are a FAMILY. They are no less a family than a "family" with 5 kids. Children do not define a family unit... the marriage union does.

When people tell you they're pregnant, and they apologize for being so, it doesn't help matters at all. Do not apologize for being pregnant. You did nothing wrong. And please send the desiring mom the invitation to the baby shower (if she is your friend), as awkward as it sounds. People who have a hard time getting pregnant don't want to be made exceptions to the rule. Avoiding them, refraining from talking about the baby, and pretending you aren't excited about your coming arrival only makes the struggling woman feel even more of the "odd one out." Just be normal.

Never, ever, EVER ask someone who has been married a while, "Are you guys not going to have children?" Or, "So, when's a baby coming?" Your intentions are good, I know. But really. That's one of those questions that may not have a pleasant answer. It's like rubbing salt in a wound everytime a person struggling with conceiving has to answer it. Because there's no answer. I cried MANY times after that question was asked, in my car or bed, after the fact.

Avoid phrases like, "Well, it must not be God's will for you to have children." SERIOUSLY? Another terrible thing to say is, "You can always adopt." Adoption is not a runner up option. It's not a consolation prize. It is beautiful and wonderful, and believe me... if someone "needs" to adopt, they know it, so you don't have to give them that option.

Mother's Day is hard. If you're CLOSE to someone, send them a note. Otherwise, just walk away from that. It's just one of the 365 that aren't easy to get through if you're struggling.

Don't assume since someone isn't a parent yet (or ever) that they need to borrow your children. Babysitting is one thing, and most are glad to offer it. But your children are not their children, and "loaning them" to them is not filling the emotional hole in them.

Encourage-- don't harass-- them. Special Bible verses, handwritten cards, and sweet texts now and then will really lift their emotions. But don't see them as a charity case. They need empathy, not sympathy.

If they want to give up, let them. They will most likely come back around in their own time. Some days are easy, and some are extremely difficult. It's a roller coaster ride. And not a fun one. Sometimes there's cotton candy at the end and sometimes there's nada. Zilch. Nothing.

Those who have struggled with infertility see stretch marks, ligament pains, morning sickness, and uncomfy kicks as reminders of God's favor. And when you say things like, "Whew, I'm glad that stage is over for me," it really does sting. Because for those of us who struggled, we longed for what you had day in and day out. It's something that once we have it, we don't take it for granted.

Not long ago, I was in Atlanta with our youth on a retreat. In the CNN building, I saw this monument. And though it was honoring the military, I found its truth to be paralleled to what infertility feels like.

Am I saying those of us who dealt with infertility and then had a baby or two love our children more than those of you who got pregnant effortlessly? Absolutely not. Am I saying our children are worth more? Definitely no. Let me close with this truth.

If you've ever fought for something- for love, for a job you want, for freedom, for a baby... the price you've paid carries GREAT weight in the understanding you have of the value of that prize. So, when you're complaining about running from soccer to ballet to Scouts to football, please remember. Someone near you would give anything to make those drives in the evenings or get up with a crying baby in the early morning hours. Someone close by would give all their earthly possessions to have to deal with the snotty noses and snotty attitudes that make you want to get on a boat and sail far away. Someone right around the corner would love to be able to snap their fingers and hear, "MOOOOOM, LOOOOOOK!!!!!!!" five hundred and eighty-seven times in three hours.

I was that girl.

To all of you who are struggling-- my heart is full for you.

And I get it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Until Alzheimer's Do We Part.

Forgive me. I don't usually make such strong and harsh statements about a particular person, at least on my blog. And I certainly don't call out someone for their grave mistakes from a public platform such as this. But this morning, I could not keep my mouth shut any longer.

Pat Robertson has long since been a "voice" for Christianity in the media, both religious and secular. I have also long since hated that he is a representative for Christianity because of his completely erroneous views on Hurricane Katrina being the wrath of God toward homosexuals, September 11th being God's hatred toward America's wayward heart, and worldwide catastrophes such as tsunamis and earthquakes being the world reaping God's judgement and anger.

But seriously, more than how all of the above angers me to my core, his latest idiocy blows my mind. This "man of God," this representative of the Gospel, has publicly stated on his TV show 700 Club, that it's okay to divorce your spouse, should she/he develop Alzheimer's disease and degenerate mentally and physically.

I am not making this up. You can read it by going to this link, if you can stomach it.

Bascially, someone writes into the show, asking what she should tell a friend who is currently dating another woman because "his wife as he knows her is gone" from Alzheimer's. Pat's authoritative response?

"That is a terribly hard thing," Robertson said. "I hate Alzheimer's. It is one of the most awful things because here is a loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years. And suddenly that person is gone. They're gone. They are gone. So, what he says basically is correct. But I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her."

Pat goes on later to say that the person would be following "'til death do we part" because Alzheimer's is a "kind of death."

(By now, you may be wondering how this ties into Old School Parenting. I'm getting there. Bear with me, please.)

As I write this blog today, I can physically feel a reaction to this man's blatant disregard for life's most sacred union. I actually think my heart is beating a little faster than it was a few minutes ago. Perhaps this is a glimpse of how Jesus felt in the temple that day-- a fury that rose from inside Him because His Father's house was being tarnished by scoundrels and thieves. The anger this stupidity makes me feel stirs my heart for one main reason-

He is tearing away at the very thing Jesus gave His life to save-- families.

Pat Robertson, unfortunately, is in a position of authority in this world. He is recognized by young and old, around the planet as an "official" in Christianity. You may be one of the ones who doesn't recognize him, but the point is, his accessibility on television and Internet (sadly) qualifies him as a presence deserving attention and as a voice of expertise on the Word of God.

We live in a world that is clearly in moral decline. Words like "purity," "virtue," and "integrity" are words that very obviously hold little place in the modern family. Research shows that only 46% of CHRISTIAN adults believe there is a clear, absolute truth. SERIOUSLY? Less than HALF of us???? Ohhhh, wait! This divorce and Alzheimer's thing would fall into this category, because as the Reverend Robertson puts it, "Alzheimer's is a KIND of death." The heart beating, lungs working, stomach growling doesn't pass as living. The mental decline of our faculties qualifies as death. Someone notify all morgues around the world, please.

Sadly, Mr. Robertson is a reflection of a fickle Christianity that has permeated the world with its loose boundaries and guidelines. Thoughts like these are teaching our children that marriage is only in effect when it's convenient to be so. You married a well-bodied, fully functional man... and it's okay to divorce him if he's ever paralyzed or disabled because he can't contribute to your union anymore. Why don't we just shoot the elderly while we're at it?

Parents, please hear my heart. Few things are left that are sacred in this world anymore. Marriage is slowly on the out. Aborting a life is as common as birthing one, depending on the mood the mom is in that day. Promises are made, and rarely kept unless there's a contract with a lawyer enforcing it. It's time for the body of Christ to rise and say ENOUGH. And how do we do that?

By letting our yes mean yes, and our no mean no. When you make a promise to your spouse or your child, keep it at all costs. Children mimic what they see. If they see you being genuine and trustworthy, they won't be able to avoid being the same way.

Treat marriage as the gift it is. For better or for worse means day to day! The exciting, the mundane, the routine, the highs and lows... being committed to each other. But also being committed to build each other up with our words and our actions. Your spouse is your life partner. Meaning, from the altar to your last breath.

Search your heart on issues of morality and absolute truth. Do you know what you believe? Really know? Do you think certain sins are appropriate some times and not in other times? Are you wavering on issues of right and wrong? Is your moral compass broken? Can you even find it? Jesus came to bring us back to God, and as a result, ALL your sins were dealt with at the cross. But that forgiveness does not pardon us from a responsibility to live a life of integrity, both in the light, and in the shadows.

I look at my husband and think of Pat Robertson's words-- and I cringe. How can I look at this man- this man whom I pledged my life, my love, my body, and my faithfulness to for the rest of our lives-- and say to him, "It's all intact unless you lose your ability to love me back." How can I look at the man who has given his blood, sweat, and energy to providing a nice house for me and his children to live in... who has sacrificed his best years to make sure all of my years are my best ones... who has loved me through years of infertility and emotional pain, sat at my bedside while I was in the hospital from my own stupidity... all of this- and tell him, "You're not good enough anymore"?

I hope you feel the anger. Because if you feel it, you'll be stirred to action. To be the best you can be, right where you are.

And that's all the change in the world.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Amazing Kids.


Before you have kids, you know everything. You judge other people's parenting styles and say profound things like, "When I have kids..." Or, "I will NEVER do that." And my favorite is, "Know what I would do? I would..."

Then, a 7lb9oz bundle of humanity enters your life and it hits you like a ton of bricks.

I don't know anything.

So, time moves on. You muddle through the mundane and fly through the fun times, and before you know it, you've got a kid walking across the stage, receiving her diploma from high school. And you hope against all hope you did it right.

I want my children to be amazing. Not just "good kids," and not just "great kids." I want their lives to be NOTHING short of amazing. Now, hear me out, all you "I want everyone to be fair" people. I'm not saying every person isn't amazing. The fact that you are one of two million sperm that met one teeny tiny egg is miraculous alone. The fact that the Creator of the universe numbered the hairs on your head and calls you by His own special name for you is both breathtaking and humbling at the same time. So, yes, we are all "amazing" in His eyes and in our own ways.

But what I'm talking about is raising children who are amazing- which by definition means "To overwhelm with wonder, to bewilder."

I don't know if you've noticed, but there's alot of bewildering behavior from children these days. But like I've said 72,488 times, we have a parent problem, not a child problem in this country. Parents are leaving the school systems, churches, Internet, television, and older siblings to raise their children, all for the sake of the almighty dollar. And as a result, we've got a group of kids who cannot carry on a meaningful conversation with another human being, have no moral compass by which to guide their lives, and are drifting aimlessly the closer they get to adulthood.

This is not amazing. This is sad. This is tragic.

So how then? How do we raise children who overwhelm the world with wonder because of the content of their character? How do we produce children who bewilder others with their style, their grace, their hearts?

1- Spend time parenting them on purpose. Fixing dinner, carpooling all over town, and bedtime routines are non-negotiable parts of most of our lives. However, we can parent on purpose through these moments. As you cook, employ little hands to help you mix it up, and sneak in a life lesson about patience. As you drive to yet another sporting event, find something out the window to talk about that exemplifies the magnificence of the God we serve. When you make a mistake, point it out to your children, and tell them what you did to correct it. Be vigilant about seizing the small moments because the big moments are rare and before you know what happened, life moved on in those small moments and you were on your smartphone.

2- Mandate manners. Manners are SUPER important in this world, believe it or not. I taught children for fifteen years at our church. Know the kids I naturally feel more generous to, more favorable to? The ones who say thank you for a piece of candy. The ones who call me "Miss Jill" instead of "Jill." We make Abi answer with "Yes, ma'ams," and "No sirs" when she is answering us. We make her say, "Yes?" instead of "What?" when we call on her. Know the looks and words of affirmation she gets from the cashier at Publix when she responds with "Yes, ma'am" or asks the man bagging our groceries how his day is on her own initiative? Fact is, where manners are, favor follows. And furthermore, what's wrong with teaching children to respect adults? Lord knows this is a dying virtue. I'm bringing it back. Period.

3- Teach them to go the extra mile. Kids have an innate pattern to do what's expected of them. So, it's up to us to expect their best, to draw the best out of them. Hear what I'm saying... not MORE than they can give. We need to demand WHAT they can give. While Abi is doing her homework, and I can see she's writing sloppily or giving 50% of her best, I literally tell her that I'll throw her homework away and she can start over if she can't give her very best. Sound extreme? Perhaps. But I know the boost she gets when she has done her best and can look at a sheet of paper done neatly and properly, versus one she gave little effort to. Until a child understands the pay-off of doing something right, we have to set them up for the pay-off. They won't do it on their own. But eventually, they'll become addicted to the success.

4- Quit with the handouts. My love language is gifts. So, I have to fight the urge to shower Abi with toys, clothes, and whatever else I can get my hands on. It's just innate to me to show her my love through cute things, fuzzy things, and fun things. But I have to reign it in. Giving her whatever her heart desires may be fun and all, but it's not real life. If she sets her heart on something and wants it badly, me rushing out to make it happen is only perpetuating the entitlement mentality that her generation suffers from. Now, does this mean that everything she gets, she has to work for? No. I'm all about gifts. But with BALANCE. She receives an allowance. Not for chores (though she can earn more money for difficult jobs). It's based on her age, ($1 per year), her attitude (her attitude stinks, she loses dollars), and her general level of responsibility. Then, when she sees that $40 toy, she knows she has about 6 weeks of allowance to save in order to get it. May sound sad, but that's real life, people. I ain't raisin' kids to think they can snap their fingers or pull out a credit card and make things happen.

5- Put God in the center on purpose. Those of us who are "Christians" may think that church is the main obligation we have to our children's spiritual health. Quite the contrary, my dearie. Church is an added tool to their health... it is not the main source. The Bible tells us that they should learn first about God "from their mother's knee." God created Adam, Eve, and the kids that followed. The church didn't come for many years later. This is the model He wanted us to follow! Talk about God's faithfulness as you deposit your paycheck. When a child's crying because of a skinned knee, pray first, THEN Band-Aid. Talk to God outloud when you're looking for a parking spot, then thank Him outloud when you find one. Remind your children of things God has done in your family that proves His might. These stories will die when we do if we don't keep them alive.

6- Create a motto for your child's life and speak it over them daily. Every single day, I speak these words to Abi (sometimes twice a day)- "Thank you, Jesus, that Abi is smart, safe, healthy, kind, and obedient. In Jesus' name, Amen." She says it with me. And lately, I've noticed her attaching it to her bedtime prayer on her own. I want MY voice, telling her what HIS voice says about her to be the loudest voice she hears. Because, in all actuality, there will be days she feels less than amazing. My prayer is that these words I've spoken over her for so long will resonate louder than the voices around her or the voices in her adolescent head.

Raising kids is tough. Raising amazing kids is even tougher. But, you know what? Growing old and gray and realizing that those overwhelmingly wonderful and bewildering kids are a product of our parenting (and the grace of a merciful God) will be worth it all. Guaranteed.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

My Boy.

Ah, pregnancy. So many things I love about it. And I'm not being sarcastic. I love it that while it took two of us to create this new life, I am the only one who can bake the baby. I love it that I have a constant little tiny companion with me, 24/7, for nine whole months. I love it that tiny tappings I've felt a couple of times will soon turn into flops, rolls, and quick turns that will wake me up at all hours of the night. I love it that Abi talks to my tummy everyday and last night, Rod lay his head on my tummy and spoke to his...


This means there's a living, squirming being of testosterone floating around in my womb as I write this, already scheming plans to rule the world with his cousin, Legend. This means my heart is about to be ripped out and wrapped around a tiny finger, the way Rod's was seven and a half years ago. This means... more than I can get my head to process, for sure.

So many things about having a girl I love. I mean-- I LOVE having a daughter. There's a connection a mom has to her daughter that surpasses words. It's living my childhood again through her every day. It's the awareness of how she will "need" me in ways a boy doesn't need his mom-- when she has cramps, when she doesn't understand boys, when she is looking for the perfect dress but can't describe it and I just know what she's saying... It's just, well... nothing short of special.

My world, up to this point, has consisted of Barbies, princesses, Hello Kitty, all things pink, purple and teal, lipgloss, fingernail polish, poofy skirts, days of the week monkey underwear, Squinkies, My Little Pony, and little littles (Abi's word for anything tiny).

So, what do I do with My son? I know. I'll figure it out. I know. Boys love their mamas. I know. Boys are easier than girls in a million ways.

All I know is that I love this little boy. As much as his sister, yet so totally different. So, in keeping true with my pattern, I need to tell my little wooly booger a few things today. Bear with me, please. :-)

Dear Walker,

It's Mom. Your incubator and your whole world right now. I'm the one who feeds you yummy things like Honey Nut Chex cereal and Mike and Ike candy. I also give you the bananas you demand, and take snuggly naps with you as my day allows it.

There's alot of things I need you to know, little man. But we have a lifetime to figure it all out. Right off the bat, I need you to know that I've never raised a boy before. Up to now, I've lived in girl world. I have a sister, a younger girl cousin who's like a little sister, and I am raising YOUR sister. So, I'm just a wave in the sea of estrogen. I'm girl through and through.

I hate reptiles and amphibians. They are not cute and you won't have them as pets in our house. Outside, sure. Garage, pushing it. In your room and it's off with your head. I will pretend to like movies like: Cars, Pirates of the Caribbean, GI Joe, Transformers, and Marvel comic movies. (KEYWORD: PRETEND). I do not care at all about baseball, soccer, or basketball. But for you, I'll become a professional fan. Oh, and I know we touched on the reptile/amphibian issue, but let me be clear. Snakes are evil, gross, and I treat all of them as poisonous, even if they are "grass snakes," "corn snakes," or "black snakes." And if you try to sneak one in the house and I find it, I will chop its head off with no hesitation, even if it's your lifelong pet.

I think, all that said, you and I will get along just fine. I will kiss every boo-boo you ever have. Football season? I'm your girl. I'll make sure you and your entire entourage have more food than you can possibly eat on one game day. In fact, your friends will think food is the language spoken in our home. There'll always be lots of it and good stuff at that.

I will show you how to take care of yourself and not be a total wimp your whole life. That will include things like: cleaning up your mess, putting your gross laundry where it belongs, operating the washer and dryer, clearing off the table, and making your own sandwich when you're hungry. Oh, and this will happen before the age of 10. Much before.

I'm not going to like your girlfriends very much, I'll just tell you that. But I'll play nice because one day, one of those very lucky girls will be your wife and the mother of my grandchildren. In the meantime, I have alot to teach you about girls. But mainly, I have alot to show you about how to attract the RIGHT girl. If you just look for HER, the others won't get in the way so much. And your sister will help with that, too. She's in love with you pretty bad. She'll be your first love. I know it's gross, but trust me. She'll be the prettiest girl you've ever seen for many years. Well, the second prettiest. ;-)

I don't need much from you. Moms are just like that. We give alot and don't ask for much in return. But here's a few things I do ask. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Treat girls with respect, all the time. Rely on your daddy's wisdom because he has more than you'll ever comprehend. Call me and I will always come get you. Kiss me your whole life through. Hold your Gia's hand when you walk with her,even if you're 25. Once you become an adult, don't tell me everything you and Legend did together. Come home every Christmas.

Oh, and one more thing-- Heaven? Just be there.

I love you, Walker Windham. Save this letter. You'll appreciate it one day.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Don't Get It...

One thing's for sure about parenting.

Ok, two.

One- it's a never ending puzzle to solve. And two- sometimes, you won't even know where the puzzle pieces are.

Parenting is fun, isn't it? I'm not being sarcastic. Mostly. I mean, before we had kids, life was generally predictable and (**yawn**) boring. But boring now? HA. When time does slow down long enough for me to catch up on my DVR, I almost fall asleep. So "boring" and "predictable" are not in my vocab and haven't been for almost eight years now.

One of the many, many things about parenting that I enjoy is the complexity of it all. There's many things I've figured out. Like when Abi asks, "Which shirt should I wear," she's simply asking me so she can see if we think alike. Or when she says, "I'm hungry" after dinner, that's code for, "I'd like dessert now." I know her favorite color changes every few months or so. She hates to sleep in her bedroom. How to negotiate a plan before she even realizes what hit her strong will.

But there's oh-so-many other things I cannot figure out. how she can be on one end of our 2800 square foot house and I can be on the total other side, but the MINUTE I shut the bathroom door with church mouse quiet and stealth precision, she manifests. how in the WORLD I look like I'm 5 months pregnant already even though I've only gained 5.5 lbs. why I can clean the whole house and never hear a peep from her while she's in her room all day but the second I lie down to close my eyes, she suddenly needs a snack, a tag cut out of her shorts, a Band-Aid, or something off the top shelf of her closet. how something so sweet can turn on you like a spitting cobra at the drop of a hat if her shirt is too scratchy. how my heart can burst with love for a child that currently looks like a teddy graham/jelly bean/cocktail shrimp. how no matter how old Abi gets, I peek in on her every time I get up to use the bathroom, just to see her sleep. how I can be so done with her I feel like my skin will catch on fire if I am touched again, yet miss her instantly when she leaves me. how I summon my psychic mommy powers to find a miniature rubber pig the size of a dime in a bedroom that looks like Toys-R-Us on Black Friday. what the heck it is that happens between waking up cheerfully and time to put her hair up in a ponytail that goes so very awry. how in the world you can't make it through a movie without needing to pee but look at the clock at noon and realize the last time you actually peed was at 2:00 am. how Dora can ask the same question over and over and STILL not get the answer right, even though your preschooler is shouting the answer loud enough for the guys on the International Space Station to hear her. how she can seem so mature but every single day when I watch her walk into school, it looks like the first day of kindergarten all over again. why a child who eats broccoli, asparagus, hot sauce, and green beans will not touch corn. how the same day that began with you watching Daybreak News at 5:00 AM while feeding a baby will also end with you watching the 11:00 PM late news while you're yet again feeding a baby. how you can think things you ask God for forgiveness for one minute and then things that make you cry with joy the next minute about the same child who weighs 20 pounds. how you can crave a bean burrito from Taco Bell with all your heart and soul and yet miraculously be satisfied by a PBJ, of which you only get the crusts. how more and more little girls' shorts in stores are no bigger than underwear. Don't. Get. On. A. Tangent. Jill. Please. why the goal of the game is to train our children to leave us. Boo hiss. exactly HOW those Goldfish crackers got UNDERNEATH the infant carseat that weighs more than a small teenager, and STILL did not get crushed. how it is that the first sight of a runny nose can send terrible shivers down your spine.

...and like- what did I do before I had these little ones to worry about, manage, kiss, and chew on?

...and what will I do when they don't need me anymore?

Oh, I know. We'll travel to wherever they are and pour the next part of our lives into our friendship with them. (We get to be friends one day!!!!!!!!!)
But for now, mysteries prevail. And I'm the greatest detective there ever was. ;-)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Dear Baby.

Yep, baby. As in a new person. Tiny, squishy, and approximately the size of a poppy seed. With a face forming, four chambers of the heart pumping blood, and the fingerprints of God all over her... or him.

And growing in my womb as we speak.

I'm pregnant. I found out yesterday morning at approximately 6:09 am. And the moment I saw two lines, I fell deeply and passionately in love all over again.

Suffice to say, I am both full of words and all out of words at the same time. Physically, I feel quite different, yet not a whole lot. Mentally, I am preparing myself to start over. I'm going from a child who can wipe her own bottom to a child who will literally milk me for all I've got.

Following my typical form, I must get some words out. Some, I'll keep to myself and ponder in my heart. Some I'll only share with my husband. My mom. My sister.

But here's what I need my tater tot to know right this moment as the Master is knitting her/him together in my innermost parts.

Dear Baby,

I am your mom. Yep, God chose you and I to meet up this side of Heaven to love each other and walk this earth together. I'm the one who is lending her body to you, to incubate you as best I can from the realities of a world that is less than perfect, so you can become the creation God is fashioning you to be. Did you know His hand is on you? Well, it is. Literally. He is shaping you, making you in His image. He spoke a wonderful language into you called DNA. It's a big deal, this stuff. But it's really just God's plan, mapped out through your body from your head to your feet.

Speaking of feet, you don't have any yet. But you will. And they will take you many places through your life. They will run to me when you fall off your bike, and run away from me when you don't want to put your diaper back on. They will take you through thirteen years of school and will walk you into your college dorm room as your dad and I drive away and leave you and your feet there. They could possibly take you to a foreign land to serve your country or preach the Gospel, as it's in your blood to do both. (This is a matter I plan on taking up with your Creator soon.)

You are entering a family that is, um... unique. You'll spend unbelievable amounts of time with them, when most of your friends are spending time goofing off and creating trouble. Get used to it. This is your life. And these people will be your best friends for all your life. I promise. Your grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins... all waiting for you to take you place among them.

Your daddy is a manly man. He's a cowboy through and through. If you're a boy, he'll be your dream daddy. You'll shoot guns, swing axes, and build treehouses with your bare hands before you're 8. He'll teach you how to manage your money, treat women with respect and dignity, and how to guard your heart from temptation. And if you're a girl... Well, you're in for the ride of your life. He will romance you until he takes his last breath. He will be fiercely protective of your every move. And you will think he's the most handsome man you've ever seen. Because he will be.

Then, there's your sister. She's quite a treasure. I love her very much. You're blessed to have her ahead of you. She is wise beyond her years, sensitive to your needs, and is compassionate to a fault. But she's also a litttttttle bit hardheaded. So don't expect to waltz into her room and make yourself at home. She doesn't operate like that- neither in her room or in her life. But don't worry- you'll make yourself at home in her heart. In fact, I think you're already doing that. Your sister has prayed for you and waited for you when, honestly, I sat you aside at times. Oh, don't worry. You were never out of my mind. Especially with your sister around. She has included you in prayers, mealtime, conversations, and in her dreams for years now. One day, she'll be the best friend you've ever had. I promise.

Let's get back to me. I'm the one that matters most to you right now, I guess, since you're burrowing a hole in my organs, getting all snuggly and cozy for our journey. I will love you differently from everyone else. Not more, just differently. I'm the one whose voice you'll hear in a few weeks, as I sing on the stage with all that loud music. You'll hear me scold your sister for turning the TV up too loudly. You'll hear me and your Aunt Lori laugh incredibly often. You'll hear me in the early morning hours, speaking God's word over you. You'll hear "I love you" said alot, to your daddy and your sister. I'm the one who will make most of your meals, pack most of your lunches, and be on most of your fieldtrips. I'm the one you'll cry out for when you wake up with a hurting tummy in the middle of the night. I'm the one who knew you were here first... even if it was only a few seconds before I awoke Daddy.

But I'm also the one who will make the most mistakes every single day of your life.

I can't promise you that you'll always like me. In fact, if you like me all the time, I'm doing something wrong. Oh, but don't worry. I'll fix it. I have no problem being your mom. We'll be friends later. But for now, I have a HUGE job to do. And your daddy's job is even bigger. We don't know what we're doing all the time, but that's okay. We know the One who DOES know. And we ask Him for help all the time.

Little baby, your life was bought with a price. Long before you were placed in my tummy, your Creator sent His most special Son to die for your eternity. I know you can't possibly understand my words right now. But I have to tell you... I love knowing that while you're swimming away in there, He's speaking mysteries to you, revealing His plan for your future to your heart. You are loved, you are treasured, you are valued, and you are His.

You're also MINE.

There's so much I want to say to you. But we have time. I have a little less than eight months to get your world ready for you. And speaking of the world... it's a beautiful place. There's many people here that will love you and care for you. Some won't. But that's okay (and if your Gia finds out who they are, she'll probably beat them up. You'll understand this later.) Anyway. The world is waiting for you to be a part of it.

Our family is waiting for you to be a part of it.

This past Christmas, we hung your ornament on the tree. This year, you'll be getting closer to being here with us.

You make my heart leap, little one. I love you forever. And ever.

And even after that.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Parents on Trial

Those of you who live in the other 49 states aren't graced with the privilege (sarcasm) of having the Casey Anthony Trial taking over your daytime TV programming. Those of us in central Florida are. And while I'm at work most of the week while the trial is on, the days I am home, I find myself like most of my fellow comrades-- glued to the TV like a moth to a flame.

Funny, isn't it? How we are attracted to public displays of shame and failure, like a sideshow for a circus? Don't get me wrong. This is what we call "due process," and it's actually one of the beautiful things about our country. We, the taxpayers, have a right to witness a trial by jury, paid for by our taxes, and when it's something of this nature (relating to the well-being or death of a child), it's especially close to our hearts and especially magnetizing to our attention.

We each have our own reasons for watching. Some to see Casey "put on her charade." Some so that we have something to talk about around the coffeepot at work the next day. Some feel the need to "monitor" the process, making sure justice is being served for Caylee's sake. I'm pretty sure all of us are just plain old interested in this trial, period. All that said, aside from the nosyness I have like everybody else, I think I have finally pinpointed why my heart and mind are so drawn to this trial.

I have a need to find out where this all went wrong for Casey.

As a parent, as a parenting coach, as a student of parenting... where did Casey get forgotten? Let's get one thing out of the way right now. I totally believe Casey Anthony killed her daughter, Caylee Marie. I totally believe it was not accidental, not a spur-of-the-moment plan, but a premeditated act of desperation to get what she saw as a "hindrance" out of her life. I also believe that while we may have gotten to where we are because of the decisions of our parents, we stay where we are by OUR choices. So, regardless of what did or did not take place in her childhood (I do not believe she was molested by father, but let's just say she was...), that taking the life of a child is NEVER excusable. EVER. If you do not agree with me about Casey's guilt, that is totally okay with me... believe me. I have NO problem agreeing to disagree. So, please refrain from starting debates and the like because you don't share my verdict. This is the beauty of humanity... we can differ and still coexist.

That said, how does a mother who has felt a child move inside her body, ushered new life into this world, looked into the eyes of that child and felt sincere love and appreciation for her, two years later map out a plan to extinguish that life as if it never existed? How does a mother who has fed, bathed, nurtured, and sheltered that child turn her heart so against her that she not only willed her dead, but also followed through with it? How? HOW????

Watching the trial, one thing has become painfully obvious to the world. The Anthony family has built a majority of their lives around lies- whether they be Casey's, or their own family secrets. Stories are continually changing, and Casey is forever rolling her eyes and shaking with anger at her parents as they move forward with any version of the story that contradicts the drowning theory or the plethora of other falsities Casey has conjured up. It's clear through their testimonies that Casey was raised to get her way, as her attitudes and fits often proved too much for her parents to handle, even into her adulthood. She was given a car, didn't do the laundry in her parents house where she lived as an ADULT, and shirked primary care for her daughter to her mother, Cindy.

There are no perfect parents. Believe me-- I know this. And if there were a list of perfect parents, I do not in any shape, form, or fashion even pretend my name would make the top 1000. But I can tell you this. Watching the pain these parents have gone and are going through has made me do an inventory on my own parenting, because it is my heart's cry to NEVER see my daughter at the mercy of a justice system, especially if the origin of the offense was at her own hand. Because no matter which way you cut it, I would have had a hand in her downfall, somewhere, somehow.

So how then? How do we avoid sitting on the witness stand someday as our child faces death row charges? How do we keep from being the one with our hand on the Bible, testifying before God that our word is true, in hopes to save our child's life? Well, that answer may not be as cut and dry as one would hope. See, God did everything right with Adam and Eve, and they STILL chose to sin. We won't do it all right. But if you're like me, you have to go to sleep at night with the assurance that you aren't raising a child capable of the offense of taking her own child's life to simplify her own. And I don't have all the answers. But here's a few convictions that I KNOW will help deter my children's path from becoming that of Miss Anthony's.

1. LIVE TRUTH AT ALL COSTS. A Bible verse my parents mandated was Psalm 15:4- "He swears to his own hurt and doesn't change." This is as basic as making your child finish a sports season he starts, even if the coach is unfair and your child is being done wrong. Commitment is something our kids have little concept of and it's because we as parents don't make them follow through with anything! We live in an attention deficit time, where we bounce around from event to event, person to person, and don't stick with anything. When you make a commitment, FOLLOW THROUGH, for Heaven's sake. And if your child promises her favorite shoes to her friend, guess what she's obligated to give her even after giver's remorse kicks in? This will teach our kids that their word is their name. And a good name is all you've got.

2. EVALUATE HOW EASY YOU'VE MADE LIFE FOR YOUR KIDS. I'm not talking about going home and ripping the Xbox out and throwing it in the garbage can. I'm saying, when your kids say, "I want a drink of water," do you hop to the kitchen for them? Five year olds and up are capable of tending to many of their own needs, but sadly, we have boys and girls at 12 who utter a wish and their parents float to the need at the drop of a hat. This in turn produces entitlement, and entitlement produces nothing but laziness and ungratefulness.

3. STOP SHELTERING YOUR CHILDREN FROM CONSEQUENCES. If I decided today to drive 80 mph down Highway 441, and I get pulled over and ticketed, I can have an attitude all I want to with the reporting officer. But the fact remains, I DID IT TO MYSELF. But see, we fight too many battles for our kids, so when they are 16 and facing the law itself, they expect to be bailed out like they were the other 43,219 times we bailed them out. There isn't a defense in the world to protect our children from our negligence, which we inflict when we skirt issues, sweep them under the rug, and remove consequences from our kids when they are 3. This applies to constantly taking their forgotten lunch box to them, dropping our lives for procrastinated book reports, and simply running when they demand it.

4. SUBMIT YOUR BEST EFFORTS AND TRUST GOD TO COVER YOUR MISTAKES. We would be shocked what would happen in our homes if we would just give our best and apologize for our worst. We aren't expected to do it all right. We ARE, however, expected to be REAL. Apologize. Forgive. Close the past's doors. Open the future's new ones. At best, we may do 50% right. But the good news is, love covers a multitude of sins. When you blow it, admit it to your children. Even if this means saying to them, "I have been too easy on you, and I ask for your forgiveness." God, in His infinite mercy and grace, can right alot of wrongs if we're willing to work the plan.

5. STAY PLUGGED INTO THEIR LIVES. Know their inner circles by name. Foster openness and communication. Ask questions without pre-planned answers. Listen to their music with them without preaching a sermon, and afterwards ask "What do you like about that?" Do silly and ridiculous things with them, just for fun. Eat ice cream for dinner and pizza for breakfast. Blow up air mattresses and sleep in the living room for a movie marathon. Take them with you one-on-one to run errands. This is the stuff that helps us keep tabs on our kids without them knowing what we're doing.

There was a day when you weren't a parent. And then literally overnight, you became one. Remember that moment? Whether you pushed a seven pound bundle of goo and screams into the world or you were handed your child by a guardian or state worker... that moment, I would dare say, was one of the most defining moments of your life. You silently took an oath to protect, nuture, and grow that child to the best of your ability, willing to lay your life down at any moment for him. Between that moment and the day they enter college, there are many obstacles, many hurdles, and many failures. But there are MANY triumphs, MANY victories, and MANY happy tears.

I keep thinking of Casey. The day she held her Caylee for the first time. I know that in that moment, she loved that baby with all her might, soul, and strength. But the harsh reality is that it's what happened between when Cindy held CASEY for the first time and that fateful 2008 day that really mattered.