Flashback Friday – To a Mom I Never Knew

**I still smile every time I read this one.  It was such a memorable moment.

An Open Letter to the mom in Barnes & Noble:

I saw you.  You and both of your adorable little guys.  At least, I assume they were both yours.  One called you “mom” and I’m not sure who, besides a mom, would brave the mall on the day after Black Friday with two young men who didn’t look quite old enough to be in school yet!  Big crowds and two little ones in tow without another adult along?!  Only a mother would be that nuts!

They were adorable. I’m not just talking the mini-sized flannel shirt and little “work boots” on the older boy.  Or the adorable curls and blue eyes on the littlest guy.  The way they interacted with each other was just too cute for words.

They were SO excited to be at the bookstore.  And they were EXTRA excited that they EACH got to take a book home.  They were showing each other the “best parts” of their books, pointing excitedly at the Christmas decorations hanging in the store, talking about the “cool sweatshirt” that another customer had on . . . they were having a blast.

Were they loud?  Not really.  I mean, not for their ages.  They were excited and the volume was that of a child who was having a moment he simply did not want to forget.  There was so much to see and be excited about – they didn’t want to miss any of it so they were very eager to point it all out to each other.  But too loud?  Not even close.

Those boys were wonderfully well-behaved  – they excused themselves when people needed to get down the aisle they were in, when the youngest dropped his book the oldest stopped and said, “I can get that for you”, the oldest was careful to warn the younger one when he almost stepped in front of a customer . . . all in all, very well-behaved men-in-training.

Then I took a good look at you, mom.  And I saw the tight set in your shoulders, the fact that your eyes kept darting to all of the adults within hearing distance of your little men . . . you were just waiting for that one cranky adult to rear his or her ugly head.  You were waiting for the first eye roll and sigh, for the first comment along the lines of “It would be so nice if people would teach their children how to behave in public” to be said just loudly enough for you to hear.

And my heart hurt for you.  There was nothing about the way those boys were acting that should have angered anyone and certainly nothing for you to be worried about!  But the way you kept “reading the room” told me that you had heard unkind things before.  You’ve run into people who have nothing kind to say about anyone who isn’t exactly like them.  The oldest smiled at me and said, “Mom’s getting me this book!” and showed me his choice – Giraffes Can’t Dance – so I smiled back and said, “That’s a great book.” (It really is – fantastic lesson in that one!) His smile got even bigger and he said, “I know!” Then he turned to you – “Mom!  She likes this book too!”  I think I’m officially a cool kid with the preschool/early elementary set now.  You simply smiled at him and said, “I heard honey.  Shall we go pay?”  And the little guy piped up, “Then ice cream, right?!”  This time it was your smile that grew when you said, “Right.”

I tell you all of this, stranger, to say that it was a joy to watch your two boys even for a moment or two.  They were enjoying one another’s company, being very good to each other, and were excited about having a new book to read!  I wish I could have told you all of that in the store.  I wish I could have encouraged you to simply enjoy the friendly banter and ignore the cranks.  I wish I could have told you that you must be doing more than a few things right after what I saw today. Oh! And enjoy the ice cream!

And those cranky people who feel the need to roll their eyes, sigh or make negative comments?  Just remember this – some people have to leave their emotional “ick” all over the place in the hopes that other will step in it and become just as cranky as they are.  They have to find SOME way to justify their own grumpy attitude!  So ignore the grumps, cuddle your boys, and read them those awesome new books you bought for them today.  (And one last thing – spoiler:  Gerald the Giraffe finds out that he can, indeed, dance after all!)

Reblogged: Epiphany – Sort of!

This thought shouldn’t be revolutionary to me.  But it did stop me short earlier today.  It shouldn’t have.  Unfortunately, the fact that it DID stop me short is proof that head knowledge isn’t necessarily enough to make a heart change.

In the Gospels, we are told that a teacher of the law came to Jesus and asked him which law was the most important.  Jesus answered –

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

Love the Lord your God.  Not be a perfect wife or mother, not keep a perfect home, not be a model employee.  Love the Lord your God with EVERYTHING you are.

I waste so much time trying to “fix” or “improve” my life by focusing all my attention on those problem areas/strained relationships/personal weaknesses and get frustrated when I can’t get the positive changes to “stick”.

But my focus is wrong.  It’s not that God doesn’t want to affect those areas.  He most certainly does.  But he wants my priorities to be right.  If I can learn to love him with all that I have – my mind, my heart, my soul, my strength – then he will walk through all those broken places and start teaching me, stretching me, empowering me, and motivating me to make the changes as a result of making Him the absolute number one priority in my life.

For so long, I have tried to “be good enough” and all I end up doing is failing those I want to be good enough for and frustrating myself when I do so.  This is the key.  Loving God the way it is described in the verse above will give him the place in my heart that he needs to effect positive changes in every other area of my life.  Think about – focusing on obeying that one law will talk care of ALL the others.  (Now to make sure I don’t forget that!)

A Search for Peace

It is my privilege to work as the choral department accompanist for the local high school.  The head of the department has chosen the theme “A Search for Peace” for the fall concert.  As a part of the concert, the entire department – four choirs in total – will perform a massed choir number titled “Inscription of Hope.”  The lyrics come from a poem that was etched on a wall in Germany by Jews who were hiding to escape the Nazis.  The lyrics are powerful –

I believe in the sun Even when it is not shining

And I believe in love

Even when there’s no one there

And I believe in GOD

Even when HE is silent

I believe through every trial

There is always a way….

      But sometimes

In this suffering

And hopeless despair

My heart cries for shelter

To know someone’s there

But a voice rises

Within me

Saying

“Hold on my child

I’ll give you strength

I’ll give you hope

Just stay a little while”

May there someday be sunshine

May there someday be happiness

May there someday be love

May there someday

Be peace…

Z. Randall Stroope wrote the song and it is beautiful in its simplicity.  The choral director’s inspiration for the concert theme was the current state of our world and what has been referred to as “The Summer of Terror”.  He asked me to research the details regarding terrorist-type attacks – those motivated by extremist views – and give a synopsis of some of what has happened.  As I began researching, I had to turn off my brain and simply look at facts, details, and numbers.  To allow myself to think about what I was reading was just too much.  As my day winds down, the details of what I read have come back to me and I won’t allow myself to emotionally detach this time.  The truth is hideous but turning a blind eye will do nothing.

From the first of June through the end of August, there were at least 568 incidents in 59 countries around the world.  These incidents resulted in a total of at least 4,652 deaths and even more injuries.  The good news – and yes, there was good news – were the number of “lone wolf” incidents where no one was killed.  An individual with extremist beliefs acting alone would attack another individual, couple, or small group because of something that offended the attackers  religious sensibilities – mixed race couples, homosexuality, women who were not covering their faces, etc.  In many of those instances the attacker was fought off by either their intended victim or law enforcement officials and no one was killed.

But some of the stories brought tears to my eyes and made me sick to my stomach –

A suicide bomber that investigators believe was between 12-14 years of age attacks a Kurdish wedding celebration, killing 54 and injuring 66.

Two different hotels where car bombings were followed by gunmen entering the building and taking hostages.  Between these two attacks, 31 people were killed and 80 injured.

52 fisherman executed by Boko Haram.

Coordinated bomb attacks in a market in Baghdad, Iraq, left 342 dead and injured 246.

Most of us heard of the attack at an Orlando night club (49 killed, 53 injured) and the attack in Nice, France (86 killed, 303 injured).

And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

The world is a much scarier place than I remember it being when I was a child.  In the name of “faith”, individuals or groups in 59 countries on every continent have committed heinous acts of violence.  In some cases they were hoping to intimidate others into joining the violent cause.  In other cases the motivation came from ethnic conflict.  The difference in cause doesn’t change the facts.

4,652 dead.  Most in the name of religion.

Now, more than ever, those who claim to be followers of Jesus MUST embrace the lesson that Jesus tried to convey to a teacher of the law.  When the teacher asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, Jesus didn’t stop with just the greatest.  He gave the man the top two –

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ there is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:29-31

My heart still hurts and I’ve shed a few tears after processing the information I read today.  So much hatred, so much violence and the vast majority of it in the name of “religion” or “faith”.  It’s time that those who claim the name of Christ focus on what Jesus himself called the two greatest commandments and start loving those around us.  ALL of those around us.  It’s the only hope we have.

By This, All Men Will Know

I have this horrible habit – I try diligently to mind my own business and seem to attract those who wish to discuss things loudly within my hearing.  It’s not that I try to eavesdrop – I just seem to be surrounded by those having what should be a private conversation at a very public volume.

One such conversation occurred recently – a woman was griping to her male companion (husband? friend? co-worker? Not sure) about a woman who she has significant difficulty getting along with.  In the speaker’s opinion, the woman in question has absolutely no redeeming qualities.  At least that’s what it sounded like.  She listed several flaws this woman has.  In the end, it sounded like the woman speaking and the woman she was bad-mouthing just have different ways of approaching tasks to be completed.

Then my heart broke when the woman finished with, “I just cringe every time I see that woman walking toward me in church.”  Wait.  You were verbally shredding a fellow believer?!  Pretty sure that’s not an okay thing to do.

John 13:34-35 “Let me give you a new command:  Love one another.  In the same way I loved you, you love one another.  This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”

It’s simple – disciples of Jesus are recognized by the love they have for one another.  Not how ornate their church buildings are, not what style of music they use in worship, not what translation of the scripture their pastor uses . . . their love for the family of faith.  There is no escape clause in that command – we are to love one another in the same way God loved us.  Period.

My heart often breaks when I see the rage and animosity that has become a part of the internet culture.  We all want others to accept/support the causes that are nearest and dearest to our own hearts but we can often be heartless and unloving when interacting with others of different views.  But my encounter today tells me that maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  If followers of Jesus cannot love one another, how on earth can I expect those who don’t agree on “big” issues to treat each other lovingly?!  I’m not going to lie – what I overheard was also very convicting.  I’ve been guilty of the behavior I observed more often than I want to think about.  I screw up this command far too many times.

Let’s face it – followers of Jesus are humans.  We fail, fall down, sin, hurt others, get hurt, deal with disappointment or cause it . . . we all screw up.  But none of that is an excuse to treat each other harshly.  The command above is pretty clear.  It is our love for our brothers and sisters that will distinguish us as follower of Jesus.  It doesn’t mean we pretend not to have differences or that we act like we never disagree.  In fact, I personally think it would have MORE impact if those outside of the faith could see us deal with differences of opinion/disagreements with gentleness, empathy, compassion, and love.

As I said earlier, it was a convicting experience.  The challenge to myself sounds simple but is going to be a challenge – all those who claim to be followers of Christ are my family and I will seek to treat them with love first and foremost.  I have no delusions – it won’t be easy!  But it’s a behavior that needs to become so deeply ingrained in me that doing anything else would be impossible.

A New Stage

“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” – Debra Ginsberg

Today was a life-changer.

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My baby walked across the stage and received his diploma.  My youngest child graduated high school.

*gulp*

This is the end of an era, as they say.  For 18 years I have watched a child walk in to a K-12 school building.  18 years of field trips, permission slips, Friday folders, spelling lists, fundraisers, parent/teacher conferences, concerts, plays, musicals, projects, snow days, . . . four children, a countless number of teachers, friends, highs, and lows.  I have been a band mom, a soccer mom, a choir mom, a theater mom, a basketball mom, . . . you get the idea!!

kids

These four have brought me more joy than I could ever have imagined.  They have made me laugh, tested my understanding and patience, proven that I am NEVER to old to learn and no one is ever too young to teach, and have filled my heart to bursting too many times to count.  I have NO clue what this new phase holds.  My eldest duckling (in the sunglasses next to her brother) has been living on her own for awhile and working a full-time, “grown up” job so I’ve already dipped my toe into the “empty nest” waters.  But I still had kids in school which felt comfortable.  Today all of that has changed.  I still work for the school district but that is just not the same as being a parent.

I’ve shed my tears through the “lasts” – last choir concert, last band concert, last large group contest, last musical . . . you get the idea – and I shed a few more today when he gleefully tossed his cap into the air.  I love my kids and am fascinated by the individuals they have become.  I cannot wait to see what the future holds for all of them but I would be lying if I said that I was not at least a little bit nervous about what it means for hubby and I as we tread these new waters.

Congrats, sonny boy.  I could not be more proud of the man you have become and I cannot wait to see what life holds for you!

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An Open Letter to My Children

Hey Ducklings!

Just to give you the background, I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking about parenthood lately.  And it’s mostly motivated by a comment I heard recently.  While out running errands a few days ago, I overhead a woman venting to her friend about the tribulations of motherhood.  I SWEAR I wasn’t eavesdropping.  This woman was VERY frustrated and her volume had risen accordingly.  From her comments (while she and her friend were waiting ahead of me in the checkout line) it became clear that she had kids and one of them was a daughter somewhere around the age of 12 or 13.  I’m not going to lie – that is not exactly a “fun” age with girls.  This mother kept . . . oh, let’s be honest and call it what it was . . . she was complaining.  Just as the friend finished paying for the items she had purchased, the cranky mother said something that has stuck in my brain – “After all I’ve done for her, that little brat owes me.  Big time.”

That stuck with me.  And not in a pleasant way.

So I’m taking this chance to make myself ABSOLUTELY clear:

Esther, Margaret, Janessa and Jay, I want to say to all of you – categorically and without any misunderstanding – that you owe me absolutely NOTHING.  Nada. Zilch.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve just known I was going to be a mom.  And God got crazy with the blessings and gave me four of the funniest, most creative kids any mom could have.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all fun and games.  Being up repeatedly with a newborn made for some very tired days.  Four children so close in age made the schedule a little crazy at times.  Sick kids, cranky toddlers, stubborn temper tantrums, mouthy attitudes, teen-aged angst . . . there were moments that made me want to scream or pull my hair out or put myself in time out just so I could get my head back on straight.

But none of that matters.  You don’t owe me a thing.  I did not become a parent as a way of setting up some sort of “savings account” that I could tap into down the road.  I didn’t create a score card on the day that you were born so I could start tracking the time I spent being a mom.  Being your mom has been a privilege.  It has allowed me to learn about myself and to grow as a person.  It’s taught me that I can solve problems creatively, that my “mom instincts” are pretty good and that the simplest solution is sometimes the best.

I did not do what I did as your mom to “earn points” or set you up for a big payback down the road.  I chose to have children and I chose to love each of you unconditionally.  Watching you grow, learn, try and fail and try again . . . all of it has brought me more joy than I could ever have imagined.  There are many parts of my life  that I have loved and many experiences I will cherish.  But next to being married to the love of my life, being mom to the four of you is the richest blessing I could ever have hoped for.

I make no pretense about my “mothering skills” – I’ve gotten it wrong as often as I’ve gotten it right.  Might have even screwed up MORE.  But you have been loved since before I met you and nothing will ever change that.  I love you “to the moon and back.”

“Love you forever, like you for always.”

Sincerely,

Mama Duck

Regardless

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Luke 6:31

Even a young child can quote that verse.  In schools, we call it “The Golden Rule”.  We all know it.  And secretly, deep down in the selfish places in our heart, we don’t want to live by it.  At the very least, we’d like an escape clause – “Do to others as you would have them to do to you UNLESS . . . ” But there is no such clause.  We can’t get out of it.  As if that statement alone wasn’t enough, Luke goes on to clarify!

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do that.  And if you do good to those that are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do that.”  Luke 6:32-33.

Wow.  That one kind of stings.

I want the right to pout and be snippy if my darling hubby hasn’t been particularly loving.  I want the right to snap at those who have been thoughtless toward me.  I would like an excuse to not be good to others. Please?!  But there isn’t one.

I’m re-reading a book I’ve worked my way through once – The Respect Dare.  As I’m on my second “go-round”, I keep coming back to this concept again and again.  I know, it’s weird to apply the Golden Rule to marriage.  But respect matters A TON to my love.  Way more than it does to me.  He respects me?  That’s nice.  But my deepest need is to see evidence that he loves me unconditionally and forever.  For him, the “I love you’s” are nice but I can destroy any good they might do if I’m being disrespectful.  My love means exponentially more to him if he sees evidence that I respect him as well.  And if I take the concept I discussed above and connect it to focus of The Respect Dare –

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Eph. 5:33

then I really don’t have an out.  I am called to respect my husband the way I would like him to love me – unconditionally, even on the worst day, and without reservation.

I know, I know.  We live in a culture that says respect must be earned.  But I KNOW it’s a deeply felt need in my hubby.  Love is a deeply felt need in me.  But let’s be honest – there are days I’m not very lovable!  I can get tired, cranky, grumpy, pouty, stressed, etc . . . and none of that is very lovable, I assure you.  I need unconditional love.  Hubby needs unconditional respect.  Knowing that and knowing the principle of the Golden Rule, I need to offer him what he needs unconditionally.  Didn’t say it’s easy.  But it’s what I need to do for him because I value him above all others.  Some days it is easy to do things that show I respect him.  Other days it’s hard.  Sometimes it’s really hard.  But if I’m honest, there are days I’m easy to love and other days that I’m barely tolerable.

So I choose to meet his need.  No conditions.  No excuses.  No escape clause.  I wish I could say I’ve got it down REALLY well.  Truth is, I’ve got LOTS of room for improvement.  But I’m not giving up.  Why?  Because I chose him 25 years ago and I still choose him today.  It’s that simple.