What is the State of Your Soul?

We climbed the stairs to the pitched roof upper room. A group of ladies who hadn’t been together in some time clearly had much to chat about. Side bar conversations emitted laughter as we poured ourselves glasses of wine and grabbed left over Christmas cookies.

For some time now, a motley band of us have met from time to time to just plain sort out life. Though we are predictably prone to rabbit trails, there is usually one main question or another that seeks to guide our time into something deeper than discussing the latest must-have beauty product or wondering if those shoes are new (though we definitely cover that too).

On this particular night, amid post-Christmas funnies and stories about insane powder on the slopes, the question of the night hovered over the crowd like a balloon about to burst, no one jumping in to touch it first.

Christina, our fearless leader read a compelling passage from a book by Ruth Haley Barton and dolled out the following charge, “As we reflect on this past year, how would you describe the state of your soul?”

Laughter faded. Eyes turned pensive. Minds recalled the previous twelve months trying to wrap words around feelings.

Until one brave soul cleared her throat and broke the silence, “I’ll go first…”

We went around the room, searching for apt descriptors regarding the state of our souls.

We heard words like: Anxious. Peaceful. Put back together. Confused. Wounded. Grieving. Expectant. Angry. Hopeful. Obedient. Declaring war on “living in crisis mode.”

Words spilled into the air coupled with laughter and tears — often the great bookends of the human existence. 

There usually aren’t any pat answers or quippy remarks that wrap up the state of our souls into tidy little packages complete with ribbons and bows. 

As the hands of the clock marched onward and evening turned into night, we joked the remaining women who had yet to share should just say, “fine.” Of course we were kidding (kind of), but it was getting late and —

Isn’t that how many of us prefer to deflect such a question anyway??

If we just answer, “good, fine or okay” perhaps the asker will believe us and our true feelings can remain locked away until they bubble over to boiling as we spew them out on whoever happens to be in our line of fire, usually on those we love the most. For better or for worse. 

My favorite line of the evening came from Miss Holly herself. My memory is fuzzy and I can’t quote her verbatim (maybe she can expound in her ‘take’ below) but she basically said something along the lines of — “I love the fact that this group is different. While much of the world would advise running from hard, we won’t run from it. We won’t allow the easy answers of the world to infiltrate this group.” 

And you know what?  At the end of the day, she is right. Over the years we have celebrated with our sisters in time of joy and lamented and cried in seasons of deep pain. In the midst of it all, we fight for each other. We believe for each other. We listen, encourage and pray for one another. If one of us can’t see the forest for the trees, the others will believe for you and vice versa. Always hoping. Always believing even if the road looks dark.

Grateful doesn’t even begin to describe how my soul feels about these beautiful Jesus sisters.  They are often a lifeline, a tether to the Kingdom of God. A cord of three (or many more) strands is not quickly broken. 

I was happy in many ways during the first ten years of my marriage, but as Scott can attest, I really didn’t have any close friends my age. We enjoyed sweet relationships with high school Young Life kids and were encouraged by many of their parents, but at the end of the day I longed for some soul friends in the same age/stage that we could “do life” with. For so many years that was my deep prayer. I just wanted some friends. 

The God of abundance and extravagance more than answered my request. These girls are the real deal.

I recently ran into another friend at the store and realized we hadn’t caught up in a quite some time. I asked her how she was doing (fishing for the state of her soul, I suppose) and the litany of hard tumbled out of her mouth. 

Our relationship is friendly, but not quite of the I’ll-be-praying-for-you variety. I didn’t quite know how to respond. In the end I muttered something like, “Wow, 2015 has been a tough one for you. Let’s just get on with 2016. Hopefully that will be better!”

It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? Like somehow, when the calendar rolls over to a new day, a new month or a new year all the grievances of the past one will be gone.

While this isn’t really the case, I suppose there is a sort of holiness at the dawn of each new day. In fact, God tells us His “mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23). Our pain doesn’t always diminish, but His goodness definitely grows.

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how to describe the state of my soul as I look towards 2016. (Perhaps right smack in the middle of 2.5 weeks home with my kids in the dead of winter isn’t the best time to assess such things. Especially when I want to lock my littlest in her room and throw away the key. Bless her heart…)

In some ways, it feels like my soul is floating, wandering. I spent a good year and a half scouring every inch of my soul as I wrote and published my book. I left nothing uncovered. But that is over now, no major projects. No deep soul-searching. My days are pretty much the same. Kids, family, church, school, Young Life… Good for sure, but a lot disjointed. Nothing specific to sink my teeth into. I miss that.

But I do anticipate the dawn of a new year. What could it bring? Of course, I always hope for good, but there is a little bit of me that wonders when the stretch will end and the bad will come rushing in. I know that is blasphemous in so many ways, but if you’re not currently feeling sucker punched in the gut, all you have to do is turn on the evening news or talk to your neighbor. 

I have to remind myself that this line of thinking is NOT from God. And I if I can’t remember that, my Jesus girls will set me straight. 

So each day I wake and release anxiety, fear, worry and shame, commanding my soul to turn to the Lord. For He is good. It is only looking into His beautiful face that my soul will find true rest for which it desperately longs. He is the giver and fulfiller of dreams and I am diving straight into that!

It is only when we stare straight down the barrel of this question, acknowledging the true state of our soul, that we can put one foot in front of the other and begin to move forward. 

So, what about you? What is the state of your soul? 

 Christina’s Take:

I swear community is SUCH an important part of faith. That’s what I felt last Sunday and many, many other times. Without other people to dig a little deeper and not let us settle for the quick/fine answer, it’s difficult to really take stock of our soul state. 

As for the state of my soul, I’d say my soul is healing and settling. For longer than I’d like to admit, I have been remembering and grieving some of the hard things with my parents’ decline. But it feels a little different these days in a sweeter, smoother way. I’m grateful for that. 

Thanks for this reflection, Megan. A great thing to ponder this NY. 

 Holly’s Take:

I think my answer to the state of my soul was something along the lines of “scattered.” What that tells me is that my soul does not feel grounded and collected and sure. I wish it would. I know that if I’m waiting for circumstances to form my soul into a groundedness , I’ll be waiting for a LONG time. I know the answer. But I continue to search for the easy, the fun and the light. So, while I said,  “we won’t run from the hard,” really what I was saying is that I love how my friends challenge me and each other to not run from it, because I want to, often times.  So, while this exchange of calendars is just another day, I am challenged to anchor my scattered soul. Now for the work it takes, (how is it that sitting quietly for 20 minutes takes more strength for me, than doing laundry for seven people?)

Mattering Like Mary

When you read the Christmas story, I think it’s easy for us to glaze over at some elements of this narrative. And what the heck? Why is Mary so amazingly calm upon hearing the news that she’s newly knocked up, having the Savior of the World in 9 months and probably needs to have a DTR with her fiancé because #gabrielshowedup.

the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.

He will be great,
    be called ‘Son of the Highest.’
The Lord God will give him
    the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob’s house forever—
    no end, ever, to his kingdom.”

I am struck with this notion that Mary is given a life-changing role. God plucks her out of the sea of humanity and essentially says,

YOU MATTER

I NEED YOU

YOU HAVE AN IMPORTANT JOB TO DO

I KNOW YOU’RE THE RIGHT PERSON TO DO IT

This woman who has no social status, no real on-paper value to her surroundings is important. God’s perspective over Mary’s life and purpose matters so much to me. This realization that God picks the right people for important tasks affects me deeply. He chooses Mary but I also know He chooses me for tasks that matter – even if that task is taking my mom to the OB/GYN #antibucketlist. I am moved by his attention to her and his delegation of her – because he pays attention to me and delegates me too.

Yes, I see it all now:
    I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me
    just as you say.

And I am, of course, so moved by her response: May it be with me just as you say.” She knows she is in a position unlike any position anyone has ever ever ever been in. There is no comparision – her new role for the world and for God’s kingdom is unique. 

And my role for the world and His kingdom,

Your role for the world and His kingdom

SO UNIQUE.

Denise Levertov says this about Mary’s response,

                     “She did not cry, ‘I cannot, I am not worthy,’

                                                               Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’

                        She did not submit with gritted teeth,

                                                               Raging, coerced.

                         Bravest of all humans,

                                                     Consent illumined her.”

 

Bless you this Christmas as you walk this road of realizing your significance to God through Jesus Christ – just like Mary. May consent illumine you.

Megan’s Take: Oh my gosh!! Taking your Momma to the Gyno?? I have GOT to move on from that. You are definitely the anointed one for that job. Right?? You are such a good daughter. And I do mean that. I love your perspective on task, worth and response. Doing something brave and crazy actually seems fun; invigorating even. Honestly, the thing that scares me the most is that God would just ask me to stay the course, to be little old me in this big old world. Where is the significance in that? Then I remember that it’s not about me anyway. It’s about Him. And I put one foot in front of the other again. 

Holly’s Take:

It’s been fun to look at Mary the last couple of years. I keep learning something new each Christmas.  This story reminds me of something I’ve thought of a million times this year. I keep thinking about who made the lunch that ended up feeding five thousand.  It was probably some mom, just doing the ordinary and mundane, and yet, by doing that mundane task of making yet another lunch that morning, Jesus ended up feeding thousands. We just never know what ordinary person, task or circumstance will lead to the most amazing miracles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Red Robin Got Me to Counseling

 

A couple Sundays ago, Tony and I had a date night.  We were looking forward to having a little dinner after a long week with 5 blending kids home over Thanksgiving break.  Lord, have mercy!  So, we settled on a quiet, little, quaint restaurant called, “Red Robin,” (how we ended up there, I’ll never know), with a drink menu in front of us.  And in that moment, a drink sounded pretty relaxing and adult.   

Now, I’m what I like to call a tea totaling drinker.  I started drinking at about age 35, so I’m a bit of a late bloomer on the drinking stage.  I think I finish about one out of every 10 to 15 drinks (including the itty bitty tiny Lime-a-rita cans).  And I’ve never been drunk or even close, I don’t think.  And if there was ever a chance I would be, that chance is gone, after the events that unfolded on that Sunday. 

In true Holly fashion, I ordered a “skinny” margarita.  One with just a trace of alcohol.  What they ended up bringing me, (and I’m still not sure if Tony had anything to do with this) was a heavy alcohol laden margarita, on accident.  Not wanting to be difficult, I graciously accepted the mistake margarita. 

What I didn’t know about myself, was that when I drink, I get quite emotional.  Or, at least, I did that Sunday.  Next thing I know, Tony’s wife was most definitely without the edge, but in it’s place was emotions on heavy steroids.  I began to pour out the hurts of the past four years . . . starting with not ever getting Negusu. I cried the whole way home. I’m pretty sure that is not what Tony was hoping to get when the drinks were put before us.  Yikes!

Not being too far out of it, to know what I said, I wondered if there was any merit to my emotions.  Have I ever really unpacked not getting Negusu?  It only happened right before Dave died.  Have I really unpacked the reality that I can no longer run or ski hard or play hard on the volleyball court?  Have I ever even fully unpacked Dave’s death?  I really thought I did.  Or do you ever fully unpack it?  Does it always just keep changing? 

Anyway, that led me to setting up a counseling appointment.  I was in the door of the counselor’s office for about 10 seconds before the flood of tears just came.  After I poured out my story, he just said, “Welcome.”  To me, what he said, was , “welcome to your first day of healing.”  I think I’ve done a pretty good job of moving forward and looking at the positive and not holding onto the past and surviving and fighting, but I’m not sure I’ve done a good job of healing. 

One of the big things that I brought up, was that I have never been an angry person, but I keep finding myself teetering into the land of anger.  It could be with my kids or with Tony or for the love, with Comcast, but I just keep surprising myself with that unwanted emotion.  I don’t feel like I am myself when I have crossed over into angry territory.  So, when I told the counselor that, (I’m sure ya’ll already know this), he said that anger is like a two sided coin. Anger is on one side and pain is on the other. I always thought it was fear on the other side of anger . . . not pain. For some reason, fear felt easier to deal with, like I could do something about that, but how do you deal with pain.  You can’t just talk yourself out of it.  

I am Holly Sue Bonnell Aldridge Walls and I am not supposed to be filled with this pocket of pain.  I had a great childhood, I made good choices, I work hard, I’m generally nice, I have a decent amount of compassion for others, I typically drink in life and love and laughing.  In a karma world, I should not have so much pain, I don’t think.  I’m so sad that I do. Yet, I am also so thankful for this pain and I’m not saying this in a sort of, “look on the bright side,” sort of way.  I am not saying it in a churchy sort of “give thanks in all circumstances” sort of way.  I’m saying it in a “my need for Jesus is so raw and so deep and so precious,” sort of way.  And that is my treasure in the pain.  

I think for me, this is different than depression.  I have regained so much joy in my life and I don’t feel like there is always this underlying sadness.  But I think there is this grizzly chunk of pain in me that I have never tended to.  But I’m ready.   

My favorite ornament on the tree this year is one that says. “HOPE.”  I am so full of hope for real healing in the coming months and years. One quote that I love for this season, that Ann Voskamp said in a little video was, “Instead of explaining our suffering, God shares in it, because he knows that mere answers are cold, and his arms are warm.”  Preach it, Ann!  I just love it.  Since she is a professional, I will leave you today with her quote once again.  I have a gazillion more things to write about and talk about this Christmas, but I’ll try to break it up a little.  

 “Instead of explaining our suffering, God shares in it, because he knows that mere answers are cold, and his arms are warm.” – Ann Voskamp

 

 

Christina’s Take

Raw and Real words as you sail into the 3rd anniversary of Dave’s death after so so much has happened. The boldest part of this post is “Welcome to your first day of healing.” I read that in 2 ways;

1) you can decide the counselor Is welcoming you into the land of therapy and getting through some of your beautifully intense emotions.

OR

2) you can read it like he’s saying you’re welcome to choose the healing path, you are welcome to take this step in the right direction but you’re the one who has to be brave enough to set the next appointment, do the hard work of identifying the pain and the anger.

I am challenged by that. And I love your heart…every angle of it. Thanks for sharing it with us. 

Megan’s Take: Sometimes emotions hit us when we least expect it. Like at Red Robin, nursing a stiff margarita after a stressful week with a bazillion kids! On second thought, it’s no wonder you let down like you did. Sounds like you needed the catharsis and the drink may or may not have been the trigger. You truly have gone through so much in the last few years. I’m guessing the waves will continue to ebb and flow and consume and retreat at will. I love Christina’s assessment of the word “welcome.” Isn’t it just a two-sided door? Your counselor opened it. You walked through it and now it’s up to you both how you navigate the dance from here. Proud of you for taking that step, friend. xoxo

Observations About the Happiest Place on Earth

If Disney World is supposed to be the “happiest place on earth” then someone should’ve told that to the lady who WENT OFF on the workers at Hollywood Studios’ Toy Story ride. 

We were jammed in line for what seemed like FOREVER because the ride broke down when we were smack in the middle, no end in sight. When the woman behind us noticed the employees letting streams of “fast passers” in over us commoners in the stand-by line she made her objections known.

Let me just say, she was NOT HAPPY. My kids’ eyebrows shot up when she leaned over the partition between the two lines of people and basically ripped those cheerful worker bees a new one about how unfair it all was and what were we, chopped liver?? Her grown children just looked at us and shrugged, “She gets stuff done.”

Suffice it to say, our line started moving again shortly thereafter. I suppose that’s one way of “getting things done.”

Honestly, we had a blast! It felt like one of those iconic trips you should do at least once if you can swing it. We ran that place (and ourselves!) into the ground as we covered both Disney and Universal. It was so fun to laugh and scream with the kids on the Tower of Terror and see them conquer their fear of roller coasters on Space Mountain. Kelel & Senait are the BEST people to sit next to on those rides. Their screams are epic. That’s worth the price of admission right there… Couldn’t fit Sea World in. Shamu will have to wait until next time. 

After our whirlwind trip to the Disney/Universal compound last week, I can’t help but throw out some observations on this little slice of Americana — happy or otherwise:

1.    CROWDS: I was kind of hoping the guide books were wrong on this one but truth be told, they nailed it. Thanksgiving (and probably Christmas) are THE BUSIEST times of the year. I knew that going into it, but when I realized that we personally knew of at least half a dozen families planning to be there the same week, I figured we would be in for some traffic. Thankfully the whole world seems to understand the general operating procedure of walking in sync on one side or the other. Let me just say, it’s best to avoid going all “salmon” on the flow and just stay to the right. I was happy to follow my personal Crocodile Dundee. He’s tall and the hat totally helps pick him out of a crowd. It’s a miracle we didn’t lose our 45 pound caboose. She’s a lot like a salmon. (“Head’s Up” was the App of the week. Saw lots of people holding their phones up to their foreheads playing charades and guessing games. We also liked “Soccer Physics.” Kept two of our children from complete WWF and taking out innocent bystanders, at least some of the time.)

2.   FASHION: I thought I had done a fair amount of research before going to the parks on things like fast-passes, parades, light shows and even crowds, but I didn’t get the memo about the matching t-shirts. Apparently this is a thing. Whole family groups travel in packs looking like pre-schoolers on a class field trip. Each representing their “team.” Perfect strangers became instant friends (at least on my side of the equation) because, in one glance, I knew so much about them. Their shirts, buttons and stickers betrayed any sense of privacy. Anna was celebrating her 5th birthday, Memaw loves Minnie and Pepaw loves Goofy, Fred and Betty were celebrating their 50th anniversary and little Charlie was a “first-timer.” My personal favorites were the husband and wife teams donning shirts in ode to each other with the phrases, “His Beauty” / “Her Beast.” Scott and I are DEFINITELY scoring a couple of those bad boys next time we go. Right, my cute little beast??

3.  SHOES:  Running shoes, tennis shoes, sneakers. Whatever you call them, that’s what you should wear. End of story. How anyone gets through a day at Disney in flip flops, stilettos or platform shoes without slipping a disk is beyond me. I mean, if you’re wearing a crimson t-shirt with a giant Minnie Mouse on the front I think it’s safe to say your choice in shoes has already been compromised. Then again, I am 42-years-old. So, there’s that. 

4. ENDURANCE:  Pack your patience. It astounds me just how long people (yes, even us) would STAND IN LINE for 90 minutes to enjoy a 90 second thrill ride. What kind of equation is that? I won’t complain about ski lines anymore! Although, it’s kind of like labor and delivery, it’s painful when you’re in it, but the end result is so good. Not to mention, rides broke down no less than 5 times on us when we were half way through an hour long wait. At that point you’re committed. Some weary souls would begin to wilt and whine, wondering if it was “worth it.” (That may or may not have been me.) Scott would shine as our fearless leader, “Guys, we just have to out last everyone else. This is what separates the men from the boys.” (Okay, he didn’t say that last part, but that’s what I heard). We saw much weaker individuals turn and exit stage left, putting us 5 paces closer to our ultimate goal. We never bailed. Thought about it, but didn’t. Two words — FAST PASS.

5. KILL ‘EM WITH KINDNESS: May I remind you, not everyone is patient and kind in such “excruciating” circumstances. (See intro paragraph). But, if you are kind and respectful it usually pays off. Case in point: The “Men in Black” ride broke down on us when we were, yes, half way through the line. We were stuck in a windowless room with dozens of strangers watching the SAME two minute cartoon video run in a loop. As people bailed, we ended up at the front — waiting — and started chatting with Helen, the employee charged with keeping the peace and communicating with the troops. After a few minutes of casual banter, Helen asked us what our favorite ride was in the park. We told her. She said, “Great, after this, you can walk right over to The Mummy and tell them Helen gave you a personal fast pass!” Sweet! So we did just that. And what happened while we were in the fast pass line at The Mummy?? You guessed it. It broke down. So, we went to Minion Mayhem and Scott explained the whole sordid story. Two rides, both broken. The guy at that ride sympatizes, “That’s terrible! Listen, we won’t just put you in the fast pass line, we’ll take you straight to redemption — that’s the front of the line.” REDEMPTION, people!! Glory.

6. MANAGING EXPECTATIONS:  Scott and I originally intended to surprise our kids with this trip say, the morning of. We envisioned bursting into their rooms at O-Dark-Hundred and telling them to wake up, pack shorts, bathing suits and Mickey ears because we were going to DISNEY WORLD!!!! However, the more we thought about it, that didn’t seem like the best idea. After all, a surprise trip isn’t great to spring on a high schooler who needs to plan ahead for homework and tests. So we shared the news with them about a week beforehand. Of course we were kind of hoping for squeals of delight and gushing about how we were the “best parents in the world!!” I mean, we were surprising them with every child’s dream trip. Right?! Didn’t exactly turn out that way. We received about as many responses as we have children. Yes, there was the over-hyper-exuberance, but we also got a blank stare (one kid trying to process and adjust expectations for Thanksgiving break) and a, “REALLY?? I’d rather go to school.” (Would you now. We could just charge you for your portion of the trip and leave you home.) Talk about managing expectations. Honestly, 99% of the time even the most resistant member of our crew turns the frown upside-down and has a great time, but we just can’t always count on that. 

PS — If you’d like to see a small snippet into these dynamics, check out the video I posted on Nov 21 my FB page!!

At the end of the day, “happy” is what you make it.

Yes, Disney World, Universal — all of it — is OVER THE TOP in fun factor and cost (Gulp, we’ll be dining on Ramen Noodles this month). It was so worth it, but the Magic Kingdom, as magical as it is is still only a place. Even though the whole massive compound is expressly designed to channel fun and happy only you have control over whether or not you choose to receive it. I believe we did.

Kind of reminds me of a sweet baby born into a manger over 2000 years ago. A baby, who grew into a man who died on a cross to offer happiness, joy, freedom and a kind of abundant life on earth that no person, place or thing can offer no matter how many smiley employees they have.

May the deep, deep joy of Jesus invade your spirit this season and on into the New Year. His love doesn’t break down when you’re in the middle of what seems like an eternal wait or go out of fashion. It’s just up to you whether you will receive Him or not…

Holly’s Take:

It sounds like it was worth eating Ramen all this month to go to Disney?  I know when my parents brought my sister and I to Disney World, we thought Disney was good, Epcot was amazing, but our synchronized swimming routine back at the hotel pool was OFF THE HOOK!  Not sure I’m ready to drop loads of money on our brood who have been through so much and often times the lack of routine and the excitement brings about the pout, instead of the joy-filled shout.  We’ll see???     

Christina’s Take:

I love the summary of the experience the most (besides the REDEMPTION part, what?!!). I feel like your reminder that happiness isn’t guaranteed even in the happiest spot on earth goes for the holiday season, too. Sometimes we can try to make everything shiny but it just doesn’t help us feel any different. Love that you took this fun trip and had fun but learned a lot!!

Life is Always Changing.

Last week I spoke at Bible study on the sufficiency of God. I talked about how we (more appropriately, “I”) can believe that God is sufficient to carry us through one chapter in our life, but then the game changes and there is another “opportunity” to believe that God will be sufficient again. I feel like I have been challenged in this area over and over.  Who hasn’t?  I had to believe that God was sufficient if we didn’t get Negusu, (which we didn’t and He was).  That God was sufficient when Macie came home, then when Dave died, then when I had physical pain, then when I had back surgery, and now as we are trying to blend our families.  

I talked about how God was the inheritance of the Levites.  Not land . . . not food . . . not money . . . not anything tangible.  God was their inheritance. I wondered how the Levites felt about that.  Were they excited about God as their inheritance?  Were they worried about not having a big huge lot of land to work and to pass down?   What was their take when everyone else got a tangible inheritance and they got God?????????????????? 

I have literally said out loud, “I know God is sufficient, but I just don’t have the energy to rely on him anymore.”  That is not where I am right now, thankfully, but I’ve been there. I want something, other than God, ALL – OF – THE – TIME.  Or more accurately, I want something AND God!!!!!  But am I willing to exchange that something for God.  A pain free life?  A perfect family?  Free from disease?  Exempt from sorrow?  Is it possible to have “something” and God?  Probably, right?  But not a guarantee?  And then again, maybe not?  I hope so??????

Anyway, I’m sure that all sounds pretty heavy.  But in my talk, I outline these verses, which I love and tell of the life that is possible on earth.  Right here.  I Peter 1:3-5  “What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus!  Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven-and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future.  The Day is coming when you’ll have it all-life healed and whole.”  I’ve quoted that verse before, but I think it is worth quoting again.  

If you want to hear my talk about these things, you can listen to it here.  

Christina’s Take: 

Such keen observation here about the tendency of our souls to wander, to thirst for empty things, to be distracted by the shiny, dangly nothingness all around us. Made me think of this quote from Anne Lamott:

 “My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear.”

I feel like I stagger much of the time and the landscape so often looks more like a swamp in my faith journey than a well-manicured landscape. Thanks for being truthful but also holding up the Truth of this brand-new life we get to navigate.

Megan’s Take: 

Oh the irony that we KNOW in our heads that God is “sufficient” and able to give us “abundantly more than we could ask or imagine” BUT we just don’t want to really give Him our hearts to see if He REALLY IS THAT GOOD. What if He isn’t? What if He lets us down this time?? We are so tired and run down that it just feels like “one more thing” to have to give God our junk when, in fact, if we can truly die to ourselves and release the tension that holds us captive, we will indeed receive God!! Not just parts and pieces, but ALL! Thank you for this reminder today. I am constantly needing to reset my wandering head and heart so I can be in a place to see if what I believe is true. And I have lived long enough to know that it actually is!! His presence may not come packaged in the way I think it should, but honestly it is just plain better. And I am thankful for good friends who point me towards Him when I might be tempted to run the other way. 

 

#WORTHAREAD: Just Show Up by Kara Tippetts and Jill Lynn Buteyn

Backstory.

Kara Tippetts lived in my home town, was a fellow blogger over at Mundane Faithfulness. Kara (also author of The Hardest Peace) struggled through a battle with cancer that was equal parts life-giving and tragic (and I can’t even believe I could write that and mean it!)

To my watchful eye, Kara made a decision to shout from the highest heights as often as possible that God is good and that her struggle was not in vain.  Her beautiful friend Jill, who I knew best in our MOPS days with little littles, writes alongside Kara with depth, honesty and candor about an extraordinary community of friends going through difficult times with their friend. The message can perhaps be best summed up with the title: JUST SHOW UP.

Favorite Quote.

 “And then a friend comes along, and she’s screaming, screaming in the midst of horrible hard that GOD IS STILL GOOD. That GOD IS SOVEREIGN. That SUFFERING IS NOT THE ABSENCE OF GOD’S GOODNESS.

And it’s like a fire has started.

New whispers grow like unchecked flames.

What if those are lies? What if God is good in the midst of this? What if? ….I believe Him. I believe in His promises even when I don’t understand them. I believe. I believe. I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Bottom Line.

This book is about intentionally surveying the people in your life and making a decision to “enter in.” Jill and Kara model the idea that we can replicate; showing up and therefore influencing the world through these actions of loving and serving one another during trials. Imagine the ripple affect, people!

#WIPSAYS:

A MUST READ! 

Megan’s Take: Somehow the advice, “just show up” feels so simple and yet so HARD. There’s so much “less mess” when I keep a safe distance from hard. I don’t have to worry about saying the “wrong thing” — I can just hit “like” on someone’s FB post or type out a simple “I’m praying!” I suppose these comments are WAYS of showing up, they don’t hold a candle to the kind of showing up that Jill talks about in this book. When we physically give someone a hug, take the time to make a meal or sacrifice our sacred “to do” list to listen to someone’s pain, something extraordinary happens. True community, the kind that enters into the mess — no matter what — is a true gift.  

I am constantly BLOWN AWAY by the community God has woven together in our little plot of land here in Colorado Springs. So often we can’t tie a pretty little bow around life. And while that might “scare” some folks, the Jesus sisters I have in my life remain unflappable. Of course we cry and lament the hard, but we also laugh and pray and declare victory in Jesus over every situation. I have no idea what tomorrow holds, but I know that I have people in my life that will SHOW UP. I know this because they have — and they will. Thank you, Jill (and Kara!) for putting words and flesh to something that leaves us, many days, wishing we could just hide in the closet and make it all go away. There is beauty in hard. And if we don’t show up, we just might miss it. 

Holly’s Take: You would think that I might not have to read a book like this, because I was the recipient of those who “Just Showed Up,” after Dave died.  However, I still feel like a novice when it comes to knowing what to say in tragedy or knowing how to best enter in when a friend is at the end of their rope.  I still claim that those who surrounded me, should be the ones who write a book.  I still don’t know how they always knew what I needed.  They were champion show uppers . . . that is for sure!!!!!!!!!  I certainly wouldn’t wish a devastating diagnosis or the death of a spouse or child, or any other devastating event to occur in a friend’s life, but I wish everyone could experience the kind of heart support that is in Jill’s book.  I am truly changed. It’s not always the hard part that changes somebody . . . it’s the beauty of everyones’ strengths being poured into your heart. It’s the beauty of having to choose God, for reals.  It’s the beauty of seeing the church outside of the walls of a building.  It’s the beauty of seeing your neighborhood, respond like a real neighborhood.  It’s the beauty of grace over and over and over again and again..

On Tending to Man-Flu and Dismounting the Crazy Train

My husband was sick this week. I mean, the kind of sick that took him completely out of commission for at least three days. Head pounding. Throat so swollen it looked like he has a double chin. When he wasn’t in bed I found him wrapped in a blanket and laying by the fire to “get warm.” (Think sad, raspy whisper.)

His chain-saw like snoring and general germ fest sent me to the guest room in search of a good night’s sleep. He finally found some leftover pain meds from a recent root canal that “took the edge off” a bit. (Kinda like that drug they gave me while I was in labor. Edge, what edge?? I was falling off the cliff!)

When I told another guy that Scott was down for the count he said, “Oh, mate — he’s got man flu!” (The guy’s British. Everything sounds believable when delivered with a British accent.) I rolled my eyes. Say what?? Yeah, the guy says this is a real thing. Men get hit harder than women. Reeeeaaaaallly…..? Insert another eye roll. 

Anyway, you get the idea. Unkempt, unshaven, unavailable. Generally S.I.C.K.

I have two choices as to how to respond to such drama. (I know, I know…he is legitimately sick.)

I can either:  

A. Leave him to his own devices and say, “Bummer, dude. Catch you on the flip side. And please don’t slide within a 3 foot radius.” or….

B. Enter in and take care of his pitiful, I mean, very sick little self. 

Listen, we have four kids in three schools with no bus system. Shuttling their hineys back and forth to school is practically a full-time job. Not to mention, a couple of those children apparently need me attached to their hip every afternoon as they plod through homework, “Mom, can you puh-leeeze help me with this???” (I should just record my answer, “Have you read the directions?? That’s a grrreeeaaat place to start.” I smile. They sigh.) And let’s face it, that laundry isn’t washing itself. Email, text, voicemail, groceries. Blah. Blah. Blah.

No, taking care of a sick husband is not on my preferred “to-do” list. Or is it….?

I just finished a novel called What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. The gist is this… Alice Love hits her head at the gym one day and passes out. When she “comes to” she thinks she is 29-years-old, madly in love with her husband and pregnant with her first child. Imagine her surprise when she finds out she has lost 10 years of memory. (Channel “Days of Our Lives” amnesia plot.) She is, in fact 39, has three children, and smack in the middle of a nasty divorce. With a decade of memories gone, she has to piece together what has happened and figure out who she has become.

Unfortunately, her sweet, innocent, wide-eyed 29-year-old self is none to impressed with what appears to be her bitter, stressed-out, uber-busy 39-year-old self.  WHAT HAS HAPPENED?? She wonders. I’ll try not to spoil a perfectly lovely read (I’d definitely recommend it!), but the answer isn’t as much soap opera hyperbole as it is just plain LIFE. 

Alice and her husband are experiencing what is, unfortunately, the reality for SO MANY of us in the middle years of marriage and parenting. Too many demands, not enough time. Neglect, busyness and general self-centeredness have taken over to the point that it is destroying their marriage. No one person is entirely at fault. It is two-sided at nearly every turn. And unfortunately, the kids are also a mess. The stress has affected the entire crew. 

You can’t help but read this book and find bits and pieces (if not more) that hit way too close to home. I found myself rooting for the 29-year-old Alice to prevail and get her husband back. I wanted to see her ditch her new boyfriend and work towards repairing her marriage and family.

And then I wondered, “Have I become like her in any way??”

Scott and I are approaching our TWENTIETH (WHAT?!?!) wedding anniversary. I seriously CANNOT even believe it. I’d like to think we are more in love now than we were twenty years ago. At the end of the day, I believe that is absolutely true!!! But it is only and entirely because we REFUSE to let the craziness of life swallow us whole. That — and we believe God’s light can reach even the darkest situations.

Truth be told, I am the chief offender of letting life completely stress me out. The change of seasons (which happens often in Colorado and at this stage of parenting) generally cause enough anxiety for me that Scott and I could just press “play” on a conversation that might as well be on repeat. Every few months or so, I look at my calendar which seems to be like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors begging, “Feed me, Megan!”

And so I feed it.

I say yes to things I should probably say no to because I feel guilty if I don’t. Somehow “busyness” is worn like some twisted badge of honor in our culture. Apparently, in America, we think that siestas are for sissies. BUNK, I tell you! But do I take them???? Not that often. WHY?? Because, who would I be if I just rested every once in a while? Honestly. It’s ridiculous.

Perhaps getting sick is one of the best things that can happen to you. Not because feeling like “death warmed over” is fun, but because sickness is our body’s way of saying — STOP IT ALREADY! You are going too hard, too fast, for too long. You need to take a break and reset this crazy train.

I have the most adorable friend who told me she bought an actual STOP sign to put up in her kitchen to remind herself to slow down. When she feels her jaw clenching and her shoulders tightening she knows it’s time to pull out the sign and take a break. She even leaves a basket of magazines near the stop sign so she can grab one, sit down and take a twenty minute brain break. She says having things like: puzzles, mosaic tiles (gotta look into those!), or adult coloring books around make for easy, practical ways to SLOW DOWN and unplug if even for a minute. (NO — trolling the internet does not count.)

 I told you she was cute!
I told you she was cute!

Genius!! I told her I loved that idea and maybe I should do that too. (Click here for a fun grown-up coloring book!)

Recently, I was reading the story of Adam and Eve and the Lord impressed something on my heart. He said, “Megan — YOU are Eve. I have designed you as a helpmate for your husband and family. You complete him (and them) in so many ways. You also carry a high amount of influence. I designed it this way. The question is — are you using your influence for evil or good?”

The word “evil” sounds rather melodramatic, but this thought really hit me. As a wife and Mom, I am generally the “Chief Mood Officer” over my home. I am the puppet master. If I dip, they dip. If I’m joyful, they, well…. they are more likely to be joyful. Not fool proof of course, but definitely leads to a higher probability of receiving the result you’re looking for!

Often times the “fruit” this world offers (success, clout, accolades, popularity, etc.) looks delicious and tempting, but is it wise?? Is chasing after this fruit what is BEST for me and my family??

The decisions I make today — what I say yes to and what I say no to — have a direct impact on the health of my marriage and family. Twenty years ago, I promised before God and a couple hundred witnesses that I would love and honor Scott for better or for worse, in sickness and in health…’til death do us part.

I don’t want life between now and ’til death do us part (hopefully many years from now) to be full of stress and disconnect. Stress will come. No doubt about it, I just don’t want to be the woman who ushers it in….

PS — When I asked Scott if I could blog about him being sick, he said, “I really don’t care what you do. I’m too sick to care about anything right now.”  Man — I should have asked for more….

 Teresa Meza -- this one's for you!!
Teresa Meza — this one’s for you!!

** Have you felt the stresses of life creep in and affect your marriage or family life? If so, how have you dealt with them? If they’ve gotten to an all-time high, what support systems do you have in place to counteract the stress and disconnect and get back on track…? In other words — how do you rekindle the essence of your 29-year-old self without sacrificing the wisdom of your current “more seasoned” self?? 

Christina’s Take:

I feel the stress of life affect my marriage when my husband actually wants to give me a hug and a kiss goodbye in the morning and I am so dialed into the buzzing of the day that the PDA seems like a waste of time! That’s when I know I have blazed right past meaning into the zombie world of git-‘er-done transaction only. Oh! I am so sorry that this happens but you’re thoughts help me feel normal, Megan. I am thankful we have a place to look at something for what it is, what it has become and then to put a stop sign in front of it. I am excited about the challenge of infusing joy into my home and slowing things down a bit. Women really do posses that powerful ability to set the tone. Gotta run…I’m off to take a Purell shower after hearing about the germ incubation in the Nilsen household.

Holly’s Take:

I am unequivocally the world’s worst wife when it comes to sickness.  I am all about ME and not wanting to get sick myself, so I almost get mad when other’s get sick and cough and sneeze anywhere in a 6 foot radius of me.  I will hold my breath if I walk past them in the hallway.  I will rub Thieves Oil on any breathing life form or intimate object.  Don’t get me wrong, I am uber compassionate for the hurting and sick . . . until there is a germ in the same room as myself.  Needless to say, I know what kind of wife I am in the middle of sickness. Terrible! As for the rest, I’m trying to figure a lot of that out.  Am I a help mate?  Sometimes yes an sometimes no. I feel like when I am just a person and not a wife and mother, (so basically when I am on vacation with just my husband) I am pretty fun and light-hearted. But throw in all the stresses of life, mothering, and wifering and I’ve got a LONG way to go. So, no advice here, but I do have some extra Thieves Oil, I can set out on your driveway tomorrow.       

Dave Dad, Tony Dad, and Leah Story Kate

I think I might try to write this blog, mostly in pictures, with just a little background.  Leah is my almost seven year old.  She was barely four years old when Dave died.  She is my child with a fair amount of Scandinavian blood coursing through her veins, based on her propensity towards remaining stoic, when most children would be be crying. Historically speaking she is either stoic or angry, but not emotional.  One time, at a wedding she was performing a dance move on the floor, when a (careless) dancer in heels stepped on my little Leah’s hand.  She held her breath for about a minute and then erupted in anger, even though she was obviously hurt.  Another time, she fell face teeth first on the driveway and when she stood up, her two front incisors were hanging out of her mouth.  A few minutes later we were at the dentist and she was like a rock.  No tears, no movement, no nothing, as the dentist  pushed her teeth as hard as he could back into her gums.  She was only three then. I’ve always wondered how this sort of personality would deal with Dave’s death.  There seems to be a toughness there and also a deep little hiding place where she tries to tuck her emotions.  

However, lately she seems to be toying with the idea of sharing her emotions through tears.  I’m torn . . .   no, just kidding.  I, obviously, think it is a good thing. In this new age of sharing more of her emotions to the outside world, I’ve seen her start to grieve the loss of her “Dave dad” (that’s what they call him now that they have a Tony dad) in a new way.

Here is my theory.  Leah’s emotions over Dave began to surface this summer after she gained a Tony in her life.  It is like she was learning for the first time, what it meant to have a dad around.  Someone to play with.  Someone to take care of her when she is sick (Tony is a champ at that).  A man.  Someone who could toss her like a feather.  Someone who is way too big to do handstand contests with her and Macie, but does it anyway.  Someone who loves having little girls for the first time.  Someone who loves to teach any and everything from what kinds of flowers are along the path, to math, to how to ski and catch a football.  Someone who cooks fancy meals for them, even though they are little.  Someone who is a little too overprotective for her own good.  Someone who loves her like he loves his own.  It’s like all these things awakened this need to pull a few things out of her emotional hiding place.  How was she supposed to process them any earlier than six years of age?  Which brings me to this little number.  

Who saw, “Dancing With the Stars,” a few weeks ago?????  Bindi Irwin, the daughter of the Crocodile Hunter, did a dance that expressed the most memorable year of her life.  Naturally, it was the year her father died.  She talked about how she was really dealing with it for the first time and her dad died NINE YEARS AGO!!!!!!!  In the clip, they showed a young little innocent Bindi reading a letter to a huge crowd about how her dad was the “best dad in the whole world.”  You could tell, she just didn’t really know what was going on.  After watching that little part, I cried about 20 different times that day.. I just wish you could fix death like you fix a leaky faucet.  Just stick the new parts in and you’re good to go.  It was tough for me to see the emotion in Bindi, so many years later.  It brought me to the reality that my kids are nowhere near done with this grieving process.  They are only just beginning to understand what happened. By the way, Bindi’s dance was so beautiful.  The kind of beauty that could only come from pain.  

I remember a couple days after Dave’s death, I heard someone say that kids don’t really start their grieving process until about six months after the death of a parent.  I remember thinking, “I bet my kids will be done grieving by then.”  Of course, I was a total lunatic at that time, so I’m not surprised that I was so far off base.  So far off in a land that I had to pretend was going to be OK soon, or else I might not make it through.  Surely, I’m not the only widow that had ridiculous thoughts on grieving?  

Anyway, the GRACE OF GOD.  But for that, I might be in a state of tears all the time, knowing I can’t fix this for my kids.  Knowing that there is more grief to come, as they continually understand it in new ways.  To this point, Jesus has showered his grace all over my kids and I know that will continue, throughout their lifetime. They are doing well. They are doing better than well.  They are learning the ways of having a dad again and it brings me so much joy.  There have been moments, where I just wish that Dave could be there to witness an accomplishment or funny comment they make or when they experience something for the first time, but to watch Tony start to fill those shoes is something amazing.  Tony is building his own relationship with them, but he is also building on what Dave has started.  For instance, Dave taught Leah how to ski and now Tony has taken up that task.  Even more specific to Leah, one of her only real memories of Dave was fishing with him.  She was always the one to catch a fish when Dave took the kids fishing.  It is a special memory for her.  So, this summer I gave her Dave’s tackle box.  She spent two days, cleaning it and organizing it, way better than Dave ever did!  This is a treasure to her.  So now . . . she has Dave’s tackle box and Tony’s heart to carry that legacy on. And I could write a million paragraphs on how Spencer is taking to having a new dad, but I’ll save that for another post.  

Did I say, I was going to write this post with pictures?  Evidently, I’m a bit more verbose than I thought.  When I sat down, I really didn’t feel like writing any of this.  This lies in my own little emotional hiding place and I thought it would hurt more to search this out.  I’m glad I did, because I actually see more hope than hurt in what I have written.  I’d still like to add the pics, anyway.  

 The first fish leah ever caught with Dave.  May 2012.
The first fish leah ever caught with Dave.  May 2012.
 Leah's 2nd fish she ever caught with dave.  september 2012. (three months before dave died)
Leah’s 2nd fish she ever caught with dave.  september 2012. (three months before dave died)
 The handing off of dave's tackle box.
The handing off of dave’s tackle box.
 Leah fishing for the first time with tony.  July 2015.  I love, Love, Love this picture!
Leah fishing for the first time with tony.  July 2015.  I love, Love, Love this picture!
 LOVE!
LOVE!

Christina’s Take:

I have been similarly intrigued by Bindi. She seems so big-hearted and almost naive for someone who surely has been steeped in celebrity culture all these years. She is lovely! And I SO believe that different parts of her heart are mending or broken at different times. The same would apply to Leah Story, I’d imagine. I’ve seen your sweet Leah with the steely-eyed determination to not be emotional and wondered what she is feeling. I wish we could put an ultrasound wand on that little heart to see what’s going on….but we can’t. But that Tony is taking a crack at infusing her with all the love and all the “daddy-ness” she’s secretly longing to have. I just love how you paint that picture, Holly. 

Megan’s Take:

There are so many similarities as I watch my two adopted kiddos navigate the often unpredictable path of finding room and understanding to love two moms — Mom Sindayo and Mom Megan. They never had a “dad” to speak of in Ethiopia, but boy did they have a birth mom (and still do) that they love with fierce loyalty. As their adoptive mom (I don’t love the term ‘forever mom’ because their birth mom, whether dead or alive, will be forever in their hearts as well), I find myself wishing I had that magic wand of which Christina speaks to really hone in on their emotions and what they are thinking as they process the vastness of their family. But maybe I wouldn’t. Perhaps some of those thoughts/feelings are just too raw and should be saved for the sacred place inside their hearts, for their personal journals. In the meantime, I can relate to Tony. I love how he is “all in” with these sweet kids and, in turn, they are all in with him!  It is so beautiful. I like to call this a “Jesus-shaped space” because only in Jesus can we feel all the feels and encapsulate all we hold dear. 

On Losing a Family Pet

Yesterday morning, I made an appointment to have our faithful, sweet 13 year old black lab put down.  

Max enjoyed ice cubes and a good ear rub. He was equally as passionate about sleep and people food. He was afraid of lightening and firecrackers. And, as a truth teller I’ve gotta add that he had the worst nitro-toxic gas you’ve ever encountered.  His characteristic tail wag is about the only thing that would signal to you that he knew you had walked into the room – but that was enough.

To be sure, he’s not been perfect (see toxic gas situation above) and Megan can attest to the fact that one day in the middle of a stressful house move, I went over to her house with the dogs where Max promptly jumped out of the car window Dukes-of-Hazzard-style and took a chunk out of her…um…posterior. She never wore those work-out pants again because there were 6 holes in the booty portion. Oy! And to think she didn’t sue us and is even one of my blog sisters! Wonders truly never cease, my friends.

But I’m not going to write about how he was just like a brother to my kids or liken him to a human being, but experiencing love for this animal and then watching him fade and decline has been a road of meaning I hadn’t expected.

Lately, he’d had a little more trouble standing up and a little more difficulty keeping food down. It seems like he just kind of lost the ability to do what he does best – be a dog.

So after cleaning up more than a few messes and resorting to hoisting an 80 pound dog in and out of the house for potty breaks and really just watching his decline, we had to have the talk. My husband and I talked about it first. Whispering in the bed at 3:30 in the morning after another bout of cleaning up messes, we asked each other if we thought it was time to say goodbye and, each with a tentative, voice-quivering “yes” we set about to figure out the best way to talk to the kids and actually handle the details.

These are really sweet family moments for my heart – even in their sadness. Our normal days are lined up with “mom, will you pick me up after practice?” and “dad, can you sign my permission slip” and “someone take out the trash, please.” Lots of transactions happen during our regular days. But in these more difficult, tender moments, we family members watch how we handle sad news, hard news.

For one of our kids, it was instant water works at the news and for the other it was shock and then evidence of a good cry in the shower.  

And we’ve all had separate moments since saying goodbye of realizing the stark reality of his absence. No more tail wag, nor more ice cube crunching, no more.

Death is so…final.

There are so many things we can control in this life and there are so many times I’ve been able to tell my kids to look on the bright side of a situation. But when it comes to death, I don’t have the answers. And I think that’s okay. I think kids need to see that their parents don’t always have another option, a better perspective, a new plan. The only phrases I could utter that weren’t deceitful in those moments were things like;

I think we’re doing the right thing

they’ll take good care of him

and

it’s time.

After saying goodbye to Max, each of the kids saw each other during the school day and said things like “I’m having Max flashbacks, are you?” and “I can’t believe that when I get home, Max won’t be there.”

Loss is like that. You have moments of disbelief, moments full of memories, and moments when you are distracted by a chemistry lesson. It’s not linear or predictable or concrete.

But just when I think we’ve tortured their hearts by ever even having a dog….

just when I decide we shouldn’t ever get another dog because it’s just an invitation to hardship and loss….

just when I try and create a protective barrier around my heart and the hearts of my family…

I watch us move on.

I see a resiliency particularly in the kids. Their hearts are still pliable and soft. They can move on. They felt the feels, and they’ll feel some more feels….but they’ll also probably laugh about how someone is mashing up their chips at lunch in the cafeteria today or they’ll recall that they don’t have to smell Max’s stank ever again. They just do that and no one told them to. They move on little by little and the loss of Max becomes a bittersweet part of the road they walk.

I’m taking a lesson from my kids this time. May our hearts be these little beating works-in-progress that never fully harden and never lose hope. In other words, may our hearts (and Max) rest in peace. (miss you, buddy)

Megan’s Take: Oh, Max!! He and I had such a complicated relationship. I mean, he did bite me in the ass and ruin a pair of work-out pants along with leaving a hefty red scratch on my derriere. There’s that. But you know, as I reflect on that moment, the sweet thing is that he was really just protecting his master. He didn’t trust me and he was trying to protect you. Gotta give him serious props for family loyalty. I suppose at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what his flaws were. The fact is, he was part of your family. And now a piece of that family is gone. You fed him and loved him and protected him and he protected you. Watching any living creature pass from life to death is a profound, holy, no-words kind of experience. I was actually too chicken take our yellow-lab, Sydney to the vet when it was time to put her down. I made Scott do it. He went alone. (Sorry about that, honey!!) But when I saw him hoist her into the car for the final time, I bawled like a baby. Then she proceeded to poop in the car and we knew, just like you did, that we were doing the right thing and yes, it was time. It’s never easy to make that decision. Thinking of you all and praying for sweet memories of Mr. Max!!

Holly’s Take:

Oh, the thought of saying goodbye to pets.  I can hardly stand it.  One of my worst memories ever was watching my golden retriever look at me one last time, before he walked the Green Mile at the Humane Society.  I completely feel to this day that he was begging the questions, “Why are you just sitting there?  Please come with me.”  I literally cry to this very day (and in this very moment) thinking about it.  I’ve never gotten over it.  What, dear Jesus, is my problem?  You’d think that, that memory would pale in comparison to what has all gone on in my life since then and that there wouldn’t be any room for emotion for my long gone dog,  But I’m a firm believer in what is hard, is hard.  We can’t rank our emotions or difficult circumstances or compare them to others harder or easier.  Our emotions just take us wherever they want and we don’t have to always justify them.  Sometimes we just have to walk through them.  So, Christina and family . . . let the memories of Max roll.  Let the tears flow.  Be as crazy with your emotions as you want over your family dog.  It almost makes the world brighter when you get to be ridiculously something as innocent as saying goodbye to your loyal, cutie, stinky, long time, tail wagging family pet.

“Mom, What Are You Really Afraid Of…?”

Allergy shots, as it turns out, are a blessing in disguise.

Reese is now 15-years-old, and has suffered from chronic congestion nearly his whole life.  Yes, we’ve tried going gluten free. The GF diet is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it highly enticing to a growing teenage boy whose sniffles don’t bother him nearly as much as they annoy me. I know there are probably some articles you’d love to send me, but you can save your breath. The buffalo chicken ranch pizza at Duca’s is just too good.

And that is precisely where we sit every Monday at lunch while Reese waits the customary thirty minutes after he endures his three allergy shots. We have to hang around to make sure he doesn’t go into anaphylactic shock so, rather than wait in the eerily silent waiting room with the other magazine reading patients, we walk across the sidewalk and sit down for lunch. 

He used to bring his textbook and try to pound out a few advanced algebra equations, but that drive has since subsided. Now we eat. And talk. A rare gift indeed. 

What initially felt like a serious wrinkle in my weekly schedule has turned into a profound treasure for this Mama who is breathing into bags as she watches her son navigate the insanity of entering high school.

He’s been stressed and so have I. Not a good combination for anyone within ear shot.

This weekly lunch date has become a lifeline for me as I see increased independence written all over this firstborn of mine. Who cares that it costs me $17 every time?? I get a weekly lunch date with my teenage son. Priceless.

This week I looked forward to it more than most, however, because I sensed it was an opportunity to come clean about something. As he took a bite of that gourmet pizza I shifted in my chair. My fork rested on the table and I cleared my throat in an effort to say the words that, unfortunately, come out of my mouth more often than I care to admit. Or at least — they should.

“Reese, I think I owe you an apology….” 

He looked up at me with quizzical eyes. “Okay…Why?”

“I want to apologize for two things actually. First, I’m sorry for riding you so hard yesterday when you came upstairs for lunch. I realize I kind of blindsided you with previously unsaid expectations. I was stressed and you seemed too lazy for my liking and I snapped. It was unfair to you and I’m sorry.”

“Alright. Thanks. Is there…something else?”

This one was a little harder because I was about to wade into territory that has caused stress between Reese and me and, quite frankly, between Scott and me for the better part of the last 5 years — or really, since technology became a thing.

“Yes, there’s something else.” I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I’ve been so overbearing and controlling when it comes to you and social media.”

Now he was all ears. I went on to apologize for riding his ass so much over the years in regards to video games and social media and the like. (Pardon my french, but sometimes a well placed curse word goes a long way with a teenager. At least it does with this one.) 

I confessed that I recently had a revelation. The older he gets, the more distant he seems. At least to me. He has his own room in the basement and he’s naturally an introvert so his room is his happy place. In his defense, he has some pretty loud brothers and sisters and sometimes he just wants a little getaway. (Amen, brother.) We often have to fish him out of there when it’s time to mobilize for dinner or church or really, lots of things.

The older he gets, the more I worry about losing him. Of course independence is part of growing up, but so is insatiable curiosity. I remember being a teenager. (I know, hard to believe, eh?!) I was a good girl. I got good grades, went to church, led student council and all that. My public face was stellar.

And it’s not that all that wasn’t totally genuine, it’s just that I got pretty good at leading a more private, secret life as well. I didn’t have the added layer of navigating social media, but I was easily influenced by the party scene and the boyfriends in my life. Not good. And I think, to some degree, I have been projecting that on him as well. 

Of course there need to be guidelines for social media and technology use, but the reality is that even if I buckle down like it’s Fort Knox, the minute he walks out the door there’s a whole buffet of opportunities waiting for him on the devices in his friends’ hands — in carpools or walking around school — to play or see or do whatever! 

He listened and then he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mom, what are you really afraid of?”

I knew it was now or never. I had to come clean. 

“You know,” I said. “It’s honestly not Instagram or Facebook. I follow you on those sites and it’s all pretty tame so far. Probably the biggest thing that scares me is You Tube. And even then, it’s not necessarily the language or the violence. Of course, I don’t love that stuff, but it’s really more the….sexual stuff. With one click of a button you have all sorts of tempting videos vying for your attention. You may be searching for something else entirely, and then on the right hand side of the screen you might be tempted to click on something scrolling by that catches your eye. I mean, you’re only human. And that’s the kind of thing that has the ability to creep in and lead you into a private world that makes you want a little bit more each time. That’s what I’m really afraid of…”

At this point, the plates were cleared and so was the air. 

I can’t say that the conversation is totally over, or that my controlling nature won’t rear it’s ugly head. But I can say that I feel so much lighter admitting and recognizing my fear. I’m not suggesting a totally hands-off approach. He lives under our roof, it’s important that we engage on this issue.

But that’s the key word — engagement. Engaging in the conversation rather than fighting for control over it will get us ten times closer to the relational trust I think we all desire. 

Fear-based parenting is no way to parent. Sure, it’s an easy way, but it’s also a lazy one. 

Lazy parenting says, “Because I said so…It’s my way or the highway.” And believe me, I want to press the easy button nearly everyday!! If my kids were just obedient little robots, I could kick my feet up. They would do everything I say because they trust me and they know I have their best interest in mind.

But that is not reality. Trust is built on shared experience and consistent interactions.

Real, intentional parenting requires me to set down my own agenda and enter in. Into the mess and the heartbreak and the heartache that is just part of growing up. Real parenting recognizes that temptations will arise in all shapes and sizes. Our kids WILL deal with real time temptation.

So did I. And so did Jesus.

It’s entirely possible that my kids will make some of the same mistakes I made — and then some. But just because these things might happen doesn’t mean I should revert to control or fear. 

So, at the end of the day, what am I REALLY afraid of?  I’m afraid of losing my kid because I have pushed him away with my control-happy-crazy. While it is my job to equip all of my children with the skills necessary to navigate this ever-changing world as best they can — it is God’s job to guard and protect their hearts. His Holy Spirit will lead and guide long after they’ve left our home.

I can put as many parental controls on their lives as I want, but where there’s a will there is always a way. (Don’t I know it!)

Only Jesus has the power to convict and encourage, inspire and guide in the private, basement room places of our kids’ lives. And I’m just honored that I get to a part of it…

PSTHIS!!!! This song has been an absolute bedrock for me in recent months. Whenever fear threatens to consume, I throw this one on and pray over my kids, my husband, my friends, my dog — and pretty much anyone else I can think of!! Listen and enjoy. The message may radically revolutionize your days too. 

Holly’s Take:

You will not want to talk to me about this one.  I am highly fear based, when it comes to screen time.  I would only feed into your fears.  I am so anti-technology for boys that it is a little ridiculous.  (Right now, my girls could care less about screen time). I’m sure I’m a touch controlling over that one, but right now, life works so much better when iPads, etc. are at the barest minimum.  Attitudes are better, arguments are down, and playing outside is up.  I’m glad you are going first on this one.  I can’t imagine that I will execute this portion of the world well, with three, soon to be, tween boys.  UGH!  I do love that you get to have a lunch date, each week with Reese.  What a cool kid . . . like mother like son.  

Christina’s Take:

I hate that this post really addresses a lot of my own fears. I am on one hand very eager to maintain dialogue and harmony with my son which makes me on the other hand hesitant to lay down rigid rules and punishment. I learned all the rules really well in my family of origin. I was a master at APPEARING TO OBEY them all. I wasn’t truly the master of any true obedience, though. So I lived a double life. I wasn’t snorting crack behind the bleachers or anything but I had crafted a persona for my parents that was not me. So this issue is so hazy for me. I know that every day I am working to connect and love my kids even and especially when I say no to something. AND I for sure know that I really, really like who Reese is becoming and I love that he asked you the question!