As I’ve watched the school buses go by this week, I’ve been thinking about all those mamas who are feeling the loss as their little ones don backpack and lunch sack to step into a whole new world. I’m sure you’ve shed some tears, as did I, mixed with the thrill of knowing your child will soon be experiencing the great, life-long joy of learning.
I loved those years of being mom to two little boys and two little girls. Loved the fresh school books and cute haircuts, the untucked shirts and lopsided ponytails. I miss so much about those years. My children are all grown now, with children of their own. And too soon yours will be too.
These are the words that spilled out of my heart nearly 20 years ago when my son, Matthew started school. May you share the same immense joy that I have in watching your sons and daughters grow into men and women whose hearts beat for God.
Today my little boy went off to school.
He was afraid. I was afraid.
He was excited. So was I.
He was brave. I cried.
We chattered cheerfully in the van on the way to school. He looked so fresh and grownup in his new haircut, plaid shirt tucked neatly in, appropriately cool baggy pants and black suede tennis shoes. I took pictures in front of the flagpole.
Walking into the classroom, he gripped my hand in sweaty palm and sat oh-so-quietly at his pint-sized desk.
“Don’t leave yet Mom. Wait ‘til all the other parent go…”
I rubbed his back and labeled his supplies. Crayons, scissors, lots of glue, a binder covered in G. I. Joe stickers. I took a picture of my little boy at his desk.
Time for Mom to leave. One last squeeze of his shoulder. One last kiss on his cheek, and out the door.
That’s when the tears betrayed me. Unbidden, they pushed against my eyes, threatening to embarrass me completely. Gulping them back, I waved with false cheer at a neighbor and drove in my empty van to my empty house.
No chaos, no arguments, no laughter, no messes.
I have looked forward to this day. I haveplans. For years I have said, “When my children all go to school…”
Yet today I can do nothing. I grieve an end of an era. An era I have loved, filled with memories I cherish.
I did my share of complaining to be sure. “Can’t I even go to the bathroom alone?!” But I loved the unrushed morning cuddling with blankie and bear and my squirmy little boy.
I loved the Lego creations and the storybooks and Wee Sing tapes. I loved sidewalk chalk and popsicles dribbling down dimpled chins. Rainy days spent building forts in the family room with blankets anchored with encyclopedias.
Most of all, I have loved the absolute trust in his eyes. He knows Iam here for him to protect him, to be proud, to understand.
For I am Mom. Matthew’s mom. The Best-Mom-in-the-Whole-World.
That is who I was yesterday when I held him as a babe in my arms. It is who I am today as I leave him at his desk at school. And tomorrow, when he is a man, I will still be…
From my heart,
P.S. Who feels the same? That bittersweet, confusing mix of relief and sadness? I’d love to pray for you this week. And if any of you have children you’re especially worried about, let me know and I’ll pray as I did for my own.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
He who has ears to hear let him hear.
When I first learned I would likely lose all of my hearing— that horrifying diagnosis of progressive sensorial neural hearing loss— well-meaning people looked me in the eye with that intensity that comes from an inner compulsion to convince.
“God will use this to help so many people…”
Those words made my insides churn, feeding the maw of roiling anger in the pit of my soul. I spewed the words back at God:
How could a good God, as You claim to be, make me go deaf so that others can learn?
I looked at my young children, John Mark was 5, Rebekah an adorable toddler, Elizabeth a babe in arms. Matthew just a distant dream.
I would never, ever even consider hurting one of mine to teach lessons to the others! How could You?
And there’s a whole story thereof how this good God of mine rescued me from that terrible and terrifying place of seething rebellion. An ugly story that is part of who I am, making me worship in deepest wonder at the One who loved me, even then.
And now… a new chapter. Another hard part.
Last week I flew to L.A. to surprise that baby, Elizabeth for her 30th birthday.
Joy! Laughter! Hugs and hilarity that we pulled it off!
I stayed a few days extra so that I could go with my girlto a dreaded appointment for her son, Duke. And I cry as I write the words I’d hoped would never be true:
My grand-boy is loosing his hearing.
Six years old and full of bright hope. He’s strong like his name, analytical and logical like his Uncle Johnny. A unique and magnificent representation of a part of God, made in His image, purposed to bring His likeness to a world of hoping, needing people.
Those horrible words again: progressive hearing loss…
I grieve deeply for the loss I know too well. For all the memories of sounds and songs he will never hear:
The dance of rain on the rooftop.
The song of birds, all those trills, squawks, whistles, warnings.
The crackle and hiss of fire in the fireplace.
The lap of water against the seashore.
I’ve cried and prayed and breathed deep through the crush in my chest. And all the while, Elizabeth feels no fear, none. Her words to the family:
“I was reminded this morning that God watched His own son suffer and He knows the grief we feel. Duke is His child too and He knows the greater redemption being worked out in this ugly and painful thing. We have peace as we grieve but there is deep sadness too…”
And now— finally—I know exactly what those kind-hearted, less-than-ideally-worded phrases were meant to convey.
Now that I have heard God speak into my silence…
Now that I have embraced what I didn’t want…
Now that I know that God takes what the enemy of our souls tries to steal and He turns it into something good, something beautiful…
All of it is worth it… if I get to forge the way for one of my own to follow so he wouldn’t have to be first.
All of it is worth it… ifElizabeth won’t have to live in fear of the future because she’s seen my worst nightmare come true and now she knows it’s okay, doable, hard, but not tragic.
All of it is worth it… ifthis family of mineknows that even this— even DEAFNESS— becomes mysteriously beautiful and good in the hands of the Father.
All of it is worth it if my pain has paved a path that will lead my grand-boy to the heart of the Father.
I see the kindness of God now, how He allowed my sons and daughters to watch my story. Elizabeth saw my brokenness. She lived with the embarrassment of not understanding. She felt the weight of my deafness… and yet somehow the Spirit is breathing courage into her soul as she helps her own son adapt to a world with fading sounds.
Every missed melody, every frustrating conversation, every embarrassing, feeling-stupid moment is worth it. For the Savior… for the women who read my words carved out of silence and know that I know what their pain feels like too… and now for Duke.
From a heart that is humbled and in awe of a God who weaves magic in the midst of sorrow,
P.S. I would be so honored to pray for you who are trying to find your way through the often hazardous grieving of hard things. You know I’d love to know the story, but if you’re not there yet, just your name will let me know to pray.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen.
I sat at my desk in my cabin under the Redwood tree, a month or so ago, with a plate of cookies fresh out of the oven, a pot of tea steaming, a lovely book by Sally Clarkson feeding my soul with truth.
She writes truth so full of grace, with infinite understanding. By the end of the book I’m sure we’re old friends. She mentors me across the miles in her hope-filled way of talking about life and relationships and disciplines and following Jesus fearlessly. She admonishes me to, “Own Your Life” and I want to, I will, I rise to her belief in me, and in all the women who read her words.
I want to read more, so I look her up in Goodreads. She’s written a long list of books about family and being and the value of motherhood. I’m intrigued. Why haven’t I ever heard of her before now?
I scroll down to the comments— reader’s takes on specific books. Someone named Traci was less than impressed and wants us to know why:
“I found myself…. skeptical that all the things that come up in family relationships and child-rearing could be solved with a cup of tea and a heart-to-heart, as seems to be suggested throughout the compounding list of what being a wholehearted mother entails.”
More words like “formulaic”, “overwhelmed”, “not relevant”, “insular”, “too much to swallow” convince me to steer clear. I don’t buy the book.
And then, this morning, with another pot of tea at my elbow, chocolate chip cookies hot out of the oven swiped from the plate I’m taking to Matt and Simona’s house this afternoon, I pick up her book again.
I like this woman, this writer of wisdom. Once again I look up more books by Sally (she doesn’t know me but I know her and she’s one of my dearest friends!)
This time, the reader’s comment simply saddens me. Maybe it’s because I just read these words by another writer I like:
“… I think we’re in danger of thinking that constantly evaluating and rating things is an innocuous practice. And I don’t think it is. I think that mindset is corrosive and dangerous over time.
I think it’s worth asking about what happens over time to your insides when you decide to be a hater… crusading for something or other.”
~Shauna Neiquist, inSavor
I grieve over a culture so intent on being heard that graciousness is lost in the facade of truth. A woman sitting at home, sure and certain that a writer she’s never met must be wrong because she doesn’t connect with metaphors that seem simplistic to her. And so she types out cutting words that sum up a message the author spent hundreds of hours crafting… as irrelevant. An entire book boiled down to “everything solved with a cup of tea and a heart-to-heart”.
What has happened to us? The Church, God’s people, the ones for whom Jesus prayed with such agony,
“I have given them the glory You gave Me,
that they may be one as We are one
— I in them, and You in Me—
so that they may be brought to complete unity.
Then the world will know that You sent Me
and have loved them even as You have loved Me.”
I grieve an emerging culture of criticism. With the advent of the Internet, what used to be whispered behind people’s backs (bad enough!) is now broadcast in bold print. Via blogs and tweets, podcasts and even sermons, Jesus’ followers are feeling unabashed freedom to blast each other mercilessly.
I grieve, not only for us, but for our children, who will grow up thinking such rabid critique is normal. I want to shake these free-speech exploiting criticizers by the shoulders and tell them what my little Matthew used to say to his older, arguing siblings:
Do’na be mean!
Instead of joining the lambasting with more of my own, I choose to believe in the power mothers have to change their worlds– to change our world… one potential criticizer at a time.
1. The culture of the grace has to start in our homes.
When building up is practiced daily and tearing down is disciplined persistently, we create a culture in which truth and mercy blend into a safe place where children grow into adults who will lead their own generation with grace.
2. A culture of humility starts with mom.
When a mother learns to apologize sincerely for her own outburst instead of blaming her kids and husband for pushing her to the point of craziness, the whole family learns to accept responsibility for their own crabbiness—
Voila! Lessons learned by example are lessons learned for a lifetime.
3. A culture of mercy begins towards mom.
When mom turns mean because she’s frustrated and overworked and over worried and just plain exhausted… children have a chance to learn how to give mercy. Instead of rolling their eyes and muttering more meanness, children can learn how kindness and sweet words replenish even the most harried among us. Mothers aren’t perfect. There are lessons to learn even in the midst of a mama-meltdown.
There is power in a mama who ferociously guards her children from decimating each other with their words. A mother who disallows sarcasm and who doesn’t permit herself or her children to poke each other’s soft spots is raising a generation of leaders who will think twice before sending off a nasty email.
5. A culture of big-picture truth rather than jabbing pettiness can best be taught by moms.
Moms have a way of knowing their children and do well to help their children know and understand each other. Is it any wonder that the book of Proverbs so often pairs wisdom with understanding? A wise mama puts her child’s behavior in context to the brothers and sisters who are most bothered by it. In doing so, she has an influence on the way her children will grow up to handle people they don’t agree with. Nicely.
Isn’t it a radical thought that a band of determined Jesus following moms might have a chance to influence the next generation of leaders, talkers, bloggers, opinion makers— even politicians?!
Wouldn’t it be amazing if, indeed, Sally Clarkson is right? That a hot cup of tea and an understanding chat just might solve all most the problems of our world?
From a heart longing for a culture of kindness,
P. S. Okay moms, please speak up! I am loving hearing from mothers who are taking their roles seriously and changing the culture of their homes. Tell us how you’re managing meanness in your home. What words are working?
Before I had kids I made a vow to myself: I will never, under any circumstances yell at my kids. Ever.
I broke that vow.
Way more than I hope they remember.
Looking back, most of my mad had to do with messes.
Our big home on the hill overflowed with messes every day. Every. Single. Day.
Four kids + two cats + two dogs+ two horses + a spontaneously fun husband = MESSY!
I am a woman who craves order. I make my bed every day. Hang my towels perfectly even. Organize my spice drawer alphabetically. The only thing I don’t like about traveling is that it feels messy.
I get a rush from walking into a perfectly clean kitchen, from opening the garage door and seeing matching boxes perfectly labeled, lined up evenly on orderly shelves.
For me, neatness is like a drug, a high. It makes me happy, frees my mind to think.
It has taken me years— decades— to learn these few must-do’s that make my often-messy life a little more realistic. These are things I wish I’d known during all those messy summers when my kids were home. Summers I cannot relive.
1. Nothing of value gets done without making some messes. People who get a lot done— people who invent and learn and try new things, inevitably have to wade through some messiness. Okay, a lot of messiness.
2.Neatness is nice. Everyone functions better when their space is tidy. Teaching my children how to put their things in order could have been fun if I had allowed it to be my gift to them instead of being so uptight about it.
3. There is a vast difference between neat enough and perfect. To indulge in my propensity for perfectionism will make me weird. And crabby. And mad at a world that cannot ever be perfect.
4. Consumerism is the enemy of neat. I have spent hundreds of hard earned dollars on plastic containers. What a waste! When I finally learned to keep only a few things in my cupboards, my few things stayed naturally neat. It’s better to have less stuff than to organize more stuff.
5. Slow down to order your life. More than anything else, I have found that my pace of life perfectly parallels my sense of order. By adding in one more meeting, one more adventure, one more trip to the store, one more project, one more item on my to-do list… I create a world in which messes reign.
I cannot do it all.
Living now in this cottage in the woods, I relish a degree of neatness that simply wasn’t possible with kids at home. When the Grands come to visit, their messes don’t worry me at all. My whole world stops and I delight in their creativity. I see a bigger picture now and that picture is filled with beauty. How I wish I’d know, all those messy years ago, that…
God creates beauty out of messiness.
From my heart,
P.S. Can you give us your best, most workable tips for keeping your place neat? Any mamas want to tell us how you teach your kids to be tidy?
I followed a car in bumper-to-bumper traffic, inching forward while lanes merged on a too-busy afternoon. A sticker on the back seemed to echo words to me over and over as I pondered how to respond to someone whose unkind words had cut deep: Believe in nice!
At first it seemed like one of those ridiculous slogans that sound sweet but say nothing. Believe in nice?! Like believing in Santa Clause or the Tooth Fairy or a Fairy God-mother whose magic wand works miracles.
I couldn’t get those words out of my mind. Over and over, to the rhythm of the slow going road, like a mantra I heard them:
Believe in nice. Believe in nice. Believe in nice.
My mind wandered from my worry about how to respond to this someone who seemed so antagonistic, to these believe-in-nice words that made no sense.
Lord, is this You?
Believe, Di, believe in the power of nice.
My breath caught. I know what the word believe means. I know that in God’s Word, to believe in God means to entrust oneself to God.
As in completely, entirely.
As in being willing to so entrust myself to Him that I do the hard thing, the impossible thing, the thing I don’t want to do but must if I’m to please Him and stay close to Him. He was telling me…
To believe that His power is in the nice.
And then a verse we’d memorized over and over again as a family joined the believe-in-nice mantra:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building people up
according to their needs,
that it may benefit those who listen.
Ephesians 4:29 NIV
Okay, Lord. I believe, I entrust myself to You. Instead of responding with all the venom that keeps coming to my still-to-be-completely, really redeemed mind, I will be nice.
I believe in the power You bring when I choose nice.
I looked to my left, still stuck in traffic, I stare into a mini-van driven by a tired looking mama. Kids in the back, obviously harassing each other. Arms flailing, mouths spewing, faces skewed into ugliness by the hurt and anger and not-niceness of their siblings— and their momentarily not-nice selves.
Believe in nice.
The look on that mama’s face about broke my heart. She didn’t know what to do with her herd of rampaging buffalo in the back. So she did what she’d been taught: nothing. Just let them work it out themselves. Don’t interfere.
When that didn’t work (okay, I was staring, but what else is there to do during a stalled rush hour?) Mama whipped around, opened her mouth wide and… saw me staring.
I smiled sympathetically. She smiled back. A moment of knowing.
I wanted to get out of my car and climb into hers and tell her what I know now, now that my kids are grown and my car is empty of arguers:
I wanted to tell her… that there is power in being nice.
That encouraging words give courage to kids whose feelings are hurt and tempers are short. That her own niceness to both the wounded and the wound-er can bring hope and healing.
I wanted to tell her it’s her job to enforce niceness.
That if she doesn’t the meanest one will win. The quiet child will sink, letting the words wreak havoc. The not-nice one will keep being not-nice because anger is an incredibly effective way to control people.
I wanted to tell her to soften her words.
To respond to the car full of chaos with soothing gentleness. That if she doesn’t, she’ll regret it at the end of the day, feeling as ugly as she sounds.
I wanted to tell her about the tremendous power of nice.
That wise words are like medicine, that gentleness turns away anger. That she has the power, for just a few years, to teach her children that truth and nice go hand-in-hand.
I wanted to tell her that entrusting yourself to God means choosing to be nice no matter what.
Even in traffic. Even on hard, hot days with not-nice kids spewing not-niceness on each other.
I wanted to tell that mama that He knows how hard it is to be nice.
That He managed, even on the Cross, with blood running down in sticky rivulets, with a crowd of jeering mockers, with their spittle on his face— even then to be kind, forgiving…
To believe in nice.
The traffic cleared. We passed a wreck on the side of the road. Glass shattered, the bumper crunched, a car seat in the back. People had been hurt.
And I prayed…
… for the child in the wrecked car who may have been hurt.
… for the children in that angry mini-van who were hurting each other—and themselves.
… for the mamas in both cars, that they would believe in the power of God to be nice, no matter what.
… for myself to believe in the power God gives to be nice when all I feel is mean.
From a heart still struggling to believe in the power of nice,
P.S. And you?
Can you tell us how you teach your children the power of nice?
Can you tell us what has helped you to believe in the power of nice?
As per my usual pattern, all my worry was about me: what I need to do, what I should have done, how inadequate and undone I am. Should have’s, ought to’s…
But on this morning, as I padded out to my place of refuge with my pot of tea, my plain white china cup, my fluffy blanket, I heard something strange and…beautiful in the middle of my self-shaming tirade. Words so soft, like a gentle whisper.
Shhh… hush Di! You are Mine and I love you. Shhh!
All those discouragements, the conflict and criticisms— those are on Me.
My breath caught, from You, Lord?
In that one phrase all my angst swooshed out and relief lifted a load from my tense shoulders I hadn’t known I carried. I felt lifted, like those silken hot air balloons, launched into the quiet sky, far above the fray.
From Him. The One who loves me just for me, all the way through— always. My hard days and sleepless nights weren’t simply because I am inadequate. Nor were they because someone else is. The truth is, He used those disruptions to do something wild and wonderful in me, for me.
And, dear ones who read my words, He does the same for you. I think He wants me to tell you that:
It’s not your fault.
That people will blame you, that your enemy stands ready with those fiery darts to afflict you, that shame and heaviness will weigh you down and keep you from soaring, but…
It’s not your fault.
And we’re laughing now, my Father and me, chuckling together in shared joy. Because He knows these words are for me too, for me and every other woman who wallows in blame.
He loves you! He isn’t blaming you— that’s not Him.
And get this: He even…likes you.
I sense His arm around me as I sit curled up in my cushy chair in the corner of my cabin in the woods. We watch— together— as branches bounce in a haphazard dance as one of His creatures— a squirrel? a chipmunk? It’s moving too fast to see— leaps from limb to limb setting the forest asway.
It’s not your fault.
I’m grinning big, seeing His hand in the unexpected, knowing now that He knew what was ahead. He knew and let it be. Not because He’s mean or distant or giving me my just dues, but because He knows I need Him. That only tucked in tight to Him can I do what He needs me to do. And that, more than any other way, it is those hard days, those difficult weeks, those just lousy moments— that cause me to scurry in close, to abide.
I don’t know why or if your weeks are hard. Maybe your kids are squabbling their way through these hot summer days. Maybe you’re the one squabbling. Maybe you’ve stubbed your toe one too many times and the soreness is causing you to limp. I don’t know.
I do know that He wants me to say it again and again:
It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. Even when it is.
I think He wants to remind you— and me!— that He has taken our burden and placed it on His back. That He’s got your back. That He loves you and He likes you and that’s really, honestly, the only thing that matters.
Soaring now, way up high in the summer sky where everything looks… beautiful.
From my heart,
P.S. Do you blame yourself for every troubled day? Feel as if you must work harder, do more, be better, in order to earn God’s favor? Are these words: It’s not your fault! for you?
Camp Comer was long over, but we’d extended with visits from Elizabeth with Duke and little Scarlet, and then the unexpected delight of our other daughter, Rebekah, coming for a long weekend.
While they were here I relished the moments, ignoring e-mails and messages and responsibilities and deadlines (and cleaning!) to fully pour myself into relationships that will be mine for a lifetime.
I cuddled with Duke when too much play with too many friends and cousins left him exhausted. We lay on my cushy feather bed, his head resting on my heart, imagining castles and knights and maybe could we make a fort in the attic space above the bedroom?
I issued yes’s for all the times I’d no’d my own kids.
Yes you can help yourself to the gum in the top drawer. Yes, you can have a bit of unhealthy whipped-cream-from-the-can on your vegan hot chocolate. Yes, we’ll build forts and find nooks where imaginations can fly us to other worlds.
They’re all gone now and my little cottage in the fir woods is neat and clean once again. Handprints on the windows lingered long enough to remind me why I’m spending my summer writing words for parents— words I’d longed for when I was the mama with little ones.
And then this morning I read a passage in God’s word I’ve read a million times and somehow this time it lit up the page like the marquees in Times Square:
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be:
…faithful to his wife
…able to teach
…not given to drunkenness
…not violent but gentle
…not a lover of money
And even while I cringe at the realization of how I fall short, it dawns on me that this is God’s matrix for the kind of spiritual leaders He is looking for. A list of character qualities that He values.
A list for parents in the thick of raising the next generation of men and women who will shape the Church and will bring the Kingdom of God into their world.
I’m excited now and fully awake to the riches hidden in plain sight!
This is why Phil and I have changed course after years and decades of pastoring in the local church. Why we are risking security and ease and saying no to retirement and a gazillion things that take up time. Why I am packing my suitcase to trek to un-touristy places like Haiti and Uganda and Albania instead of staying ensconced in my cozy little cottage in the woods.
God has tapped us on the shoulder and beckoned us to come alongside parents who are raising the next leaders and elders and deacons and teachers and entrepreneurs and engineers. His invitation to us is to teach and encourage and train and point out the wisdom pieces in God’s Word that lay waiting to be discovered.
Treasures like Proverbs 24:3,4:
By wisdom a house is built,
And through understanding it is established;
Through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
There’s a metaphor to inspire parents! To build and then establish a spiritual house where rare and beautiful treasures are the norm. A calling to wisdom and understanding.
I read that list in 1Timothy knowing it was the Apostle Paul’s inspired-by-God list for choosing leaders in Timothy’s church. And at the same time I read it sensing that Paul’s list is also a parent’s list.
Because, what every counselor or teacher knows is:
… that faithfulness and self-control and gentleness instead of violence are best taught early before a child is hardened into hard-to-change ways of dealing with conflict.
… that being quarrelsome can be nipped in the bud when parents encourage humility and teach their children ways to listen and understand instead of allowing them to succeed by demanding control over their siblings.
…that being hospitable is best taught by throwing open the doors of our homes and lives to people who need the refuge we offer.
… and being not a lover of money is ingrained in a child who is taught and shown how to be grateful and generous.
And so I sit at my desk this summer, reaching for words to explain truths in the Scriptures that work in real life. Writing and rewriting and studying and pondering— asking God to make His wisdoms easier to find, to gift me— and all the parents who want to raise followers of Jesus— with a depth of understanding that will enable us to raise children who will become the next generation of leaders.
I’ll be spilling over onto the pages of this place, of course. Some things just can’t wait the months needed to create a whole book. And I’d love to hear from you— young moms, hope-to-be-someday moms, empty-nest moms and those who were raised in the ways of wisdom—
What is it you know about the spiritual training of children that you’re sensing is a rare and beautiful treasure?
What is it that you knownow, that you wish you’d known then?
What are the areas you need help in this task of raising children whose hearts burn to know God? Members of the tribe who A.W.Tozer called “children of the burning hearts”?
And books! Don’t forget to send me the names of books that have fueled your quest for wisdom and understanding. I would love to gather your questions and treasures as I write.