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I Just Want You to be….Kind

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I admit it, I teared up as Handy Manny and his tools delivered gifts to the major for kids whose parents couldn’t afford presents this year. Maybe it was because Ben and I had just returned from Florence where we dropped off presents and bags of food for children who lost their homes or whose parents lost work during Hurricane Matthew. Maybe it was because I am overwhelmed by Santa pictures and Santa Christmas lists and am wondering how as a parent you teach your children to think of the people who don’t have food or toys during Christmas before they rattle off their own lists of wants.

Gross-Loh in her book Parenting Without Borders explains:

In 1970, the primary goal stated by most college freshmen was to develop a meaningful life philosophy; in 2005 it was to become comfortably rich.

This is disturbing because it means our children are thinking first of their own comforts and seeking those comforts whatever the costs. This lack of empathy is part of our culture now and engaging in some of the cultural practices especially around this time of year may just be teaching our children that this is what life is about.

Gross-Loh explains:

[A] survey of high school students from five different U.S. schools asked them to rank what they wanted in life. Did they want to be happy? Did they want to be good, caring for others? Two-thirds of the students ranked happiness above goodness, and said they believed their parents held the same goal for them.

Wow.

Perhaps as a parent, I need to revisit my own rhetoric and refrain from saying I want you to be happy or asking what would make you happy and instead ask what would be the kind response? What could you do to show you care for someone? Perhaps as a parent, offering the invitation for our children to choose between thinking about themselves first and thinking of other first would open up conversations and truths within our children we haven’t seen before. Perhaps it’s within this next generation that hope, love, joy, and peace reside if we but offer the space and place to let them be who they are rather than who we want them to be.

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Wrinkled Joy

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We finally got our Christmas decorations up this weekend. We were waiting until we had our girls again and I wasn’t quite ready to move from the season of gratitude into a season of waiting and searching in our home. Couldn’t I teach our kids more about thanksgiving lasting all year if we just left up those decorations?

But as I watched them walk around the tree light debating over which tree would be easiest to pick back up if their younger brother decided to try to pull up on it, I knew we needed this season. And so we climbed the garage to get down the boxes marked Christmas and there at the bottom of the ornament was joy wrinkled and waiting.

Wrinkled joy.

The joy of the birth of the Christ Child wrinkled with the realities of a year of uncertainity and grief in so many ways. Joy that has been packed away, waiting to be brought out for this season of Advent. Joy that just needs to be shaken and ironed out.

Or maybe, this is joy wrinkled by the truth of a messiah born in a manger surrounded by outcasts. Maybe this wrinkled joy is exactly what we have been awaiting.

Sometimes You Forget…

Sometimes you forget that what you’ve experienced and been through is not what everyone else has experienced and been through. Sometimes you forget that sharing your story and experiences might be exactly what someone else needs in that moment. Sometimes you forget that you can offer hope and understanding by just sharing who you are.

I hold a Master’s in Literacy, something I forget about in my day to day being because teaching isn’t my profession. I also hold a Master’s in Divinity, something that is more in the forefront of my mind as I prepare to preach and worship with the amazing community of faith, New Hope Baptist Fellowship.

Sam also has teaching experience and theological education and as we journey together as parents, we are trying very intentionally in what we do and say to raise and foster kids who are compassionate, aware of the needs that surround them, and who understand that they each have something they can offer no matter how old they are to offer love and hope.

One way we do this is by what we read to them and in front of them. Here’s what we’ve been reading lately and why we chose it:

I love this book a teaching friend gave us when Ben was born because it teaches kids that even when you have always seen yourself to be a certain way, there is always a chance that you will encounter someone who will change and transform you.

 

Peter Reynolds is brilliant in how he addressed the magical, mystical element of creation for young readers. This one in particular shows that even when the people around you try to discourage you, you shouldn’t give up what you love to do. Also, being the voice of encouragement to someone can change their whole perspective.

 

Not only does Mo Williems write the Elephant and Piggie series incorporating the 100 site words for first graders, he also hits the nail on the head in topics. This is one of our favorites for teaching that waiting and patience often allow us to experience something miraculous.

 

 

We love this one for the way it plays with rhyme and meter, but also for how it reminds us that there is always need surrounding us. When we barrel over other people, they won’t be quite as willing to help us when we need help.

 

Looking for specific age suggestions for your own children or grandchildren? I’m happy to help! I love talking about children’s literature and the powerful impact it can play in teaching our children.

A Week Ago Part 2

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A week ago, Sam called to tell me that he had been in a wreck, which lead to a series of events that took over our week including doctor’s visits, insurance calls, and rental car arrangements. It wasn’t how we were expecting to spend our week and there were many times last week that I asked, “why did this happen to us?”

And then I on Wednesday when I picked Ben up, I got his first ever school craft. A simple reminder of the season of Thanksgiving that we are approaching. I looked at that footprint and remembered in the hospital the first attempt to take his footprints were too bloody to take home because of the glucose tests they had to do by sticking his heels and I remembered the week Ben was born and how I was left speechless by the miraculous power of life and birth and breath in Ben.

And a week ago I was reminded again of the beauty of life and breath as Sam walked away from the car wreck. I breathed deeply as I held this simple picture because even though our lives were overtaken and redirected last week, we were still together as family.

This is not an easy time to be a parent, to be a minister, or to be a family. It is hard work to redirect our thoughts to being thankful and grateful. It is is hard work to try to engage in the important work of trying to speak love into the divisive rhetoric we hear, read, and often repeat. It is hard work to stop and reflect and imagine what we could become together if we are thankful instead of ungrateful, selfless rather than selfish, and understanding rather than defensive. But this, this is the hard work we are called to do as partners, parents, and ministers.

And for a community of people who are working towards these same goals, I am thankful.

Parenting in the Midst of Crisis

As I watch the news and await the impact of Hurricane Matthew on South Carolina, I think back to the parents who were in the Victorian Lakes Mobile Home Community during the flood last year and the stories they told about the police coming and knocking on their door telling them to pack a bag and be ready to go. I remember them telling me with tears in the eyes of the weeks and months that followed of bedtimes filled with fear and anxiety. I remember their telling me about their children looking into their eyes and asking, “Are we going to be ok? Are we going to have to leave?”

I remember that we were supposed to have the girls on that weekend and that we, as parents, decided together that it was a better idea if they stayed with their mom. I remember the disappointment and questioning that followed that decision on Saturday as there was no rain, and then the relief on Sunday knowing they were safe. I remember wondering how much we were going to tell them about what had happened to families here and whether we would show them the houses and businesses that were destroyed.

The same question I was asking then, rolls around in my heart and mind as I hear about another school shooting, this time resulting in a child dying or potential flooding, “How do I parent in the midst of crisis? How much do I tell my children about what’s going on in a manner that facilitates understanding and empathy, but not fear?”

I don’t have the answers to these questions nor would I beg to offer the answers to these questions to any other parent, but what I do have is a community of other parents who are wrestling with how to parent in the midst of crisis in a way that fosters wholeness and compassion and love.

Thanks be to God for community and conversation as we walk this road together.

Blending Families, Sharing Spaces

It was 2:30 a.m., Sam and I looked at each other and said, “We’ve got to figure out something different.” We had both lost count how many times we had been up, ping ponging from our 6 year old to our 10 month old. They were waking each other up back and forth, sharing space.

This puzzle of blending our family is part of who we are. We are figuring it out and learning to share space together. We have to give each other room as our family grows. We have to give each other understanding. We have to give each other love.

We have to admit that we miss each other and that the transition from being together to being apart is difficult and sometimes makes us grumpy and sometimes just makes us exhausted. We have to admit that blending families and sharing spaces is hard work, but important work, holy work. We have to admit that it’s frustrating when other people don’t understand how hard we work to be family and share spaces.

But we wouldn’t have it another way because blending families and sharing spaces ignites our creativity and our curiosity. It asks us to imagine and dream and plan. It allows us to be ourselves because we have blended our lives and shared our space together as family.

 

 

When Our Children Serve Beside Us

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This Saturday as part of ministrieslab, we partnered with Resurrections that has been popping up on Saturdays in downtown Columbia to serve a midday meal for fourteen years. We knew it was going to be hot and we knew that there were going to be a lot of people in need. We also knew we had all three children. We made the choice that all the kids would go and serve beside us. We made that choice not knowing for sure if children had helped serve before or whether there would be tasks they could handle, but knowing we wanted them to understand that serving and helping others in need is part of who we are as a family.

When we arrived, we found that the whole team at Resurrections believed the same thing we did. They believed that willing hands are willing hands, no matter how big or small. They asked our children to jump in by carrying the tents and serving food just like the adult volunteers were doing.

The picture I am taking away from this Saturday is our eight-year-old serving another eight-year-old who was there with her mother. To serve someone her own age and own height was a powerful picture of what happens when we invite children to serve beside us rather than restricting them to children’s missions activities. When we serve together as a family and serve other families in need, there is a powerful communion that occurs. We understand that family is what unites us and binds us, whether we have a lot of whether we have little.

When our children serve beside us, we are welcoming them into the gospel message. We are letting the little children come unto God. We are bringing the kingdom of God here to earth in ways that we as adults can’t see. When our children serve beside us, we hear in their voices, “I like that better than some of the other times we’ve served because we actually got to do something. They actually let us help and serve the food.”

Thanks be to God for pop up meals and for people who understand that when Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food,” he wasn’t just talking to adults.

The Sound of Sleeping

Summertime brings longer visits with our girls and longer times when all three of our kids together. Last night as we came back to our house, the 7 month old and I from a week at General Assembly and Sam and the girls from a trip from Asheville, the house slowly began to settle into the sounds of sleep that heavy breathing that turns into snoring. Willie, ever the nanny dog, wandered from room to room checking to make sure he heard the soft snoring or quiet from each child before finally settling in our room.

As I listened to the sounds of sleeping taking over our house, I thought of those overnight visits at grandma’s house in which we are all nestled into one room: Ben in the pack and play, the girls on pallets in the floor, and how well they sleep when we are all together. Our western idea of family is that we have rooms for the kids, rooms for the parents, rooms for cooking and eating and living. But this wasn’t always the care. We aren’t too far removed from a time when there were one-room homes. Homes in which everyone was together. Homes in which you could always hear the sounds of sleeping as you nestled into bed at night. Homes where you didn’t need sound machines to mimic the white noise of living and sleeping in close proximity to each other.

And churches were the same way: one room to gather for worship, one room to gather to pray, one room to gather for news. But as we have “advanced” we have built bigger buildings. Buildings with more walls, more divisions, more opportunities to sort and label each other, more opportunities to be separated forgetting that just on the other side of the wall is another human. Perhaps if we concentrated on gathering together, of occupying the same space where we can hear each other cough, sneeze, and breathe, we would be reminded of each other’s humanity. Perhaps if we concentrated on gathering together, of occupying the same space we would begin to question why we built the walls and divisions in the first place. Was it to allow more people in or has it kept people divided and separate?

Perhaps if we gathered together and occupied the same space without words spoken and settled instead into being present with one another, we would hear each other’s breathing and remember how miraculous that breathing really is. Perhaps if we gathered together and occupied the same space without words spoken, our breathing would start to develop a harmonious rhythm as we slowly began to breathe together. And perhaps in the synchronized rhythm, we would hear the sounds not of sleeping, but of peace beginning  to wash over our churches and communities as we sat together without worry or concern of being attacked, labeled, or excluded, and instead breathing that divine breath Creator God shared with us.

To Sam-

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To Sam, the man who first asked me to be his wife and to be Mama 2 to our beautiful girls,

To Sam, the man who held and entertained our son for the first two hours of his life while waiting for me in the recovery room,

To Sam, the man who cries and laughs with me on this journey of parenthood,

I love you.

It’s Scary as Hell to Be a Parent

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I did it again.

I went to his room and peaked over the crib railing to make sure he was breathing. He’s been sleeping on his side since he was a day old, but still it scares me to death, especially when he covers his face with both hands, just like he did in all of his ultrasound pictures. I know there are apps and video monitors designed and sold to parents to quell our worries and concerns, but I still have to go and check. I have to see his belly moving up and down with my own eyes or hear his soft snore with my own ears.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because when you’re not worried about whether he or she is breathing while sleeping, you’re worried about whether he or she is getting enough food or gaining enough weight. And then when he or she stops sleeping and wakes up more during the night you worry about why he or she isn’t sleeping. Is it teething or sickness or a growth spurt?  And then you go to the doctor and they tell you what percentage he or she is in height and weight and head size, giving you three more things to be worried about not to mention the list of developmental goals you are supposed to be monitoring and assessing and encouraging. And then you see other kids around his or her age and wonder if your kid is doing the things those kids are doing. And if your kid is doing something different than the other kids, you wonder if that is something to be concerned about or not.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because you’re responsible for this mini human and his or her well being. You are responsible for helping him or her grow and learn. And when he or she gets to the point that he or she can do things independently like walk and eat and go to the potty, then you have to start teaching him or her what it means to live in community: to share and do unto others as you would have them do unto you and respect caregivers who give their time and energy and love and support.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because then you have to walk with him or her when he or she encounters the brokenness that exists in the world. You are the ones who tell him or her when someone they love is sick. You are the ones that have to tell him or her that our bodies don’t last forever and that sometimes the people or pets we love die because people and pets aren’t designed to live forever. And then you have to wonder how to explain the divine to these mini humans whose minds and bodies are really still mostly concentrated and attuned to learning how to be human. And you have to decide whether you are going to tell them what to believe or what we believe or encourage them to believe what they believe even if it’s different than what you want them to believe.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because you see the worst and the best in your children and you pray desperately that the worst won’t win as often as it wins within you, but that the best parts of you and the best parts of your partner might somehow miraculously be the only parts that this mini human receives. You encourage the good and address the bad trying every parenting method that you’ve read about, sometimes all within one day. And you hope and pray that you are doing something right.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because then you end up preaching a sermon from John’s gospel and read before a community of faith, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” And you realize that even though it’s scary as hell to be a parent, you are the parcel of peace presented to these mini humans because of the Holy Spirit is dwelling or staying within you. And you remember that even thought it’s scary, you don’t want to teach your children fear, but peace and wholeness in a world of brokenness.

And so you whisper, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you,” as you say goodbye and send your girls back to their mom’s and as you go to peak over the side of the crib railing just one more time to make sure he’s breathing.