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.”

Unanswered Prayers

When I was sixteen, like many teenagers, I knew everything. I was lucky enough to grow up with wonderful parents who cared about me and were very involved in my life.

But sometimes, since I knew everything, that involvement become annoying. Especially when it meant I wasn’t allowed to do something that I wanted to do.

There was a boy where I worked part-time who had (finally) asked me out on a date. He asked me to dinner and a movie at the beginning of the week, and we made plans for that Saturday, not knowing that the first big snow of the winter was coming on Friday night.

On Saturday afternoon, after being out on the roads in town, my dad informed me that I would not be going anywhere that evening. In dramatic fashion, I cried and begged him to change his mind.  How could he ask me to cancel my plans when I had been so excited about them all week? I was a careful driver and he knew that; didn’t he trust me? When he did not relent, I went to my mom. Mom was more sympathetic and let me at least voice my opinions and concerns about missing the date. After she and dad discussed it further, he gave in and let me go, though he made it very clear that he did not like the idea and talked to me extensively about driving slowly and how to handle it if I hit a patch of ice.

I was ecstatic. To this day, it is still the only time I can remember my dad changing his mind about allowing me to do something after he had already said no. Though he was loving and funny most of the time, he was a no-nonsense kind of guy when it came to safety.  (And to the idea of his little girl dating boys. It didn’t matter how much I tried to convince him that my current boyfriend was a ‘good guy’ – he still viewed him as an ant that needed to be squashed.) Whatever made him change his mind, I didn’t know and didn’t care…I was going on that date.

To be honest, I don’t remember details about the date. I assume we had a nice enough time, though I don’t think we ever went out on a second date. What I DO remember is the drive home.

I drove to the boy’s hometown to meet him there, as it would have been out of the way for him to come pick me up and then drive the hour it took to get to the restaurant. So, at the end of the night, I had a fifteen-minute drive home. It was around ten o’clock as I turned onto the blacktop road that would lead me back to my house. I drove slowly as I cruised up a little hill, but after I reached the top and continued down the hill, I naturally accelerated a little. I didn’t see the black ice even after I hit it. Vividly I remember the way my car began to swerve and I, despite the fact that I knew everything, slammed on the brake in panic. I skidded from one side of the road to the other and did a complete 360 before landing in a ditch.

Though I was totally shaken up, I was fine. And other than a few dents and scrapes, so was my car. Once I calmed down after the initial freak-out, my next thought was, my dad is gonna kill me. But much to my surprise, he was madder at himself for going against his instincts and letting me go than he was at me for wrecking my car.

Though I hadn’t thought about that accident in years, the memory came flooding back to me just a couple of nights ago, when my husband and I had to drive down that same road after another big snow, the first of the winter this time as well. I thought of my dad and what I would have done in his situation back then, now being a mom of two kids myself – one of which is now old enough to want to attempt new things that make me nervous all the time.

Sometimes, I let him – like when he wanted to try riding a bicycle. I could foresee the potential danger, but I also knew the wonderful experience it would be once he mastered it…something he will use for years to come. But sometimes, I have to tell him no. And there have been times that he has cried and begged and I have relented, only to watch him make a bad choice or get hurt.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about prayer – both how powerful it can be, and how frustrating it can be when it seemingly goes unanswered. But with this story being brought back to mind, I’ve thought about it in connection with God, our Father, as well – the One who can foresee the potential danger in situations for His children in ways that we can’t. Like my sixteen-year-old self, sometimes I tend to think I know everything, including what is best for me. So when I ask God for something, knowing that Jesus promised us in the Bible that we will receive things if we ask in His name (Matthew 7:7-11), it frustrates me when I don’t get an immediate answer. After all, I’m not asking to win the lottery or anything unreasonable – I’m asking for things that I truly believe are in my family’s best interest. But I also know that God sees the big picture when I cannot. If He isn’t answering it yet, then now is not the right time. And I have to wrap my head around the fact that the right time may never come.

Jesus promised us that if we have even a little faith, we can do anything. We can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). We can walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33). But that doesn’t mean we will receive everything we ask Him for – our requests have to be in line with God’s plans for our lives.

Because unlike us – imperfect parents who make mistakes with our children from time to time – God will not make a mistake. And when I finally realized this, I had to learn to change my way of praying. It’s okay to ask Him for things that I think I need or even want…as long as I acknowledge that more than anything, I want His will for my life. Instead of asking for something and being frustrated when I don’t see a response, I am learning to ask Him to show me His way instead. So today, my prayer is not that He will give me everything that I think that I need, but that He will give me everything that He knows that I need, and the wisdom to align my requests with His plans.

Worldwide Blog Hop

This week, I am joining a worldwide blog hop called “The Writing Process World Blog Tour.” I was invited to join by author Krysten Lindsay Hager. Krysten is an author and book addict who has never met a bookstore she didn’t like. She’s worked as a journalist and also writes middle grade, YA, humor essays, and adult fiction. Her debut novel, TRUE COLORS, was released this summer. She is originally from Michigan and has lived in South Dakota, Portugal, and currently resides in Southern Ohio where you can find her reading and writing when she’s not catching up on her favorite shows. Find her at: http://www.krystenlindsay.com/.

I’m so excited to be part of this blog tour. Here is a little about me…
I wear many hats: Christian; wife; mother to my young son, Aven, and my four-legged sons, Shakespeare and Poe; teacher of middle school reading and high school English; and now – my lifelong dream realized – author. My debut novel, THE VISITORS, will be released September 16. I graduated from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in English Education and a master’s degree in Reading and Language Studies. I reside and teach in a small town in southern Illinois. From a young age, I was always an avid reader and writer with a big imagination. I spent much of my childhood searching for ghosts and UFOs to no avail – but I haven’t given up the hunt just yet. Though I continue to grow older, my true literature love is and has always been young adult fiction. I loves creating both futuristic and realistic stories about teenagers, and I feel so fortunate to get to work with them every day as a teacher.

As part of the blog hop, all authors are answering the same four questions. So here are my answers!

question 1) What are you working on?

I am currently in the middle of two writing projects! I have written a novel titled Healing Rain that I am in the process of editing, and I am also in the middle of the sequel to my debut novel, The Visitors. Though they are both young adult fiction novels, they are very different. Healing Rain is a realistic contemporary piece about a teen girl starting over in a new town after a devastating event changed her family and shook her Christian faith. She is trying to keep her dark past a secret while juggling new friends (and enemies), new love interest(s), therapy, and fitting in at her new high school. The sequel to the The Visitors (which debuts in September) is a science fiction piece with romance and action mixed in, but I can’t give too many details just yet – I wouldn’t want to spoil the end of The Visitors before it even comes out! I typically focus on one project at a time, but I’m actually enjoying dabbling back and forth between the two at this time. Healing Rain will be complete in the very near future, leaving me to focus on The Visitors – I have a third novel outlined to complete this series after I finish the sequel in progress.

question 2) How does your work differ from others in your genre?

I will focus on The Visitors, as this is the novel that will be available soon. I think it will be easier to answer this question if you already know a little bit about the story, and since it hasn’t been released just yet, I will give you a little blurb about the novel:

Seventeen-year-old Noah awakes one day to find that dangerous, irrational, self-serving, and destructive visitors called “humans” are coming to visit his beautiful, perfect planet. All citizens are ordered to have limited contact and share little information with these visitors.

Sixteen-year-old Jady is thrilled to accompany her father and his crew on a trip to a recently-discovered planet, Verdant. The United States’ crew is hopeful that they can learn from this advanced yet similar species.

Despite their greatest efforts to fight it, it doesn’t take long for Jady and Noah to fall in love and begin a secret affair. But when their relationship is revealed, danger is created for everyone involved…

Some of the concepts in the novel – teen romance, forbidden love, and futuristic space travel – are universal, which people can relate to. The storyline, however, has several unique features: I have created my own planet, with a dystopian society of people who look like humans but are very, very different in the way they think and live. My main characters, Noah and Jady, are young and get swept away in love, but they’re both incredibly intelligent, brave, and strong in their own ways. I hope that my readers will fall in love with them the way I have.

question 3) Why do you write what you write?

I have been a writer my whole life. It’s a passion. These ideas enter my head – sometimes through dreams, sometimes in conversation with friends or at work when I’m teaching – and they just won’t leave me alone until I write and release them. Young adult literature is and has always been what I love. When I was growing up, it was the way I escaped every day. I loved authors who could make me feel like I was part of the story – like the characters I was reading about were part of my life, too. I think my love for working with young people compels me to write for them as well.

question 4) How does your writing process work?

I wouldn’t say I have one magical formula for writing a novel. Writing BC – Before Child – was much easier! I get an idea, and then create a rough outline for a story in my head. I develop my main characters, picturing them as I imagine what their personalities will become. Then, I just start writing. Some days I write more than others, but I would guess that I average about ten pages a day, on good days. Of course, with a full-time job and a family, there are many days that I don’t reach that goal! I have to do most of my writing when my little man is asleep, either during his mid-day nap or at night when he goes to bed. You will often find us in my recliner – him sprawled across my lap asleep, and me leaning over him and typing away on my computer. Once I complete a novel, I usually step away from it for a few weeks. I then go back and read it again, editing for any mistakes and changing any scenes that feel weak. Sometimes this means cutting out entire chapters and rewriting them, so the editing process can take a few weeks as well.

I’m very excited to introduce the authors who will be joining me on this blog hop and posting on August 5.

KV Flynn: Author of Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature whose first book debuts in September as well. Find him at www.OnTheMoveBooks.com,

Karen King: Author of Young Adult Literature. Find her at www.karenking.net.

Tammi Steiner Booth: Author of Young Adult Literature. Find her at www.awritersdevotion.blogspot.com.