Finding magic in ordinary days

Many of you have heard me say it before; I’m an accidental mama. Motherhood wasn’t in the cards. This job continues to surprise me with its monotony and challenges, and often with its wonder. Eleven years later and I still find myself catching my breath. Days line up in a succession of ordinary hours. Occasionally these everyday moments provide a dose of magic. To wake us up, to make us laugh, to remind us of purpose.

There is nothing like the eyes of a seven year old to see magic is everywhere! It’s in those moments I realize, accidental or otherwise, that I’m amazingly blessed to share the delight of ordinary with these small people.

Last month my snaggle-toothed blue-eyed charmer insisted that we needed a fairy house. I was inclined to agree with her! After a break in the rain, while every leaf was a shimmering emerald, we set off in search of proper fairy house material. A little moss, magnolia leaves, and ferns fit the bill.

Fairyhouse 1 2015 Fairyhouse 2 2015 Fairyhouse 3 2015

We giggled and used our imaginations. The transformation of an old coffee can, toilet paper tube, and some leaves was quite satisfying. Throw in some shells from our recent beach trip and before you know it we were certain to have some fairies!

I have to acknowledge a deeper magic at work in my children than just mere delight in beautiful or whimsical things though. I am amazed by their contentment, their resilience, and their determination to trust. A year ago we told the children that we would probably be selling our new house and moving away because daddy had lost his job. I had painted hot air balloons in Maggie’s pink and purple room. Her best friend lived down the street. This was not easy news. In October daddy left to begin his new job, we stayed behind, we missed him. At Thanksgiving we joined daddy and moved in with people my children had just met. It quickly became home. They amazed me with their adaptability and eagerness to love.

In January I put them in a new school. Max, who is in fifth grade, has been to a different school every single year (including being home-schooled in third and part of fifth). In February we moved to a two bedroom apartment that kind friends were willing to share with us while they lived with family. At the beginning of May we moved into the house of another set of kind friends while they summer in the north. (The generosity and love of the body of Christ is another post all together!)

Three relocations in six months. Making new friends. Starting a new school. Missing old friends. Sharing a room. Through all of that my kids have never once said it’s not fair or why did this have to happen. Of course there have been the occasional tears over their old home and friends but rarely a bad attitude.

Being a mother isn’t what I asked for, but it is a gift I was given. God knew it would shape my heart and fill my days with wonder at these remarkable little people who choose to let love in.

I’m proud of the way they have accepted change outside of their control. Both of them have worked hard for good grades and academic  growth. Maggie was student of the month in April. They’ve made friends young and old. They are a joy!

But the transition has taken a toll, especially on little Maggie. Those inevitable feelings of tension and anxiety have insisted on being expressed. Which has resulted in a hair pulling habit. We have a doctor’s appointment this week to seek help. Friends in town will have noticed a change in her appearance. She has plucked her eyelashes and eyebrows almost completely bald. It’s a habit that has been developing over time. The day she finally plucked all her eyelashes out my heart broke!

So much of my motherhood experience has felt accidental. I succeed accidentally, I fail on accident. Don’t we all have those moments as parents when we feel like parenthood is going to get the best of us! But we love those little people. We pray for them, we sacrifice for them, we often have to apologize to them. And we watch each other do our own dance of success and failure as parents.

I haven’t figured out how to help Maggie talk about her struggle with hair pulling (I would imagine she’ll be diagnosed with trichotillomania). But I expect I’ll learn a lot about how to help her in the next few weeks. Ultimately I’m learning how to help her cope with life – which can be too big for each of us at times, how to exchange an unhealthy behavior for a better one, and how to talk about what she’s feeling and experiencing with others. I hope her heart will recapture magic. Not a fanciful childhood magic that we wish existed, but the ability to find wonder in ordinary and even difficult moments. The magic of hope.

So if you see Maggie it’s okay to talk to her about her lack of eyebrows. Just use honesty, grace and humility with her, and encourage her to do the same! And if you are experiencing one of those rough seasons of parenthood and could use a little more magic in your days leave a comment here so that we can encourage one another!

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How I became an Accidental Homeschooler

Max readingToday, much to my amusement, I found myself teaching little people. We started a unit study on Egypt, went to the library, reviewed some math skills from last year, and spread the table with markers, papers, scissors, pencils and books. 

I shake my head and chuckle. Often. Life is weird isn’t it?

I always wondered if I would homeschool my kids or not. I’m a recovering homeschool kid from the 80’s. Oh yeah, we’re talking, Bill Gothard, jean jumpers, Volkswagen bus, and Carmen kind of recovery. I don’t want my family to be known as “the homeschoolers”. I’ve already done that.

But like I said, life is weird. And everything has changed since the 80’s, aren’t we all glad. My 5th grader has been to 4 years of public school, including kindergarten, a couple of years ago I taught him at home. My philosophy is that life is full of change, as parents we have to evaluate what works constantly.

In this season of life my family is facing a move before the school year is out. (If we don’t move before then we’ll have other issues to worry about due to my husband’s reduced employment.) Homeschooling makes sense to us. If we’re going to move I hope to keep the re-adjustment for the kids to a minimum. It probably goes deeper than that too. The balance between releasing a 6 and 10 year old into a messy, imperfect, public arena, and smothering them in an over protective bubble is not something I’ve found the secret to just yet. So I do my best. This year it looks like homeschool.

As I kick of the year as a former homeschooler who’s homeschooling here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

Parenting should never be us against them.

There are hundreds of ways to parent. Different isn’t wrong. Just because I’m homeschooling doesn’t mean I think public or private schools are a bad choice. I would love to see more grace between parents and less criticism and insecurity.  It’s easy to divide ourselves into the stay at home mom, working mom, single parent, homeschooling, public schooling, little family, big family, camps. But I don’t think we should. There is too much to learn from each other we might otherwise miss. When my kids were born I was a stay at home mom. Up until kindergarten I wrestled with the schooling decision and then became a stay at home public schooling mom. A few years later I was a stay at home and homeschooling mom, the next year I was a public schooling and working mom, this year I’m back to stay at home and home schooling. You know what? It’s all hard. But my priority has stayed the same; raise kids that understand their purpose is to glorify God and to find satisfaction following him, to be mannerly, community minded, and kind. I think we should cut each other slack. 

Let go

This is a hard one. But I’ve seen it a hundred times. We forget that our children were born to us so that we could raise them into adults, ready to thrive in the next generation. That requires continual letting go. This is especially hard if you homeschool. Ask me how I know. Actually that’s another post. It’s hard on mom’s and kids when you spend 24/7 with each other, for years, and then it’s time to fly away. For those of us homeschooling it’s important to be intentional about training our children to be responsible and independent and then give them opportunities to practice. Of course those opportunities should always be age appropriate and safe. It can start as simply as taking your toddler to a babysitter regularly and be as white knuckled as sending your teenager across the world on a missions trip or summer abroad program. While it’s essential for us homeschoolers to provide those solo test runs for our kids, it’s just as important for families with kids in school too. I think mostly it begins with the attitude that these precious kids aren’t ours. They’re a sacred trust. Our amazing job is to get them ready for the adventure of following God out into the wide world, using their own flare. It’s not about us.

Remember to connect with their hearts

In the business of making sure everyone has their lunch and gets to activities on time, or that every subject is covered during the school day and chores are done it’s easy to miss our kid’s hearts. Which is sad, because that’s what we’re aiming for, isn’t it. I find sometimes though that I’ll get to the end of the day and while I’ve spent the entire day with my kids I haven’t really had those moments where you know you’ve connected at the heart. I think it’s important for us as parents to be interruptable. It’s important to have structure and goals, but not to the detriment of grabbing a hold of teachable moments. More important then knowledge is character, more important than skill is love. Sometimes it’s okay to be late or miss a dance class when a little heart pours out questions and asks why. Why are clouds fluffy and far away and do you think heaven is behind them and how do I get there? You just don’t want to miss those moments. So whether it’s staying up a few minutes later than usual or putting the book you’re reading down, don’t miss the opportunity to grab and shape your kid’s heart. I’m so talking to myself here.

Don’t sweat it

All that being said, don’t sweat it. If you’re worried about being a good parent I’m going to bet you won’t mess up too badly. Your kids will survive you! I’ve already started apologizing to mine. Kids are forgiving and resilient, and God is gracious. Remember? I survived homeschool in the 80’s and I’m not too messed up and actually, weird as it was, I’m grateful for my jean jumper, homeschooled years. I have amazing memories of exploring nature with my adventurous mom, wonderful art and music appreciation, luxurious days spent with my brother and sister side kick romping the woods with a BB gun and imaginations. I also know what it feels like to worry about a small boy being picked on at public school and not communicating well with a teacher and just wondering if you’re doing it right. As parents the best thing we can do is press in, be present, shepherd their hearts and enjoy. But worry drives wedges and causes us to miss out on the good stuff. Parenting with fear is rarely effective, parenting with love is powerful. I’m still working on that. 

So moms (and dads) here’s to a great school year, whatever kind you choose!

Mother’s Day Makes Me Uncomfortable

BeckandPatWho came up with just one day to say, “thanks, we love you,” to the woman who is first in our affections? What kind of card or gift do you get for the women in your life who perform death defying feats and leap tall buildings in a single bound? My mom cleaned barf, taught me to talk to fireflies, and better yet dared teach me how to talk to the living God. How is one day enough to say thank you for that?

The hearts of women around the world beat fast with compassion, they stand in the gap with the smallest and weakest, they teach and sing and love. Womanhood is a mighty force. A God given role to nurture, birth new life (whether physical or spiritual), and support.

I must say, Mother’s Day makes me uncomfortable.

My heart always flinches on that day. What about the women who haven’t birthed babies, no matter how much they want to? Or the children, of any age, who have lost their mothers? Or what about the children who have suffered at the hands of women who should have been comforting instead of wounding? Seems harsh to have a special day that highlights their sorrow.

Serbia 2012 (354)But I dislike Mother’s Day for a more specific reason than that, or maybe because of a specific person. Most of you know that I’ve traveled to Serbia twice in the last couple of years, many of you also know about Cedo – the blue eyed boy who stole my heart. I struggle with Mother’s Day because on that day, just like every other, Cedo lies in a bed separated from his mother due to his disability and a lack of resources. Mother’s Day makes me feel like a failure because I know Cedo exists. If there was one thing I could do in this world before I died, were money and time not obstacles, it would be to restore Cedo to family. If I had the power I would give Cedo a mother. Whether reunite him to his own or become her myself.

Some days I succeed in erasing the happy squint of his blue eyes from my mind. Other days every smell and sound of a Serbian institution floods my senses, my heart. I’m not sorry. It’s a gift to bear God sized burdens in prayer. Some wounds I don’t want my heart to callous over. Some need to stay fresh in the mind. For now the only labor I’m capable of is prayer and only the memories draw me back to beg the Father for a home for the homeless.

So go for it. Buy your mom a beautiful card, some perfume, take her to dinner, and by all means tell her you love her. But be uncomfortable as well. Be pregnant with the children of the world who have no home, labor with God in the injustice of brokenness. Be uncomfortable because you know there are women aching for what you have, there are children separated from their mother’s, there are mother’s agonizing over the children they’ve lost. And in that discomfort, act. Pray for those in your life who will be hurting on that day. Get involved in the life of a child who has been abused or abandoned by their mother. Be a comforter to those who mourn. And let’s thank God for the gift of mothers who nurture us spiritually, physically, and emotionally – whether our own or someone else.

Women, let’s rise up and embrace our role of motherhood with fresh eyes. Motherhood is more than a uterus thing, it’s a heart thing. Life birthed from the Spirit is eternal. There is a whole world waiting for rebirth.

Let’s Pray For Our Kids

Through the month of October I’m joining Allied Women to pray for our kids (and husbands). Each day on Allied Women’s blog and Facebook page we’re sharing a short devotional thought and prayer. I hope you’ll join us!

Today’s prayer is, Lord I pray my kids would not just listen to the word, but do what it says! James 1:22

This month in my family we are memorizing a verse each week that teaches the importance of God’s word. I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking the Bible is a list of does and don’ts or old irrelevant stories. I want them to understand it is the word of life and key to true joy.

Allied Women day 8

Why not take a moment to read today’s Allied Women devotional and spend a some time praying for your children to be doers and not only hearers of God’s word.

What Did You Want To Be When You Grew Up?

What did you want to be when you grew up? I didn’t dream of being a mama. I wanted to be a missionary. Raised on the stories of Jim Elliot, Adoniram Judson, and Amy Charmichael I dreamed of walking in the footsteps of giants. Sometimes in the ugly, hard moments of the last decade I’ve wondered if I made a mistake in getting married and having kids. Did I miss what God had in store for me?

But I don’t think that way anymore. That kind of thinking limits God’s amazing creativity and generosity. Even though I accidentally became a mama God is more gracious than I often give him credit for. The daily friction of sacrificial love that a marriage and raising children brings has shaped my heart. What I didn’t know I wanted has become a gift.

Alabama Fall 2011 sepia

My two gifts

As the season of sleepless nights and diapers has faded away I’m learning that following God comes in all shapes and sizes. I hear people talk about God’s will as if it’s a set plan, but that doesn’t resonate with me. How many relationships do you know that follow a blueprint. God’s will is clear for his people, Micah 6:8 sums up what he wants from us succinctly, “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Within those parameters is a lot of room for variety and freedom. How do you go about living justly, loving mercy, and knowing and embracing your place with God? 

I’m finding that God is amazingly kind in leading the hearts he created. I still dream of walking in the big footsteps of other worldly faith giants. A world in need of compassion consumes my imagination. And I only fall in love with Jesus more in realizing he gives me both. Marriage and motherhood, and missions. Of course it all looks different than I expected. But that’s part of the excitement (and occasional panic)!

Serbian skyline

Novi Sad, Serbia

What dreams have you put on the shelf that God may be calling you to dust off? He made your heart and he is a generous God. What looks like an opportunity missed may only be an opportunity postponed. Do you trust that God is kind as he leads you and understands your heart? If not consider praying that he expands your view of his nature!

Detours and adjustments are part of life but God knows our heart and we can trust him to lead us.

A Letter to Mamas Parenting Children with Disabilities

Coffee cup 2

Dear Mama of children with disabilities,

I’ve read your letters and blog posts to us ‘regular’ mamas, we’ve had conversations, I’m privileged to know many of you on Facebook and in real life. You’ve candidly shared your thoughts with me about what it’s like to walk in your shoes and now I’d like to take a moment to share my thoughts with you.

I don’t understand. You know this of course. How could I, the mom of two very typical children, understand what it’s like to raise children you spend hours worrying about, defending, and advocating for. I can’t. I wish I could, I have great compassion and admiration for you, but we all know I’ve never walked in your shoes.

With that said the next time one of us ‘typical’ mamas says something rude, or thoughtless, I hope you will understand that in most cases it was completely accidental. We probably realized the moment we said the awkward comment  that it was awkward. We may have stewed over it on the drive home. Will you please give us grace and forgive us? We’re sorry. Of course some people are just mean, after truly ugly comments we realize you are sensitive to our thoughtless comments and it’s easy to react strongly. Instead of being offended I hope you will graciously correct us and explain why our comments bothered you.

I’m aware I don’t understand what it’s like to wrestle extra gear everywhere I go, or defend a child from stares or rude comments. Sometimes I don’t know how to respond to your child’s behavior. I’m not judging them, or you, if a situation occurs that is loud or different than I’m use to, most likely I’m just not sure how to respond. I want you to know that. I would never knowingly add to your discomfort or the challenges you face. If your child shrieks in public or throws something should I excuse myself and give you space, should I offer to help, should I act like nothing happened, should I say something to the people staring? I just don’t know. I hope you’ll understand and tell me what you need, and I’ll try to ask and give you an opportunity to express your needs.

I have a confession to make. It may seem strange to you and I certainly hope you won’t be offended. Not only do I admire you, learn a lot from you, pray for you, but once in a while I’m just a bit jealous of you. (Don’t laugh, hear me out!) Children with Down syndrome touch my heart. I know they aren’t angels or anything other than people. I know they pitch fits and argue just like any other child. But there is something so special and endearing about many of their qualities, you know what I’m talking about. And I think that’s true of lot’s of children and adults with unique challenges. There is often a very sweet and humble dependence their hearts have developed, something profound and beautiful that is precious to be around. I know it is not a treat to be peed on regularly, to be unable to go out with your spouse whenever you want, to be burdened with huge medical bills, or watch your child suffer. But I’ve seen the bond that can form between a parent and child with disability, I know that there is a holy interaction that happens and requires a special grace from God. Sometimes I feel like an outsider to an elite mommy’s club.

For a few years now I’ve wanted to adopt a child with a disability, but God has led me in another direction. I’ve traveled twice to Serbia to visit a mental institution to learn more about their needs and hopefully encourage them. I know my path is probably different than adoption. My heart is being shaped to bring support to families who have children with disability and provide opportunity for people with special challenges to live full and safe lives. So I may never join your ranks, and that’s okay.

But I did want to share my heart with you. I know you need help and encouragement and sometimes I don’t know how to give it. Often I want to help, to understand, but I’m afraid I’m making things worse. I’m not always sure how to approach you or talk about your child’s particular needs or challenges. But I hope you’ll hear my heart when I say that even if I don’t know how, I want to. I hope we can meet half way and have a conversation, that we can give each other grace and ask each other questions and not assume things.

I want you to know that I see you. When you’re tired and at the end of your rope, when you are astonished by the wonder of your child, when you are celebrating a hard won victory, when you are standing between your child and a critical world, I see you. Maybe your kids aren’t angels and you aren’t a superhero, but once in a while I catch a glimpse of your red cape and death defying feats, and I applaud you! I want to take the opportunity to encourage you and make your life easier and never add to your burden. I hope we can become allies. I just have one request, will you help me learn how?

Sincerely,

Your biggest fan

{Just a quick note: I hadn’t expected such a large response to my little letter, I’m humbled. I wrote the letter to mamas because that’s generally my blog audience and platform. In no way would I want to exclude you amazing dads.  I am equally inspired by your commitment and love!}

The Art of Partnering

Being a mama is hard work; mentally, emotionally, physically. You know that if your child is 2 months or 20 years! Comparing just makes a challenging job that much more difficult. Comparing ourselves to other mamas, our children to other family’s children, our children to each other, only leads to heart ache.

In our family we have two very different learners. My 9 year old son is in the gifted program. My kindergarten daughter is struggling to learn her alphabet, I suspect she may need special ed.  They are special with weaknesses and talents. God has made children in such an incredible variety and we can’t take credit for any of it.

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Each child has been created uniquely and put in our families for a purpose. They may struggle to learn, be athletic, be talented musically, they may be ill, or struggle with fear. Our role as parents isn’t to change our children or squish them into a mold they weren’t designed to fit. We’re meant to be partners, recognizing they “are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [them] to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) What we may see as a weakness God may use as a tool to prepare our kids to serve him. But we won’t know if we aren’t in tune with his heart for our children.

It’s easy to put our expectations on our kids, to compare them to others, and feel shame or pride. But if we do we’ll miss the opportunity to partner with God to prepare them to be who he created them to be.

Our children are on the exciting journey of discovering, and preparing for, the good works God has created them to do! We have the opportunity to be guides, but we will miss it if we lose focus. Spending time in God’s word and in prayer refocuses our hearts on what God says is important and helps us not to be distracted by what society, and our own heart, tells us really matters.

Do you struggle with placing your own expectations on your children or comparing them to others? It’s a habit we can break with God’s grace!