Bad Day in London Town

Bad Day in London Town

This post was first published in October 2015. It is making a new appearance in celebration of this blog’s 5-year anniversary. Click here to learn more about me and Like the Dewfall.

I disappointed my daughter today. There was no way I couldn’t have. But this was a very big day, and even when the head understands the facts, the heart sometimes doesn’t.

I had never been on one of her field trips because, as a stay-at-home mom, my full-time job required full-time care of her younger brother. But he just started Kindergarten. So my schedule had freed up. Finally.

Three weeks ago I sent in a form volunteering to be a 4th grade chaperone on today’s day-long class trip to the colonial port of London Town, and I was one of six parents chosen to attend. My daughter was as excited as I’ve ever seen her.

Every single day I heard: “Mom, I can’t wait until” “Mom, it’s going to be so much fun!” “Mom, you’re finally coming!” “Mom, I’m researching colonial hairstyles so I can do my hair.” 

But trouble began to rear its head yesterday when the Kindergartner came home with a stomach ache and a low fever. A fever one day means no school the next. I didn’t panic, but this was not good. Not good at all.

My husband had a huge presentation this morning, so even as I lined up a daytime sitter for my son (no small feat), I prepared my daughter for the possibility that I couldn’t go if her brother’s illness got worse.

She hid her face behind a pillow, giant tears rolling out of her big blue eyes, red blotches of grief creeping up her fair face, and she wailed, “Why?!!! Sick now? Tomorrow??!! Of ALL Days?!!”

Today came and my son woke up with a rash and a higher fever.

I called and told the sitter to come just for the morning – that I would make a cameo appearance at the field trip site for one hour. And then I made a strategic early-morning strike on the doctor’s office and pharmacy to confirm my own motherly diagnosis and then do battle via antibiotics on my son’s attacker: scarlet fever – a form of strep.

Despite the fact that I had told her the plan, my daughter was thrilled when I got to London Town, and crestfallen and angry when I left exactly one hour later. I made the most of it: I took photos of her role-playing a slave in colonial garb, watched her make corn cakes with her hands, and laughed with her when we both saw our first wild groundhog wandering the settlement.

But as I was driving home, I couldn’t get her embittered eyes out of my mind. She was still just so disappointed.

What could I tell her? What could I say to help her through this experience? After all, the day didn’t go the way I’d wanted it to, either.

I stopped at the supermarket and bought her some mums, then left them in her room with a long note in which I made the following points:

  • Today was tough for both of us, and like you, I am angry, sad and disappointed. But we both love your brother, and in an imperfect world, people get sick. It’s not anyone’s fault.
  • Even though I would have liked to stay with you all day, I am grateful for the time I did have with you, and for your inquisitiveness. You asked thoughtful questions about the role you were playing, and the house we were touring. I am grateful for the chance to watch your graceful hands learn to prepare food, and for hearing your laughter with your friends. Your teacher also said I can come on another trip.
  • Even though it didn’t go the way we’d planned, I had a good day, and I hope in time you’ll remember it fondly too.
  • I know there is an ache in your heart and I couldn’t fill it. But by thinking of the things that you are thankful to God for, you will find that the Lord can heal that ache with joy. When we are grateful, it’s hard to hold on to anger and disappointment.
  • I love you.

Like children, we have much to learn. And we grow in spiritual maturity a little bit at a time. Today, I was reminded that gratitude must be cultivated. It is a slow process but can yield rich rewards.

Thank you God for giving me an opportunity to re-learn this lesson today, and for showing me how to share a grateful heart with my daughter.

Do You Have Your Own Hogwarts House? I Do.

Do You Have Your Own Hogwarts House? I Do.

Do you have your own Hogwarts house? I don’t mean which of the 4 houses brilliantly imagined by J.K. Rowling for the Harry Potter** series do you think you would fit in, but do you have your OWN house?

Perhaps you should.

My family and I are big Harry Potter fans. Last summer during our vacation we finished up our 2-year adventure of listening to the entire series of audiobooks on long car rides (having already read them in print, of course). Then we visited the Pottermore website, created accounts, completed the online quizzes, were “sorted” into houses, and determined where our supposed loyalties should be.

According to Pottermore, my house is Ravenclaw – home of intelligent, creative, wise wizards. My patronus (spirit animal) is an otter (just like Hermione’s!), and my wand is Hawthorn Wood with a Unicorn hair core, 12 1/4” long and of quite bendy flexibility. I’m to use it with care and confidence, or it will create problems for me, as “hawthorn wands, which are complex and intriguing in their natures, [are] just like their owners who best suit them.”

I took this all in stride and my family hasn’t really pinned these descriptors to me, probably because we all know it’s just in good fun, plus – I had made a declaration months before.

In dinner-table conversation one night, everyone was busy trying to choose houses for one another when I announced, “I’m in my own house.”

“What do you mean?” they asked. So I explained.

“My house is called Dinglepouf, and it’s a very small house. Just for me.”

I was pressed for details…so I fashioned them on the spot.

“My colors are pink and green and my symbol? The Cockatoo. Because I think they’re cute and hilarious…all that hopping up and down with feathers puffed atop their heads.”

This was met with incredulous amazement. And laughter. But it was quickly accepted as family fact, and no one questioned me further.

And how could you? There’s only one member of my house, and so any of her qualities are those of the house as well. In general, she is sensitive, inquisitive, and a seeker of knowledge. She’s devoted to the people and pursuits of her heart, soft-spoken, and a lifelong daydreamer who still laughs at silly puns and other forms of low humor. People have often told her she’s sweet, but those closest to her know she can be mean, and that she outrageously stubborn.

And – she likes her own space. Hence, her own house.

Imaginary lives are entertaining. But we know where to draw the lines.

My 13-year old daughter enjoys playing online quizzes. She likes to see which celebrity’s style she supposedly matches, car she should drive, city she might prefer, or animal she would be if she were to miraculously transform.

And she likes me to play along. Sometimes, I do.

“Mom,” she said recently as she pointed to one such quiz on her iPad. “What do you really want from your life? Fame? Money? Power? or Other?”

“Other,” I answered.

“What do you mean?”

“What I really want is for my kids to grow up and have a close relationship with God.”

Her face crinkled, eyebrows pinched in the middle.

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“But this is about YOU. What do you want?” she asked again.

“To live forever with God.”

She smiled and shook her head.

“Mom! You’re no fun!”

She was laughing and I knew she wanted me to be more accommodating to the quiz.

“I know. My answers don’t fit. But that’s often the way it is for me. I think differently.” I met her gaze, then added, “And that’s good.”

She nodded because she understood, chose ‘Other’ for me, and for the rest of the quiz I picked whatever sounded alright until I ended up being a blue aardvark or something at the end. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is this: our kids are listening, and observing what we believe. About ourselves. About life. About where we find meaning and purpose.

It’s great to be a member of a “house” or a team – to find commonality and fellowship, to contribute our talents toward a greater cause, to be part of a unified effort – but each of us individually is worthy of celebration and we don’t need to be afraid to step apart.

I don’t want my daughter to pigeonhole herself. She CANNOT be pigeonholed. All of her traits, gifts, and talents are far too robust and varied for her to ever fit into just one category. It’s the way she was fantastically created. I don’t want her to be anyone but herself. Though I tell her this, I also have to lead by example.

In my adult life, I have been intrigued by personality-type frameworks such as the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram, and I know that I am not alone. I recently enjoyed Reading People by Anne Bogel (Free on Kindle now!), a thoughtful overview of several of these popular frameworks, which can provide us with valuable insights on our inner lives and the ways we interact with others, especially those who seem so different from us. Knowing our “type” – be it an ENFJ, or a Number 2 with a 5 wing, etc. (see the book if that’s all goo to you) – can help us in our careers, marriages, parenting, and spiritual lives. These frameworks are more meaningful, grown-up versions of “type” quizzes.

BUT, even if we can be grouped because we are similar to others, we are still uniquely made by One Creator. No two people are even remotely the same.

I am uniquely created to fulfill God’s purpose for my life, just as you are uniquely created by Him for yours, and each of my kids are for theirs.

And my life’s purpose is to love and serve God – my maker and lover of my soul – in all the ways He calls me right here and now. On paper yours might be the same, but it will play out in countless different ways.

This is a process of discernment which basically boils down to asking Him on the daily: 1) Where do You want me to show love? 2) Where do You want me to give of my time, talents, and treasure?

It took me a long, long time to figure this out, but once I did, all my days – even the bad ones, all through my history of pushing Him away – made sense. In light of this calling, in the light of God’s unending love for me – a deep, unshakable joy welled up from within, and I am happy to share it with everyone – especially my kids.

When I tell them I have my own house or that I want to live forever with God, I’m not saying it’s not good to be part of a team.

I am saying – embrace the person God made you to be, and know that this world can’t pin you down. You were made to go far, far beyond it. You are unique. You are wonderfully made. You are beloved. Don’t you ever, ever forget it.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! – Psalm 139:13-14

**This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

I Am Where I’m Meant to Be

I Am Where I’m Meant to Be

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

“I am where I’m meant to be,” I kept telling myself as all my Friday plans were ditched and I succumbed to day two of a migraine.

Things happen for a divine reason and here I was, re-learning what it means to be present. My daughter was home sick and we’d just come through a rough 72 hours.

I walked into the family room to check on her – my daughter-patient – lounging in front of the TV. I was thinking I could console her in some way when she reached her arms up to me. There was a fraction of a smile in her eyes and I realized in an instant, she wasn’t asking for a hug, she was giving one.

“Mom.”

I let myself sink down into the soft couch corner beside her and rested my head on hers, our blond hair commingling on the blue pillows. We exhaled at the same time.

“I need to work on an article,” I said.

“No, you don’t.”

“I also need to write a blog post.”

“No, you don’t.”

“My head still hurts.”

“I know. That’s why you need to just sit here and be a couch potato. With me.”

There is a connection between a mother and her daughter that is unique. And when the nurturer in the daughter is born, it is with a wordless tenderness.

Late night on Shrove Tuesday, my daughter had come down with severe stomach pains. They were bad enough to bring on tears, and she is not the crying type. We rushed to our hospital’s pediatric ER and spent the rest of the night there. She had many ‘firsts:’ her first IV, first ultrasound, and first MRI – as the pain, which she rated an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 – moved from all over her belly to the lower right quadrant. If you’re guessing appendicitis, so was everyone else.

The tests were all inconclusive, but thankfully, the pain was gradually subsiding by Wednesday afternoon. It seemed to be some weird viral issue. She could go home under the condition that she should return if things got worse or a fever developed. As it turned out, the slight, residual pain would last a few more days, and my mothering eyes didn’t rest until my daughter seemed fully herself once again.

I make it sound like it was all bad, don’t I? It wasn’t.

Ever since I acknowledged my dependence on God so many years ago, I carry within my soul an abiding sense of peace that doesn’t waver, even when circumstances make my mind wander into a land of worry and concern.

So when I pray, the two – mind and soul – are both at work. With my mind, I address the One I know is my ever-ready and ever-present help.

Watching needles going into my daughter’s veins….

Lord, steady her. Please relieve her pain.

As I saw her organs flash across a screen, images in black and white…

Please Lord, help this radiologist to find the problem.

And from my soul, words of praise and hope sometimes bubble up spontaneously. While standing next to the MRI, holding my daughter’s hands, extended above her head as she tried to remain still, my heart and soul sang the songs of my childhood.

Father, I adore You
Lay my life before you
How I love you

I didn’t know what the diagnosis would be, but I had faith that God was there.

He was there in the consoling words of the nurse who made my daughter smile as she put in the IV; in the kindness of the staff who brought us warm blankets so we could try to sleep; and in the gentle eyes of the doctor who listened carefully to the story of my own appendectomy and readily admitted that yes, appendicitis runs in families, so I had every reason to be suspicious when my daughter doubled up in pain.

The goodness God gives to us through the people who cross our paths gets passed on when we give it away.

We are His hands in the world.

And sometimes, His love comes back to us in the form of a needed hug from a daughter-patient.

God is always with us, and our souls want to talk with him.

Our relationship with God depends less on what we do than on which direction we face.

Are we turned toward Him? Or away?

There’s only one place I’m meant to be. Wherever I am, that’s looking up at Him.

Are You Still Living in Middle School? The Pressure’s Off.

Are You Still Living in Middle School? The Pressure’s Off.

My middle-school daughter stood at the podium, reading into the microphone. Just her – in front of 800 fellow students.

‘Slow down, honey. Oh, slow down.’

That’s what I was thinking as I watched her this morning. She shared her own thoughts printed on an index card, about why she loves her school. She was breezing through them so quickly I was afraid she couldn’t be understood, and worried that her dad wouldn’t be able to hear her clearly on the video I was trying to make with my phone.

She was nervous.

Terrified, actually.

Unusually so.

And she had told me she would be.

“You’ll be fine,” I tried to reassure her, “You’ve done this before.”

She’s often been selected to read at church, and she’s enthusiastically volunteered to dance in the end-of the-year talent show.

But now she’s 12.

And middle school is different. Isn’t it?

Sometimes I think we enter middle school….and we never leave it.

There is a constant pressure to change from who we naturally are into something else.

Something cooler and better.

Think about it: The world is bent on convincing you that you are not doing enough to make yourself feel great, look perfect, be organized, love effortlessly, and live carefree. We, as a society, are literally paying billions every month in an attempt to buy this mythical life for ourselves.

Even in my work – writing – there is pressure to do more, and be more, than I am. In the so-called “blogosphere,” bloggers ‘should’ publish all the time, grow an audience, and create products.

The fact is, I may not be doing enough for you, friend. Every time I publish a post, I can see whether someone has “subscribed” or “unsubscribed,” and the latter gives me pause.

I want to encourage.

I want to share stories that make people smile.

I want to write words that count.

I want to do something that matters.

Don’t we all?

To do this – to live in a way that MATTERS – requires slowing down, and listening with every breath to the One voice that guides me toward my true purpose, which is to serve others out of a deep gratitude to the One who gave me life.

I am in a place of reflection about this blog, friends. I’m wondering how I can better serve you as my readers.

Please take a moment when you have some free time to write me an email at gretchen@gretchenmatthews.com and share your thoughts with me. I welcome them.

In what areas of your life do you need encouragement? What do you need to hear more of? Less of?

And bear in mind the words of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV)

Slow down. Embrace yourself. You are loved.

When My Daughter Didn’t Want to Be the Explorer

When My Daughter Didn’t Want to Be the Explorer

Kids never cease to surprise, and my daughter gave me a real gem today!

She and one of her best friends happen to be working on an in-class team assignment this week. It entails researching a famous explorer. By Friday, the two girls are to have prepared a short presentation for their peers, and at least one of them is to have a basic explorer ‘costume’ which can fit over the school uniform.

The explorers were chosen for the students. The girls ended up with Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596).

Sir Francis Drake (1540-1569).
Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596).

Today, on the car ride home, my daughter said to me, “So we had this idea for our presentation.”

“Yes?” I inquired.

“Well, Francis Drake had two wives. So we thought we’d dress up like them.”

I held my breath and stifled a disbelieving giggle.

“Was he married to them both at the same time?”

“No. One died.”

This quick answer zapped my funny bone, so I leaned down over the wheel as I steered through downtown Annapolis, desperately trying to make sure my daughter couldn’t see me laugh in the rear view mirror. A comic classroom scene was running amok in my imagination and it just couldn’t be contained.

I asked,”Was one of you planning to stage your death during the presentation?”

Then she laughed, and belted out, “No! But that’s pretty good, Mom!”

The whole car was guffawing now.

She continued, “We were going to dress up one of our American Girl dolls as Francis Drake, but the teacher said ‘No,’ it has to be one of us. He had a beard, Mom. Ick.”

“Oh.”

I didn’t really know what to say just then. I was a little deflated for her. I understand that the point of the assignment is to talk about the explorer’s achievements. I get that. And I don’t want to diminish him or other men in any way.

But I also saw something else in the motives of these two girls – something altogether innocent and lovely: They like being girls. And they thought they could still tell the story – as girls.

There was a time when these thoughts might never have even entered into their minds.

But that wasn’t the case today. Today they wanted to dress up as two women who were there in the wings of history – women who were every bit as real as Sir Francis Drake.

Something about that is good news to me.

Like the lily among thorns, so are you, my love, among the daughters.

-Song of Solomon 2:2 (AMP)

How to Care for a Tummy Ache

How to Care for a Tummy Ache

imageIt was 9:15 this morning and we were sitting in the doctor’s office, hoping to solve the mystery of my daughter’s stomach pain – pain that had driven her to the school nurse’s office every day for the last four days, and noticeable enough that even her little brother had asked if we could pray for her over breakfast.

There had been no fever. No vomiting. No digestion issues. Just some mild nausea, loss of appetite, and pain. Just pain.

After a few long minutes, the quick strep test came back negative. Severe constipation was also ruled out. We were down to “a probable virus,” and “call us next week if it’s still there, the pain moves, or gets worse.”

Hooray. Just the diagnosis I wanted.

I was trying to stay positive as I looked at her downtrodden form. She sat on the examining table, hunched over, somewhat pale, and unshowered. Yesterday, she’d come home from school and climbed straight into her pajamas. But – believe it or not – letting her sit on the couch all day didn’t seem like the right course of action.

Despite the pouring rain outside, I made a suggestion.

“How ’bout we drive over to Rockville and pick up your dress? You’re missing school anyway. We can get some lunch while we’re there.”

Surprisingly, she perked up at the idea of spending two hours in the car (one each way), just to pick up an Irish dance dress that she already owned, but which had been altered to fit her growing pre-teen body.

“Sounds great!” she declared.

We made a detour by home so she could shower (my idea), and headed out.

I indulged her in a few minor ways.

I let her sit up front.

I let her choose the music (and then a comedian) on Spotify.

I didn’t ask her many questions; I let her steer the conversation.

Overall, I did my best to listen well, and by the time we arrived at the seamstress’ shop, my daughter was coming back to me. One tiny smile and wiggle in her seat at a time.

We got the dress and time was passing quickly. So we giggled our way through lunch at a very poorly-serviced and obnoxiously loud Chipotle, and then ran through Starbucks. She asked for a pink cake pop. I gave it to her. Gladly.

Tonight her belly is much better. Since it’s day 5 of this…whatever it is …maybe she was on the mend anyway. And I’m sure her brother’s prayer had something to do with it. But I also think it’s like this….

Sometimes, things just aren’t right. You don’t know why, or what’s really wrong. Stuff just bugs you. Life gets to you (and your body) in ways you can’t understand.

And what you need – maybe all you simply need – is to hang out with your mom for a little while.

Today, my shocking revelation was …I am the Mom.

And my presence was all that was needed.

My daughter confirmed this lesson on our ride back to Annapolis, when she glanced over at me and said, “Today was the best. Thanks, Mom.”

Today? The best? A doctor’s appointment? Torrential rain? A long drive for a fairly boring reason? A mediocre lunch in a fast-food place?

To all the Moms out there who – like me – think you’re not doing enough: Most of the time, all that’s needed is for us to Show Up. And you can do that. And they love you for it. So much more than you know. 

Happy Mother’s Day.

How She Made a Good Choice

How She Made a Good Choice

imageAs parents, we’re all doing our best to convey our values to our kids. And if we have faith, we are also hoping they will grow to share that faith in time.

Once in awhile, I am blessed with a reminder that my efforts are being rewarded.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting at my computer doing routine admin stuff when my daughter appeared at my side.

“I thought you were at Emma’s* house, honey?”

“I was. But then she and the others started watching a show I didn’t think you’d like me to watch. So I left.”

“Really? What show was it?”

“I don’t know.”

She awkwardly pushed herself into my lap – and she’s ten, so she doesn’t fit there so easily anymore. I hugged her and asked,

“What was it about?”

“Ghosts, I think. It gave me a bad feeling. I thought I shouldn’t be there.”

“A bad feeling where?” I asked, suspecting she wasn’t talking about a ‘Scooby-doo’ ghost.

She pointed to her stomach.

So I asked,

“Do you know why you felt that? Do you know Who was talking to you?”

“God.”

Yes,” I said. And I am so proud of you for listening to Him. It took courage and strength to leave that situation, and I am amazed and so glad that you did.”

She gave a big smile of relief and went off to spend the rest of the afternoon with her brothers. By bedtime last night, the three of them were worn out from laughing and wrestling so much.

Make no mistake, there is a war going on for our children’s hearts. And  today, I am so thankful my daughter is growing strong and skilled in fighting back. She heard and obeyed the Voice that has promised to lead her on the path of peace and joy.

On the way of wisdom I direct you,

I lead you on the straightforward paths.

When you walk, your step will not be impeded,

and should you run, you will not stumble.

Hold fast to instruction, never let her go;

keep her, for she is your life.

-Proverbs 4:11-13

*Not her real name.