A Good Spin On a Bad Day

A Good Spin On a Bad Day

It seemed to have been a bad day.

My teenage son sat at dinner and told me he’d walked to the bus that morning in the slush and rain, soaking his shoes right through. He felt just mediocre about how his classes had gone and then said,

“Coach was yelling at me a lot during practice.”

“What about?” I asked.

“Keeping my back straighter.”

My son is a novice rower, and learning the correct technique is what this year is all about.

“Was he disparaging or encouraging?”

“Mmm. Encouraging,” he admitted.

“He wants you to get better?”

My son nodded.

“And did he single you out, or was he yelling at others too?”

“He was yelling at others too.”

“Right. I see. You know, I heard on the radio today that the average American has 60 bad days a year. That’s slightly more than 1 per week.”

My son looked up from his plate and gave me a begrudging grin.

I left it at that.

Sometimes we need to hear a few well-placed questions and a relevant tidbit to help us turn our perspective slightly, from a jaded to a more positive point of view.

The same is true in the spiritual life. If I consider all my trials as personal attacks, I will become disheartened.

But if I recognize that in my human condition I am not alone in my suffering, I can take a step toward seeing things more clearly.

There is Someone Who is willing to carry my burdens for me and give me His strength in return for my trust in Him. I can draw new strength from Him to carry on, and someday He will show me the reasons for my trials.

Cast your care upon the Lord,
Who will give you support.
God will never allow
The righteous one to stumble.
(Psalm 55:23)

How to Help Your Kid With Homework

How to Help Your Kid With Homework
Photo by Angelina Litvin, Unsplash.com

My oldest is a high school freshman, and since it’s September, we’re in a transition time. Last night things got pretty intense. The workload reached a crescendo and there was a math test scheduled for this morning. He got home from crew practice at 6:30, plunged right into his work, and was cursing loudly in frustration – way up in his room – by the time dinner was ready at 7:30. I knew we were in for a long night.

But rather than let him tough it out, I proposed a different solution. “Bring it down to the kitchen,” I said. “Let’s look at it together.”

He knew I wouldn’t do it for him. And the truth was, the content was not at all beyond his capability. And I told him so.

“You know this stuff. You can do it. You just don’t like the quantity or the methodology.”

All in all – across two subjects – it was about 8 pages, required to be handwritten, and admittedly, his handwriting is abysmal.

What to do for him?

Just BE with him.

I fell back on a lesson I learned fourteen years ago.

In 2003, our extended family lost a precious member, my husband’s cousin, P.J.. I’ve written about the loss of him before. After the funeral, P.J.’s mother (my husband’s aunt) asked us to bring our son (the same one now doing homework) to their home where the family was gathering informally. We ended up being the last guests there. Our infant son fell asleep on Aunt Karen and Uncle Jim’s bed while the four of us stood over him watching – for what may have been 15 minutes – in silence.

I called my mom the next day.

“I didn’t know what to say,” I told her, “The grief is unimaginable. They just lost their son. I can only imagine they were thinking about him as they looked at ours. I had no words to console them.”

My mom replied, “Just being present is a ministry.”

I have never forgotten that.

Just being present to someone in need is a ministry.

So last night, I was fully present to my son.

No phone.

No books.

Nothing but him and me.

I made tea for him – with lemon and honey.

Gave him cookies.

Reminded him to breathe.

Read the directions to him again and again, but didn’t do the work for him.

Told him stories from my high school days to make him smile and reassure him that yes, he will survive even this.

And I lasted with him until bedtime at 11:00 – 1 1/2 hours later than usual for him.

Being present is a ministry.

And you are fully equipped for the job.

Who needs your ministry now?

Gifts I Would Never Take Back

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We were walking to the playground to spend an hour while we waited for their sister to finish choir practice.

And when we got there – to that place I’ve been going for about 12 years – we ran into an old friend we hadn’t seen in awhile. She asked me what I’ve been up to.

I wasn’t sure what to say.

Day in and day out, not much changes, but over time, everything does.

This thought came out in a strange way.

“I take a lot of pictures, just to document the fact that they are growing.”

She smiled and said she knew exactly what I meant.

My husband and I try to give our kids myriad experiences and opportunities to try out life. A good school. Sports. Music. Days with friends. Family trips. Time alone with each of us.

I’m always checking my motivation for these gifts – many of which are expensive. The money and time we spend are investments. And although we live comfortably, we also make sacrifices.

There are bright, sunny days. And rainy, worrisome ones.

Would I change any of it?

No.

We give to our children as parents typically do – to the most of our ability and with the limited wisdom we have.

There are so many questions – about which choices will have the most impact on their lives. No one can say for sure.

But parenting is the call of our hearts – a calling we could never ignore. Love demands that we help our kids grow up. 

And they do – moving slowly away from us, a little every day.

I pray they will want to come back, to just look at us with love, when they are fully on their own.

If we feel this way, imagine how God does. Because what He gives us, He gives with perfect wisdom, and without restraint.

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.

-Romans 12:29

Mom!! Hear This!!

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“MOM!! Guess what!??!”

“MOM!! Listen to this song I wrote!”

“MOM!! Can I have Patrick over?”

“MOM!! Can we play on the X-box?”

“MOM!! What is this word?”

“MOM!! He’s annoying me!”

My kids have developed a habit in the last few weeks of beginning all of our conversations with “MOM!!” It’s gotten so bad that last night I had to take a time-out in the middle of the evening’s activities before my husband got home. I went into my room, lay on the bed, and stared at the ceiling.

A few minutes later, I heard the door squeak open, and my daughter came in cautiously. When she saw that I was awake, she lowered her voice to a loud whisper and asked,

“Mom!! What are blackheads?”

Sigh.

So here I am. Font of knowledge. Scheduler. Cook. Mediator. Taxi driver. Captive audience. Etc. And I love it. Most of the time.

But there are days I get a little worn out. And then, well…

My kindergartner can dress himself, of course, but he’s taken to waiting for me to help him on school mornings. I think it’s because it’s  time for just us, and it makes him feel that his day is off to a good start.

Yesterday, when I entered his room, he was half out of his p.j.s, playing with Pokemon cards. His whole face lit up, and I heard the usual, “MOM!!” followed by something which I can’t recall now.

I sank to the floor and said, “C’mon bud, you’ve got to get dressed and downstairs for breakfast.”

But he just stood there in his pajama pants, smiling at me.

Then, he folded himself into my lap and kissed my face saying, “You’re the best mom ever.”

I nearly cried as I hugged his little body and touched his soft skin.

It’s amazing how one small thank you can more than make up for all of the unacknowledged gifts we’ve given. 

And today, as I hear the birds sing, see the flowers bloom and the sun shine, and feel my heart beat again, I know it is a new day. A chance to start again. One big gift, filled with limitless gifts.

And for all the Lord does for me, I can truly touch His heart today. With thanks.

Let us praise him the more, since we cannot fathom him,

for greater is he than all his works,

Awful indeed is the Lord’s majesty,

and wonderful is his power.

-Sirach 43:29-30

A Good Time to Thank a Husband

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DC Metro (fisheye) by ChrisDag https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisdag/

The 10 a.m. Metro train had just pulled out of New Carrollton station and my friend Marcia* and I – stay-at-home moms – were standing in the aisle, holding on tight to our kids – 7 total between the two of us. On this temperate July day in 2010, we had decided to take them into DC to the Hirshhorn Museum. My husband was already at work in the district, and hers was in Eastern Europe on business.

Initially, I didn’t give it much thought when Marcia’s phone rang. But I could soon tell from the lilt and excitement in her voice that her husband was calling, and I remembered it had been several days since they had been able to talk. I was amazed by what happened next.

Handing the phone to her kids, she said, “Daddy’s calling! And he can’t talk long, but tell him thank you for working so hard and for making it possible for us to enjoy this special day.”

In turn, each one of her four kids greeted their dad with enthusiasm, thanks, and a happy, brief recounting of what was going on in their lives.

The entire conversation lasted about 5 minutes. And as we slid into the underground tunnel, I was gobsmacked by the deep conviction I felt.

When was the last time I had thanked my husband for his hard work and for making our lives at home so comfortable?

There is an acceptable and shameful practice in our society today of badmouthing men. It’s often subtle. You know how it goes. “My husband just doesn’t know how to _________,” or “Men just don’t get it” – whatever the ‘it’ of that moment is. These conversations are always tinged with an air of female superiority, and you don’t have to know much about the nature of God to know He wouldn’t approve.

God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

– Genesis 1:27

I’m as guilty as any woman of this. I’ve made sexist comments about men that I wholeheartedly regret. Especially now that I have two sons who are among the greatest treasures of my life, and I rely on my husband night and day to help me understand the way these boys think!

But the larger issue here is that the insidiousness of ingratitude threatens to tear apart the foundation of marriages. This works both ways of course, but a woman’s affirmations to and thanksgiving for her husband can go a long way toward bridging a gap that might be gradually growing between them.

And saying, “thank you,” when we don’t feel like it, or when we also want to be acknowledged for our contributions is hard, yes. But divine help is offered to us.

In her book, The Power of a Praying Wife, Stormie Omartian says, “You have to know that whatever has crept into your relationship so silently and stealthily as to not even be perceived as a threat until it is clearly present–such as making idols of your career, your dreams, your kids, or your selfish desires–can be removed. You have to trust that God is big enough to accomplish all this and more.” (p. 19-20)

So what are my idols? Comfort? Free time? Fear and worry? A desire for recognition or accomplishment? Books, TV, Facebook, etc. – entertainment of any sort?

An idol is anything that I prioritize ahead of honoring God. And I know from experience that if I’m not putting my relationship with God first, then my marriage – which is a blessing from God – will suffer.

I see most clearly when I regain the right perspective: God is the Maker, Sustainer, and Giver of all good things. And when I listen to Him and give Him thanks, my heart is transformed from stone to flesh, and I can be the loving wife I want to be.

*Not her real name.

Fighting Imaginary Foes

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We had a great Christmas.  And then, just as regular routines were to return (and I hoped to begin writing again), things went topsy turvy. I’ll spare you the details, but over the last 8 days – one very long week – our household experienced the flu, strep throat, a broken dryer requiring immediate replacement, a small but inconvenient snowstorm, and a birthday – celebrated over 3 days. My thoughts on the birthday, and how it initiated my plan for the new year, is the topic of this blog post – long overdue.

So – my oldest child turned 12 last week. My kids’ birthdays always give me pause.  Each one is a moment to reflect on the fact that with every passing year, this particular child is showing us more of who he or she is meant be.  But this birthday – 12 – somehow felt like a milestone (and not because my son jokingly told me to say he’s “twelve-teen”).

I remember being 12.  6th grade. Switching classes for the first time. Dealing with a changing body. My school’s motto for the year was, “If It’s Going to Be, It’s Up to Me” and my English teacher, Mrs. Walker, had plastered these words in huge red letters to the classroom ceiling. She wanted us to remember this, to have confidence in ourselves.

But with maturity comes the realization that we can’t really solve every problem we encounter, make everything “be” just the way we’d like it to be.  Some things are always beyond our reach.

To illustrate, I must first acknowledge what every parent learns eventually – that it’s strange, humbling, and frustrating when you see that your kids have inherited some of your traits. I’ve known for years that my oldest cannot see a disturbing image, even for a second, without internalizing it. Just like mine, his mind will revisit the image and animate it through nightmares for days on end until it has finished with it.  The process is upsetting and tiring, and after 42 years, I’ve never found a way to bypass or stop it, except by avoiding media that contains content I suspect will incite the problem.

So, just a few days before his 12th birthday, he had nightmares 2 days in a row after seeing 1 still image for an upcoming horror movie. My husband and I talked to him about what his brain was doing, made him laugh, took his mind off things, and I prayed with him.  On the third night, he asked me to pray with him preemptively, before he went to sleep, and that night (and the nights after) the nightmares did not return.

If the genetic patterns hold true for him, then the vivid dreams that have plagued me will not be just a childhood occurrence for this kid.  They will persist and grow more mature as he matures, encompassing all the sights and sounds of an evil world and fears of an adult mind.

So what can I do for my son? I help him understand our faith and teach him to pray for strength and courage to fight foes – imaginary and real, but beyond that, where do I go?

In prayer, the answer came.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 

– 2 Timothy 1:7 

My son is venturing into the adolescent years, and this world would have me be fearful of events to come and what could happen to him.  Currently, these are my imaginary foes, and if I let it, my mind can go to some very dark places.  But I am not going to sit by and worry about my son and the challenges that lie ahead for him.  I choose to trust in the One who loves my son more than me, and so I will ask my Lord to guide and protect my precious child.

Further, praying the Word of God is praying the Will of God.  I pray for my kids, yes, but I want to be quite clear. So, remembering an article I read recently, I took some time to carve out a daily prayer plan for this year, encompassing specific verses of scripture for my sons and daughter, and entrusting them once again to the One for whom nothing is out of reach.

 

Articles about praying for your children:

“10 Prayers For Your Son” by Brooke McGlothlin and Lisa TerKeurst

10 Prayers For Your Son

“10 Prayers For Your Daughter” by Lisa TerKeurst

10 Prayers For Your Daughter