It’s Not Your Fault.

“He’s just so shy…His confidence is so poor…I see this often…His test scores just aren’t where they should be. I just think you’d be wise to have him evaluated.” I could hear the words coming from Luke’s teacher’s mouth. I even half-expected to hear them, and much sooner than second grade. I have always known Luke was a little different from my other two kids. He just takes longer to do everything. He didn’t walk until he was sixteen months old. He didn’t have much to say until he was past two years old, but then he wouldn’t stop–at least at home. He is so sensitive. He panics when there is too much commotion in a room. So I have always worried more for Luke and been more protective of him.  But after my parent-teacher conferences this past November, I became scared for him.

I cried as soon as I closed my car door after leaving the school. I called Scott who was still at work and yelled at him irrationally for not being there with me. I felt frustrated by my ignorance, for not knowing what was wrong with our son and for not doing something about it sooner. His teacher hadn’t said exactly what she thought, but the implication was loud and clear; something was wrong with him, or at least that’s how I understood it. Scott calmed me down. “We will get him whatever he needs. It’s going to be okay.”

The most overwhelming part of it was knowing where to start finding help. Since all the doctors’ offices were closed at that hour, I began by googling his “symptoms.” “Poor confidence, overly shy,  sensitive to too much stimulation, low standardized test scores.” Everything pointed to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I know children who are on the spectrum and I could honestly say that some  of the things Luke did made me wonder. Still, I couldn’t be positive of anything. I didn’t think that I, armed with Google’s search browser, was any kind of expert on these things.

Next, I called a very good friend who had opened up to me just before conferences about how she had been taking her daughter to a child psychologist. She told me we needed to start with our pediatrician to get a referral to go to a psychologist.  Okay, so I would need to wait until the morning. I barely slept that night. And let me be clear, if you find out that you need to have your child tested for anything, the theme of your life will become “Hurry Up and Wait.” And while you wait, you will agonize over everything you’ve ever done to yourself or your child since his or her conception. You will fill your spare minutes wondering about insane things. “Maybe it was something I ate during my pregnancy–the doctor warned me about nitrates, but I had to eat that turkey sandwich, didn’t I?” “Maybe I just had the boys too close; I couldn’t give Luke all the attention he needed.” It’s funny because my answer was staring me in the face just by wondering all of these crazy things. I just didn’t understand it yet. But I’ll get to that later.

At our appointment with Luke’s pediatrician, the doctor spent about twenty minutes asking questions about his temperament, the feedback from his teacher that prompted our visit, our family life at home, etc. We left the office with a stack of business cards for child psychologists, and I, with more questions than when we had walked in the door.

All the psychologists recommended were well-accredited. I began calling each of them to see when we could get Luke in for testing and each one told us the test would take around eight hours. Some of the psychologists split the test into four two-hour increments each on a different day. Others liked to do the test over the course of a single day with mini breaks between sections. None of them could see us for at least another month. More waiting.

We chose one based on reviews from two other parents we knew who took their children to her. She also happened to be the one who would be able to start the test the soonest which was still after the first of the year.  I tried to stay upbeat. I got through Christmas keeping busy. I hung stockings by the fireplace and our ornaments on the tree. I baked dozens of cookies. I had my Christmas cards out the first week of December. I was doing everything I could to help the time pass quickly until that first appointment. I promised myself I wouldn’t search the internet anymore. Sometimes it was just scary what came up. Luke’s gloomy attitude toward school continued in spite of many of his classmates inviting him over for play dates or us inviting them to our house. I didn’t think his social life was suffering. He just seemed worked up on Sunday nights before bedtime, dreading the next morning and usually slunk into the car each day after school like he hated the past eight hours of his life.

Finally, the day came. We drove down the cold, gray road and he was very still in the back seat with wide eyes. “You all right, buddy?” I asked as cheerfully as I could. He met my eyes in the mirror and didn’t say anything, just nodded unconvincingly. We arrived at the office. She was with another child. We made ourselves at home on the sofas buried in emoji pillows and the tables covered with puzzles and toys. When the door opened, we met Luke’s doctor. She was warm and welcoming, empathetic, and a little quirky. Luke connected with her immediately which was good because I had to be out of the room for the testing. I was worried that Luke would flip, so I stayed for a while.

Every Saturday for four weeks we did Luke’s testing. He didn’t mind at all. He said the tests were like puzzles. Sometimes they were really tough, but the therapist reminded him that they are supposed to be. She had gained his trust quickly which is hard to do with Luke. The results took another six weeks from the date of his last test. That wait was nerve-wracking, but it was a very comprehensive test with loads of information to process. Finally at the end of March, I sat down with Luke’s doctor and she handed me a stack of papers, forty-two pages, to be exact, detailing Luke’s test results.

“Let me cut to the chase,” she said. “Luke is not on the spectrum. He has moderate General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I felt my body sag with a mixture of relief and understanding. Before I had sworn off online research, I had been reading about anxiety disorders and Luke’s behavior seemed to match many of the stories I had read. I was also prepared for the other news, that he might be on the Austism Spectrum, but in my heart, I didn’t believe that was the issue. Still, I reminded myself constantly, they’re all just labels and every person is so unique. We would meet whatever challenges we needed to, head-on, one step at a time.

Dr. Linda explained that there were all sorts of coping strategies we would work on with Luke that could be used in any situation, whether his anxiety spiked at home, in public, or at school. He also qualified for a 504, which is basically an accommodation plan that is established between us and the school administration to help him get through his school days as needed. She noticed a few of his triggers when his anxiety kicked in full force were when he was being asked to do many things at once like having to remember multiple step directions, when he’s being rushed, and when there are a lot of distractions preventing him from focusing. He also has many worries that hold him back from trying new things. He’s never been a risk-taking kid. He’s not the kid raising his hand to volunteer in class or assist the magician in a magic show. Luke is our silent observer. Everything Dr. Linda was telling me made perfect sense.

Our plan of attack against Luke’s anxiety is a multi-dimensional one. We meet with his therapist every other week for one hour and she gives new “tools” to deal with his worries. We also met with the school counselor and principal to come up with his accommodation plan, allowing him to utilize the resources available at the school. But the very first thing we had to do was help Luke understand where his anxiety comes from. And THIS is the main reason I decided to share this really personal information with all of you.

We were sitting in Dr. Linda’s office. She handed me a clipboard with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. Luke was having a tough time with his session that day. His eyes kept welling up and he didn’t want to answer any questions. Dr. Linda kept reminding him that all of his feelings are normal. Even the “cold, prickly” ones. She changed directions on him after this.

“Luke, where do you get those cute dimples?” Luke tried not to smile but didn’t answer.

“From his dad,” I said.

“And Mom, where does Luke get his big, hazel eyes?” Dr. Linda went on. Luke piped up, “From my mom,” he said softly.

“Luke, if you got those things from your mom and dad, don’t you think your worries might come from somewhere else in your family. Where do you think your anxiety comes from?” She kind of pointed the question at me now. “Mom, can you take that paper and pencil and write a list of all of the people in your family who deal with anxiety?

Within moments, I wrote at least a half a dozen names on the list, myself included, of all of the people in our family who battle anxiety. I handed her the paper. Her next words shifted the world on its axis for me.

“You see, Luke, it’s not your fault. Mom, it’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s ‘fault’ that you deal with anxiety. It is the way God made your brain. He gave you all a heaping dose of anxiety. All of our brains are made differently. The reason we are here is to understand that our worries, our fears are just feelings–just like happiness, anger, even hunger! But you feel the worry thoughts more strongly. It’s just the way God made you. We are going to learn a whole bunch of tools to help us get through those feelings when they happen…Luke, do you understand what I’m saying?”

He sat up straighter on the couch and I could hear his little voice quivering. “I didn’t know it wasn’t my fault,” he said. My eyes filled with tears. I tried to blink them back. Dr. Linda smiled at both of us.

“It’s not anyone’s fault,” she said to both of us.

We are now about three months into Luke’s (and consequently MY) therapy. Since we’ve begun, Luke has done things I never imagined him doing before. He volunteered to be a helper during a presentation at a field trip at the end of the school year. He has jumped off the back of a boat and a dock into a lake without any coaxing. We went to the zoo one day on one of the busiest days of the year and he didn’t cling to my side for one second. I don’t know if everyone experiences these kinds of changes just over a few months of therapy, but I will testify to how powerful the whole experience has been for him and our family.

I decided to open up about this because maybe you or your child are going through similar things. Maybe it’s not anxiety, but anger, depression or any other of the “cold, prickly” emotions that we hate facing. There is such a stigma in our world about mental health. But if I ever had any doubts, I am now a firm believer in the power of working through your issues with a professional mental health provider. Chances are that your kids are on summer break. This is a great time to schedule an appointment and get in before the new school year starts.

It is a bit of a journey into the unknown, and coming from someone who is severely uncomfortable with the unknown, I understand your worry, but it’s so worth it. I know for some people it’s an issue of expense. If your insurance doesn’t cover much or any of the expense involved, there are less expensive or even free resources for these services. Talk to your pediatrician or family doctor for a push in the right direction for your situation.

It isn’t always convenient to do these things, but I try to look at the bigger picture. We are prioritizing Luke’s mental health now while he’s young so that as he grows into a young man, he will hopefully have a better handle on his emotions and won’t be seeking out self-destructive ways of coping with them later. I would encourage you to do the same for your child. It’s not your fault, but you can do things to make life’s tough stuff easier to deal with.

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Here is Luke at the water park. He used to hang right by my side the whole time, but here he was splashing and playing and having fun with his brother, sister and cousins.
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Let Them Be Kind and Let Them Be Strong

“Mom, is it cooler to be a girl than it is to be a boy?”

I looked up from the stove where I had been making dinner. Noah was looking at me with his big hazel eyes and the question was asked in complete earnestness. “What do you mean, buddy?” I asked.

“Well, it’s just that whenever you watch t.v. or see the clothes people wear- like t-shirts that say ‘Fight like a Girl,’ or whatever, it feels like people think girls are more special than boys. There are songs about girls being stronger than boys and it seems like everyone thinks girls are more important. I mean, I thought we are the same.”

“Oh, Noah…Yes you’re right, God loves boys and girls the same amount. And we should all treat each other with love and kindness. But for a long time, some people thought girls were actually less special that boys. They thought our words and our thoughts were not as important. The leaders of the world didn’t let women vote, they didn’t think women should get paid the same amount of money for working the same jobs as men. So a lot of that is changing now. But the bad part is that some women think it’s their turn to treat men like they are less special or important than women to make up for all those bad years. It’s not right. Because God loves us all the same so we should all respect each other the same. Does that make sense?”

“I guess so,” he said, clearly unconvinced, looking slightly dejected, and walked back to the den to watch cartoons with this brother and sister.

I actually wanted to cry for him. I have wondered so many times lately, how I am going to be able to raise sons with positive self-worth in a time where the reputation of men is tarnished by the news, peppered with the stories of men who have committed horrific acts against women. In recent months, countless women have stepped forward, with jaw-dropping accounts of injustice committed by men. The #MeToo movement, and others like it, seek to bring these victims’ voices to the forefront and justice to those who have wronged them.

Of course I am fully behind the concept of all people being treated with respect and dignity. But I have to agree with Noah, it is starting to feel like the scales are tipping the other way. I have sat down to watch shows with the kids and the men on these newer kids’ sitcoms are made to be complete imbeciles. The fathers are always portrayed as these ditzy losers who are only capable of slapstick and dumb jokes. Why are we not giving our boys positive role models to look up to? The world needs less Homer Simpsons and more Jack Pearsons.

We, as mothers, have not only an opportunity, but a responsibility to show our sons how to respect women but also remind them of their self-worth. And we are not going to be able to do that very effectively if we are constantly screaming “Girl power!” or “Men suck!” Because let’s be real for a minute; it’s not just men. There are just people in this world, men and women, who are making poor choices by disrespecting the opposite sex.

Even though I’m trying hard not to let time pass any faster than it has, I sometimes think about when Noah and Luke will be young men and want to ask girls out on dates. I am hopeful that I will be able to impress upon them the social graces to know to ask respectfully.  I also pray that they aren’t afraid to ask because of society trying so hard to emasculate them.

I was at a get-together just this weekend talking to a friend about all of this and she told me she has the same concerns for her kids. She said that her husband does the majority of the cooking and household tasks and she reminds her kids constantly that they have a very involved and helpful dad. This is what we need to be doing, ladies! While we all need a minute to vent about our husbands, let’s try harder to raise up these guys, especially to our children. And men, it helps if you give us reason to feel inspired to sing your praises.

The media is not ever going to be quick to report the happy news of the world. The most sensational, best-selling news stories are the ones that make your skin crawl. Thankfully, most young kids are not really watching the news as their window to the world. They are, however, watching us. So the responsibility falls on us as mothers and fathers to show our children the goodness in the world and it starts at home. We need to be loving to our spouses. We need to be fair to them. We need to stop passing blame and start taking responsibility for our part in it all. The score-keeping game that so many couples engage in is harmful not only to our marriages, but to our children’s perception of the world because we are shaping it right here, right now.

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I am so proud of my two little men. Let them be both kind and strong.

The Best Bucket Fillers I Know…

Frustrated by the layer of chaos accumulating on our dining room table turned collect-all-life’s-odds-and-ends holder, I began to make piles of the kids’ school work. I got to Grace’s pile and a lump formed in my throat. My boys’ papers are more refined, black and white, and resemble what you think of when you see “school work.” Grace’s papers are smudged with finger prints, paint, crayon doodles, and her name scrawled on the back of everything in big capital letters. I scooped up the mementos of her last year of preschool and took them to the basement to put them into a special box that I have for each of the kids’ most precious school work. And as I closed the lid, the tears started pouring down my face. My last baby is almost done with preschool.

As if this weren’t sad enough, we will also be saying so long to two of the best human beings I have ever had the honor of calling my children’s teachers since we have no more kids going through the school after Grace. Mrs. Leslie and Mrs. Shannon have been a shining light in our kids’ education. I know it’s just “preschool,” to some, but they have set a foundation for our kids teaching them so many of the basics like writing their names, counting, sorting and pre-reading but more importantly, what it means to follow directions, how to be “bucket-fillers”–how to be a friend to all.

I cannot believe after this month we will be parting ways and never again will I see Ms. Shannon’s beaming smile from the drop-off door or hear Mrs. Leslie singing the line-up song to our kids. We won’t have another Muffins for Moms day or field trip to Turtle Creek. I know we have so many other wonderful memories ahead of us, but these years with our kids’ in Mrs. Leslie and Mrs. Shannon’s class were magical (Oh! And Mrs. Candice when you subbed too!).

I just wanted to take a moment to say a special thank you to you on Teacher Appreciation day and to tell you, there should really be Exemplary Human Appreciation Day where you are the standard. We will always hold a special place in our hearts for you. So if you see me burst into tears on May 23, I hope you know,

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it’s not just about my baby growing up. You will be missed greatly! But I know your future students will love you just as much as we do.

I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now…

As wedding season is upon us, and I happen to personally know a few couples whose marriages are ending, I’ve been feeling very introspective about all of this marriage business.
When Scott and I went through our marriage prep classes, I thought I understood what “weathering difficult times“ meant. I anticipated arguments about who did the dishes last, why the house is so messy, or where did all the all the money go? What I did not understand yet were the arguments about feeling unappreciated. The arguments about feeling invalidated. I didn’t understand how being married to the person that you love, that you could ever feel alone even when you’re in the same room or how you could feel invisible for weeks at a time.
There are arguments we’ve had when I felt like I didn’t even know the person standing opposite of me. His face wasn’t the Scott I knew, but a stranger’s. How could that be the man I promised my life to? And I’m sure he has thought, “Who is this psychopath that I sleep next to?”
So why do it? Why even get mixed up in such messy business as holy matrimony? It’s definitely a lot of trouble and requires compromise to the point that you’re not even sure of what you wanted in the first place. Staying single, or becoming single again, you can live your life on your own terms, guilt free.
Now here is the truth, many days I don’t know why we stay married. I’d like to say it’s love more than an obligation or commitment, but I don’t know that it’s that simple. So I can understand why some people decide to call it quits. If you don’t have it in you to give your all and then a little more, then you’re done.
I think it’s actually that thing I’m always coming back to: Grace. I pray for my best efforts to be enough every day and somehow they are but it’s actually because of grace. It’s because what I bring to our marriage will actually never be enough, but grace makes it enough. The score will never be tied with any couple. One will always do something more or less than the other. I will always tell Scott I love him more than he tells me, but he will always be more financially responsible for us. I will always care less about how clean the floors are but he will always worry less about all the what ifs of life.
It’s our grace that we give to each other that keeps us waking up ready to make the same commitment. It’s never going to look perfect. In fact it’s usually ugly. We’ve both done so much to break this thing. But here we are, bruised and broken, but full of grace for one another.
I’ve often heard people say that raising kids is the hardest job there is. I would argue that it’s actually staying married because you will always be willing to forgive your kids. You will love them unconditionally. It takes a lot more effort to love your spouse that way. You never loved them as an innocent baby. They are not your flesh and blood. It is more work to dig deep and find that motivation to keep going when every fiber of your being is asking “Why? What’s in this for me?”
So if you’re thinking of taking that leap into the unknown, to buy the rings and register for some fancy dishes, those things are your consolation prize for the most difficult journey you’ve ever embarked on. You should know that it’s going to be messy. Bru

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“Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.” In other words, the imperfection makes the piece more beautiful.

tally messy. That island of plastic garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean will actually look more appealing some days. But out of it comes the most beautiful imperfect kind of love you will ever know. It’s full of holes and cracks. But it can be solid and true if you give it grace.

Oops. Your Insecurity is Showing.

When I was a little girl, I remember thinking grown ups were so put-together and self-assured. They never feel unsure of what they’re doing. Everyone thinks they’re great. They say things that make each other laugh and can even throw in the occasional swear word and it makes it even funnier! I distinctly remember believing that all of my life’s problems would be solved when I became an adult. I would never feel vulnerable or insecure again.

I’m thirty-six. I’m still waiting for that day to come.

Not only has it never come, if anything, I feel even more exposed and vulnerable most of the time (except after I have a “silly drink” or two, as my kids call them. I am suddenly hilarious and use only the best words;  I know I am a grown up. Until the buzz wears off and I’m then analyzing every syllable I uttered while I was fuzzy in the head and feel so much less than I did before the silly drinks were consumed. Then there is usually a day or so of self-loathing to follow and I determine it will be best for everyone if I never have a “silly drink” again).

So I was discussing this whole insecurity thing with a friend. She was describing how her insecurity kicks into high gear when she is forced into situations requiring her to engage in conversations with other moms in public settings, particularly moms she has never met before. “Being a mom is so messy and you are so exposed…at the park, at school, at home…Mom on display and there is just so much pressure…it’s all fumbly and weird.”

YES! That’s it! It’s so fumbly and so weird (I told you I was going to use it, Jenny)! I’m in the adult version of being stuck on a bike without training wheels and I just can’t seem to find my balance, forever and ever, Amen.

But I DO see these other moms, dads, people resembling adults and they have it down. They are riding a two-wheeler, popping wheelies in the gravel, making it look so effortless and cool. Meanwhile, I’m praying Noah won’t forget another homework assignment this week which in reality I threw out by accident and is now covered by a pile of onion peels. And please, dear God, I hope none of the parents saw me getting pulled over today after dropping Grace off at preschool going 50 in a 35. Does the incompetence ever end? Sadly, I think not.

But what’s more incredible is, with the exception of a few dazzling people in this world who never doubt their ability, MOST of us are feeling like we’re falling off the bike all day long.

My wonderful friend Jenny reminded me of something so important last night, though. So you can thank her for the inspiration for all of this: “God sees you and he knows your heart. He loves you and is someone you can laugh about all these things to. It’s just part of being in a world with too many humans…Being a mom is like gold being tested in fire. It’s changing us. If nothing else, to remind us that we are not in control and we have no choice but to put one foot in front of the other and soldier on.”

I know. You probably want to be friends with Jenny, too. She drops these truth bombs on me all the time. She helps me to see this parenting business with so much GRACE. And that is what we need to do. Put on the “Grace Goggles.” Dust off the lenses and SEE so clearly, we’re all just doing the best we can. And it really is enough, onion scented homework and traffic violations aside.

And sometimes we’re doing amazing and we still think it’s not good enough! Case and point, my profound friend rattled off an apology text after her last one saying that, “it probably didn’t make much sense” and “it’s late and sorry for the novel…”

…Um…that made more sense to me and spoke to me more clearly than anything anyone has said to me in weeks. Jenny, Mom of four, who moved her family across the country, during Christmas, while pregnant, and manages to make time for midnight therapy sessions for me, you’re my personal hero.

And I know if we all knew how much we we’re all dealing with that we never talk about on our Facebook highlight reel, we’d all have so much respect and genuine admiration for one another. But I’m telling you all right now, YOU’RE DOING GREAT. We all need to stop the self-deprecation and realize we’re doing our best and as long as we don’t stop trying, we can only get better.

Well, I’m off to pick up the kids at school. And don’t worry, if I see you pulled over by the officer on Cooley Lake Rd, I’ll salute you. I know how it happened. You’re just rushing to be enough for today.

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This is Jenny. ❤

Bringing Heaven to Earth

Scientists think they have discovered a key to the secret to living a long life. They studied the lives of dozens of people who had lived to the age of 100 or more. They were trying to find clues linking behavior or lifestyle choices to longevity. Their studies left many surprised. The people in the study weren’t major health fanatics. They weren’t all vegetarians or non-drinkers. Some had smoked cigarettes for periods of their lives. Their parents had died at average ages, so it wasn’t genetics. They weren’t into exercising consistently. But the one thing that almost all of them had in common was a tight circle of friends, a support system throughout their lives. The people in those circles probably changed at various points in their lives, but they always had people to lean on, people who depended on them.
We live in a time when we can still feel lonely despite the presence of social media or the ability to call a person on any part of the globe and be connected to them in a matter of seconds. Now more than ever, we are overwhelmingly aware of what is going on in one another’s lives. We know everything from what our co-worker had for dinner to the gender of a new baby born hours before. So how can this epitomize a world of people who feel depressed and alone?
Because in a world where we constantly have a screen open for all the world to see “our lives”, what we are hiding or not being shown by others is the suffering, the inadequacy, the loneliness that every single one of us feels when we compare our imperfect story to someone else’s highlight reel. We have lost touch with the thing that makes us most beautiful: Our souls.
I’ve said it before but I think it bears repeating: We are not physical beings trying to live a spiritual life. We are spiritual beings living a physical life. Our spirits, or souls, are TRULY who we are. I’m NOT my gray hair, my crow’s feet, my scars, my self-centeredness, my fears, or my failings as a human being. I am impeca5d0e52857814c27524c24146f2e672rfect, but I am so much more than my short-comings. I am a soul, created by the highest power. All of us are. The ugliest, clumsiest, saddest ones of us are all made by the One. We are most greatly affected by the energy of other souls. We thrive on positive energy and are destroyed by negativity. If we surround ourselves with good, if we channel our thoughts toward gratitude and focus on our blessings and not the things we do not have, our lives are full of light, joy, and love.
I heard something not long ago that made me pause. Jesus didn’t come to earth to help us get to heaven. Jesus came here to help us bring heaven to earth. If I’m being honest, humanity is screwing it up badly right now.
Nikolas Cruz is a 19-year-old boy who will live the rest of his days in infamy. He killed seventeen people and injured many others. I keep hearing these stories and always amidst my tears and anger, come back to the simple question of, “Why does this keep happening?” I wanted to learn about Nikolas. People kept saying there were red flags. But when did they start popping up? Was he always a troubled person? I found out he was adopted. His adoptive parents are both now deceased, his mother very recently, in fact. He had been living with a friend when he committed the shootings.
But here is where I am stuck: He was once a child. He probably made animals out of hand prints just like my kids have. He probably passed out paper Valentine cards to his friends in grade school. He probably lived a normal kid’s life at one point. His younger brother lived the same life. Why didn’t he react the way Nikolas did?
What happens for a baby to grow into a killer? How does a person snap? How does a person become so broken that they think taking a life (or lives in this case) will be the answer? Several accounts of people interviewed about Nikolas said he seemed lonely, that it may have been his mother’s death in November that exacerbated the situation. But there is that word again: LONELY. Alone. In this world, how can a person ever feel alone? We can’t escape people if we try! I’m not saying Nikolas couldn’t feel lonely, I’m asking why he did. There are support groups all over social media to help people going through trauma. Why didn’t those help?
Because we have lost the true connection to one another and to ourselves. In our world, people try make that connection with things. Elaborate parties, clothes, food, money, drugs, alcohol, sex, fame, greed, anger, violence, and worse. And when we realize it’s love we need most of all, we don’t know where to look for that because everything is so fake and hollow. Having a real conversation with a compassionate, breathing human being seems far-fetched.
My kids have this book called, “You Are Special,” by Max Lucado. If I could afford to buy every person in this world a copy, I would. It’s a parable about these wooden people, the Wemmicks. They go around sticking dots on each other for their imperfections. They also put stars on the ones who are beautiful or talented. Punchinello is one of the wooden people with many dots. He is ashamed and only spends time with Wemmicks who are flawed like him. One day he meets a Wemmick named Lucia who has no dots or stars stuck to her. Curious, he asks her why and she tells him to go talk to Eli, the one who made them. So Punchinello goes to Eli. He tells Punchinello that the stars and dots don’t stick to Lucia because she has learned and believes that it doesn’t matter what the other Wemmicks think of her. She has faith in Eli’s love alone. She goes to see Eli every day and he reminds her that he loves her and he doesn’t make junk. So she believes in herself. Her faith is a sort of protective armor from the opinions of others. Eli tells Punchinello to do the same and the moment he starts to believe it, one of his dots falls off.
It’s a children’s story. But it speaks to me so much that I am always crying by the last page and my kids are laughing at me. But it’s a moral for all of us: God is here all the time. He’s waiting for us to turn off our screens and to stop passing judgement on ourselves and each other. He’s in our hearts. He’s begging us to listen and to be there for one another.
God is shouting to us from the lonely kid in the cafeteria wanting nothing more than a friend. God is calling to us from the nursing home where our elderly, alone and forgotten, are just waiting to leave this world. God is with the poor man I saw on the side of the road last week, standing in the snow holding a sign that said, “Even a smile will help.” God is begging for us to hear him and see him again, not in a blaze of light or an apocalyptic event, but in simple opportunities for kindness toward each other.
Even if you’re not Catholic, or if you don’t celebrate Lent, I am asking if you would do something for forty days. Maybe it will be a habit that lasts longer. I tell my kids all the time, Lent isn’t only about sacrifice. It can also be adding something positive to your life. Every day, just do one random act of kindness. It doesn’t have to be something big. As the homeless man pointed out, even a smile can help. It all has a ripple effect. And who knows, your smile could literally change the world.

Good Old Sparkie’s

Last night we ate at a restaurant the kids have never been to before, Sparkie’s.  We rarely go out to dinner but Scott and I are trying to bolster our kids’ confidence and one simple way that was suggested to us is by allowing them to order their own food when we go out to eat. Plus, I was not in the mood to cook after being away from home most of the day. Scott suggested Sparkie’s because we were all a little burnt out on our usual spots. The kids loved it and were so excited to be somewhere new. They were commenting on the nice booths and Grace even let us know “The bathrooms are really cool!” We might need to get out more…

We were drawing pictures on the backs of the kids’ place mats, waiting for our food when Noah announced, “Someday  I will move out and live in an apartment. Probably when I go to college.” I honestly couldn’t reconstruct the details of the conversation that lead to that declaration of independence, but I saw Scott’s head snap in Noah’s direction right along with mine. Noah is nine. How in the world he’s already thinking about such things is beyond me.

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The three amigos during a recent visit to Florida. Grace’s diva pose is something new.

Grace weighed in on Noah’s plans with “You can get a puppy and I will come visit you!” as if this was obviously the sort of dinner conversation people have with their elementary-school-aged kids.

“Whoa! Whoa! Pump the breaks!” I looked at Noah who was smiling broadly back at me.

“What?” he asked feigning innocence as he pushed his glasses back on his nose by wrinkling his face to one side. Scott and I looked at each other both thinly suppressing laughter.

Scott said, “Let’s just get you through grade school first.”

“Won’t you miss us?” I asked playing along. I felt a nudge from my left side where Luke had all but melted under the table, his round eyes swimming with tears peeking over the edge.

“Luke what’s the matter?” I asked him. But I already knew. Luke, my sensitive kid, was fast-forwarding to how it would be when they grow up and move away. “Luke, you can stay with Dad and me as long as you want. Is that what’s bothering you?”

He managed a small nod, determined not to let those tears fall past his eyes. “And I’ll miss Noah,” he whispered. And there was the simple truth. Our kids really do love each other. Despite all their bickering and squabbles, they are best friends.

Anyway, it all got me thinking about our kids on a much deeper level. The fact that Noah has these kinds of aspirations shows me that they are becoming themselves, not just our children, but the people who they are intended to be. So often I think of the kids as being “ours.” But they really aren’t, at least not in a sense of ownership. We care for them and make sure we meet their needs as well as providing a framework for living a moral life. But the fact is, they belong to God. We are just taking care of them until they can take care of themselves.

And this is why I am so glad they have each other. I know siblings don’t always stay close, but even if they drift in life, they will at least have Scott and me in common. Their memories will have us in the background and that is something that only they will share.

It amazes me because there was a brief moment after Noah was born when I thought I would not want to have other kids. I was not one of those pregnant women who basked in the glow of pregnancy bliss. I was sick and gray well past the twenty-week mark and even my birth plan had gone awry resulting in an emergency c-section. I remember thinking it was probably a mistake for me to become a mother. I was too selfish, after all. I thought the worst thing I could do was have another.

But Luke had other plans for me, announcing his existence one early-September day when Noah was about ten months old and I was wondering why I felt so tired and nauseous. I am ashamed to say, my initial reaction wasn’t one so much of joy, but more of annoyance. I had just been through this! How could it be happening again? Well, of course I knew how, but I didn’t understand why. Hadn’t God and I sorted this out? I was a mediocre mom at best. I hadn’t quite stopped lamenting my inability to sleep an uninterrupted seven hours of sleep a night or go to concerts on weeknights as I did pre-children. I didn’t live for play-dates and the thought of quitting my job gave me a minor panic attack since we wouldn’t be able to afford daycare for two kids.

But Luke came right on schedule in May of the following year. And even though those early days of having two children are a fog of delirium (I literally hallucinated Batman was coming in through the nursery window one night in June after Luke was born), I know Noah and Luke were best friends from the second they met each other. They even coordinated a plan to help me lose my mind entirely by plotting to have Luke take his first steps the same day I was determined to potty-train Noah. So I chased them around for three days, trying to throw the potty chair under Noah while preventing Luke from getting a concussion on walls and furniture.

And then, I thought having such a tidy, two-child family was far too “normal,” so we threw everything off balance by trying for a third kid and wound up with Grace. In truth, the boys couldn’t have gotten a better little sister. She is down for anything that they throw at her. I still remember her humming the Imperial March song from Star Wars over the baby monitor when the boys were at the height of their Star Wars obsession and she was about two years old.

So last night I looked around our table at my family with a tender heart. This Saturday night was one I never would have pictured ten years ago when Scott and I used to go there as a newly married couple; Noah gushing praise over Sparkie’s exquisite mac n’ cheese recipe, Luke wiping ketchup from his mouth with the back of his hand, and Grace stabbing her bun-less hamburger with a fork while smiling about something Scott had just said. I felt humbled and undeserving of so much good fortune.

I read a theory a while back that we actually choose who we get to spend life with before we come here. We choose each other to learn from, truths about our souls, that sort of thing. It’s as if Earth is one giant classroom. Every person in our lives is a lesson to be learned. And how deeply blessed I am that these souls chose me to be a part of their journey.