To The Invisible Mom

We were in a quaint little chapel listening to a beautiful teaching about suffering and where God is at such times. I had never seen more relevance between those words and the audience as I saw it today. The room was small, the congregants few. Most were in wheelchairs, some falling asleep from medication they were taking or the result of going through stroke recovery or just sleepless nights that come from endless interruptions by nurses in the middle of the night. The pastor with his heavy middle eastern accent cried as he spoke about God’s love and how He never leaves us. It was obvious to me that he was very good at comforting the sick.

As he continued the service, he got ready to serve communion. Our family’s presence had been unexpected. We had brought the number of attendance to a whopping 20 people instead of the 10 that it would have been if we had not shown up. He looked up and said, mostly to our family, “In my 15 years of working at this facility, this is the most people I have had in a service. I apologize if I do not have enough to go around.”

I was instantly humbled and brought to tears. Here was this pastor with an obvious love of people and a wonderful gift of teaching and he had chosen to work in a place where for the last 15 years he did not serve the masses, but the few. He was touching lives one by one as they recovered and went back home never to return. Some could hear his words of encouragement, some could not. Most probably didn’t even know his name. To the rest of the world, he was invisible. But to heaven, his work is transcendent. The world will never know how good he is at what he does, but that’s OK. His message is not for them.

This got me thinking about a mom’s job. In a world where we equate success with popularity and fame, the job of a mom seems insignificant and pointless.  There is no fame, there is no recognition. Some of mom’s words even seem to land on deaf ears. Yet she continues. She instructs. She loves. She teaches. She disciplines. Those kids will grow up, move out, live their lives. There will be visits, but healthy kids move out. That was the goal. Like the pastor who is there for the sick but hopes they get well and leave, a mom who loves her children works her way out of a job.

That pastor will never know this side of heaven how significant his contribution was to those who most needed him when they needed him the most.  Moms, you will never know this side of heaven the impact you have had on the little ones in your household. Those who most need you when they need you the most. You might be invisible to the world, but to heaven, your contribution is transcendent.  The world may never know how good you are at what you do, but that’s OK. Your message is not for them. It’s for your kids. It’s for God.

 

 

 

New Years Resolutions for 2017 and beyond

I usually have the same New Years Resolutions every year. You know. Lose weight, be a better person, change some bad habits, etc. 

But once in awhile something happens that recalibrates my brain and sets me off to higher goals. More transcendent goals. Goals that will make a bigger difference in my life and the lives of those around me. 

This holiday it happened a few weeks before Christmas, when  someone I love very much, had a massive stroke. I thank God that this loved one is pulling through and is expected to recover.

However, during this time I’ve had time to reflect on how finite we are. How temporary life is. And how important it is that we make good choices while we can. So here are some of my New Years Resolutions for 2017.

1. Be there. I don’t know why, but when something goes wrong, when someone needs help, we often are wondering what to do. Do we show up? Do we wait for an invitation? Do we cancel our plans? Do we ask about it?

I’ve struggled with this before. And frankly, I haven’t always made the right choice. I tend to second guess myself a lot. I want to give people space. But what I have concluded is that it has always been better to be there than to wait. 

If it ends up being nothing, if I don’t get to help much, if all I do is lend a hug, it is still better to be there. Show my support. But this is not only true of emergencies, this is true of everyday life.

In 2017 I want to be the one that will be there. I want to put my priorities in order, drop the urgent, the unimportant and even some of the important and be there. Be there for the conversations, be there for the walk, be there for the hugs, and be there for the hard times. Be there.

2. Follow up. The first days at the hospital the waiting room is swarming with loved ones. The day the teenager gets in trouble everyone is on top of it to make sure they are disciplined correctly. The moment someone asks for prayers at church a whole team is rounded up to pray in a circle. 

But who makes the phone call to find out how it’s going a month after surgery? Who checks in with the teen two weeks later to just talk and see how they’re doing? Who asks how the marriage is going a month later?

I want to be the person who follows up. I want to be there when everyone else forgets because that’s when it might be needed most. I might have to write it on the calendar and send self notifications. But I want to be in for the long haul. I want to follow up.

3. Step out. Over all, I live a comfortable, predictable and very busy life. It’s hard for me to get out of my routine to do something that may not be familiar to me or might even cause me some discomfort. But I believe I will grow as a person to the degree that I am willing to step out in order to help others. 

This year I am stepping out in many ways. I’m joining my husband in the real estate business, I’m finally publishing my book and hoping it will help others in their homeschool journey, and I’m hoping to take more missions trips to Latin America. 

These are some of the ways I want to step out. Step out of my comfort zone, step out of my routine, step out of my strengths, step out of my security. 

So I’m still going to try to lose weight, watch what I eat and change some bad habbits. But I’ll be mostly focusing on those things which will go beyond 2017. As the year begins and moves forward I know I will have opportunities to carry out these new year resolutions. What about you? How can you be there, follow up and step out?

New Year Resolutions that transcend 2017

I usually have the same New Year Resolutions every year. You know. Lose weight, be a better person, change some bad habits, etc.

But once in awhile something happens that recalibrates my brain and sets me off to higher goals. More transcendent goals. Goals that will make a bigger difference in my life and the lives of those around me.
This holiday it happened a few weeks before Christmas, when  someone I love very much, had a massive stroke. I thank God that this loved one is pulling through and is expected to recover.
However, during this time I’ve had time to reflect on how finite we are. How temporary life is. And how important it is that we make good choices while we can. So here are some of my New Years Resolutions for 2017.
1. Be there. When something unexpected happens, when someone needs help, we often wonder what to do. Do we show up? Do we wait for an invitation? Do we cancel our plans? Do we ask about it?
I’ve struggled with this before. And frankly, I haven’t always made the right choice. I tend to second guess myself a lot. I want to give people space. But what I have concluded is that it has always been better to be there than to wait.
If it ends up being nothing, if I don’t get to help much, if all I do is lend a hug, it is still better to be there. Show my support. But this is not only true of emergencies, this is true of everyday life.
In 2017 I want to be the one that will be there. I want to put my priorities in order, drop the urgent, the unimportant and even some of the important and be there. Be there for the conversations, be there for the walk, be there for the hugs, and be there for the hard times. Be there.
2. Follow up. The first days at the hospital the waiting room is swarming with loved ones. The day the teenager gets in trouble everyone is on top of it to make sure they are disciplined correctly. The moment someone asks for prayers at church a whole team is rounded up to pray in a circle.
But who makes the phone call to find out how it’s going a month after surgery? Who checks in with the teen two weeks later to just talk and see how they’re doing? Who asks how the marriage is going a month after prayer?
I want to be the person who follows up. I want to be there when everyone else forgets because that’s when it might be needed most. I might have to write it on the calendar and send self notifications. But I want to be in for the long haul. I want to follow up.
3. Step out. Over all, I live a comfortable, predictable and very busy life. It’s hard for me to get out of my routine to do something that may not be familiar to me or might even cause me some discomfort. But I believe I will grow as a person to the degree that I am willing to step out in order to help others.
This year I am already stepping out in  a few ways. I’m joining my husband in the real estate business, I’m finally publishing my book and hoping it will help others in their homeschool journey, and I’m hoping to take more missions trips to Latin America.
These are some of the ways I want to step out. Step out of my comfort zone, step out of my routine, step out of my strengths, step out of my security.
So I’m still going to try to lose weight, watch what I eat and change some bad habbits. But I’ll be mostly focusing on those things which will go beyond 2017.
As the year begins and moves forward I know I will have opportunities to carry out these new year resolutions. What about you? How can you be there, follow up and step out?

Silent Night, Altered Night

  • It’s the middle of the night and you get an unexpected phone call. They’re always unexpected. Whether your loved one had a deteriorating illness or a sudden accident, it is always unexpected; especially around the holidays

I love holidays, especially Christmas. Even with the freezing weather, Christmas is the time for warmth. A time to get together, love and be loved. But when our Silent Night is altered by sickness or death, what can we do to salvage it?

Don’t salvage it,  alter it. There’s no sense pretending we can just move on as though nothing has happend. It’s direspectful to the feelings of those who are hurting and it just isn’t possible.

Instead, think about how you can make the best out of a difficult situation. Perhaps you can spend some time celebrating the lost loved one by sharing memorable stories or making their favorite holiday meal in their honor.

Or perhaps you can alter holiday get togethers that will make the ill person more comfortable.  Does the reunion need to be shorter, or with just a few people?  Maybe there will be dietary restrictions. Can you change the menu?

Or maybe you have to cancel the get together completely. How about board games with just the family? Or maybe you can sit around the table telling stories.

Some families may be tempted to pretend there is no loss. But I find it difficult for people to heal when  they don’t acknowledge that they’re wounded.  And where there’s no acknowledgement, there is no freedom for others to open up and share their feelings.  Children are especially vulnerable when no one wants to “talk about it.”

So set the example. Open up. Be honest about your feelings. It’s healthy to admit that we’re human. And it teaches our children how to deal with pain and disappointment.

Alter the holiday to meet the present need. Next year you can go back to those traditions that mean so much to you and your family but can become a source of more stress if you try to force them into an already chaotic time, which is what crises bring.

Remember that the traditions, foods and parties are there to enhance the experience with family and friends, not the other way around. So let go of those things that will add to the stress of an already altered holiday and make a memory that includes the sorrow and sadness and make the best of it.

 

Surviving and enjoying the holidays with extended family

You hug everyone as you make your way to the kitchen with the casserole you said you would bring. Your kids are walking closely behind you, smiling uncomfortably, getting hugs and comments about how much they’ve grown and how they look like your mother’s cousin on her father’s side.

For some families, they’ve been looking forward to this day for months. It’s a time to catch up. A time to celebrate family. A time to love and be loved.
For others, holidays with extended family are painful. It’s a time of judgement, arguments, bad memories and isolation.
If that’s  you, how can you turn that next holiday reunion into a positive experience for your whole family?  Here are a few thoughts.
1.  Have clear boundaries in place. Days before the get together, establish boundaries for yourself and your family. How long will we stay? What will we talk about? How will we respond to criticism or when uncle John has had one too many beers? What are the “hot buttons” to stay away from? And for really challenging situations, what will we tolerate and what will be a red flag that it’s time to leave?
Having those boundaries in place helps the family feel safe and united. While some may not think that the boundaries are necessary, others in the family will appreciate them
2.  Adopt a “help me understand” attitude.  Politics, religion, sexual orientation, presidential elections, life choices. These are only some of the subjects that can stir up strong emotions in people. You may disagree with the choices one of your extended family members has made or they may disagree with yours.
Adopting am attitude that says, “Help me understand,” can be disarming in a society where we pick and choose which of our biases we will feed. It is rare to find someone who will just listen to your point of view REGARDLESS of whether they agree. When you respect someone to that level, you earn respect. You can’t change their opinion or change their mind. But you can be an example.
Try to understand where they are coming from. What their experience has been. How they could have come to that conclusion from their experience. And coach your family to do the same. It will do wonders for your conversations with extended family.
3.  Be present. It’s easy to just make plans to be “in and out” when it comes to a family gathering. Especially if you’re single. There are so many other opportunities competing for your time. Some of which you might enjoy so much more! And if you have small children, the disruption of their schedule sets you off  for days.Its tempting to just come for an hour and then leave or not come at all.
But if you miss the gathering, you miss the opportunity for growth. Extended family is fascinating. Once upon a time, your aunts and uncles, cousins, or even just you and your siblings  grew up together. Once upon a time, the root family that brought you all together had dreams and aspirations. They did their best to raise their family. And now here you are  one or two generations later, enjoying the company of those who exist because of them.
Think of your immediate family. Wouldn’t you like to know that when they grow up, long after you’re gone  they will continue to get together, bringing their own families to reunions like this? Invest in that now. Be an example. Don’t  complain about having to go. Don’t let them skip out on the reunion. Bring them along. Tell them the funny stories about growing up with uncle Joe and why you love him. Share stories at the party of when you were all kids. Help everyone remember why they’re there and be present.
4.  Don’t sacrifice immediate family for extended family. Admittedly, we all have toxic or challenging relatives. Family members who say inappropriate things or put you in awkward situations. An aunt who prides herself in “speaking her mind” or an uncle who doesn’t approve of the way you care for your family. Or maybe they don’t like your spouse…ouch!
You may feel the pressure to side with extended family members over your immediate family just for the sake of keeping peace. Don’t. Remember that your spouse and children are your priority. Making fun of your kids in public breeds permission for others to make fun and you won’t always think it’s funny.
Your spouse and you are one. Speaking positively of him or her in public settings also sets a precedence. It tells your extended family that it’s not OK to speak negatively of your family and they can feel safe that you won’t speak badly of theirs.
5.  See extended family with finite lenses. My mom used to have a phrase she would say both dramatically and jokingly every year. “This will be my last year.” We used to laugh together about how she said that every year and every year she would be there for another get together. Then one year she wasn’t.
It’s been ten years and I still miss my mom very much. And when I think of our time together, I am both thankful for the time we had and regretful of the times when I was rushing for my weekly visit with her and didn’t have much time to stay.
Your extended family is finite. They won’t be there forever and neither will you. But on the holidays we get an opportunity to catch up. To value who they are even if we don’t always agree. To appreciate that we do have extended family and that we are part of a bigger story.
This is not the time to change them or criticize them or wish you came from a different place. No family is perfect. This is a time to enjoy. Who knows what next year will bring. Celebrate today.

Fall is the gift in-between

I’m sitting outside enjoying the cool breeze. It’s fall. Not too hot, not too cold. And the beauty of fall colors is all around me. I can hear frogs and crickets but it’s getting too cold for mosquitos. But this is only one reason I love fall.

Fall is that in-between that comes after that “perfect” season that flew by when we were going to do all kinds of exciting things. Vacations, picnics, cookouts, bike rides, swimming and such. Expectations were so high in the beginning of summer that some got done and most didn’t. Life kept coming at us reminding us that the mundane and the urgent stop for no season.

But fall has no such expectations. It brings us back to routine while reminding us of the silver lining of life. It shouts “Do over!” And we get to take a walk and reevaluate and think of the possibilities of doing things better. Of setting things right. Of celebrating the good things in our lives and being hopeful for the bad.

Fall comes before the cold. It is the pause before the storm. It is the fresh air before the staleness of closed windows. Enjoy it. Embrace it. Fill yourself with it. Go ahead. Go for a walk. Take a long drive to nowhere with the windows down. Just go, and enjoy and remember. Fall is the gift in-between.

 

 

 

 

The pain of parenting and the relief of surrender

Grandparents are fond of saying, “Little children, little problems. Big children, BIG problems.”

For the most part, that’s a true statement. I remember having little ones and worrying that they would put something in their mouth and choke or fall and hurt their head. I worried if they didn’t eat and I worried if they ate too much. I worried about losing them at the mall or them running into the street. But none of that fear could have prepared me for the fears of having teenagers. Starting high school, getting offered drugs, making bad judgment calls, picking the wrong friends, learning how to drive, the list can go on and on.

I think most parents of teenagers have experienced that knot in the pit of their stomach that comes from their kids not answering their cell phone or someone calling to let us know that our kid has misbehaved. For some parents, dealing with difficult teens is a daily struggle. Most of us know what it means to have sleepless nights worrying about our teens.

But then I am reminded that this is not a one or two person job. No, I am not talking about “it takes a village,” although I believe community is important. I’m talking about the One who created them.

It is easy to take credit when our kids are doing well.  But it can be very painful to take the blame when they make bad choices. We wonder where we went wrong. What we could have done to prevent it. Why this is happening to us. And while it is always good to learn from our mistakes, we need to remind ourselves that our teens have a free will. And God knows what our kids are going to choose. AND, He’s on top of it.

The next time you feel hopeless before the decisions your teen is making, remember that true relief is found in surrendering it to God. He is in the business of restoring and using even the worst choices and mistakes for His glory and as an opportunity for our kids and us to grow in our understanding of Him and in our understanding of life. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that.

Hope needs to see progress

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Everyone goes through seasons of difficulty. Times when everything seems to be going wrong. Whether it’s in marriage, parenting, career or finances, in those times it is important to experience moments of progress, even if they seem small. Here are some ways to experience those small wins to keep you going.

1. Go for a walk.You may not be able to take the family out to dinner. There might be too much tension at home for conversation or you may have lost your job. It’s hard to look on the bright side when things look so defeating. 

Going for a walk while listening to your favorite music, podcasts or just enjoying the silence can be good for your outlook on life. If you pray while you walk it’s even better. You may gain clarity or a sense of peace in the middle of a stressful situation.

2. Set short term goals. It feels good to reach goals. Sometimes our goals seem too far away.  The unending task of trying to reach them can be tiring. Especially if we experience a lot of set backs. 

Short term goals can help us see that we actually are moving forward. Most accomplishments don’t happen over night. They come as a result of several small steps. Small successes are not as defeating as no success at all. So make short term goals that are attainable that will serve as a benchmark on your way to where you’re going

3. Schedule it. Once you have your long term and short term goals in mind, put them on the calendar in ink! Don’t let it get rescheduled. Take your deadlines as seriously as you would take going to work or feeding the family. 

Every time your goals get pushed aside, your hope gets deferred. When your hope gets deferred your heart feels sick. But when you accomplish a desire, even if it’s a little but at a time, it is a tree of life.

3 goals we can model for our kids

I have read many parenting books in the past 30 years of raising my kids and have learned a lot of practical tips along the way.
However, my kids are all different. So I have had to constantly adapt and change my parenting style to better serve and raise each child.
No matter how different my kids are, there are three goals that I have that are best taught through modeling.
1.  Model adulthood. The best definition of adulthood I’ve heard yet, is that an adult is someone who does what needs to be done whether he feels like it or not. That’s it! In a world where people only do what feels good, where entertainment is king, where quitting is easier than working hard, our kids need the example of what a real adult does.
This means being the parent whether we want to or not. Disciplining when it’s hard. Playing with the kids when we’re tired. Pressing into the relationship in the face of rejection. Listening when we disagree with what’s being said. Apologizing  when we’re wrong.
Parents remain the greatest example for their children. When we model real adulthood, our kids have a better chance of becoming true adults themselves.
2. Model unconditional love. We love our kids. But let’s face it, it’s easier to love them when they are compliant. When they are careless, forgetful or rebellious, it’s harder to show love. But that’s when it can have the greatest impact.
It is God’s love brings us to repentance (Romans 2:4). When I pass that kind of love down to my kids, they can see God’s love through me.
3. Model hope. It’s easy to believe in our kids when they are doing what they should be doing. But when they are in the middle of making bad choices, getting bad grades, disobeying and being rebellious, it’s hard to believe that they will turn out well.
Here’s an important fact we need to remember. What we think of our kid matters to him. Even if it doesn’t look like, even if he says he doesn’t care, your child cares what you think of him. Not believing in our kids is a serious matter. I believe it is by far, the most damaging thing we can do to them.
Remember that just as God is not finished with you, He is not finished with your child. Believe that God loves your child more than you do and that He will finish what He has started in him, no matter how old he is.
Being a parent is not for the weak. And even the strong can fall apart in the face of raising children. But the good news is that God can give us the wisdom, understanding and discernment we need to model adulthood, unconditional love and hope.

When our kids go off to college

 The summer before my oldest went away to college in 2003, I cried and cried and cried.  Not only was I was going to miss him, but life, as I had known it was over.  Taking vacations in October (we home school), family nights with everyone home, dinner with all of us sitting at the table, field trips with all six of my children…over.  This was the end of an era.  I knew it and I was overwhelmed with grief at the impending loss. Besides crying a lot, I found myself with an urgency to bombard my son with life lessons that I wanted to make sure he had. I tried to cram conversations, lessons, warnings into the little time we had left. I knew there was a problem with my heart.  I didn’t like what I was feeling:  fear. 
Fear is a horrible master. It makes us say and do things that we don’t want to say and do.  In my case, it was stopping me from enjoying this milestone with my son.  Instead, I was afraid of the changes that lay ahead and the reality that this was the beginning of the end.  
The day came when we took our son to college.  I soaked it all in.  We took him to pick his classes, we went to orientation, we made the tuition payment, met the dorm monitor, the whole deal.  The next day was the big day.  Moving him in, meeting his roommate, working our way to the end of the day when we would say good-bye.  I was fine all the way through until we hugged and I looked in his eyes.  I told him he’d be fine, I told him we’d see him in a couple of months, we all got in a circle and prayed, we got in the van, and I cried all the way home…and I prayed like mad.
Five years later, I went through exactly the same thing with our second son.  The same fears resurfaced.  I felt like I was saying good-bye all summer.  Then we went through orientation together, met his roommate, and came to the end of the day when we said good-bye.  We hugged, I looked in his eyes and told him he’d be fine.  We’d see him in a couple of months.  We got in a circle and prayed, we got in the van, and I cried all the way home…and I prayed like mad.
Our oldest has been married since 2006 and has two beautiful little girls. Our second oldest is in Seattle getting his master’s and will most likely stay in Washington. Our third son is now in his senior year at Columbia College in Chicago.  And our daughter just finished her freshmen year at Trinity. I have two left at home.
 
The fear that I had, the fear of change, did come to pass.  Just as I suspected, everything changed.  And everything has continued to change.  Nothing is the same…it’s different.  But different isn’t necessarily bad.  Every season in our family has been special.  The season when my children were all at home is a memory I will always treasure.  The season when my second oldest became the oldest and deepened his relationship with his siblings is also very special.  Having the last four at home and watching them do things together, special.
Things are always changing here. I am learning that change is good.  It is necessary.  All healthy, living organisms change and grow.  My family is a living organism.  Change is a sign of health.  So I am thankful for the change.  The key for me, is to be present at every stage.  To savor it.  Enjoy it.  Learn from it.  Because when it’s over, it’s over.  Something new will come to take it’s place.  And then I get to find the good in that too!