A Prayer for our Schools

Tomorrow marks the beginning of another school year – my tenth year in the classroom. In this house, an odd mix of excitement and nervous dread fills the rooms as my soon-to-be first-grader prepares himself for something new (“Why did the summer go so fast, Mom? I thought we had almost eighty days off! What if I don’t have friends in my class? What if I miss you too much? What if I just want to play outside but I’m stuck at my desk for hours?”).

Tonight, as I make plans and get ready for my junior high students, I am overcome by an overwhelming urge to pray. Again I am reminded of Jesus’ words: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” Our schools, and our kids, are facing a world we’ve never known before – a world filled with hatred and pain on a scale we’ve never seen. And tonight, I’m turning to God and asking Him to be with us, to protect us and bless us as we navigate this new year.

Lord, be with our kids as they come back to us. You have created each one in Your image, each one with a specific purpose. You know their potential and see them for both who they are and who they can become.

Be with the super students, the overachievers, the ones who excel in school. Help them continue to do big things in the classroom so that they will go on to do even bigger things in this world.

Be with the ones who struggle, the ones who want to succeed but don’t have the same abilities as those straight A students. Help them to see that You have blessed them with talents and abilities and that Your plan for them will be amazing. Help them to find the path You have created for them, and let them know that they, too, will go on to do big things in this world.

Be with the students who don’t want to be there, the ones who don’t enjoy the classroom and feel stifled by the school routine. Help them to find their passion, their creative outlet.

Be with the ones who want to be there – not because they enjoy class, but because for those seven hours each day, they feel safe. They know they are free from whatever plagues them at home – abuse, neglect, hunger. They know they are guaranteed meals.

Be with the students who hate school – not because they don’t enjoy the classwork, but can’t even concentrate on learning because they feel like an outcast. Help them know they are loved and accepted when other students don’t make them feel that way. Help them see their worth in Your eyes.

Soften those students who are angry at the world. Help them to find their place in the middle of the chaos and give them a heart to know You and Your love.

Be with the parents and guardians – the involved PTA moms and dads who volunteer in the classroom, the ones who don’t know or care how their kids are doing in school, and every parent in between. Help them find ways to love and support their kids and set them up for success in school and in their lives.

And finally, be with our teachers and staff. Fill us with patience and wisdom. Help us to connect with each of our students, both in our content areas and in their lives. Help us to love them fiercely, as our own kids, even when it’s not easy. Help us to show them that in us, they have an ally, a confidant, a mentor, and a friend. Help us to be who they need us to be so that each and every student can experience success and most importantly, love and inclusion. Help us to be Your hands and feet each and every day. Help us to see each student through Your eyes, to love them as you do – for who they are now and who we know they can be.

Mighty God, please bless our schools. Help those students and teachers who know You to be Your light in this dark world. Keep all of our students safe, both in and out of the classroom. Help us all to have a successful year and to feel Your joy and peace, no matter our circumstances.

Thank You for hearing our prayers and loving us so completely. I ask these things in Jesus’ Holy name. Amen.

Casting My Net

prayer

I wasn’t in the mood for church this morning.
I lay wide awake at five-thirty this morning, contemplating “calling in sick” to church to let my Sunday school kids know I wouldn’t make it. After a sleepless night spent worrying about something beyond my control, my head spun.
I yawned. I need some sleep. Both my boys slept soundly on either side of me. One phone call, and you can sleep, too. It’s only one week. What will it hurt?
But something kept me from making that call. I lay there debating, but kept remembering things I needed to do there. Bible School is next week. I need to meet with the workers and find some materials. Plus, my boys look forward to “playing” their guitars with the kids’ praise and worship.
When I couldn’t lie there any longer, I got up. Fine, I’ll go. I got myself and my kids ready, grumbling in my head the whole time, still stressing about the same burden that kept me up all night.
I got to Sunday school and found I had extra students because another teacher was on vacation. The big, lively group of kids and the lesson we had on Jesus’ prayer to His Father just before going to the cross was enough to pull me from my slump a little. I left Sunday school feeling happier, more alive.
But it was the preacher’s message that wrecked me. He read from Luke chapter five, when Jesus got in the boat with Simon and told him to drop his net into the water. Simon told Him they’d been fishing all night with no luck, but that he’d try again. When he did, his net filled with fish until it broke.
How many times have I told God I’ve done all I can do? How many times have I given up when things didn’t go my way the first time? Jesus never promised an easy ride. Even when He blessed Simon with an abundance of fish, the net broke, making them work to get the fish into the boat.
God loves to bless us, but we can’t expect Him to just rain those blessings down upon us. We have to trust – we have to keep going when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel – we have to work. When we listen to Him and take that leap of faith, no matter how difficult that leap may be, that’s when we’ll see true blessings.
I was able to lay my burden at the altar of prayer. Instead of spending the whole night in my head, worrying and what-if-ing and replaying conversations, I should have given it to Him in the first place. I should have laid it at His feet and immersed myself in the rest and peace that only He provides.
But I’m grateful that He pulled me to church, even if my heart was in the wrong place when I got there. I leave there every single Sunday feeling blessed by His presence…today was no different in that respect.  But today, I also left feeling lighter. At peace. Rested. I’m grateful that He’s still working in me, that He doesn’t give up on me. I’m grateful that He not only listens to me when I’m hurt or confused, but that He cares. That he guides me and speaks to me in so many ways – often through others, like He did this morning.
And I’m grateful for the chance to cast my net in one more time. And if it still doesn’t work, one more time after that. I will keep working, keep trusting, and know that He is in control.

Filling the Void

The message I have tonight is a simple one. But it’s something God put on my heart days ago, something I feel He wants me to share. In fact, He actually gave me the opportunity to talk about this with two different people – two totally different situations – in the past four days. If that doesn’t tell me He wants me to share this, I don’t know what will.

I want to share a small part of my testimony that comes from my time in college. I enjoyed my time there – loved my classes, my professors, and most of all, my friends. The girls in my sorority were my family away from home. But I would suspect that many of those girls who knew me then wouldn’t even recognize me now.

During that time, I was searching for something – trying to fill a void in my life I didn’t even realize existed. In the freedom that came with living away from home for the first time, I made my own choices.

One of those choices was to leave church.

It wasn’t like I woke up one day and thought to myself, I’m not going to church anymore. It happened gradually. Late Saturday nights out with my friends led to sleeping in on Sunday mornings and laughing over late breakfasts.

When guilt pangs arose, I justified it. This is college. It’s normal. 

I remember a few specific moments, wandering out of the club at two a.m., thinking, You should go to church tomorrow. Get up early – drive home. And I actually did it several times. But when I walked into the church and looked around at all the “good” people, my bar stamp still faintly present on my hand, Satan whispered in my ear. You’re a hypocrite. Who are you kidding? You don’t belong here. God can’t love you when you’re living like this.

I let his voice keep me away until eventually, those guilt pangs stilled. After all, you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, right?

But my hectic lifestyle left me “too busy” to read my Bible. I don’t think I even had one in my room in the sorority house – all my study Bibles from high school still rested on my nightstand back home.  More than once I eyed them while visiting my parents, but I never took one back to school with me. The idea of opening it, of trying to connect with God, seemed daunting. Days passed without prayer. Those days turned into weeks, into months.

I was too far gone, too far away from Him. I couldn’t come back to Him when I knew I was living a life He never intended for me. I would come back to Him someday – when college was over. When I could get my life together. Then I would get back in church…start praying again…read my Bible.

If you talked to anyone who knew me in college, they would describe a very different person. I don’t think most of my friends knew the emptiness I felt inside. I filled it with so many other things – school, work, friends, parties. I fooled a lot of people. Especially myself. When that emptiness rose from my stomach into my throat, threatening to choke me, I rationalized it. When _____ finally happens, you won’t feel like this anymore. Until it happened, and I still felt incomplete. When you get _____, things will be right. Until I got it, and I was still lost.

That magical day when my life would “come together” never came. College came and went, but I only continued to distance myself. My life spiraled out of my control, and one bad decision led to another until I hit a point so low I had no choice but to cry out to God. Finally, I surrendered. And in the midst of the chaos, He restored my peace.

It wasn’t until then that I realized how messed up my old logic was. God didn’t want me to wait, to get my life together and THEN seek Him. He wanted me just as I was – broken, searching, living a life that didn’t include Him. The Bible tells us that His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). If I had come to Him, just as I was, He could have filled that void so much sooner. He would have opened His arms and taken me in…flaws, sin, and all. He could have begun a work in me way before I finally allowed Him to. He could have saved me from a lot of bumps and bruises along my path.

I’m sharing this message tonight in case there’s anyone out there – even one person – who’s going through what I went through. Who knows there’s something missing inside of them, but isn’t sure what it is or how to fix it. I can tell you from years and years of mistakes and false glimpses of happiness that He is the only answer out there. His love is the only thing that will truly fill that void.

And above all, don’t wait to come to Him. Don’t wait for the day when you are “worthy” to come to Him – when you are a “better person” – because the truth is, that day will never come. We aren’t allowed to come to Him because of anything we’ve done…it’s His unchanging, unfailing love that gives us that opportunity. It’s because of His grace alone, grace that is offered to anyone who accepts it, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done. As someone once put it, you don’t wait until you’re healthy to see a doctor; you go when you’re sick. Come to Him when you’re broken. Let his power be made perfect in your weakness. Jesus didn’t come here for perfect people. He came for the damaged, the wrecked. The ones who needed a Savior.

I am one of the lucky ones: I found Him before it was too late. But the reality is, many won’t get that same luxury. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. Seek Him now, just as you are. He’s waiting with arms wide open.

I love that God knows exactly how to reach me – how to get a message across when I’m not listening for His voice.

This time, He chose my kids to deliver a message. And what better way to get to me than through the people I love most in this world?

I have been praying for something for quite some time, something I can’t share publicly but is important to me. And though I’m trying to be patient, I’ve grown frustrated at times because it feels like I’m not getting an answer from Him. I tell myself to trust Him, to trust His timing and His wisdom and listen for His gentle guidance.

But even though I tell myself I’m doing that – though I tell God Himself that I’m doing just that – He showed me otherwise.

The stomach virus has made its rounds in our house this month. And no, rounds (plural) is not a typo – while my husband and I took one turn with it, my boys each had it twice.

With my youngest, I quickly learned that milk – his favorite drink – was not a good thing while battling this virus. (I’ll spare the details of how I learned this, but I’m sure you can use your imagination.) I was scared that he was going to become dehydrated. For the sake of his poor little belly and body, I replaced his usual milk bottle with water or juice.

Through the day, he was mostly okay with this. It was nighttime that he resisted. He knew that he usually got milk to go to sleep and then again sometimes through the night when he woke. When I gave him a bottle of water at three a.m., the screaming fit display that followed was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Of course, I tried to whisper calmly, tried to reason with him. (As if that’s really possible with an eighteen-month-old.) “Bray, you can’t have milk right now. It’s not good for you while you’re sick. Maybe tomorrow morning, if your belly is feeling better, we can try a little milk again. But not tonight.”

The screaming drowned out my whispers. I tried everything I could to soothe him – rocking, walking and bouncing, rubbing his arms and legs with my fingernails the way he likes – but nothing worked. He was determined to have his milk.

I held him against me and begged God to help me calm him down, to heal him, to comfort him. I asked Him to help Brayson understand that I was withholding the milk for a good reason.

And that’s when I heard His voice: “You want Brayson to trust that you know what’s best for him. So why don’t you trust that I know what’s best for you?”

That’s when I realized I had been so busy telling God what I needed, I hadn’t really stopped to ask for His input. I was so sure I knew what was best for me. I forgot for a moment that He is the Almighty, that He designed me with a specific, perfect plan in mind and that my own dreams may not always line up exactly with that plan.

I know that God wants us to come to Him with everything – with our needs, our wants, our hopes. And I am so grateful for that. I am so in awe of the fact that the One who created it all loves me and wants a personal relationship with me. He loves me so much that when I stop listening to Him, stop trusting Him, He takes the time to reach out to me to gently remind me of who He is and how much bigger His love is than I can ever comprehend or grasp. But part of knowing that He loves me is knowing that He also loves me enough to say No. Or Not Yet. And in not answering my prayers the way I think He should, He is preparing me for something better. Or saving me from something disastrous that He can see and I cannot.

On this Christmas Eve, I am praising Him for coming to Earth, for becoming one of us in order to bring us to Him. I just read the Christmas Story with my sons, and it brought tears to my eyes to realize of the perfection of God’s plan, bringing His Son into this world in such a humble way. It was the perfect beginning to His time on this earth.

From the beginning of it all, He had a plan for each and every one of us. And that plan included a love for us so fierce that He sacrificed Himself in order to save us – even though we are undeserving and so often ungrateful.

Thank you, God, for sending Your Son into this world. Thank You for loving us so much when we have done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

Merry Christmas to all of my family and friends!

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.

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.”

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.

Like a Child

Living life with my four-year-old is, to put it mildly, an adventure. He has been the source of my laughter and my tears. My love and my worry. My admiration and my frustration. My excitement and my exhaustion. My pride and my embarrassment.  I love that little boy more than I could ever put into words and I would do absolutely anything for him. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt the urge to check myself into an institution after some days with him.

There’s a passage in Matthew that I’ve found myself returning to over and over in my studies this past month. And after reading it, I’ve realized that there’s a lot I can learn from my little man.

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” (Matthew 18:1-5)

I imagine the surprise and confusion on the disciples’ faces when Jesus responded to their question by pulling a little child to Him. A little kid – the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? People must become as little children to enter heaven? When I think about all the mistakes I made growing up – many out of sheer ignorance and lack of life experience – I shudder to think of returning to my youth. But that’s what Jesus wants us to do?

So what does it mean to become “humble as a little child”? I think about Jesus’ words all the time when interacting with my children, and two things have stood out to me lately in regards to those ‘child-like’ qualities that Jesus must have been referring to. And to my surprise, some of the very things that drive me absolutely insane are, I believe, some of the things God may be looking for.

  • Total Dependence

Last night, my son followed my every step for at least fifteen minutes, asking me to tighten the Velcro strap on his tennis shoes. This is a job that he can do alone, mind you, but he insisted that I do it “better” than he does. I thought he would eventually get tired of asking me as I completed other task after other task and give in to do it himself, but he was relentless. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and I bent down and tightened the strap for him, sighing loudly as I did it. He just grinned and said, “Thank you, Mommy. You did a great job,” before he went on about his way. And I immediately felt ashamed of feeling so irritated by his little request.

Any mother of young children can tell you that her job is literally never done. When you’re not with your kids, you’re still worrying about them. When you are with them, they require your constant attention. Even when they’re napping and you get a tiny break, you’re still on call – you can’t fully relax or get too far away. And when they’re awake, forget breaks. They need your full focus. Anything they want or need, it’s up to you to get it for them. Any questions they have, it’s up to you to answer them. Any stories they want to tell, it’s up to you to listen to them. Going to the bathroom alone? Forget it. Taking a shower in peace? No more. They are like your constant shadow, except your real shadow is quiet and doesn’t require any work, time, or attention.

Of course, I say all this jokingly. Sort of. The truth is, I wouldn’t have it any other way. But is it exhausting? Absolutely.

God will give us His constant attention willingly. If we want or need something, or have questions, or even just want to share things with Him, He is always there and wants us to bring those things to Him. And the best part is, He never grows tired of or irritated by us. He invites us to become like little children and depend on Him for our every need, want, or worry, no matter how big or small. He actually wants us to be like His shadow – relying on Him alone in every aspect of life. He will tighten the strap on your tennis shoes (metaphorically, of course) without even sighing in utter annoyance. In fact, He’ll be pleased that you acknowledged that He can do it better than you can…something I forget from time to time.

  • Losing the Filter

Last month, my husband, our two boys and I went down to Panama City Beach for a family vacation with my husband’s parents. My sports-obsessed four-year-old spent most of his days in the sand hitting baseballs from anyone who would pitch to him. He’s a pretty good little hitter and soon caught the attention some of our neighbors from the condo where we stayed. One day, while I was the designated pitcher, an older man stopped to watch him hit.

My son didn’t notice him at first – not until the man called out, “You keep that up, buddy! You’re going to make a great baseball player someday!”

As the man went on to tell him about his own glory days playing baseball as a kid, my eyes were on my son. It was one of those scary mom moments – a moment when I was looking into his eyes, but I could see past them and into his brain and I could just see those little wheels turning. He was no longer hearing a word the old man was saying – a question was formulating in his mind and it was about to come out.

I know other moms can relate to the feeling of dread that came over me. I offered up a quick, pleading prayer – Oh, God, please don’t let him say something embarrassing – and before I could say anymore, he blurted out, “Mommy, why does he not have a belly button?”

I could only hope my sunburn hid the heat I could feel in my cheeks. I gave him my best mom look – that frown with narrowed eyes that warns him to be quiet – but my son still studied the man’s stomach (which, by the way, I’m sure was equipped with a perfectly normal belly button…but his swimming trunks were pulled up pretty high so that the elastic hid it).

The man either didn’t hear the question or pretended he didn’t hear the question – either way, he didn’t respond. He simply encouraged my son again: “You keep practicing hard and you could go pro, you hear me?” My son just nodded, still eyeing the missing belly button warily.

When the man was gone, I squatted down beside my son. “Hey, buddy, you can’t say things like that,” I said.

“What did I say bad?” he asked, his blue eyes searching mine in alarm.

“About that guy’s belly button. You could have embarrassed him.”

He frowned. “I didn’t try to embarrass him, Mom. I just wanted to see why he didn’t have a belly button.”

I knew I could have used that moment to explain how it’s not nice to point out differences, but I didn’t. Instead, I just smiled and picked up the ball again. When my son saw the ball in my hand, his eyes lit up and he grabbed the bat, his mind already on batting and far from the man with the mystery belly button. He didn’t even understand that he’d done anything wrong. At that moment, instead of attempting to teach my son a lesson, I decided to let him keep his innocence a bit longer.

As we grow up, we develop a filter that tells us what is and is not appropriate to say. And with good reason: we don’t need to walk around pointing out people who lack belly buttons.

When first meeting a person, our filters are on thick, resulting in small talk, politeness, etc. After developing deeper relationships with people, our filters tend to thin out a little. (Like when your best friend asks for your honest opinion about a pair of jeans and you oh-so-politely inform her that they look horrendous.)

But when it comes to God, we have to lose that filter completely…both with Him and with others.

Our job is to be transparent with God, which is something I often struggle with. When I confess my sins to Him, I tend to gloss over them a little. And I don’t know why…He knows my heart even better than I do; what am I accomplishing by trying to filter my deepest thoughts before confessing them to Him? With Him, it’s okay to admit your shortcomings, no matter how horrible they may sound when spoken out loud. In fact, it’s what He wants us to do. It’s the only way He can help us fix them. It’s the only way to have a real relationship with Him.

Losing my filter with others is especially difficult regarding my faith. I talk about my kids, my day-to-day activities and events, my experiences. If God is the most important part of my life, why is it so difficult to talk about Him? It’s that filter I’ve developed – the little thing in the back of my mind that worries about offending others or being laughed at. But God calls us to share His word. If we ask Him to help us eliminate that filter, He will give us the words to say to glorify and bring others to Him.

I still mess up in this daily walk and I still have such a long way to go. And when I think about the patience God has with me, I’m ashamed of the impatience I sometimes feel with my own child. After all, despite his age, I clearly have a lot to learn from him about what it means to be a child of God.