Monday, August 30, 2010

If I Could Change Anything...

It was 7:00 on Sunday morning, and I was enjoying a rare birthday treat: sleeping in while Brett got the kids ready for church. I wasn’t fully asleep, though, just in that blissful drifting-in-and-out-of-dreamland mode. I could hear the kids snickering in the kitchen, with Brett helping them make breakfast.

My lazy musings were quickly interrupted when my four-year-old son bounded onto the bed and shook me awake.

“Mom… Mom… MOM!!!!”

I rolled over and mumbled something like, “Mm-kay. I hear you. Stop shaking me.”

“Mom! DON’T WAKE UP!!!” he instructed. “We’re going to surprise you and say ‘Happy birthday!’ And look, I made this card for you! So don’t wake up, okay?” He jumped off the bed and scurried out of the room, all footsteps and giggles.

Um, okay.

And so began my first day of my thirty-seventh year.

It was a fun day—starting with “Happy birthday, Mom!” and homemade cards, then worshipping at church (and blushing at my husband’s sneaky surprise), and having fun with the kids. I got just what I wanted: an entire day in which I didn’t have to cook, clean, or be responsible for anything. 

At dinner last night, Brett and I were reminiscing about how much we’ve been through together. Then he asked me, “What’s the best thing that has happened to you in 37 years?”

“That’s not a fair question!” I protested. After all, there have been a LOT of wonderful things—how could I pick just one? I grew up in a great family, had fun in high school, enjoyed my years at Texas A&M, loved working at Word Publishing, and now have a wonderful husband and three amazing kids. How could I pick something as “the best”? I’ve been abundantly blessed.

And yet, I’ve also had lots of obstacles along the way. My dad’s death . . . frustrations and failures . . . miscarriage and medical problems . . . betrayals and ministry struggles.

Over a free birthday hamburger and fries (thank you, Red Robin!), Brett and I began to muse about how things would have been different “if only”—if only my dad had been around to help us, if only we had handled that situation differently, if only we hadn’t gone to that church, if only we hadn’t had to deal with those medical issues . . .

Then again, I don’t know if I would change anything.

I've learned a lot of things the hard way. But I’ve learned them well. And those experiences radically shaped my life and transformed my faith from zealous idealism into seasoned maturity. The pain has made me stronger. Deeper. Humbler. More desperate for God. More vulnerable to others. More grateful for life’s blessings.

Pardon the cliché, but these 37 years have been a long and winding road. But it’s the road that led me here. To this place. To this family. To this ministry. To this community.

And no matter how I got here, this is exactly where I want to be.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Dinnertime Discussion

Last night at dinner, Miss B was eager to show us something she’s been learning in her 3rd grade class: how to sign the Pledge of Allegiance. (Her teacher is fluent in ASL.) She only knows part of it, but she was proud to show us what she had learned so far.

As she signed the first few words of the Pledge, Brett and I began to ask her if she knew what they meant.

“What does pledge mean?” I asked.

“It means to make a promise,” Miss B quickly responded.

“That’s right, honey,” Brett said. “What’s allegiance?”

“Oh, we talked about that in school today,” she said. “It’s being loyal to someone.”

And on we went. “What’s a republic?” “What does it mean to be under God?” “What’s indivisible?” (The sign for indivisible is really cool, by the way.)

All three kids were eager to voice their opinions, which led to a lively (if unconventional) discussion of government and authority. For example, four-year-old Buddy suggested that “under God” meant that God was above you, since He lives up in heaven; while J.J. offered that “indivisible” was like a candy bar that you have to eat whole, as opposed to M&Ms that you can sort by colors.

Then we got to the part of the Pledge that Miss B hadn’t yet learned to sign. But we were on a roll, so we asked her anyway. “What’s liberty?”

She wasn’t sure, so we explained to her that liberty means freedom. We talked about the Statue of Liberty and slaves being “liberated” and politicians who are called “liberals.”

And then we got to the final phrase of the Pledge: “…and justice for all.”

“What’s justice?” I asked her.

I was confident that she knew this one. After all, Brett and I have talked to the kids several times about the difference between justice and fairness. Plus, Brett has preached on the justice of God, and Miss B recently memorized Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

“Oh that’s easy, Mom,” Miss B said brightly. “Justice is a store that sells girls’ clothes.”


Just when you think you are finally getting somewhere with your kids…

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Riding the Bus and Other Adventures in Letting the Kids Grow Up

In a lot of ways, our subdivision feels like a small town. Sendera Ranch has its own playgrounds and fishing ponds, fireworks and festivals, and even its own elementary school. The girls really enjoy going to school with kids they know from church and around the neighborhood. And though the school is only a few minutes away, bus routes wind through the streets to pick up the neighborhood kids.

For two years, the girls have been begging us to let them ride the bus. But each time they’ve asked, Brett and I have said no. (We want to make sure they are safe, and Brett is concerned about the possibility of antics by the older boys… maybe because he used to be a precocious fifth-grade boy himself?)

So for all this time, we have resisted. No, girls, you cannot ride the bus. We want to take you to school.

But this year has been a season of letting our older children start to do things on their own. Miss B’s first trip to the lake with friends (and without us). J.J.’s first sleepover. The girls riding their bikes on their own on the walking trail behind our house.

We still have boundaries, of course. We know the parents of the girls’ friends. And we’ve set parameters for their bike rides so they’re not too far away from the house. Still, bit by bit, the girls are starting to develop independence and are putting into practice important life skills we’ve been teaching them at home.

But still, it’s so hard to let them grow up! I admit I struggle with my primal, and at times overwhelming, desire to keep my kids with me 24/7. Whenever they have a conflict with a friend or issue in school, I have to fight the urge to jump in there and fix it. And when they’re ready to do things on their own, I instinctively resist, yearning to keep them as safe (and as close to me) as possible. Though, deep down, I know that’s not best for them.

As all parents know, there’s a fine line between protecting your children and smothering them. Yes, we are responsible to love our kids, teach them, protect them, and enjoy them. Our children are blessings from the Lord who captured our hearts from the very first moment we cradled them in our arms.

But here’s the rub: if you keep your arms wrapped around your kids too tightly, you’ll stunt their growth.

Let’s face it: we all know grown-ups who have not actually grown up. Their well-meaning parents made sure they never experienced frustration or failure. And as a result, they never learned the art of adulthood. After all, Mom and Dad always stepped in to save them, eliminated their consequences, fought their battles, and (let’s be honest here) are probably still paying their rent.

I really don’t want our kids to turn out like that.

Brett and I love our children—as I often tell them, “All the way, with all my heart, all the time.” And we are often on our knees before God, asking Him for wisdom and grace as we strive to be parents who give our kids both roots and wings.

And if you’re a parent, that’s probably your goal too. While your specific choices for your kids may be different than ours, our desire as parents is the same: to equip our children to be God-honoring, capable, independent, responsible adults.

And like it or not, that starts with giving them little freedoms.

For our family, one of those “little freedoms” is a big yellow bus. So that’s why at 7:15 a.m. on school days, you will find me walking the girls to the bus stop at the end of our street. I’ll hug them good-bye, wave as the bus closes its doors… and then pray like crazy every step of the way home.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What's Your Story?

Hello again, blog-land! After spending a wonderful, lazy summer with my kids, things are settling back into a routine around here, and that includes my blog. Though I tend to blog in fits and starts, I’m hoping I can post a little more regularly this school year.

If you’re following me on Facebook (or live around here), you know that our kids went back to school this week. So the past couple of weeks were a flurry of clothes shopping, haircuts, doctor’s visits, and all the other stuff you have to do to get the kids ready for school. For my oldest daughter, that also means appointments with her ophthalmologist and her glaucoma specialist.

She has been going to the same eye doctors since age three, and by now, everyone in the office knows her and greets her by name. (It’s kind of like that guy on Cheers: “Norm!”) She was so proud this latest round of check-ups, because so many people complimented her on how much she’s grown and how lovely she’s become.

The next morning—back on one of those lazy, sleeping-in summer mornings (sigh)—Miss B and I were the only ones awake in a quiet house. She snuggled beside me on the couch and asked, “Mom, why does everyone know me at Dr. Packwood’s and Dr. Flowers’?”

Lazily stroking her hair, I said, “You know, honey. It’s because of everything you’ve gone through.”

She curled up her legs and tucked her bare feet under the ruffle of her pink horse nightgown. “You mean, because I’ve had surgeries and stuff?”

I chuckled at the understatement. “Yeah, you could say that.” It took me a moment to realize that she was asking a genuine question.

And then it hit me—she doesn’t know her own story!

Oh, she knows bits and pieces of it, of course, but so much of her journey took place when she was so young that she honestly doesn’t remember much of it. (Which is probably a blessing, since those were a traumatic few years.)

So I spent the next half hour, just the two of us, telling Miss B her story.

I started with her unexplained headaches at age three, followed by the terrifying day her fever spiked, her left pupil inexplicably dilated, and we were whisked into the ER. Then the MRIs and CT scans and tests—and the specialist in OKC who couldn’t explain the pupil but thought she might have high eye pressure. The dreadful confirmation of that, followed by an emergency eye surgery that failed and another surgery that was so intense that she was bedridden for weeks (ever tried to keep a 3 year old perfectly still?) and caused significant side effects. Then a surgery on her right eye that failed and another surgery to put a tube in that eye. Then dozens of exams under anesthesia to check her pressure when she was too young to sit still to take a pressure reading. Oh, and all the surgeries since then, not including the laser ones. Not to mention the panicked trips between Austin and Fort Worth to take care of various complications, and the ever-present reality that we’re only ever a day away from another surgery. (Last week, her glaucoma doctor told us that she’ll probably need surgery this year on her left eye. Sigh.)

“But that’s not the whole story,” I assured her. “Your story isn’t complete without the God part.”

I reminded her that the doctors still can’t explain what caused her left pupil to pop open. (To this day, it’s fully dilated; you can barely see any of her blue iris.) We call that her “God spot.” Because if it weren’t for that pupil, the doctors would never have started looking at her eyes. And if they hadn’t looked at her eyes, they wouldn’t have discovered the glaucoma. And if they hadn’t discovered the glaucoma, she would be blind. (Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness, because by the time most people find it, it’s too late.)

So, to protect His precious child, God reached down and touched her eye. The very thing that sets Miss B apart from other kids—her deformed pupil—is God’s permanent mark on her, the scar from which healing came. And though she’s self-conscious about that eye sometimes, especially when other kids make fun of her, it’s an essential part of her story. The story of God’s grace.

When you think of it, we all have a story. Ours is probably different from Miss B’s, but in a lot of ways, I bet it’s the same.

We were going along in life, minding our own business and doing pretty well for ourselves—until something unexpected tripped us up. Something painful, something scary, something we would never have chosen in a million years, something we desperately wish we could go back in time and erase. But for His own purposes, God chose to weave that into our life story.

And even though that painful thing probably left a scar, and though it may set you apart from other people, it’s part of your story. The story of God’s grace.

No matter what our scar is, God has included it in our story for a reason. And He gently assures us, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (1 Corinthians 12:9).

I don’t know what else God has in store for Miss B, and I don’t know what else He plans to write into my own story, or yours. But I do know how our stories will end:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1–5; emphasis added)
 Now, that's a story I'm proud to be part of!