Not For Wimps

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… this week’s column

I pulled down an old reading book the other day, dusted off the cover and got ready to work. Isabel is in kindergarten and is learning to sound out letters and form them into words.

The book I got out is one I used for the older boys, back when Ethan was learning to read and Elliott after that. It’s one of those tried and true methods that helps students tackle what can be an overwhelming task — learning to read.

I had the book out because although Isabel is learning this at school, it’s not coming quickly. I’m not worried that she won’t ever read, but it isn’t the overnight victory it was with some of her brothers. We are doing a few extra lessons after school (don’t worry, she loves it!) to help reiterate what she is learning in kindergarten.

That afternoon, when I pulled out the book with just a tinge of concern in my heart, I noticed a piece of paper sticking out. The paper was actually a chart — something I made years ago, the last time I used this book.

“Elliott learns to read!” declared the chart, with a row of boxes below. And sure enough, a few were marked with stars. Once upon a time, I realized, Elliott was in the same boat as Isabel. We were doing a little extra work, hoping to help things gel.

Just yesterday, I signed the report card of now 17-year-old Elliott, he who made first honors and is tearing it up as a high school junior. And I got some perspective. This challenge, this struggle, this overwhelming motherhood bump in the road, well it’s just that — a bump. Isa needs a little extra help, this too shall pass. I’m not saying first honors is the ultimate sign of victory (but it is nice!) but that in the grand scheme of life, there’s no need to fret.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this motherhood gig is the real deal. It’s tough, and just when you think you’ve got it mastered, you realize what you’ve got mastered is one tiny smidgen of an aspect of being a mom. On to the next adventure.

The last few weeks in our home have been filled with particular challenges, not the end of the world but plenty of sweat and tears (no blood, only that broken arm). Issue One with Child A, Issue Four with Child C. There is never a dull moment, as much as I pray there could be. “Please Lord,” I find myself praying, “let there be a dull moment!”

But this is the deal. We can call it overwhelming or perhaps dizzying, but what life with children is all about is really growing, and expanding. Paul and I, as the parents of these children given to us from God, are learning how to guide them. We are learning as they learn, which means we don’t always know in advance what we are doing.

It feels like the last few weeks have been especially “generous” in the chance to grow and learn. Lots of new lessons. Every. minute. of the day. It’s wonderful! It’s terrible.

No, it’s not terrible. It’s just tricky. Nobody enjoys feeling like they’re failing. Nobody wants to feel like they aren’t tearing it up. And when it comes to parenting — one of the most important gigs you will ever have — well, you want to be a success.

But here’s the great thing: success, in parenting, doesn’t mean everything is perfect. Success is about getting up and brushing off and saying “Lord, keep sending that grace. A little more today, if you can spare.”

I’m coming to find, I’m surprised to say, that bumps in the road aren’t as scary as I thought they would be. Life isn’t always easy and our job is to deal with the issues of life, the issue of parenting, with as much humility and prayer as we are capable.

Thankfully, as I tell myself as often as I remember, Jesus loves these children more than Paul and I ever could. He’s here to give me perspective on what really matters, and to keep doing my best in the tasks set before me.

Sibling Life

Weekly column

Sweet sibling love

Sweet sibling love, Elliott and Henry

When I was in middle school, I went through a phase where I dreamed of a better life. There was an older teacher at my school, my favorite English teacher, and I wondered if she’d be willing to adopt me.

That sounds terrible I know. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my own family, it’s just that when I was in middle school, things were very crazy in my world. I was the oldest of eight children, and when I was thirteen there were seven people younger than me making lots of noise in my world. Little toddlers getting into my stuff, annoying tweens arguing amongst themselves. I needed more me time, I knew that’s what would make me happy.

I loved my parents and had plans to visit them often. I just figured living with this other family (who only had four children, all older than me) would afford me the quiet, calm environment I needed. Also, I wanted a room to myself, with pink wall-to-wall carpet. I trusted my teacher could make that happen.

The good news is, I never uttered this plan to anyone, and sooner than later I got over my self-centered ways (not really, but in the grand scheme of things that’s true). Over time, that annoying younger brother became one of my best friends, and so did the four other annoying younger brothers. My baby sister, she who is eight years younger than me and once that prime personal-space offender, well I can’t imagine life without her. She is the person I call when I need someone to tell me I am smart and pretty and important.

It was around this time last year that I loaded up my twelve-passenger van with two brothers and my mom and dad and we drove thirteen hours to surprise another brother for his birthday. My sister met us there and we knocked on the door and HERE WE ARE! We were all jumping up and down and laughing and crying and hugging.

Family is worth the effort.

Those hours in the car with my brothers, sitting in the back and laughing while our mom and dad were up front — it brought me back to all those long family vacations where my family would drive me nuts and also make me happy. Now that we are older, there are fewer squabbles and time has healed so many of the agitations of our youth. Things aren’t perfect but I know what we have is the recognition of the gift of each other — there is no one else on this earth who can be what a sibling is.

But it isn’t always easy. Now that I’m mothering my own crew, and praying for the same kind of relationships within my own children, I see (and remember) that it takes so much effort to get to the point of deep, unconditional friendship. You don’t start out that way, there are a ton of hiccups along the path.

It’s worth it. Family is worth the effort. We deal with the bumps in the road, we are quick to forgive and ask forgiveness — because this gift of family is worth the effort. What it takes to overcome hurts and let go of grievances, it’s the hard work that comes with the reward of some of the best friends you will ever have. Or at the very least, someone who will always have your back.

“The family is a factory of hope,” declared Pope Francis when he was here for the World Meeting of Families in September. He added that in families “there is always light, because the love of God, and son of God, opened also that path for us.”

When I’m tempted to feel overwhelmed by the in’s and out’s of parenting, when I feel too tired to help my children deal with wrongdoing the right way, I remember the gift of my own siblings. I think about the hard work it took my parents to help us learn how to deal with each other in a righteous and loving manner. And I’m inspired — and motivated — to do the same.

Because I’m Up Early

And because lunches are already made and I’m already dressed and everyone is still asleep…I guess I’ll post something!

Here we are at the end of the first quarter, I’ve been teaching for two months. I love it! I mean, the last few days have been really hard but that’s more on a personal level. Parenting is so hard! It’s much easier dealing with other people’s children, even the difficult ones! At least at the end of the day I do my best with those children and pray that parents have the grace and wisdom to do what they need to do.

But oh my goodness! Dealing with your own child — it’s just, as they say, like ripping out your heart and wearing it on the outside of your body for the next eighteen years. Except we all know it lasts much longer than that.

So that’s why I’m up early — I woke up with things on my mind and on my heart and I’m praying that God will give Paul and me the wisdom to take care of our children and the grace to move things where they need to be.

Anyway, if you haven’t I think there is a way you can subscribe to these posts as an email…which might be good since I post so rarely these days! I hope all is well in your world. I hope it won’t be so long in between posts, either. I’m sad October is almost gone. It’s one of my favorites…

Salt and Light

My latest column for The Southern Cross…

I was hard at work on dinner one recent afternoon, and quite pleased with myself in the process. Dinner, specifically the act of offering it on a regular basis, tends to be a challenge for me. You want dinner? Again?

Of course dinner is part of the deal, I get that. The caring for and feeding of children does indeed involve food. Which brings me to my latest motto — Dinner: it comes with the territory.

This school year, since I’ve started working outside the home, I knew having a weekly meal plan would be our only sanity. I came up with a two-week master plan that we’ve been rotating through, to great success. So another great motto — Dinner: It’s on the Table!

Except this recent weekday evening, after finding myself at the stove (again) and cooking (again) and really enjoying the newfound success of tackling the menu/cooking problem, well I went to add one wee dash of salt when the entire salt grinder came apart and a million pink salt crystals tumbled into dish below.

I stood and stared in disbelief — a whole pot of chili instantly ruined. That was my first thought. I shrieked and scooped and when I tasted the concoction a few minutes later I confirmed that yes, this would be worst pot of chili known to man.

The salt was in there and in the few seconds it took me to grab a spoon, the overwhelming flavor had permeated everything.

I kept thinking about how in scripture, salt getting in the mix is a good thing. I tried to let that thought soothe me (it didn’t). But while my chili might be ruined, I had an undeniable example of how salt works. Salt was being salt and its presence was unmistakable.

Salt and light. That’s what we’re called to be. We as Christians are tasked by Jesus to bring His light to the world. And when we’re being who we are called to be, there can be no mistake we are there.

“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus says in Matthew 5:13, adding “You are the light of the world…your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father.”

Salt and light. Love and truth.

The older I get the less I think this call is about preaching with words and more about being the hands and feet of Jesus. Being salt and light means being ourselves, operating out of our love for Jesus in all we say and do — and then letting God do the rest. It’s not about having an agenda, who we think needs to be saved. It’s about asking Jesus to show us who to love, and to love whoever He puts in our path.

This commission is beautiful because it’s available to us all. Being a missionary isn’t just about traveling to the other side of the world. It’s about being love and light right here, in this moment. It’s rocking the brand new baby, and hugging the whiny toddler. It’s feeding the hungry teenager and lovingly welcoming a husband home even when you’re as tired as he is. It’s looking your grocery store cashier in the eye and listening when you ask how she’s doing. It’s paying attention and being willing to care.

In order to be light, we need to be aware of the world around us. We want to preach — but like the prayer said by Mother Teresa’s order every day, we must “preach without preaching, not by words, but by our example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear” for Jesus.

We are salt. And when we are who we are called to be — living with a heart of love for Jesus and for his people — there will be no mistaking our presence in this world. It won’t be because we preached the right words, but because we loved the person God needed us to love.