Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Happy 10th Birthday, Jackson!


Ten years ago, I started worrying about you and I don't think I ever stopped.

Ten years ago tonight, my worry was whether to send you to the hospital nursery so I could get a good night's sleep or whether I should just bite the bullet and plunge into endless nights of sleeplessness. (For the record, I am NOT crazy and decided to hoard every bit of sleep I could; you went to the nursery until a nurse wheeled you back in the wee hours for a feeding.)

But these days, my worries have taken on more shape, weight, and baggage.

I worry whether you are happy, which makes me wonder if my parents ever worried about my happiness. Not that they didn't care, but I think my generation had a few less helicopter parents than yours does. There was more of the "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit" mentality than I see these days. Even though I know this, I still worry whether you are satisfied and will have good, happy memories of childhood when you are an adult.

I worry whether you're eating enough. You're skinny and smaller than your classmates, and I'm always playing the Italian-grandmother-role by trying to ply you with extra calories - but only the nutritional, substantial kind because you get enough junk already. I want you to grow big and strong, and not be the small kid who gets ridiculed. (Tonight, you saw Army helicopters fly by and we talked about you becoming a pilot one day. Maybe being compact would be an advantage?)

I worry about you being a good friend. When you have a friend over to play, I hear you poke at each other and whine during Nerf gun fights. Will your friend get annoyed at this and lose patience - and loyalty - in your friendship?

I worry about your character. I've told you so many times that I'm not as concerned about the grades on your report card as I am concerned about the citizenship, respectfulness, and cooperation marks you get. I already know you're smart; I want you to be known for your heart as much as - if not more so - than your brain. Are Daddy and I instilling good character?

I worry about so much more: are you brushing your teeth well? (Boo for cavities.) Are you spending too much time on a screen? (And what exactly is this Roblox thing anyway?) Are you reading too many graphic novels and shrinking your intelligence when you could be diving into a classic? Do you get away with too much because you're the baby of the family? Should we crack the whip more?

Aren't parents supposed to worry more about the first child? I thought the first one was supposed to be the "guinea pig" with the parenting mistakes, and parents are supposed to have it figured out by the time any siblings roll around. I don't think that's the case with you: Katie seems to roll right along, while I worry more about how I could be messing you up.

It's so easy for me to get caught up in hand-wringing and "what if." Yes, it's true there is concern even though there's not so much cause for concern. I own it: the concern is my own making and part of the problem is my desire to be a "good" parent (whatever that means).

The truth is what you and I discussed with your pediatrician today at your 10-year checkup: you are a good kid.

You excel academically.

You have a normal social life.

You eat pretty well.

You are very active.

You encounter emotional difficulties sometimes, like most 9- and 10-year-old boys do.

You love Minecraft, graphic novels, Nerf gun battles, library visits, cuddling, hiding (then jumping out to scare people), movies, screen time, Nutella, Katie, Pokemon, and the New York Yankees.

You are always on the move but you still let me hold you like a baby every now and then.

You can write and spell unlike any 4th grader I know.

You love intensely and to a fault, and friends are your fuel.

Your faith is matter-of-fact and you show me what it looks like to be secure in God's love: you simply don't question it.

You are passionate, loving, funny, smart, and - best of all - MINE. Life with you isn't *quite* worry free, but it is happy.

I'm glad you're my son and that I've been gifted ten years of life with you.

I love you!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I'm Sure It's Nothing

I felt the tiny lump late at night when I was reading in bed. I wasn't alarmed, thinking it was so small that I was probably imagining it. I was so unworried that I didn't remember it until the next afternoon when I was preparing to shower. I had to lay on the bed to find it again.

After my shower, I called the doctor but the office was closed. I told my sister about the tiny lump that night, repeatedly saying, "I'm sure it's nothing." I chuckled when she responded, "Are you trying to convince me or you?!"

First thing the next morning, I called the doctor and made an appointment for two days later. Two days isn't very long, right?. And, truly, I wasn't feeling any fear or anxiety about this. The only reason I told three of my close friends is because we had a lunch date that had to be cancelled because the doctor appointment was at the same time. I didn't tell them because I was worried; I told them because I'm practical.

Later that day, I told Dan about it during a phone call. Again, no fear. No anxiety. That night, I asked him to feel the lump. Every time I've gone to feel the lump, I keep expecting it be gone as if it were a fluke and I made a silly mistake.

With Dan's words, "I feel it," the small dyke holding back Anxiety was breached and the sludge of fear began trickling out.

Today is the between day. It's the day between the "I feel it" confirmation from Dan and the day before my doctor's visit. I hope tomorrow is a "Nope, you're good. There's nothing to worry about" kind of day.

But what if it isn't?

What If is a hope stealer, a thief of monumental proportions (mostly because I give him monumental access). What If is the red carpet invitation for doubts to parade into my mind and stick out their tongue at my faith.

I combat What If by silently repeating, "I'm sure it's nothing" inside my head. It's on repeat: "I'm sure it's nothing. I'm sure it's nothing. I'm sure it's nothing. I'm sure it's nothing." Until What If's quiet whisper pricks my ears:

"What if it's something?"

Am I in the best health of my life, able to fight at a moment's notice? No. You don't get a training calendar to prepare for cancers. When a diagnosis comes, you realize your training calendar was all the non-training days leading up to That Day... and no one told you That Day would become race day. So am I ready, if it is something? No. Hell, no.

And could it really be something? What are the chances? Aaah, that's when What If scores a major victory! My brother and father both died from cancer. My mom's death was a result of multiple complications, and doctors suspected breast and/or ovarian cancer. Her mom had breast cancer, too.

Can you hear the high-pitched whine in my head at this very moment? What If has turned up the heat and Anxiety is now squealing like a stove top tea kettle. Eeeeeeeeeeeee...

I forcefully (metaphorically) place my hands on Anxiety's shoulders and shake her back to reality. While she stands there stunned, I punch What If in the face and shout for him to get the hell out of my head.

I remember one of my favorite lines from the movie Big Fish, when the main character says, "That's not how I die."

I deliberately and intentionally choose to turn my face from the wreckage Anxiety created when she paid so much attention to What If (poor, sweet Anxiety - bless her heart!), and fix my gaze on the One - the only One - who has beaten the tar out of What If and lived to tell about it.

The One stands in defense of me, in defiance of loss and death and disease and endings. This One is the one who makes all things new, and turns endings into beginnings. He's the One who tells me I have hope instead of despair, and I'm not crazy to look for light in the darkness.

The One takes What If and transforms him into EVEN IF. The One is my Savior, my Redeemer, my Jesus Christ.

Only He can take the despair What If is so good at making and turn it into a faith-building, hope-festering, strength-infusing moment of delight and joy. What If loses his power, his might, and his manipulating bullying in the face of Jesus's EVEN IF.

Nothing can withstand EVEN IF.

"If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up." (Daniel 3:17-18 NASB, emphasis mine)

FOLLOW UP: I wrote this post on Thursday, February 9. I saw the doctor on Friday, February 10. I praise God for a calm, kind, and compassionate doctor who gave me good news that the lump seems to be a normal nodule and there are no worries.

So should I publish this post, if the news turned out to be a non-issue and there wasn't even a blip on the radar? Yes, I'm publishing it anyway. Maybe there's someone else being attacked by What If, and this post will remind you to focus on the EVEN IF God who sees you and never leaves you.

I'm also publishing this in case there comes a day when I need to revisit what I wrote because I've allowed fear to get a leg up on my faith. EVEN IF no one else gets anything out of this post, that's okay. It isn't for you anyway - it's for me and my family, and it's a record of how we've spent the days of our lives pursuing hope instead of fear.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent

If the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child" is true, then I'd like to take it a step further and say it takes a child to raise a parent.

When Dan and I decided it was time to start building a family, I don't think we were quite aware of what we had in store. (Is anyone ever?)

I envisioned a cooing baby, cuddly blankets, and fuzzy ducks. That vision dissolved about four days in to motherhood, when I realized parenting looked a lot more like sleepless nights, a sore body, and more extreme highs and lows than a Six Flags roller coaster.

To say parenting is the hardest thing I've ever done is an understatement. I've never had to be more on my game with less resources (sleep, patience, or elbow grease) for this length of time with this much focus on end results. I've never wanted to quit anything else in my life as often as I've wanted to quit parenting, and I've never questioned my strengths and weaknesses to this extent.

Parenting is a butt kicker!

In the midst of a butt kicking, a moment of clarity often sneaks up on me and I remember parenting is the single most noble responsibility I've ever had in my short/long life. Nothing else has refined me or defined me like parenting has. It is a painful blessing that constantly brings me to the end of myself and drives me into the arms of my Savior.

If I could talk to the pre-pregnancy Elizabeth of 2002, I would tell her to let go of the baby-coo-cuddly-blankie-fuzzy-duck fantasies and cling tightly to her faith, her husband, and her seat belt because parenting is about to up-end her life. I would tell her parenting is:

Digging deep into your reserves and finding a measure of happiness in the morning when you are NOT a morning person and hate being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 6am. Positive parenting means dying to your flesh and not biting your kids' heads off even when they are cackling and over their breakfast smoothies and driving you crazy.

Walking your youngest to the bus stop every morning, stealing a quick kiss as the bus arrives, and reminding him to wipe his mouth. Patient parenting means giving the reminder Every. Single. Day! if necessary, and doing it without the exasperation you so badly want to express.

Building a fabulous tree house the kids never use because they dreamed about camping in the backyard but decided bugs aren't worth the overnight. Gracious parenting means not holding it over their heads and being willing to play in the tree house with them anyway.

Standing on the driveway and hearing your oldest cough as she walks to the bus, wondering if she's ready to return to school after a sick day. Confident parenting means trusting the ibuprofen and antibiotics to do their jobs.

Having coffee with the parent of your kid's friend so you can wrestle through worries about your kids' growth and find the balance between faith and fear. Faithful parenting means remembering God loved our babies before we ever could, knowing He has a plan for their lives that we may never see come to fruition (at least not in our lifetimes), and trusting in His plan more than our own dreams.

Trying to stay one half step ahead of the changing landscape in your child's world that includes new technology and ancient math techniques and spelling words and Pokemon characters and sports teams and wavering loyalty to best friends. Strategic parenting means discerning which obstacles in the changing landscape are worth an intervention and which ones are simple distractions that don't ultimately affect the end game.

Moving forward with an appointment you know is crucial for developing your teen's confidence and character, even though she begs you to not make her do this one thing. Steadfast parenting means getting out of the car amidst your child's protest, ringing the doorbell, and standing beside her while an expert teaches techniques to enhance her natural beauty.

Planning donut dates and getting up early with your kid on a Saturday morning, when you'd rather sleep late. Energetic parenting means sharing your newspaper ritual because your child just wants to be close to you and do the things you do.

Cracking jokes and starting tickle fights because SOMEONE needs to lighten the mood in the house. Joyful parenting means seeking out moments of whimsy because memories are made when we're laughing together and finding adventure wherever the wind blows us.

Saying yes, finally, to that dog she's been asking for since her preschool days. Generous parenting means granting wishes every now and then, and making the desires of your child's heart become reality (and it also means loving that dog as much as she loves him, too).

Calling a counselor when you see signs of the very same struggle you had at that very same age, realizing you aren't an expert and there's no shame in asking for professional help. Hopeful parenting means letting go of the guilt you heap on your own shoulders (wondering if you're to blame for your child's struggle) and hopeful parenting sees the wisdom God had in giving that kid to THIS parent because THIS parent is one of the few who would understand the struggle and could share the experience like no one else.

Being needed for the routines of life in a busy household: making the meals, folding the laundry, morning wakings and bedtime snuggles, signing the school papers, going to PTO/Scout/fundraiser meetings, volunteering, and remembering which yogurt is the favorite when you're standing in the grocery aisle (the one without chunks). Sacrificial parenting means the kids won't be able to return the favor and you may never see the investment pay dividends, but you do it anyway simply because it was done for you.

Taking joy in your child's triumphs and successes, but not taking the credit because you know you're only a stone's throw away from failure and hard life lessons. Wise parenting means praying for protection from pain while simultaneously asking God for a tiny, manageable bit of loss because you know loss is what grows your kids' maturity.

Looking like a complete fool when you're the only one wearing a superhero costume to the school's family fun night, or you plan a family picnic beside a stream that ends up being full of runoff from a nearby sewage treatment plant. Resilient parenting means laughing at yourself, saying "Oops," and - literally - going with the flow.

Nagging them to empty the dishwasher or clean their bedroom until their conscience takes over the task. Responsible parenting means working myself out of my job as I teach my kids to take care of themselves so one day they actually can.

Modeling surrender to God's call on your life so your kids will see how faith's whispers are somehow louder than fear's shouts. Submissive parenting means you're a family leader only because you first learned to be a follower of Jesus, knowing you can't lead well unless you've learned how to follow first.

Putting your hand on your heart and singing the National Anthem when no one else is doing it because you know it's the right thing to do and you want your kids to learn what duty and honor look like. Honorable parenting means showing respect to the people who lead us, those who have sacrificed for us, and pursuing liberty for people who can't fight for themselves.

Modeling vulnerability, admitting your mistakes, and asking forgiveness when you've caused pain to someone else. Humble parenting means apologizing (especially to your kids) when you've been less than your best.

Parenting is being intentional about setting yourself aside for the growth and well-being of another human being. It's the hardest job I've ever had, but I'm grateful for my two trainers named Katie and Jackson.

They are making me better at it every single day.

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Letter to President Trump (written by my daughter)

January 23, 2017

President Donald J. Trump
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington D.C. 20003-3228

Dear President Trump,

I hope that you are doing well. My name is Katie. I go to *** Middle School in Missouri, and I am currently in 8th grade. Recently my History teacher, Mrs. Richardson, gave the students an opportunity to write to you about what we want you to accomplish during your term as president. When I first heard about this assignment, I had no idea what to write. But as I started to think about it, I realized there are a number of things I want to address.

I think the people are the most important thing. I want you to reunite people. Right now, our country is tremendously split. People are ready to attack each other without thinking, and that makes me very uncomfortable. I feel like our country does great things when we are working together. I know that is your slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and I think this is agreeable. I hate to see people being left out because they are different, they have a different skin color, or they are a different gender. I fully support gay rights, as multiple friends of mine consider themselves Bisexual or Pansexual. They struggle with figuring out who they are, which people care about them, and if they are ever welcome in this world. I want you to pull them out of this and tell them that it is ok for them to be different. The world wasn’t created for us to all be the same. We all have our quirks, and some people are ok with standing out. Others aren't, and we have to be ok getting pulled out of our comfort zone.

The most meaningful thing out of anything, though, is the people you surround yourself with. I constantly have to make the decision of who I want to spend time with, because sometimes I get stuck in a friendship that is not healthy for me. I think spending time with people I care about and trust is the thing that makes me more successful. Yes, you will make mistakes, and that is what makes you human. My friends are important to me because I can share my struggles with them. Please surround yourself with people who look up to you. Work alongside people who have a good influence on you so that you can make good decisions for America’s future. I want you to be a wise leader who works in agreement with people who have different morals and perspectives.

I dedicate myself to my faith. I don’t know what religion you are, but I live my life for only Jesus. I go to a church that welcomes everyone. There are pastors and associates that care so much about the community. They listen to people when they have a heavy burden, speak about the Bible so passionately, and are there for us all throughout school. I attend my Youth group regularly, and my pastor teaches us new things and digs into the Bible. I’m not saying all these things to influence your religion, but what I do what to do is pray for you. Here is exactly what I’m praying:

God, please help President Trump to become more than just our president. Help him to become someone that people look up to, not someone that people did not wish were president. Help him to accept that people have different opinions, but that different opinions are good. Help President Trump be a discerning leader who is ok with different cultures, races, and genders. I pray he is open to suggestions and respectful around other people. May he show kindness and compassion to people who are suffering, under pressure, or need someone to listen to them. But most of all, I pray for President Trump to be a leader of our country who will earn people’s trust and care for others. Ephesians 6:10 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you are able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” God, please help President Trump to stand strong through his mistakes. Amen.

Thank you so much for taking time to read this letter. This is really important to me. I hope you will consider my ideas. Thank you again.


Monday, January 9, 2017

A Prayer for the Merciful

God, thank You for this spiritual gift that pulls me off the sidelines in the game of life and puts me in the middle of the fight. I am grateful that You allow me to reflect Your light into the hardest moments of another’s life. When the rest of the world runs from a person who is suffering or grieving or recovering or grasping for hope, You gave me the gift of mercy that eases her ache.

Thank You for weaving mercy into the fabric of my being. You did that slowly, stitch by stitch giving me mercy lessons as You sat beside me in the devastating losses of my life. You comforted me so I could comfort others one day. You gave me a good memory that holds tightly enough to my past pain so it can fuel me for the future comfort of others, yet holds pain loosely enough to allow Your healing to enter my loss. I learned mercy from You, Father. When I saw You bring beauty from my ashes, I was ordained as a mercy minister to follow in the steps of my Teacher.

I am still learning from You, knowing these mercy lessons don’t have a graduation date. The school of mercy is ongoing and everlasting, and the first days of sprinting have given way to a marathon.

God, this is such a hard road to run. The mercy You instilled in me means I cry when others cry. I bleed when loved ones bleed. I am restless when sleep doesn’t come to the mourners around me.

I need Your protection, Lord. Show me how to walk into the pain and share a portion of the load instead of carrying another’s crisis solo. Nudge me when I push my boundaries too far. Slow my steps when I am trying to dance to my own mercy rhythms, instead of letting You lead. Most of all, God, don’t let my prideful self get in the way of the only true Healer: You! I am the echo of Your love, not the source of Love itself.

I love doing Your work, God. You made me for silent sitting and tear wiping and hand holding and heartbreak hugging. You blended encouragement into my mercy gift, enabling me to offer hope and a smile in the darkest nights. Thank You for choosing me to help your Beloveds feel Your presence and see the tangible works of Your hands.



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