Category Archives: Family

Is there a reason for everything?

When I was in college at Appalachian State University, I was super involved with the campus Lutheran Student Association (LSA). It was the first group I joined when I got to school and in many ways the friends I met in that group were a life-line during those four years. They were my people and they helped me get closer to Jesus. I loved being a part of the group and the larger church community that supported them.

Each year I became increasingly more involved — serving on leadership, helping to plan and lead events, mentoring other students, etc. By my senior year it came time to hold elections for the group’s leadership and I decided to run for president. There was another girl who was younger, had not been a part of the group for as many years, who also decided to run.

I remember sitting in the fellowship hall of the church after the voting process and hearing the announcement that the other girl had been elected. She had won and my heart sank. I won’t lie, my ego was bruised, but I also felt like the group that had been “my people” had turned away and said, “you’re not the one that we want, we choose someone else.”

I know a leadership position for a campus church group doesn’t sound like a big deal or something to get upset about, but at the time I remember feeling devastated, hurt, even cast-out.

However, I’ll never forget that moments after the results were announced the pastor of the church and leader of our campus group — who had become a great mentor and surrogate father to me during my time at Appalachian — came over and rested his hand on my shoulder, leaned down and whispered in my ear, “I really wanted that for you.” Then he gave my shoulder a squeeze and walked away.

In that moment it was like he said, “I see you. I see what your heart desires, and because I care about you, I want you to have it.”

I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the years and what it meant to know that someone saw me and saw my heart.

A lot changed for me that year. Partly because of the hurt I carried from that event, I pulled away from LSA and church. Some other really hard things had already been happening in my life and it became a bit of a perfect storm. I slipped into a deep, deep depression my senior year. I didn’t go to class, I started getting migraines and had to be taken to the emergency room because of one that was so bad I couldn’t stop vomiting. I even contemplated suicide at one point. As my friends struggled to understand what was going on with me and how to be around this changed person, I withdrew from them. I was angry, I was lonely, and I was scared.

But during this time I stayed in touch with that same Pastor. Even though I wasn’t going to LSA meetings or to church much, I would stop by his office every week and we would talk. He would encourage me and pray for me. In many ways he was the life-line that kept me from completely severing my relationship with God.

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We often say, “everything happens for a reason.” I have said this frequently over the years. But as I get older I’m starting to question if that’s true, or is it just a nice platitude we tell ourselves? Does everything really happen for a reason? Is there a reason a mother has to bury her child? Is there a reason a husband and father would lose his entire family in a car crash? Is there a reason the young, healthy newlywed gets a cancer diagnosis on her 26th birthday?

Do I believe God creates good out of every situation? Absolutely, without a doubt I do. I have seen it time and again where beauty has risen out of the ashes and joy and love have transformed the ugliest, darkest situations and sorrowful times. But that still doesn’t mean those things — those desperate, break-a-person-in-two things — were ordained by God and happened for a reason.

Of course God can make something beautiful out of life’s ugly, and create strength and redemption from weakness and brokenness. In the midst of tragedy He can bring together people who otherwise would not have come into each other’s lives. But I cannot sit here and say God caused a tragic accident so that He could do those things. Or that there is some bigger purpose for a mother and father to bury their child. The reality is that sometimes hard, devastating, crappy stuff happens.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to compare me losing some silly election for a college student group 25 years ago to these other real-life tragedies. But I can look back and tell you that I don’t see any reason why that happened. I don’t see any reason why God would have created that situation, with a darkness already looming in my life. But I often wonder how or if that year would have been different had I not pulled away from my friends and from church. Had I not felt a little bit cast-aside.

And yet, I do see where God made sure there was someone there in the midst of that who said, “I see you.” And that created a life-line for me to get through a really difficult time.

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Recently my daughter had a pretty disappointing thing happen to her. Something she wanted badly and had worked hard for, and due to a simple mistake — a forgotten deadline — she lost the opportunity. When she came home in tears my heart just broke for her.

Being a mom I wanted so badly to look for the reason. I wanted to say to her, “there must be a reason, let’s look for it together. What’s the good that can come out of this, how is God going to use this?” But I couldn’t bring myself to say it because the truth is, I don’t know if there is a reason. Maybe it’s just a really crummy thing that happened.

Will she learn from this experience and never miss a deadline again? Maybe. But I’m not sure that her feeling badly about herself and the sense of failure and disappointment she is carrying were intended for some loftier purpose.

So instead of pulling out the mom advice on what’s the big lesson we can learn here, or what’s God’s reasoning, I was just honest with her and said, “You know what honey? This sucks. I know it hurts and you’re disappointed, and I’m so sorry. I really wanted this for you. Because you wanted this, I wanted it for you.

I see how hard you are working and what you’re working towards. I see you. And I want you to know that.

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There’s probably someone in your life who, right now, just needs to be seen. Maybe it’s one of your kids. Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s a sibling, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. Maybe a teacher or a next-door neighbor. But I want you to find that person. Find someone who is going through something really crummy and please don’t give them that sad, old platitude that everything is happening for a reason when they start to pour out their heart to you. Instead, just come alongside them and simply say, “I’m so sorry. This sucks and I wanted better for you, because I care about you. Because I see you. I see your heart and I see that you’re hurting.

Maybe if we spend more time seeing each other and loving each other rather than trying to put quick fixes and patches on everything, then instead of wasting so much energy trying to understand why tragic things happen, we can simply be a beacon of light and love in the darkness.

Matthew 25:35-36

photo credit: alexandermazilkin Moscow’s summer via photopin (license)

The failure of trying to be everyone’s person

I’m going through a phase right now where I feel like I’m constantly failing. I say it’s a phase for two reasons: 1. I’ve been in this place before, and 2. I trust God to never let me stay here for too long.

The problem really isn’t so much about failure to accomplish goals or tasks (although there is an element of that). The problem lies in my desire to be everyone’s person.

The mom who shows up for every game, concert, and recital for my kids while also making healthy meals, helping them study and prepare for school, predicting their needs, comforting their hurts, and creating space to snuggle, cuddle or talk about life so they always feel connected to me.

The wife who prays for her husband daily, offers an empathetic ear when he’s had a bad day, acts as his biggest cheerleader, supportive of all of his endeavors and interests, all while trying not to be too needy or selfish with my own stuff.

The employee who thinks creatively and innovatively, never misses a deadline, maintains 100% focus while at work and doesn’t let her personal life interfere with her work life.

The daughter/niece/sister/grand-daughter who remembers to call, to visit regularly, to send those thank-you notes, to let everyone know how much they mean to her.

The friend who listens, who shows up with soup when you’re sick, and prays with you when you’re struggling. Who remembers to call or send a text to say “good luck at that interview/doctor’s appointment/meeting/etc.” Who never cancels lunch plans, or misses out on celebrating a big life event.

The women’s ministry leader who makes every woman who walks through the doors of that church feel welcomed and loved. Who prays for each woman by name, knows who is struggling and needs help, and makes time for coffee, to offer up encouragement and friendship to each woman, and always says just the right thing.

Some days I get some of the things right with some of the people. But most days I just get it all wrong and feel like I’ve failed all of the people. The forgetful friend, the frazzled mom, the tired wife, the absent daughter, the rushed ministry leader, the distracted employee. None of it feels good.

And the thing is, I don’t do any of it for a pat on the back or praise and thanks. I do it because I’m a relational person. I value relationships immensely and I’m incredibly grateful for each relationship and role I’ve been blessed with in life.

I genuinely love people (yes, introverts can love people, too). I especially love the people in my life. For so many years I felt terrible loneliness so I don’t take it for granted that I have all of these beautiful people in my life. When I think of how much I love them it knocks the wind right out of me and I want them — want you — to know it.

But instead, what ends up happening is inevitably someone feels left out. They feel slighted, shorted, overlooked, or forgotten. Or they don’t. But because there isn’t enough time for me to invest in the relationship the way I want to, they move on. They can’t wait for me to make time, so they find someone who can.

So here I sit. In this place of fear and worry of disappointing and failing them all. But even more so, I sit with fear of being left behind. That I tried to do so much I was left with nothing.

Then all of the thoughts come: I should have said yes to that; I should have said no to that; I should have called her back sooner; I should have double checked that date; I should have gotten more done yesterday; I should have gotten more rest last night; I should have stayed up later; I should have…

It’s overwhelming. It can be paralyzing. It makes me tired.

So, so tired.

Just before my head hits the pillow I read my daily devotional and it speaks like it was written just for me at this exact moment. God’s voice comes through the words on the page and says, “yep, life is pretty crazy right now. I know you don’t like it this way. I know you do better when everything is neat and orderly. I know you feel overwhelmed and like you are failing. I know you are worried people will leave you or be angry. I know.

But I’m here. You can’t do it all by yourself. You have to trust me. I will help you. I will comfort you and give you rest. I will help guide you on what to do next. I will never leave you to do it all alone.”

For a few moments I have peace. I am able to sleep.

Until the morning when it starts all over again.

Thankfully God has an infinite supply of patience.

Thankfully He never lets me stay stuck here for too long.

 

photo credit: Silvia Sala  via photopin (license)

This is Fifteen

Fifteen.

Today you turn fifteen and I’m feeling very emotional about it. I can’t say exactly why, only that some ages hit me harder than others. I remember crying the year you turned seven, for no particular reason except that seven seemed so much older than six and I felt like a season was coming to an end.

Today it’s feeling less like a season coming to an end and more like a new beginning. Like you are embarking on a journey that will lead you straight into a new world — one that you are inventing and crafting for yourself — and straight out of the comfort and safety of the world I created for you.

I finally understand why there are entire sub-groups of the population that celebrate Quinceañera when their daughters turn 15. In these Latin American countries and communities 15 is seen as an important coming of age for girls. Large parties are held to recognize her journey from childhood to maturity. And that’s what it feels like today. Like I am finally having to recognize and accept you have crossed the threshold from childhood to maturity and are walking quickly toward adulthood.

I realize that this didn’t happen overnight, but there’s something about 15 that feels like this journey has suddenly gone into warp speed. This past year has been full of so many moments reminding me that you are no longer a little girl. It’s almost like someone gave you a check-list of things to do to signify you are leaving behind childhood and you are rushing to cross-off every item.

First love. First driving lesson. First phone. First bank account. First broken heart.

You got your braces off. You started making a list of colleges you might want to attend. You are earning your own money through babysitting, pet-sitting, and tutoring jobs.

In two days you leave on your first missions trip. You are traveling out of the country…without me!! It will also be the first time you won’t be home for a major holiday (somehow I did not make that connection when I agreed to this trip all those months ago).

I know it’s just the beginning. A sign of things to come. There will be more trips, more stamps in your passport. More time behind the wheel of a car, and more planning for college and life after highschool. More holidays spent away from your family, more time spent with friends and on dates.

So much more.

But the truth is it’s not just all of the things you are doing that has me feeling this shift, this change in trajectory. It’s also the changes I see in you. Physical changes, of course: you’re stunning, no longer a child’s face, but a young woman’s smile. And those long, long legs! You are now as tall as I am and will likely surpass me soon.

More striking, though, are the changes to your personality. At the core, you are still you — goofy, adventurous, dramatic, loving, talented, fiercely loyal, strong, and smart. But these traits have evolved. I see how a recently-developed maturity overlays each of these and makes them something different. You are protective of your family, vocal about social injustice, devoted to your friends, generous with your time, serious about using your gifts, but also humble and willing to admit your mistakes and shortcomings, committed to doing better and being your best-self. I am often amazed by how self-aware you are, a trait I find lacking in many adults, and especially in teenagers and children.

The most significant part, though, is that while you are this woman-child walking boldly toward adulthood, growing more confident with each step, I see you pause every now and then and look back over your shoulder at me. Are you making sure I’m still there? Not wanting to leave me behind? Or saying, “come on, mom, keep up! I need you with me”? I’m not sure which. Maybe a little of both. But I can tell you that taking this journey with you is simultaneously the greatest joy of my life and also has me completely undone.

But then, that’s motherhood in a nutshell.

My beautiful girl

Happy birthday my darling girl.

 

 

The Ugly Truth of an Overwhelmed Mom and Resentful Wife

It’s 10:30 p.m. and I’m exhausted.

The kids have been in bed for an hour, and my husband is asleep on the couch next to me. I shut down the laptop, turn off the TV, and pick up the cordless house phone to put in the charger. I am aware that if I don’t remember to do this tonight we won’t have use of our home phone the next day because someone has used the other handset, forgotten to put it back, and now it’s lost with a dead battery, somewhere in my house.

I pass by the dog’s food dish and see the child responsible for feeding her did not refill the water bowl, so I stop to fill it. I start to climb the steps to the upstairs, picking up a lost sock, a forgotten toy, and dirty dish towel along the way. With each step I climb, I feel the resentment growing inside of me.

Once upstairs I head to the kitchen to pick up the now cold dinner still sitting in the crockpot. As I open the fridge to find room for the container of leftovers, I see three other containers of uneaten leftovers taking up needed space because no one else will think to throw them out.

As I cross back through the living room, I pick up dirty tissues, forgotten school papers, and half-empty cups. I trip over a pair of tennis shoes left in the middle of the floor and turn off all the lights that were left ablaze after children went to bed.

And the bitterness sets in. The resentment is flaming.

Once in my bedroom I find all the items on my sink that one or more children used without asking, without putting away. I sigh, get undressed, wash my face, fill my humidifier, and think the only thing I want to do in that moment is climb into bed with my book so I can escape into another world, into someone else’s life. Because in this moment of exhaustion and raw emotion, my very real thought is, “I don’t want this anymore.”

Moments later, my husband joins me in our room, moving his sleepy body from the couch to the bed. He looks at me, hears my curt “goodnight” and asks if I’m mad at him. “No.” I reply.

“Is there something wrong?” he asks. I pause, waiting to see if common sense and decency win out over fatigue and resentment. Finally, I say, “I’m just not in a good place at the moment. I’d rather not talk about it.”

He pauses, trying to decide if more should be said, if he should probe. Probably waiting to see if common sense and decency win out over his own fatigue and frustration. Finally, he goes to sleep.

I’m left with my own thoughts and feelings, unable to concentrate on my book. And it is then that I realize it is not my family or my marriage or my head that is not in a good place, it’s my heart.

Because the truth is—the big-picture, unselfish truth—is that this man lying next to me had cooked that dinner I picked up off the counter. He had gone grocery shopping to buy the ingredients the day before, and helped me in the drop-off, shuttle, pick-up routine of daily life with kids. He had worked all day in a job that is physically exhausting and often emotionally draining.

The truth is, he is a true partner in this parenting gig, and shares much of the household load with me. And he never, ever expects me to do any of it alone.

The truth is those kids, asleep in their beds, they’re pretty good kids. They all have chores they do (mostly) without complaining each day and week. They have been taught that we are a family and everyone pitches in. They are responsible for their own laundry, picking up after themselves, doing homework, and taking care of pets.

The truth is they are usually gracious and thankful.

The truth is when I’m away from my family I miss them. They are what I think of most. I can’t wait to hear about their days—how did she do on that test? How did he do at the game? How did the meeting with the boss go? They are my heart walking around on four pairs of legs and I love them so much more than that word can express.

But beneath these truths, resentment bubbles to the surface and I let it sit there as I become consumed by frustration and overwhelmed by responsibility. Frustrated that they have to be asked and reminded. Overwhelmed by how much they all look to me to take the lead. I am the director, the scheduler, the planner, the seer, the doer, the organizer, and the manager.

Why don’t they remember to turn off the lights, and pick-up their shoes, and run the dishwasher, and sweep up the spilled cat food without being asked?

Why do I have to remind them to shower, and wash clothes, and feed pets, and return that phone call, and make that appointment, and walk the dog?

Why can’t they see the missing sock, the dirty tissue, the empty water bowl, the moldy leftovers and want to take care of it without my prompting?

And as these thoughts swirl through my head I know, without a doubt, it’s a heart problem. More accurately, it’s my heart problem.

Because love is patient (even when reminding a 12-year-old for the 547th time to feed the cat before school).

Because love is kind (even when discovering there are no clean dishes because my husband forgot to run the dishwasher the night before).

Because love does not envy (even when I see the young, childless married couple with their perfectly clean, Joanna and Chip Gaines-inspired home, and all their free time).

Because love does not boast or exhibit pride (even when I am the one who has washed the last 12 loads of laundry without a single thank you).

Because love is not self-seeking. And this is really what it comes down to. Am I a mother and wife because of what I expect to get out of it? Or am I a mother and a wife because of what I want to contribute to it? If it’s the latter, if I truly want to invest in these little lives, in this marriage, then I need to remember that comes with service. It comes with a willingness to give of myself and my talents to these people I love so much.

If my heart is full of love, real love (patience, kindness, without envy or pride, free from self-seeking), then there cannot be room for resentment and bitterness.

 

This post also appeared on Her View From Home.

 

How do we prevent sibling rivalry?

As a mom of three kids, two of whom are twins, one of my biggest challenges is keeping sibling rivalry at bay. I realize that some form of sibling rivalry is inevitable and it’s been happening since the beginning of time (thank you very much, Cain and Abel). My sister and I certainly fought and competed with one another growing up. But I always imagined — before having children – that my kids would love and support one-another, growing-up to be best friends. There were even signs that this might happen when they were very little. My eldest doted on her baby brother and sister when they came home from the hospital, bringing them her blankets and stuffed animals when they cried. When they were toddlers, my twins would waddle out to the playground hand-in-hand, or help each other up when they fell. It was so sweet and heart-warming…and lasted precisely 19 months, 16 days, 3 hours, and 27 seconds.

Now, here I am today with a teenager and two pre-teens. Mornings are torture as they snap at each other, blame each other, and try to boss one another around. Mealtime is filled with arguing over whose turn it is to talk, trying to get one another in trouble, or telling us about what the others did wrong at school that day. And car trips. Oh, don’t get me started on car trips! They are the worst! If I had a dollar for every time I said “no more talking, looking, or breathing at each other until we get home,” I would be able to afford that $30k a year private college my teen is eyeing.

Those pre-children dreams I had of raising three best friends are a distant memory now. Most days I’m just hoping nobody gets pushed down a well or sold to traveling Ishmaelite’s (thank you very much to all of Joseph’s brothers for planting that idea in my kids’ heads)!

I may not be able to completely stop the fighting and bickering that happens between my three, but one area I haven’t been willing to give up on is keeping them from the comparison trap. I never want any of my kids to feel like they aren’t as good as their sibling(s), or that they are expected to be the same. I know that this type of sibling rivalry will only create resentment and separation. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed as they get older this seems to be happening more and more, and it literally keeps me up at night worrying about the impact to their self-esteem, and their relationships.

Despite the many nights spent worrying and praying over this, and my resolve to not let it happen, I can tell you that [spoiler alert] I unequivocally have not figured out a perfect formula to prevent it. But there are a few things that seem to help more days than not, and I’m sharing these with you in hopes you will also share what is working in your family. Maybe together we can create our own play book on how to prevent a lifetime of competition and animosity between our children.

  1. Help them choose goals that are specific to their talents and abilities. This year all of my kids decided to run cross country. The three of them have varying degrees of athletic ability and experience running and if they all had the same goal of coming in first in their age group or running the same time, it would create a lot of frustration, disappointment, and comparison. So I talked to them regularly about what their individual goals were, focusing on improving on their previous times, and achieving personal bests, instead of all vying for the same goals. We do this with grades, too. My youngest daughter has really struggled with her spelling grade, so our focus this year has been on improving that. While my high-schooler has a history of late or missing homework assignments, so our focus has been eliminating those. This way we can celebrate when each child achieves a personal milestone that is meaningful to them, instead of only celebrating who got the most A’s and B’s.

 

  1. Privately encourage the older siblings to mentor the younger ones in specific areas. Now, I realize this may not work in every sibling situation. But my teen is great at making others feel included. She’s always been the kid who seeks out the loners and sits with them at lunch. Meanwhile, my younger daughter has been struggling to balance different groups of friends and the hurt feelings that can come between middle-school girls. Frankly, she doesn’t always like my advice or listen to it because, well I’m her mom – what do I know! So I’ve asked her sister to talk to her about it because my younger daughter looks up to her big sister. It lifts her up to think her big sister is taking a decided interest in her life. Meanwhile, it makes my eldest feel needed and important, instead of feeling annoyed by her little sister.

    If there is something one of your younger kids is struggling with, consider bringing in an older sibling, sharing only what is necessary and appropriate so as not to break confidences, and encourage them to help out. It inspires the older sibling, showing them what an important role they can play, while potentially opening doors to a pattern of siblings confiding in and supporting each other.

 

  1. Never, ever compare one sibling to another out loud. Notice my caveat of “out loud” here. What I really mean is don’t do it in front of your kids. The psychology magazines will tell you we, as parents, shouldn’t compare our kids at all. But just being real here, that’s not easy for me. Always in my head I look at my younger two and wonder how they are twins when they are SO different in every way. I look at my oldest and wonder how it is her sister is so organized and she struggles. I look at my son and wonder why dental hygiene seems to be so much more important to his sisters than it is to him. But I try very hard not to say these things out loud.

    If my children pick-up that I’m comparing them to their sibling and see one child doesn’t quite match another in a specific area, then they start to do this, too. Not only does it become a slippery slope to one feeling inferior to another, but it gives the other sibling a sense of superiority that I don’t want any of my kids to have (ok, well except maybe with the dental hygiene thing – if only my son cared enough about it to be shamed by his sisters!).

 

Those are three tactics I’ve been trying to employ in my house, and have found success, to varying degrees. I would love to hear what works for you and your children!

3 ways to prevent sibling rivalry