Father’s Day Hangover

Sunday was Father’s Day. A thousand times I thought of writing this post, then stopped.

Just let the day pass quietly, I thought to myself. You’re not unlike millions of others who don’t like this day. Just get it over with and move on already.

Then it dawned on me that it is because so many of us share the same feelings about Father’s Day that I decided to post.

Fast-forwarding through the dramatic story of an unstable, fear-filled, anxiety-ridden childhood, here I sit as a wife of twenty-five years and mom to three teenagers. I glance back at my life and think about how some dreams became reality just like I had hoped – and others haven’t.

The father thing being a big one.

My stepfather walked out of our house and out of my life when I was twelve. It was the first time I felt safe in my own home.

My biological father and mother divorced when I was a baby. I met him when I was twelve, spent two weeks with him and his family when I was thirteen, then proceeded to have years of anger, bitterness and all things negative toward him long after I buried my mom when I was sixteen.

As a grown adult I told him, You can be a grandfather to my children, but not a father to me.

In my world, I had no use for a father. None. Fathers were unreliable.





















They were the bad guy.

I know what it’s like to live with the enemy while wishing for a hero to rescue me.

I also know what it’s like when that hero doesn’t come.

Yeah, my whole life I’ve had no use for fathers.

To give credit where it is due, God performed a miracle between my biological father and me. There was an unspoken truce between us, but no healing. That’s when I told him about not being a father to me. After all, I was far too old to be his little girl. That window closed a long time ago.

However, on one particular visit to our home, my father, his wife and I talked deep into the night. We agreed on one thing – we can’t do this relationship on our own. We’re too emotional. Too human. We kept getting in the way of ourselves.

So we prayed together and gave whatever relationship we had to God and asked him to be the foundation of something new between us.

Like a master surgeon, God healed our hearts. We had eight great years together before my dad died from cancer.

I often think to myself, If I had to choose between eight great years, or a lifetime of surface-level mediocrity, I’m thankful I got eight great years. Many people never get that with their fathers.

The day before he died, I sat at his bedside in the hospital and got to tell him that I loved him. Not everyone gets that opportunity. I am grateful.

But here’s the thing, Father’s Day never gets easier. More than a day on a calendar and endless greeting cards about tools and grilling and ties, this father thing is really hard with God.

This past Sunday, while responding to a text message I typed God, but my phone auto-corrected it to dad. That has never happened before, and I thought it was very ironic it happened on Father’s Day. My heart skipped a nervous beat.

My mom once gave my grandfather a plaque that read, “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.” Que sweaty palms over Siri’s mistake.

The Bible tells us over and over that God is our Good Father, Heavenly Father, Abba Father.

That’s like telling me, Sure, the last time you touched fire it was hot and burned you, but this fire is different, it won’t burn you. 


Fire is fire, right?

Fathers are fathers, right?

What’s more frustrating is that I totally know better. I have been walking with God since I was fourteen and have loved him since I was a little girl.

I should get it by now.

Hence, the feelings of self-imposed guilt drive a wedge deeper between God and me.

I am so sorry for the times I have said, in not so many words, the same thing to God that I did to my biological father, You can be a Father to my children, but not to me.

You can be Savior, Healer, Deliverer, Potter, Friend, Provider, Redeemer, Rock, Refuge, and my God. But Father? Here comes the list I named above of just some of my opinions about fathers.

I desperately don’t want to lump God into any of that because I know it’s not true. But my heart stings, even all these years later, over the topic of fathers and to avoid insulting God I exclude him from it.

Then Father’s Day comes around again and here comes the plethora of Facebook posts. Ug.

It seems everyone else has the best father in the world!

I tried. I really tried to be happy for them. I “liked” throwback photos of daddies and children (now my grown friends) doing all kinds of fun things together.

I “liked” heartfelt, borderline poetic, sentiments from my friends to their dads.

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I literally felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t look at one more smiley photo of warm embraces or read one more post about all of the unconditional love and support their fathers gave them.

My toes inched dangerously close to a line I try not to cross – the why me line.

I really try to live my life thankful for each day and for all of the blessings I have been given. But, never having a healthy father-child relationship messes children up.

Contrary to what this broken society wants people to believe, there are lifelong repercussions for children whose fathers walked away from their families or never showed up in the first place.

I’m not talking about illness and death and things out of people’s control. Rather fathers who choose to not engage in their children’s lives, even if they share the same home address.

Silence is deafening. Absence is suffocating. A lack of effort on a father’s part is like a sucker-punch to a child’s gut – to matter their age. Rejection from a father, spoken or not, intentional or the result of a lack of words or action, is indescribable.

We were created for family. It’s how God designed this world to keep spinning. And fathers have a unique role that fills a unique place in a child’s heart.

When that hole doesn’t get filled, children look for other things to fill it.

It must be filled.

For me, after realizing nothing tangible in this world can fill it, I looked to God. But again, that’s where I start blurring the line and transpose everything I feel about human fathers onto God and the next thing I know I’m running from him, too.

I read blogs that have happy endings, or at least an end with some amount of closure.

This one is open-ended. It seems a bit depressing because we’re used to life’s biggest problems being solved in a thirty-minute sitcom.

But life is more than splices of thirty minutes and there certainly isn’t a laugh track to fill in the awkward pauses.

I’m just saying that Father’s Day is hard. Seeing God as my Good Father is hard. I don’t have this figured out yet and feel I’m not alone in the journey.

The days since Sunday seem to pass in slow motion. I’m hard on myself for not having this all figured out after so long. I’m jealous of those who have had great relationships with their fathers. It leaves a gnawing in my heart and a pit in my stomach that is only relieved by the thought that it’s over for another year and the hope that by next year I’ll be different, changed, healed.

I resist the pessimist in me which reminds me that hasn’t happened yet.

In the meantime, I intentionally stay open to the truth that God is my Good Father. I choose to not have a hard heart toward him. I continue to learn about him and his character.

Mostly, I daily rely on his mercy and grace and understanding as I wander through this desert.

Deep down, past the walls and barriers and fortresses I have locked my heart behind, I know God is the opposite from the list above. But believing it and living it out are two different things.

With everything God is to me, and knowing he is who he is despite what I may feel, a flicker of hope remains in my heart that one day I will fully accept him as my Good Father.

Through it all, I am forever grateful he unconditionally accepts me as his child.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. ~ Psalm 68:5


Photo source here

The secret to an awesome family vacation



As teachers, students and parents breathe a collective exhale at the end of another school year, families begin planning, packing and preparing for vacation.

It took me years to learn the secret to an awesome family vacation, but I’m going to share it in two short words.

Transition Day.

Each year as we packed up the van with suitcases, the dog, a hedgehog, pillows (and for the beach – every known piece of beach paraphernalia) a few extra items got packed as well as got left home.

What got left behind:

* patience

* joy

* laughter

* camaraderie

* perseverance

What snuck into our luggage:

* a bad attitude

* everything that goes along with a bad attitude

I just couldn’t figure it out. All of us were so excited to take a break, spend family time together and have an adventure. Why oh why were we fighting before we crossed the city limit? I was all over my kids nagging them for “plugging in” too fast to their technology and how we weren’t bonding as a family (at least not in positive ways).

Like summer thunderstorms in Florida where I grew up that we could set our watch by, bickering and arguing were predicable accomplices in ruining our first day of vacation.

To be honest, I could feel the fight swelling up in me.  Why?

One vacation, we were truckin’ down the road and I was biting my tongue. Why was my husband so annoying to me? Why could no one do anything right around me? This quiet moment became surreal as I stared out the window on a lonely stretch of highway. Without warning, it seemed that the mystery completely unfolded before my very eyes.

It was grace. Grace invited itself along for the ride. I stopped what was on the tip of my tongue, and grace spoke into my heart. I saw that my anger towards my husband was not at him at all. It wasn’t even anger. It was frustration. Exhaustion. Missing him.

He can say the same about me.

What happened in the car at the start of every trip was a lot of pent up stuff. Months or weeks of topics we had not had any time to discuss typically flew out of my mouth like bullets. Frustration over not having any time to discuss them was the trigger. A lack of communication during our exhaustive days led to feeling distant (a woman does not like to feel distant from her man). Hurt feelings ensued and so on. It’s a giant house of cards that is built one busy day after the next, blurry month after blurry month, and by the time vacation comes I’ve got my panties in a wad, he’s tired, and neither one of us wants to deal with the kids.

On this particular vacation I blurted out with wide eyes and a smile, Hey! Let’s try something new. Let’s have a transition day!


We’re all tired. We’re spent. With the energy left in our pinky toes we set off for an adventure. But, let’s be realistic –

Families need to time to adapt. We all need time and energy to mentally and emotionally leave our routines behind as much as we do physically. We need to have flexibility to do that in ways that are right for us. As much as it is uncomfortable for me, I need to let my kids unwind with their technology for the first leg of the trip if that’s what works. For my husband, it may be listening to tunes or simply not talking. For me, I adapt by catching up on all of the things I’ve wanted to share with my man that our routines rob us from communicating.

So, how does his not wanting to talk jive with my need to talk?  After 24 years of marriage, I found out that what I am really looking for is for him to listen. I decompress by exhaling my words, feelings, emotions, etc. I don’t regenerate by him wanting to solve or fix every issue I bring up. I just need to get it out. It’s beautiful, really. I talk and talk and talk. He listens. We both win because I am not asking for him to share equal words in the conversation. I’m not asking anything of him. Sometimes I am just venting or processing things out loud and would rather him not say a word. In order for me to embrace the vacation and be in the moment, there needs to be room in my heart and mind to hold the new memories we will make. I can’t do that if I’ve drug all of the muck from home with me. He feels no pressure to respond except for the occasional smile, glance, or head nod. It’s perfect for us! Meanwhile, the kids have tuned into their music and miss all of my introspective downloading.

Also, we’ve learned that the first day of vacation isn’t our best, so we need to extend intentional grace to each other. It’s likely my husband has just finished a conference call as we’re packing the van. Being it’s a time for a break, the kids have most often just come off of hard tests and papers and presentations. We all need grace to fill in the blanks when we are not enough for each other.

The vacation I mentioned above was a turning point in our family. We declared Transition Day (out loud) and all of the stress of regular life, the stress of travel, the stress of wanting to have a good time, and all of the other stress that keeps my shoulders and neck muscles rock hard began to melt away.

Now, we actually laugh about it. When someone’s attitude tanks on that first day, we just smile and say “Transition Day!” and give grace. This has helped to cut down how long the transition takes, because the pressure of performance is gone. We can show our weaknesses. We are not “on” like we have to be in so many venues of our lives. We don’t have to begin making scrapbooking memories the moment our tires leave the driveway.

Giving each other freedom to have a transition day has been very healing. I can stop being wife and mother and just be Kristi – whether Kristi is tired, emotional, happy or mad. Likewise, each member of our family can simply be who we are. The van is peaceful even if someone is bent out of shape. Odd, huh?

By the second day (or even that evening) we are all ready for fun! We have switched gears and truly let it all go – without unnecessary friction that is draining and spoils the fun.

I’ve now started doing a mini version of Transition Day on the weekends. It’s not a formula. It’s simply putting ourselves in each others’ shoes and remembering we are humans who are imperfect but are trying to be the best we can anyway.

Grace is now not only at the top of my packing list for vacations and weekends, but it’s becoming part of my daily to-do list. And as often as I need to give it, I realize I need to receive it.

Vacation Transition Day has become part of our family’s everyday moments and is a game-changer because in giving grace – love wins – and that’s the main goal no matter where we are.




Thanksgiving Traditions

If your home looks like mine, colorful fall leaves have found their way to every room of the house, my one annual, frivolous expense, a yummy smelling pumpkin spice candle is more than half-way used up by now, and the hall closet has been ransacked by kids hurrying to find a jacket to take to school on unexpectedly chilly mornings.  I love it!

With Thanksgiving next week, I am scouring Pinterest and my familiar cookbooks to decide what to make for “the dinner.”  We share this holiday with extended family, and it’s just so fun to have everyone bring their family’s favorite dishes to share.

One dish that represents our clan is pie.  No, I’m not a great pie maker.  I’m not sure I’m even a good pie maker, but the story behind this pie is what has made it a family tradition.

Several years ago, I was in the kitchen, with the other women folk in the family, and we were cooking up a storm.  Every burner was hot, the oven was roasting, and every last inch of counter space filled was with cutting boards, knives, vegetables – you name it.  I was totally in my element.

In the background, the Macy’s Day Parade played with my husband and kids narrating every float so I could run into the family room to see our favorites.  The sun was bright, the air crisp, and Thanksgiving smells filled every room.

While I was busy chopping, dicing and slicing, my firstborn, barely double-digits, walked into the kitchen.  He came over to me and said, Can we bake something?

Um, huh? I thought as the menu was set and every minute leading up to the glutton-fest was allocated for demanding recipes already in progress.

A bit confused, I asked him, Like what, Honey?

I was thinking pie.

Pie? I asked.  I don’t really know how to make a good pie.

I’m sure we can find a recipe, or just make one up, he insisted.

Hmm.  I’m not sure we even have the ingredients and the grocery store is closed now, I answered while stirring pots and checking oven thermometers and whisking and blending and chopping.

I love to cook with my kids.  But, now?  It had to be right now?  I was obviously a little busy at the moment.

How about an apple pie? he suggested.

Welll, um, I began.  At that moment, my mommy’s eyes caught his gorgeous hazel eyes and I saw the sincerity in his request.  He wasn’t asking to make more food to eat.  He was asking to be a part of what I was doing.  He wanted time with me.  He wanted to do something special with me on Thanksgiving.

I gazed at his tenderness and saw just how young he still was, and the longer I looked at him, the more I realized my children won’t be little forever.

I put my cutting knife down, rested my hands on his shoulders, and said, You bet.  Let’s bake an apple pie!

He got so excited, but I didn’t know where to begin.  Putting everything on simmer, I abandoned my cooking projects for time with my son.

We combed through The Joy of Cooking cookbook and found a basic pie crust recipe.  Everything we made had to be scratch because stores were closed.  I am so glad they were, because otherwise I never would have know what an awesome pastry crust maker my son is!  He kneads that dough until you can almost see your reflection!  I am way too impatient to stand there and work it, but he loves it.

We found 2 apples, but a decent pie really needs at least 4, so we found out in our quest.  Thinking hard for something else we could add, I remembered my mother-in-law made a grape pie once that was really good!  I never would have thought of using grapes in a cooked pie, but it was delicious.

My son foraged through the refrigerator and sure enough we had exactly 2 cups of grapes. Perfect.

We assembled the apple & grape pie, and with a little leftover pastry dough we cut out a single turkey shape using a cookie cutter and placed it on top of the crust.

The Great Turkey Pie was born!

Not only was it delicious, but we had the time of our lives making it together.

Holidays can quickly become a nightmare when the stress of expectations steals our joy and the true meaning of the season is buried under futile projects (many of them self-imposed).  For that Thanksgiving, and every one since, I am truly thankful I have children who want to be with me, do fun things together, and aren’t afraid to ask and not assume Mom is too busy.

I never want to be too busy for my kids – especially on the holidays.

Every year when my son and I make this special pie together, it is time I so look forward to, because he’s getting older.  I want to make life promise me that he and I will always make this pie together, perhaps even with his children helping us one day, but life won’t make that promise.

What I do have is this Thanksgiving, Lord willing.  Whatever else is swirling around on the holidays, The Great Turkey Pie is my reminder to love, cherish and enjoy my family right now.  Here’s the irony – I have no idea what all of the other food I made was now!  All that hard work with no memory now whatsoever!  The perfect turkey or impressive side dishes, cute homemade place cards or a magazine-worthy table setting doesn’t come near to equating making memories with my family.

Yeah, I’d love to have a table and trimmings that look like something out of Pottery Barn or Sur La Table.  But, I’ll take committing to fewer bells and whistles in order to have more of myself to give my family.

More than a gourmet meal, my son wanted to spend time with me.  Me!  A regular wife and mom who constantly questions whether she’s getting this parenting thing right.  His desire for my attention told me how much he loved me, and stopping my agenda to be with him told him the same.  Fun times now.  Cherished memories tomorrow.  I am blessed.  I am thankful.

Lessons I’ve Learned From My Children

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Below are our photographs of lessons I’ve learned through my children in unexpected moments sharing life together.  I wouldn’t trade these experiences, or what they’ve taught me, for anything.

Always start the day with hope

Stay curious

God cares about the details

Some things are better left alone

Chase your dreams

Expect the unexpected

Know when to hold onto and when to let go

Look for life’s blessings

Don’t rush life

Find hidden treasure

Always be ready to make a new friend

Be spontaneous

Never forget old friends  (We had no idea these guys survived winter in our pond until we cleaned it out recently!)

Be thankful

Watch your step  (Found this guy while rock climbing)

Our lives are part of God’s divine design

Prayer binds family ties

Life is better together

Respect: Cost versus benefit for parents and children

Yesterday we discussed respect and why children need to learn it.  Today, I want to touch on two main issues that can make or break respect – for children and adults.

Self-control and pride.

These are the muscles that either work for or against respect.  When we take away the drama of disrespect and peek underneath at what motivates someone to be disrespectful, typically there is a lack of self-control and an overload of pride.

Disrespect can be shown in any number of ways.  Anyone can do it.  It’s easy!  We just say what we feel with no filter on our mouths.  Or, we do what we feel like with no thought or concern of the repercussions to our actions.  Disrespect is easy.  It’s also very costly.  Once a word leaves our mouth, we can never ever retract it.  We can say we are sorry a hundred times, but it doesn’t make the word(s) disappear.  Sticks and stones – yeah, right.  We all know words hurt.  It’s why we use them against people-to hurt them.  Whoever first coined this phrase was spot on: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  If everyone lived according to that the world would be a better place.

Disrespect can be shown in many ways without ever physically touching the other person.  Deliberate defiance, foot stomping, walking away, eyes rolling and rude body language screams disrespect without uttering a word or producing physical harm.  Oh, we are good.  We know exactly how to show disrespect if we want to.  After all, it comes naturally!  And for those who are closest to us, we know precisely the hottest buttons to push to show it.

When parents let a word from a child go here and there, they are in essence telling them what is acceptable behavior.  If the child says something out of line either by way of subject matter or foul language, and the parent turns a blind eye to disrespectful behavior, they have just told the child it is perfectly okay to say or do it.  A non-response is a response nonetheless.

Parents can, and should, only deal with so much at time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if heavy subject matter is being addressed, it is ineffective to try to correct every single thing the child has done wrong right then and there.  But, it must be addressed at some point.  After conflict, parents just want peace and quiet in their homes, so who wants to dredge up more issues?  However, if the issue isn’t addressed, rest assured it will come up again and again.  And, every time it comes up, a precedent has been set that whatever the child has said or done is permissible.

Children remember.  They remember it was okay to say it, or do it, last time and they are thinking, So who’s the hypocrite now?  I could get away with it before and not this time?  Who’s the double standard now?

They are right.  One thing I often tell my tween and teens regarding peer pressure is this – you have to have already made up your mind how you will respond to a situation.  It’s far too much pressure to try to sort it all out in the heat of the moment.  You have to have already determined your boundaries, that way, when the moment of decision comes you can simply fall back on what you previously decided.

It’s much the same with parenting.  We have to have a plan.  We must have boundaries.  We must gather the courage to stick to them.  Waiting until something comes up in the middle of conflict to determine how you feel about it is not the time to debate within ourselves what we should do.  We should already know what we’re are going to do.  It takes a lot of pressure off of ourselves to simply follow through with our standard, rather than create one on the spot.

Additionally, standards created on the spot are not reliable.  Factors that affect said standard are: the offense committed by the child/teen, how angry the parent is, how volatile the conflict gets, the kind of day the parent has had (what Mom or Dad’s mood is going into the conflict), and likewise what kind of mood and day the child/teen has had.  All of those are centered around emotions, and emotions are fleeting and are extremely temperamental (pardon the pun).

Decisions about what a parent will allow the child/teen to say must be predetermined when there is no conflict and the parent is in control of himself or herself.  It is so much easier to parent with a plan, rather than make it up as we go.

(Tip – kids see right through a spontaneous plan, and they know how to use it against us.  I think they can smell it or see it or feel its vibe (just kidding), but they know us well enough to tell the difference when we are readily prepared and when we are winging it.)

Disrespect is a lack of self-control.  We just can’t help ourselves!  We know we are right, or even when we know we are wrong – we’re gonna be heard – and whatever it takes to make us feel heard, well, so be it.  Yikes.  This philosophy will land the growing child grounded and the adult child unemployed and most likely alone.

Self-control and pride.  When I think about these two character traits, I see with my mind’s eye, the silly image we’ve all seen before.  A person standing with a little angel that looks like the person on one shoulder and a little devil that looks like the person on the other shoulder.  They are both debating their point-of-view into the person’s ear.

Self-control is one of the hardest virtues!  A lack of it wages war against our better judgement, only sees the moment, and could care less about long-term effects of the situation.

Pride is truly the root, the seed, of a lack of self-control – which leads to disrespect.  We don’t want to admit we are wrong, and we certainly don’t want anyone to tell us we are wrong!  A heaping dose of pride inhibits us from letting the other person finish speaking, choosing not to slam the door, choosing not to jump in the car and drive off, choosing not to say something we will deeply regret later.

For children of all ages, they are trying to figure this all out.  They do not have the life experience of say, getting fired from a job for yelling at the boss, or having security come remove them from the classroom for refusing to participate.

They are in a season of life of testing boundaries.  It’s not necessarily always about how “bad” they are behaving.  Sometimes, whether they realize it or not, they are trying to find civilized boundaries.  When parents don’t teach them boundaries, how do kids know when to stop?  If parents don’t have a plan, and therefore are constantly moving the boundary lines, then unnecessary confusion is created and no one is going to come out of that successfully.

There once was a study done with a group of children.  They placed the children in a fenced-in yard with tons of fun things to do: swings, toys, slides, you know, fun stuff.  The kids had a blast!  They were as busy as ants at a picnic.  Then, they took the fence away, but left the toys.  The same group of kids meandered aimlessly around as if they were lost.  They didn’t play with the toys.  They just…wandered around.  Fascinating!  The conclusion was that when the fence was there, the kids knew they were free to do everything inside the fence.  When the fence was removed, the kids didn’t know what they could do because they didn’t know how far they could roam or what else around them was fair game to play with.

The same principle applies to parenting in regards to respect.  Parents must show children what is acceptable and what is not.  They must use the same fence every time.  Don’t move the fence around – that won’t help and will only confuse the child.

Is the child allowed to cuss at the parent?  Yes or no.  Is the child allowed to yell at the parent?  Yes or no. Is the child allowed to tell the parent to shut-up?  Yes or no.

Is the child allowed to storm off in an argument?  Yes or no.  Is the child allowed to slam doors, throw objects or turn away from the parent when being spoken to?  Yes or no.  Is the child allowed to roll their eyes or show other similar body language?  Yes or no.

These are the kinds of boundaries that need to be predetermined – preferably before the child is born, but it’s never too late to begin healthy, CONSISTENT boundaries.

Here’s a tough word…any of the above mentioned that the child/teen is permitted to do to parents, he or she will do the same things to their future boss and spouse.  How’s that going to work for them?  It won’t end well.  And, for parents who are still trying to be their child’s best friend in the growing years, allowing the child/teen to get away with these things through rationalizing or justifying in the parent’s mind (oh, they’ve had a bad day, they’ve had a hard life, etc.) is going to result in the child resenting the parent.  Why? Because the parent, in either spoken or unspoken terms, told the child it was okay to behave like this, but when the grown child tries to pull this stuff on the world, he or she will quickly find out the hard way the world won’t tolerate it and there is a price to be paid for such behavior.  The grown child will, in essence, be baffled as to why the parent didn’t warn them.  Why did the parent lead them on in something that is not reality?  Why didn’t the parent better prepare the child for the real world?  What will the parent say then?

Self-control, pride and respect are a threesome that cannot be separated.  A parent cannot deal with one without knowing the other two are in cahoots with it.  Again, a moment of conflict is probably not the best time to address every single last issue.  The child is not in a position to hear and process all that at once.  But, when tempers have cooled down and everyone is thinking clearly and in a receptive mood to listen, boundaries must be reaffirmed and appropriate consequences given for breaking through the fence.

We are not born knowing boundaries.  We are born trying to buck them.  Take advantage of the little amount of time we have to set up our children for a successful future.  It may mean rough waters for now, but the end result is a healthy family who knows their rules and children know their place.  The end result will, hopefully, be mature, respectful children who will esteem their parent for better preparing them for the real world.

Bottom line – a parent will count the cost for how they parent now or later.  The parent must choose whether to work through the rough spots now, even though they are tired, have hard jobs, have hard marriages, or feel too inadequate to effectively parent, or the parent can choose to turn a blind eye, remove the fence for the sake of a moment of peace and not invest in a plan, but wind up with a grown child who has trouble with work and relationships – including with the parent.

We must decide today – today – how we will parent.  There are many great books about parenting available.  Invest now and enjoy the payoff later.

<<Check out a great book recommendation on my Books page!>>

What’s the big deal about teaching children respect?

Exodus 20:12, Honor your father and your mother…

Scenario #1 – As I sat on the football field this weekend watching my youngest’s team play football, I noticed an interaction between another mother and son.  It was something I’ve seen happen many times.  Too many.

It’s halftime, and Mom notices her tween son might be thirsty, so she jumps up and begins walking toward her son with a bottle of Gatorade.  He meets her more than halfway and, in front of all of the other parents of both teams, he chastises her to stay off of the field.  She quickly submits to his request and retreats off of the field with subservient speed.

As she holds out the Gatorade and tells him she thought he might be thirsty, he snaps, Where’s my water.  I wanted water.

Oh, your dad is supposed to bring that but he isn’t here yet, she says smiling.

I wanted water, he demands.

Okay.  I’m sure he’ll be here soon.  Would you like some Gatorade for now? she asks, looking longingly at him.

Pfft, he said with obvious disapproval.  He snatched the bottle out of her hand and walked away.

Have fun! she called to him as she sheepishly smiled at the parents sitting nearby and took her seat.

I wanted to say to him, Go thank you mother.  You never said, please, or thanks for the Gatorade, or I appreciate it.  Nothing.  Zippo.  It was the same attitude of entitlement and disrespect that is so common no one bats an eye anymore.

Whose fault is it?  Parent or child?  My opinion is that it’s both – at least at this age.  What happened to a society where children honored their fathers and mothers?  Where bare-bones politeness was common courtesy.  Where parents received respect for the little and big things they did for their children.

Okay.  Pause.  I am not addressing abusive or neglectful parents. I am not talking about dysfunctional homes (though many are in some manner) or anything that needs professional help.  I’m talking about every day moments in life when who the person really is on the inside shows on the outside.

Scenario #2 – I was at the dentist office waiting for my child’s checkup to finish.  It’s a very kid-friendly place and has all kinds of things to do to keep little ones entertained while older siblings have their appointment.  A little girl, no older than four, quietly played with the office’s toys.  Mom and Dad watched nearby.  It was time to go back to see the older sibling, and so the dad asked his young daughter to pick up the toys she had taken out.  She just stood there and stared at him.  Then ignored him.  He repeated his request.  This time she said, No.  He asked her a third time, and she simply turned around and walked away with the mom and left Dad and the toys behind.

I was very curious how he would respond and held my breath as he stood there looking at the mess she had made.  I said (to him) to myself, Don’t do it.  Don’t do it.  Then…he did it.  With drooping shoulders, and donning not an ounce of dignity, he began picking up the toys for her.  He picked up every last toy, in front of a full room of women, and then disappeared into the hall to find his family.

My children learned something interesting in school.  In early America, children did not eat with their parents.  Not only that, they were not allowed to talk during dinner.  Not only that, they waited on their parents while the parents ate.  Not only that, the children stood and ate, they didn’t even get a seat when it was their turn.  This was our country once upon a time.

Now for me, that seems extreme.  On the contrary, my family loves our family dinners – something we make a priority in our home.  I’m not suggesting we take away our children’s seats and forbid them to speak, but how in the world did we get from there to here where kids sit at the proverbial head-of-the-table and parents ask their permission to speak?  This blog is far too short to answer that question.  Much research has gone into family roles & dynamics, American history and the changes it’s seen and how that affects the individual.  It’s a black hole of information, unfortunately, because although we clearly see patterns of a downward spiral in our society in regards to respect, manners, and courtesy, few seem to want to do anything about it!

Why do parents allow their children to captain the ship? Rule the roost? What good do they think will come from it?  Oh, I know.  They will gain their child’s respect and friendship.  Um.  Bad news…that philosophy won’t work.  And, shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Why do parents need their children’s approval on their job as a parent?

Who is the leader of the family?

Why are parents afraid to parent?

Why are they afraid of their children? (children who abuse their parents notwithstanding)

When did parents relinquish their power and surrender authority to their children?

How do they think this will ever help the child as an adult?  I have so many questions.

We are all born selfish.  It’s our human nature.  But, unless we are going to live in solitary confinement on a deserted island, we have to act as a society, and family is the cornerstone to any society.  It is the parent’s job to set boundaries and rules for their kids (and follow through on them).  But, kids who are at the age of accountability to accept the appropriate consequences of their behavior must answer for themselves.

When I look at families where the child has the parent wrapped around their little finger at age 7, 9, and 11, I think what fun that house will be when hormones rage in the teen years.  The battles parents and kids have now when they are young, battles where the parents ultimately give in to whatever the topic du jour is, will be more fierce, more intense and create more problems in the teen years than young parents can ever imagine.

Godly authority exercised by the parent, and godly respect given by the children, is how families were divinely designed.  The precious gift of mutual friendship comes later when the children are no longer children and are no longer under the authority of the parents.

Until then, it’s not an even playing field.  Children don’t have equal say, equal voice, in a matter.  It’s not their job because they aren’t qualified for the job as an adult at their ripe, young age.

Some reasons parents cave is because they are either: too tired, too frustrated, too weak, too afraid, have no parenting plan, don’t care, or have become stuck in an unhealthy pattern with their children like a fly stuck to flypaper.

One thing I remind myself of when we address respect in our home is this – how my child treats me now is how they will treat me when I am old.  In other words, how I allow my child to treat me now, is how they are naturally going to relationship with me when I am old and need their help.  It’s something to think about.

Kids who are allowed to say anything, do anything, to their parents will be adults who could care less about their aging parents’ needs.  After all, life is all about them, and that’s the way it’s always been for them…so why is the parent shocked decades later when the grown child shows no concern for them?

I have personally witnessed a boy hit his mother in the head when she said No to something he wanted.  She gave in.  What will happen when he is bigger and stronger than her and she says No again – and maybe means it this time?

The formula is simple: selfish child = selfish adult; demanding child = demanding adult; bossy, disrespectful child = bossy, disrespectful adult.  How will that fair for them in the workplace? In marriage?  In friendships when Mom no longer arranges the play dates?

What I see is parents want to skip the teaching, training, and tough love and jump right to the parent/adult child friendship.  This plan will fail.

Scenario #3 – My friend told me that once she, her kids and her adult sister were in a store in the checkout line.  My friend’s daughter (very young at the time) wanted something from the impulse aisle.  My friend said, No.  Her daughter proceeded to throw the biggest tantrum ever.  Resolving to not give in, my friend looked at her visiting sister and said, Can you handle it?  Her sister replied, Yep.  Well, okay, then, my friend said.  And they stood there ignoring the tantrum that had caught everyone’s attention. They were resolute, and guess what?  The daughter wasn’t permanently scarred!  Actually, she grew a little more as a person that day, and she is a very lovely young lady today.

Perhaps maintaining an image is why parents cave.  What will people think of me if my toddler screams their head off over me not buying this toy they want?  I can tell you what some are thinking, Been there.  Done that.  Stay strong.  I’d much rather see a little child throw an obnoxious fit over not getting a toy, then an obnoxious adult throwing a fit over anything!

If parents are hoping that some shift in respectful maturity will magically happen between childhood and adulthood without intentional training, they will be sorely disappointed.  Maturity eventually happens, most of the time, but that doesn’t guarantee a respectful adult.  Just look at the statistics in our country from crime to divorce to prescription drug use to alcohol abuse and so on.  Look at the television shows that are “supposed” to have a pulse on the heartbeat of America.  I’ve never seen so many disrespectful people on the small screen – from mouthy children on kids shows to R-rated reality adult shows.  Really?  This is a portrait of us?

Parenting, especially parenting in the early years, is like the game Risk.  There must be a strategy.  There must be intentional moves on the parent’s part.  There must be a goal to work towards.  There must be diligent work on the parent’s part.

No one said parenting was easy, and we need to put our big girl panties on and accept it.

Laying a foundation of who’s in charge and how things will role will pay off later.  I remember once on a bad day of behavior in our home, I looked my children in the eye and said, I’ll do the hard thing, every time, because it’s the right thing.  Even if that means Mom needs a time out first.  In the moment, it is extremely easy to take the quick way out and give in to the demands of kids.  It’s so understandable that Mom or Dad has had a long day and they are tired.  I completely empathize with being physically, mentally and emotionally drained.  But, losing small battles leads up to losing the war.  No, we don’t want to be at war with our children, but our carnal natures sure are.  It’s how we are wired.  One will win.  One will lose.  Which will it be?

Even the Apostle Paul, a full-grown adult, couldn’t understand it.  His words are some of the most confusing in the Bible…

Romans 7: 14-21

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

Whew.  If even he struggled with how to behave and what to do, a former flawless Pharisee and completely committed ambassador for Christ, then how confused must children be, who have much less life experience, to understand about how to live?

I love my children with all my heart.  And because of this, I love them enough to do the hard thing (i.e., calling them out every single time disrespect rears its ugly head – which is rare, by the way, because my husband and I have set the foundation mention above) in order to keep peace in our home and to set them up for success now and as they grow.  Teachers won’t tolerate rude students.  Employers won’t tolerate disrespectful employees.  In this economy there are ten people lined up waiting for that job!  In a marriage – well – just look at the divorce rates.  They speak for themselves.

Allowing disrespect by way of physical or verbal communication stunts children’s emotional growth. Eventually, if parents want their children to be employable and marriable, children have to learn respect – and this begins at home.

Teaching them this truth now will save them much heartache later.  It may also save their marriage, their job and their friendships.  And, it may give parents what they hope for one day – a healthy friendship with their adult child.  In moments of conflict, think long-term goals.  Parenting is not a sprint.  It’s a marathon.  A strong finish is possible.  Don’t give in or give up.  Your children are counting on you to show them the way – even if they don’t act like it or say it.  Run strong. Lead the way.

Favorite Fifteen! 15 things I love about being a mom

*** This just in!  For all of you wonderful people who prayed for my mother-in-law’s surgery yesterday, she came through it well.  We don’t know any of the details, but if I start getting weak in the knees I’m going back to the Scriptures from yesterday’s post!  Thank you for your prayers, emails, posts, texts and phone calls.  We appreciate them!

Okay…15 things I love about being a mom-in no particular order 🙂

*  I can convince my kids to dance with me in the middle of dinner.

*  “Say yes to the dress” while snuggling with my daughter on the couch.

*  When my tween son looks at me, his eyes sparkle and gleam with love that only a son can give.

*  My kisses possess magical power to heal hurts and hearts.

*   My high-school son keeps the notes I slip into his school lunch.

*  I have been blessed with this motley crew of humans that God put together under one roof who accept me just as I am.

*  All of our family’s private jokes.  Priceless!

*  I have dozens of pet names for my kids.  They know them all and answer to them!

*  They trust me and know I’ve got their best interest at heart.

* Performing an animated solo flash-mob to my teenage daughter while the grocery store’s overhead speakers played Whitney Houston’s song, “I will always love  you” in the middle of the checkout line last night.  The clerk laughed as I walked out with my arm around my sweet thing serenading her all the way to the van.

*  We’re not afraid to talk about the tough stuff.

*  The smell of their freshly washed hair.

*  Watching them grow into amazing young adults.  What a privilege.

*  They give me an excuse to drop everything and have a pillow fight in the living room!

*  No one else but my family would want to live with me! 🙂

Family Travel Review – New York City, Part 1 of 2

With summer around the corner, Another category is being added to the blog that I’m excited about…Family Travel Review.  Here, I’d like to offer our family’s two cents advice on what has worked, and not worked, while traveling as a family.  It’s a compilation of our trips and others who have shared their experiences.  Feel free to add posts with what works and what to avoid.  Everything below is family-friendly!!

Let’s start with a favorite – New York City!  This is a city that we just love to visit.  We’ve been going there for years and have some favorites to share.  Maybe they’ll become favorites to you, too!  As we continue to go back to the city that truly never sleeps, we’ll update the blog.  There’s a lifetime of things to do here.

New York City with the family:

Yes, it is possible to take children to NYC and have a ton of fun.  Some tips on how to make the most of your time there…

1. How old should children be to go to NYC?  We waited until our children could carry their own small backpacks and have good walking legs.  We didn’t want to bother with strollers or carry anyone, no way!  The more people in a group, the more water bottles, snacks, wallets, etc., which makes for a back-breaking experience.  When every can carry their own stuff, it’s so much easier on the parent.  We bought “travel backpacks” that are used every trip.  They are simple, inexpensive school-like backpacks.

2. Plan ahead.  There is so much to do there, make a wish list – then cut it in half.  Hey, it’ll give you an excuse to go back!  In an ideal world with no lines, no traffic, no oversleeping, and no crowds one could attempt to check everything off on his or her list.  But, that’s just not the case.  Realizing an activity really takes 1.5 – 2 times as long as it ideally should, helps a family go into a busy trip to NYC with more realistic expectations and cooler attitudes.  It’s vacation, after all, and should be enjoyed. J

Keep in mind the group with whom you are traveling.  I remember our most recent trip last fall, we wanted to check out the Guggenheim.  We took a subway as close to it as possible, with the idea of walking to the Gugg, then walking to our favorite ice skating rink (I’ll share that later).  Once we finally got to the Gugg, the majority of the crowd (children) were less than impressed.  We wound up touring the gift store and leaving.  Ug.  Then we walked a LONG way to ice skating. By the time we got there, the adults were too tired to skate.  The walk was gorgeous, and made for great chat time, but to do it over again, we would’ve skipped the Gugg with the kids and saved that for a later date.  So keep in mind what and where you want to spend your time.  View online maps and arm yourself with hours of operation, reservations, if needed, and subway strategies.  Your homework will pay off.

3. Restaurants:  There are a bagillion places to eat in NYC, and many are very kid-friendly.  We are pizza connoisseurs – okay, pizza snobs.   Our family’s favorite?  Lombardi’s.  Oh man.  It’s a small joint that serves up big pies.  Pizzas are coal-fired with a sweet sauce and real mozzarella slices melted on top.  There is no other pizza anywhere like Lombardi’s.  The waits are never bad (we beat the normal dinner crowd and get there before 6pm) and there is seating on the roof for spillover.  People there say NYC pizza is the best because of the water that is used in making the dough.  Whatever it is, it’s so good!  John’s Pizza is good too, and one location is a renovated church with stained glass ceilings – which is really cool.  If you’re looking for a traditional pie, this is a great place.

* Junior’s.  The serve a rockin’ breakfast!  Actually, all of their food is really great.  If you like cheesecake, you have to try Junior’s.  They have indoor/outdoor seating, very cool atmosphere, casual, and it’s right down the street from Broadway so often people watch a show then head to Junior’s.  My children’s favorite memory of this incredible restaurant is when we went to just have dessert.  For a family of five, it was less expensive to order an entire cheesecake than by the slice.  So we did.  But, we had leftovers, obviously.  We took the other half back to our hotel room and stuck it in the mini fridge.  We were checking out the next morning, so yes, we had cheesecake for breakfast.  The kids still remember – the day Dad & Mom let us have cheesecake for breakfast!

* Street vendors.  Some of our best meals have been on the street.  It’s hard to walk by and not be taken in by the smell of hot dogs, curry chicken, peppers & onions, pretzels, etc.  It’s mouth-watering.  It’s also affordable.  We like to grab a meal, take a break and people watch.  It’s almost better than sitting inside a restaurant because we can see all the action outside.

* Smith & Wolensky.  You gotta get the seafood tower (big enough for the whole table).  It’s out of control and the rib eye is one of the best steaks you’ll ever have.  Career wait staff – excellent service!  Pricey.  A total NYC experience. (Submitted by my husband who went their while on business.)

* Ferrara Café.  This jewel of a find is in Little Italy.  The atmosphere is busy and the ambiance very NYC Italian.  The desserts are mouth-watering.  They offer just about anything Italian you can imagine.  Pricey.  But, it’s worth the splurge.  We usually go there once while there.

* Peanut Butter & Co.  We haven’t visited this establishment yet, but we buy their products in our local grocery store.  VERY delicious!  White chocolate, dark chocolate, maple, cinnamon swirl – all varieties of peanut butter.  Next time in NYC, we will definitely go there and check it out.

4.  Things to do:

* Carriage ride through Central Park.  You gotta do this once.  It’s pricey, but my family really enjoyed this.  The clip-clop of horses meandering through Central Park, breathing the familiar NYC air, it’s part of the experience.  Afterward, we chatted with the SPCA division of the police force giving an impromptu check on the horses.  The horses are clean and well-cared for, but it made me feel even better to hear that from the police force.

* Empire State building.  Another must!  Buy tickets early or be prepared to stand in line half a block long (at least).  The main tickets get you to the main viewing floor (think Sleepless in Seattle).  An additional ticket takes you to the very peak on a separate elevator.  We did both.  We found that the additional money to the tip top wasn’t worth it.  It’s small, cramped, and the windows are fogged up.  It felt just like being on a boat in the cabin underneath.  And, there is only one elevator, so once you’re ready to leave, be prepared to wait a very long time.  But the main floor viewing was awesome.  Great photo op, windy, and even King Kong makes an appearance for a photo op.

* Statue of Liberty.  Yes, you must.  It’s patriotic! We took the ferry from the Jersey side, which is less-traveled.  Very good idea.  What we didn’t realize was the never-ending security process.  It took us about 3 hours to get through it (albeit it was July), then we could actually begin enjoying Lady Liberty.  People are no longer allowed to climb up it like they used to, but there is a museum experience inside it that’s cool.  Bags are not permitted, so what we didn’t realize when we skipped lunch to catch the ferry, was that we’d have to wait hours and hours to eat – not good with smaller children.  All in all, glad we did this!

* Broadway show.  We splurged once and saw The Little Mermaid.  Unbelievable!  The props, acting, the whole shebang.  Such a great experience.  I was surprised at how casually everyone dressed.  Everything from jeans to dresses.  Catch a show if time permits.  Tickets, sometimes reduced, are on sale in Times Square for same-day shows if you feel the mood.

* Metropolitan Museum of Art spectacular.  No way to see it all in one visit.  Better for older children.

* American Museum of Natural History  – so worth it!  Great for kids of all ages.

* Enjoy the go! by Charmin.  Nicest bathrooms in all of NYC.  Big-screened tv’s, music, lots of wait staff standing around.  This sounds ridiculous, but bathrooms can be really hard to come by.  Most times there is a line down the street to get in Charmin’s.  If you pop into a restaurant, be prepared to purchase something for the privilege of using their facilities.

* Toys R Us versus  FAO Schwartz.  Definitely Toys R Us.  FAO is small, over-priced, and not as conveniently located as Toys R Us (in Times Square).  Skip the huge piano keyboard at FAO (which has very long wait lines and kids don’t know what to do on them after 5 seconds anyway).  Toys R Us is 4 stories, complete with indoor Ferris wheel.  They have live demos of the latest toys, bathrooms, and every toy imaginable.  I never thought we’d take time to visit a toy store in NYC, but this is more of an attraction.

<<Check back tomorrow for part 2 with more attractions, accommodations, etc.!!>>

So long, control freak

The warmer weather we’ve been blessed with this spring is good for both the body and soul.  Joggers, runners, walkers, dog-walkers, kids playing – everyone seems to be overjoyed at the temperate climate.  We, too, just have to get out and savor it!  One thing our family loves to do is bike ride.  Long rides.  Hours-long rides.  I make sure sunscreen has been applied; we check our tires for air; stock up on water and protein bars; dig out the sunglasses; make minor adjustments to our bicycle helmets; make sure everyone is wearing good socks; double-check that everyone has gone to the bathroom; grab my cell phone and a few band-aids and then set off for an adventure once Mom’s checklist is complete.  I take my job as mother very seriously.  While our chicks are in our nest, they are our responsibility.  It’s my job as a mother.  The job I’ve wanted since I was a very little girl.

One particular day, we chose to take a long ride on the less-traveled, country road versus the congested city path.  This back road is quiet and pretty.  There wasn’t another person or dog or vehicle anywhere.  My kids and I took our time cruising along the tree-lined street.  We were all well-spaced apart, because we could be on this lonely road – with no threat of danger.

I noticed my youngest son had lagged a bit behind, so I stopped my bike under a large shade tree to wait for him.  Birds sang, the breeze blew the tall, golden grass as if it were bowing down to the sun.  It was such a picturesque moment.  I was about 10 yards ahead of my little guy, patiently waiting, when all of a sudden a huge, black Suburban came barreling around the corner.  It came up behind my son like a shark locked on a target in the ocean.  My heart raced and palms began to sweat, as I stood wide-eyed and helpless – just out of reach to help my son.  I held my breath and said to myself, not wanting to startle him on his small bike, “Steady, steady, just don’t fall.”  Right as the Suburban passed him, my son hit a hole in the road and fell into the street.  I mean, exactly as the enormous vehicle whizzed by him, he fell directly into that space of road – narrowly escaping the large, heavy tires.

I gasped!  Then screamed!  Thankfully, he was okay.  The Suburban just missed him.  I ran to him, in shock of what had just happened.  We were on a desolate street.  Birds were singing, and we were enjoying such a wonderful bike ride, when in a split second everything changed.  I saw my son’s young life flash before my eyes.  Where did this vehicle come from?  Why did my son have to hit a hole in the road at the precise moment the vehicle passed by him?  Everything happened so fast. I was clearly shaken – more than him.

I asked him repeatedly if he was okay – both body and mind.  He was fine.  I was not.  He was young enough to shake it off.  I wasn’t ready to move an inch.  Not only did I witness something terrifying as a person, but this was my son and it is my job to keep him safe.  I felt like I had failed.  Miserably.  Physically, there was nothing I could do.  I was just far enough away that no matter how fast I can run, I couldn’t have intervened in the nano-second long moment.  For the rest of the long bike ride, I was haunted by the image of seeing him fall into the street, narrowly missing the large, ominous vehicle.  I replayed it over and over trying to think of anything I could’ve done to prevent the situation.  Nothing.  There was nothing I could’ve done.  That brought me back to feeling like a failure.

If you ask my husband, I can be a little over the top when it comes to keeping my kids safe.  Although this was a freak accident, I kept thinking that it must have been – in some way – my fault, because I couldn’t stop it.  Deep feelings of anxiety and angst welled up in my heart, and I nearly had to get off my bike to breathe.  That’s when God reminded me that He is the One who controls all – not me.  He is God of time and space – I am not.  He sees all, knows all, and is in all.  My job title as a mother is simply manager.  His job title as God…is God.  The two are not equal.  This was my lesson for the day.  Bad things do happen, and boy do we have stories of ER visits from school injuries, hardware store injuries, sports injuries, etc., because we live in a fallen, sinful world.  No one can escape that.  And I never thought I was God, that would be ridiculous and insane, but I had bought the lie that I could be the end-all, need-meeter for my kids.  Clearly, I cannot.  That was never written in my mommy contract.  I suppose my maternal hormones kicked in when I first became a mom and I hand-wrote an addendum to my mommy contract because Mamma Bear just can’t help it.  What that lie did was create an enormous amount of pressure on my myself to be the perfect mother.  Not to have perfect kids, but I believed that I could always be there, every time, for them.  This bike ride proved I cannot.

What I can do is release my children into God’s care.  Try as I might to be their best mother, I will fail sometimes.  A lot.  And that’s okay.  Because more than being dependent on me for every need, I want them to be dependent on God.  He is the One that knew them before they were born, knew their names first, counts every hair on their head, understands their every thought, every dream, and watches their every move – both past, present and future.  He is their all-in-all.  He’s mine, too.  Much peace returns to my heart when I remember His omnipotent presence.  Below is an excerpt from the devotional, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young.

“This is a time in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control…You can feel secure, even in the midst of cataclysmic changes, through awareness of My continual Presence…The One who never leaves you is the same One who never changes…As you release more and more things into My care, remember that I never let go of your hand.”

Both Psalm 139: 1-17  and Psalm 121 roll around in my mind and speak Truth to my restless mother’s heart.  When I remember who God is, I am free to be who I was called to be – a mom, saved by grace, doing the best she can.  And, I have much peace knowing that God’s got my kids in His hands, even when they aren’t holding onto mine.

I am here, my heart is there

I woke up in Africa today, if only in my heart.  We traveled to Kenya as a family last summer on a short-term mission trip, and I am convinced part of me stayed there.  If I close my eyes and draw a deep breath, I can still smell the smoke from the Masai warriors’ burned wood.  If I sink my ears into my pillow, I can hear the laughter of the hundreds of children we had the pleasure to meet.  If I dismiss the daily to-do’s waiting for me, I am able to replay the memories we made as a team and as individuals.

What I still can’t forget are the smiles.  Hundreds and hundreds of smiles shining at us.  I can’t forget the extremely special people we met.  We felt like we had known them for a lifetime.  I miss them.

And the tomatoes!  I’ve never in all my life had a tomato so sweet and delicious – you could eat them like an apple.  The smell of the night air.  Unpolluted.  Dewey. Sweet.  The fun we had!  Singing, sharing, working.  Standing on a mountain top, looking at people who have never seen white folk.  I’d never seen Kenyan tribal folk.  The language barrier – and how it really didn’t matter.  Love truly knows no language.  Smiles, playing, and just being together provided so much love we needn’t say a word.  I was captivated watching the children’s faces as they saw themselves for the first time – through my camera’s lens.  Never had some seen what they look like.  Never had they seen themselves in motion as on Bruce’s iPad.  The squeals of delight and fascination were contagious.

The poverty.  Heart-breaking poverty.  It was everywhere my eye wandered.  I couldn’t get away from it.  Even in our bunk rooms, children stood outside the door begging.  Give me sweets?  Give me Bible?  Give me sweets?  Give me Bible? they repeated over and over.  There is so much need.  They need clean water, dental hygiene, shoes, clothes that do not have gaping holes in them and that actually fit.  They need allergy medicine, education, medical care, and to hear they are loved.  My heart broke for them – with good reason.  They have many, many important needs.

However, when we asked them if they want what we have in America, they said no.  Hmm.  Why?  Because, they said, we see what it costs you to have it. Wow.  I was speechless.  They nailed it.  They are impoverished people, but they are hard-working, loving, accepting people.  They pay no attention to status, material possessions or anything that labels a person.  They are thrilled just to spend time together.  They have true community.  Something we lack.

We worked primarily with children.  It still amazes me that the entire time we were there, I heard not one single complaint from them!  Not one I’m bored, I’m tired, I don’t want to, but why, why not, I’m cold, I’m hungry, or a single negative comment.  Not one.  Children who have no parents, no shoes, no possessions to call their own.  Not even electricity or running water.

But boy were they happy!  They laughed and sang and took us by the hand and showed us their orphanages, schools, and church.  They played soccer with us, danced with us, braided my daughter’s hair, and showed us how to harvest corn in the fields.  They wanted nothing from us, but were so thankful for what we brought.  I met a boy who has the mind of an engineer, and I got to introduce a Rubik’s Cube to him.  I met a teenage girl that hopped on our bus to ride up the mountain that she climbs every day…just because she wanted to feel what it was like to ride in a vehicle.  She wants to be a teacher or doctor.

My kids fell head over heels in love with all of the children.  My daughter is still trying to convince us to adopt the special friend she made.  If only life were that easy.  My oldest teen made instant friends with another teen there who wants to be a pastor.  They were soul brothers just like that.  My youngest helped buy and cut wood with his dad, and played soccer every single day with boys his age.  They helped with VBS, led worship at church, and dug ditches to help build a kitchen onto one orphanage.  Our children were changed forever.  All of the children on the team were.  We all were.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so embedded is a video I made from the photos I took.  Watch with me.  I need to see their faces again.  Smell the dewy air.  Feel the rich soil beneath your feet.  Hear nothing but kids laughing and playing.  See the precious, beautiful Kenyan people.  They have many needs, but after being with them, I think they are some of the richest people in the world.