Stress

It seems I have seriously underestimated the power of my enemy.

They told me he was smart, that he could slip in undetected in the most unexpected places and wreak havoc on my life. But I wasn’t worried; he couldn’t pull anything over on me. I wouldn’t give him the opening he needed.

I didn’t even see him coming.

School started almost seven weeks ago. I started teaching in a new position, my oldest stated kindergarten, and my youngest went to a babysitter for essentially the first time in his life. The first week or so took some adjustment, but I was pleased with the way we all seemed to adapt to our new schedules. It was hectic, but in a good way. The exhausted feeling I had at the end of each day was weirdly satisfying.

The falling apart was gradual.

I’m about to get real, at the risk of a couple things – one, that I sound like a big whiner , and two, that I sound like a spoiled brat who doesn’t appreciate what I have – and I don’t like the idea of either of those things. So let me first clarify and defend myself and say that I absolutely love the life that God has given me – especially the people in it. That includes my family and the kids I teach every day, kids who quickly became “my kids” as well. And I recognize that compared to many, my problems are minuscule and for that I know I am blessed.

But I am tired. And I don’t like the person I sometimes become when I’m stressed out by a never-ending to-do list and jam-packed days with no sign of any sort of rest in sight. The days when I’m longing to stay home for just one evening, if only to catch up on the piles of laundry I can’t ever seem to get on top of or to clean more than just one room of my house at a time. Or when I’m feeling especially selfish, the longing to just read for fun or write a chapter in the new book I’m trying to write – something I haven’t even touched in over six weeks.

I hear older mothers always saying to enjoy this time while it’s here, that it will be over all too soon and that I will miss it someday and believe me, I GET THAT. But when I’m cooking supper with one hand because the other one is holding a baby on my hip and I’m tripping over my five-year-old, who is clinging to my waist and playing the copycat game, that thought tends to slip my mind.  And I become impatient. I find myself yelling at my oldest over something unnecessary – and I HATE yelling. Or feeling irritated when he asks me to listen to him read a story he’s already read to me three times that evening. I mean seriously, what kind of mom gets tired of listening to her child READ? I think that was the point that I realized that something had begun to unravel, and it was only when I examined the subtle changes that had taken place over the last few weeks that I realized the source of it.

It began when my over-packed schedule became too “crowded” for my quiet time with God. The early morning time I used to spend with Him, studying His word and praying before I began getting ready for my day, began getting shorter and shorter. Though I would force myself to get up with my alarm, I found myself grading papers. And before I knew it, the time was often up and it was time to get ready and I hadn’t even cracked my Bible open. Or sometimes I’d read for fifteen minutes and then realize my mind had been on my lesson plans the entire time and I hadn’t processed a word I’d just read.

He started with a whisper: “It’s okay. God understands. What’s that Bible verse about ‘doing everything with diligence for Him’? He knows you’re putting your whole heart into your job. It’s okay if you didn’t make time for Him this morning. You’ll do it later.”

Later never came. Between school and homework and soccer practice and just making sure my family was fed and bathed and all the other stuff that demanded my time, I found myself falling into bed at night with the final thought that I hadn’t spoken to God that day. Then I began prayers that I didn’t finish because I fell asleep in the middle of them.

And soon I found my upbeat attitude fading. The world slowly became more of my focus. I heard myself participating in gossip that was none of my business to begin with. Though I still continued trying to walk with God daily, it became more of a stand-still. I wasn’t growing in my relationship with Him, and it affected all my other relationships as well.

I’m not saying I need to ignore my other obligations. I firmly believe that I was put on this earth to be a wife, mommy, and teacher, and the Bible does teach that in “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). And I know that God understands the demands that come with each of those “jobs” that I love so much.

But when I stop truly seeking Him, it impacts those things that He put me here to do. And as far as all the stress that sometimes goes along with those things, He promises rest and peace that “transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7). He promises that if I seek Him with all of my heart and soul, I will find Him (Deuteronomy 4:29-31; Proverbs 8:17).

So as far as my walk with Him, I’m starting to move forward once again. And this time, I’m going to be more diligent in fending off that enemy who lurks nearby, looking for places to worm his way in so he can slowly consume me.

Because this busy mommy doesn’t have time for him and his lies…my son has a book to read to me for the fifteenth time and I can’t wait to hear it.

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In the Midst of Wolves

This coming week will bring about some big changes in our house and to say that I am a bundle of emotions is an understatement.

Tomorrow, I go back to work after taking a year off for maternity leave. But what I’m struggling with even more so is the fact that my oldest son starts kindergarten on Wednesday.

For the past year, I’ve been blessed to stay home with my two boys every day. Home, where we are safe. Where I at least feel somewhat in control of what they will see and hear even though…let’s be honest…nothing is totally in a parent’s control.

On one hand, I am so excited for the experiences that he will gain with this huge step. New friends, new activities, new skills learned. He will no longer have to pretend to read his books or “read” them by memory – he will actually learn how to read the words on the page. He will learn that when he measures his toy dinosaur, it’s four INCHES, not four POUNDS (and yes, I realize that I could teach him this myself…but it’s just too cute to correct.) He will begin to learn that the world really isn’t centered around him as he figures out what it means to work with others and be part of something bigger than himself.

On the other hand, Matthew 10:16 keeps creeping into my mind: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” These were Jesus’ words as he spoke to His disciples, warning them of persecutions that would come in His name. But I can’t help but feel they apply to this situation as well. Call me dramatic, but a part of me feels as though I’m sending my sweet, innocent boy into a pack of wolves. Even though I have every confidence that his teacher and the school administrators will provide a safe learning environment and will do everything in their power to take care of my baby while he’s away, this big step toward independence has my stomach in knots because I know that not all of his experiences will be good and there’s nothing I can do to shelter him from those bad things. He may get teased. He may get left out. Or, an even greater fear of mine: he may be the one doing the teasing or leaving others out. Either way, I won’t be there to protect him or correct him. He’s going to hear other kids say things I don’t allow him to say. And, like I did in elementary school, I’m sure he’ll experiment a little with those “bad words” himself. Along with all those exciting things he will learn from his teacher, he will also learn things from other kids that will make me cringe.

And when I think about his innocent mind being filled with inappropriate things, his beautiful little eyes being opened to what the world has to offer, it makes me want to lock him in the house with me and never leave again.

So today, I have to lean on God’s promises – things that I know are true.

First of all, He promised this: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). I have to trust that the foundation that we and our church family have provided for him at home will go with him even as he grows…even as he experiments with things he knows better than to say or do…and that at the end of the day, he will remember his faith in a God that is bigger than this world.

I am also reminded of Jesus’ words and promise in Matthew 6:25-34: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” I know that this verse seems to address worrying in regards to money, but it applies to all worry. And it reminds me that our God provides, and He is in control. Worrying about what Aven will see or hear or do won’t change anything – it’s all part of His perfect, bigger-than-I-can-comprehend plan for Aven’s life. None of it has ever been up to me in the first place – I’m just the one who is lucky enough to watch him grow up so that he can fulfill the purpose that God has for him here on this earth.

I ask you to pray for all of our kids, teachers, and staff all over our nation as we begin a new school year in an uncertain and unsafe world. There are so many kids who can’t wait to come back to school, just to know for certain they will have their next meal or that they can have seven full hours without being beaten or abused by a family member. Please pray for the safety and success of all of our kids – our future – and for their teachers, that they will not only teach them what they need to know, but that they will be a light in this world of darkness and a symbol of peace and safety.

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Lies Walt Disney Told Me

An old friend from college sent me a message a couple days ago. I haven’t seen her in seven years, but because of the magic of Facebook, I’ve followed her all the way across the country and watched her start a new job, fall in love only to get her heart broken, and go on many other adventures along the way. She’s never met my husband or kids, but she feels like she knows them because of my constant posts about them. (Yep, I’m one of those moms. To all my social media friends who have to see pictures of every move my kids make, I’m sorry. But not really.)

We messaged back and forth several times throughout the day, taking time out from our daily routines to fill each other in on things that have been going on in our lives. In the last message she sent, she said, “I’m really happy for you. Your boys are precious, your husband seems wonderful, and you look so happy in all of your pictures. I hope someday my life comes together like yours!”

The first time I read that, I couldn’t help but smile. It’s flattering to think that someone aspires to have the life you’ve worked hard to create. But as I sat there, mentally patting myself on the back like a total jerk, the baby started crying and immediately following that, I heard, “I didn’t do anything, Mom!” (which is universal kid-language for I just did something bad) and then I heard my husband muttering in irritation in the next room over something or another and I found myself laughing, unable to get past that particular part of her message while thinking, If she only knew! As I began to dissect her words and the events that transpired, God put something on my heart that I just have to share.

When I was a little girl, I watched Disney movies and dreamed of the day when some handsome prince would ride in on a horse and carry me off into the sunset, where we would live “happily ever after.” It all seemed so easy. When I met “the one,” everything would just click and life together would be easy because “all you need is love.” And all those people getting divorced? They must have rushed into marriage. Or they got married too young. Or they didn’t choose carefully enough.

What a judgmental snob I was, without even meaning to be. It wasn’t until the day that I held my six-week-old sleeping baby in my arms and called a divorce lawyer that my eyes were opened to the fact that it doesn’t matter how carefully you plan, how hard you try to do everything “right”…LIFE STILL HAPPENS. And that means things will not always go according to your plan. I became part of that failed marriage statistic. The day I signed the papers, I broke that promise I made in front of God, my family, and my closest friends.

Fast forward two and a half years and a three-hour move from my old home in Smyrna, TN, when I was introduced to the man I now call my husband. For the first time in years, I felt something I thought I was too numb to ever feel again – a spark. He started working long shifts as a lineman on a job two hours away from me, but we managed to get to know each other better each day, despite the distance. I spent my days teaching high school English and then came home to spend time with and care for my son; by the time I put him to bed, I was tired. And the physical demands of his job left him tired at the end of the day, too. But it didn’t stop us from talking on the phone every single night for at least two or three hours and texting each other every chance we got throughout the day.

I fell hard and fast. And the best part was, my son fell in love with him, too. When he proposed just seven months later, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. We planned a wedding quickly and two months later, we were married. My son walked me down the aisle and my husband put rings on both of us, promising to love us for the rest of his life. Three months later, we were pregnant. A month after that, we were signing a contract on a new home out in the country just minutes away from my school.

I finally had my Disney fairytale ending, my “happily ever after.” God had taken my broken life and pieced it back together, but this time, it was even better than I’d ever imagined it would be. On our one-year anniversary, I went into labor and the next morning, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and the school where I teach even granted me a year off for maternity leave. Nothing could go wrong now. Right?

Wrong. Because even though everything seemed to be going well on the outside, I’ve learned all over again that LIFE STILL HAPPENS. And marriage? Well, marriage is hard sometimes. Spending all day every day with my two young boys is incredible…but incredibly exhausting, too. And though my youngest turns a year old tomorrow, he still doesn’t sleep through the night, even though I’ve tried different suggestions from all those “expert” moms out there. I often find myself unable to talk to my husband about anything but our kids because they consume the biggest part of my life. While I want to put him first in front of all my other responsibilities and obligations, the reality is it doesn’t always happen.

And meanwhile, he’s working 40+ hours a week in a job that takes a toll on his energy, working outside no matter the weather. When he gets home, our oldest son immediately asks him to play outside with him – pitch and catch, fishing, basketball, etc., and he almost always obliges him. Plus, he coaches our son’s t-ball team. And all that means that he doesn’t always have time to put me first, either.

Once in a while, it goes beyond the fact that we don’t put each other first and progresses into one of those “perfect storm” days, as I call them, when things just aren’t going right and we take it out on each other. Those little quirks that each of us have that we once found adorable are suddenly unbelievably irritating. It almost always starts with something little. For instance, my refusal to make a grocery list means that I forget at least one item every time I go, and on one of those perfect storm days, it will be an item that he needs. His patience level gets low, and since I avoid confrontation, I will retreat upstairs with the kids to avoid him for a bit. And before I know it, it’s time to go to bed and we have barely even spoken to each other outside of things that had to be said, much less spent any quality time together. And then I read some post by one of those Pinterest moms…you know, the type that I admire but will never measure up to…and see where she has managed to take care of her children, clean the house, do all the laundry with the detergent she created from scratch, cook a five-course meal, get her children to bed at promptly seven p.m. and still be full of energy to devote to her husband so that her marriage remains the most important part of her life.

I understand the importance of putting work into marriage and I’m not devaluing that. All I’m saying is that it’s hard some days. Life is so fast-paced and throws so much at us and since we’re imperfect people, we’re not always going to handle it all the right way. And so that “happily ever after” is momentarily forgotten and that “handsome prince” that stole my heart loses some of his charm. Those butterflies that once fluttered in my stomach when I saw his truck pull into my driveway  go to sleep sometimes.

And don’t get me wrong; it works both ways. I have no doubt that there are days when I am not the woman he once fell in love with, either. When I’m changing diapers with spit up in my hair and serving spaghetti for supper at least once a week just because it’s the easiest meal in the world to make, I’m sure those butterflies he once felt for me are long gone.

But God is still working in my life. And as I grow closer to Him in my daily walk, He’s showing me a few things.

The first thing I’ve learned is that LOVE is not just a butterflies-in-your-stomach FEELING, it’s an ACTION, a CHOICE you make. Though I wouldn’t call it a choice back when I fell in love with my husband – I don’t think I could have controlled that even if I wanted to – there are those perfect-storm days when it’s hard to remember why we even LIKE each other, much less LOVE each other. But I CHOOSE to love him anyway. And when I make an effort to show that love to him even when I don’t feel like it, God steps in and reminds me why I gave my heart to this man in the first place. And suddenly, it’s easy to adore him again.

Another thing I’ve learned is that when I pray diligently for my husband, asking God to guide him and protect our marriage, He finds ways not to change my husband, but to change me. Instead of picking his quirks apart, He diverts my attention to my own shortcomings and shows me again the beautiful qualities He created in my husband. When I spend my time focusing on the good things about him and remember that he is an imperfect child of God, just like me, suddenly those flaws I sometimes focus on fade into the background.

And the third thing He’s shown me is that if I rely solely on my husband for my joy, I will be disappointed. My husband is a good man and I can’t brag on him enough for what he does for our family. He keeps me laughing every single day. He is a hard worker and he takes good care of our boys. He stepped in and became a daddy for our oldest when he didn’t have to, and that boy looks up to him and wants to please him more than anyone else. And as for our youngest, the admiration he has for his daddy is already evident in the way he looks at him. He really loves him, giving him hugs and loving pats and squeezes. But in spite of all that, my husband still makes mistakes. And there are times when he hurts my feelings – often unknowingly – and I feel let down. But that’s a consequence of relying on another person to make you happy: it’s impossible to do at all times. When I rely on God to fulfill me instead, I receive a joy that is unexplainable yet everlasting.

Today is our two-year anniversary. Only two years, but we’ve already been through so much. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for our lives as we spend them together. I know there will be more happiness, but there will be more tears, too. Through it all, I will love him – imperfectly, no doubt – and even when times get tough, I will CHOOSE to love. And as long as we trust in God and allow Him to lead us in this marriage, I know we will continue to create our own “happily ever after.”

Motherhood

Sometimes I feel like I’m failing at this whole “motherhood” thing.

My oldest son is five years old. And, well, he’s all boy. He’s rough, he dirty (he is filthy by the end of every single day – somehow even on those rainy days when we have to stay in the house), he’s loud, he’s goofy, and he’s wild.

But he’s also loving. He gives the tightest bear hugs I’ve ever received. He loves to read the Bible and pray and talk about Jesus. When his little brother cries, he hurries to find a toy for him or tries to make him laugh.

I try my best to teach him the things he needs to know – what it really means to love others, how to treat people, how to be the kind of person that I hope for him to be.

And most of the time, even at this young age, I can see that he is becoming the kid, and eventually the man, that I know he is capable of being. Under all that rough-boy exterior is a sensitive little boy who loves to hug and kiss and make others feel good about themselves. A little boy who includes others and protects the people that he loves.

But like every kid, he makes wrong choices, too. I see those wrong choices when we’re alone from time to time, like a few nights ago when his ten-month-old brother was crying, and he told him to “shut up” – something he knows he’s not allowed to say but he thought he was far enough out of my earshot to get away with it. Sometimes he talks back to me. He can be rude. Hateful, even.

I can honestly say that when we’re at home, I see a whole lot more of the GOOD stuff than the BAD stuff. But for whatever reason, as soon as we get around other people, my son can turn into a different person. Like today, at my mother’s house, when he got mad at his older cousin and left a scratch on his face…and then turned around and got too rough with his younger cousin and upset him, too.

Today, as I paced outside the door where he sat in time-out, I felt so disappointed. I just kept thinking in my head, Why does he act like this? This isn’t the way I’ve taught him to behave – why doesn’t he listen to what I’ve said? Why can’t he be the sweet boy that I know when we get around other people? Why does he have to do something to get in trouble ALMOST EVERY TIME we have a family gathering?

As I asked these questions in my mind, a still voice spoke to me. Are you perfect? Are you the person that I want you to be at all times? Tears came to my eyes when I recognized HIS voice and I realized that just as my son acts out against me, I act out against God. I know what He wants for my life. I know what He expects out of me. And yet I find myself repenting of sin – the same ones, it seems – almost daily. I could picture God pacing my doorway, asking Himself the same types of questions I asked myself about my own child: This isn’t the way I’ve taught her – why doesn’t she listen to what I’ve said? Why does she keep making the same mistakes? Why can’t she be the woman that I created her to be?

Just as I began to really feel down about myself –for both my failures as a mother and my failures as a child of God – I heard that still voice again: I love you anyway, just as you are. My kids aren’t perfect, and neither am I. But the same way I love my child no matter what he says or does, no matter how trying some days may be, God loves me, too. He doesn’t love me less when I mess up and I don’t have to “earn” His love any more than my son has to earn mine – He gives it freely.

Being a mother is my favorite part of God’s plan for me. The love that I feel for my boys is greater than anything I’ve ever known. And today, God showed me that motherhood is His way of giving us a glimpse of the infinite love that He has for us.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the giving, hard-working, beautiful mothers out there!

A Mother’s Nightmare

It started out like any normal Saturday.

After feeding the boys some toast with jelly for breakfast, we went into the living room to play. My husband still slept in our bedroom next door, so we chose quiet activities to do. My oldest son, five years old, and I sat down on the couch with his new twist-up crayons and a coloring page. My youngest – only nine months old – sat on the floor at my feet with his teething ring and his toy remote control, banging them against each other.

When my oldest asked what our plans were for the day, I told him that we were going to go grocery shopping and then we would spend the rest of the day at home. He was telling me that he had a “dunk competition” out on our driveway when my youngest looked up at me with a big smile on his face.

That’s when I saw the object in his mouth. It was brown, thin, and flimsy, and I was sure that it was a little twig off of the bush in front of our house – probably carried in on one of our dogs. I quickly shoved my finger in his mouth and swiped along his cheek, where I had seen the object, but he jerked his head away from me.

I have to stop the story here to say that my youngest already has a daredevil personality. The day he started crawling, he went straight for the stairs. He regularly tries to climb tables and entertainment centers. And while all babies put things in their mouths, he probably holds a record for finding things he shouldn’t and trying to eat them. My husband has joked that there could be fifty toys on the floor with one hand grenade, and he would skip over all the toys to find the grenade and put it straight in his mouth. He finds lint or carpet fibers daily, pinching them so carefully between his thumb and pointer finger and putting them in his mouth. He once found a ladybug and cried his little eyes out when I took it away from him just before it went in his mouth. He gave us a scare once with a tiny piece of plastic wrapper off of some cleaning supplies I had opened that he had found in the bathtub; my husband had to reach his finger down his throat and pull it out with his finger. He definitely keeps us on our toes, and we can’t turn our backs on him for a second. I push the Swiffer dry mop over our hardwood floors almost daily to pick up dog hair and small objects that he may try to eat; I had just done so on Friday evening, in fact.

So when he managed to evade my attempt to get the twig from his mouth, I pulled him up onto my lap to try again. He cried as I pushed my finger in toward his cheek again, and that’s when he started coughing. I reached in his mouth a third time, but felt nothing, and he continued to cough harder until his face began to turn red and then a scary shade of purple. I flipped him over and hit his back a few times until he stopped coughing and started to cry. Sitting him in my lap, I watched him carefully as his color returned to normal and the tears continued to stream down his face. After just a moment, he began to cough again. This cough wasn’t the scary, purple-faced cough from before, but I still felt like something was not quite right.

I flew into the bedroom and woke my husband. “I think Brayson swallowed something off the floor and he started choking,” I told him, and he was out of the bed immediately. He had stopped coughing, crying loudly instead. We both watched him closely; he seemed to be breathing just fine, but he continued to cough off and on. However, my husband and both of the boys had been fighting a cold for the last three days, so his coughing had become fairly normal during that time.

Was it just his crying that triggered his cough? We debated on what we should do. Because he was still inconsolable, I decided to try to nurse him, as that’s usually the best way to calm him. He ate for less than a minute before he began to cough again. I knew something was wrong.

We discussed our options. Should we call an ambulance? Take him to the ER? Wait a bit and see how he acts? I decided to call my sister-in-law, a nurse, for advice, and she recommended we go to the ER.

By the time we got there, his crying and coughing had both calmed. The doctor who saw him said that his oxygen levels were good and when he shined a flashlight down his throat, he didn’t see anything obstructing his breathing. I described the twig that I believed he swallowed, expressed my concern with the way he turned purple and coughed when he tried to nurse, so we decided to have him X-rayed just to be sure there was nothing serious going on.

The X-ray tech unsnapped the front of his sleeper and left the back of it up over his shoulders. After taking the X-ray, he came out and said, “Does he have a safety pin in the back of his sleeper by chance?” I examined it even though I already knew the answer before I said, “No.” The X-ray tech walked away and I thought, what a strange question. We didn’t even have any safety pins in our house; it never occurred to me that my son could have swallowed one.

But a few minutes later, when we were back in our original room, the same doctor from before breezed into the room and said, “We’re sending him straight to St. Louis. He swallowed a safety pin and it’s in his lung.” And then he turned around and walked back out.

The only response I could manage was, “What?” Tears rolled down my cheeks while I sat in shock, clutching my son and absorbing his words.

A nurse in the hallway saw my bewildered expression and came in. “The pin is closed. That’s a good thing,” he offered.

His attempt to comfort me didn’t help. My hands shook uncontrollably. “I forgot my phone. My husband and oldest son are in the waiting room. I can’t even text him and tell him what’s going on,” I said.

“I’ll go get him,” he said, rushing from the room. A few minutes later, he returned with Chad and my oldest son. Then he and another nurse came in to start an IV in his chubby, sweet little arm. After tying off the top of his arm, they still couldn’t find a vein. He warned me that hitting a vein in a baby was difficult and that it may take more than one attempt, and then he, I’m pretty certain, just guessed as to where to place the needle. It was a good guess; he got it in on the first attempt.

By this time, arrangements were being made. Air Evac would come to get us, they told me. My son and I would both be strapped to the gurney and fly together. I used my husband’s phone and called my mom to come pick up my oldest son so that he wouldn’t have to go with my husband when he drove to St. Louis to meet us there; I didn’t want him to have to face the insanity that the day was sure to bring. She arrived within twenty minutes, and as soon as she came in, I asked her to call my preacher and start our church prayer chain. Chad’s parents and one of his sisters were already on their way to meet us in St. Louis, and his other sister stayed behind to ride with Chad so that he didn’t have to drive alone in the emotional state that he was in. Things seemed to be moving along.

But then Air Evac arrived. When they started to place my son on the gurney, I stopped them. “I thought I was going to be hooked to this with him.”

“Oh, no, ma’am,” the Air Evac RN said. “Company policy states that we don’t take anyone on the helicopter other than the patient. It’s a liability issue.”

I burst into tears. “What? You can’t take a nine-month-old by himself on a helicopter!” I said. “He’s not going without me! They told me that I was going with him!”

“They were mistaken,” he said calmly. “We never take a parent along with the patient.”

I can’t even describe the feeling in my stomach that I had at that moment. “You can’t take him alone!” I blubbered over and over.

Another nurse was by my side at this point. “He won’t remember this,” she said.

“That’s not the point,” I said. “I can’t put him on a helicopter up in the air all by himself, without a single familiar face! And then he’ll be in a strange hospital, with nurses and doctors doing things to him and no one around him that he knows! He’s not getting on that helicopter without me!” I started to feel dizzy at this point and had to bend over and rest my hands on my knees.

When they saw how adamant I was, they started looking into other options. As it turned out, Life Flight would allow me to travel with them, at the pilot’s discretion. “They said if the mother was calm, she could fly,” one RN told me. My tears stopped instantly and I stood up, calmer than I’d ever been in my whole life. “They’ll be here in twenty minutes.”

At that point, my husband left so that he could stop at our house and get our things and start the two and half hour drive to the hospital. My mom and oldest son remained so that they could see us off. My youngest seemed to be doing well, considering the situation; his oxygen levels remained good and he napped peacefully.

That’s when the original doctor entered the room once again. His face was stern as he looked at me and said, “If for some reason they don’t let you on that flight, you are still putting that baby on that helicopter.”

“Okay,” I agreed.

“No, I don’t think you understand the situation,” he said, pointing one finger at me. “If he cries or coughs or does something to move that safety pin even a fraction, it’ll block his airway and there won’t be a damn thing that we can do about it. Do you hear me? Not a damn thing.”

“I hear you, sir,” I said through gritted teeth, fighting the urge to cry once again and telling myself over and over to remain calm so that I could still get on that flight. I couldn’t believe how inappropriately the doctor was talking to me, but I couldn’t let it upset me; my job was to remain calm.

“This is about that baby,” he continued. “Not you or anyone else; just that baby.”

My mom interrupted him on my behalf. “It’s always been about that baby,” she said. “That’s why she wanted to be with him on that flight in the first place.”

The male RN saw the exchange taking place and rushed into the room. “Life Flight will be landing in minutes,” he said, and the doctor hurried out of the room.

I just nodded, unable to even speak as the doctor’s words swirled around in my head. What had I done, refusing to let my child on the first flight? Holding up the whole process? What if something happened; what if that safety pin moved and blocked his airway and…

The Life Flight crew came into the room. Two RNs, Michelle and Steve, and the pilot, Jim, helped him onto the little stretcher and let me help them buckle him in. Michelle calmly explained where I would be sitting and what I would be doing during the flight. Steve warned me that the flight would be a little rocky (not what someone who suffers from motion sickness wants to hear) and Jim joked that I shouldn’t worry; it would be like a fifty-minute roller coaster ride (definitely not what someone who suffers from motion sickness wants to hear). But my fear of flying and getting sick were the least of my worries at that point; I just wanted my baby taken care of. I felt so helpless.

I laid my hands on my son and began to pray, asking God to be with him and keep that safety pin from moving until the surgeon could operate. I asked Him to be with the pilot on our flight and with the nurses, that they would know what to do if anything went wrong. I asked Him to be with my son and keep him calm during the flight so that he wouldn’t cry and risk moving the safety pin.

Just before we made our way up to the roof, my mom said, “We will watch you take off. Please be sure to keep me updated.”

“I will,” I promised. “Although it might be a little while before I can call you. I don’t have my phone, my wallet, anything.” With such limited space in the helicopter, we weren’t even allowed to take the diaper bag with us.

A nurse was standing nearby and she overheard what I said. “Do you have any cash on you at all?” When I shook my head, she slipped a ten-dollar bill into my hand. I looked at it in confusion, but she closed my hand around it and said, “You may need something from the vending machine or something. Just take it. Just in case.” I tried to refuse it and give it back to her, but she insisted that I keep it.

In mere minutes, we were taking off from the roof of the hospital. The nurses weren’t kidding about the jerkiness of the flight, but not once did I feel sick or nervous; I just held my baby’s hand and kept my eyes on him. Michelle sat across from me, offering smiles and a thumbs-up whenever I looked in her direction, and Steve sat behind my son, gently stroking his hair until he lulled him to sleep. He didn’t cry one time on that flight.

When he was asleep, I closed my eyes and attempted to pray again, the words of the doctor still playing on repeat in my mind. But in my emotional state, my prayers felt broken and chaotic. They went something like this: “God, please be with this little boy. Be with the surgeon who removes this safety pin from his lung, and forgive me for not putting him on that first flight so that he could get there as soon as possible. We haven’t even celebrated his first birthday yet. There’s so much he hasn’t gotten to see or do; please don’t take him from us, God.” I tried to make my pleas focused, positive and direct, but my mind was moving in a million different directions.

Suddenly, as I sat there holding his sweet little hands with my eyes squeezed shut, I was overwhelmed by a new presence in the helicopter and I knew before I even opened my eyes that it was God. My eyes popped open immediately and the first thing I noticed was that the sun’s rays were shining in on my son, illuminating his face. And in that moment, though he didn’t move and nothing around him changed – he was still strapped on the same little stretcher, his little chest still covered in pads and wires that monitored his breathing – I had a vision of big, almost transparent hands holding him, cradling him while he slept on that gurney. A calm like I’d never experienced swept over me, and I knew without a doubt that God was holding my son and that he was going to be just fine. Tears poured down my face once again, but this time, they were tears of relief and gratitude.

I was still a little shaky when we landed at the Children’s Hospital, still emotional and anxious about the surgery, even though I knew it was going to turn out okay. But from the moment I got off that helicopter, everything fell into place. The doctor was waiting for us there and we were led straight to a room, where I found Chad’s mom, dad, and sister already inside. After a nurse came inside and got some information from us, the doctor told me that they would be starting the surgery immediately, following another X-ray. When a couple minutes went by and no one came to get him, the doctor went down to the radiology lab himself to get someone, telling us, “They’re not moving as fast as I would like them to be.” Immediately, we were taken back for another X-ray, and when the doctor came in to discuss the results, he said, “The safety pin is in his trachea. We will put him to sleep and then go down his throat with a camera and a hook and simply pull it out.” The fact that the safety pin was in his trachea and not his lung made things less complicated.

In minutes, we were being wheeled to anesthesia, where they explained the upcoming process in simple terms. I met the ENT specialist who would perform the procedure, and she greeted me with a handshake and a calming smile. She was soft-spoken but had a confident air about her, and I felt at ease from the moment I met her. I put my hands on my son and prayed protection over him one last time before I gave him a kiss and left him in their competent hands. He went left, and I went right.

My family and I were escorted to the waiting room. Before we even sat down, my husband and his sister entered from the other side of the room. He had made it just in time; we could wait together as they worked inside his tiny body.

Around ten minutes after the surgery began, the ENT specialist came out and handed me a little container that held the safety pin. She showed us the rust that was already beginning to form on it and said that they were able to get it out without any problems. She promised us that we would be able to see him soon, and after a few more minutes went by, they called Chad and me back to where he was.

His little cry was raspy and he was hungry. They allowed me to nurse him right there, warning me that he may have difficulty swallowing. But he didn’t; he nursed twice as long as he usually does, putting himself to sleep but waking up to grab me every time I tried to pull away from him.

They moved us into another room, where they told us that they would be monitoring his eating patterns and diapers. He was awake by that point, and other than the fact that he was a little fussy and clingy to me, he was his normal self. I was under the impression that we would have to be there a little while longer, but after they came in to check on him, they decided he was well enough to release us. Soon, we were on our way home. When we stopped to eat something, he sat on my lap and ate tiny bites of green beans, chicken and dumplings, macaroni and cheese, and fried apples without any problem.

When I stood up the next morning and thanked my church family for their prayers, telling them a little bit about our experience, he sat on my mom’s lap and flapped his little arms, making noise and grinning with no idea that he had given us the biggest scare any of us had ever experienced. He was still a little fussy and clingy that day, but by Monday, he was back to his normal, happy, playful self.

When I mopped my living room floor on Monday morning, in the exact spot where he had been sitting that horrifying day, I found a little twig. I know without a shadow of a doubt that it was the same twig I saw in his mouth. Luckily, he didn’t swallow it along with the safety pin. But if I hadn’t seen that twig in his mouth, I may have decided his coughing was merely from his cold, the phlegm being the choking agent. We may not have taken him to the ER, and even if the safety pin didn’t move to cut off his airway, it would have rusted further in there until it caused an infection. So many IFs, so many things that could have gone wrong. But they didn’t.

I have to share my experience that day, because without my faith in God, I don’t know where my son would be right now. My son had so many people united in prayer for him that day, and God heard all of those prayers – our family, our church, churches of family members, people on Facebook who responded to my sister-in-law’s request for prayers for him. People who don’t even know my son but who know God and know what He can do. People who know that when believers come together in prayer, THINGS HAPPEN.

He was with my son that day, and He was with me, too. He allowed me to feel His presence in that helicopter, allowed me to see that vision so that I knew that His hands were protecting my son the whole time. I saw Him in so many places that day – He was in the nurses who tried to calm me and help me however they could, in the nurse who put that IV in my screaming son on the first try even when he couldn’t find a vein, in the nurse who insisted I take money in case I needed something, in the Life Flight nurses who were so gentle and loving with my son, in the doctor who dropped everything to go down to radiology and make things move quickly, in the ENT specialist whose smile and confidence put us all at ease. He was even in the doctor whose bedside manner I didn’t approve of, who cared enough about getting my son the quickest possible help to intervene in my fears of sending him alone. He was in each person who took a moment out of their day to say a prayer for our son and send us a text or message of encouragement.

I’ve been a Christian since I was eight years old. My walk with God hasn’t been perfect through the years, but even when I wavered, He never did. He never left me or gave up on me. And because of what happened on Saturday, my faith in Him has reached a whole new level.

Miracles still happen today, and He is behind them. My son is living proof of that.

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Removing My Planks

It’s so easy to see the faults in other people.

As I read from my Bible this morning in the book of Judges, I read the story of one of the Book’s most famous couples, Samson and Delilah. I read about how Samson was set apart even before his birth, how the Holy Spirit would come upon him and fill him with superhuman strength. How his parents knew from the beginning that his hair was never to be touched with a razor.

But Samson had a weakness. Time and again, he trusted in women who betrayed him. Delilah was hired by Samson’s own enemies to find the source of his strength, and three times, Samson lied to her because he knew that she would use the information to betray him. And she did. Not only did she tell his enemies what he had told her, she had the nerve to get angry with Samson when the information proved to be wrong and she looked like a fool. Yet he kept going back to her. Over and over again, she tried to hand him over to his enemies, and it didn’t stop him from going to her again. And when she finally got the truth out of him – that his hair was the source of his power – his head was shaven and God’s favor and power left him.

I used to teach a class at the high school level called The Bible As/In Literature. This was one of the stories we studied in there, and I always laughed when my students would voice their frustrations with Samson because I shared those very frustrations. It is so clear to the readers that Delilah was the enemy. Why wasn’t that clear to Samson, too? Or worse…why did he know it, yet choose to ignore it? How could this man who had found such favor and power with God give that up for anything, especially her?

But today, as I read that story again, God gave me something new to think about. Of course Samson should have known better. There were many great men in the Bible who should have known better. Jonah tried to run from God and his directions. God Himself told Adam and Eve not to eat of that one tree, yet they listened to Satan and ate anyway. It’s hard to read these stories sometimes without thinking, How could this person be so foolish?  When I put myself in their situations, I always envision myself making the right choice. After all, if I had a direct line to talk to God and He gave me specific instructions or powers, my obedience wouldn’t even be a question.

Would it?

How many times have I messed up? How many times have I repeated mistakes, knowing what the results were the first time but in a moment of weakness, choosing to do it again? Hoping the outcome will be different this time? How many times have I chosen to ignore God’s directions, trying to twist His Word and His Truth in my own way to justify my actions?

It’s so easy to watch from the outside and judge while others make mistakes. But to see my own shortcomings, my own areas where I am prone to mess up – sometimes painfully obvious in the eyes of those around me – why is that so much more difficult?

Jesus promised, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?…You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:2-5)

As I sat in judgment of Samson this morning, God drew my attention to my own planks. What a hypocrite I am, thinking of myself as better than these great men of the Bible! Blind to my own weaknesses while I worry about the “specks” in the eyes of others!

And as far as my attitude about my “direct line to God”…I HAVE ONE. We all do. It’s called prayer, and He wants us to use it to have a relationship with Him. HE WILL SPEAK TO US. Maybe He won’t appear in a burning bush (or maybe He will? Who knows?) but He will speak to us. It’s up to us to ask Him for guidance and wisdom, and then listen for the answers. He may speak to your spirit as you’re reading His Word. He may use someone else to reach out to you. His methods are infinite. But He has never failed to get a message to me when He wanted to – as long as I prayed for open ears and an open heart to receive it from Him.

The good news is, though Samson messed up over and over again until He finally lost his God-given power, he still wasn’t a lost cause. In the end, after realizing his mistake, he begged God to return his power to him one last time in order to help him defeat his enemies. AND GOD LISTENED. I’m so grateful that we serve a merciful God who never gives up on us, never turns His back on us, even when we don’t deserve His love and grace. Because with God, it’s not about our works and what we deserve. It’s about our FAITH in Jesus Christ and our BELIEF in what He did for us on the cross. And for that I praise Him today and every day!

My prayer for today is that God will reveal my planks to me, so that I can focus my “judgment” inward rather than on those around me.

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What I’m Worth

Just inside the entrance to my church is a beautiful stained-glass window depicting Jesus. He stands tall with his arms outstretched – just the way I hope that He will greet me one day. That window is visible from the road, and every time I drive by my little white church, I can’t help but turn and look at Him and marvel at His glory.

But even though I have seen that window more times than I can count throughout my life, my son brought something to my attention that I had somehow neglected. As we were leaving church one Sunday morning when he was just three years old, he walked over to that big window and “hugged” Jesus goodbye. When he pulled away and looked up at him, he said, “Mommy, why are his hands bleeding?”

I was speechless for a moment. How do you explain that to a three-year-old? Finally, I settled on, “Well, buddy, some bad guys did some mean things to him.”

I know. Pretty great answer, right? (Insert sarcastic eye-roll here.) I didn’t want to lie to him, but how do you explain the truth to such a young, innocent little boy?

Luckily, my answer satisfied him without further questioning, and to this day (he’s five now), he still sometimes looks at that window, points at His hands and says, “Bad guys did that to Jesus, Mommy.”

“I know, buddy,” is my standard reply. I can’t tell him that my own sins helped drive those nails in Him.

I have the privilege of working with an incredible youth group in my church each Sunday, doing lessons and activities to teach them about God and His love. With Easter approaching, I want to do something that will help them realize that the holiday is about so much more than Easter bunnies and egg hunts. After all, the Reason behind our Easter holiday is the very Reason that we are Christians. If Jesus hadn’t suffered that violent death on the cross and rose again, we wouldn’t have a Savior. We’d still be trapped in our sin, destined to an eternity in hell. And while I want the kids to grasp just what He did for us, those bloody details aren’t appropriate for such little ears.

So I asked God to give me a lesson that I could share with them, something that would help them realize the importance of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I asked God for wisdom before I opened my Bible, and as I began reading His word, He decided to teach me something, not only about who He is, but about who I am as well. It still amazes me how I can read the same stories over and over but He can make them like new and help me to gain different things from them.

It’s no secret that death by crucifixion was intended to be the most painful, horrifying death possible, typically reserved for criminals. Jesus was beaten to the verge of death. Mocked. Tormented. And though He was blameless, though He had the power to strike down his attackers with just one word, He took it all in silence.

For me. For them, the very people who murdered him.

I couldn’t endure what Jesus did for very many people. But to go through it for sinners? For my own murderers? To save them from a fate that they deserved, even when I knew that I was innocent? Forget it.

And while Jesus deserves our praise and undying devotion for what He did, I can’t help but be even more in awe of God. Because the thought of sending one of my sons to that fate in order to save someone who had sinned against me? It makes me physically sick to my stomach. I couldn’t send one of them to take that fate for anyone, not even the most righteous person in the whole world, much less an undeserving sinner. When I think about Him watching it all transpire from Heaven, my heart aches for Him.

While I’ve thought about all of this before, one thing I’d never truly considered is just what I’m worth in God’s eyes. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4 that “He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.” That means that even before He created the world, He already had a plan for me.  For me! It’s hard to comprehend that the God who created our intricate universe by merely speaking into the void even knows my name, much less loves me that much.

He knew that I would mess up, over and over again. He knew that I would be prideful. Hateful. Profane. A liar. Disrespectful. Disobedient. Neglectful.

AND HE LOVES ME ANYWAY. I am worth so much in His eyes that He allowed His Son to be tortured and put to death in my place, knowing He would rise again and redeem me from my life of sin. He CHOSE me to be one of His children. He bestowed His gifts upon me so that I can serve His kingdom.

And I did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to deserve it. It’s not because He looked down on this Earth, saw me, and thought to Himself, “She’s a pretty good person.” I’m sure if He looked at me before I gave my life to Jesus, He would have thought quite the opposite, in fact. Because before the Holy Spirit came to live in me, I was nothing. I was consumed by worldly, evil thoughts, on a path to destruction without even realizing it. And yet, for whatever reason, He loved me enough to open my heart to His Truth so that I could choose to die to my old self and accept His love and forgiveness. How much I must be worth in His eyes!

So this Easter, I hope that I can convey to my kids at church not only the importance of what Jesus did for us when He conquered death on the cross, but what that says about who we are to God. Because when we truly realize our worth in Christ, we can fulfill the purpose that He has for each one of us and call on His power to do incredible things for His kingdom.

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AN UNPOPULAR TRUTH

All this tip-toeing around is exhausting. And today, I just can’t do it.

Since I started blogging about my journey as I grow closer to God, I have been ignoring a message that He chose to lay on my heart. Not because I don’t believe the message, but because I don’t want to cause any friction or turn others away from reading what I have to say.

The thing is, I know it’s not what some people want to hear. So when God would whisper to me, telling me to write on this topic, I’d quickly push it out of mind until another message came to me, one with more of a “feel-good” vibe. Because that’s what most people want these days. “There’s enough negativity in the world these days,” someone once told me. “That’s why I don’t go to church; I don’t need to hear a negative preacher, too.”

I get it. I really do. Because when I wasn’t exactly sure what would happen to me when I died, I didn’t want to think about hell, either. But whether I wanted to think about it or not, the reality is, it still exists. And when we all have to face our final Judgment, it’s one of only two options for where we will spend eternity.

As I was studying the book of Acts this week, I came to the part where Peter and the apostles were persecuted, beaten, and jailed for preaching about Jesus. Yet they continued to do it, knowing how important it was to spread His message. They weren’t afraid of the punishment of men, and God rewarded them by sending an angel to open the doors of the jail and bring them out. They continued to be bold in their message, and the Bible tells us that they left “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Reading this passage reminded me that speaking out for God won’t always leave others feeling warm and fuzzy, and it probably won’t make me very popular. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

I believe that above all else, we need to know that God loves us. No matter where we are or what we’ve done, He loves us more than we can comprehend, so much so that He sent his only Son to take the fate that we deserve. And even though I have done things in my life that the devil still reminds me of in my darkest hours, things that haunt me in my worst nightmares, God wiped my slate clean the moment I asked Jesus into my heart. I don’t need to feel shame or dwell on those mistakes; God doesn’t even remember them anymore.

We live in a society today that no longer values a relationship with God. Many people are open about their atheistic views, claiming that they are “too smart” to believe in God, ironically enough, when He is the Giver of all true wisdom. And because of this society, there is a lot of pressure on today’s church to keep the “feel-good” vibe in their message so that they don’t turn people away. That’s easy to do when you focus solely on God’s love and His mercy, which are vital parts of this whole Christianity thing.

But there’s more to it, and it all boils down to this: simply knowing that God exists does not equate to KNOWING GOD. You can’t claim a relationship with Him based on the fact that you believe in His presence. Jesus demands a true relationship, one that requires work on our part. It’s a daily walk, a daily decision to take up your cross, die to your old self, and follow Him. It’s studying His word, talking to Him every day and giving Him control of every aspect of your life, and having fellowship with other Christians.

It’s NOT going to church on Sundays, feeling warm and fuzzy  when you leave, and then going about your life for the rest of the week. The fact is, you can’t continue to live the same old life of sin when He’s in your heart.

Not that Christians don’t sin. The Lord knows that I still struggle with various things. Many days I falter. Sometimes He points things out to me in my life that I hadn’t even considered to be sinful. The devil finds new ways to reach me all the time, trying to bring me back to his side. But he won’t succeed; he doesn’t even stand a chance. It’s already been determined who the winner of that fight will be. As long as I continue to rely on God, Satan has to keep stepping back down.

The fact is, we have a very real enemy, one who is creative and knows how to reach each one of us. He knows how to tempt each of us differently, based on our personalities and desires. And one of his greatest weapons right now is getting us to focus on the “feel-good” message and ignore the rest of it. Because as long as we’re only looking at the good stuff, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that as long as we believe that He’s up there, we’re safe…the whole idea that I’m a good person so I’ll go to heaven.

TRUTH: Being a “good person” does not get you into heaven. Believing that God exists will not get you into heaven. Believing that Jesus exists will not get you into heaven. There will be a lot of surprised people come judgment day – people that bought into that “feel good” message – when they see some of the world’s worst sinners who repented being welcomed into heaven and they themselves hear “Depart from me; I never knew you.”

Knowing and accepting Jesus Christ is the ONLY WAY to get into heaven. Not knowing that he exists, but KNOWING HIM PERSONALLY. Inviting Him into your heart and letting Him take over your life. Walking with Him every day. Making Him the center of your life.

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” – John 14:6

“Then Jesus told His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?’” – Matthew 16:24-26

I am well aware that my message today does not mesh well with what many people want to hear. But I don’t care. I have been commanded to share His Word with the world…to share it the way it is presented, not the way I want to manipulate it in order to make it more popular. His Word will speak for itself. It doesn’t need me to put my own spin on it.

I know who my Savior is and I know where I’m going when I leave this world. And the idea that any of the people I love won’t be going with me is absolutely devastating. So I can’t afford to tip-toe anymore. I will share His truth with the hope that He uses it to reach someone out there. Our time is running too short to stick solely to the warm and fuzzy stuff.

An Open Letter to my Boys

Celebrating my oldest son’s fifth birthday this week has my mind going in a million different directions. For five years, I’ve watched him grow and change, watched him learn new things and experience some of the best that life has to offer. I got to see his face light up when he made his first shot in a basketball goal. I beamed with pride the first time he carried his monster guitar to the front of the church and played a song for our church family. I laughed as I watched the celebration dance he did the first time he scored a hole-in-one in putt-putt golf. I got to hold his hand as he put his toes in the sand for the first time. I had to let go when he finally decided he was brave enough to run out into the ocean, his hands stretched wide and his smile stretched even wider.

I am so thankful for all of the joy that he has brought to our lives, and I am in still in awe that God allowed me to carry him for nine months and bring him into this world, that He trusted me enough to raise this boy the best that I know how to do. I can’t believe I get to be there for every step, to celebrate life’s victories with him and hold him when things get tough.

But this birthday is almost bittersweet, because I know it brings changes. Five years old means one more step toward independence, toward that scary place called school, where Mommy won’t be there to protect him and correct him and make sure he makes the right choices. As he continues to grow, that independence will only grow, too. And I just can’t let that happen without saying a few things that I want him to know, that I want both of my sons to know as they make their way through this crazy world.

This is an open letter to my babies – though my oldest doesn’t always see himself as “mommy’s baby” these days.

 

To my sweet boys,

I am so blessed to have you both in my life. I love watching your personalities develop, your brains working as you work and learn new things. Even in the most difficult of moments, you are my two greatest joys in this world.

You’re going to find as you continue to grow that people are going to be quick to offer you advice. Some of that advice will be priceless; some of it, though well-intentioned, will be useless. And with that thought in mind, I want to convey to you what I have learned throughout my life, what I know in my heart is all that you need to know in order to live a life that’s full.

First of all, you need to understand that there is a Creator up there, One who spoke into the void and created ALL OF THIS with only his voice. He told the light to exist, and it appeared. And this same God who made the mountains and the oceans all those years ago already had YOU in mind. Don’t ever question what this life is for – don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t matter or that what you do doesn’t matter. Because God designed you so carefully with a specific purpose in mind, with intentions of giving you a life of fulfillment and freedom and joy. He gave you special gifts and talents that no one else can do like you. Figure out what those are, and use them every chance you get.

Our God is perfect and all-powerful and bigger than we can even comprehend. But even though we are so small, He loves us with a love that is unconditional, so much so that He sent His own son, Jesus, to take the fate that we deserve. That love continues even when we make mistakes. He knows that we’re not perfect – He knows when we will mess up before we even do it – yet He is quick to forgive if we just ask. This earthly life is temporary, but He has prepared a special place just for you in heaven, where you’ll never again feel sick or upset or angry. All you have to do is ask Jesus to come into your heart and let Him live through you. And Jesus…well, He’ll be the best friend you’ll ever know. Spend time with Him every day. Read your Bible and talk to Him. He’ll listen, and He’ll answer you. I promise. Don’t let the world fool you into believing that He won’t, that He’s too far away to hear you or that He’s this stiff, formal God that you can’t be real with. He’ll live inside of you. And He desperately wants to know you, the real you. Tell Him when you’re happy. Tell Him when you’re upset. Whatever you do, just talk to Him.

As you leave the safety of Mommy and Daddy World, you’re going to find that sometimes people can be cruel. They will disrespect you and treat you unfairly. But while the world will tell you to push them back, I’m going to tell you to love them. When they call you names, when they hurt your feelings, the only weapon you should use in return is prayer. Pray for them. Ask God to help you forgive them, even when it’s not easy. Because you know what? That same God who loved you and created you, loved THEM and created THEM. And that same God who forgives YOU when you mess up, forgives THEM just the same. In the end, the only one you’re hurting by holding a grudge against them is yourself. Give God your struggles and just love them any way you can. Some day, it won’t be between you and them – it will be between you and God.

I wish I could tell you that as you get older, things will get easier. But that’s not true. Growing up comes with responsibilities, and not all of them will be enjoyable. You will have teachers you don’t like, subjects you’re not good at in school. Try your best anyway. And you’re quickly going to learn that nothing comes for free. You will have bosses you don’t like, jobs you don’t enjoy. Put your all into it anyway. People will tell you things that you “have to do” in order to be successful…go to college, make good grades, get along with people. While there’s nothing wrong with any of those things, the truth is, those things won’t make or break your life. A day is coming when it won’t matter how much money you made or what kind of house you lived in. The only thing that will matter is that you gave everything you had to God, that you loved Him with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and that you showed His love to other people, too.

A day will come when you will choose a wife. My only advice in this category is this: wait for a woman who loves God more than she loves you.

If you remember these things, a lot of that other advice you will hear will just fall into place. People will tell you to do things that make you happy. And of course I want you to be happy. But I also know that happiness is fleeting, that it changes with the circumstances around you. And I also know that Satan is tricky, that he can make you believe that a sinful life will make you happy. But that JOY you will get only from God? That will never fade, even when your world seems to be falling apart around you.

As life continues to bring changes, remember that I will always love you. But even more importantly, God will always love you. Accept His love.

And even when you know you’re getting WAY TOO BIG to be my baby, just humor me and let me hold you once in a while.

Love, Mom

prayer

Getting Out of the Christian “Rut”

A friend of mine recently said to me, “I don’t know how you do it, staying home with two kids all day, every day…when do you and your husband ever get time to yourselves?”

I laughed. Being a stay-at-home mommy is not for everyone, though I personally love it. But my friend has a point, and she’s not the first one to make it to me: parents, whether stay-at-home or not, have to make time for each other. It’s not a secret that when husbands and wives make time for each other, they are generally happier in the marriage – kids or no kids. And yes, life gets in the way and it’s often difficult to do that, but read any advice column from any relationship counselor out there, and it will tell you that making time for each other is key for your marriage. Because let’s face it – that initial, butterflies-in-your-stomach-all-the-time feeling can’t last…especially when you watch each other get puked on and change the world’s most disgusting diapers on a regular basis. The only way to keep the magic alive is to break the routine, spend some time together, and make the effort to remember why you fell in love in the first place.

But despite what I’ve said so far, the purpose of this blog post is not to give advice for how to maintain a solid marriage.

I started thinking about my conversation with my friend, and how easy it is to get in the dreaded “rut” in your most meaningful relationships. And I realized that as crucial as it is to try to avoid that in your marriage, there’s another relationship  that is even more vital to nurture, and that’s your relationship with God. But in the midst of all that life brings with each passing day, I can say from my own experience that it’s probably the easiest one to push to the side.

I think that the things that come with Christianity sometimes just get added to a to-do list. We know what we’ve been taught to do as Christians – pray, read the Bible, go to church. But when we do those things simply out of habit or because we think we are supposed to, we are missing the point. It’s easy to get trapped in the “rules” that accompany Christianity, mindlessly following them because it’s what we are supposed to do. It’s also easy to get bogged down by all the do-this and don’t-do-that that comes along with it.

But Jesus came to the Earth breaking all those man-made rules…part of the reason the religious leaders hated Him so much. For example, they were strict about reserving Sunday strictly for God and resting, meaning do NO work. That didn’t stop Jesus from healing a man’s shriveled hand in the synagogue on a Sunday. His accusers watched Him, just waiting to see if He would break the rule. And He did, pointing out, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4) before He ordered the man to stretch out his hand and restored it.

Until recently, I was guilty of getting caught up in the “rules.” I prayed pretty regularly, I read my Bible fairly often, and I never missed a Sunday at my church. But all of it, all of my actions, were empty. I was doing what I was supposed to, but the fact was, I had fallen out of love with Jesus. In fact, looking back, I’m not sure I was ever truly in love with Him – not the way I am now. I believed in Him, which I knew was a requirement to get to heaven. (After all, that’s what you learn when you’re young, right? John 3:16…“Whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”?) But the fact is, that’s only step one. Because if you believe in Him…REALLY believe in Him…and you ask Him into your heart, you can’t keep living life the way you always did before. I’ve used this quote from a friend of mine on another blog post before, but I love it so much that I’m using it again here – you can’t sit and continue to eat breakfast when you realize your house is on fire. That belief REQUIRES ACTION. Receiving His love REQUIRES ACTION. And not mindless, I’m-doing-this-because-someone-told-me-to action. That ACTION has to spring from HIS LOVE inside of you.

So how do you stay “in love” with Jesus? It requires work, just like any other meaningful relationship in your life. You have to seek Him. You have to read His word as often as you can. And more than anything, you have to pray. In the book of Mark, a father came to Jesus, begging for Him to heal his son. When Jesus told the man to believe, he cried out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (9:24). In other words, he believed, but he wanted to believe EVEN MORE. I was so moved by the man’s desire for Jesus that I use that approach in my prayer life. God, I love You, but help me to love You more. God, I believe in You, but help me to believe in You more. God, I am seeking You, but help me to seek You more. God, I give my life to You, but help me to give even more of myself to You. Give me chances to show Your love to others. Give me situations to proclaim Your love and mercy and grow in my relationship with You.

And I’ve found that when I start my day this way, when I really seek Him and watch for His work in my life, I’m seeing His hand in my life more and more every day. How can I not be in love with my Creator who reveals Himself to me, who loves me unconditionally and forgives me time after time after time? My prayer today is that my love for Him never grows stale, that I never again fall into that “rut” in my life again.