Saturday, July 23, 2016

They Are His

I remember that hike. My memories app tells me it was three years ago, 2013. A hot and hazy July day in Virginia. We had made our way to the top and taken in the view of our town. The sun was now setting and we were headed back down the mountain when a certain energetic little boy took off running. We couldn't keep up with him since we had taken turns carrying him most of the way up. Now it was his turn to wear himself out. As I turned the corner, this was the exact site I saw. My boy, standing at the foot of a man-made cross, looking up in what appeared to be an act of worship. I could barely contain myself but somehow managed to capture this moment that would forever be etched in my memory.

The symbolism is not lost on me. The meaning resonates within my very being as a mother. It is my greatest calling. To point them to Jesus. When I begged and pleaded and prayed for God to make me a mom, I knew what I was asking for. I knew what this meant and what I would become. Oh yes, on any given day I change diapers, nurse, prepare meals, care for wounds, mend broken hearts, give kisses, grant wishes, create, catch bugs, enter imaginary worlds, read books ten times over, sing songs even more...I teach, guide, love, serve, give and give some more. But these are just the daily tasks. The daily insurmountable list doesn't come close to touching the impact we as parents are making for eternity. It is not a job, it is the highest of callings. It brings along with it the accepted challenge of bending tender little hearts toward the One who created them.

I have to remind myself these little people may have my nose or take on my own tendencies, but it is in God's image they were created, not mine. They are His children, only mine to borrow. If they resemble anything of me, I pray it will be the reflection of Christ in my life. It is my constant reminder that I cannot point them to a place I am not looking myself. This isn't about sharing whatever is on my plate or giving of my time. This is about committing to worn out knees on their behalf. Begging and pleading and praying didn't end at the moment God answered my request to become a mother. That is only where it began. This is a relentless battle for their minds to understand Him and His Word while their souls accept and receive His gift of eternal life.

When I am tired, emotionally empty, physically exhausted and simply spent, I must remember this image, this memory, this pursuit. When I am called on for one more bedtime kiss, one more middle of the night wake up call, one more time..., let me be reminded of the calling I've been given to point them to the One. The One who made them. The One who gave them life. The One who died for them. The One who offers them eternal life. The One who loves them more than I ever could. The One who planned each and every one of their days before I ever even met them. The One who entrusted me to be part of that plan for their lives.

Already this week I was reminded that I can't. I'm not. I am their mother in title. They are my life's work but they are His eternal purpose.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I Can't

Today I just couldn't. I couldn't be sweet. I couldn't find it in me to be calm. I didn't have the self discipline to keep it together. Patience wasn't just missing from my vocabulary, it was altogether absent from my being. I couldn't find the strength or energy to feel like myself let alone be what others needed me to be. Incapable to say the least. Like literally just couldn't. 

It wasn't even a bad day. There wasn't anything detrimental or catastrophic that was going on. It was simply, purely and only ME. I was the problem. 

Emotionally I was spent. Physically I was drained. For no clear or apparent reason but for a million things that seemed to somehow be weighing on me. I could feel the physical oppression of anxiety taking over as if it was sucking the very breath from my lungs. It was consuming me. Taking over. I felt like a complete mess and wanted to crumble into a ball. But I had one child crying needing comfort and another begging for food all while the phone rang and my attention was being even more divided. I just couldn't seem to manage it. 

So I did. I crumbled into that ball and closed my eyes as if I could somehow make the world around me disappear. It wasn't going anywhere but I knew I had to get ahold of myself. 

"Lord, I can't." 

It was as if I heard His voice out loud. 

"You're right. You can't."

My eyes flew open. That was it. That was the exact problem AND my answer. I couldn't. Not in my own strength. My own strength. Why oh WHY do I have to repeat this lesson?! I was trying to do it. I was the problem. I was also the solution. I needed to get out of the way already. Stop trying in my own strength. Because clearly that wasn't going well. It had to be Him. 

"Lord, I know Your strength is perfected in my weakness and that's all I've got right now."

He already knew. Thank goodness. He knew exactly what was wrong with me and why I was a mess. And thank God He knew exactly what I needed and how to help me. I just had to get out of the way and let Him be God. Because I can't. I'm not. 

I can't tell you everything immediately got better but I can absolutely assure you that my entire attitude changed. The surmounting pressure slowly began to shift as I started to release my own inabilities and surrender my strength and will. I was offering up my weaknesses and letting Him be what I needed. I couldn't be an attentive mom. I couldn't be a diligent employee. I couldn't be focused, loving, or patient or kind. I could only admit my weaknesses and let Him be God. 

Today I had to admit that I just couldn't and that's exactly where He met me reminding me He can. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Most Magical Place on Earth

There we were. Poised for the show. We had an amazing view thanks to daddy and Papa saving us a spot. Illuminations of familiar classics cast across the castle. The fireworks were starting. I'm not sure what happened. I know I had a smile on my face from ear to ear but then I realized a certain someone in our party was rather fidgety. Actually more like jumping up and down, jumping off the stroller and throwing himself on the ground. I tried to get him to sit. He'd nearly knocked several people over on the last catapult. I was easily distracted by the boom and display just overhead. Try as I could, he wasn't sitting and now the fight had ensued. It was a battle of wills and a crowd of chaos but we were both determined to get what we wanted. I just wanted him to sit down and not be a distraction. Really I just wanted to watch the fireworks. 

Somehow the jumping and thrashing turned into a full blown tantrum. Tears. Screams. How could this be in the middle of Disney World? The Magic Kingdom. The fireworks display we had waited for ALL week. And let's be honest, I cared more about it than he did. I may or may not have thrown my own little fit. 

Disney. The most magical place on earth. I was supposed to be having a magical day. But now I found myself dragging an exhausted over-stimulated screaming child who resembled something of a 2 year old throwing a tantrum. It helped to remember I wasn't the only one. 

I found solace in the parents like me. Earlier that day I shared a thoughtful nod to the mom whose 4 year old was throwing a fit because of her apparent starvation. The banana was all the poor mother had to offer. The banana was NOT what the child wanted. Gummies. That's what she wanted. The whole park knew it for her screams. I wanted to give the mom a hug but I kept walking. 

I laughed at the parents who grabbed their son's magic wand and announced "Everyone look at this boy! He refuses to eat then claims he's hungry." I knew the dilemma. There they stood in the middle of Main Street waiting for the parade with a child who was claiming he would pass out from hunger. 

I couldn't help but notice, how could she be missed, the little one donning her bibbity boppity Princess get up. She was throwing a bit of a royal fit. No doubt her parental subjects had angered her given they WOULD NOT BUY THE TOY she was demanding. How could they be so cruel? Oh the shame. 

Then of course there were the over-tired completely-run-ragged non-nappers who were as plentiful as Mouse ears across the park. Some were in full blown tears. Some were in puddles on the ground. Others kicked and screamed from the confinement of their little people moving strollers. I salute you, parents. I salute you. 

I joined the ranks of parents whose children could not bear the thought of standing and waiting in yet another line. Standing still and waiting in line must have been created by the devil himself to torment these poor children. It was hot. Soooo hot. How could anyone bear the thought of carrying a 50 lb child whose legs simply wouldn't carry them any further when sweat was already dripping from every pore on our poor bodies? It was a real problem and it was happening like an epidemic all across the park.

Disney World. The most magical place on earth. The most expensive people watching you could ever enjoy to be certain you're not alone, or at least not the only one. The most frustrating and nerve wracking place for parents to ever thrust family memory-making plans upon little people who just don't understand the magic they're supposed to be enduring...uh...enjoying. 

But it's Disney World. So at the end of the day, there will always be fireworks. Sometimes of the tantrum kind. There will always be magic. Sometimes it resembles a magic eraser to scrub away the torment faced throughout the long, trying day. There will always be memories. Sometimes the kind you want to forget. Sometimes the ones you smile and laugh about for years to come. We came. We saw. We laughed. We cried. We made memories. And we survived the most magical place on earth.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Days Gone By

It had been a long day of travel in a packed car. We were all tired and weary and ready to pile into the hotel and fall into bed. I had enjoyed the ride beside my boy, watching his mind at work as he busily created. He spent a solid six hours playing, taping and putting together multiple creations made from a clear plastic box, styrofoam cup, a roll of tape and a few small trinket-like toys. After a full day of this, I could barely climb out from the back row since the stuff had seemingly multiplied in the car. 

"E, your stuff has taken over the backseat. I've got to clean up all this trash." 

Without missing a beat, his tone changed to a scold as he corrected me. "Mom, this might be trash to you but it will always be inventions to me."
I couldn't argue. In fact, I had to apologize because I knew to him this wasn't trash at all. How many times have I been reminded of this lesson from him? He continues to amaze me with his creativity and I witnessed him at work with a front row - or rather back row - seat into his world of ingenuity. 

We finally made it into the hotel with more than enough stuff for one night at our halfway point but a very mobile baby wasn't about to be confined to a pack and play just yet. After all, she'd spent the better part of the day "trapped" in her car seat and now seemed like a great time to explore her new surroundings. She was tired, so tired, but it would take rocking her to sleep to calm her down. 

Just getting to the point of leaving on vacation with four adults, one child and one infant is enough to send someone over the edge. Planning lazy days by the pool is nothing more than a daydream when one water-loving child will certainly be begging me to play and one fearlessly mobile baby will not understand the dangers of her surroundings. But I'm learning to soak up the moments that will all too quickly pass and be nothing more than a distant memory. 

I had no idea what I was asking for when I prayed to become a mother. I wanted a child but never understood the depth of what I was being entrusted with. I could never have known it would have meant getting to the end of myself then becoming a provider, defender, mediator, comforter, advocate, intercesser just to name a few. I had no idea how much I would learn about God in this role. I recognize His nature when I see the creativity and imagination coming from my son's ingenuity. I identify with His heart when I rock my baby to sleep. The joys of watching my son create or my daughter discover something new. The heartache of hurting when they hurt. The grief of enduring the battle of wills. Being given the opportunity to teach, invest in and love these little people who God created in His image and called me to mother is my purpose in life. 

Today I'm learning to enjoy the ride and give thanks for the present state of chaos and craziness that comes with the blessing of raising little ones. I'm basking in the joy of knowing my personal time is not my own. There are no vacations from motherhood in this phase of life, at least not until they're grown and gone and then I will simply wish for these days to return. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

He's the Man

He's the man who used to drive a motorcycle. It's not something that many would know. And it's not something he would go around sharing. It's not that he longs for the carefree days of old. It's simply that he has fully embraced his new life. 

He's so down to earth and practical that the motorcycle driving side of him is something I have a hard time picturing. Maybe because he now drives a minivan. But in his defense, he did get rid of the motorcycle before he met me. It wasn't all my fault. 

I remember very early on telling him that we were a package deal. He could not love me without accepting him. I had to know that he understood he wasn't just signing up to be my husband. He would be joining me as I parent my son. He didn't just embrace my son, he jumped headfirst into parenting, fatherhood, and life with a precocious and rambunctious four-year-old. He didn't have the enjoyment of bonding with a baby and watching him grow. But he never missed a beat when it came to stepping into the role of parent. I've never liked the term Step-parent but indeed he stepped in and stepped up to the role God outlined for fathers to love and teach and train up a child, taking it upon himself to accept and love a child who wasn't his own. It didn't seem foreign to me since he wasn't genetically related to me either but I wasn't fully prepared for him to actually love him as a son. He joined me as a partner, friend, confidante, advocate, mediator, defender, protector. It was second nature to demonstrate spiritual leadership because it is who he is. 

No one has ever told Eli what to call him or not to call him but "Mr. Mike" is still his namesake even after 4 years. It's proven to be his own term of endearment and not just a sign of respect. Mike is his name, there's no mistaking that, but the day would also come when he would gain a new name. He would go through the passage into parenthood where he would bear the name dad. Father. Daddy. He already wore it on his heart, but now it has become a part of who he is. 

He's not just the man who used to ride a motorcycle. He's the man who waited faithfully for 12 years while riding out singlehood, never settling for anything less than God's best. (How I ended up being God's best for him still blows my mind because I often feel inadequate to love and serve him the way he deserves.) He's the man who chose me, gently pursuing my tattered heart and helping me rebuild the pieces. He's the man who willingly stepped into a world of chaos and provided a sense of calm. He's the man who joined the ranks of fatherhood without preparation or hesitation. He's the man who stood beside me at my lowest point, holding me as I writhed in pain. He's the man who held me as I sobbed and grieved the baby we had lost. He's the man who joined me in celebration at the announcement of our second pregnancy and he held onto hope and faith that we would have a healthy baby. He's the man who refused to settle on a boy's name because in his heart of hearts we were having a girl. He's the man who was right because our daughter would be born in November. He's the man who would stand over me in surgery calming me down after a day and a half of scary labor. He would watch his daughter be born and battle whose side to be by, mine or hers. 

He's the man God gave me to be my helpmate and support, my strength and leader. He pushes me to go beyond myself and consider new perspectives. He loves me endlessly and serves me tirelessly. He fights fiercely for his family and never waivers in his faith. He is my husband. My friend. My love. The father to our daughter. Step dad to Eli. A brother and son I know his family is proud of. He's my man. My Michael. And this Father's Day I honor him. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Real Life is not Pinterest

Day one of summer is now in the books. I wish I could say it was all I hoped it would be. As with any well laid plan, I've had to learn real life often gets in the way. 

We found out a few weeks ago that Eli wouldn't have a spot in the summer program he was involved in last year so it meant rearranging and making new plans. "Mom's summer camp of fun and learning" was that new plan and I was excited. I immediately created my "summer" board on Pinterest and started pinning away. Crafts, make-together snacks, homegrown fun and learning activities, we would have so much fun. I was determined to make this a summer to remember - for everyone. I planned to create just the right balance of structure and leisure along with opportunities for us to make memories and work on needed skills and abilities. It's no secret that Eli learns differently than me so I did my homework and took extra time to research ways to help him continue to grow and learn. It's been a learning process for me, too, but I felt certain the extra time together would be productive. 

Day 1. I was ready. But I can't tell you how perfect our day was. I can't give details about the amazing things we did. I won't be able to share the memories we mawde. If anything, I'm ready to go to bed and forget this day while desperately waiting for a new one to begin tomorrow. Everyday. All day. Did I mention every single day? How did his teacher do it? I'm now more convinced than ever that she had super powers of which I know I am void of. Today did not go as planned.

He's a challenge, my boy. I love him so and yet he pushes me to the very edge where I nearly lose my cool and my mind. Okay. I admit. I do in fact lose my cool. Much more often than I care to admit. But even as I started to feel guilty for not providing the fulfilling memory-filled first day of summer I had hoped, my ever-wise husband reminded me, "Real life is not Pinterest."

He's right. The pressure to create such amazing experiences is my own fault. And while I do love finding success in a new recipe on Pinterest, that's just about the end of where my pin-worthy life exists. Real life is messy and hard and chaotic and not as planned. Real life is me being honest about the fact that sometimes I just wish things were easy. That we could just enjoy simple things and that those moments of bliss would be the rule and not the exception. Real life is repeatedly having people tell me I am the perfect mom for this child and me wondering if they feel sorry for me or if I somehow managed to actually pull off fooling a person or two. Real life is the triple chocolate cake I nearly devoured in a moment of utter weakness after a day like today. Real life is not regretting one bite. Real life is this, me just being honest, that real life - at least my life - is not Pinterest. Real life is knowing today I got to lean on Jesus just a little bit more than I usually would on my own. Trusting, hoping, praying, believing, knowing He really is in control. Real life is the assurance that while God did pick me to be his mother, no one could love him more than the one who created him. When I struggle to find someone who can handle watching him for a few hours, real life is knowing that God loves, embraces and smiles at this exceptional child He perfectly created. And That's as real as it gets. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

It was a special service. An emotional video of remembrance. A retired Air Force Colonel sharing his sentiments towards his fallen comrades followed by the playing of Taps. The mood was somber, humbling, honorable. The video alone had brought me to tears, so thankful for those who have served our country. But in the midst of the crowd, I couldn't help but notice a white haired gentleman rise to his feet as he wiped away tears. He stood at attention then put his hand over his heart. He was followed by another in the same motion. Still one more stood with arms raised to the sky then his stance turned to attention. I didn't know them or those they were remembering but it was emotional and moving and a reminder of those we should be honoring this weekend. The distinct way they stood at attention told me they were certain to have served. I wanted to know what they were thinking, who they may be remembering, what service they had given, what sacrifices they had endured. I wanted to know their stories. I wanted to honor them and their commitment to God and country. My heart swelled with gratitude and again I felt tears falling.

God shed His grace on thee, indeed. There's a sense of pride that fills my heart when I truly allow myself to reflect upon what it's taken to get here; to be able to declare I am proud to be an American. I can't - I won't - forget the ones who gave me that right. Land of the free, home of the brave. The valiant warriors who freely went, willingly gave and bravely shed their blood for our freedom, my freedom.

My thoughts turn to my Grandpa Dunbar and the stories he would tell of his and Grandma's time serving in World War II. He would watch D-Day specials on TV looking for a glimpse of his brother who had been lost at Normandy. He was a pilot, that much I knew. I had heard the stores but am ashamed to say I didn't pay better attention. We weren't a military family beyond their service but I am proud to be an American and have a deep respect for those who answer the call to serve, defend and protect. My right to write this blog was given by the blood, sweat and sacrifice of soldiers and patriots who have fought for these and other freedoms.

It can be a time of confusion. A presidential election year, battles over gender in the bathroom, Supreme Court decisions that have altered our way of thinking, living and believing. And for these freedoms these men and women continue to fight. Whether they believe in each and every one of the decisions being made, they still believe in the good of our nation, in the people who make up this country. The speaker yesterday said it best, explaining these service men and women sign a blank check, their oath, that their call to duty can be cashed in at any time, to any place, for any length of time. I don't know if I could be as selfless. You not only forfeited your right to yourself, you were willing to give everything for people you've never met. For me. So today I stop and say thanks because each and everyday you've never stopped considering us worth it.