Thursday, February 25, 2010

You Could Have Just Asked!

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
--James 1:5

Thanks for your patience during my hiatus from blogging! I’ve been writing for publication, and the publisher has asked me not to post those stories electronically. But stay tuned! I’ll let you know where you can find them in the bookstores.

As we begin the Lenten season, I am looking forward to receiving free daily reflections from Dr. Larry Crabb. And thinking of Dr. Crabb, I was reminded of a funny incident that happened years ago . . .

A few years back, we lived just south of Austin in a two-story house that had a game room and all the bedrooms upstairs. My husband, an executive pastor at the time, worked in the study downstairs. Being an odd hybrid of working-stay-at-home mother, I didn’t have an official home office; instead, I lugged my laptop around the house and edited while watching our preschool girls, who were ages four and two. (Our little guy wasn’t born yet.)

The upside of working from home are the hours (anytime you want to work) and the commute (none whatsoever). But the downside is that sometimes the lines between work life and family life are blurred.

Such was the case one late morning when I was in the process of editing Soul Talk by—you guessed it!—Dr. Larry Crabb. I should mention here, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Dr. Crabb, that he is one of America’s premier Christian psychologists. He is scholar in residence at Colorado University and spiritual director of the American Academy of Christian Counselors. He is also founder of New Way Ministries, popular Bible teacher and speaker, and author of dozens of books on subjects ranging from counseling to family life.

I needed to call him to discuss the latest revisions to his book, so I set out lots of toys for the girls in the game room and told them to please play quietly while Mommy made a very important work phone call. And I told Brett to please listen for the girls and come upstairs if he heard anything. Then I took my laptop and phone into our bedroom and shut the door.

(I bet you can guess what happens next, huh?)

I was enjoying my phone call with Dr. Crabb—who is truly gracious, professional, and kind—when about midway into our phone conversation, the girls burst into the bedroom, squalling and bellyaching about some disagreement. (Note to self: I should have locked the door.)

“Mom! She stole my toy!”

“Did not!”

“Did too! Mom, she’s lying!”

“Am not!”

“Are too! Make her give it back! It’s miiiiiiine!!!”


Mortified, and trying to conjure up enough telepathy to make Brett come upstairs, I said into the receiver, “Excuse me, Dr. Crabb. I need to handle something really quick. I’m so sorry.”

Then I proceeded to deal with the situation. I can’t remember exactly what I did, probably something like confiscate the toy and put it in time-out, and then send the girls to their bedrooms. And I’m pretty sure I used that half-whisper, half-growling And you better get along or else tone of voice as I shooed them out of the room and shut the door behind them.

Picking up the phone again, I distinctly remember being struck by a sinking feeling of realization—Dr. Larry Crabb had overheard the entire interchange with my kids. Dr. Larry Crabb, the premier psychologist and family counselor. The guy who trains counselors and writes books about parenting. He had just overheard me discipline my preschoolers.


Back on the call, I remember fumbling some kind of apology and then saying something like, “I’m sure you probably heard my kids squabbling. I hope I handled that right!”

Dr. Crabb chuckled good-naturedly, clearly getting a kick out of the situation. And I’ll never forget what he said next: “Yeah, I heard it. Your kids are just regular kids, that’s all. And don’t worry: you handled it well. But you know, I was here the whole time. If you needed help, you could have just asked!”

In the years since then, I have worked with Dr. Crabb on a few other books. We have a great working relationship, and he always asks me about our kids and our church. A few months ago, I was working with him on his current book, 66 Love Letters: A Conversation with God That Invites You into His Story. I asked him if he remembered that incident, years ago, with my squabbling kids. He did, and we both got a good laugh at the memory.

I’ve thought of that incident several times since then. Because, you see, every moment of every day, I have Someone much wiser and infinitely more capable of helping present with me. He is ready, willing, and able to help me raise our children in a godly manner. Best of all, He can not only give me counseling advice, but He can give me true wisdom.

And anytime I need His help, I could just ask!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Flashback Friday: Queen for a Day

Welcome to Flashback Friday! Here's a post from August 2008, on a day when I was doing a little wishful thinking . . . and got a much-needed God-nudge.

The thunderstorms that rolled in yesterday put a damper on our plans to go to the playground. So instead, we stayed inside and tried to make the most of the afternoon.

The four of us paraded upstairs, where Miss B pulled out the Dance Praise 2 mat and started some fancy footwork in the game room.

JJ headed to her bedroom to put on a play.“I’m going to be the princess,” she announced,  pulling out a tiara and a purple dress.

“Okay. What should Buddy be?” I asked, as her younger brother nosed around beside her in the dress-up box.

“Oh, he can be the boring guy,” JJ said dismissively.

Hmm. Okay. I handed Buddy a hard hat and instructed him to “be boring.” He put the hat on backwards and grabbed a toy baseball bat. “O-tay, Mama!” He grinned broadly. Huh. That boy couldn’t be boring if he tried.

I turned back to JJ. “What do you want me to be?”

She handed me some costume jewelry. “You can be the queen!” she announced. Then she handed me her prized Disney Princess magic wand—the kind that you push a button and briiiing! Your wish comes true.

Bejeweled with my magic wand, a sparkly tiara, and pink beaded necklace, I took my place on my “throne” (JJ’s bed) and began my reign as “queen.” It went something like this:

Buddy grabs JJ’s lip gloss when she’s not looking. 

JJ: “Hey, give me that! Hey! HEY!”

Buddy, clinging to the lip gloss with all his might: “AAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!”

Me, waving my magic wand: “I'm the queen, and I say don’t fight with your brother!” Briiing!

JJ giggles and smiles. I unfurl Buddy’s clenched fist, retrieve the lip gloss, and grab a tissue to wipe the glittery pink goo from his cheek.

A few minutes later . . .

Miss B, coming into the room: “Hey, what are you guys doing?”

JJ: “We’re having a play. I’m the princess!”

Miss B: “No fair, I wanna be the princess!”

JJ, firmly: “No. You can be the maid.”

Miss B: “I don’t wanna be the maid! I’m wanna be the princess!”

JJ: “Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!! I’m the princess!!!!!!!!”

Me, waving my magic wand: “Children, get along!” Briiiing!

JJ and Miss B giggle at me and reach a compromise: JJ can be the princess, but Miss B will be the empress. (She's smart, that kid.)

This went on for about ten minutes, with my “royal subjects” (mostly) agreeing to do what I commanded with my magic wand. And with each briiiing!, I thought, Hey, this is great. We should play this game more often!

Don’t you wish there were some kind of “magic wand” to grab on those days when you feel like you’re about to lose your cool—or your mind?

Stop whining! Briiing!
Take your nap! Briiing!
Clean your room! Briiing!

Or maybe for you, it would look more like,

Overdue bills, disappear! Briiing!
Marriage, be restored! Briiing!
Someone, pay attention to me! Briiing!

But we all know that’s not how God created us. After all, if we had a magic wand, we wouldn’t need Him! What our loving, heavenly Father really wants for us is not a carefree life, but a faith that clings to Him amid life’s struggles.

A year ago, my husband sensed God’s call to plant a church. So we sold our home in Austin, packed up our family of five, and moved to Fort Worth with the assurance of God’s calling—but with no church members, sponsors, or financial aid of any kind. It was just Brett and me, our children, and God’s call.

One of the verses I kept going back to during those faith-clinging, loaves-and-fishes days was Psalm 37:5: “Depend on the Lord; trust him, and he will take care of you.” I often found myself reminding God of this verse: “God, we’re completely depending on You here. See this? You promised that if we depend on You, You will take care of us!” And then I’d sense God’s gentle response: Yes, my child, I know you are depending on Me. But do you trust Me?

Humph. I was kind of hoping God would just wave His “magic wand” and give us everything we needed. Briiing! Here are your church members. Briiing! Here’s a salary for Brett. Briiing! Here are your building and church office and worship leader and staff and children’s ministry workers and . . . You get the idea. But instead, God was teaching me to trust Him.

And He still is.

I’m no longer reigning as “queen” around here; that game ended all too quickly yesterday. But I am a daughter of the King, depending on and trusting my heavenly Father a little more each day.

And that’s the kind of royalty I’m proud to be!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Something Has to Happen

This morning, as I was driving Miss B to school for her first coaching session of the UIL storytelling team, I asked her if she remembered the elements of a good story. (My poor kids; other moms can teach their children how to bake, sew, and do all kinds of crafts—all I can do is teach mine how to incorporate a good throughline in their writing.)

Miss B didn’t miss a beat. We had talked about this before she wrote her PTA Reflections story a few months ago. (Which, incidentally, was the only second grade entry I saw that featured not only a story, but also a title page, dedication, table of contents, and an about the author page. Sniff, sniff. She makes this mama so proud!)

“First, you have to have a character you care about,” Miss B said. “Next, you have to have a setting. Then, something has to happen. And by the end, the character has to learn something and be different because of what happened in the story.”

Granted, this is a very simplistic rendition of what we discussed. (For more on the elements of story, I highly recommend The Hero’s 2 Journeys, by Michael Hauge and Christopher Vogler.) But she at least remembered the main parts.

I hugged her good-bye and headed back to the car, ready to zip home and get J.J. ready for school. But during the drive home, I kept thinking about this:

Then, something has to happen.

It’s a simple idea, really. No story can be compelling, exciting, or motivating without something happening. You can’t just let your hero sit there and do nothing. (As Vogler said, “You can’t make a movie about going to work. Unless, of course, your hero encounters kidnappers, assassins, and terrorists on the way to the office.”)

In every good story, the hero encounters something—a challenge, a conflict, a quest. Faced with this obstacle, the hero has the opportunity to overcome and learn from it. And if the story is effective, the hero at the beginning is not the same hero at the end. A fundamental transformation has taken place somewhere along the way.

The same thing is true in life, isn’t it? No matter how much we want to avoid challenge or conflict, the truth is that if we’re ever going to become the people God has created us to be, something has to happen.

You can’t just sit there and do nothing.

What “something” will it take for you to stop reading other people’s stories and start living your own? What risk will you take, challenge will you overcome, dream will you fulfill? And most importantly, what’s stopping you?

Or maybe you have all the "something" in your life you can handle right now. You are struggling with (even paralyzed by) pain or shame or heartache or grief. No matter how much you wish you could grab an eraser and blot out that “something” from the pages of your life, your story wouldn’t be complete without it. You see, the Author has woven that “something” into your story, giving you the opportunity to work through it and, in the process, to learn, to grow, and to be transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18).

Because it's the same in storytelling and in life: in every good story, something has to happen.

And if your life story is effective, you won’t be the same at the end. A fundamental transformation will have happened along the way.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

For All the Craft-Challenged Moms Out There...

Valentine’s Day Haiku

Teachers want “crafty”
I feel like a lousy mom
On Valentine’s Day

I let out a sigh in the car pickup lane
As the girls pile in and both eagerly exclaim:
“Guess what, Mom? Next Friday is Valentine’s Day!
We get to make boxes to put on display!”

And it’s not just my two school-age kids who need aid;
But my son’s Mom’s Day Out wants a box to be made.
My kids think it’s great; they’re all eager to start;
Convinced that their boxes will be great works of art.

There are moms who can scrapbook and make crafts with ease;
But I’m the first to admit I am not one of these.
For I am a writer; words are what I do.
I’m no good with glitter, ribbon, or hot glue.

When it comes to heart doilies and glue sticks and beads
I can’t make them work; art supplies make me freeze.
I dread the notes teachers send this time of year,
Quite sure they are asking the one thing I fear.

We craft-challenged moms are so misunderstood;
We can’t make a red-and-pink box that looks good.
Maybe I’ll write something—that’s what I’ll do!
I’ll send the kids off with a Valentine’s haiku:

Children, I love you
Sorry your boxes are lame
But you are the best!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Someday I’m Going to Miss This . . . Right?

Last Sunday, I told you all about how I woke up in a quiet house, grabbed my Bible and a warm blanket, and enjoyed some rare (albeit much too short) time to myself before the kids awoke.

Well, yesterday was the complete opposite of that. Times ten.

It went something like this:

Just after 6 a.m., Brett walked into our room and turned on the light, stirring me out of sleep. “Jen? Jen?! Where are you, honey? I need to wear my windpants today. Do you know where they are?”

To his credit, my husband didn’t mean to wake me up. You see, he assumed I was awake because I wasn’t on my pillow, where of course he expected me to be.

Nope, I was sleeping at the foot of the bed.

Apparently sometime during the night, our three-year-old son came downstairs and climbed in bed with us. (I have no memory of this.) He then sprawled out horizontally in such a way that, defying all laws of physics, his tiny body covered the entire length of our king-sized bed. Desperate for a little patch of mattress to call my own, I crawled to the foot of the bed to stake my claim.

So that’s where I was when Brett flicked on the light. I mumbled something about there being clean khakis in his closet and for crying out loud you can’t preach in windpants, and pulled the comforter over my frozen feet.

“No, I need my windpants,” he said. “I’m preaching on spiritual exercise, so I’m wearing athletic gear today. Are they in the laundry?”

With a heavy sigh, I flung the comforter back and got out of bed, knowing good and well that I wouldn’t have gone back to sleep anyway. (Another one of those things they don’t tell you before having kids: no matter how deeply you could sleep pre-kids, the first night you bring your baby home, you are instantly and permanently transformed into a light sleeper.)

After a fruitless search of the clean laundry pile, the dresser, and the laundry sorter, I remembered that I had thrown a load into the dryer on my way to bed the night before. (See, I’m okay with the washing and drying part; it’s the folding and putting up part that trips me up!) A quick check of the dryer revealed the aforementioned pants—wrinkled but clean. (Whew!) I set the timer to ten minutes and told Brett they’d be ready soon.

By this time, as you might have guessed, the kids heard me breathing—which set off their sixth sense to wake up. The pitter-patter of little feet squelched any hopes I might have had for a peaceful morning.

And the real fun began.

Buddy wanted cereal for breakfast, but I forgot to run the dishwasher and we were out of bowls, so I had to hand-wash one for him. J.J. asked for oatmeal . . . until the teakettle whistled, at which time she decided that she wanted toast.

I continued through my morning routine of brewing coffee (first things first!), parceling out the kids’ vitamins (“Mom, I want the purple one, not the pink one!”), and refereeing typical morning squabbles (“J.J, don't tell your brother that boys don’t eat pink vitamins. That wasn't kind. Now apologize to him. . . . No, do it again, and this time I want you to mean it!”).

As I scooped out some dog food and opened the back door to let her outside, I remembered it was Fifth Sunday Feast at church. So I grabbed a frozen lasagna and threw it in the oven.

After breakfast, I sent the kids upstairs to get their clothes and come down to take showers. (I know, I know. I was supposed to do this the night before, but Brett worked late and it was a crazy Saturday and we got off schedule.)

Three showers, four outfit changes (“No, you cannot wear your red dress with your pink leggings and brown shoes!”), two squabbles, one art supply disaster (don’t ask), and one wrapped baby shower gift later, I had exactly fifteen minutes to take my own (cold by now) shower, fix my hair and makeup, get the lasagna ready, pack the diaper bag, grab the baby gift, get the kids' coats and Bibles, herd my crew into the minivan to get to church—and somewhere during the drive, switch hats from frazzled mom to pleasant pastor’s wife.

I wish I could tell you otherwise, but this is a pretty typical Sunday morning at the Stair house.

As I dropped off the last kid in his Sunday school class and made my way into the sanctuary (oops, I mean multipurpose room), I thought about something I read last week in Forever, Erma—a collection of favorite columns from the beloved humorist Erma Bombeck.

Those of you who giggled your way through Erma’s columns over the years no doubt loved her humorous take on everything from diapers to nosy neighbors. Her writing spans three decades of motherhood, from the harried mom stage (for which I am Exhibit A) to midlife and beyond.

Though I laughed till I cried at some of her own kids’ antics (and breathed a sigh of relief to know that our family is sort of normal), I was especially struck by the columns she wrote as an empty nester, after her kids were grown.

Erma wrote poignantly about how she had longed all those years for the time when her house would finally stay clean and she’d be caught up on laundry—only to grieve when it actually happened. She admitted that after years of telling her kids to pick up their rooms and fix their own snacks, when her grown children came home for a visit, she’d follow them around like a concierge, asking “Can I fix you something to eat? Do you need me to wash your clothes? Can I help you with anything?”

She wrote about how quiet it was after the kids left.

After laughing and crying my way through Forever, Erma last week, I’m trying to remember how wistful she was in her later years. So today, as I again went through our morning routine with the kids, I kept reminding myself to enjoy the moment, as busy and chaotic as it may be.

Because someday I’m going to look back and miss all of this . . . right?