Is it Enough?

IMG_7166 (2)I have always wanted to have a lot of kids.  You will notice that I didn’t say “have a lot of babies”… Don’t get me wrong.. I love babies.. I could sit and hold my twin nephews all day if I had time.. and I long to hold my far off nieces… But my dream of a house full of kids was a little different than you could imagine…

And God’s plan for me was far different than even I imagined…

You see.. even as a child… I wanted to adopt all the children in the world who needed a family… all the children who needed love… who needed safety.. all the kids who needed a listening ear.. or a shoulder to cry on…  I knew I was going to need a BIG house..  But as a child I felt like that was my calling… and it continues to live in my heart to this day.

You may think that once I gave birth to my own two beautiful babies… That once I looked into their precious faces… I would change my mind… That once I had 1 girl and 1 boy of my own I would be quite content with my own family… You would be wrong.  My children ARE beautiful.. inside and out… They are everything a parent could wish for… but I still feel God has called on me to have a lot of children.

God has a plan for me… and it has involved a number of children .. but God did NOT plan for those children to be of my own flesh and blood.  God even used my husband to guide me to the right path.  For my husband?  2 pregnancies were quite enough… Why?!?  THAT my friends is a tale for another day… What I will say?  Sometimes God whispers His plans in a still small voice… sometimes He uses a megaphone…  My husband heard God’s voice loud and clear…

Today I have over 40 kids who live in my heart.  Over 40 kids whom I pray for.. 40 kids whose pictures Bless my shelves.  40 kids who are scattered all over these United States…

17 of those kids are my nieces and nephews… 17 kids with bits and pieces of my siblings… a few with bits and pieces of myself.. 17 Blessings whom I love to see when ever time allows… 17 kids who range from newborn to age 21…

Over the last 16 years, I have accepted children into my home on a daily basis.  I have lost track of the exact count of children shared with me through the years…   but I could give you every child’s name and age.. Every child I cared for while their parents had to work.  Every child I cared for while their parents took a much needed break.  Every child I cared for while their parents mourned a loss… while they needed to be somewhere else.  And then I returned these children to their parents at the end of the day.. the end of the week.. and once .. I returned a child at the end of an extended stay.  When I moved home to Michigan?  It broke my heart to say good-bye to those pieces of my heart.  I go to visit them when ever time and money allow.. but I frequently miss them… So?  So.. I follow each child in pictures (internet is a Blessing to me).. and I pray for each child in turn..

Today?  On this exact moment in time?  I have 2 daughters…. (and a son)…. Two daughters who are 16 years old.  Two daughters who are reluctant to go to sleep at night… who hate to get up in the morning.. two daughters who beg for a pop (different flavors of course..)… two daughters who eat chocolate… two daughters who love ice cream… love to sing at the top of their lungs… who love to laugh… Two daughters who love life…

The difference between them?  One was born here in Michigan… the other was born Egypt…

YUP.. my second daughter is borrowed.  My Egyptian daughter is part of an exchange program.  A program designed to promote understanding of other cultures and religions from around the world.  A program designed to help promote peaceful relations around the world.  Through this program I have come to realize .. that teenagers around the world are pretty much the same.  They all love to laugh… they all love to LOVE.. they all love to have fun… they love to sing  (I have heard the song “Let it Go” in a number of languages)!!!   They all think their country is the best at times.. and the worst at others… The teenagers in this program are the bravest kids I have met.. strong kids with hopes and dreams all their own.. but each one still needed a safe and loving environment for the year that they are here in the US..

We were Blessed to be chosen to Host our Egyptian daughter for half of this school year… Parts of the year were tougher than others… Struggling to master a tough language… Struggling to fit into a different culture… Struggling to learn (and pass) hard school classes…. but those struggles are not what I will remember.  I remember the first time our second daughter held a chicken.. I remember the squeals when she saw her Easter basket… the first time she caught a fish… I will remember the excitement of prom dresses.. the laughter through the cracks of a door… and I will remember the duets sung at loud volumes.. at all hours of the day.

This daughter born into another family?  She has firmly planted herself in my heart… Her strength.. her love… her smiles.. her desire to become the best person possible.. through any tough circumstance…  I am so happy that I was Blessed with the opportunity to allow her into our home.. the opportunity to drive her back and forth to school.. the opportunity to cheer her on at games… to sew a dress for her… to make sure she had enough to eat… and the opportunity to give her a hug when she needed it.

Through out the month of June.. small pieces of my heart will scatter around the world.  As the students from this exchange program go home .. to finally see their families again after almost a year.. many of these students will take a piece of my heart with them.  Brazil, Germany, Mexico.. Pakistan, Indonesia, Japan… Belgium… and a good sized piece to India too.  And a large chunk of my heart with travel to Egypt next week….

You may think I feel good because I am making a difference in so many lives…

It does feel good.  It feels good to see smiles instead of tears… It feels good to hear laughter in any language..

But I don’t think that is what God’s plan is for me.. You see every time I take a child into my heart … It changes me… It changes the way I see the world.. It changes the way I think… and sometimes it changes the way I breathe…

Next Wednesday, when I take my Egyptian daughter to the airport… when I struggle to get her through check-ins and security checks.. when I struggle to breathe… While I am struggling to NOT cry until after she is safely on the plane home to her family… I will not regret one moment … not one tear.. I will not regret taking this child into my home .. or letting her into my heart.  Because the hurt of saying “Good-bye.. for now,”  is nothing compared to the Blessings I have received…

You may ask… Is it enough?  Is it ENOUGH of a Blessing to suffer through the pain?

Yes… I think it is..

Is it enough?  Enough kids in my heart?  Enough chunks of my heart scattered around the world?  Am I now content?

I would have to say No… I feel that God has more planned for me… more to Bless me with…

And who am I … to deny myself a Blessing?

Don’t mind the dust…

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We are having an open house tomorrow for our exchange student… our beloved Egyptian daughter.

And I wanted my house to be perfect.. ok.. I wanted the garage to be perfect.  My house is too small.. and the weather too nice to have a gathering indoors.  So my goal was to organize and clean my garage… so in the end it wouldn’t look like a garage.

Well… Garage.. slash… sewing room.. slash storage.. slash art supplies.. slash… Yes, my garage is very multi-purpose.. But my hope was to disguise the “multi”… But alas it was not to be. The shelf I ordered to organize the drawers of overflowing art supplies.. came 3 days late.. arriving late Thursday. Everything I cleaned would get messed back up.. My chickens followed me everywhere… Every complication under the sun.. complicated my week. Nothing went right…

Add to that my teary-eyed-ness as our time with our exchange daughter is coming to an end..

You guessed it.. my garage is barely organized. … I was obviously not thrilled…

But with all the complications that frustrated me to tears… I also had surprises.. 3 surprises to be exact… 3 separate surprise visits from family and friends.. Each visit bringing smiles and laughter with it… It felt just like Christmas. With every smile I began to relax..  I could hear God’s still small voice whispering to me…

What is this really for?

So tomorrow when people begin to arrive at my house… They will see totes and totes of my preschool teacher “tools”. (You never know when you may be called to teach preschool again.  I have to be ready..)  They will see totes of costumes. They will see baskets of material stacked in front of my sewing station… And they will probably EVEN see a toy that we missed picking up from my nephews playtime today…

And they will see me smile… because no one really cares if my garage is cleared. They don’t care if I condensed my teaching totes. They don’t care that I have 2 totes that still need to be unpacked.

Tomorrow is about celebrating our Egyptian daughter… one of the most amazing girls I have ever met… Celebrating that God chose to Bless Us with her…

So that is what we will do….

Food for thought…

If you came to dinner at my house… you might think that you would want to pass on seconds.  You see..  my house is Gluten free.  Well to be exact… we are Gluten free… dairy free… yeast free… corn free… low sugar… and 20 other free’s.  Everything else is on a 4 day rotation.

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Master chef

In fact.. you may think we eat sticks and twigs… (Ha.. we actually bought a brand of pretzels called “sticks and twigs”… we didn’t buy them twice.. yuck!)  There are a lot of “non-desirable” healthy gluten free options out there.  But we have also found very good options as well.

We hosted an exchange student this year.. and she was more than a little worried about our food.  When her first meal was spaghetti… followed by Angel food cake… she soon relaxed.  She came to realize that dinner may be rushed (especially when I get lost in “Writing Land” or Researching.. or between practices and games)… but it all tastes relatively normal… And fresh… Cooking Gluten free (and corn free) usually means cooking from scratch… So no Chicken with Shake n Bake… But we still have breaded chicken.  We still have Parmesan chicken… We still have roast.. we still have gravy… and …we STILL have brownies…

Gluten free cooking takes a little practice.. and was very overwhelming at first.  So we changed tactics.. Instead of focusing on the things we could no longer have.. We made a list of all the things we COULD eat… and went from there.  Technically.. I went to the store.. with headphones and classical music… I read the labels of 100’s of boxes.  I found which mustard was gluten free.. which dressings… which taco shells… which cereals… which chips… which hot dogs… You get the picture…  It was a lot of research (in the beginning)…

But it was worth it…

It was SOOOOO worth it….

You see.. I see my son improving daily as his body heals.  I can see the symptoms of his Autism… his Bipolar… his confusion… his aggression… I see them slip away as his body can absorb vitamins and nutrition.. I see the light in his eyes more often than the shadows… I hear laughter more often than growling… 

Yes…

It was worth it…

But something unexpected happened… My daughter (I am not going to embarrass my daughter today) and I both improved in health as well.  My asthma.. my headaches… both only occur occasionally now.. My skin cleared up… I lost weight… 

If you could lose weight AND feel better while still eating brownies… would you?  

Yeah … me too…

I was so happy…. but I felt so guilty… and even ashamed.  WHY had it taken me so long to figure this out?  WHY in all my research did I NOT find this sooner?  WHY did God let me go so long without finding this solution?  WHY did it take my son hitting rock bottom before I figured it out?  And HOW ON EARTH did I miss all of the evidence?

YUP.. instead of being happy to find all this research.. I cried.  I cried hard.  My son’s life was a mess… and it was primarily from the food I was giving him.

I have been praying for a year for the Lord to help me forgive myself.  

This morning I was reading my devotion.. and it asked the question… “Why did God let Joseph sit in Jail for 2 whole years before He released him?”  And I sat up a little straighter… “Why didn’t God let Joseph out?  Let him be free and productive while waiting for Pharaoh to have his dream?” And I put my Chai down…. 

Now I am no Joseph… I was not the favorite child of a favored wife… I was not the youngest child of a large family… I was not sold into slavery by jealous siblings… but I think I may have prayed the same prayer as Joseph.  As he sat day after day in prison.  Prayed night after night for answers.. Prayed night after night to be delivered from his prison.

Don’t get me wrong.. Autism isn’t a prison.  My son’s smiles and laughter have always brightened my day.  His hugs and insights have always made me a better person.. But Autism .. aggravated by vitamin deficiency and malnutrition?  It is very limiting.  There were days we didn’t dare go in public.  Afraid he would be overwhelmed… So for us.. It became a prison…

And like Joseph… I think God had a plan for me… And that plan may have called for my son to hit rock bottom… I think God knew I had to be ready to change my whole world… God had a plan.. and He waited for His perfect timing… 

Because.. as my favorite verse (this year) says… “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

When God led me to the Nutrition specialist?  When He delivered all those test results into my lap?  I was ready… 

and It WAS beautiful….

Taming the beast…

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Once upon a time… a long time ago.. when I was a little girl.. I had a cat.  Ha!!  In truth, my siblings and I had a LOT of cats.  I am not really sure where they all came from.  I can’t remember ACTUALLY picking out a single cat in my life.. They just appeared over night.. often in multiple numbers. 

To little girls?  YUP.. it was heaven.

My sister and I loved all those cats.  But the problem was.. our cats weren’t actually tame. 

They would come to us when we called them.. (because we always had food)… They would follow us… (because we never brought enough food).. But very rarely could you hold a cat for more than a few minutes. 

In fact.. you know the National Geographic Nature shows .. the ones where the tiger lazes peacefully in the sun.. looking elegant and regal… Then the camera man flashes an image of that same tiger in full snarl mode.. attacking its prey…

YUP.. you just got an image of our cats….

One summer day?  My sister and I decided WE were going to tame those cats..

Ok.. we just wanted to tame one cat.. A particularly cute gray cat that we had named.. “Cutie”… (Original right?!?)… So we put our brilliant minds together and came up with a plan….

We needed a leash…

I mean if you saw all those elegant people on Television.. They led their tame and obedient dogs around on leashes all the time… That HAD to be the key… (And besides.. can’t you imagine showing up to social event with your elegant and regal “Cutie” cat walking tamely at the end of a jewel studded leash… YUP… we were going to be the envy of ALL our friends…)

So we NEEDED that leash…

Now as you can imagine… YUP.. no jewel studded leashes were laying around.. But we were NOT to be deterred.  We would simply make one.  So?  We raided my Mother’s yarn stash.

Even though we were young.. my sister and I were intelligent.. So we knew that 1 strand of yarn wouldn’t be effective.. and we suspected it wouldn’t be comfortable.  So we braided 3 strands together for an elegant leash.  We knotted one end into a loop for the handle.. and the other end into a slip knot.. (For easier capturing, of course..)..

Then we were ready…

With a dish of cat food… We began to call KITTY KITTY KITTY…..

And Cutie came running…

So elegant.. so unaware of her new destiny… unsuspecting of the danger that (cleverly hidden behind our back) leash held.  Cutie fell right into our trap…

In a flash, my sister slipped the leash around Cutie’s neck.. and tightened it enough so it fit snuggly.  It was so simple… so easy.. (to steal a phrase from one of my daughter’s favorite kids’ book…)… so perfectly perfect….

And then everything went wrong…

…quickly…

When that leash tightened on Cutie’s neck.. she snarled… I stepped away (..hey.. I had seen that inner tiger in action…).. That hardly tamed cat pulled and pulled on the end of the leash.. terrified and snarling… Until we released the end of the leash..  Freed from the apparent danger, Cutie quickly scaled a 50 foot tree at the edge of the woods… Running gracefully across the first branch … Cutie leapt beautifully to the next tree.. And nearly made it…

Nearly…

You see Cutie still had that beautiful, hand braided yarn leash… trailing behind her… And as you know.. Yarn is like Velcro.. it sticks to everything… And stick it did… The loop caught on a branch.. And Cutie’s elegant escape was cut short, jerking her back…

And she was falling.. falling… until she came to the end of that 3 foot leash..

Our relief that our ingenious leash saved Cutie from a 30 foot drop?  Well that relief was short lived…  It was immediately apparent that our ingenious hand tied slip knot leash had turned into a noose.. A great noose too.. because through some bizarre twist of fate.. apparently my sister and I could make some seriously strong knots… As that cat flailed and snarled and flipped and swatted and flailed… in a constant scurry of motion.. All the time, making the most horrendous wailing noise… We began to pray the knot would fail… and then Cutie could fall to safety…

It did not…

I began to cry… and to call my Dad…

Now… My Dad?… My Dad didn’t like cats… he never has.. And he was especially not fond of the pack that adopted our household…

But with my sister and I calling for him?  He came running out of the garage ..(from whatever important job he was fixing).. Came running to see 2 emotional girls pointing up into a tree.. at a blur of motion he guessed to be a cat.. on the end of a rope..

Now just as Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh.. to do the job God instructed him to do.. My dad’s face was less than eager..  but still he fetched the tallest ladder he owned.  When that ladder fell 10 foot short.. My Dad went and retrieved chunks of 2×4’s .. hammer and nails.. Holding the hammer, nails, and boards.. he scaled the ladder.. and began to nail the “steps” into the trees…

All the while?.. Yup.. my sister and I implored him to hurry…

When my father nailed the last board into the tree.. he climbed those make shift steps.. stood on his tip toes.. and finally reached the cat.  Holding Cutie up with one arm.. my dad tried to unloop the yarn leash from the tree.. which sounds relatively easy..

But you see.. Cutie?  Cutie was NOT tame.. not tame at all.. and she was terrified… So while my dad was saving this cute gray cat..  standing on his tiptoes on a 12 inch board (30 feet above the ground)… risking his life for his daughters’ sake?

That cute gray cat.. was shredding my dad.. I watched in horror as my dad struggled to hold onto the flailing, snarling ball of fur .. who was scratching my dad’s neck and face.. and arm.. the same arm that was saving her life..

And then?

Then when Cutie’s neck was free.. she tore free of my dad’s safe arms and JUMPED to the ground.. landing safely on all four feet.. and sped away.. (In fact.. it was a long time before we saw Cutie again..)..

My dad? 

My dad took in a deep breath.. and slowly climbed down from his death perch.. slowly climbed down the long ladder.. and put his feet on solid ground.  I could see the angry looking scratches on his cheek.  There were trails of blood running down his neck.. But his face?  It was completely emotionless as he looked down into our faces…

Looking down into the faces of his two young daughters’ tear stained faces.. he calmly said.. “Leashes do NOT belong on kittens.”

“Ahhh.. okay dad.”

With that being said?  He folded up his ladder and went back to the garage.

Those steps that my dad had nailed into the tree?  Those steps stayed… For years, we would check to see if they were still there.  I remember pointing them out to my younger brothers and telling them the story of Cutie.  Our attempt to tame a wild cat.. I remember watching their solemn faces as they listened in horror to my dad’s narrow escape with his life.. (ok.. I liked to make it more dramatic then it was..)… Those steps were still there (old and decaying) well into my adult years..

For me they stood as a clear reminder..  

When ever a task was put before me.. whether it was by my parents or put there by God?  When I would be tempted to forget the instructions and run away (Just like Jonah ran from Nineveh?)… I can still see my Dad locking his jaw and climbing that tree to save that untamed beast for my sister and I.. Even though he didn’t like cats.. even though he was probably fixing someone’s car.. even though he doesn’t like heights.. Against all of those undesirable reasons.. my dad moved forward .. determined to do the job expected of him. 

I remember those steps my dad nailed into the tree..  when I move forward to tame my beasts…

Where are you?

ImageEveryone makes a journey through their life.  My journey was pretty even paced until I had kids.  Then?  Then there were quite a few years where the journey was rough.. and full of pot-holes.   When my son was unstable?  And we tried medicine after medicine to try to help him?  There were days (and weeks).. that I was so exhausted that I begged God for answers.  Days that I dreamed of those dog-days of childhood. (You know?.. the days when you were a teenager.. and you were SOOOOO bored.. and you were the ONLY one in the world still at home and not at the beach… with NOTHING to do?!?..)  … Yup… There were days I wanted to be bored again…

But I knew that it was all part of God’s journey for me.  I knew that EVERY step on that path had a purpose… So after some tears.. and a deep breath (or two.. or three…)… I prayed for strength .. and took that next step…

When I look at Jesus’s journey on this Earth… it makes mine look like those dog-days of childhood.

Actually.. the beginning of Jesus’s life wasn’t so different from mine.  After His amazing birth and His family’s escape to Egypt… Jesus’s childhood sounds kind of .. well?.. kind of boring..  His family moved around some.. Jesus went with them.  Mary and Joseph took their family on “vacation” every year.. to Jerusalem.. Jesus went with them.

And then when Jesus was 12.. His parents left him behind.. When they noticed He was gone?  They rushed back to find Him in the Temple..

After that.. There is nothing much to note.. The Bible merely states that Jesus lived in Nazareth with His family.. “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”  Luke 2:52 .. In other words.. Jesus grew smarter… He grew taller.. He made God proud.. and everyone liked Him.. An excellent childhood… but still?  Pretty uneventful..

So in Jesus’s Journey through life? The path through His childhood was pretty easy..

In fact, the Bible says His Life was pretty non-eventful until Jesus was 30.  Why 30?  I am not sure.. maybe I will ask God someday when I see Him.

But what we do know is that at 30.. Jesus started His Ministry.  He collected disciples.. and started His Journey to spread the news of God’s Love .. and God’s Plan for us.. And for this part of His life?  Jesus actually did travel a lot.  If you read through the book of John?  You see all of the places Jesus travelled to.. Mostly on foot.. sometimes in a boat.. and even walking on water once.  We know that His ministry lasted around 3 years.. But still that is a lot of walking even for 3 years.

As those 3 years came to a close, Jesus prepared to carry out His Father’s Plan.

Yes.. at the ripe old age of 33?  Jesus prepared to die.  Not because He was sick.. No.. Jesus had been well cared for by friends and followers on those 3 years of Ministry.  He was not about to die for anything He had done.. Jesus was blameless.. sinless.  No.. Jesus was preparing to die for each and EVERY ONE of those friends and followers… and He was preparing to die for each and every person who was about to put Him to death.  To die that we all might live..

All the while Jesus was preparing to save us?  He had to keep walking down that Path.. one step at a time.. And those last few days? I can imagine it took a lot of strength to keep walking.  To watch a crowd of your country men demand that you die?  Yet He kept moving forward.  When they forced him to carry a gigantic cross on His back?  Jesus kept moving… He kept putting one foot in front of the other.. When they beat Him? Just kept walking.. He followed His journey.. for us…

So I have to ask?

Where are you?

In your journey through life.. where are you today?  Where are YOU on Good Friday?

Where am I?

Am I in the crowd that demanded the release of a murderer .. instead of a sinless man?  No… I see no sense in this.. except that it must have been God’s Plan…

Am I with Peter?  Am I denying that I have a personal relationship with the One true God’s Only Son?  Am I denying that I spend time each day in prayer with Jesus?  I think sometimes I am.. Not purposely.. but when I can’t find the right words to express my faith.. sometimes I remain verbally quiet… But Peter?  Peter loved Jesus.. and so do I?  So yes.. sometimes I travel with Peter….

Am I in the crowd that watched Jesus drag His heavy cross?  A cross that is to symbolize his crime?  A crime He didn’t commit?  Do I stand in that crowd and watch Jesus struggle?  Do I reach out a hand wishing to help?  Do I step forward?  Step forward and allow myself to be forced by the soldiers to carry the cross with Jesus?

Am I with the soldiers?  Am I hitting God’s Son? Poking Him with sticks?  Stabbing through Jesus’s side with spears?  Am I offering Him sour wine?  Am I laughing at God.. and His Miracles?  Taunting Jesus’s inability to call on God to save Him?

Am I with the Priests?  Am I still doubting that Jesus IS the Son of God?

Am I with the crowd who divided up Jesus’s belongings?  Am I gambling with them to see who would take His robe or His sandals?  Am I hoping that having a Holy item will bring me prosperity.. or luck?

Am I standing with Mary, Mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross?  Am I holding her hand?  Am I holding her up as she watches that beautiful boy.. that beautiful soul die before her eyes?  The miracle child that God gave her. The child that grew within her. The child she protected and raised. The child she watched and wondered at. Am I watching with her as Jesus’s blood pours from His wounds? Do I hold Mary’s hand as the crowd laughs and taunts Jesus? Do I hold her tightly as He struggles to hold His head up? Am I crying with her?  No.. when I imagine standing with Mary.. my chest hurts so bad I can’t breathe.. I wouldn’t have been crying.. That would take too much strength.. I am on my knees with Mary.. wanting to reach out.. wanting to demand they take Him down… wanting to scream at everyone of Jesus’s innocence.. scream the insane injustice they are carrying out.. But all of that takes breath… so I just kneel.. and hurt… Right next to His mother…

Am I hanging on the cross next to Jesus?  Are my sins so great that I deserved to be crucified?  I have sinned.. All have sinned.  No one who has sinned is worthy of Heaven.. so Yes.. I should be hanging on the cross.. I should have nails through my hands and through my feet.. I should have holes in my sides..

But I am not.. Jesus took my place.. He took THAT section from my Journey away from me.. So instead?  Instead I am forced to walk PAST His crucifixion. But where we stand to watch?  God has left that decision up to us…

When Jesus knew that Every item on God’s Easter List was finished (John 19:28)… His last words, “It is finished!” echoed through the air… Jesus knew then that His Journey was done.. Jesus had fulfilled God’s plan for Him…

So.. today at noon.. when the sky should dim in rememberance?? When every head should bow in shame?? When a tear should come to every eye?

Where will you be?

Which one?

ImageI have been sick for almost a week now.  A nasty stomach virus that completely shut down my world. I will not share details.. but for 2 days I cancelled everything and lay quietly in my bed.

Now it is Thursday.. and I am scrambling to catch up.  After all.. it is only 3 days until Easter and I have NOTHING ready for my kids’ Easter baskets.. No Easter clothes bought.. No candy for our huge family Easter Egg hunt… and my oldest daughter is leaving tonight for her senior trip to Washington DC (…not happy about the timing on that..) …

So I am making a list so that I get EVERYTHING done…

Then I wondered.. Did God have a list that He wanted to get done before Easter?  NO.. Before Good Friday!

Did He sit down and make a list…

*Make sure Jesus yells at the people selling things in My Holy Church.

*Make sure Jesus shows everyone Love.

*Make sure Jesus shows everyone Miracles.

*Make sure Jesus tells everyone My Plan for them.

*Make sure Jesus teaches them how to pray.

*Make sure Jesus tells everyone the path to Heaven.

*Prepare Jesus to die.

That last one?  It makes my throat hurt… more than a little.. 

Can you imagine being God today?  Can you imagine Him 2000 years ago?  The day before Good Friday.. (How can you call it Good Friday when such a beautiful person was about to die?)  How do you prepare to sacrifice your own Son?  Knowing that His sacrifice would save the souls of so many.. knowing that it WAS the Perfect Plan… but knowing that you were going to have sit there and watch Him suffer?   Sit there and watch people torture Him…

I look at my children and I wonder.. which one would I sacrifice if I had to?  Which one would understand that sacrifice more?  When I think about their sweet faces.. I am not sure that I could.. Could I chose to save your child and sacrifice mine? 

I am not sure I could do it..

But then I know I could not just watch your child suffer.. to keep mine safe either…

So Which ONE?  Which would I chose?

I am thankful to say.. I would chose none of our children.  I wouldn’t have to… None of our children are perfect enough.  My children have all sinned.. just as your children have sinned.. just as WE have all sinned.  We all fall so far from God’s standard of Perfect .. that we are ALL unworthy of being a sacrifice for the world.  Not one human was worthy of saving the world.

Then there was Jesus.. A child without fault.  With no sassiness.. no quarrels… no backtalk.. no laziness. The only perfect child.  So God’s plan was the only plan that would work…

I am so thankful that it did.  I am so thankful that God chose to sacrifice His son.. chose to watch him suffer and die for NO crime.. so that MY children can join Him in Heaven. 

But today… When God is looking down at us?  When He sees us scrambling to fill our Easter Lists.. when we are choosing which color peeps to put in our children’s baskets.. Is He happy? 

When I looked at my own list?  My eyes filled with tears.  It seems so frivolous to care if my daughter has a new Easter dress.  It seems pointless to wonder if I will be able to find Easter candy that follows my kids’ dietary needs. 

Today as I go through my Easter List.. I chose God’s Son…

Now to figure out how to fit him in a beautiful basket.   

Their biggest fan…

My parents are my biggest fans… That is not to say that I am their favorite child.  I am one of seven siblings.. and my parents love us all equally.  I mean how could you compare any of us to each other?  My older brothers were both Nuclear Engineers on naval ships.  They know how to fix and maintain an engine that powers a massive ship… I barely know how to change the oil in my car.  My sister can make beautiful jewelry… and other beautiful creations.  She used to manage a store before that.  She has focus and a drive that I could only dream of.  My younger brothers are all wonderful “boys” that I am proud to know myself.  They are all successful at work.  One is a supervisor… I can barely keep my kids on task.. let alone adults!  One knows how to work on “renewable fuel cells”… I don’t really know what that means.. I keep picturing him working on giant batteries!  And the youngest is a manager of an auto parts store.

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praying for success….

Every single one of them have hearts of Gold…. so how could my parents choose a favorite?  They couldn’t… There is no common ground to compare us on.

So how could they be my biggest fans? If I am not their favorite?  Well .. in a way I am their favorite… I am their favorite distractible, creative middle child … and their favorite youngest daughter.. Just like my oldest brother is their favorite firstborn… And my sister is definitely their favorite oldest daughter.  In fact, we all have traits that make us shine… and they are so proud of us for them.

But that does not mean I was spoiled.

Ha.. in fact … there were definitely periods of my childhood that I thought my parents were the “meanest” parents in the world.  When my parents explained I wasn’t allowed to go to the local skating rink.. because there were rumors of activities there that my parents did NOT want me exposed to… Man did I think they were mean… I mean REALLY!! Those were just rumors… right?!?  When my parents insisted on meeting every one of my friends before I could spend the night with them?  Honestly.. whose parents do that?  And when my parents wouldn’t let me go on a date until I was 16.. and THEN they had to meet each and every one of them?!?

Yes… there were plenty of moments in my life when I thought my parents were mean…

But every moment of my childhood .. I knew that I was loved..

Every moment of my childhood.. I knew that my parents were trying to do the best they could for me.

How did I know?

Because they told me.  They told me .. and all of my siblings.. that they love us… every single day.  Even when they were frustrated with us… even when they were disappointed in the choices we made… even when we were making them crazy… They always told us,  “I love you.. and I know you can make better choices.”  “Your mother told me what happened today.. and I am disappointed.  We both love you and expect better from you.”  It was so heartbreaking for me .. to see tears in my father’s eyes.  Each and every punishment I received in my childhood was explained to me.  When my father told me that the spanking I was about to receive.. hurt HIM more than it would hurt ME?!?  I didn’t believe him.  I mean I was the one about to be spanked .. right?!?

Wrong…

What hurt more than anything… it was the tears in my father’s eyes.  The quiver to my loving father’s voice as he explained why (as parents) they couldn’t let me get away with questionable behavior.  The hesitation my father always showed in giving out punishments.  What hurt was that I KNEW it was ALL because of a choice I made… It was ALL because I had a weakness.

Those tears in my father’s eyes?

They followed me everywhere… The memory of that hurt I caused.. it kept me from making so many more mistakes in my life.  That does not mean I was perfect.. I am most definitely NOT perfect.  I have had my fair share of punishments.

And then?

Then I always had a hug.. and forgiveness.

Why did my father go through with punishing us kids?  If discipline was obviously so unpleasant for him? Why would he still do it?  He did it because he knew what God expected from him as a parent.  And God tells us what He expects from us in His book,

“He who spares his rod hates his son (or daughter),

But he who loves him disciplines him promptly,” Proverbs 13:24

So my parents disciplined us promptly.  Because they had such high hopes for us.. Hopes for us to be the BEST person we could possibly be.. The person that God wanted us to be.  So?  So my parents were mean.

Sounds like I was a naughty child.. doesn’t it?  I wasn’t extremely naughty.. but I WAS a child.  Children always make mistakes.  And just like my parents were there to tell me that they loved me and were so proud of me… They were also there to catch me when I fell .. and tell me they were disappointed.  They were always there to tell me they KNEW I could do better next time.  And I always felt cared for..

EVEN as a teen.. when I felt their logic was somewhat “misguided”?  I still felt loved.

Since those days.. so long ago… I have come to see their wisdom.  Not just in parenting my two children.. one so strong willed.. and one with special needs.  No I have seen it in others around me.

I have seen parents who are so busy “providing” for their child.. that they forget to care about their child’s needs.   Not just be annoyed with their child’s bad behavior.. but to be saddened by it.. To not just punish their bad behavior.. but to discipline them.  To use love to guide them.. explaining why good decisions are necessary.. even when those decisions are hard…

Some parents are just “too tired”.

Oh… and I understand tired.  Not only do I have a strong willed, independent, free thinking daughter.  I also have a son who has autism.  Along with autism, my son has bipolar.  Bipolar affects the moods..  For reasons unknown.. the body releases an imbalanced amount of hormones.. causing the person to be unusually happy.. or scared for no reason.. distractible … or restless.. Sad for no apparent reason… and on certain occasions.. a crazy mixtures of more than one of these emotions.

For my son… it happens with the season changes.  And spring is the worst.  Maybe it’s the increase in sunshine that disturbs the serotonin balance.  Maybe it’s the increase of exercise after the long winter?  Maybe it is a natural excitement for the coming summer and it’s freedoms?  What ever the cause… my normally calm and loving child turns into the Energizer bunny … mixed with… a sassafras tree.  Back talk, aggression.. refusal to cooperate…  Constant chatter… lack of sleep (for me or him)… Constant hunger… Instant anger…

Yes.. I know tired….

There were days I wanted to give up..

There were days I couldn’t discipline my son… Days that my tears were more than just pools in my eyes.. Days that I couldn’t even explain my punishment to my son… days my voice did more than just quiver..

But I trudged on…

Why?

Why continue to discipline when it seems pointless?  Or in some eyes.. why discipline my son’s actions when he obviously cannot control them?

Because I love my son.. and I know what he is capable of.  I can see what kind of man he could be with proper discipline.  I can see the glimmer of the person God wants him to be.  My son needs to see that there are ALWAYS consequences for his behaviors.. That no matter how hard it is to control his imbalanced emotions.. That he has to do it.  And my job?  My job is to guide this wonderful child as he grows.  It’s my job to guide my head-strong, independent daughter.  To guide them both with love .. and patience.. and discipline.

I trudge on because I remember my father’s eyes.. I remember how he never gave up on me.  No matter how tired he was after a long day of work.  No matter how he must have wanted to do anything else .. anything besides giving his children another “talk”… Because he loved us?  He trudged on that extra mile..

Those eyes remind me of my Heavenly Father’s eyes..  As I have grown in my Faith.. I imagine our Heavenly Father’s eyes look a lot like my father’s.  Imagine they fill with love and pride at our accomplishments… and I imagine they fill with tears and heartbreak when we disappoint him.

And yet… Our Heavenly Father is always there to pick us up when we fall.  He never gives up on us…

So when exhaustion threatens to overtake me?

Then I pray… “Please Lord.. give me the strength to make it through this next mile.. or so.. Please fill me with love, patience.. and discipline… So I can show my child I care… In your name I pray..”

Something else drives me to trudge on… another thing I see when I want to give in to exhaustion…

I have seen the eyes of a child whose parents did not love them.

I have seen the eyes of adults whose parents did not bother to go that extra mile.  The eyes of a grown child .. eyes that know that their parent isn’t their fan.  The child who doubts that their parent even loves them… The child who knows their parent doesn’t like them.  And in their heart.. that child “knows” it was their own mistakes that forced their parent to not care.  How do they know?  Because their parent tells them..  That child?  That child doubts the reason they were created.

We have all seen that child..

The child that cannot seem to do anything right.. The child who is constantly grounded… The child who feels like they are a disappointment.  The child who disobeys (over and over) to get attention.. Any attention…

I can’t imagine being that child.  Not being sure that someone will be proud of my every accomplishment.. Proud that you won the coloring contest at the grocery store.. proud of the “A” you earned in English.. proud that you mastered the curved tail on your cursive “g”.. I couldn’t imagine being the child that performs.. wondering if anyone in the audience was clapping JUST for them.  I couldn’t imagine not being assured that someone will still love you when you make a childish mistake… I couldn’t imagine going to bed at night and not feeling cared for.

But I have seen that child.  I have seen them in stores.. at parks.. at school.

I have seen a parent tell a child that their birth ruined their life.  I have watched a parent berate their child for being worthless in the middle of a gym full of people.  I have seen parents laughingly admit that their child doesn’t know any better.. or that they aren’t capable of anything better.

In those moments?  That parent failed their children..

We have all seen that parent…

I can imagine being that parent.. because I have been that parent… Not everyday… not every month… But I have been that parent.  The parent that forgets to discipline and settles for punishment.  When I am exhausted.. exhausted beyond the extra mile… I fail my children.  I have yelled at them more than a few times.  I have sent them to their room with a, “I can’t even stand to look at you right now.”  I have finished chores for them when I was too exhausted to make sure they followed through to the end.  And once…

Once… In a particularly trying time of my life as a parent.. Once I even told my daughter I wasn’t sure I even liked her anymore.

The pain I saw in her eyes in the moment?

It made my heart stopped.

And I cried.

In that moment I failed my child… and I knew it.  That failure is worse than any exhaustion.  Worse than any other punishment I ever received.

When I finished crying (and praying for forgiveness).. I went in to talk with my headstrong daughter.  First?  First I apologized to her.. because of course I like her.. I absolutely love this beautiful creation that God sent to me.  I explained that I let myself give into frustration and lash out on her.  But that it wasn’t her fault.. No.. the fault was mine.  I tell her that although no one is perfect.. my words were unacceptable.. and asked her to forgive me.

After I hugged her.. and told her I loved her.. with tears in my eyes (and on my cheeks).. and a quiver in my voice… Then it was time to correct my punishment .. and change it into discipline.  I explained to her that I CANNOT let her be disobedient and make poor choices.  That even though discipline is exhausting and unpleasant.. I do it because I love her… I love that beautiful soul that God gave her so much.. and I explain that it is my job to guide her.  A job given to me by God himself.

Yup… I told her that discipline sometimes hurts me more than it will hurt her.

Even though I apologized to her for my weakness.. and she forgave me?  That moment still haunts me.  Will that be the moment that sticks out in her memories of me..?  Not of love and patience.. but one of anger?

I pray every day that it won’t be.

I also pray for God’s guidance.. His love.. His patience and His discipline for me in my own life.. To help me be the parent He meant for me to be… The parent like I had…

So I guess I am praying to be my kids’ biggest fans.  To love them and hope for their best future.. beyond anyone else in THIS world.. That is what I strive to be..

But I know that God is actually their biggest fan.. He cheers them on everyday… Tears of pride at their accomplishments.. Tears of disappointment when they fail.. But always the unfailing love and support.  I can strive to be like God … but I know.. I will always fall short of that.

So in this instance?

I am aiming for second best…

And how the wind does blow..

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..the adventures begin…

Once upon a time.. when I was a young girl.. a very young girl.. a tree fell in our woods.  Ha.. it doesn’t sound very interesting at first.. but that tree is burned in my memory with great detail.

I grew up in the woods.  Our yard was full of trees.  There were trees across our dirt road.  There were trees behind our house.  Our neighbors owned the acreage behind us.. YUP.. also trees.  I basically grew up in the trees.  As you may guess.. a lot of trees fell in those woods.

But this tree was special.  It fell with ALL of its leaves still on its branches.

Now I don’t know why it fell.. That is the funny thing about memories.. It filters out the insignificant facts.  And the fact was.. A tree fell.  A beautiful tree full of branches and branches of leaves.  When my sister and I inspected it with our friends?  We saw that it would make the perfect fort.  When this tree fell, it fell against another tree.  Its branches catching as it fell, so that there was plenty of head room.  Plenty of space to move around.  The leaves were so thick that we couldn’t see through them once inside.  My sister and I thought it was PERFECT!

So perfect that we decided to run away!

Now I don’t remember if we had a reason that we wanted to run away.  If we had one, I certainly don’t remember it.  I remember pulling a little red wagon half way around the lake to help our friends pack their 2 brown paper bags full of clothes.  I remember finding rugs and blankets.. and even pretty pictures to hang on the walls.  I remember planning out our life of independence.  But I don’t remember a reason for wanting to run away.

When our Mom heard of our plans to run away.. our plans to strike out on our own?  (After all.. I think I was 8 years old.. which made my sister 11?  High time we were on our own.. right?!?)  Well you can probably guess.. when my Mom heard the words “running” and “away” in the same sentence? YUP she freaked.. sent us to our room to unpack .. and sit on our beds.   My sister remembers our Mom’s reaction being to the distance we walked that day .. with the little red wagon.  But either way.. our friends were sent home.. and our plans were off.

Now that I am a Mother myself, I understand my Mom’s reaction a little better.  But I have thought about this memory a lot in my life.. and as a teenager I thought.. Why didn’t she just let us spend the night out there?

Imagine this…

This beautiful tree fell in FULL view of our house.  (Which was one of the reasons we were so bold in the first place.)  We could see the house through a small opening in the limbs from inside the fort… But it was also in a small clearing.. easily spotted from our house.  You will remember that this tree is also surrounded by other trees.  Trees that creak and leaves that blow in the wind.  We would have been sleeping on the ground.. which is hard.. and even in the summer would have been cool.

If my Mom had given us a hug and wished us well?

We would have been back inside within an hour of darkness.

Why?

The first time we heard an owl above us.. the first time the leaves of our fort rustled in the wind.. the first time a tree creaked and groaned around us.. the first time a bug crawled out from the darkness onto our blanket.. the first time something fell on us from the wind blowing?  We would have been screaming.

And how the wind does blow in Michigan.

Not to mention that my sister and I had 3 brothers who would have LOVED to try to scare us.

You may be thinking.. OH but the wild animals.. raccoons, deer, skunks, rabbits… bears..?   And I will say this.. Have you ever heard 4 girls scream?  I have.. it’s enough to make ME want to run away.. those animals wouldn’t have come within a mile.

Whenever I tell this story to a friend or to a group of kids?  I always say that my Mom should have just wished us luck and enjoyed 2 hours of peace and quiet.  And when we snuck back inside after dark.. quietly so that we didn’t have to let anyone know we had failed?  My mom could have smiled softly and went back to sleep.

I think God has a sense of humor.  You see every time I expressed a strong opinion about something as a teenager?  YUP.. I had to go through that as a parent.. “My kids will NEVER act like THAT in a store!” I said.. I was the Mom with the 3 year old screaming for sardines..in aisle 7.  “I will NEVER raise my voice to MY child..” said I…. Ha.. I had to train myself to whisper when I was frustrated with my strong willed child.  “My daughter will never go in public with hair that messy..” I would mutter.. Bahahaha.. My daughter’s hair was blond, curly and thick.. oh so thick.. and she wouldn’t let me style it.  We would never have gone into public.. And my most fervent, “If my child wants to run away, I will let them.. they will come back..”

YES.. you should be careful what you declare as a teenager.. God has a great sense of humor.

My daughter first uttered the words “run away” at the ripe old age of 3.  I was so floored that NOT ONLY did she know those words.. but she knew what they meant.. at THREE!  I was so surprised in fact.. I sent her to her room.  When she was 4?  She was still using them.  I would try to explain why she had to follow our rules.. but to no avail.. she still yelled on about the injustices in the world.  So I would send her to her room.

And then..

Then just after my daughter turned 5, I heard a panicked cry from the room down the hall.  I rushed down the hall, to find my little child hanging outside from her window sill.. hanging over a 10 foot drop to the pavement below.  She had decided to run away by going out the window.. however she had panicked when the screen dropped and reached for it.. reached and fallen out.  As I hugged my daughter to me.. so happy she was safe.. because I knew exactly what would have happened had she NOT been able to grab the window sill.. I made a decision..

I decided that the next time my daughter threatened to leave.. I needed to let her go.  In fact.. I would help her pack.  (I borrowed the idea from Dr. James Dobson and his book the Strong-Willed Child.)  When my daughter was in bed.. I explained my plan to my husband.  He agreed to help.. but I knew that he doubted its wisdom at first.

And threaten she did..

“I don’t want to live here, I want to go live with someone nicer.”

Taking a deep breath, I prepared for battle.  “Where will you go?” I asked sadly and patiently.

Her surprise at my calm question only lasted a second, before it hardened back into defiance.  “To Grandma Pauline’s!”

I nodded and stood up, “I will help you pack then.”

Her look was shocked then, “Pack?”

“Yes.. you will need to pack.  Daddy would you get her suitcase please?” I asked quietly.. continuing in my sad and resigned tone.

As Daddy retrieved the suitcase, we went to her room and started folding the clothes she would need to take.  A sweater because the night was cool.. and who knew when she would get to Grandma’s.  A few outfits.. her fancy shoes (her choice).. 7 pairs of undies because who knew when she would be able to wash her clothes again.. A blanket and pillow… Her toothbrush.. a hairbrush.. and her stuffed dog.

As her Dad and I carefully put everything in her suitcase, we took turns suggesting things.  “Maybe you should sleep on Jill’s swing tonight.. You could travel during the daylight tomorrow that way.. remember to only cross at crosswalks.. make sure cars see you..”  On and on we went.. sadly.. quietly… and resigned.

Just before we zipped her suitcase .. the tears started.  Turns out.. she never wanted to leave.. She blurted out that she just gets so mad.. “I’m sorry,” she blubbers through her sobs, “please let me stay.”

And I smiled, (through my tears of course).. and I explained that her Dad and I loved her.  We always would.  And because we love her, we want her to be happy.  When her sobs had quieted.. and my throat wasn’t choked up.. I explained to her that if she CHOOSES to live with us, then she chooses to follow our rules.  The rules that will help her grow into an amazing young lady.  I told her that if she is unhappy with those rules, she can tell us she is unhappy… (And then the bomb..)  “If you choose to stay?  Then this is it.. No more running away. Ok?”  With a tear filled nod, she hugs me again.. and we unpack.

We have had many discontented arguments in my daughter’s life.. about many things.. I almost expected it whenever the wind changed direction.. or just blew.. and how the wind did blow in Missouri.  But with all those arguments.. Not ONCE did my daughter again threatened to run away.

Shortly after this, I heard (again) the story of the Prodigal son in a Sunday school class.  I remember thinking to myself…  Why would he be so excited and rejoice to have his son back?  Doesn’t the father know that he is just rewarding the wayward behavior?  And KILL a fatted calf?  I helped the children learn the story.. but I couldn’t really understand the excitement the father felt.

Now I don’t just have one child.. I have two.

My strong willed, very verbal daughter and then my silent, observant son.

After my daughter stopped threatening to run away.. we were at my parent’s house for a visit.  I took my son outside to play.  My cousin was also visiting that day .. he was discussing some decisions he had to make.. and while I was listening I was watching my son play.

Now my son may be silent.. and he may have special needs.. but he is also smart… and has an amazing memory for directions.

With a smile, my son ran behind the house, so I walked the other way.. kind of a peek a boo game .. When he saw me, he smiled.. and ran back the other way.. So I walked the opposite way around the house.. and again when he saw me he smiled.. Back and forth we went.. and all the while?  I was talking to my cousin..

And then he was gone…

Thinking he was hiding at the end of the house, I casually walked in that direction.. but he was not there.. he was just gone…

My son had disappeared before my very eyes..

I called and called.. My cousin checked in the house.. and I went around the block.. the wooded block.. the wooded dirt road that divides our trees from the woods behind… I followed the path that I knew my brothers took him on.. My cousin caught up and we searched the woods.. all the while calling…

But he was gone..

As quickly as we could.. and still being efficient.. we followed the road and circled back around to my parents’ house .. and found my son hadn’t returned.  My neighbor was there then.. my childhood friend… asking to help.. among others…

And I was starting to get scared.

The rational part of me knew my son had followed the path my little brothers took him on.  The rational part of me knew my brothers would know if something had caught his interest.  They would know if there was a side track that I didn’t know about.  So while others searched the woods again.. calling for my son.. calling for a boy who could not answer…

While they were calling?  I waited for the bus.. waited for my brothers to get home.

But the non-rational part of me?  YUP.. it was starting to panic..

Minutes later.. as my brothers got off the bus.. I explained to them my theory.. That my son had followed the route they had walked with him.. and that he had perhaps stopped at something along the way.  Both of my little brothers looked at each other and dropped their bags.. “I’ll take the long way,” said one.. “I’ll check the puddle,” said the other.. and they ran.

It was all I could do just to breathe. Breathe and stay on my feet.  There were people there .. but I have no idea who they were.  I have no idea what they were doing.. All I could see was my brothers running.. and all I could do was breathe.  Because it felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest.. my throat burned with the emotions I could not release.. my chest felt like a great weight pressed against it.. keeping my breath from coming without a great struggle..  And my normally rational brain.. it was mush…

And then there was a horn.. a car.. or truck was laying on their horn… and my heart stopped.  Someone pointed to the side road in the distance where an SUV was stopping in the middle of the road.  Someone pointed out that my brother was almost to the same spot..

And my world stopped..

I couldn’t even breathe..

I couldn’t see..

I couldn’t hear anything..

Except that horn…

And then my brother was there in front of me.. He was there with my son.. My brother was handing over my young wet son.. and I was holding him.. Holding my son so tight that it was probably hard for him to breathe…

In that moment… all of the emotions I had held inside released.. and I cried.. cried like I have never cried before.. I know people hugged me.. I know people tried to comfort me.. I heard my brother explain about the giant puddle they had found the day before.  I heard him explain that the SUV had barely seen my submerged son playing in the puddle.. I heard someone joke “thank the Good Lord for that dark hair!”  I heard everything go on around me.. And the whole time, I held my young son tightly for fear he would disappear again.  Held him and cried.. great big sobs of relief and thankfulness.  Thankfulness that my brothers had known where to go.. Thankful that it was God’s plan for us to find him in time.

It was that moment.. the moment the joy crept into my tears.. that I understood the father in the story of the Prodigal son..

“But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it and let us eat and be merry.”  Luke 15:22-23

In that moment, I understood the joy at receiving the disobedient child back safely.  At holding the son in your arms.. the one you worried about endlessly.. The joy that fills your whole body at their being safe..

Now.. I do realize that the Parable Jesus told isn’t about an earthly family… That parable actually refers to God as the father.. and the sons are us.. All of us!  Some of us are the son who stays loyal.. stay and work tirelessly in the fields of God’s work.  We are the ones who receive love and safe keeping from God everyday.  But the son who leaves God’s protection? The son who takes his inheritance and spends it on worldly sins and then returns to God later.. humbled by his disobedience.  I understand why God would want to celebrate.. Why heaven would ring with music and dancing..

Because in those moments.. the moments that air returned to my lungs.. that hope returned to my heart.. Those moments when I crushed my son’s small body against mine?  I think I heard heaven rejoicing with me..

So now when I tell the story of my sister and I running away from home.. When I tell my daughter of my bold convictions of how my Mother SHOULD have handled it?  I also tell her of her adventures and my son’s.. and I tell her of God’s sense of humor…

My daughter?  She laughs … and says she will never disagree with me..

Even though she probably will…

And me?  When I hear something shocking.. a kid walked off while his mother napped.. an overwhelmed mom yelling at her 3 year old.. in aisle 7..?? I try not to judge the parents.. I try not to think what I would have done differently.. I just pray…

It gets me in a lot less trouble…

The morning after…

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Laughter in the air…

Yesterday my house was full of family.  It was full of adults laughing and talking.  It was full of kids running and chasing.. and laughing.  In fact, my house was so busy and full.. that at times I couldn’t hear the person standing next to me .. at all.  But the noise didn’t bother me.  Because even though my house was crowded and loud?  It was also full of happiness and love.  Everywhere you look?  You can see that happiness and love shining…  Shining from the eyes of the birthday kids.  Shining from the eyes of the adults as they are visiting.  Shining from the little toddler throwing a balloon to his dad.

Laughter… Happiness… Food… Cake.. Party games… Treasure Hunts… Sledding.. Babies being passed all around…

Heavenly!!!

When the party ended, we all were so content.. and exhausted.. that we crashed on the couch as soon as the food was taken care of.   Leaving the cleaning for later…

This morning, I took my kids to school.  When I returned home, I stepped over the baby toys and headed to the kitchen to do my morning clean up.  I smiled to myself as I pulled baby spoons and bowls from my dishwasher.  I laughed as I threw cups away.  Amused to see the silly names and designs written on the sides.  (We use Solo cups and sharpies at family parties to keep track of our cups… We tend to use silly made up names instead of our own.)  When I sweep the floors, I find lost treat bag treasures and noisy blow outs.  And… I usually find a sticky spot on the floor.. where someone spilled something and did a quick clean up job.

When I was satisfied my kitchen was clean, I headed to start my Monday laundry.  I filled the washer and then grab the clothes from the dryer.. As I fold the baby burp clothes, I find myself smile again.

But I don’t take care of the burp clothes.. I leave them folded on the dryer.. I will put them away tomorrow.  I will put them away right AFTER I pick up the baby toys.  Right after, I organize the toy corner in the living room.  But I will probably put them away before I take down the crib in my bedroom.

Why?

Because it’s the morning after.

The morning after a fun family party is always a little depressing for me.  Or the morning after someone comes to visit.  The morning after your vacation is over.  The morning after a wedding.  The morning after a holiday.  It’s always the same for me.. The morning after is always sad.  My house feels lonely.. and quiet.  There is all this evidence left behind of the lively activities we had.  Toys and chaos left everywhere.  But the only sound is silence.

So that morning after??  I do something that doesn’t involve cleaning up that evidence.  I play music to fill the silence.. and do something else.  Anything that will keep me busy.

Today?

Today I cleaned the chicken coop.

As I chipped away at the frozen … (for polite purposes) “muck”.. I talked to my chickens.  They squawked at me as I worked.  They followed me through the melting snow drifts as I dumped the muck in the compost pile.   And then followed me back again.  When I had burned enough calories that I lost a little of the gloom .. the gloom of that morning after feeling… I took a good look at my chickens.  They were a little skinnier than last fall… Kind of dirty.. and most of them were missing feathers (thanks to the duck with cabin fever).  They have definitely looked better.. and they have definitely looked happier.

Then I realized..

They were having a Morning After too..

You see.. my chickens and ducks have spent the last 8-ish weeks caged up in the sub zero weather.  This morning is the first time the doors and gates have been opened wide for their freedom.  It is the first morning of 40 and sunshine.  For them?  For them.. it is the morning after a very bad winter.  And even though a couple of them were telling me how bad the winter was.. Yes my chickens talk.. Actually they drawl.. in a very southern accent…  While a couple of them were drawling their misery.. the rest were running around enjoying their freedom or basking in that warm (40 degree) sunshine.

I know how they feel.. That morning after a traumatic event.  The morning after a bad winter.  The morning after an illness.  The morning after your special needs child has a bad day (or week).   The morning after your daughter has her tonsils out.. or your son has emergency surgery to put screws in his hips.. or you break your arm.  The morning after you crash your car. Or the morning after a funeral.  I have felt this feeling more than a few times in my life… and I imagine I will be feeling it again in June.. when I put my adopted daughter (my exchange student) on a plane home to Egypt.  That next morning.. Yup.. it will be a hard morning after.

Everyone deals with these Morning After emotions differently.  Some people are like my chickens.  They need to talk through their feelings to anyone who will listen.  Knowing that no one can fix their emotions.. but just needing to be heard.  Others need to be still.. Be still and bask in the sunlight.  Bask in the sunlight of God’s love.. God’s promise that spring will come.. and with it Hope.

I am like that 3rd chicken.  I need to move.  I need to do anything that will keep my hands busy and my mind busy.  Because that morning after?? That morning after my emotions are too strong for me to deal with.  Too strong to breathe through.. And I am missing WAY too many feathers.   So that morning after?  I just breathe.. Breathe and move.  Knowing that as soon as I focus on my Yesterday?  As soon as I do.. I will cry.

Sometimes.. sometimes I can’t move fast enough and I am forced to deal with my emotions when they are still strong.  That’s when I crash..

Then I started thinking..

The morning after Jesus was crucified.. the Bible does not tell us how Mary Magdalene dealt with her trauma.. It does not tell us how she dealt with all the emotions she felt at watching her teacher.. her friend.. hung on a cross.  It does not tell us how she dealt with her sorrow at watching a close friend die.  It does not tell us how she spent that morning after.  But it does tell us what she didn’t do.  She did not go to the tomb where Jesus was laid.

Now I understand that the morning after Jesus died for us on the cross .. it was a Sabbath.  The Jewish custom was to rest on the Sabbath.. So Mary was not allowed to do any work.. she was not allowed to go to the tomb with her oils and spices.  But still I wonder… How would Mary have spent that morning after if it hadn’t been the Sabbath Day? What would she have done?  Would she have gone to the tomb that next morning?  Would she have stayed with her sister?  Stayed and talked through her hurt?  Or would she have been Still?  Would she have been Still and basked in God’s Love for comfort?

We will never know really.

But what we do know?  We know that when Mary Magdalene went to that tomb .. she found the stone rolled away.  She found that tomb empty.  Jesus was alive again.. JUST as God had promised.

So in truth.. Mary went to the tomb and found Hope.  Hope for her future.

When I go to my tomb?  When I deal with the source of my emotions?  I do not expect to find a resurrection of my guests returning.  I do not expect to find a resurrection of my sorrows.  When I go to my tomb and deal with my emotions.. I always find hope.

That same hope that Mary found?

Not exactly.  The hope of seeing my family again soon does not compare to seeing one of God’s promises.  The hope of laughing  with friends again does NOT compare with seeing the Holy Jesus coming back to life after a gruesome death.  The hope of holding a baby again soon .. it doesn’t compare with the promise of going to Heaven.

What about the morning after sadness?  How do I find Hope there?  When hope seems to disappear.. like a cloud blocking out the sun?

Hope is still there.. It is on the other side of your emotions.

  “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  Ecclesiastes 3:4

So those screws in my son’s hips?  They will be beautiful in their time.. God let those screws be needed in my son’s bone FOR a reason.  So my son’s bad week?  It will be beautiful in its time.  Saying good-bye to my Egyptian daughter?  Yes.. that too will be beautiful in its time.  God has a reason He lets all of these things happen…  And when we see those reasons?  I think it WILL be beautiful.  When we see the Beauty behind the reason these “hard” things happen?  That’s when we see the Promise that God gives us.

For me?  For me I see the Hope.  When I have let the waves of emotions wash through me? When I have let go of the sadness of missing family.. when I recover from the let-down after a fun time.. when I have cried enough tears to dull the pain of missing a loved one who has gone to Heaven?  Then I look for the Hope.

If Every thing is beautiful in its time… then that means that something good will come from every hard time.. (and every good time).  There is a reason for everything… so everything carries the God’s promise of Hope..

And once I feel that Hope?

Then I can take care of those burp rags.  Then I can put away the toys and the crib.  And just like those chickens.. Yup.. I can start to grow back my missing feathers.

Have a Chai…

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No man’s land..

I always joke around about things changing my life. I say this phrase at least a few times a week. “Chai changed my life.” or “Jane Austen changed my life.” or “Pond scum”.. anything that seems funny and creates a smile on someone’s face. But in truth only a few things actually changed me. Don’t get me wrong there are quite a few things or people that have enhanced me.. helped me to be a better person. My faith in God, some wonderful friends, my family, etc. But in 1986, I changed. My little brother Dave was born that year. The year after that my littlest brother Mark.  Now, it’s true that I have one other little brother, a couple older ones and a sister. All wonderful siblings, who were the best companions growing up. But these 2 young boys changed my life almost completely.

You see before Dave was born, I knew what I wanted from my life. I wanted to be a writer. Not wanted like a wish, but more like I KNEW that was what I was going to be. I daydreamed stories, I wrote stories, I created characters. It consumed all my spare time. Consumed every idle thought.  I poured my soul into the written word.

With the birth of my little brothers, the burning desire to write slowly died out. In its place was born this fascination with watching children grow and develop into young people. My ability to tell stories didn’t die, I would create stories for them all the time.  Rather,  My desire to write stories.. it didn’t seem to be as important. In fact nothing else seemed as important. I can’t remember a single Christmas present I got after they were born, but I remember what they got each year. Especially remember the joy on their faces the year they opened their gigantic Teenage mutant ninja turtles. Now don’t get me wrong. I know that I had fun getting presents and I know that I was still a selfish creature at times, as all children are in their time. But my sole purpose in life changed from writing and thinking on my works of fiction TO watching young souls develop and grow. A career as a “Best Seller” was swapped for a career of Early Childhood teacher. But most of all, I changed from only wanting to satisfy my self-centered needs into someone who would gladly spend my last dollar on someone else. All my joy now coming from others.

I am thankful for these two blessings in my life. I have watched them both grow into wonderful young men. (Wonderful and TALL young men.)  They have married amazing women and have started families of their own. And I still find myself learning from them.

Then in 1997, shortly after I married my dear romantic husband, my life changed again.

First, I gave life to the most beautiful spirited, out-going, strong willed child.. in existence… Ok.. maybe not in ALL of God’s kingdom.. but in my tiny corner she was.  All the children in my family had been born with a primal fear of strangers ..ALREADY downloaded into their brain.  My beautiful daughter.. didn’t get that download.  In fact, she didn’t seem to have a single fear.  Now.. I didn’t want my daughter to be fearful like I was.. but SOME fears were beneficial.. weren’t they?

So here I was changing again… I had to learn to decide what fears were MINE.. and which fears my daughter needed… often ON THE FLY.. And I learned to control my quivering heart to calmly and patiently explain to my daughter WHY she couldn’t walk off with anyone who looked like her Grandma.. (often explaining IN FRONT of the look-a-like grandma).. I had to explain WHY she couldn’t drive my van across the parking lot.. (she tried to listen to me through the haze of pride shining out of her 2 year old eyes)..

I also learned not to leave my van running… even to jump start the air conditioning .. NO matter HOW hot it was.. because 2000 Dodge Caravans did NOT have the safety feature of having to apply the brake to shift… deep breath…  I learned a lot of random facts from parenting my daughter..

With my daughter, I learned that it wasn’t always about being right all the time.  Some days I stood my ground, for her own good.. sigh.. And some days I gave up and bought 10 more dresses online.. So again.. I was changing…

Then 15 years ago.. My son joined us.. He joined us 19 days earlier than we had planned … and in the last 15 years he has continued to NOT follow ANY of the plans I have had for him… He crawled earlier than I expected, talked later, drew better, computed better, talked less, climbed more, cleaned more.. Always different than what I had planned…

So Yes.. I was learning to adapt my parenting skills.  This second child so .. opposite.. of my first child.. I often felt like I had multiple personalities with the different parenting techniques I needed with each.

When you look at my son?  You see a beautiful (Ok.. handsome..) souled boy.. a boy that towers above you.  He has a calmness about him that is soothing to watch.  He is helpful and eager to please.  And Joyful.. so joyful.  But when he starts to talk, you’ll see a difference then.  You see my son has Autism.. with a splash of Bipolar.. and a healthy dose of language delay.  So even though my son would LOVE to talk to you.. he doesn’t know how.. or what to say… so he tells you a story.. OK.. it will actually be from his favorite shows.. but hey.. it is still a story.  When he was younger, he could literally recite an entire episode of Dora the Explorer.. Theme song, exact words, sound effects, choices.. voice changes.. etc.  It was amazing in itself..

But it is NOT what I wanted for my son.

I wanted my son to do sports.. I wanted my son to climb trees with the neighbors.. I wanted him to beg to eat at his friend’s house.. I wanted to bandage knees.. I wanted him to have camp outs with his friends in the backyard.. and I wanted to look forward to all his accomplishments.

As I started to realize that hardly ANY of MY plans were going to happen.. I got sadder and sadder..

Until one day..

One day.. through a fresh bout of tears… I heard the Still Small Voice of God whisper.. “As for God.. His way is perfect,” (2 Samuel 22:31a).. Ha.. actually it was my sweet boy’s voice reciting the verse he learned on Veggie tales.  But I believe that God speaks his Still Small voice into the wind.. or the radio.. or my amazing son.

So for those months .. when I was the most sad about the things my son would probably never do.. my son would repeatedly tell me that “As for God.. His way is Perfect!”  It would make me laugh tearfully most days.

Then one day?  One day.. when I sent my daughter off to do an activity.. I felt that familiar ache fill my heart.  That familiar wish that my son would be able to do the same activity.. As that sadness filled my chest, making it so hard to breathe.. My son looked at me and smiled.  Smiled so beautifully.. so fully… and so contently.  Joy filling his eyes and a giggle on his lips… I realized something.. I realized that those wishes?  They were mine.. not his.  He was not sad to stay home with me.  He was not sad that he didn’t go for sleepovers.  He was not sad that he wasn’t at a friend’s house everyday.. He wasn’t sad that he didn’t believe in the tooth fairy or Santa.. He wasn’t sad at all… He was happy with his life.

And in that moment I realized something else.  My son didn’t miss out on the those experiences because he had special needs.  He missed out on those experiences because they just were NOT important to him.  In other words.. he wasn’t missing them at all.  You see?? My son is an amazing person… I have always seen that.. but what I couldn’t see was that he enjoyed a slower life than what I wanted for him.

So the way I saw it.. I had 2 choices..  1.  I could force my busy life style on him.. or 2.  I could let his enthusiasm for life be my guide for his goals.

So I changed again.. and I think for the better.

In those next few months, I learned to look at life through my children’s eyes.  I learned to see what was helpful to them .. and was simply my hopes for them.  Did I want them to learn something new? Or was I asking them to learn something I wanted them to?

I often learn the most through the quiet times .. In the quiet you can hear your children’s thoughts and dreams whisper through their conversations.  You can hear their hopes and fears through their stories.  You can hear their love in their laughter.. and if you listen carefully.. God’s still small voice is there too.. whispering his plans for your children.

There are days when I still struggle to keep my “plans” from interfering with that of my children’s (and often time God’s plans as well).. Days when I realize that I need to step back and take a deep breath.  Days when I need to ask a friend whether something is what my kids “need” or simply what I “want” for them..

And THAT is where Chai comes in..

When I need to step back.. or evaluate my kids’ best interest.. I simply make myself a chai .. or sometimes two.. depending on the decision..   When I realized my daughter had NO INTEREST in writing to the international penpal I had found for her?  I had a chai.   When I realized my daughter was NEVER going to let me braid her hair, so I had to cut it short? (Actually that was before I discovered chai.. but I could have used one..)  When I realized my son had NO interest in History?  YUP… I drink a lot of chai..

While I drink my chai?  I sip it and let stillness fill my soul.. Stillness and serenity… And God helps me see the truth in myself.. truth in my children.. and He gives me soothing comfort when I realize.. again.. that I am not perfect.  He comforts me when I realize that another of my “plans” are unrealistic.. and about to be unrealized..

So I guess I use chai as a portal to spending time with God.  Ha.. my daughter would say it’s like a Tardis..

Today?? Today.. while I sip my chai.. I am thinking of all the dreams my son has for his own life.  He has a checklist, you know.  Those dreams?  I may never have heard them if I hadn’t let go of “my” dreams for him.  He may not have known them himself.. if I hadn’t accepted him for who he is.  So Today I am thankful.. thankful God whispered in my ear that His way is still Perfect.  That my son is perfect the way he is .. Perfect the way he was created… Thankful God whispered that His plan for my son was perfect..

Can’t you just hear Him..

“Julie.. Wait until you see your son all grown up!! You are going to be SO proud.  He won’t be the way you expect or plan.. Your son will be the way I have planned him to be.  Won’t you help Me guide him?  Won’t you help Me support him?  I can’t wait until you see him!! He is going to be Perfect!! Perfect!! Just the way I have planned him to be!  But it will be a long road.. and sometimes it will be hard.. I will be there for you though.. right by your side.. I promise!  Oh.. and Julie?  Have another chai…”

Can you hear Him?

I did…

Everything sounds better with the echo of a still small voice.