20 May 2019

When parenting is agonizing

Two recent conversations have had me thinking a lot about what it means to wear the hat of "Mama." It is, undoubtedly, one of the titles in my life of which I am very proud. But it is also one which often leaves me immensely stressed.

Since Mary Michelle was born 10.5 years ago, we've gone through lots of transitions. We stopped adding to our family and kids have actually started moving away to start their own lives.
[Little side note to our bigs who often read these posts... Daddy and Mama are ready to start adding to the fam again... but its your turn! Significant others and then, Lord willing after that, grand-kids, are welcome. Mama's gotten to hold some really teensy tiny littles recently and she thinks it is lots of fun! She doesn't care if you think this little  «parenthèse entre guillmets » is goofy! And yes, she is referring to herself in the third person.]
Sorry for that interruption! Ok, not really...But back to what I was wanting to say: in between today and Mary's arrival 10 plus years ago, it seems like most of our friends, as well, moved out of that new-baby growing family stage. Recently, however, there's been a stampede of younger friends having babies. 

I went to visit one of those sweet little families the other evening. It was a treat to listen to all that God has done for them, to grieve with them a little those expectations that weren't realized, to excitedly anticipate what God will do in the days, weeks and months ahead, and to remember when Tim and I held our first precious gift in our arms. As parents, we often have the message preached at us, in one way or another, that "the well-being and welfare of children should always be our focus." We are to care for their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being to the very best of our abilities. As new parents, we are confident that we will do anything to do just that.

What those giving such sage counsel forget to mention is how easily those good goals become idols, and how we are often powerless and inept at protecting our children from what comes their way. Ensuring the security of our children, physically, emotionally and spiritually is a certainly a laudable goal and one for which we should aim.


But that desire needs to be balanced with the reality of life in a broken world, ravaged by the effects of sin and the truth that it is what comes out of us that defiles us, not what is inflicted upon us. Security in this world is an illusion we strive mightily to maintain, and is often an attempt to ignore the sometimes painful sovereignty of God.

I also recently visited with another mother. Her child is older, but is experiencing really hard, unjust and unfair things inextricably linked with the consequences of sinful behavior choices. My heart physically aches for her and her child. For no matter how old our children get (I'm convinced more and more of this fact), parents long to protect them, and will go to extremes to do so. This mother is agonizing over the fact that she can't force the bad to stop, erase the hurt and then move bravely forward leaving the trauma behind.

I tried to remind her: God's hand is sovereign and He controls all that touches the lives of our children. Even when we don't believe we can trust the people and events influencing and shaping our children, we can trust the ultimate artist. God cares for them so much more than we do, He is always present, and it is often in the most difficult that we begin to catch glimpses of the masterpiece He is molding our young people to be...

It is agonizingly hard... and I'm not talking about that theoretically. I've lived it.

While still in Niger, our older children attended a French language primary school. It was not a choice I originally wanted to make - my coup de coeur had always been to home school - but because of many circumstances outside of my control and our missionary budget realities, it was the choice we felt we had to make. And then came the day that one of our daughters came home from school with a lump and a decent cut (and blood stains in her blond hair) on her head. 

It was our 11 year old son who recounted the story. He, in fact, was the one who ran across the courtyard to protect his sister, not a teacher or one of the playground monitors.  Why did this happen to our daughter? Probably because she was a white girl with blond hair and blue eyes and the gal that violently accosted her probably wanted to intimidate her. If I remember correctly, she thought our daughter's long blonde hair was a wig or extensions, and she wanted it for herself. I was traumatized... 

Yet the next day, we had to send her right back into that lion's den, and I couldn't be there to physically protect her. What I really wanted to do was smack a couple of teachers' heads into the wall, first for allowing it to happen and then for not even having the nerve to directly tell us about it when we came to pick her up from school that day.

We, of course, did meet with the teachers and the administration. We spoke with the girl  that had hurt our daughter. We talked about and rehearsed strategies that our daughter could use to prevent a similar event from reoccurring. We put her brother on guard - he knew was to look out for her and to immediately seek adult help if he felt that something was off. It was awkward. Everything in my mother heart told me it was not enough, that the probability of a repeat occurrence was high.

It wasn't enough. Because all of those actions we took? They were what we could arrange on our own, without reliance on God. Ultimately, our security, the security of our children rests in the hands of our sovereign, all-powerful, omnipresent God. 

When I recently asked my daughter about returning to school the next day - if she was afraid, she said that while she clearly remembered the event, she did not remember being afraid. And then she told me why: she remembered the different strategies we gave her, she felt able to execute them, and she remembered that the other girl had been strongly reprimanded by the authorities at the school once they intervened. I think there was one other thing that helped her, even though she didn't mention it. She naturally and easily trusted God, with a child's faith, to work things out and somehow take care of her. 

If I hadn't sent her back to school that next day, she would have missed that opportunity.

Did He stop other bad things from happening to our children while they attended that school? While they lived in Niger? Once they returned to the States? After we moved them yet again, to Canada? 

No. In this life, stuff will happen. 

We won't understand why. 

We will feel powerless. 

We will be angry and overwhelmed by emotions we don't want to experience.

It is what I, as a parent, do with "all of that" - that counts. 

It is what I model for my child that matters. 

Do I use each difficult situation unjust circumstance as an opportunity to let Christ increase while I decrease as the protector, provider and preserver of my kid's well-being?

And today? 

Well, we recently saw that childlike faith and trust demonstrated again, in the midst of events that had her far-away-parents more than just a little worried. We saw her big brother step up to the plate and help look out for her - a skill he'd practiced at least once before, all those years ago. God allowed frustration after frustration in this particular situation, but He also brought His arms, His hands - in the form of His people - to lend a physical hand and care for her. So even while I'd chewed my nails down to the quick... 

God gifted me another opportunity practice trusting Him with some of the ones I count most precious of all.

May I never forget to thank Him for those moments.

04 March 2019

Ma chaise berçante... otherwise known as rocking chair "internship"

Tomorrow morning some time, my two older girls are taking off with a friend to visit their younger sister who is attending school in a different state. I'm delighted they are going to check up on their lil' sis. Yet, my mama-heart is exceedingly worried - the weather forecast ain't so great and even though they are all grown up and competent drivers, I know from personal experience how scary it can be to driving through the regions where they'll be driving in nasty winter weather.

It's even scarier as their mother... I literally texted one of them today and asked if we could Skype tonight just so I could be sure and hear their voices again if they died. Fortunately, said daughter kindly understood her mother's freak out...

I remember being a young adult, I remember my mom being worried. I remember having to work really hard (not always successfully) to not be offended by that worry. I had no idea how visceral and real and almost decapitating (as in the panic can sometimes interfere with any semblance of logical or reasonable brain activity) that worry can be... My family and God are pounding yet another parenting truth into my rather hard head.

One of my coping strategies to try and manage this overwhelming - and if I'm blunt, sinful, since it is me trying to micromanage their lives mostly for my own comfort with more than a dash of "their own good" mixed in - panicky concern is nostalgia. The fact that I recently heard a radio program highlighting the benefits, physical and mental, of rocking - for both big and little people - has had me mentally meandering through my rocking chair memories. 

The stories this chair could tell...

My parents gave me this Amish rocker shortly after we announced we were expecting our first child, in other words, back in 1995. I've sat in this chair during every pregnancy, rocked, nursed and sang to every one of my babies in this chair. It traveled to Niger (yes, Africa) in a container and spent several years, creaking and cracking on the back side of the Sahara Desert. I'm sure if I looked closely, I could still find bits of desert orange sand in the joints. Fortunately, it was spared during the great termite infestation that destroyed a couple thousand dollars of home school curriculum, videos and other termite delicacies while stored during a home assignment back in the States.

Then came the great conundrum. We were leaving Niger. We weren't shipping a container home. But I wanted my rocking chair. So I took it apart, carefully packed it into a suitcase, and brought it back to the American side of the Atlantic. Of course, taking it apart was much easier than getting it back together. Even with all the pictures we took. Tim offered to buy me another one. I refused.

I didn't want another one. I wanted THAT one. My rocking chair...

The chair I rocked in when my back was KILLING me during or immediately after each of my pregnancies (Believe it or not, I did not enjoy even though I've spent approximately 75 months, 3236 weeks, or 6.25 years - of my life pregnant. And yes, I was counting.)

The chair where I rocked and breathed and read until I memorized Philippians 4 after waking with panic attacks at 3 am repeatedly... until I experienced physically the "peace of God that guards my heart and mind."

The chair where I cuddled and nursed and deepened that relationship with each little life God's gifted to Tim and me.

The chair where I've read Winnie the Pooh or the Wheel on the School or Ruth to each one, because whether they remember it or not, I do.

The chair that I far too often left neglected in the corner of my bedroom for long stretches because I was too busy to stop and take the time, too concerned with my own dreams, my own plans.

The chair where I've spent uncounted sleepless nights with sickies praying for patience and health yet also appreciating those long moments of quiet with just one child rocking snuggled close in my arms.

The chair strategically placed under the air conditioner where I'd listen, the sweat still rolling down the back of my knees, to Jan Karon's audio books during sieste on a sweltering Niger afternoon.

The chair where I held my neighbor's deathly sick and desperately needing surgery little girl who continually moaned in pain while knowing there was nothing else I could do - just to give her mama a few minutes break.

The chair where I've prayed for bigger kids when they've been far from me and I've been worried about them - their safety or the wisdom of the decisions they were making.

The chair where God, along with my family, has persistently worked to gentle stubborn, hard-headed and selfish me, giving me a long "internship" in choosing joy while putting my desires (and sometimes needs) aside for a few moments to focus on serving another.

Chaise berçante... those words, pronounced in French even sound like the gentle to and fro of my chair as tilts forward and back, that God has used to gentle me. A place so comfortable, so comforting, that moves so gracefully - where I've learned some of the hardest yet most important lessons of my life.

That chair represents more than just the many precious or challenging memories of parenthood. It represents much of my journey with my Savior. I often wonder what that chair would recount... if it could.

Thankfully, a dear gentleman in one of our partnering churches was able to help put my Amish rocker back together. But it is definitely worse for the wear. Today, it sits beside our fireplace, held together by duct tape... 

...as today that "internship" continues. I pray it continues for many years, encore!

PS My girlies made their trip safely and are now hanging out and s'encouraging (yes, that's franglais). I wish I could be there with them.

23 February 2019

Be patient and just give it time... (FMF post)


When I saw the writing prompt for this Five Minute Friday write, this most certainly IS NOT the direction I originally saw myself going.

But it is what I've been thinking about and it does include the word just, so...

Here we go!

I first took the Myers-Briggs personality test almost 30 years ago. It is a took I've come to appreciate, not as it it reveals gospel-truth about who I am and my personality, but rather as in it reveals certain personality traits that help to explain why I act and think as I do in particular circumstances. It helps me understand myself, often helping me to adapt and change my initial first-and-best-option-according-to-me, to better meet the needs of my family, my friends, my colleagues and others I'm seeking to serve.

My initial test results said I was an I/ENTJ. Dead even on the introvert/extrovert scale, intuitive regarding my understanding of the world and people, I made decisions based off of logical analysis and I preferred a plan rather than flying by the seat of my pants. Then I became a mother... of many. For the last 20 years, every time I've taken the test, I turn up an INFJ. Introverted to the extreme (perhaps a reaction or coping mechanism to having worked much of my life in a third world country surrounded by immense needs in every direction and then inside my home, having eight third culture kids in 13 years, and having rather intense side effects to the malaria prophylactic I took while working/living/raising a family in that third world environment), intuitive (where time has consistently demonstrated that my intuitive read of the world around me is usually pretty accurate) decisions based off of feelings - often the feelings of others of which I'm intuitively aware, as in they are screaming at me so loudly it is hard to identify my own feelings, and I'm still someone who prefers a plan, though I've learned to be flexible in adapting that plan.

It is that intuitive part that I've been mulling over lately. 

I do read people well most of the time. I know when someone is hurt, frustrated, angry... and I want to come up with a plan to make it right. 

I try and come up with some sort of constructive action or reparation to resolve the conflict, to heal hurt feelings, to reconcile and restore what has been ruptured.

Sometimes that is the absolutely right thing to do.

Some times, however, I just need to be patient. I just need to wait. I am not really part of the problem, but will rapidly become part of it if I try and force the solution.

I just need to stay out of the way, pray and let the Holy Spirit do His thing...

photo credit: Mara ~earth light~ 

16 February 2019

Five Minute Friday ('cept for me, it's on Saturday) ~ Confident

While I was never a person who thought I knew it ALL, when I was a young mother, I was pretty confident I knew an AWFUL LOT.

As folks here in Quebec commonly say, "Ouff!"

Because now, as far as what I KNOW, I'm not nearly so
  • self-assured...
  • sure...
  • presumptuously puffed up...
  • arrogant.
At least I don't think so. I'm not in my head.

I hope I'm not (at least not most of the time) in the attitude I present to others. 

(Feel free to call me out on that one if you this attitude screaming out in my life.)

Mommy-ing, teaching littles at home and at school, have shown me so many things
  • More often than not, I make judgments - and I'm confident of the righteousness of said judgments - without a clear or complete understanding.
  • I have a hard time seeing how my words, my actions or what seems so clearly obvious and true to me, can be perceived totally differently (and often rightly) by somebody else.
  • The more I think I know, clearly the more I need to humble myself to learn more.
I'm presently living two "situations" right now where I'm grudgingly thankful for the "humble-pie" on which I'm "dining.

One is much easier than the other (so I'll start with that one first).

In an effort to model teachability and encourage a more positive classroom climate, this past week one of my colleagues and I had "circle time" with her class. I led the time and our goal was to discuss the fact that we all have strengths and weaknesses and part of loving others means supporting and noticing others around us when they use their talents for the good of others... and lovingly confronting them when they refuse to work on their weaknesses and thus hurt others.

So, using myself as the model, I asked this group of students (early elementary aged) what they saw as my strengths and my weaknesses when I was with them, working with them, at school.

According to a group of six and seven year-old kids, they appreciate and know that I love them because I'm willing to draw near and help them with hard things, whether their problem is not getting some academic concept, not getting along (or worse) with a friend, not listening to their teachers or other authorities as they should, or not treating others like they want to be treated.

Can I pat myself on the back for that one? 

Nope. Not yet. ...keep reading -

Then, they said I have two things on which I need to work:

1. Improving my ability to speak French 

No surprise there... and we had a mini-lesson right then and there on how I should be pronouncing "Dieu" - which for this old, English-speaking tongue - well, "Ugh!" My attempts provoked much laughter and I felt like an idiot. I think I finally got it write twice. They all clapped! I smiled while silently nursing my pride.**

2. I need to give more hugs. 

In other words, even though my attitude and my attention communicates clearly to them that I do love them, they need even more - especially when I'm working with them in a difficult moments. In all sincerity, my very young friends were able to tell me today that my biggest strength, the thing they appreciated most about me as a teacher - they appreciated not because I was consistently doing it well enough that they actually "felt" loved. Rather, because of God's grace and his work in their little hearts, they understood and accepted my intention even when my words and actions didn't clearly communicate the message. 



Outta the mouths of babes.

The second situation is much more difficult for me to swallow.

Because I've unintentionally offended and hurt someone. In my confidence that I was acting rightly, I didn't consider that what I was doing could even be misconstrued. My lack of awareness of the other ways that those actions could be received, perceived and interpreted has been rather glaring. In this situation intentions just don't matter, and there is no way to undo damage done.

Next week, I will have the opportunity to apologize - in French, mind you (Remember, communicating in that language is not one of my strengths. Neither is humbling myself and publicly admitting error.)

And I get to do all of this in the presence of my boss. By God's grace (and me decreasing so that His presence in me increases), maybe forgiveness and a measure of reconciliation and healing will result. Maybe even restoration.

But I can't worry about the result at this moment. I can only pray that the Holy Spirit softens and gentles as I pray (and rehearse hundreds of times in my head) about the words I will say and the attitude I need.

As I've reflected and prayed about this, I'm so thankful for the following two truths.

I can be "confident of this, that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1.6)


"...whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in a Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him ...Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

**Five minute time limit reached
photo credit: NevilleNel Perseverance via photopin (license)

01 February 2019

just one of those days where I don't like very much what I've signed up for

We signed a lease today.

That means this July, we will make our 32nd move in 25 years of marriage. Thankfully several of those were "smaller affairs" back before we had lots of kids. But it will be our fifth move in the last 10 years - and two of those were international.

I'm a little sad. 

Actually, if I'm going to be "authentic," today I'm a lot sad.

I'm also a lot tired, just thinking of all that now has to happen between now and then.

As followers of Jesus, we learn to hold dreams, hopes as well as the people and things we love close to our hearts, but loosely with open hands, offering all back to God. 

Today, I'm wishing that God will let me stop learning that open-handed heart position.

Almost two years ago, when we moved into the rental house where we are presently living, I fell in love. With all those moves, I've lived in quite a few different places. I'm usually pretty content. I've found things to love and enjoy about every house we've ever had. I don't think I've ever been unhappy with any of our living spaces.

This house was different. For me, it has been a head over heels love affair. It's cute. It has personality. It has been well-lived in, with "scars and stretch-marks." There's a pool surrounded by a deck about to collapse. A fireplace. Enough square footage to really stretch out and breath deep. Space to invite friends and family to visit. An older neighborhood with huge trees, great paths to walk, the golf course (or cross-country ski trails, depending on the time of year) right across the street, a cute little "centre-ville" and the St. Lawrence River just down the hill. I love living here. It doesn't just feel like another in a long list of houses. It has felt like home. The day we signed the lease for this however, I knew we'd be moving again, sometime. I forgot to hold this home loosely. During the past 20 months, without really realizing it, I've clenched tightly my metaphorical hand around the idea of staying here, for several more years.

God has been prying my clutching fingers away, one at a time over the past several weeks... and I'm a little sore from clinging too tightly.

It all started when we began praying about the possibility of moving. The church plant project of which we are a part has a community church as its goal. It is much easier to invite people to a community church activity when you actually live in the neighborhood. We started wondering if God might be asking us to move into that area of town. Tim and I told each other we were going to pray about it. Instead of praying for wisdom regarding such a big decision, however, I spent more time asking God to pry my hands back open because the idea of packing everything up just seemed to suck all the energy right out of me.

Then, my desires became a bit of a mute point. We received  notification that the owner of our current home had decided to sell. We could renew our lease, but that means living in a house with regular visits from prospective buyers, potential inspections and probably work that needs to be done as a result. Eventually, we'd be given notice, and we would have a certain period of time during which we would have to find another place to live so we could vacate the property.

So we started to look in earnest. Every morning, every night - I would scrutinize the housing ads on six or seven different web sites. I'd write and find out if renters really didn't want dogs or if they just didn't want big dogs, if rental prices included utilities or not, what neighborhood the house was actually located in, if the house was even still available and if could we arrange a visit. Then came the visits. Last Monday night, neither agent showed up to show us the house, so we uselessly drove around for two-ish hours. The visits are almost always a bit of a let down. The house never looks quite as big or nice as it does in the publicity photos.

Yesterday, we had it narrowed down to two places: one close to the church plant neighborhood, farther from school and work, a lot smaller, less expensive, an indoor parking spot and access to a community pool as part of the deal; the other possibility was a bit farther from the church plant neighborhood but walking distance from the kids' school, an almost new and lovely home with significantly more space, more bathrooms, almost no yard and a steeper rent. 

We talked and prayed. And we decided. I left the school's staff retreat today a little early so I could drive by the first choice above and sign the lease. 

I wanted to cry. Not because I didn't like the choice - our two choices were pretty equal in my mind, each with different positives and negatives. I was just sad that we had had to make the choice. I don't want to move.

Even if it is what I signed up for.

I signed up for this when I promised Jesus as a little girl that I "wanted to be a missionary for him someday, when I grew up."

It is what Tim and I signed up for when we moved to Niger, and then to Quebec.

Part of serving God is counting the cost and this is one of the costs.

I am loath to call it a sacrifice because I will have a roof over my head, our gang of 4 plus 1 (when she gets done with her Bible program this year) will all have a bed and we will be together. We will figure out a way to cram the big kids, my parents or other family in if and when they come to visit. We'll have people over, lots, just because we do that, and we'll be snug and laugh lots. I will choose to be content and I will probably learn to love this new space.

Signing the lease today, however? 

I didn't want to do it, even if I had signed up for it. 

It felt like a heavy, burdensome sacrifice.

It gets old not knowing from one year to the next if we'll be in the same place. It gets old realizing there are still boxes I've not unpacked from the last two moves. It gets old not having the stability of a house we own.

Then I remember one of Paul's prayers for the Ephesians.

"...having the of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe." (from Eph 1) 

This is nothing more than a momentary impression of something that today, feels like a sacrifice. I've an eternal home awaiting me in the future. Once there, I'll never have to move again.


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