Here’s what happened at our house last week…
Daryl started first grade.
Amelia started the 3-year-old program at the same school.
Peter started back to work with faculty meetings.
And so did I. (The blurriness is absolutely apropos.)
Thankfully, Grandma came from England last Wednesday and is helping us through the transition. With her extra hands, a bit of coffee, and a lot of grace, we made it through week one. And I’m praying hard that this week we can start to settle into our new fall routine. Classes started for me this morning, and so far so good.
A week ago last Thursday, as I was anticipating all of this change and fighting back growing feelings of fear, I had a voicemail message from our Dean. In the message, he said that he wanted to talk to me about Faculty Institute—two days of meetings that are intended to help us get our heads in the game. I listened to the message late in the afternoon. When it was too late to call him back. But my immediate thought was that he wanted me to give a little report on my sabbatical year to the rest of the faculty. I told Peter about the Dean’s message, and he had the same thought. So my mind began to whir about what I might share and I panicked and I said to Peter, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Not because my sabbatical was bad. Not at all. It was a wonderful year. With many blessings and opportunities for growth.
But I was reluctant to report because my mind immediately went to all of the things that I did not accomplish. Unlike many of my distinguished colleagues who go on sabbatical, I didn’t translate a book of the Bible. I didn’t compile a hymnal. Or write a commentary. I didn’t defend a dissertation for a PhD. I didn’t even quite finish the This Odd House manuscript.
As Thursday evening wore on, though, I tried to pull myself together. I tried to focus on all of the things I did accomplish. I even jotted down some notes…I did get a lot of writing done. I did launch a blog. I did have several speaking engagements. I did secure a literary agent, who helped me get my proposal in front of publishers. A number of them even responded with interest. I did start a writers’ group. I did re-organize my linen closet. I did learn all of the lyrics to the Frozen soundtrack. And I did potty train Amelia—albeit with moderate success…
Then, on Friday morning, I got ahold of the Dean. And he told me what he actually wanted me to do at Faculty Institute. Give a devotion. To which I agreed. And I breathed a momentary sigh of relief. But then my mind started spinning again—what could I share with that august body of Bible scholars? “Who am I?”
Then, quite quickly, I knew.
For the past couple of weeks, I have been spending time once again in the book of Exodus. Chapters 3 & 4. The Call of Moses. If you happened to read my last post—Daryl’s story—you know this already.
The Call of Moses is a story many of us have known since childhood. Daryl could tell you quite a bit about the narrative. In fact, last week I asked him to recount what he could about the story. And he was able to tell me that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. That God asked Moses to go to Egypt and rescue His people. That Moses didn’t want to go, but he went anyway. That Pharaoh kept changing his mind once Moses got there. That God’s people had an “Ocean Problem.” And that God parted the water so His people could pass through. I was duly impressed.
(I didn’t bother to ask Amelia about the story. Though perhaps I should have for comic effect. Last Sunday when I picked her up after church, she proudly showed me her picture of a big fish and told me that she learned about “Jesus and the dolphin.” We have some work to do….)
Anyhow. This is what I shared with our faculty on Wednesday morning. These are the simple—but transformational—truths I wanted to underline on the pages of their hearts–and my own–as we start a new school year together. I pray they encourage you as well.
The Call of Moses starts, of course, with the burning bush. Moses is tending his father-in-law’s flock. And he leads the sheep to the far side of the dessert. The text doesn’t tell us exactly why. But he ends up—providentially—on the mountain of God.
He is walking along, minding his own business, tending the sheep, when he notices a strange phenomenon on the horizon. A bush. Full of flames of fire. But not consumed. It is the angel of the Lord. Moses doesn’t know that yet. But he’s curious. So he goes over to have a closer look.
God sees that He has Moses’ attention. And He calls to him. “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses says, “Here I am.”
And God says, “Don’t come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then God hands Moses his calling card. “I am the God of your father. The God of Abraham. The God of Isaac. And the God of Jacob.”
And at this Moses hides his face, because he is afraid to look at God.
But then in verses 7-10 the Lord shares his heart. He reveals to Moses His motivation for this meeting. “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt,” God says. “I have heard them crying out and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them…So now go. I am sending you.”
Scripture doesn’t give us a visual description of Moses at that point, but I imagine his eyes bugging out of his head and his jaw hitting the ground. Because for the next 29 verses, we hear his repeated protests. The infamous excuses of Moses. Four times he tells God why this is not a good plan. Four times he says to God, “But I….”
But I’m not worthy. Who am I?
But I’m not credible. What should I say to them?
But I’m not believable. What if they don’t listen to me?
But I’m not eloquent. I am slow of speech.
And then he finishes with his final pathetic plea—“Pleeeeeeease, send someone else.”
So many times. “But I…”
Then, of course, we have God’s response. After each one of Moses’ excuses, God patiently replies—until 4:14 when He understandably gets a little peeved.
He doesn’t tell Moses, though, what I am often tempted to tell my kids and my students when they doubt themselves. He doesn’t say, “No, Moses, you can do it! You can do anything you set your mind to. Don’t underestimate yourself. The sky’s the limit for you. You’re special. You’re gifted. Go, Moses!”
No. Of course not. Instead. Each time God responds by completely reorienting Moses. Turning him right around. Each time Moses says, “But I…” God says, “Behold I…”
I will be with you.
I AM WHO I AM.
I will help you speak.
God promises His presence.
God gives Moses displays of his power. Tells him to throw his staff on the ground. And it becomes a snake. Tells him to put his hand inside his cloak. And it is leprous, like snow.
And, too, God declares His purpose. “That they may believe in Me.”
I have a lot of “But I…” moments. During my sabbatical, it was but I don’t know if I can write a book. I don’t know if I have anything worthwhile to say. I don’t know if anyone will want to read. Coming back to teaching this fall, it is but I don’t know if I remember how to teach well. I don’t know if I’m up-to-date. I don’t know if I have the stamina this schedule requires. So many times. “But I…”
Maybe you identify with Moses right now. Maybe you say with him and with me, “But I…” I’m not worthy. I’m not prepared. I’m not adequate.
Or maybe you don’t identify with Moses right now. It’s also possible for us to swing to other end of the pendulum too. When we’ve been doing the same thing for so long. When we could do our jobs in our sleep. And we sometimes do. And rather than being full of self-doubt, we are full of self-reliance.
Both postures are problematic, aren’t they? With their focus on the self.
So whatever you’re facing this fall, God invites you…
To hear His call anew.
To take off your sandals. This is holy ground.
He has heard the cries of His creation. He is concerned about their suffering. And He has called you to be a part of their deliverance. That they may believe.
To that end, He invites you into a deep dependence.
And He invites you to lay aside all of your “but I’s.” And to fix your gaze on Him who is speaking to you, at this start of this new school year, “Behold I…”
Great I AM, we come barefoot and bare faced into your presence. Fraught with our own insecurities and reliance on self. Keep us dependent. Hold our gaze. Do Your work among us. Maybe we be faithful to Your call. Amen.
This precious kid turns six on Sunday. So today it seems fitting to share a bit of his God story with you. A longer version is also the next chapter in the This Odd House manuscript. And taken in that context, it represents a much-anticipated turning point.
In January 2009, I wrote in my journal: “I’m ready for our adoption miracle.”
Of course, I had no idea who that little miracle would be. How he would come to us. Or what new levels of faith his arrival would require.
But stripped of so many dreams. Of so much pride and control and reliance on self. I stood before the throne of God, waving a white flag. Declaring the demolition phase “done.” For the time being, at least. And begging for Him to begin to build me back.
Two months later, I had a voicemail message. From a friend Tanya at church. Telling us that she had just heard about a seven-month-old baby boy. She had been praying all day, she said, and sensed God leading her to call us.
When I shared Tanya’s message with Peter, he said, “That reminds me. Yesterday I had a message from Kari HansenH. She also said something about a seven-month-old baby boy, I think.”
“You think?” I replied, dumbfounded. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Kelli. I didn’t want to get your hopes up. Again. You know how this always goes.”
We stared at each other for several moments.
“What do you want to do?” Peter finally asked.
And I said, “I think we have to call.”
As red raw as our hearts were (from Peter’s dad’s death, from infertility, from failed adoptions, from my mom’s passing and my dad’s decline), as much as I wanted to protect myself from further pain, I also knew that if we were ever going to be parents, we had to keep taking this risk.
Peter nodded, and I called Tanya.
She explained that she had received an e-mail from a pastor. An e-mail that went to a whole network of churches, so who knows how many other people were also privy to his plea—for someone, some family, to step up and stand in the gap for a seven-month-old baby boy who was coming up for adoption. Tanya gave us the pastor’s number to call.
When we got home, though, Peter called Kari first. And she told us her story. That a friend of hers, Maggie, had been caring for a baby boy through the Safe Family program. Because this baby’s mother had pretty complex issues, he had been with Maggie for seven months. His whole little life. Kari said that the baby’s birthmom would not be able to parent, so this baby was coming up for adoption.
Peter told Kari about Tanya’s call. “Do you think it’s the same baby?” Peter asked.
“I don’t know,” Kari said. “It’s quite a coincidence if it is. Or maybe it’s just God’s way of making His plan clear.”
One of my favorite Biblical accounts is God’s call of Moses in Exodus chapters 3 and 4.
First, there’s that blazing bush. That obvious direction. That unmistakable display. That we all desire.
Then there are Moses’ many excuses. To which I can relate. There are his fears. Four times he says to God, “But…but I…” I’m not worthy. Not wise. Not believable. Nor eloquent. Four times he persistently protests God’s plan.
And each time God answers (patiently—until 4:14—when He gets a little bit peeved).
Each time He answers. With a promise of His presence.
Signs of His power.
And a declaration of His purpose. “That they may believe.”
Before we hung up, Kari gave us Maggie’s number. And we called her immediately, bracing ourselves for another door slam.
But Maggie was thrilled. We were an answer to her prayers too.
She told us that the baby slept well, ate well, and smiled continually. She also explained what she understood about his situation. That his birthmom probably couldn’t parent. That the case was going to juvenile court the following week. That the caseworkers were going to recommend adoption. But it would be up to the judge to determine what would be done.
She finished with a word of encouragement. “You will be so blessed to love this baby,” she said. “And did I say? His name is Daryl.”
Peter and I thought and talked and prayed about Daryl all weekend. Begged for our own blazing bush. A clear call. And I fought back many fears. Voiced all of my excuses. My own, “But…but I…” I don’t know if this is right for us. If this is God’s call. If I’m able. If I’m ready. I’m not strong. And I’m not brave. I don’t want to be disappointed again. I don’t want to feel more pain. And I definitely don’t want to finally love a baby, then have to let him go.
But in the din of all of our deliberating, we thought we heard a response. A whispered word. A promise of God’s presence. A “Behold, I…” And we knew. That God could close the door at any point. He had many times before. That was His prerogative. But it wasn’t our place to preempt Him.
So on Monday morning, we called Maggie and told her that we wanted to find out more. That’s how we put it. We weren’t yet ready to commit. But we wanted to move cautiously ahead. She was thrilled, she said. And she would have her caseworker call us.
Peter and I were both on Spring Break from our teaching jobs that week. So we hung around the house and waited by the phone. All day. By late afternoon, I was getting antsy. I gave Peter strict instructions to call me if he heard anything. And I drove over to Borders. To peruse the parenting shelves—a section I had avoided for years. I was flipping through the pages of What to Expect the First Year, mentally making a Babies-R-Us shopping list, when my cell phone rang. It was Peter, and my heart started pounding.
As soon as I said, “Hello,” he asked, “Do you remember Audrey Cain?”
Instantly, I was irritated. I did remember Audrey—a very nice girl who had been a student in both of our classes a couple of years ago—but I wasn’t interested in hearing about her just then.
“Yes, I remember Audrey Cain,” I snipped, waiting to hear that she needed a job reference or had sent a wedding invitation.
“Kelli,” Peter said, “she is the baby’s caseworker.”
“She is Daryl’s case worker,” he repeated. “She’s going to call you in a few minutes to talk about him.”
I hung up the phone and stood staring at the wall of baby books. Dazed. Could Audrey Cain be our burning bush?
For the following two weeks, Audrey, Maggie, Peter, and I talked and e-mailed about Daryl every day. But with each conversation, the situation became more complicated, rather than more clear. Daryl actually wasn’t “coming up for adoption.” He was coming into foster care. He didn’t need an adoptive family, at least not yet. He needed a foster home. And Peter and I weren’t licensed foster parents. Possibly…eventually…Daryl would be adopted. But there was no guarantee. And because his birthmom wanted to parent, it would be a long and difficult road.
For the following two weeks, Peter and I asked everyone we could think of for advice. Some friends were excited about this possibility. Others, knowing our history of disappointment, were understandably concerned. One foster agency we called refused to work with us. But then the McHenry County DCFS office offered their support. One friend who works in the foster system said that this situation didn’t suit our desire to adopt. But then my boss agreed to give me some time off of work to be with Daryl if we brought him home.
Our other caseworker Valerie, who was handling our China adoption, was perhaps the most persuasive voice. I called her one afternoon to fill her in and solicit her perspective.
“I would advise against it,” she said without hesitation. “You don’t have a foster license, so DCFS probably won’t let you take him anyhow.”
We had anticipated this hurdle. Audrey had even suggested that Valerie might help us get our foster license. That perhaps her agency could oversee Daryl’s case.
“We no longer handle foster care,” she said. “You would have to transfer your license to another agency. But even if you do that, foster children usually return home. They don’t usually need an adoption. You guys have waited so long to be parents. I would hate to see you disappointed again.”
I didn’t know what to say.
With Valerie’s help we had just finished all of the paperwork and our profile book, had just paid all of the initial fees, for a domestic adoption with her agency. So Valerie continued, “You should also understand that when our agency agreed to help you with a concurrent adoption, it was with the assumption that the second adoption would also be through us.”
“I understand,” I muttered.
Then she delivered her knock-out punch. “I suppose now is not the time to tell you that I have a birthmother right now who is interested in your profile.”
So back-and-forth we went for days. One moment confident. The next shaken and confused. Until finally, one afternoon I collapsed on a chair in the office of Jan, a colleague and mentor. I told her I was afraid. Afraid of making the wrong decision. Afraid of suddenly becoming a mom. Afraid of letting our son slip through my fingers because of my fear.
“What should we do?” I asked Jan.
“I don’t know, Kelli,” she sighed. “I guess I would just say, Do what you won’t regret.”
She didn’t give me a chapter and verse. But God used her words. To tell me that—regardless of the result—I would never regret putting myself on the line for baby Daryl. But I would regret it if I didn’t.
He used those words to show me that if I wanted my miracle, I was going to have to throw myself at His mercy.
And He used those words to call me—not just into motherhood—but also into something more. A journey of complete surrender and utter dependence on Him. He used those words to tell me that He wanted to give me—not just a child to love—but even more than that, He wanted to give me Himself.
That evening—two weeks after we got the initial word—we called Audrey and told her, “We’re ready. Whatever happens. We want to bring Daryl home.”
At the time, I wasn’t familiar with George Barna’s journey toward Maximum Faith. The ten Stops he’s outlined on the path of spiritual growth. But in hindsight I see this chapter in our lives as a move into Barna’s Stop 8. “Choosing to surrender and submit fully to God.”
“Radical Dependence,” Barna calls it. That comes on the other side of brokenness.
It’s a humility that affects every area of life. A desire for Christlikeness above all else. Above comfort and above control. It is “an ever-present God-consciousness that changes our emotions, thoughts and deeds.”
I wish I could share more here. (God willing—you’ll just have to buy the book). I wish I could describe for you all of the miracles in Daryl’s story. All of the moments when God reached in with power and grace. All of the times he dropped our jaws. Providing just the right caseworker at just the right time. Giving us favor with a judge. And a lawyer. And Daryl’s birthmom. And DCFS. Parting the sea of the foster system when no one thought it possible.
I don’t need to say that I wouldn’t trade Daryl for the world. He’s my son. And I have loved him deeply since I first laid eyes on his dark curly hair and his darling little dimple and his puddles of drool.
But perhaps I do need to say this. That I also wouldn’t trade the journey. I wouldn’t trade how it has changed us. And I wouldn’t trade the front row seat I’ve had to watch Him at work.
When have you heard God’s call?
Maybe you hear it right now.
What sort of surrender will it require of you?
Happy Birthday, my darling Daryl Boy! You are so loved.
“I tear down to rebuild. And through the process of pain, growth happens.
I hate it, but it is good.”
–Henry Cloud, How People Grow
I just watched a video montage of several buildings being demolished. Enormous structures of brick and concrete and steel. Exploding. Then imploding. Then crumbling to the ground.
Some of you have experienced—firsthand—this sort of tearing down. Not of a physical structure. But of your life. Some of you have survived a singular knee-buckling day. When the world as you knew it exploded. Then imploded. Then came crashing down. And you were left. Covered in debris. Reeling in the rubble and the ruin.
So far, my experience of pain hasn’t been quite like that. There wasn’t one momentous tragedy. Or one utterly devastating day. So far, for me, it has been a more systematic deconstruction. More crowbar and sledgehammer than dynamite.
Years of infertility. And miscarriages.
Adoptions delayed. Adoptions failed.
My father-in-law’s death. Mom’s cancer. Dad’s broken hip.
Financial strain. Relationships lost.
A marriage, a family, cracking under pressure.
And a faith, hanging in the balance.
There was one Monday afternoon in August 2008, when we brought Mom home from the hospital. Her cancer had returned. She’d had a minor heart attack. Then a stroke. After which she waved the white flag and declared she was done.
A hospice nurse was training my mother-in-law (Mum) and me when the telephone rang. Mum jumped up to answer it. When she returned, her face was grave.
“That was nursing home,” she said. “They’re recommending hospice care for your dad as well.”
I was too shocked or too numb or too overwhelmed to cry. I did my best to absorb what Mom’s nurse was telling me. Then I called Dad’s nurse back.
“His swallow reflex is getting worse,” she explained. “He’s been coughing horribly. For months.” I knew this, of course. His doctor had ordered a swallow test, which revealed that everything he took by mouth was going down the wrong way. Repeated x-rays showed that his lungs were still clear however. So everyone was a bit confused.
“We can’t keep feeding him,” the nurse continued. “He is going to aspirate. It’s inevitable. And it could kill him. He has two choices. Get the feeding tube and take nothing by mouth. Or formally refuse treatment and go on hospice. And at this point, he’s refusing the tube.”
“Let me talk to him,” I said.
I left Mom in the care of Mum, and minutes later I sat in the pink vinyl wingback chair, looking straight into Dad’s frightened eyes. I explained the situation as clearly as I could. “If you don’t get the feeding tube, you are refusing treatment that will prolong your life. You are saying that you’re ready to die. Is that the case?”
“I won’t be able to eat or drink? Ever again?” he asked.
“That’s right,” I said. He shook his head.
“That’s no way to live,” he said.
“I know,” I said.
We sat in silence, as we were prone to do. Each trying to comprehend the decision we had to make.
Finally he asked, “What do you think?”
And I answered, “Get the tube.”
Then I called my brother for moral support. And he put my nephews on the phone. “Grandpa,” they said, “please get the tube.”
To which my dad finally said, “Okay.”
Dad recovered from the procedure, and we brought him to the house to visit Mom a few times more. On October 20 he spent the afternoon watching football by her side. She had barely roused for days. When it was time to return Dad to the nursing home, he drove his Hoveround straight past Mom and out the door. I stopped him before he could lower his lift.
“Dad,” I said, “Mom doesn’t have long. Don’t you want to say something to her?”
And he drove his Hoveround back to her side. Took one final look. Gave her hand one final pat. “You’re my queen,” he said.
She died early the next morning. Mum and I were by her side.
Then. My brother moved my Dad to Tennessee to care for him there—against my better judgment. And he felt so far.
Then. We had a third pregnancy. This time heard a heartbeat. And allowed ourselves to hope.
Then. Days before my spring break trip to see Dad, the heartbeat was gone. And I spent that spring break, instead, in bed. Waiting for that little life to leave my body.
Then. Before I could arrange another visit to Tennessee, before I could see him again and say all of the things, Dad died.
Then. I was left with not just grief. But also regret. I felt rather orphaned. Exhausted and exposed. Gutted and barefaced. Reeling in the rubble. Sometimes surfacing to survey the scene. And ask the questions we all ask in the midst of suffering. Will I make it through? And how? What will life look like on the other side? Who is God in the midst of this? And is there a point to it all? Does this pain serve any good purpose?
The nihilist would say, “No.” And truthfully, when the destruction is all you can see, it’s tempting to agree with him.
But there is another perspective.
Does pain serve a purpose? Henry Cloud and John Townsend (How People Grow) would say, “Yes. It most certainly can.”
They do make a distinction though. Between good pain and bad. Between therapeutic suffering that brings life change. Destructive suffering at the hands of evil people. And worthless suffering that persists unnecessarily, that we perpetrate when we refuse to face our own stuff. The key is telling the difference.
Cloud and Townsend would say, God uses good pain—and grief—to produce in us growth. In fact, they call grief “the pain that heals all of the rest.” The most important pain of all. Because it leads us to the place of comfort and healing. It takes us to the foot of the cross. And when we grieve well, the good pain can do its good work. It can push our old coping mechanisms past their breaking point. It can tear down parts of our character. Make space for the new. Open up places that another season of comfort never could. Prepare us to live as we were designed to live.
Does pain serve a purpose? George Barna (Maximum Faith), too, would say, “Yes. It does.” In fact, Stop Number 7 on his journey toward maximum faith is “Personal Brokenness.”
“Brokenness” is something of a buzzword these days. Used in Christian circles to mean a variety of things. Sometimes it simply describes the human condition. We are all “broken.” Sinful. A great big mess. Or it describes our emotional state when the pain is just too much. Or it describes our families, our homes, when relationships dissolve.
Barna’s definition is a bit different. He describes “brokenness” as a specific time of face-to-face confrontation. Between God and us. When “God meets [believers] head-on with the realization that they are still too self-reliant.” When God allows a period of pain, wanting to evoke in us a response of “reflection and meditation, sorrow and remorse, realistic self-evaluation, talking and listening to [Him], and coming to the end of self.” And it is only through this sort of brokenness that we are prepared for the “glorious healing and reconstruction that God has in mind.”
For me, then, I believe that it was only in being thus gutted—stripped of my faulty self-assessment and self-dependence, my old coping mechanisms and defenses, my own plans and vision for my life—that He could really begin His good work.
One day Bob Villa arrived at the Percival Street Victorian in Boston. That original This Old House. And he found that the porch had been reduced to the roof, held up only by some indomitable old posts. A day or so later, the roof looked more like a grape arbor. And only one original post remained.
A few days after that, the house stood bare faced. No porch was left at all. “Board by board we’d gradually condemned and dismantled it,” Villa writes. Roof. Posts. Floor. The closer they looked, the more problems they found.
But. In the midst of the porch deconstruction, Villa and crew also did some “soul-searching.” They knew the porch deserved the best. That it was the focal point of the house’s exterior. So—although it was costly—Villa arranged to have new porch posts custom-milled out of single pieces of Philippine mahogany.
And so he built a brand new porch. A porch that was beautiful. And strong. And would stand the test of time.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-10
July has been a big birthday month in our house.
I turned xx. In the beautiful Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. And discovered the ideal spot to finish writing my book. (See that cabin back there? Donald Miller would approve.)
This little darling turned 3. At the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. Where even the sharks seemed to grin their birthday greeting.
And the This Odd House blog turned 1. With little fanfare. Or even acknowledgement. Other than this pink, fluffy hat.
All that to say, this month we’ve had so much to celebrate! And so many reasons to eat cake.
This month also marks the end of my sabbatical year. In just a few short weeks, I’ll revise my syllabi, dust off my lesson plans, and saunter back into the classroom. Returning to the same job I have had and loved for sixteen years.
But I will be a little bit different. This year has marked me in many ways.
It seems fitting, then—at this birthday time and before the month escapes me—to reflect for a few minutes. To look back on this year of focused writing and reading and birthing a blog. And consider just what has been learned.
I had no idea what to expect when I hit “publish” for the first time last July. No idea if anyone would read or resonate. No idea if I would like blogging. Or not. No idea where the writing would take me or what exactly I needed to say.
But I believed God had called me to it. That He had done so much healing in my own heart, performed so many miracles in our lives, that I had to share. I had to shout over the WiFi waves and give Him the glory that is due. I believed that blogging for me was an act of obedience. And worship. I believed it could be an instrument of further growth in my own life. And hopefully in the lives of a few others as well.
And so it has been a year of finding my blogging feet. Of baby steps. And missteps. And more than a few leaps into the deep end where the water is way over my head. If you’re reading this, you are— and possibly have long been—a part of the journey. So thank you. Every word of encouragement, every story you’ve shared in response, every “I know what you mean” has been a much needed nudge to keep going.
That being said, here are a few of the lessons I have learned.
• I have learned that a blog is a perfect place to hone your writing Voice. Writers talk often about this illusive matter of voice. What it is. What it isn’t. How to find your own. As a teacher, every semester I encourage my students to find theirs. But when they ask me what I mean or how to do it—step-by-step—I am less certain what to say. One definition I like is this: “Your voice is how you choose to break the rules.” It’s the shape of your writing. The structure. The poetry. The rhythm. The metaphor. It’s the images you paint on the page. The words you choose. The way you line them up. It’s the length of your sentences. The punctuation you put in. Or don’t. It’s all of these things and more. It’s what makes your writing “you.” And since there is no editor peering over your shoulder, a blog is a fun place to play. So I have learned to do just that. I have learned that I like fragments. A lot. And I use them freely. I have learned that alliteration flows from me like a fountain. I don’t know why. But—believe it or not—I try to tone that down. I have learned the power of placing two stories side-by-side. Or three. Or four. Because they talk to each other. And the richest meaning often comes from their conversations.
• I have learned to live more like a Writer. To put something on paper almost every single day. I have learned to see. To pay better attention. To my own life. My own heart. To the world around me—big and small. And to what God seems to be doing therein. I have been reminded that good writing requires good thinking. And good thinking requires time. And I have learned to create the space I need to ponder. I have learned to sit and stare. Or to simply walk around the block. I have learned to better invite Peter into the process. Without pretense or defense. I have learned to read more widely. To find the funny. To take more notes. I have learned to hide in the corner at the coffee shop. To turn off the WiFi until I meet my daily goal. And I have learned that I am more fully who God created me to be when I am regularly writing. I have learned that I need this like I need air.
• I have learned just how important Platform is to publishers. While I have been encouraged by the interest of editors in my book proposal and writing, so far each one has ultimately passed. Because the numbers just aren’t there yet, they say. But I have learned that I can’t get caught up in them. I can’t control them. And contrary to what it seems at times, they aren’t actually the point. I have learned that—if I really want to grow my platform—I ought to be blogging at least three times each week. And I have learned that—at this point in my life—three posts a week is impossible. I have learned that I am a slow writer. Very slow. And I have learned to accept my own limitations. I have learned that it’s okay for me right now to focus on quality, not quantity. I have learned the importance of setting a sustainable expectation. I have learned to not make blogging promises that I can’t keep. And I have learned to trust the publishing outcome to the only one who always knows what He’s doing.
• I have learned the value of being Vulnerable. I have learned to shunt the shame. And the pride. And the fear. I have learned to take risks. Repeatedly. And write what I believe is real. I have learned that readers generally don’t ridicule you when you reveal your faults and doubts. Rather, they respond with relief. And their own revelation. I have learned that only honesty begets honesty. That perhaps the best way to encourage other people to examine their lives in the light of truth is to say, “Here, I’ll go first.”
• I have learned to create Community. To be intentional about satisfying that cardinal craving. Writing is such a solitary endeavor. So many hours spent staring at a screen, rather than a face. So many days spent running around in my own head. I have learned how much I need to find friends. And I have learned that they can come in many forms. I have learned to look for them on my own blog and on theirs. At conferences. On social media. In the Kindergarten pick-up line. Or in the sanctuary at church. I have learned to reach out. To comment. To connect. To be the first to say, “We should talk.” I have even learned to pass chapters of my precious manuscript to a friend and beg, “Please, be brutal.” One of my favorite things that God has done this year is to draw together a Writers’ Group. One-by-one He brought them across my path. At this point almost twenty like-minded women. Writers and speakers. Who now come to my living room one Saturday morning every month. And they sharpen one another. And they bless me beyond measure.
• Finally, I have learned to better trust the writing Process. Or more accurately, the Giver of words. I have seen just how unhelpful it is to fret over self-imposed deadlines or a loss of inspiration or writing time “wasted” washing windows. So rather than succumbing to worry, I am more likely—instead—to escape to my strange sanctuary. The furnace room in our basement. Where the treadmill lives. And where God meets me in a special way. I have learned that writing is, first and foremost, listening. So rather than beating my head against a blank screen, I am more likely to open my heart. And my ears. And His Word. I have learned to wait patiently for Him to speak.
I pray to you, O LORD, my rock. Do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you are silent, I might as well give up and die.
You’ve probably heard the song by the same title.
Maybe you saw the moving performance on Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.
Or the subsequent rendition on NBC’s The Voice.
Since it soared in the charts last November, I can’t sit for any amount of time in my favorite coffee shop without hearing the clear piano chords. The piercing voice of A Great Big World’s Ian Axel. The sweet harmony of Christina Aguilera. And those simple lyrics. That keep tugging at hearts. And calling up a universal desire.
For a second chance.
For something—anything—to be spoken.
Three days before my eleventh birthday, it was oppressively hot in Minneapolis and in our little post-war tract house. Our two electric fans only shifted the steamy air from one side of the room to the other. So to escape the extended heat wave, my parents decided that we should take a little vacation up north. Our destination was the historic and picturesque Naniboujou Lodge, which stands right on the shore of Lake Superior, just fifteen minutes shy of the Canadian border.
Our plan was to travel on Sunday. But as we shoved shorts and sweatshirts into suitcases that Saturday afternoon and anticipated another sleepless, sweaty night, my mom made an uncharacteristically spontaneous suggestion. “Let’s leave now.”
She called the Holiday Inn in Duluth—the halfway point—and booked a room. My little brother and I helped her load the car. Filled the backseat with books and toys. Then climbed in—damp legs sticking to vinyl. And we headed north.
Dad rode shotgun, per normal, holding the atlas on his lap and the little slip of paper on which Mom had written our hotel reservation number. To pass the time, Dad decided that I should commit this number to memory.
Dad loved numbers. And he knew a lot of them by heart. He could tell you the population of Minneapolis in 1955 and the batting averages of most of the Minnesota Twins.
So as we drove those three hours to Duluth, all of the car windows down, enjoying the temperature drop, Dad called out that reservation number. Then asked me to shout it back to him. Over and over and over again. Hooting with appreciation each time I got it right.
I didn’t love numbers. At least, not as much as he did. So I rolled my eyes. Emitted exaggerated sighs. Feigned frustration at the whole pointless exercise.
But it stuck with me. In my poor, dim memory, something about this event shimmers.
I even still remember the number in question. 245O7X7XOO6.
Maybe it was his attention. Or his intention. The opportunity to be the object of his focus for a period of time. Maybe it was his pleasure. His laughter. The fact that it became a long-standing, inside joke. Maybe it was his persistence. His passion for the goal. His very unique version of leadership and power. His desire to impart knowledge. To shape in some small way my heart and mind. Maybe it was all of this. And more. Which—taken together—evoked in me the rare feeling of being fathered.
Father hunger is a fierce but fragile thing.
While we instinctively look to our mothers for nurture and affection and a calming touch, dads are designed to provide something different. Equally important. And irreplaceable.
From our fathers, we seek strength and stability. We look for excitement and exploration and adventure. We want our fathers to teach us how to take initiative, to compete, to stand firm.
Of course, many of us have survived without a dad. Whether he was taken by death or divorce or—as in my case—disability. By abuse or addiction or even adoption. By an all-consuming career or his own callousness. We have survived. With varying degrees of burn.
I know I am not qualified to address the more searing of these. (Though my dad was distant, he was always present and always kind.) But I think I can safely say this. Our survival doesn’t negate our need. Though the wound may be sutured, it is not necessarily healed. And no matter the source or the severity, father loss must be faced.
In her book Longing for Dad, Beth M. Erickson, Ph.D., describes “father hunger” as a “gaping hole in the soul” (19). Then she lists several ways that we might seek to fill it up. Alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, sexual promiscuity, violence, serial relationships, and overwork. Monique Robinson describes another set of common remedies. “Many fatherless children grow into pleasers,” she says, “who fail to set boundaries for fear of abandonment and rejection. Others become perfectionists; they keep everything in order externally to shield their internal, emotional chaos. Many women overcompensate for their lack of self-esteem and become overachievers to prove to others (and themselves) that they are somebody” (Longing for Daddy 1).
But all of us, Robinson says, wrestle hard with the sovereignty of God. We are reluctant to rest in His control because either we hold too tightly to the reins ourselves or we have become accustomed to running wild.
Father hunger takes different forms throughout our lifetime. As young children, we simply don’t know any differently. Our experience of “father” is what “father” is. We may be aware of wanting a connection with a man we call “dad.” And we may feel a measure of pain when that desire goes unmet. But young children instinctively figure out how to cope. Self-preservation at its best. We build defenses. And elaborate strategies. To either meet those needs or bury them.
As we get older, though, we may come to understand more of what we missed. How deep the hole goes. Old, unmet needs may surface under stress. Our coping methods may begin to crack. And if the loss is not addressed, if we do not walk through the grief, if we do not tear down the defense, if we do not seek true healing for the hurt, our father hunger can manifest itself in other ways. It can masquerade as fear or control or worry. Depression or anger or distrust. To name a few.
At various times, my father hunger looked like each of those.
And for all my life, I coped in exactly the ways that Robinson describes. The pleaser. The perfectionist. The overachiever. These strategies “worked” for me. Oh, sometime in my 20s I had an inkling about what was going on. I learned to identify it. Acknowledge it. Talk about it a bit. And then set it aside. Send it back underground.
Mom and Dad moved into This Old McHenry House in August of 2005. And I kept bumping into my father loss. On a daily basis. When every time I turned around. My dad was there. But really he wasn’t.
In the fall of 2007 my dad fell next to his bed. And broke his hip. The surgeons said that—because of his cerebral palsy—he wasn’t a good candidate for a replacement. They did a Girdlestone instead. Removed the ball of the hip and sewed him up. They said, “Since he isn’t walking anyhow, I don’t think it will change the quality of his life.”
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
It drastically changed his life. And ours.
Since Dad could no longer transfer himself, since home healthcare was not practical or affordable, since I couldn’t safely lift him on my own—after weeks of research—we finally resigned ourselves to the reality that Dad was never going to return home. The most agonizing decision I have thus far had to make.
Almost every day we would visit him at the nursing home. On the weekends, Peter and I would bring Mom. And we would all spend the afternoon on the patio, chasing the sun. During the week, though, either Peter or I visited each night after dinner. Often, Dad was already in bed. Watching Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. And I would sit in the pink vinyl wingback chair. By his side. He might tell me that he got his toe nails cut. Or that he saw the Feldco commercial. He liked the jingle. Or that a fellow resident Dawn tried to feed him again and got yelled at by the staff. He might try to solve the Wheel of Fortune puzzle or answer a Jeopardy question. He might ask me—with wide and terrified eyes—when he could come home. And I might have to explain again that it didn’t look as if he would.
But for most of the time, we would sit in silence. While inside I would scream. At him. At myself. “Say something!”
Something honest. Something significant. Something to bind your soul to mine.
Too, during that time—for months on end—I would wake up most every night at 3:15 a.m. My mind awhirl with worry. About Mom. About Dad. About infertility and adoption. About the fact that we just might lose TOMH in the face of nursing home bills. And I would slip down to the sofa lest I wake Peter. And I would toss and turn and pray. Begging God for answers. For connection. For a second chance. For something—anything—to be spoken. But hearing no word that I could recognize as such.
And what had for so long been a fierce anger at God for His cruelty slowly morphed into a sad resignation in the face of His seeming silence.
If father loss has been a part of your journey, I would love to hear how you have processed it.
And how it may have affected your spiritual walk.
Here or in a private message.
Thank you for reading.
This summer Peter is spending much of his time playing full-time Dad.
Since he’s not teaching and I have lots of writing to do, some days it’s all him on the home front. He makes breakfast. Reads his Bible in front of the kids while they eat. Then reads theirs to them. He takes them to the forest preserve for bike rides and runs. Carts them to soccer camp and swim. Holds picnic lunches on the patio. Helps Daryl practice piano and writing while Amelia naps. And in the evening he lights candles in the fireplace and reads Narnia. With voices.
He is that kind of Dad.
Ok, so sometimes the breakfast dishes are still in the sink at day’s end. Sometimes the kids eat beans on toast (it’s a British thing) for multiple meals each day. Sometimes he forgets to blow out the candles and makes me crazy. And don’t even get me started on the state of the back seat of the car.
No. He’s not a perfect parent. But he is an awfully good Dad.
I had a Dad of a different sort.
Not bad, just different. Not the hands-on Dad that Peter is. He was limited, my Dad. Through no fault of his own. By disability. When I was Daryl and Amelia’s age, I couldn’t be left alone in his care. He couldn’t fix me breakfast. Change my diaper. Take me for a bike ride. Drive me to piano lessons. Or even pick me up and spin me around.
That wasn’t the worst of it though. Even more difficult was the fact that he never said much at all. His thick speech made him difficult to understand. And I think he gave up trying long before I came along. So he remained—to a great extent—locked inside of himself. Mostly silent. Distant. Just out of reach.
But he was present. He got up extra early every morning because it took him a while to bathe and dress. And he went to work. Paid every bill on time. Kept us all fed and clothed. Even sent us to a private school. He came to my softball games and my piano recitals and beamed with pride at every one. And two or three or even four times each week, he was the first one to the car when it was time to go to church.
My dad was embarrassingly encouraging, amusingly positive at times, and generous to a fault.
For everything he gave me, I am grateful.
And for what he couldn’t give, I’ve had to grieve.
I’ve also come to understand that he probably grieved those things too.
I don’t know what kind of Dad you had. What he gave you. And what he didn’t.
But I do know this…he wasn’t a perfect parent.
Even if your dad made you breakfast and did the dishes. Even if he took you to church and to the forest preserve to ride your bike. Even if he attended your softball games and your spelling bees and your piano recitals with equal measures of enthusiasm and pride. Even if he roughhoused and cuddled and looked you in the eye while you poured out your heart and then shared his heart with you. Even if he taught you everything he could about art and algebra, about right and wrong, about friendship and family. Even if he was both fearless and faithful. Even if. He was human.
And he could only meet your longing for security…your need to be adored…your desire for knowledge and connection and purpose in part. Because all of those desires are really, ultimately, desires for God. That only He can fully fill.
Oh, He often enlists the help of others, of course. He’s restored little parts of me under the care of family and friends and colleagues and books and pastors and Peter. When my boss and another colleague spent sacrificial hours building the play set that I had concocted in my head. When a pastor friend handed me a copy of Changes That Heal and said, “You should read this.” When an elderly neighbor with a snow blower took it upon himself to dig us out—snow storm after snow storm—our first winter in This Old McHenry House. When an uncle drove to the middle-of-nowhere Minnesota to put his arm around me at my parents’ grave and give me a squeeze. When Peter patiently probes my heart. And finds the pieces that are still red raw. The needs that have gone unmet. And he holds them. Coddles them. Prays over them. And sits with them while they heal. Then I see the Father and I know a bit more of His love.
So Happy Father’s Day to all of the different kinds of Dads. And to all of the men who have in some way fathered me.
Last week our family took a quick trip to Texas. Down and back in six days flat. For the wedding of some dear friends and former students.
When it comes to road trips, though, the Worralls are slow to actually get on the road. First of all, we pack at the last minute, and I want to bring everything I can think of that we just might need. So, although we were only gone for five nights, I stuffed the back of our Land Rover with a ridiculous number of suitcases and bags and miscellaneous objects.
Then, once the car is loaded, we potter around town. Last Tuesday we stopped for a haircut, an oil change, gas, new sunglasses, two potty breaks, lunch, coffee, a diaper change, and the always essential inflatable turtle. So here we are…
We left home three hours ago, but we only have about 50 miles under our belt. But see how okay I am with that? Because proper preparation is imperative.
Once we got on the road, the trip went swimmingly. (Amelia’s two extended Pterodactyl impressions, one near collision, and a hotel horror story aside.) The kids watched movies, sang songs, snacked, decorated the backseat with all manner of things, and finally slept. The LOML and I read to each other. And talked. Really talked.
We got to Texas late on Wednesday and stayed just outside of Dallas with some very gracious friends. For the next two days, when we weren’t at the wedding events, we swam in their pool with Teddy the Turtle. Enjoyed the sun. And reconnected with our hosts.
The wedding itself was lovely. A casual country affair at Cross Creek Ranch. The bride was beautiful. The groom, beaming. Peter performed the ceremony and did a fine job.
But this wedding was particularly meaningful to me because I know all of the hard work this young couple has done. Throughout the past year, they have faithfully come to our home every few weeks. Sometimes they arrived, giddy and gushing. Other times they arrived with boxing gloves on. But they came. Ready to talk it out. Ready to be honest. Ready to listen. Ready to apologize and forgive. Ready to grow and change and learn how to love. I’m so proud of them. And it gives me so much confidence in their marriage. The fact that they have properly prepared.
On the two-day road trip home, Daryl and Amelia were all worn out. Thankfully, this time that meant they were more mellow. More content to just sit and watch a movie. And Peter and I were able to talk even more. The most extended and intimate conversations we’ve had in a long time.
We revisited some hard topics. For each of us. Some old and very deep hurts. But, lo and behold, this time we didn’t don our gloves. And neither of us resorted to an extended Pterodactyl impression. Instead, we acted as allies. Fighting for the same cause. Our marriage and family. We were honest and we listened. We apologized and forgave. And truthfully, I was proud of us too. How—almost fifteen years in—we’ve continued to grow. And change. And learn even more of what it means to love.
Because as important as the proper preparation is, the real work begins on that day we say, “I do.”
Daryl’s favorite thing about the wedding.
Last September 11, I wrote here about safety and danger and 9/11, etc. Then a little while later I went upstairs to tuck Daryl into bed.
“I love you, Mama,” he said. “Can I have a cuddle?” He still asks this every night. And my answer is typically the same. “Of course you can.” I’ll take these cuddles as long as I can.
As I lay down next to him, though, it became obvious that he didn’t only want a cuddle that night. He also wanted an audience. No sooner had I put my head on the pillow next to his than he sat straight up.
“Can I tell you the next chapter in the Rescue Story?” he asked.
He had been composing this Rescue Story for weeks. In each episode one of the adorable girls he knows was in terrible trouble. And Daryl swooped in to save her. That night I heard three “chapters” actually. I didn’t have the heart to stop him. So he told me The Forest Story, The Crane Story, and The Pirate Ship Story. All equally intriguing.
In The Forest Story, Holly from his drama class—who is so beautiful—was sitting on a log in the dark forest when a bear came up to her. Poor Holly didn’t have anything to fight a bear. She only had two dimes and a bag of M&Ms. And you know, Momma, you can’t fight a bear with just two dimes and a bag of M&Ms.
Then. (Insert musical fanfare.) Daryl came walking along.
And he was, like, there’s a bear getting Holly. And actually, Daryl had a sword. And it was this (insert enormous gesturing) big. So he went (insert swooshing sound effect)! And cut the bear’s fur. And the bear was, like, all distracted and everything. And Holly ran and ran away. Then. Daryl poked the bear’s eyes. And sliced off his nose.
(Insert applause from Momma and big dimpled smiles from Dar.)
Later I relayed the Rescue Stories to Daddy. And we marveled at our little bear sword fighter. How he imagined himself as a hero—strong and brave. How he could already tell a pretty great story.
That was September.
This is now.
Now he is composing the Daryl & Rachel trilogy. Apparently, Daryl & Rachel I and II are already available on DVD and Blue-ray. And these are full-blown musicals. Daryl not only narrates the story, but he also sings his own lyrics to some of his favorite tunes.
In Daryl & Rachel I, the main characters are racecar drivers. (Not surprising if you know the screenwriter/composer.) And the movie opens with a big race. Daryl’s own version of Sheryl Crow’s “Real Gone” from the Cars movie provides the soundtrack. It’s still a song about cars and driving, but with a special Daryl spin.
In Daryl & Rachel II, Bruno Mars’ “Count On Me” from the movie A Turtle’s Tale has become a ballad on proper communication skills. Daryl sings about the importance of listening carefully and using good words. Then he launches into the chorus: “I’ll be by your side, to help you hide, your nonsense.” I love that line. Probably because I could use a friend to help me hide my nonsense.
Anyhow. You get the idea.
But my favorite has to be his Daryl & Rachel II adaptation of “Let It Go!” from Frozen. Which he has turned into a sort of worship song. Rachel sings it to Daryl when he has lost his cat Brownie and is very upset. In the song, Rachel reminds Daryl that God loves him with a “raging love.” The “let it go!” refrain has become “He is King! He is King!” Then Daryl sings: “Here I stand, In His hand, Let the storms rage on, God’s taking care of me anyway.” And I love that line too.
I love his whole storytelling thing. For so many reasons.
I love that it gives me a glimpse into his heart and mind. Into his fears and concerns. His values and ideals. What he’s processing. Who he’s becoming. And who he wants to be. I love hearing what truth is sticking and what isn’t quite. But most of all I love that, in this recent Daryl & Rachel project, he’s bringing God to bear. That now God is becoming the real hero, even more than him.
One parenting book that Peter and I like is Michelle Anthony’s Spiritual Parenting. The approach she advocates is less about controlling our children’s behavior. And more about “creating an environment that God can use to beckon [our] children to Him.” She breaks it down into ten environments actually.
The first is the Environment of Storytelling.
This involves sharing the whole God story with our kids. Adam and Eve. Noah and his ark. Abraham and Isaac. Jacob and Esau. Joseph. Moses. Saul. David. Solomon. The judges. The prophets. And all of it. On through to Jesus and beyond. A compelling and dramatic and precious narrative. But in our telling, it is most important that God—not the Bible characters—be the hero. That it be His story above all else. (Anthony has also written The Big God Story, which does just that.)
The Environment of Storytelling, though, also involves sharing our own God story with our children. Telling them regularly what He has done in and through us. Daily pointing out His fingerprints wherever they can be seen. Daily reminding them that our lives, too, are His and not our own. Daily bringing God to bear.
So Happy Monday! And happy storytelling…
When you meet your bear today, may you be armed with more than two dimes and a bag of M&Ms. Alternatively, may you be rescued by a hero as valiant as our little one. May you find a friend who will help you hide your nonsense. May you know God’s raging love. May you sing at the top of your lungs, “He is King!” May you stand firmly in His hand amidst the storms. And may you always remember that He’s taking care of you anyway. Ultimate hero that He is.
Thursday morning was Daryl’s final day of Kindergarten. Thursday night was the Kindergarten graduation ceremony. And in the middle, his Momma had a mini-meltdown.
It didn’t obviously have anything to do with Daryl and the fact that he’s growing up so fast, as they all do. Oh, I’m sure the emotions surrounding the day primed the pump. But the actual episode felt more self-focused than that.
The LOML and I were both home in the afternoon. He has just finished his teaching year, so we are making the wobbly transition into our very different summer routine. Namely, this summer, he’s setting aside his doctoral work to be home more with the kids, so I can finish the This Odd House manuscript. Bless him!
After lunch, while Amelia napped and Daryl played in the sandpit, Peter and I met on the sofa with cups of tea. And he let me read to him.
I started with this piece about writing by Sarah Bessey because it resonates. I hoped it would help him understand why I’ve been struggling these past couple of months. Why I feel as if I’ve hit the wall with This Odd House. Why the words won’t always come in the two-hour window on Wednesdays while the kids are both in school. Why the August end of my sabbatical year looms large. Why the word “platform” still gives me hives. Why it feels as if I’ve been coerced to compete in a cyber-popularity-contest. Why it’s hard to stay motivated and moving forward when the “nos” pile up around you. When “success” seems to come easily to others and I can’t help but compare. When I seem to get close. But then remain so far.
Then I read him this piece about writing by Donald Miller because a part of me—the idealist part—would love to run away to a cabin and knock this thing out. The one pictured on Miller’s website would do me nicely. But then the realist in me knows that my actual problem is not my location, my schedule, my responsibilities, or my life. The real problem is me. My fears. My preoccupations. My wrong thinking. My self-obsessions. And so on. And if I traipsed off to a cabin, these would undoubtedly tag along.
Then I read him the essay I am currently writing. Or trying to write. Or trudging through. Or stuck in the mire of. And I asked him for help. He is my go-to guy for perspective and brainstorming. But yesterday. When he voiced what I already knew to be true. That this piece isn’t working. It isn’t yet clear. Doesn’t yet have my voice. It felt like the proverbial straw. Commence mini-meltdown.
The LOML spoke truth and grace to me. Reminded me of what I had just read by Sarah Bessey. Reminded me of Who God is. What He has already done. The doors He has already opened. What we believe He has gifted me to do. Who I am in Him. And—point of growth for me—I (relatively quickly) pushed open the gates of self-defense and let that truth and grace gush in.
Cue Daryl. Who appeared in the dining room. Eyes wide. Chin quivering. Hands flapping. Shorts covered in Elmer’s glue. Voice rising in crescendo. “I was playing with Daddy’s Daddy’s car (his name for a Mini Cooper model that is actually Peter’s and is fragile and usually off-limits). And it crashed. And the wheel came off. So I got my school glue out of my backpack. And I tried to fix it. But the glue was clogged. So I tried to take off the top. And the glue got EVERYWHERE!”
We tried to calm him down. He was pretty upset. I think he felt the weight of his multiple wrongs. But we told him that it would be okay. That we could work it through. Then, as I rinsed off the gluey shorts, I watched his daddy deal with him. With the same measure of truth and grace he had shown to me minutes before. He was the hero of the hour at our house, for sure.
He asked Daryl to explain what happened. And—point of growth for Daryl—he told the truth. Every bit of it. Without hesitation. He didn’t lash out. He didn’t lie. He didn’t try to pass the blame. Instead, he owned what he had done. He pushed open the gates of self-defense. And, it seemed, he let the truth and grace gush in.
A little while later we were all settled down and all dressed up. Daryl chose Steak and Shake for dinner. Then we drove over to his school to celebrate the end of the Kindergarten year.
Of course, I got all teary when he and his precious classmates paraded down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance. When they filled the risers and sang with gusto and recited Psalm 23. When his teacher (another hero!) handed him his little diploma.
I couldn’t help but remember picking him up from the first day of Kindergarten back in August.
“How was it?” I had asked, searching his little face as I buckled him in.
I should have known better. He can talk my ear off. But always in his own time. “Momma, can we talk later?” he had asked. Followed by the question he asks almost every time we get into the car. “Can you turn on the music please?”
So I turned it on and listened to him sing. At the top of his lungs. His lovely little voice filling the space. And I waited. Until we were almost home. Then I tried again. An easier question. Yes or no. “Did you like Kindergarten, Dar?”
“Yes!” he said. But then—with a heavy sigh—he offered further explanation. “But, Momma, Kindergarten is work, work, work.”
And wouldn’t you know. His initial assessment was correct. It has been work. This Kindergarten year. For him. His teachers. The LOML. Even Grandma. And for me.
In our combined efforts, we have tried to teach him so many, many things. To read and to write. To add and subtract. To play hard. But also to sit still when necessary. To pay attention. To take his time. To express himself clearly. To ask good questions. To be responsible for his own stuff. To solve his own problems when possible. To wait for his turn. To put others above himself. To tell the truth. To say he’s sorry. To forgive. To receive grace. To love God and others. To pray.
Not that he’s mastered these things. Of course not. We have a long, long road ahead. But by the grace of God, he has grown.
And what strikes me as well is how—as we get older—the lessons don’t actually change a whole lot. How during his Kindergarten year—my sabbatical one—I have been learning (again) so many of the same things. In this new blogging and book writing endeavor, I feel every bit the oversized Kindergartener.
It strikes me how I, too, have been learning to read and to write in new and exciting and terrifying ways. I’ve been learning (again) to add what is good and important and essential and healthy to my life and to subtract what isn’t. I’ve been learning to play hard. With the LOML and my kids—because this is one of the good and important and essential and healthy things. But also to sit still when necessary. With them. With myself. With God. I’ve been learning to pay attention. To the people in my life—little and big. To the world around us and what God is doing therein. Because you can’t write well if you don’t. And you can’t live well either. I’ve been learning to take my time. To trust the process. To be responsible for my stuff. To own my faults and failures as well as my strengths. And to tell the truth about both. I’ve been learning (again) to say I’m sorry, to forgive, to receive grace, to love, and to pray.
And I’ve been learning (again) to wait for my turn. To put others above myself.
In fact, yesterday morning Daryl came into the big bed for a cuddle. We were reflecting on his graduation ceremony. Talking about our favorite parts.
Then his lip curled in a pout. “I liked the video,” he said. “Except the pictures at the Chinese restaurant.”
“You were sick that day,” I reminded him.
“I know,” he said. “But when I saw everyone else sitting there, eating with chop sticks, it made me jealous. It’s not fair that they got to go and I didn’t.”
So we had lesson #643 on how life isn’t always fair. And fair doesn’t mean equal anyhow. How even though God loves us the same, He allows different good and bad things in each of our lives. How the bad things can bring growth and can reveal His glory. And how—though it’s very, very hard sometimes—we can praise Him for both.
And yes, as much as lesson #643 was meant for him, it was also meant for me.
Anybody else learning (again) some of those Kindergarten lessons? If so, which ones?