Aliens & Sacrificial Love – My Messy Beautiful

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I am thrilled to join one of my favorite writers, Glennon Melton, in her Messy, Beautiful Warriors Project. Glennon is quite literally changing the world, one mama at a time. In her words, “I learned fast that when you take a leap of faith and introduce your REALEST self—the REAL everybody else’s step forward. Heart to heart—soul to soul—people allow themselves to really be seen.”  So much freedom is found when we stop pretending we have it all together, when we agree to share a safe and sacred space of authenticity. This is my brutiful offering…

 

Alien

 

Many, many times during our fifteen years of parenthood, my husband and I have looked at each other, exhausted and frustrated and panicked, thinking This is not what we signed up for. This is not what we imagined when we said, “Let’s have a baby!” Somewhere along the way, our precious bundle of joy struck a deal with an alien life form and switched places.

This whole parenting thing?  Not for wimps. It is hard. It is messy. And it is beautiful.

The first week of school is One Of Those Times. Disruption, exhaustion, new routine, new teacher, new friends—throw in moving to a new house and a new school, and you end up with a perfect storm that will inevitably explode into some serious ugly. Especially when you are a nine year old middle child.

He was tired. (Who wouldn’t be after a full summer of sleeping and playing, then having to wake up at 6:20 every morning and go to school all day? Gah!) He was lonely and confused. And because of alien behavior over the summer, the rug was still being pulled out from under him at home in the form of some tough-love discipline.

Put it together and what do you get? Ugly.

Him: Screaming, yelling, name-calling, hitting, pushing, blatant defiance and disobedience. Me: crying, yelling, ignoring, more crying, more yelling. By Wednesday night, I was an exhausted, frazzled mess, curled in a fetal position, wondering where exactly we went wrong. This is not my child. This is not who I have raised. But he’s in there somewhere. I know he is.

Not surprisingly, I had a hard time sleeping. As I lay awake, an idea started to form in my mushy, fatigued little brain. A conversation. A plan.

The next morning was off to a (sadly expected) rough start. He gave us an ultimatum. “Give me what I want, or I’m not going to school.”

“That’s fine,” we said. “But you still have to get up and get dressed, because you will need to explain to your principal and your teacher why you’re not going to class today.”

He decided to go to school.

That afternoon, I picked up all the kids, brought them home, gave them a snack, then called him into my bedroom.  I closed the door and sat on my bed, inviting him to join me.

“I want to tell you the story of you,” I began. Then—lovingly, tenderly, respectfully—I recounted my tale. I told him how overjoyed we were when the stick turned blue, how we planned and prayed, how we counted the days until we met him. And then, in specific but discreet detail, I described all that I experienced and endured because I love him so much.

Morning sickness. “You know how yucky you feel when you throw up? I barfed every day for a month.”

Discomfort. “For four months, I had to sleep sitting up, otherwise you would get up under my ribs, and I’d wake up feeling like my ribs were broken.”

Labor. “Can you remember the worst tummy ache you’ve ever had? I had that every three to five minutes for about nine hours…”

Exhaustion. “I had only slept for about two hours, then we had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night, and you weren’t born until the next afternoon…” and “Staying in the hospital isn’t restful. Someone came in every few hours to check on me, and when they weren’t checking on me, I had to feed you…”

Nursing. “You know how it feels when you fall on your bike and hit your No-Man’s-Land? Imagine someone squeeeeeezing you there reeeeally hard for twenty minutes straight, then puking sour milk all over you, and then coming back to do it again every two hours, around the clock, every day.”

Exhaustion Part II. “You’ve seen your two year old cousins this year. That’s how old your sister was when you were born. I had to take care of you and her, and Daddy was working a lot. None of our family lived near enough to help me. I didn’t have many close friends. Sometimes I couldn’t even take a shower for days.”

Soccer. “We know God has gifted you to play soccer, and we love to watch you play. This is exactly how much money we spend every year for you to play soccer. We could take a really nice vacation with that money, but we don’t. This is exactly how much time we spend in the car every single week, just taking you to practices and games.”

At the end of this extended, very detailed speech, I said, “Look at my eyes. I want you to remember this. All of these things I told you about? This is why I deserve your respect, and why it makes me so sad and angry when you treat me badly and call me names and say that I don’t love you. I have endured so much for you, and I have sacrificed everything for you. I love you.

He gazed at me with his huge, liquid brown eyes—the same eyes that captured me nine years ago when I held him as a wrinkled, bald, beautiful newborn—snuggled up next to me, wrapped his arms around my neck, and said, “I’m sorry, Mom.”

With that, The Alien returned to his home planet, and my sweet, tenderhearted, obedient son returned.

I knew our little chat would stir his heart and rock his world because he can’t stand to see anyone hurting or sad or sick. He’s the kid who will empty his piggy bank for the American Heart Association fundraiser or the special offering at church for the Vietnamese orphans. He’s the kid who won’t let me drive past a homeless person without rolling down the window and offering my spare change. He’s that kind of kid.

(Despite the wild Norwegian-Spanish flare he comes by oh-so-honestly.)

I knew that illustrating the proof of my love and how much it cost would reach the part of his heart he had closed off to us, and I hoped he would respond with tender humility and gratitude. I knew how much happier he would be when he returned to who he really is.

How much like our children we are.

Lonely, terrified, insecure.

Disobedient, defiant, unkind, disrespectful.

And does not God similarly speak to the prodigal? Look at my eyes…I love you so much. Here’s what I did for you. This is how much I gave. I gave my life for you. I sacrificed everything because I love you so much. Please let me love you. Please act in love and gentleness so you can experience the life I have planned for you.

My Monkee sisters, rest. Breathe deeply. Know the limitless love of your Father/Mother God. How much more peacefully and joyfully we live—with ourselves and with each other—when we simply receive His love for us, when we know who we are, when we believe we are worth it. How much happier we are when we simply obey and live loved.

How abundantly we experience life when our own little aliens return to their home planet.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Bite the banana, the teenage edition

Her toddler brow furrowed; her lips pursed. If this were an animated Disney film, the blonde Shirley Temple curls framing her face would have straightened into lethal electrified spikes as she opened her mouth.

“I WANT TO BITE THE BANANA!!!”

I don’t know if I counted to ten (doubtful) or clenched my teeth (more likely) or turned red with rage (probable), but I’m certain I remained determined to win the Battle of Wills with this three year old alien-possessed angel child. Because “do you want me to cut the banana or leave it whole so you can bite it?” seems like a rational question, does it not? And when said alien asks for her banana to be cut, that sounds like a reasonable request, right? But when a three year old changes her mind, after the fact? Well. Batten down the hatches and secure yourself under the nearest doorframe, my friends, because Tornado Toddler is about to unfurl her wrath.

I remember thinking, “Oh, dear Lord. This child is possessed!” My sweet-faced, affectionate, kind-hearted baby girl had entered The Age of Threes, and ushering me to the pearly gates of STYWOM.

Yet somehow, we both survived, and when her two younger brothers followed her footsteps through All Manner of Alienness, I was somewhat prepared. Somewhat, not completely. It was not fun.

(Clearly, whoever coined the term “terrible twos” did not yet have a three year old.)

So here I stand, a survivor, tentatively stepping into the next realm of parenthood: teenagers.

Have mercy.

I wish I could tell you that I’m confident, that having survived toddlerhood prepared me for anything, for the worst. I wish I could tell you that it gets better. It does, for a while. Then you do it all over again, only this time on a more intense, emotional level, with higher stakes. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Parenting a toddler means physical exhaustion. You are constantly doing something for somebody because they need you and can’t do a rippin’ thing for themselves…or if they can, it takes twenty-seven times as long as it would if you did it for them. You’re so exhausted from ALL THE WORDS and All The Things that it’s just easier to put her jacket on her yourself instead of waiting for her to take the sleeve off her foot and MY do it! 

Parenting a teenager means a constant stream of push and pull, give and take, enforcing boundaries and letting her go. And convincing her to use descriptive words that don’t involve grunting, that you aren’t a complete idiot and actually know a few things about making good decisions and acting appropriately.

Parenting a teenager means helplessly standing nearby as insecurity attacks her heart like a cancer, destroying her joy, stealing her smile. You can cautiously, gently offer encouragement, occasionally advice. You can tell her it won’t always be this hard, that she’s not the only one who has these feelings. But mostly, you simply listen.

Parenting a teenager means realizing she will leave home very, very soon—and hoping you’ve done enough good things to outweigh all the moments she will have to sort out with a therapist.

Parenting a teenager will suck the very life from your soul.

As with toddlerhood, though, there are times when I thoroughly enjoy my teenager. I’d venture to say even most of the time, she is a delight, a joy, a mature and responsible and talented young woman with a killer sense of humor. She is kind and generous and compassionate, poised to serve and change the world. Most of the time, most days, I feel relief in having raised such an incredible girl.

Other days, I want to pop open a bottle of wine and drive the corkscrew through my eyeball…after finishing the bottle of wine, of course.

Once again, I’m convinced my child is possessed. This is not who I raised you to be! Knock it off! And for the love of all that is worthy of your attention, put down your friggin’ phone and ENGAGE!

Sigh.

///

There is nothing new under the sun.

“Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly”…the woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. (Matthew 15:22,25)

She chased him down. She begged. Unrelenting, unwavering, desperate cries for mercy. Help me!

The disciples rolled their eyes. “Tell her to go away,” they said, “she’s bothering us.”

He ignored her. (What?!) Maybe because he wanted her to ask again, maybe because he wanted her faith and determination to increase. I don’t know. This passage makes me squirm. I don’t like it. I don’t understand it. Jesus’ response does not line up with my neat-and-tidy, black-and-white, Sunday school felt board picture. If I were in charge, this story would take a different angle.

And, for the record, he ignored the disciples, too. Maybe he just needed a break from All The Words and All The Whining. I so get that.

She kept asking. She begged for his help. She begged for the crumbs of a miracle that would be swept off the table. That would be enough to restore her daughter.

///

Meghan spent her entire winter break in the downstairs guest bedroom or in a borrowed wheelchair. Eleven years of ballet turned both her knees into big nasty balls of inflamed mess, so she had surgery to clean them up. Not a huge deal, but once her orthopedist got inside her knees with his little scopey thingy, he found they were much worse than he originally thought. We had hoped she would be bouncing around again after two or three weeks, but no. Recovery is taking its sweet time.

I have to confess something here: as much as I love having a brave, strong, independent daughter, I kinda love her still needing me. I kinda love taking care of her: getting toast and hot tea, bags of ice, bowls of fruit, and drugs. (Lord, yes, the drugs!) I love when she smiles and mumbles in a codeine-induced stupor, “thanks, Mommy” and closes her eyes. I love that she finally realizes she still needs me—at least until she can walk.

We’ve intentionally raised our kids not to need us, which is definitely a good thing, except when it bites us in the butt. If I hear I got this, Mom one more time, I might engage the aforementioned corkscrew. Seriously. It’s a three year old, masquerading as a fourteen year old, pretending to be a twenty year old…without a driver’s license and ability to be legally employed. Do you really “got this”?

Please. Also: eye rolling, long sighs, attempted domination of accuracy and correctness, fine, whatever, stop it, I hate family time.

I much prefer “thanks, Mommy”—so I’m soaking it in while it lasts.

Still, it’s hard to see your baby in pain. Stupid knees. Ice helps, ibuprofen helps, physical therapy helps, but complete healing has not yet come. It will. But it hasn’t yet.

So we pray. Earnestly, expectantly, hope-fully. We pray for her knees to be strong, for the pain to subside.

We pray for healing for her knees, but more importantly, healing for her heart.

I pray that in between Netflix and YouTube and the ginormous stack of YA novels, she will hear God’s voice disproving the lies she has come to believe: that she is not enough, that she is too much, that she doesn’t matter. I pray that God will give her the faith to know and believe she is who he says she is. I pray he will give her vision for all he wants to do in her and through her. I pray she will regain her confidence, her self-worth, her joy. Because really, so much of the push-back and misery and incredulity she dishes out stems from a fearful heart trying to navigate a scary world.

I pray her heart will heal.

My daughter is suffering terribly…help me!

It’s the desperate plea of a desperate mother. Because the piece of her heart living outside her body is broken, hurting, wilted, bruised. And only he can help.

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.

///

It almost sounds like this is the worst season of life ever. No, not at all, really. It’s challenging, it’s tiring, it’s frustrating. But it is also tremendously rewarding and fun and exciting. During the past three weeks—while Meghan has been stuck inside, hobbling around, wincing with each step, each movement—we have had time to sit and talk, sharing secrets and many tightly gripped hugs where I won’t let go first, lots of giggles and guffaws and squishy kisses on the cheek. In her forced break from the world, she has relaxed into the safe space that we share together. I’m not so bad after all. I’m actually pretty handy to have around. Her laugh is sweeter than honey, and I’m storing these days in my heart like Mary, tiny snapshots of moments to remember.

///

There’s a house down the street that lost its second story last fall to a horrendous fire. Slowly, they’re rebuilding. We now see beams of wood, a frame, and the skeleton of a roof. Also, a big ugly dumpster in the yard, lots of scraps, lots of chaos. It’s the picture of redemption: God taking something burned up, burned out, unlivable, and making it into something beautiful. It’s a messy process, and it’s his favorite job. Darkness into light, ashes into beauty, water into wine. I smile every time I drive past this house. I kinda love that.

It’s my daughter’s story, rough draft, on the editor’s desk, continually being written and rewritten, torn down and rebuilt, created and recreated.

So with each moment, each day, I pray. Help me and heal her, knowing he will, knowing she will eventually walk with confidence and without pain.

And knowing that someday, blessed someday, her daughter will request her own friggin’ sliced banana…

Dream Vacation…and Aliens

Like every other mother, I cannot believe summer is almost over. I’m a teensy bit in denial. We have thoroughly enjoyed sleeping late, leisurely days, and staying up late. HOWEVER, I will not miss days full of bickering, whining, and the constant trail of crap my kids leave behind them. I will not miss cleaning up after them and/or nagging them to pick up their messes. KNOCK IT OFF, KIDS. I’m about to drive a corkscrew through my eyeball.

Nevertheless, I am not looking forward to waking up early, running on a schedule, setting the alarm. It’s coming. Can’t stop it. We’ll do everything we can to enjoy the last couple of weeks. Minus the crap trail and the arguing.

In an effort to squeeze every last drop of marrow from the beauty that is summer vacation, we went on a Disney cruise, hereby known forevermore as THE BEST VACATION EVER. You guys. It was unbelievable. The food, the entertainment, the programs, the excursions, the service—everything was 5-star. Including the unlimited free soft-serve ice cream on Deck 11. There was only one complaint: it wasn’t long enough. We can’t wait to go back.

OK, two complaints. Nathan acted every bit of an eight year old boy. Not familiar with the psychosis? Read this. Apparently eight year old boys in our house are abducted by aliens and replaced with an extraterrestrial counterpart. Our job as parents is to refrain from killing the imposter until the mother ship returns in a few years to make the exchange. It’s exhausting. At least this time we 1) know what to do, and 2) know it’s a phase. But still. It’s exhausting.

To best illustrate the evidence of said alien possession and my exhaustion, let’s talk to one of the fabulous Disney crew members:

I was working at the Guest Services desk on the first day of this particular sailing when a friendly, stunningly attractive mom stepped up to the desk to turn in two pillowcases and a set of Sharpies for our Disney characters to autograph. We were having a delightful conversation when, out of no where, shrieks and screams erupted in the queue behind her. I gasped. A lanky blonde-headed boy with glasses had face-planted on the shiny marble floor, his feet still dangling from the red velvet rope. Obviously he had tried (unsuccessfully) to step over the rope. The woman turned her head to look at him and (I swear she rolled her eyes) casually walked over to him, bent down to check him over, and told him to stand up. He was still crying when she looked over at her husband as if to say, “A little help, please?” The father escorted the boy over to the side, where another crew member attended to them, asking if he needed medical attention. Meanwhile, the mom calmly returned to the desk to complete the necessary paperwork for the Magical Pillowcases.

I am told this same boy wandered away from his family within the first twenty minutes of embarkation and explored the ship on his own while they searched for him. Reporting from the Magic Kingdom, Tinkerbell recalled seeing him sit down in the middle of Adventureland the day before, angry and refusing to get up. His family simply stared at him, incredulous. 

A few days later, I called their stateroom to check on the young lad. 

“What happened?” the mother asked me. 

“I was told he fell,” I replied. 

“Really? When did this happen?” she asked. 

“The first day of sailing,” I said.

“Ooooohhhhh,” she said, the light of recognition finally turning on. “Yes. Of course. Now I remember. He’s fine. Thank you so much for checking on him.”

Obviously, this family needs some help. I hope they took some pixie dust home with them. 

So, yeah. We had our moments. Thankfully Nathan LOVED the Oceaneers Club and Oceaneers Lab, the ship’s kids club. He wanted to be there every possible minute, and we were all glad to get rid of him allow him the opportunity to play with other kids. We were dragging him out of there at midnight. Win-win.

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Truly, this ship had something for everyone. We had plenty of family-togetherness, but each of us had a place to go that was tailored just for us. The older kids explored and played on their own, went to the tween and teen clubs, and occasionally checked in via the blessed holy relics known as Wave Phones. Michael and I relaxed on the adult-only deck, visited the adult-only clubs and champagne bar—where, I am happy to report, there was nary a hint of Mickey Mouse. We love The Mouse, of course, but sometimes you just need to sip your champagne without him.

And this.

Griffin held Michael’s arm in the air and waved it vigorously until they were picked for this family game show. Michael dressed up like a dwarf. Dad of the Year, my friends. Fast forward to the last few minutes of this video. Apparently Matthew Crawley was on the Disney Dream. Who knew?

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But my greatest Disney magical memory happened the last night of our trip. The final evening stage performance was a story of a scientist dad, too busy and cynical to play with his young daughter and her new magic set. “No such thing as magic,” he told her—which, naturally, are fightin’ words in the world of Disney. The dad takes a Christmas Carol-esque journey and visits various Disney characters, all of whom try to convince him to believe in magic. In the final scene, the Disney Princesses arrive at a ball and dance with their princes to all the princess theme songs.

At this point, I’m getting a little choked up. Preschool Meghan adored the princesses. She’d dress up and twirl around and dance and sing and make believe. She’d wear her princess tiara on her mop of sweet blonde curls all day long. She was precious. So seeing all these princesses on stage, dancing to their love songs, while brooding Teenage Meghan sat next to me, constricted my throat and chest with nostalgia. Sigh.

But then. THEN. The last princess comes on stage, elegantly dressed in a ball gown, and dances with her prince. “Who is that?” says the dad.

You see where this is going.

It’s his daughter, all grown up, dancing with her love.

Cue: ugly cry.

Oh, but we’re not done yet. “Daddy!” she exclaims, and rushes over to him. He takes her into his arms, she rests her head on his chest, and they start dancing to Baby Mine.

The ugly cry gets uglier. Meghan looks at me sideways as if I have completely lost it. Which, of course, I have.

Damn you, Disney.

Last year, Michael and I discussed our options for the summer, and we considered driving to the beach, or the mountains, or somewhere. Anywhere. The idea of a cruise came up, and we choked on the price tag. But then we realized our baby girl will be in high school this fall. We have, at best, four summers to cram in as many memories as we can. Of course you don’t have to spend a lot of cash to make memories. That’s not at all what I mean to imply. But we wanted to do something really special, something that our kids would always remember, something that allowed us to enjoy being together, laughing together, having fun together.

Mission accomplished. All five of us agree it was the best vacation we’ve ever taken. We will be back, O Great Disney Ship of Awesomeness.

Does Alaska allow aliens?

The perilous outside of a beachfront balcony

I could not possibly see what I think I’m seeing. No way. Surely what I see, looking through the sliding glass door of our fourth floor beachfront condo, is an illusion. My eyes must be playing tricks on me. Because no seven year old son of mine would ever, ever climb over the balcony railing to stand on the outside. That’s ridiculous.
But no. He is, in fact, perched precariously – four floors above the ground – holding on to the rail, inching along the balcony, a carefree expression on his face. La-la-la-dee-dum.
Walk slowly. No sudden movements. Open the sliding glass door carefully. As if approaching a rabid dog or a bear or a sleeping toddler, I step toward him. 
Because this moment could not be more ridiculous, I see Michael standing a mere three feet away from this potentially life-altering situation. Standing there. His back turned, talking to Griffin.
“Um, do you see what your son is doing?” I said softly. Your son, because obviously my son would never consider such an outlandish stunt.
Quickly, carefully, we each grab an arm and pull Nathan over the rail.
He is safe. At least from splatting on the sidewalk. Mama’s wrath is another story.
If, like me, your family includes girls and boys, you will likely agree that God certainly has a sense of humor. Boys do things – like standing on the outside of a balcony railing – that would never, ever even occur to girls. Especially rule-following, responsible, emotionally mature first-born girls. So almost daily, the thought escapes my lips: “WHAT IS IN YOUR HEAD?!?”
I’ve learned not to ask why. The journey down that path simply isn’t worth the effort. But I broke my rule the day after Nathan’s flirtation with Death. His answer? “I dunno.” As in, “why not?”
Like I said, not worth it. 
This happened two weeks ago. I wrote the above paragraphs last week. I’ve waited and procrastinated and avoided my desk chair because I could not think of a way to wrap this up in a tidy life lesson. No profound analogy. No snarky conclusion. Nothing.
Then came the Chick-Fil-A debacle. It’s a stretch. I know.
I’m not going to comment. Not really. Jen Hatmaker expressed my feelings perfectly.
Go ahead. Click on the link and soak it in. I’ll wait.
Yes. Amen.What she said.
As I lay in bed last night, trying to go to sleep, thinking about the million and three things I need to accomplish today, I had a thought. (My best thoughts usually happen around midnight.)
So Hatmaker is going to the basement, as a figurative literary device, and I’m going down with her. Let the destructive tornado ravage all that is above ground. I’m sitting this one out.
But then I thought, basement…ewww. While safe, basements are dark. Sometimes a little damp. No light. No sunshine.
I think I’ll go to the beach.
The soldiers in the culture wars have drawn battle lines, but from where I’m sitting, both sides stand together on the outside of the balcony. No one will escape unscathed. Everyone is in peril. Everyone risks mortal injury.
Me? I’m getting off the balcony and heading down to the beach. It’s nice on the beach. The salty air in my nostrils, velvety sand between my toes, warm sun on my face? Yes, please. And all of those in Hatmaker’s basement are welcome to join me. We’ll crank up a beachy playlist, slather on some sunblock, and soak in the rays. Hunt for shells and hermit crabs. Throw the frisbee.

 

I’ve been trying to ignore all the drivel of the culture wars. Living in the Buckle of the Bible Belt makes that very difficult. Social justice Christians are hard to come by down here, but I’m very thankful for people like Jen Hatmaker (she lives in Austin) who are leading the way and challenging my generation and other post-modernists to get back to serving the least instead of only blessing the blessed. Moving the battle lines back so they encircle all of us – that way, we can sit down together and have a conversation.
Though it would certainly be easier for me to join the fray, I continually remind myself what I tell my kids…
  1. It is better to be kind than to be rightwhich doesn’t mean we lay down and let people walk all over us, but it does mean that sometimes there are arguments we need to walk away from. 
  2. Whenever someone is mean, there is a reason. There is something going on in that person’s heart that makes them act out in a hurtful way – more often than not, the root issue involves fear. Also insecurity, sadness, hurt. All manifest themselves in anger. (Glennonnailed this today.)
  3. I am not responsible for other people’s decisions or actions, but I am responsible for my ownactions – and reactions. If I don’t like something, I need to “be the change I want to see in the world” and lead by example. I want to see civil, dignified discourse. I want to see respect. I want to see people valued, regardless of their ideology. So I’ll listen. Smile. Seek to understand more than to be understood.
I think we are to be the answer to the prayer “Thy Kingdom come.” When we open ourselves to the Spirit of God, when His love transforms our hearts and our minds, our thoughts and our actions, we can bring the unity, restoration and peace of heaven to Earth. Guess what? No legislation will either further or hinder His kingdom. God’s bigger than that. 


A few days before Nathan walked the balcony, we went to the Naval Air Museum in Pensacola. It was…impressive? Huge naval aircraft hang from the ceiling, some parked on the ground. There are models of aircraft carriers, plaques and tributes to the thousands of sailors who served. My own grandfather (though not personally commemorated in the museum) fought with the Navy in WWII. He was credited with sinking the first German U-Boat. And, from what I’ve heard, that act haunted him the rest of his life. Somewhere in Germany, a mother, a wife, a family received a telegram. Because of my grandfather. I can’t fathom shouldering that burden. No one should have to.

Walking through the museum, I was supposed to be proud. I should have been awed. But truly, I kept thinking all these machines were built with one purpose: to kill. I realize our country – all countries – have to defend themselves. I know freedom requires bloody sacrifice. I just don’t like it. I don’t like the reality of having to hurt each other. I’d rather we didn’t. But in our world, it happens. So however small my part, I’ll do what I can to make it a little more peaceful.

In case you’re wondering, you won’t find me at Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday. Not because I don’t enjoy my chicken sandwich and waffle fries. Not because I don’t believe in the freedom of speech. Not because I sympathize with those who feel marginalized and second-rate because of the careless remarks of one (or millions). I will eat elsewhere because I refuse to engage in this petty fight. I refuse to stand outside of the balcony.
When we hear Christians concerning themselves publicly about anything other than poverty and disease and hunger and oppression and violence – we turn away. Because really, who has the time? – Glennon Melton

On having survived a three year old

I heard her before I saw her. Ear-splitting, glass-shattering, skin-crawling screaming came from one aisle over. I closed the door to the refrigerated case, placed my milk in my cart, and thought Thank goodness that’s not my kid. Immediately followed by That poor mom.
Many moons ago, before I had children, before I became a veteran of public tantrums, my thoughts would have been very different, ugly, judgmental. Now I know better. Now I am a card-carrying member of STYWOM.
I pushed my cart around the corner to the next aisle to collect my Greek yogurt and frozen green beans, and there she was. She stood about twenty feet from her mother and their cart, stomping her feet and screeching, “NO!” I smiled, once again thankful for the passage of time. Her mother, wearing tired eyes and a grimace, began to push the cart away from her manic little alien. Good for her, I thought.
I continued collecting granola bars and cereal, chips and paper plates – all by myself. Alone. My oldest was at a water park with her friend, the younger two at day camp. What was once akin to waterboarding is now simply a mindless item on my to-do list. No toddlers to wrestle into a carseat, no diaper bag, no snacks to carry, no bribes. No apologies to the teenaged stock girl for the bottle of apple juice that exploded as I maneuvered through the aisle with a two year old and a newborn. This day, it was only my cart and me.
I wandered through the produce, selecting avocados and bananas, when once again I saw the same mom, same cart, same alien child, now buckled securely in the cart and eating a snack, temporarily occupying her little screeching mouth. “I know,” the mom said to her child, “we’re almost done. I’m trying to finish as fast as I can…” 
“Three years old?” I asked her with a knowing smile.
“Three and a half,” she replied tightly.
“My daughter is now thirteen, and I thoroughly enjoy her. She’s amazing. But when she was three, I thought I was going to kill her. She was a nightmare.”
Her face relaxed. “I’m so glad to hear you say that,” she sighed. “Thank you.”
“This is the hardest age. Whoever coined the phrase ‘terrible twos’ obviously did not have a three year old.”
She laughed. “That is so true!”
I turned and whispered, so her child couldn’t hear me, “It’s okay to not like your kids. No one tells you that.”
Her face slightly, almost imperceptibly contorted with guilt, frustration, grief. “It’s not her,” she said as she too turned away from her cart. “It’s me. I was never a screamer. Now I’m a screamer…”
That I could completely understand. How someone you love so much could transform you into someone you hate. How you don’t recognize yourself, and the guilt from not being who you need to be. How you wonder if anyone will come out of this unscathed.
I didn’t give any advice that day. I didn’t recommend any books or techniques. I didn’t offer any solutions. This frazzled mom didn’t need any of those things. Not this day. She only needed to know that this season of life will pass, that she is not alone, that she is okay. With one last empathetic smile and a wish for luck, I turned to walk toward the bread while she headed toward the wine – small offerings on our altars as we filled our baskets.

Aliens and Road Humps

The neighborhood where I grew up had road humps. Not speed bumps. Road humps. Huge – like three feet wide. We also had a very scary dip – but the seasoned residents knew how to swerve to the more shallow right side and avoid scraping our license plates on the concrete. But you still had to drive slowly or risk serious damage to your vehicle.
Michael used to love driving through my neighborhood for no other reason than using his fake British accent to declare, “ROAD HUMPS HO!” He’s funny, that one.
Road humps force you to slow down. They force you to put on the brakes and pay attention. They wake you up from your mental cruise-controlled state.
Not unlike your children.
About a year and a half ago, the hammer came down on our middle child. His attitude and behavior sent the entire family into a tailspin, and as his parents, we had to slam on the brakes and redirect. Painfully ugly, but beautifully redemptive. Since then, his angry outbursts have been fewer and farther between, and on the rare occasions when he does lose his temper, he apologizes within ten minutes. He knows that the consequences simply aren’t worth it.
Until last month. Maybe enough time had elapsed since he lost EVERYTHING that he forgot how painful it was. He forgot my reminder that I am legally required only to provide food (it’s in the kitchen; go fix it yourself), clothing (enough for a week, not necessarily your favorite things to wear), and education (I’ll give you a ride) – everything else is proverbial gravy on life’s mashed potatoes. The law does not require me to provide toys, help with homework, praise, or even conversation.
Or maybe we slowly became complacent and let him get away with behavior that previously wouldn’t fly. Maybe we got lazy in our parenting. Maybe we were too tired to care.
In any case, the alien snuck back into the house when we weren’t looking – and, once again, we were dealing with some serious ugly.
Beginning with some back-talk, cruising through some yelling and sibling throwdowns, crossing the finish line into total disrespect for the entire family. We scolded him, grounded him, threatened him – and nothing worked. 
ROAD HUMPS HO!
Slow down. Pay attention. Redirect.
Hammer time.
About this time, fire ants invaded our kitchen. Pest control visited us four times, and still the ants threw a party in our kitchen sink – one of those parties where one ant invites another, and that ant invites all of his friends, then the word gets out, and before you know it, it’s a full-blown carnival.
I noticed a huge stack of bricks, leftovers from the construction last year, by the outside wall behind our kitchen sink. We never bothered to move them. I wondered if this stack of bricks was the ants’ secret passageway into our kitchen sink.
The bricks needed relocation. Griffin was busted. How fortunate for me – and how unlucky for him. Especially since we do not own a wheelbarrow. He had to carry bricks – three or four at a time – from the side porch, around the house, through the backyard, behind the pool, all the way to the shed on the edge of the woods. 
He started out okay. When I left the house for an errand, he was dutifully carrying bricks. When I returned an hour later, he was not. And he had reportedly thrown a big ol’ fit, beat up his brother, and threw pencils at his sister.
Baaaaad choices.
The afternoon quickly sped downhill from there. More yelling, more unkindness, more disrespect. And now he was throwing the bricks and breaking them on the driveway.
Time for Operation Garbage Bag.
I marched up to his room holding two lawn & leaf bags, and I began removing as much as I could. During last year’s Operation Garbage Bag, half of our belongings lived in storage, so cleaning out his room wasn’t nearly as arduous. This year’s edition featured waaaay more stuff. So I didn’t bag up everything. But I did take his lovies, his favorite pillow, his toys, some of his books, his favorite clothes, and every poster and picture from the walls. Everything was taken to an undisclosed location behind a locked door, where it will stay until he earns it back, one item at a time.
You can imagine how well that went over with him.
Additionally, he was banned from his last two basketball games and his soccer games that weekend – which I think was a bigger blow to him than the garbage bags.
Michael’s reaction and my reaction greatly contrasted. Michael – the tenderhearted, patient, loving parent, who also happens to be the parent who leaves the house each day to work in an office with (mostly) well-behaved adults – was grieved. Not because we made the wrong decision in bringing the hammer down, but because Griffin forced our hand. Our son’s behavior sent Michael into a dark place.
Me? I was simply done. I had no sympathy. My sympathy left my body when my son sucked out my very soul and left me a lifeless mess of gray hair and cellulite. I didn’t care that all his belongings were now in garbage bags and he was reduced to a puddle of tears. The little punk had it coming.
Predictably, the alien headed back to his home planet the next morning, and my loving, obedient son returned. And we had a great weekend – all of us. The kids played together all day – laughing, chasing, having a great time. Nathan wasn’t annoying, Meghan wasn’t critical. Everybody loved everybody – all because one kid decided to turn it around.
Parenting is tough. Raising responsible, godly kids requires a long hike up a steep, rocky path. The smooth, easy scenic route isn’t an option. There will be all kinds of brambles and thorns and potholes. And road humps. Lots of road humps. We’re going to get lost. We’re going to stray down the wrong path. We’re going to make bad decisions. We’re going to get bruised, scratched, scraped, and bumped. But, as tempting as it is, we can’t plop down in the middle of the path and refuse to take another step. We have to keep going.
And I’ve heard the view at the top is worth the hike.