“I Put a Good End to That”

Raised voices, accusations, stomped feet, and then a slammed door; I could hear them arguing from the other room.

Knowing that this sounded like an argument that needed some mama-mediation, I left my cup of coffee and headed for their room. I could hear the tension and could feel the anger as I approached the slammed door war zone. But before I could knock, our middle child came out in a flurry of frustration.

Huffing and puffing, she breathed her anger out through her nose and out into the air.

“I’m just SO mad at him. He doesn’t even listen to me, and he always has to be right about what he is saying!!!” 

The tears were just beneath the surface, and I could see the tremble in her clenched hands. She was hot, and he was hotter.

Yelling through the door, I heard, “You don’t even listen to ME!!! You make me SOOOOO angry, Evie!!!”

Genuinely, I felt like I needed armor and maybe even a Nerf gun, or three. For reals though. Sibling arguments are NOT for the faint of heart OR for the impatient (of which I can boast of neither in the affirmative).

Taking a deep breath, I counted to three in my head and turned toward Evie (the one outside the door).

“Evie, what…”

But before I could finish my question, she said, “You know what? I know what I need to do. I need to put an end to this.” 

Fearing the worst (because seriously, what kind of “end” was she planning for him???), I asked, “What do you mean, sweetheart?”

“I need to stop arguing, mommy, and I just need to put an end to our anger. I need to apologize and stop all of this.”

As she turned, my eyes welled and my heart grew. I was SO proud of her maturity, and I was incredibly encouraged by her humility; growth was happening in her heart, and I could see the Spirit at work within hers. But within seconds of feeling “ALL THE GREAT THINGS,” I heard our oldest yell (from behind the door), “I’m never talking to you again!!!”

Stopping smack in her tracks, the tears immediately spilled onto her cheeks as she stood behind the closed door, looking at me.

Man alive, Mama Bear wanted to go into that room and rip him a new one. I wanted to protect her pride; I wanted to fight for her; and I wanted to humble him in the process.

But I didn’t.

I looked at her with steady and even eyes and I simply said, “Evie, if the Spirit is nudging you to do the right thing, then follow through. He’ll take care of the response, sweet girl, but you are responsible for your heart.” 

With a resolute but gentle look in her eye, she turned and opened the door.  And in the quietest, most humble voice, she said, “Caden, I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight with you, and I don’t want to continue this. I’m sorry for my part.”

Peering around the corner with held breath, I saw his face-armor immediately fall.

With stunned eyes the size of a Texas pancake and a tender softness that is not typical of our boy, he looked at her and said, “I forgive you, and I’m sorry, too. I was also wrong for yelling and responding in anger. Will you forgive me?”

“Yes, I forgive you, too.”

Leaving the room to give space for continued cooling, she came out to find me. But before she could open her mouth, I gathered her into my arms and said, “Evie, I’m so grateful that you followed the Spirit. I know we’re not always guaranteed a good response here on earth, but God is always honored by our humble obedience.”

With a huge smile, she simply said, “I’m glad I put a good end to that.” 

“Me too, sweet girl. Me too.”

As I thought about the events of the afternoon and replayed them in my head, the words of Proverbs 15:1 came to mind.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Wasn’t that exactly what had happened?!?!

In the face of anger, she chose softness and in the face of wrath, she chose humility. Instead of stirring the pot and stoking the fire, she cooled the fire and slowed the boil.

And the outcome?

Wrath was turned away and anger was stifled.

Now I realize that this isn’t always the case with every person and every scenario (there’s always two parties involved and not every party is always willing), but I wonder how many times we miss this “being the case” because we never even give it a try.

I wonder if our anger burns so quick and so hot that we miss the opportunity to cool the fire. I wonder if our fears about their response gets in the way of our gentle attempts. I wonder if our pride blocks out the nudges of His voice. Goodness, I wonder if our own wounds get in the way of our willing obedience.

Whatever the case and whatever the reasons, we’ve all been there. More often that not and more times than we like, our anger has been stirred and our wrath has been raised.

But what would happen if we were quicker to lay down our arrows?

What would possibly heal if we were willing to let go of our own wounded pride and acknowledge our part?

Goodness, what holiness might come from “putting an end” to our anger and choosing gentleness instead?

Friends, there’s no guarantee to the outcome and no assurance of a reciprocated response, but might I suggest that humble obedience (in the face of anger) is always the reward?

I don’t know what anger you’re facing, what anger you’re stoking, or what anger you’re nursing, but I pray that with the empowerment of the Spirit, you will mimic the footsteps of the five year-old (and of our heavenly Father) and “put a good end to that.”

But now you must PUT THEM ALL AWAY: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

PUT ON THEN, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:8, 12-13

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Rescued Hearts and a Surgeon-Savior

Dear Superman,

Though it was hard to see then, I no longer question (not even for a second) the perfect timing of your open-heart surgery.

In the middle of a season that’s lauded to be the “happiest time of the year”–a season where tinsel, bows, and sparkly ornaments adorn the brightly-lit trees in our living rooms–you were being taken to the Operating Room. With a different set of lights and a sterile room adorned with shiny, medical instruments, you spent the day of December 20th, 2018 under the surgeon’s scalpel.

It wasn’t “holly,” and it certainly didn’t feel “jolly.”

It was a somber time, an anxious time. It was riddled with tension and tears, and a bunch of whispered fears. It was both unknown and scary; and yet it was the very thing your heart needed.

I remember the deep sobs that came out of me when they took you from my arms around 1 o’clock that afternoon; I remember stumbling in my thoughts and speech as I tried to recall the numbers of my cell phone when the waiting room receptionist asked me for a number to reach us; and I remember the chaos of the waiting room as we waited and waited.

Goodness, how we were waiting for GOOD NEWS. 

The minutes were long and yet somehow the hours flew as we waited for each and every update.

At around 4 o’clock, they notified us that you were tolerating anesthesia well, and they had begun the bypass machine.

At around 6 o’clock, they told us that they had located the hole in your heart and were working to add the bovine mesh.

At around 7 o’clock, they reported that they had taken you off bypass and were conducting an MRI to review the attempted repairs and look for any other problematic areas.

Oh, how we longed to hear that your heart had been repaired! 

At around 8 o’clock, we were called behind a curtain.

With a big and tired smile on his face, the surgeon shared the outcome of the surgery.

“I was able to seal the large VSD, and I was also able to take care of another minor VSD that I found during surgery. The electrical functioning of his heart looks great; he has been extubated and is breathing on his own; and he is coming out of anesthesia like a champ.”

That string of sentences was such beautiful music to our ears.

The surgeon was done;

the surgery was successful;

and your heart had been rescued. 

As we entered your Cardiac ICU room close to 9 o’clock that night, I saw colored wires; I saw busy nurses; and I saw brightly-lit machines.

But do you know what else I saw, buddy?

I SAW CHRISTMAS. 

In the middle of that room, lay a soul whose broken heart was repaired…whose needy heart was rescued.

Not because you earned it. Not because you achieved it. But because you NEEDED it.

In the middle of your need, a surgeon came in and did a work that you couldn’t have done on your own.

Buddy, that’s Christmas.

Though you were born with a medical diagnosis of Double Outlet Right Ventricle with a VSD, each and every one of us was also born with a diagnosed, heart condition.

Sin was the diagnosis and the prognosis was death, and we needed a heart-surgeon too.

But more than an earthly repair, we needed an eternal redemption. And more than a surgeon, we needed a Savior.

In the middle of our brokenness and in the midst of our neediness, we needed the Good News of a Savior who was not only capable of rescuing hearts, but a Savior who could also conquer death.

So on the one-year anniversary of your successful heart surgery, I thought I would write about Christmas. Because son, your earthly story (in so many ways) so beautifully reflects our heavenly one. And though we celebrate and rejoice in the good news of your earthly, heart repair, we eagerly await the rescue of your eternal soul.

And may you always know (no matter where you find yourself in the Christmases to come) that Christmas will always be about the rescue of our hearts.

Love,

Mommy

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In the Middle of Our Bethlehems

The passage of Scripture was not new to me. Not new at all.  In fact, over the course of my life, I had probably read it and heard it, countless times before.

But last year, on December 17th, 2018, He met me in my dining room…8 days before Christmas. With the 2×4 of His timeless AND timely Truth, He hit my heart in a way that could only be described as Divine.

Sitting at my table with a heaviness in my heart, a weariness in my soul, and a burning, pine-scented candle before me, I cried and cried.

I was frustrated; I was tired; I was overwhelmed; and if I’m being honest, I was angry at our situation, the timing, and the very God who could have changed it all, but had chosen not to.

But before I share the words that changed the course of my heart in the days leading up to Christmas 2018, let me start by sharing a little back-story–a story that God had written from the foundations of the earth–but a story that began in March 2018 for our little family.

In the middle of March, I had received a placement call for a 7 day-old baby who needed a foster family. But since I was unable to get a hold of my husband and because they needed a quick and immediate answer, I had to say “no.” Three days later, they called a 2nd time and asked us to take this very-same baby boy because his other foster family was no longer willing to take him.

On the phone, they had informed me that he had a “minor heart defect” and was currently in the NICU for an indefinite and undetermined amount of time (it could be days, it could be weeks, it could be months). We thought deeply about this decision and painfully declined a 2nd time.

Because we weren’t sure we would be able to adequately care for the needs of this baby while also managing our jobs and two children at home (children who couldn’t come to the NICU with us), we decided to give room and space for another family to care for him.

Our hearts were heavy and confused as it seemed like the Lord was opening a door for us to take our 2nd foster placement only to close it not once, but TWICE. We had been trusting the Lord for the timing of our next foster placement…as only a couple months prior, we had said “goodbye” to our first, foster placement….but we continued to trust in the timing of God, knowing that He would open the door at just the right time. After two calls within one week and after saying “no” twice, I was almost sure that the door for loving this little boy had closed.

But not unlike many other times in my life, I was wrong.

On March 19th, we received a THIRD call from the case-worker asking us if we would (again) consider taking the same, little boy. Since he was being discharged that week and still hadn’t been placed with another family, they wanted to know if we would consider caring for him.

We didn’t consult long or labor over the decision because it truly seemed as if God had swung open the door (very WIDELY) and asked us to walk through it.

There are lots of memories we make during our lifetimes, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the evening that my husband and I walked into the NICU room and saw him lying there ( all alone) in that little bed.

With no nurses in his room and not a single set of arms to hold him, he lay there in the dark…swaddled in a blanket of white…with the grayest color of skin I have ever seen. His eyes were closed, and he looked so terribly vulnerable.

There were NO introductions, and there was NO fanfare.

This baby, lying alone, was waiting for our arms…or any arms for that matter. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I certainly had never experienced anything like it before.

Shortly after we had entered his room, a NICU nurse came into the room and quickly began briefing us on this baby boy, his current situation, and the medical needs and care he would require in the days ahead. I remember the bright lights, and I remember feeling like the floor was moving beneath my feet. I truly believe it was the grace of God and the power of His arm that kept me standing for those next hours.

With graphs, images, and medical terms beyond my comprehension, she began to share the specifics of his “minor heart defect.”

I remember the following snippets:
“He has an Aortic defect.”
“He has Double-Outlet Right Ventricle”
“He also has a hole in his heart called a VSD”
“That hole in his heart is helping to keep alive.”
“If he didn’t have that hole in his heart, his heart would have no ability to pump oxygenated blood back to his heart and body.”
“He is gray because his body has limited blood flow.”
“He is breathing heavily and quickly because he is not receiving adequate blood flow.”

On and on the information came.

He would go home on multiple medications that he would need multiple times a day. Regularly, we would need to monitor both his color and breathing. He would eventually need open-heart surgery and in the mean time, he would need to have very regular trips to a variety of specialists who would monitor his continued heart failure. The more and more she talked, the less and less it appeared to be a “minor thing.”

As I looked at this sweet, very sickly baby boy…a baby who was born a mere 4.2 lbs with a hole in his heart…I had a hard time reconciling that the very next day, we would come back to the hospital; we would pick up this fragile, little life; we would buckle him into his car seat; and we would bring him into our home and hearts for however long that would be.

And if I am being a bazillion percent honest, I was scared. REAL SCARED.

What had we done?
What had we committed to?
How would we do it?
Could we do it?
Did we even want to do it?

The fears swirled as fast as the questions came.

And if I had only known THEN what would come down the pike in the months to come, I am ashamed to admit it…I would have probably run. Because the next 10 months were some of the hardest, scariest, most painful, unknown, and out-of-control months of my 36 years of life.

Pediatrician appointments, blood draws, virus scans, ultrasounds, EKGs, OT and PT home evaluations, cardiologists, trips to the pharmacy, phone calls, weekly weigh-in’s, and medication logs on top of laundry, bottles, midnight feedings, 3 AM feedings, diaper changes, baby baths, and all the other things that come with normal, newborn territory.

We saw a Neuro-Surgeon; we saw Dieticians; we saw an Infectious Disease Doctor; we saw a Cardiologist team; we saw an ENT Specialist; we saw Development Specialists; we saw a Genetics Specialist; and we saw a Pediatric Thoracic Surgeon.

We had a sleep study, a helmet consultation, a tongue-tie clip, ultrasounds, MRIs, and a myriad of other assessments and evaluations to rule out infectious diseases, potential jaw surgery, Spina Bifida, and a Genetic disorder.

For 10 months, I LIVED AT THE HOSPITAL.

And on top of it all, his birth parents were involved every single step of the way (which is a beautiful, painful, and very messy story for another day). It was a physically exhausting, emotionally draining, mentally numbing, spiritually-testing journey.

There were highs and lows, blessings and struggles, and everything in between. As our old friend, Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”

So when we got to October of 2018 and were finally given a date for his open-heart surgery, we were both exhausted and relieved.

It seems weird to think that we were eagerly awaiting a date for them to cut open his little chest, but OUR hearts ached for HIS. It was a long and dicey wait, so we were thrilled to circle November 12th on our calendars.

But on November 9th, only 3 days before his scheduled surgery date, he came down with a cold.

He hadn’t had a single cold the ENTIRE time we had had him (which was nothing less than a miracle), but after doing a blood draw during his Pre-Op testing, they found that he tested positive for the Rhino Virus. Since the doctors wanted to make sure that he was in the best of health in order to ensure the best-possible surgery and recovery outcome, they called us on Saturday night and told us that we would need to reschedule.

We understood, but we were bummed and disappointed.

As I made the call to reschedule, the scheduler informed me that due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the surgeon would be taking some time off and that we could reschedule for the first, available appointment which would be Friday, December 14th.

More than a month later?! What?! How long could this little boy continue like this? He wasn’t eating well because he couldn’t breathe well and because he couldn’t eat well, he was beginning to lose weight. He NEEDED this surgery. WE NEEDED this surgery.

I am sure she heard the disappointment in my voice as I confirmed the new appointment.

As I got off the phone and relayed the information to my husband, I remember my Polly-Anna self saying, “Well, at LEAST we’ll probably be out in time for Christmas!”

The doctors had suggested that if everything went as planned, he would probably be in the hospital for 7-10 days. December 14th would be cutting it close, but hopefully…we’d be snuggled at home on Christmas Eve with footie jammies, hot chocolates, and presents around the tree. I was hopeful.

In the next month, we worked hard to (again) rearrange our work schedules and to secure care for our two oldest while we’d be gone in the hospital. We rescheduled our Pre-Op testing, re-secured the Ronald McDonald house, and worked ahead to wrap the presents and do ALL THE THINGS so that we could have our “NORMAL CHRISTMAS.”

So when December 13th came and the 2nd round of pre-op testing was over, we were thrilled. WHEW!

In less than 18 hours, our little guy would be in the OR!

I remember breathing such a deep sigh of relief as we pulled out of the hospital parking garage and headed to our hotel.Truly, it felt like the burden of the last months was finally lifting.

Stopping for a celebratory meal and for some last-minute Christmas shopping, we excitedly texted our family and friends.

We were ELATED. Finally, the time had COME!

But sometime between responding to a text and purchasing some tea for my mother-in-law, my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but it appeared to be a Cincinnati number. Quickly, I answered.

“Mrs. Buczek, I am so very sorry to tell you this, as I know you just finished the 3 hours of pre-op testing for the 2nd time, but the heart surgery has been canceled for tomorrow and bumped again. The earliest we could get him in would be December 20th. If not, we would need to push the surgery out until the middle of January.”

I don’t remember how I remained standing as she talked, but I did. And I have no idea how the tears stayed silent, but they did.

EVERYTHING WAS NUMB.

Hanging up the phone, I left the tea shoppe and went to find my husband. As soon as I found him, I burst into tears. Recounting the phone call, I sobbed and sobbed between the bits of information.

“Babe, I don’t think he can wait any longer. I think we need to schedule on the 20th.” I knew he was right and yet NO part of my heart wanted to agree.

Through blinding tears and a mob of people, I kept asking, “But what about our Christmas? What about OUR Christmas? I don’t want to be in the hospital (away from our children) on Christmas. I don’t want to do this!”

My tired and exhausted self continued to rant in my head and rave in my heart.

“This sacrifice is too much, God! TOO much! Haven’t we given enough? Why this? Why then? WHY?!?!?”

I wanted to be dancing to Christmas music and clinking mugs of hot chocolate…not sitting in a surgery waiting room!

I wanted to be slowly and intentionally counting down to Christmas in the confines of my cozy home…not living out of a suitcase and eating from a hospital cafeteria!!!

I wanted to be decorating gingerbread houses in Christmas jammies and wrapping last-minute gifts…not huddled over a baby swaddled in ICU clothes and lying in a hospital bed!

Apart from my internal pity party, I don’t remember a whole lot about that drive home from Cincinnati but by the time we had arrived home…I had bitten all my fingernails off and my face was a mess of blotchy red and runny mascara. I was both DONE and UN-DONE.

The days between December 13th and December 17th are both a mental and emotional blur to me, but I can distinctly remember that afternoon at my dining room table. Do you remember? When the Lord met me at my dining room table?

As I read from Luke, chapter 2…the familiar words hit the deepest parts of my tired soul.

“And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son…”

Did you catch that?

While they were THERE, the time came for her…

Now listen, if God could bring about a miraculous virgin birth, then I believe He was more than able to control the timing of those contractions.

He knew the time; He knew the journey; and He knew the place.

HE KNEW.

And not just an “Oh, I saw that coming” kind of way. NO. He pre-planned it. Like from the beginning of time, HE KNEW.

700 years before the birth of Christ, Micah prophesies and says in Micah 5:2, “But you, O Bethlehem, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from days of old, from ancient days.”

God had big plans to use that little, unlikely town to fulfill His promise. BIG PLANS. And so because He chose Bethlehem as the birthing spot, He knew it would be THERE.

But what about Mary???

How did she feel when she was told that she had to load up, pack up, and head to Bethlehem?

How did she feel when she knew that a 90 mile journey was ahead of her?

How did she feel about leaving the comforts of her home and hittin’ the road on a camel, a donkey, or on her swollen feet (Scripture doesn’t say how she traveled).

How did she feel about taking that journey with a full uterus and a bulging belly?

Now clearly, I’m not Mary, but can we just imagine for a second and ponder for just a moment?

Isn’t it possible that Mary would have wanted to be in the cozy confines of her home (near family and friends) when she gave birth?

Isn’t it possible that she was already “nesting” in preparation for her Savior-son to be born?

Isn’t it entirely possible that she never, ever intended to give birth after a terribly long road trip that would require her to not only pay taxes, but then also give birth where an animal manger was present?

Again, I don’t know how she felt, and I have no clue what she was thinking. But whatever the case, she submitted her will to His and did exactly what she already committed to do in Luke 1:38 when she told the Angel of the Lord, “…I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Even in the midst of her not knowing, she trusted that HE did.

Again, maybe it wasn’t a struggle for Mary to pack up and head to Bethlehem with a baby in womb (maybe I’ll ask her when I get to heaven), but I think it’s safe to say that none of her journey was expected or went as she had planned.

A virgin birth? A manger? Visiting Shepherds?

A son that would die for her and the rest of the world?

I don’t imagine that this is what Mary had envisioned, and I scarcely believe that ANY of that was “in her plan” when she fell in love with Joseph, the wood-working man born in Bethlehem.

So as I sat at my dining room table, reading this passage with fresh eyes and a tender heart, I could feel the Lord stirring in the confines of my soul.

Jessica, I know it wasn’t in your plans to potentially be in the hospital on Christmas Day with a foster son recovering from open-heart surgery, but can you trust that I KNOW?

I know you didn’t plan to be surrounded by beeping machines, cords and wires, difficult birth parents, and a slew of nurses coming in and out with pain meds. But can you rest in believing that I have a good and perfect plan that was known before you even breathed your first breath of air?

I know none of this was on your timeline and on your agenda, but can you submit to the journey, trusting that I lead as an all-knowing Father? Can you trust that I KNEW even if you didn’t?

Oh, how I longed to echo the words of Mary. “…I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your PLANS, not mine.”

How about YOU? Where do you find yourself this Christmas?

Are things going as you have planned, or as you desired? Or does this year feel more messy than merry? Or maybe more broken than bright?

Maybe you find yourself entering this Christmas season with weakened health, a job loss, or bills that are greater than your bank account.

Maybe this is your first year (around the tree) without your loved one, or maybe one of your loved ones has been given months to live.

Maybe your marriage is falling apart, maybe your aging parent is struggling, or maybe you have a prodigal child who won’t be at the table this year.

Maybe this is your first Christmas as empty-nesters, maybe you’ll be alone (again) at all the Christmas parties this year, or maybe depression and anxiety has followed you into the holiday season…once again.

Maybe your friendships are struggling, maybe your faith is being tested, and maybe you’re dreading the year of 2020.

Whatever is happening that may or may not be a part of YOUR plans, may I encourage you to remember that from the beginning of time, He KNEW exactly where you’d be and what you’d be facing on Christmas of 2019.

That first Christmas (over 2000 years ago) may not have gone as Mary had planned or desired, but it went exactly as God had planned. At just the right time, in just the right place…God entered into the middle of our mess and into the brokenness of our world. IMMANUEL (God WITH us) came in the form of a baby.

Where?
Right THERE. Right THEN.

In the middle of Bethlehem, He came. And in the middle of our Brokenness, He STILL comes.

He came for our sadness; He came for our anger; and He came for our hurt.

He came because of the disappointments; He came because of the difficult; and He came because things in this world aren’t as HE had planned.

He didn’t come because our lives were “put together” or because our plans were “perfect.” No. He came because none of us are put-together and nothing is perfect…and never would be, apart from Him.

He came for ALL kinds of busted plans and broken hearts; He came because we needed rescue; and He came because NO earthly Christmas would ever be perfect WITHOUT the hope of heaven.

He came for all the babies with all the broken hearts because He WAS the baby with the PERFECT heart.

THIS is precisely why He came.

Oh, how I wish I could wrap up your Christmas 2019 season with a big-happy bow…a life filled with comforts and ease and a holiday season where everything is MERRY and BRIGHT, but I can’t.

AND YET…

I can point your hearts to the one who CAN and WILL. Because one day, He will gather up all of His grace-saved children and bring them home to heaven–a place where EVERY day is perfect, ALL plans are perfected, and where EVERY day is a CHRIST-centered Christmas.

But until then, I pray that you will know Him, that you will continually learn to trust HIS plans even when yours differ, and to echo the words of Mary, “…I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to YOUR word.”

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“Sometimes You Put the Pain on Daddy.”

There’s a whole lot I don’t know about parenting, but if there is one thing I’m willing to stake my claim on, it’s this:

We are going to hurt our kids. 

And this is the very reason I didn’t want to have kids in the first place. Genuinely.

I remember as a newly pregnant mama, I’d be asked often, “Are you excited?” And though I truly wanted to answer with an emphatic “absolute yes” with no reservation, I never could. In fact, more often than not, I would say something along the lines of, “Yes, but if I’m being honest, I’m also afraid that I’m going to hurt them.”

It was an honest answer AND an awkward answer, but it was my very-real, ever-near fear.

I knew I was a fallen soul who has broken tendencies;

I knew I was an imperfect follower who doesn’t perfectly love;

I knew I was a sinner who was capable of hurting others; and

And I knew that I couldn’t prevent my brokenness from hurting those who I desperately wanted to love.  

And though I knew (in my head) that this wasn’t a “good enough” reason to not rejoice over life, I knew it was “enough of a reason” to tremble at the task that lay ahead. And so before our firstborn came out of from the safety of my womb, I vowed in my heart that I would make a regular practice of allowing our kids to give us feedback about our strengths, our struggles, and our sins.

And so I have.

About every other month (since about the age of 3), I take some time and ask each of the big kids the following questions:

How am I loving you well? How have I hurt you? And how can I love you better? 

The answers have evolved over the years, but the questions and intent have not, and I pray it never does. With an open mind and a soft heart, I give them a space to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. And though these little souls are so gracious to focus on my strengths and highlight the kind parts of my behavior, they have also given me some much-needed feedback over the years.

Sometimes the feedback has convicted; sometimes the words have caused confession; and sometimes the conversations have brought about some healing changes. But more often than not, I’m not usually shocked by what they say. Sure, there have been some times where they have opened my eyes to my blind spots and sure, they have given me some new ideas for how to love them better or differently, but I’ve never really left a conversation feeling shocked. 

But about a week ago, I left shocked. 

I had taken Evie on a little date and while sipping on pumpkin lattes over a shared donut, I said, “So Evie. How am I loving you well? How have I hurt you? And how can I love you better?”

Immediately and very quickly, she rattled off a bullet list of positives. Quietly, she continued to munch on her sugar. Honestly, I kinda thought that the conversation was going to be short. She seemed done; she hadn’t shared anything constructive; and she didn’t appear to be super interested in the conversation. Pushing through the silence and the sprinkles that lay on the table in front of us, I asked, “Is there anything that I’ve done to hurt you recently? Anything that has made you feel unloved?”

“Well, sometimes you put the pain on Daddy.” 

Honestly, my brain couldn’t comprehend her words.

“What?”

“Sometimes you put the pain on Daddy.” And as she said the words again, she pushed her thumb into the table.

Now I was shocked by the thumb.

“What are you talking about?”

“I mean. You sometimes put the pain on him…like this.” Again, she pressed her thumb into the table.

Realizing that my heart didn’t feel all that soft in the moment and recognizing that the point of this was to HEAR and RECEIVE the feedback that I had always said I wanted, I took a deep breath (attempting to swallow my pride) and said, “Can you give me an example of what you mean?”

“Well, sometimes you speak in a mean tone to him.” 

“Since when did you become his protector?!?!?!” 

“Well maybe sometimes he needs to feel the pain, okay kid?!?!?!”

“What about his tone?!?! And his thumb-pressing pain?!?!?!” 

“Just wait until you are married, girlfriend!!!” 

“Oh. Okay. And that makes you feel unloved?”

Yeah. I don’t like when people say things that make people feel pain.” And again, she pressed her thumb into the table.

(The thumb felt like it was pressing itself into my proud soul)

I honestly feel like the Holy Spirit was the one to utter the words from my proud-filled, mama mouth. Because if I’m being real, my fallen self was having a REALLY HARD TIME mustering the strength to accept the truth of her words and the reality of her feelings. A REALLY HARD TIME. And though I wish I could tell you otherwise, I can’t. Because even though my mama-self was so fearful of hurting my kids with my sin, my sinful self was so unwilling to want to OWN IT. SOOOOO unwilling.

“That makes sense, sweet girl. That makes sense. (INSERT BREATHING PAUSE) Well…I’m sorry that my tone with daddy has sometimes made you feel unloved.  I can see why that would feel unloving to you. (ANOTHER HUMBLE SWALLOW) Sometimes mommy gets frustrated with daddy and you’re right…sometimes I don’t always use a very kind tone. I am sure that doesn’t feel loving to daddy either; I will work on that. Thank you for telling me that.”

You’re welcome!” 

And just like that, she had cheerily moved on to our board game.

But ya know what? I haven’t stopped thinking about that conversation since the day it happened. And the more I think about it, the more I’m thankful for it.

Why?

Because if we don’t give our kids (and others) an opportunity to hold up a mirror so we can see some of the broken blemishes and the sinful sags of our fallen faces, we can’t address those issues. And if we can’t address those issues, then we can’t change those behaviors. And if we can’t change and attend to those behaviors, then others will be (repetitively) hurt by our brokenness. And if we are repetitively hurting others without an attempt to address our JANKITY-JUNK, our relationships are bound to be broken, hurtful, and even damaging.

And ya know what?

Our pride isn’t worth that cost; it’s just not.

Intentionally and unintentionally, we are going to hurt our kids. At times, we are going to throw arrows and inflict wounds. And though we don’t like it or don’t want it, we are going to do it wrong, mess it up, and all the in-between. WE WILL.

The hard-fast truth is that we aren’t going to be perfect because we can’t be and because we can’t be, we must confess, repent, ask for grace, and then REPEAT. And not just from our kids, but from our Savior. 

Friends, the Truth stands that we are sinners in need of a Savior; it’s inescapable. But there’s another Truth that reigns in freedom and wins in victory and it’s this:

By the power of His Spirit and by the enabling of His grace, we can choose (as far as it depends on us) to love others, seek forgiveness, pursue healing, and live redeemed…even in our brokenness. For though our sinful selves are prone to using our “broken thumbs” to “put the pain on others,” we can live victoriously through His nail-scarred hands! WE CAN!

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Keep Singing, Son; Keep Singing!

Caden,

It’s the eve of your Spiritual Birthday, and I wanted to take a moment and record a testimony of God’s work in you–an altar of praise that you can revisit in the years to come. Because as we journey with Jesus on this earth, I’ve found that it’s important to have those moments and memories where we not only record the faithfulness of our God throughout our lives, but where we also recall the track record of His covenant hand. Sometimes the memory of His work in our lives is the very spark that creates a fiery hope that burns bright for the next part of the journey–a spiritual kindling of sorts!

So let me begin.

This year marks your fourth year in school! How in the world are you already in 3rd grade?!? It all seems rather unbelievable to a mama who just greeted you through labored tears and who changed your diaper, but alas…we are here, and you are growing!

Every year, since Kindergarten, you have had a quarter in which you have been assigned to sit by this one, particular boy. We will leave him unnamed because that’s not the point of this testimony any way. But suffice to say, this little boy struggles. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, he’s struggled. He crowds your space, talks loud in your ears, and is constantly asking you questions. He struggles with his speech, with his desk work, and with finding friends who will understand and accept him. He’s written on your papers, ripped up your papers, and even taken your papers. He’s a nice kid and yet…his struggles are a struggle for you (and usually for his teacher and peers as well). And every single year (without fail), your seat has been assigned near his.

This year, at the beginning of 3rd grade, you were placed by him on the very first day, and those first days were a struggle.

Coming home from school, I could see your exhaustion; I could hear your irritation; and I could feel your battle. We talked about it; we prayed about it; and we decided that there was a reason that your chair was next to his…a reason why your soul was placed next to his.

Three days into school, I bumped into your Kindergarten teacher and she asked how you were doing. I shared how much you were enjoying your teacher and how much you were growing. And in quick-passing, I mentioned that you were learning (again) how to handle your difficult desk-mate. I recalled how much you had matured in handling those who were different than you and how thankful I was for the growth that had occurred since Kindergarten. It was a short and sweet conversation, and I left thankful and teary-eyed. I had NO clue that she would share this conversation with your current teacher, nor was that EVER my intention.

Later that day, you met me on the sidewalk after school and simply said, “I was given a big decision today.”

“Really?”

“Yes. My teacher pulled me aside at recess and told me that she heard that I am always assigned to sit by ________, and she told me that she knows that isn’t always easy. She told me that she would be willing to let me switch seats if I wanted to.”

“Oh wow. That is a big decision.”

“I already told her that we talked about it at home and decided that it would be helpful for me to sit there. So I told her ‘no,’ but she told me to think about it tonight and that if I changed my mind, I could let her know tomorrow.”

Immediately, you burst into tears.

“It’s so hard, mommy. He can be so frustrating. I just want to change. I can’t sit by him every day for 9 weeks.”

I held you on the front porch and listened through your overwhelmed tears.

“Buddy, I’m proud of you that you remembered our talk, and I’m proud of you for not always taking the easy way. I know this is hard. I can’t make the decision for you; that’s yours to make. However, I do believe that God can use hard things to grow good things.”

You nodded your head, and we left it at that.

Later that night, you talked with daddy about the decision. Your daddy reminded you that it was your decision and though it could be growing for you, neither mommy or daddy knew how hard that experience was for you. He encouraged you to make the decision, and we moved on with our evening.

That night, after you went to bed, daddy and I talked about your big decision. As we went to bed that night, we came to a place where we felt confident that either decision would be fine with us, and that we wanted you to make the choice.

In the morning, nothing was said and nothing more was asked.

I prayed for you throughout that school day and when I saw you leave those doors at the end of the day, I could barely wait to talk with you.

Confidently and simply, you reported, “I decided to stay.”

Recognizing that you weren’t in a space to process, I responded, “I think you made the hard decision, and I’m going to be asking the Holy Spirit to help you show ________ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.”

Throughout the last few weeks, you’ve asked for prayer regarding this desk mate; you’ve aired some frustrations; and you’ve even highlighted some moments that weren’t “so bad.” You never felt excited about the choice to sit by him, but you never seemed overwhelmed either. But son, there would have been a time (last year) where you would have been un-done by this decision. You would have struggled with your attitude; your cutting words would have been present often; and your tendency to be critical and pessimistic would have colored your perspective.

But this year, there has been little of that.

One day (last week) you came home and exclaimed with exhaustion, “He even chooses to sit by me at library, mommy! Everywhere I am, he goes!”

“Why do you think he does that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think it’s possible that you treat him with kindness and respect, and he feels that? Do you think it’s possible that your presence makes him feel safe?”

You sat there on the picnic table, quietly kicking stones and thinking.

“Caden, did you worship God at school today?”

“I don’t think so,” you responded with hesitation.

“Did you sing a song to Him?”

“No.”

“Did you read your Bible at school?”

“No.”

“Did you bow your head and pray?”

“Not today.”

“Caden, I still think you worshiped.”

“How?”

“I think you sang the song of sacrifice; I think you bore the cross of suffering; and I think you loved like Jesus. And that is worship, buddy.” 

You looked at me with quiet-big eyes.

“Caden, sometimes worship looks like loving when it’s hard, giving when you don’t want to, and serving when you’d rather not. That’s worship, buddy. And you know what? When you worship, others see that testimony. They can feel your love, and they can sense the difference. Caden, that difference is Jesus, and I can see the Holy Spirit at work in you.”

Grabbing your football, you went back to your backyard game. Very much like you, you left without a word but with many thoughts in your head. And as I headed to the house, I thanked God for the evidence of answered prayer. Because buddy, mommy prays (often and fervently) for the Holy Spirit to root your faith and grow your walk.

That conversation was on a Wednesday of last week, September 4th, 2019 to be exact.

Three days later, a post card came in the mail addressed for you.

It read as follows:

Dear Caden, 

Thank you for being such a kind and patient classmate. I love having you in my class.

Love, 

Mrs. U

As I read along with you, my eyes filled with hot tears. Looking up from the postcard, you exclaimed, “Why did she send that to me?!?”

I responded with the first words that came to mind.

“Maybe she’s heard your song of worship and thought it was sweet?” 

With a smile the size of a football, you re-read the note.

Caden, I don’t know the plans the Lord has for you, but I pray that you will continue to let your life be a song that sings of Him. I pray that your love will be a tune of difference, and I pray that others will want to join that song because they (too) have found notes that can’t be found in any other song.

Son, your daddy and I love you something fierce, and we can see His light and love burning bright in you. We can see the work of His hands in the past year, and we can hear the song of His salvation in you! Keep singing, Caden; keep singing!

Love,

Mommy

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Just Come

My life doesn’t have clean edges and defined compartments these days. Nothing looks “super organized” and there are many days that my “old normal” looks more like a “Once Upon a Time Story.” There’s very little in our home (if anything) that would make the cover of a magazine, and I would hardly be the person you would want to interview for an article on “The Little Years: How to Keep Your House Sparkling!”

To be honest, my life looks rather messy and busy these days.

There’s a lot of changes and transitions, and I’ve got kids at different ages, stages, and needs. There’s not a whole ton of routine and rhythm (at least not the kind I used to have and thought I needed) and our little house feels a lot less like a charming cottage and a whole lot more like a fenced-in play yard. There’s not a lot of “down time” and very few of my days look the same. “Predictable” and “Easy” would hardly be the words to describe this season of life.

And though the younger version of Jessica would bristle at all of the above (maybe even dry-heave and feel a little panicky and a whole lot “less than”), the older version of Jessica is S L O W L Y learning how to embrace the MESSY and the UNDEFINED. I’m learning (though sometimes P A I N F U L L Y) how to resist my need for CONTROL while simultaneously relinquishing my desire for the OLD and the PREDICTABLE. 

And yesterday was just another one of those painful, learning days.

As I sat at a disheveled table with a toddler on my lap, a Bible before me, a half-eaten bowl of oatmeal to my right, and said toddler using my writing utensils to scribble on the kitchen place mats (while sometimes eating bites of his breakfast), I had this overwhelming feeling of JUST STOPPING. 

Why do I even try to sit down and read while he’s awake? Why is this so hard? I’ll just wait until I have quiet time tonight. I can’t do this. I JUST CAN’T DO THIS. 

And as the thoughts jumbled in my brain, the Spirit nudged my soul.

Why do you wait for PERFECT when you could come, now, just as you ARE?

The words were pointed, convicting, and ever-so true. As tears filled my tired eyes, my heart sank into the gentle, sweetness of His invitation. Right there, in that very moment, I needed that kind of invitation.

I needed Him to remind me that my MESS was okay.

I needed Him to remind me that my CONTROL was not necessary.

I needed Him to remind me that ORGANIZED was not a must.

I needed Him to remind me that ROUTINE was not expected.

I needed Him to remind me that ALL OF ME was all He wanted.

I didn’t need the RIGHT moment or the PERFECT circumstances; I needed HIM. 

Mamas, friends without littles, seasoned followers of Jesus, and everyone else in between who doesn’t have perfect or predictable

God doesn’t need our homes in order; He wants our hearts in order. He doesn’t need fancy fanfare, quiet rooms, lit candles, 45 minutes and an exegetical study from the book of Leviticus; He needs us. He doesn’t need us to find the perfect time or create the preferred setting because He already knows we don’t have it anyway, and yet He does.

At His holy feet…at His perfect throne…near His all-knowing heart is exactly where He wants us. For He is not a God who is limited by any of our imperfections; He is not a God who is surprised by our chaos; and He is not a God whose powerful work is constricted to defined and predictable settings.

No. Not our God.

Our God is the one who left His perfect throne room in heaven, entered our imperfect world, and allowed Himself to be born of a lowly woman, in a dirty stable, surrounded by a sinful set of shepherds and a bunch of dirty animals.

He never, EVER entered into our perfection. He never, EVER entered into our predictable. And He still doesn’t. 

He came for the lost. He came for the weary. He came for the broken, the sick, the confused, the discouraged, and for the weary mama who has no alone time or private space. He came into the messy chaos of our world–not so that we could have perfect on earth, but so that we could have perfect in Him. He came so that we would have eternal life; He came so that we would have it abundantly; and He came so that we would know that nothing here on earth would ever save or satisfy our broken and busted souls.

In a stable, He invited them.

In our mess, He invited us.

In our “messy stables” with our imperfect selves, He still invites us.

May we simply continue to say “yes” and “now” to His always-ready, no-attachments, “come-as-you-are” invitation!

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Parenting: A God-Sized Task

I’ve said it before and I’m sure this won’t be the last…

Parenting is hard and no one fully prepared me.

Noooooo one.

No one sat at my baby shower and told me the hard-fast truth about the difficulties that my womb-dwellers would eventually cause. No one stood up and grabbed the proverbial microphone and shouted warnings about the painful sacrifices and the scary unknowns that would accompany the precious moments of parenting. No one handed me a gift, grabbed a muffin, and then looked me square in the eyes and said, “Listen mama…some day this baby in the belly is going to be screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘I hate Adam and Eve,’ while simultaneously questioning the sovereignty of God at age eight, and you’re gonna stand there shocked with not a clue as to how to deal. NOT A CLUE.”

No. One. Did. Any. Of. This.

And ya know what…that’s okay. Because had they, I would have probably either not believed them, refused delivery, or lived in fear until age 8.

Friends, parenting is hard. REAL hard. 

Sure, there’s the difficulties of sleepless nights, feeding, reflux, and helping your children not bite the arms of others. And yes, there’s the struggle of deciding on what to feed your child and how to feed your child and where to send your child to school and when to send your child to school. And a million other struggles in between the weaning, the teething, and the potty training, and then there are MORE.

How do you teach them respect and kindness? How do you help them think about others? How do you model the Gospel and how do you consistently and fairly discipline? What about modesty, sexuality, and “stranger danger?” And how about the do’s and don’ts of asserting their will while also humbling loving others?

On and on it goes.

Parenting seems to be a continual journey of beautiful blessings and memorable milestones mixed in with a bunch of “Oh-my-word-how-do-I-even-deal-with-this” kind of moments, along with a steady undercurrent of wanting to tear your hair out. Let’s be honest, people. That’s the skinny on parenting.

And a few weeks ago, I was there.

Standing on the stairs of our basement, I looked on as our oldest son ranted and raved.

“I hate Adam and Eve. I hate them! If they hadn’t sinned, then we wouldn’t sin! I hope they don’t get to go to heaven!”

Is this real-life? Is. THIS. REAL. life? Over and over, I paced the top of the stairs.

I was shocked by his anger, overwhelmed by his sentiments, and a little scared by his line of questioning. And just when I had swallowed my shock and mustered my mouth to open itself, he began a new tirade.

“And if God is powerful like you say He is, then why wouldn’t He just put an end to sin and take us to heaven right after they ate the apple?!?!?!? Why didn’t He just take away our choice to sin?!?!?! Why did He even make the tree and the apple?!?!?!”

(mic drop)

(mouth drop)

(mama drop)

I’m not sure how many minutes passed, but I know there were tears running down my face, and my words were a mumbled, jumbled mess of stammers and stutters. Fumbling through my fears and working my way through my shock, I attempted to empathize with his frustrations and normalize his questions. I walked through the Gospel of God’s plan; I reminded him of the big-ness of God’s ways and the small-ness of our understanding; and I reiterated the faith involved in belief. I encouraged him to wrestle with these questions, pray about these questions, and continue to trust God with these questions.

I held him; I hugged him; and I silently begged the Lord to meet us on those stairs.

There were no simplistic answers for these big questions and though I knew that in my Christian-brain, my Mama-brain felt a little overwhelmed.

As I tucked him in that night, tired from all his ranting and exhausted from all his crying, I sat outside his room.

I prayed for his little heart and his big questions, and I asked our Big God to help our little selves.

In that hallway, I felt so small and so unsure…so needful and dependent.

And ya know what?

I think that’s all a part of God’s big and beautiful plan for all of us scared and overwhelmed parents.

He calls us to a God-sized task, so that we have countless opportunities to be child-like in our faith.

He calls us to steward and shepherd these big responsibilities, so that we would remain humble, dependent, and ever-seeking of His endless wisdom and forever strength.

He calls us to the impossible, so that we would seek His face for the possible

I believe it. I do.

Days after his “Adam and Eve Rant,” he raised his hand during a breakfast devotional and said, “I think God wants to give us choices to love Him. If He didn’t give us choices, then that wouldn’t be loving.”

Smiling with tears in my eyes, I simply said, “Yes, I agree.” And when he left the table after a bowl of fruit and a plate of toast, I thanked the Lord for His work and for His commitment to our faith.

A few days ago, in preparation for my Sunday School lesson, I stumbled upon the words of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:7-9.

“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

Did you catch that?

The soon-to-be-King comes to the Lord in such a needy, overwhelmed way. He admits his smallness, acknowledges his weakness, and asks for the wisdom of God to do a God-sized task.

In the face of leading a nation of people, Solomon raises his small hand.

He doesn’t ask for a curriculum; he doesn’t request a manual; and he doesn’t demand all of the answers. Nope. He simply asks for HOLY HELP.

And ya know what?

I think that’s the very posture of parents that God desires most.

Small. Needy. Dependent. Humbled. Asking. 

Friends, we won’t have all the answers and we don’t need to…because He does.

So whether you find yourself in a conundrum over discipline, a struggle over feeding, a worry over schooling, or a shell-shocked moment with a child who wants heaven withheld from the man and woman who ate the apple, may we put to the test the words and promise of James 1:5.

 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

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