Boys and Basketball

Basketball Hoop

Yesterday, the weather was amazing. The temperature topped out at about 70 degrees, and the sky was bright blue most of the day. We could play outside without getting too hot, and I didn’t have to yell at the kids to keep their jackets on–we left them at home.

I love the location of my home, right next to the neighborhood pool and playground. I swear if we had to pack up and load into the minivan to drive to the front of the neighborhood, we’d never get there. Luckily, my little monkeys just need me to open our gate and walk next door.

Yesterday evening, that’s just what we did. We began our journey a little later than planned, missing the most warmth from the sun. Punky Brewster was far too enticing for the kids, and this mama was far too tired to put up a fight. We made it to the playground around five, however, and the kids released their abundance of energy.

I had wished we arrived earlier, though, when I saw the teenaged boy playing basketball. Caleb immediately took off toward him.

“Caleb, leave him alone. He wants to practice.”

But the young man just smiled and encouraged Caleb to come and play. I watched as my five-year-old and this high school-aged boy took turns dribbling and shooting hoops.

I felt a little uneasy, not of this young man, but of my son interfering.

“He’s not going to leave you alone now,” I warned him, but he just smiled and assured me he was okay with Caleb playing.

A few minutes later, another teenaged boy parked his car and joined his friend on the asphalt court. The boys–closer to men than boys, really–showed Caleb how to shoot baskets, teaching him to bend his knees and the proper way to hold the ball.

Frankly, I was impressed, especially when they gave Hannah Grace a try, too.

I’m sure these guys had planned to get together to have a game of one-on-one, and here they were giving lessons to the little boy making granny shots. They wanted to run free on the court, not avoid the little girl dancing to the music in her head and periodically shouting, “I see my shadow! Six more weeks of winter!” Their plans were interrupted–they were inconvenienced–so they simply changed their plans.

They were kind, and they were patient. While I watched them run to Caleb’s aid when the ball rebounded off his head for the second time, I prayed, “God, how I hope Caleb is like them when he’s a teenager!”

And then I thought to myself, “God, make me more like them now.”

On what exceptional young adult would you like to brag? What have they taught you? Have a great weekend!

*photo courtesy of Ben Unleashed via Flickr Creative Commons

Tender

As we drove back from the hair salon, my neighbor Joann thanked me again for driving her.

“You’re very calm, and I like that. Some people aren’t when they drive.”

I smiled a little because ‘calm’ and ‘patient’ are words that many have used to describe me, but, in the last three years, they are words that to me seem the furthest away. I’ve wanted to reclaim them so that my kids would see what others have seen. I’ve gotten a little help along the way, but I’ve also learned a new trick.

I study them, and I savor their uniqueness. Last night, I watched as Chloe ate her ice cream cone. She took a napkin and delicately wrapped it around the cone to keep the melted mess from running down her hands. And I watched her little tongue. She stuck out that little tongue just over the top of the napkin that came up a little too high, and she found the soft cream below. Oh, how she enjoyed that ice cream!

Watching that sweet face, my heart couldn’t help but turn tender. So I watch my children now, and I send up a note of thanks for every ‘Punky Brewster’ style outfit, every nonchalant attitude toward another 100% on a spelling test, and every silly expression that comes out of her mouth. And this heart turns to mush every time I do.

Linking up with the Gypsy Mama for her Five Minute Friday where we write what comes to our minds whether or not it’s exactly right. We spend five minutes getting down those thoughts and don’t change once they’re here. Click below to play along. What makes your heart tender?

 

If I Were Mary

photo courtesy of lindsayshaver

The year I turned 15, Christmas took on a different meaning for me. I remember looking in the mirror and imagining myself pregnant. I rubbed my belly as I thought of how I would tell my family the news. I envisioned the walk downstairs to the kitchen and the kitchen table where I would ask my parents to sit, and I pictured the look on my dad’s face as I shared what I learned from the angel Gabriel:

Dad, Mom, I’m pregnant–but please don’t be mad. I’m still a virgin–I’m carrying God’s baby.

But of course they would be mad…and confused…and scared, much the same as I imagine Mary and her family were. Sometimes as I read the Bible, I forget that these people in the stories weren’t some special breed of holiness, able to accept anything God threw their way. They were real people, and when I was 15, I got that for a moment.

Mary had to be scared even though she trusted God completely. Her parents had to be confused, worried about public shame, and unsure as to how to treat their daughter. And Mary’s community–I’m sure they were abuzz with their own interpretation of how that baby bump got there.

When I was 26 at Christmastime, I imagined I was Mary again. I looked in the mirror and rubbed my belly, except this time my belly was round from the life that grew inside it. I was pregnant with my first child, a son, and I was full of joy and anticipation for his arrival that March.

I was also nervous. Would I instinctively know how to care for this child? Would I be a good mother? I thought about Mary, brimming with joy as she felt her baby kick inside her womb, brimming with questions and pressure as she realized her responsibility–she was the mother to God’s son. How does one prepare for that job?

Now I’m 32. I look in the mirror and find a couple laugh lines that I hadn’t previously noticed. I rub my belly that has never quite gone back to the way it was before three kids. Over the last six years, God has shown me glimpses of His goodness, His holiness, His provision, His plan; and I’ve grown as a result of struggles He has brought me through while holding my hand.

And I think of Mary, riding on a donkey as her stomach tightens and the pangs of labor prick her abdomen, while God is holding her hand. I wonder what runs through her mind as she realizes her baby is coming and she is still far off from a bed. I wonder what she thinks as each door Joseph  knocks on is opened to the news No room. I wonder if she feels His hand, this young girl who had not yet experienced the pain of sex for the first time, as she experiences the pain of childbirth on a bed of hay with cows and sheep as her audience instead of a midwife.

Because I know what I would think. If I were Mary on that donkey, I would worry. If I were Mary watching door upon door close with bad news, I would question. If I were Mary lying on that bed of hay, I would doubt. God, where are you? Why didn’t you plan for the birth of your Son?

Looking back over the last six years, I’ve seen how I react. I get confused when God’s plan takes me through hardship. I question what He is doing. And when doors close, I despise the words of those who reply,”Well, that must not be God’s will.”

But they are wrong as I have been wrong. For something to be God’s will doesn’t mean that all doors fly open. For something to be God’s will doesn’t mean that the end result is neat and clean. Sometimes God’s will is exactly what He told us it would be–He just used different means to that end than we would’ve chosen.

He held Mary’s hand as He closed the doors to those inns, yet she had heard Him correctly. She was in the center of His will. He hadn’t forgotten that she was giving birth to His Son–He chose that blanket of hay for his baby’s bed. He chose the most humiliating way for a woman to deliver a baby to deliver the most beautiful love story this world has ever heard.

God’s Son, Immanuel, God with us, God for us. God’s son, for the lowly shepherd, God’s son for the rich intellectual. God’s son, for the old prophet, God’s son for the smallest child. God’s son, accessible to all on that humble bed of hay.

I wonder if Mary felt God’s hand, if she were able to push aside the doubt that I would’ve allowed to creep in and fester in my mind. I wonder if Mary were able to trust in the midst of agonizing pain and closed doors.

If I were Mary, I’m not sure that I would’ve. It is only now, at 32, that I’m beginning to grasp that the truths in these crazy Bible stories are also true for my crazy life. When I thought I heard God clearly only to have door upon door close, I may have been right.

I just hadn’t realized that God is preparing my own bed of hay.

Merry Christmas to you and your family. May you feel God’s hand as He leads you this coming year.

 

Pick and Choose

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been studying how the supernatural intersects our everyday lives via prayer. I have to admit that even typing the word ‘supernatural’ feels a little funny to me.

I don’t know why. I say I believe in God and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ–to do so I’d have to believe in this idea of supernatural events–yet I’ve noticed that the way I pray and interpret Scripture indicates exactly what I believe.

I pick and choose.

On the one hand, I say I believe that God is the ultimate healer and can perform miracles, but I’m afraid to pray that way. Even when I do pray for God’s miraculous touch, it’s as if I’m praying with one eye open, bracing myself for the reality that that person for whom I’m praying probably won’t be healed.

There were times when I really believed, or, at least, really wanted to believe. My friend was very sick, and I woke up one morning feeling in my heart that I was supposed to pray for his healing. I did; I prayed earnestly and fervently, yet he was not healed.

A couple of weeks ago, our church set aside a special time to pray for healing in view of this series on the supernatural, and I went forward and asked for prayer for my uncle. Again, I felt a strong prompt that I was supposed to pray for his healing. My uncle is a quadriplegic due to what doctors think was a blot clot that formed after back surgery, and within the last few years his health has been on a steady decline.

A couple of days after praying, my mom told me that now my uncle is struggling to breathe.

In situations like those, I begin to doubt myself. Did God really prompt me to pray, or did I just want to see a miracle myself? Did I not pray with enough faith? Does God really heal?

I know that God really heals, but I’m afraid to ask. I temper my prayers with if it’s your will so that if someone is not healed or my prayer is not answered the way I’d like, I can say that it wasn’t God’s will.

Of course, I know I’ve stated the key–God’s will–not mine, yet I can readily admit my fear to really believe beyond ordinary.

Sometimes it’s easier to believe in the power of doctors and medicine than the power of the Doctor. And yet other times, times when I need the healing, I want to grab onto the power of God instead of the resources He’s given me.

Our pastor shared a familiar passage to me, but he opened my eyes to a fuller meaning:

13Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16, New International Version)

I have read and heard this passage many times in regard to praying for those who are sick. I’ve seen pastors anoint individuals with oil, and I always assumed the function was symbolic. However, our pastor shared that the actual Greek text suggests that this anointing served a specific purpose. Olive oil was known for its medicinal properties, and this passage instructs sick individuals to essentially seek prayer and medicine.

After my third child was born, my mental health was on a steady decline for two years. I chalked up my emotions to a confused, hormonal body after having three kids in three years and nursing each of them. However, my daughter rounded 18 months, and I wasn’t feeling better.

I thought, perhaps, that my spiritual life was out of whack. I started waking up at five every morning so that I could pray and read the Bible and process through my feelings on my blog. However, any relief I felt was temporary, and I didn’t understand why. Eventually, I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, and I cried and yelled at my children almost every day.

During my annual physical, my doctor suggested I try medication. Two years was too long for me to deal with depression. I cried as we talked about the prospect, feeling that I was mentally weak or spiritually deficient. My wise, Christian doctor offered the most comforting words:

Scripture says that it will renew the mind. Your mind is an extension of the soul, but your brain is part of the physical body. There is no indication in Scripture that by reading the Word your body will be healed. Now, God can heal you, but He would have to heal you the same way He would have to heal someone of high blood pressure. Right now, the chemical levels in your brain are out of whack, and medication will just retrain them to produce those chemicals that you need.

Looking back to the passage in James, I see that my doctor’s words were essentially the same advice I read a couple of weeks ago in church. Pray and seek medicine. God may heal me; He is mighty and able to perform miracles, but he may want to heal me through the use of the resources I have available.

The bottom line, whether I’m dealing with depression or my uncle is struggling to hold onto his life, is that I’m supposed to pray the same way. I’m supposed to pray, not with one eye open, doubting what my God can do, but believing that at this very moment my uncle could get up and walk. At this very moment, I could wake up without the need for medicine again.

While I will never understand the will of God this side of heaven, I understand my role. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. And while I’m not righteous on my own, I have Christ pleading on my behalf. God hears my prayers, and they are effective, whether God answers them with a blazing flash of lightning or a tiny pink pill.

Do you pick and choose when it comes to your understanding of prayer? Linking up today with Michelle and Jen.


 

Writing in the Margins

I slept through my alarm every day last week. A couple of times, I didn’t even hear my alarm until it had been going off for at least a half an hour. I was immediately frightened by the realization–I had become my husband.

In the midst of the exhaustion and frazzled days of the last two weeks, I look fondly on the kindness God showed me. I had already had the conversation with my husband–I’ve taken on too much; I need to figure out what I’m going to let go–when I saw a trend I didn’t like. Each night I hit the sack a little later trying to finish that ‘just one more’ task, and each morning I woke with the need for an IV drip of coffee–and I’m not even a coffee drinker. I hadn’t spent any time in serious prayer or reading my Bible because I kept waking up late, and I was yearning for that time to focus my mind on the spiritual and not just the earthly tasks.

It all started innocently, with the best of intentions. I so looked forward to Chloe starting preschool, giving me two days a week with a few hours child-free. I made plans to volunteer in the kids’ schools, something that proved difficult previously with a baby in tow; to work out more consistently, to improve my writing with regular practice; to keep a cleaner house. As I looked at my cluttered countertops, a blog with the last entry almost a week ago, and a gym bag that hasn’t left it’s spot in a few days, I found out that by pursuing one of those items on the list, the rest quickly deteriorated.

I was so excited to co-chair the missions committee at Caleb’s school, but as 10:00 rolled around each night, it was just one more thing I hadn’t finished. I remember telling Matt, “The other chair seems to have taken over, but, honestly, that’s okay with me right now.” He laughed, and I laughed at the words coming out of my mouth. My had I changed if I was okay relinquishing control!

And that is how God showed His kindness. As I was coming to my own realization as to what I could handle, the co-chair of the missions organization called me: I don’t want you to think I’ve taken over; I just remember how hard it was for me when I had little kids. Mine are older now, and it’s really not a problem to get some of these things done.

The timing of her phone call, not even 12 hours after Matt and I spoke, was confirmation for me. I unburdened my heart, telling this lady how much I want to help, but, at the same time, I appreciate her understanding. I do need to watch to what I commit and maybe let her take a greater amount of the tasks for now. She laughed a knowing laugh and reminded me that my ministry right now, especially during this season of life, is my family. And she went on to warn that, in her own life, she saw Satan use busyness, busyness in good things, to distract her from better things.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this topic before. I want my family to be my priority, my ministry, yet I find that line can get fuzzy. After all, I volunteer in the kids’ schools for them, I volunteer at church for God and as an example to my children. I’m the secretary of our homeowner’s association for…well…that’s not a good example. And writing is for me, and working out is for me, and quiet time in the morning is for me–and I find it easier to push aside those ‘me’ activities instead of those for others. However, I’m also learning that if I don’t find those moments for me, most importantly those moments between God and me, I won’t have anything to give to them.

I’m not complaining about being busy. I’m blessed to feel busy doing things I love. But I also know that just because something is good doesn’t mean it’s good for me now, especially if I’ve used up all my margin to do those good things.

One of the hardest struggles for me as a wife and a mother has been to figure out this whole margin thing, to figure out my priorities and how those priorities translate. I want my children to know I love them and the Lord and that I want to serve the Lord with my life. And it’s going to take me a while, but I think God may be showing me that one of the best ways to start serving Him is to play a game of ‘Toy Story Connect 4″ with the kids, get in bed early, read a book, and then wake up rested.

There are too many beautiful moments, fleeting moments, and I don’t want to need caffeine in order to enjoy them.

Do you struggle with busyness and saying ‘no’ to good things? How do you achieve the proper balance in your life?

Linking up with Michelle and Jen today!

But Better

I was disappointed. I had looked forward to going on this field trip with him, and he acted like he wished I hadn’t come. Of course, I knew that wasn’t true. Caleb was excited any time I came to his school, but one would have never known it from the distance he put between us at the museum.

The museum atmosphere was a little crazy–a whole town complete with a police car and fire truck, a hair salon and bank, the essential grocery store and hospital, every exhibit ‘hands-on’ and ready for sixty-four kindergarteners to blow through like a tornado. Caleb’s teacher asked if I would let Brandon join our group of two, and, of course, I said ‘yes.’ Brandon was sweet and listened when I asked the boys to stay together; Caleb, however, had other plans.

My anxiety level began to rise as Caleb would run to exhibit after exhibit without his friend or me by his side. I spent the majority of my time, not enjoying the exhibits, but trying to figure out if I, in fact, had Caleb and Brandon with me, a challenging feat when all thirty boys are dressed with the same uniform and short hairdo.

I was aggravated. I knew Caleb wanted to play with his best friend, but his teacher asked me to watch Brandon, too. I didn’t understand what was so hard about us all staying together, and I was getting tired of trying to force the cohesion.

And then I hit my limit for the day. Like a group of ducklings with their mama duck, the kids formed a line behind their teacher in preparation for going to lunch. Caleb had thought he started the line, but apparently so did another kid. As the front of the line moved ahead of Caleb, tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks.

I sighed loudly while giving an obligatory side-hug. I could not believe he was going to start crying because he wasn’t the line leader. Caleb was going to need to toughen up–it doesn’t get much better than kindergarten.

But then I heard the words clearly in my mind:

He’s exactly like you.


And I immediately understood. Not only is Caleb only five, an important fact that I kept forgetting, but he’s got a sensitive heart just like his mama. He’s loyal to his friends, and that day he just wanted to find his buddy. His feelings bruise easily, and to a kindergartener, losing the title of ‘line leader’ is devastating.

I get that. I remember countless times of feeling wounded for this or that, a careless word or thoughtless inaction. I remember trying to blink back tears when I was embarrassed or hurt. And if I’m to be truthful, it’s easy to remember–I don’t have to look farther than last week.

In fact, I was over-sensitive the same day as Caleb. Yes, he should’ve listened better and stayed close to Brandon and me, but, honestly, I was upset because I was hurt. I was hurt that my son didn’t want me close like some of the other kids wanted their parents; I was hurt because my son didn’t obey. And I was critical of Caleb’s reaction in line because, often, we are most critical of those flaws we see in ourselves.

But, Caleb, having a sensitive spirit is also your asset. Your genuine concern and love for others makes my heart smile. So if once in a while the tears spill and our feelings hurt, it’s worth it.

Yesterday, Caleb made handwritten cards with original drawings for each of his classmates just because he wanted to. I picked up one card that read, ‘You are my best friend.’

“Riley, really?” I responded, a little surprised since Caleb hadn’t really mentioned Riley before.

And without missing a beat, he cleared up my confusion.

“Well, I think he wouldn’t like it if I wrote ‘You’re not my best friend.’

Yes, Caleb’s just like me but better.

For What It’s Worth


photo by Elena Lagaria

I’m 32 years old, but sometimes I share the thoughts of that 15 year old girl that I once was. Even though I’ve gained years and wisdom and maturity, there are times when my logic engages in tough battle with my insecurities. There are days when I look in the mirror and scrutinize the reflection, days when I study my legs and my stomach and offer a harsh critique. There are days when I forget from where my worth comes.

This weekend I listened to our pastor deliver a convincing sermon arguing that we’ve let culture shape our views in regard to fashion instead of our Christian values helping to shape culture. None of the ideas were new to me–our culture screams loud and clear that the perfect woman’s body screams ‘sex,’ and no woman can actually reach the ideal that they’ve set; no matter how a woman dresses, men have to take hold of their thoughts and are responsible for where their mind goes; and we parents have to communicate to our daughters that they carry far more beauty than what the world would try to tell them and that their worth comes from their Creator, not the label on their clothing.

I have heard these teachings before, but at the end of the sermon, I had tears in my eyes. Near the beginning of the sermon, our pastor played a clip of a 15 year old girl who looked closer to 25 explaining why she dressed as she did. She wanted boys to look at her, to desire her, because it was then that she felt she was worth something. She flaunted her body because she tied her value as a person to her physical appeal, and the reaction from boys validated these feelings.

Fifteen was a long time ago for me, but I remember. I never flaunted my body or dressed seductively–I knew in mind that acting that way was wrong and that any boy who wanted me solely for the way I looked was not a boy that I wanted for a boyfriend–but I still wanted that validation. I wanted to turn boys’ heads when I walked by; I wanted them to want me. And when that didn’t happen, I doubted that I had any beauty.

And, unfortunately, sometimes I still do.

More often than not, I feel good about myself. I have a husband whom I love and loves me, children who bring a smile to my face, and I don’t desire anything more. Yet, there are those days that sneak up on me, days when I hate my reflection, days when I doubt that anyone other than my husband could find me attractive.

A few months ago, my son asked me why I didn’t wear a shirt that showed my stomach when I worked out at the gym. Initially, I was taken aback that my five year old noticed the trend of skimpy work-out clothes. However, I explained to him that I wanted to dress modestly, so I wasn’t going to wear shirts that showed my stomach (and I really didn’t want to show my stomach, either).

And I meant what I said–I do want to dress modestly–but sometimes when I’m working out I wonder if I could cause a head or two to turn. It’s not that I’m interested in anyone other than my husband, but I have moments like that 15 year old girl. I have moments when I’ve measured my worth by the heads that I’ve turned instead of by the One who gave me my worth.

I am in control of my thoughts, and I can’t blame anyone for them but me, yet the culture of which I am a part doesn’t do much to chase away these lies, either.

The other day my daughter tried on a superhero costume. After many days of my girls dressing up with their brother and their cousin in his costumes, my sister decided to buy some female superhero costumes to join the mix. The girls’ hero was Diana, also known as Wonder Woman, so my sister excitedly presented this costume to Hannah Grace. After putting on boots that were a little too high and a skirt that was a little too short, Hannah Grace looked at her appearance and exclaimed, “My daddy would freak out!” My sister agreed and returned the costume for a more modest Captain-America’s-daughter-costume.

When my sister told me this story, I had to wonder how is it that my four year old has more sense of what is appropriate for a child than those who manufactured the costume? And why do we as parents perpetuate the idea that our daughters’ value lies in the sexiness of their bodies by the clothes that we buy for them?

I know some might think that Matt and I are too strict when it comes to our daughters. We’re not fans of dressing our little girls in two-piece bathing suits nor painting their fingernails painted bright pink. Some of the outfits or accessories that we say ‘no’ to aren’t bad–they’re just not for little girls. We want our daughters to hold on to their innocence. We want them to look like little girls, not teenagers, because some day they will be teenagers. And when that day comes, we want them to be content with how they are, not striving to look ten years older. We want them to feel beautiful because God made them beautiful, and His beauty does not come in a box of hair dye or a tight shirt.

Last Sunday I had tears in my eyes at the end of the sermon because my pastor was talking to me. I know the feeling of that teenage girl wanting to look older, wanting to attract young men by looks alone. I’ve know the feeling of that 32 year old woman who wonders if she could attract anyone. I’ve known the feeling of tying up my worth in the latest fashion trends and the firmness of my muscles.

And I know that I don’t want my daughters to know that feeling. I want them to believe the words we speak into them, that they are beautiful and kind and truly a gift. And I know that if they are to believe they are worth something, their mother needs to believe that she is worth something, too.

Linking up late with Michelle for ‘Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday.” These personal posts can take me awhile….

 

Have you ever fallen into the trap of tying your worth to your physical appearance alone? When you do find yourself placing more emphasis on the physical, how do you speak truth into yourself?

Four Miles

As I tied my shoe laces Saturday morning, I felt such pride in myself. It was 7:30 a.m., and here I was getting ready for a run while the rest of my town was sleeping. I grabbed a banana and my water bottle and headed to the car. Today was the day–four miles–and I was going to get them done while the air was cool and crisp, while my neighbors snuggled under their warm blankets.

But as I pulled into the packed parking lot of the park, I realized I wasn’t nearly as awesome as I thought. Evidently, a lot of people exercise early on Saturday morning. Nevertheless, I got out of the car ready to start my goal, albeit feeling slightly less important.

About a month ago, I had decided I wanted to train for a half marathon. I had run one about six years before, before I had kids, before I had become, apparently, out of shape. The training so far wasn’t going as well as I’d hoped. Running long distances has never been easy for me, but the first time I trained, I was able to increase my mileage each week. Now–well, let’s just say that if those heart sensors on treadmills had an alarm that goes off when one’s heart is about to explode, the paramedics would be ready and waiting most days of my training.

Prior to a race where Matt and I pretended to be runners only to almost die

This particular Saturday was no different. As my feet hit the pavement, my mind was thankful for the cool morning air and a change in scenery from the gym, but my body didn’t care; it wanted to go to bed. I knew from past experience that I take a few minutes to get going, to get a good pace and rhythm, but after five minutes, I was already struggling. My legs didn’t want to move, and I had to pee. Why, no matter how many times that I pee before starting, do I still have to pee two minutes into a run (I would guess childbirth has something to do with that answer. You men have it so good)?

It’s way too early to quit, I told myself. So I moved along and decided by a mile in, I’d find my groove. But after running one mile, I was still running at the pace of toddler learning to walk. I tried to stay positive and kept going. I smiled as a little chipmunk scurried in front of my path. I reflected on the wonder of God as a beam of light rays pushed through the tree branches ahead of me. I found a moment of joy.

And then I watched the 70-year-old man pass me on the left while I was contemplating if my own lungs would collapse.

I had run almost two miles, and I was still struggling. The little inclines were killing me. I was huffing and puffing. My legs felt tired, and my breathing hadn’t adjusted to a comfortable rhythm. I never found my groove.

I might have to stop. I didn’t want to have to holler after that 70- year-old that I was dying and needed his help to get me to my car so that I could go to Starbucks. I was ready to quit.

But I couldn’t.

My plan said I was supposed to run four miles that day, and if I didn’t run four, then the rest of the weeks of training would be that much harder.

So I kept going, shuffling my feet one in front of the other, hoping I didn’t see anyone I knew. But then something amazing happened.

Shortly after two miles, I noticed I could breathe. All of sudden, my body began to run on its own instead of me forcing it to move. I was now running at the pace of a four-year-old walking. I had found my groove. For the next two miles, I ran. I even passed some people. On a long, flat stretch, I picked up the pace again, and for a few moments, I slightly enjoyed myself.

When I saw the small, wooden sign marking my goal, I pushed myself and yearned for that finish. And when I finished, I felt good. My face was beat red, my stomach hurt, and I wanted to throw up–but I felt good. I could finally pee. I had finished. I had finished.

I wonder how many times we quit something one mile too soon.


While I was running, I felt like for the first time I could truly understand what it means to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12: 1-2). Sometimes marriage is not easy. Raising kids is not easy. Having a positive attitude at work is not easy. Sometimes, it’s easier to quit.

But if we would’ve held on for one more mile, would we have finally found our groove? Or would God have sent a little chipmunk or light rays through the branches of a tree to cause us to smile for a moment, distracting us from the discomfort of not being able to breathe easily, giving us just enough of a boost to continue a little further?

I’m convinced that my life is very much like running four miles. For some, they seem to run with ease, passing me on the left while I’m huffing and puffing and wondering if this is the end for me. But there are always those moments, always those moments scattered throughout my run to bring a smile to my face. And once in a while, I even fall into a groove, and when I do, I’m always glad that I didn’t fall down on the ground and ask the 70-year-old man to take me to Starbucks instead.

Two days ago, I watched my two-year-old daughter play with her best friend. I’ve never seen two children so small actually play with one another and not just alongside one another. They talked in their baby voices and laughed and chased each other, and they gave me that boost I needed to run uphill that day. So when I was digging through my son’s poop later that day looking for a Lego, I just thought of those sweet, little girls and realized now was not the time to throw in the towel–even though I still hadn’t found that stupid Lego and will have to dig again later this week.

Thinking Good

I cringed as I watched the dad before me.

His son was up to bat, and his hands gripped the fence tightly in front of him. We had already observed his antics the previous time Micah* came to the plate, his yelling and the look of disgust over his face when his son propelled his entire body toward the ball, bat still, instead of just swinging.

You know the type. The dad who feels his son’s performance is a reflection of himself, even if we all are only watching a T-ball game full of five-year-olds.

So when this dad moved forward to watch Micah attempt to hit the ball, I cringed in anticipation of how he might react.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Micah surprisingly hit the ball off the tee, and we cheered in excitement. After all, the team rallied, and we were only a couple of runs behind. We could actually tie this game up.

But this little boy didn’t seem to understand the weight of his hit. No, instead of running to base, Micah decided to swing his arms around like he was a helicopter, bob his head from side to side, and kick up his legs slowly as he lolligagged over to base.

Everyone in the stands was laughing. Everyone, that is, except for Micah’s dad. The dad yelled through the fence, “RUN, MICAH! RUN!” And then he turned away in frustration when his son was thrown out by a mile (which rarely happens in T-ball).

I wished the dad could lighten up. I wished he could realize these kids are little; who cares if they don’t take the game seriously? Nobody thought he had failed as a father because his son stunk at T-ball. There would be plenty of time for truly competitive sports later.

I’m not sure if this father had any realizations that day, but I surprised myself with my own a few hours later in the car. I shared it that night as Matt and I met in the bathroom getting ready for bed.

“You know,” I said, “I really didn’t  like how Micah’s dad yelled at him during the game. I’m sure he made Micah nervous.”

“Oh, I didn’t notice.”

“Really? I thought he was pretty obnoxious. I’m surprised you didn’t hear him.”

Matt had served as the on-deck coach that game, so he was preoccupied. But now knowing that he hadn’t even noticed Micah’s dad made me doubt what I observed a little.

“Well, anyway, he really bothered me…but I have to admit…I kind of wanted to yell, too.”

Matt and I laughed, and at almost the same time, we both yelled out versions of “Just RUN, Micah!”

Because it’s true. My mind was thinking almost everything Micah’s dad’s mouth was saying. Perhaps knowing my own thoughts is the reason I had such disdain for him. And while I didn’t and still don’t agree with how this particular dad reacted, I felt like a hypocrite for having this disdain. After all, my thoughts weren’t any better; I just happened to keep them to myself.

During my drive in the car I thought about the different times in my life when I had acted the right way but not thought the right way. The times when I didn’t gossip but hid judgmental thoughts in my heart. The times when I didn’t complain at work but criticized my boss over and over in my head. And the times when I cringed at parents who couldn’t relax knowing that I, too, would’ve felt a little embarrassed if my kid rounded the bases like a helicopter.

I know the right way to act, and, most times, I choose the right behavior. I just don’t always choose the right way to think.

After my drive in the car, I was reminded of the fact that I have been reminded of before: I have a long way to go. I don’t want just pure behavior; I want pure thoughts. When I laugh at little kids on the ball field acting like helicopters, I don’t want thoughts of “Geez, Louise, kid! Just run!” interfering. I don’t want critical thoughts filling up space in my mind (I need those spaces for memory!). I want to be good and think good, too.

So, please, Micah. Help me out. I have a long way to go as a person, and you have a long way to go as a ball player. Can we meet in the middle? How about a nice jog to first base next time? I promise I’ll only think good thoughts about you.

*The name of this little ball player has been changed to protect the innocent.

Can anyone relate to my problem, or am I just evil?

 

Measuring Sticks

I measure my life by birthday parties.

I measure the stability of my marriage by the number of hours I spend in the kitchen versus the number of episodes my husband watches from the couch, the strength of our marriage by our ability to communicate telepathically about paper streamers (seriously, who doesn’t twist streamers before taping them to the ceiling?) and the placement of the purple napkins.

I measure my worth as a mother by the amount of pink ribbons made from natural food coloring on the cake and the ratio of homemade to store-bought food, my success in parenting by the quantity of products on my table lacking high-fructose corn syrup in exchange for something crafted from my own hands.

I measure my growth as an adult by the time on the clock when I finally crawl into bed and the number of minutes I finish preparing before (or after) the guests arrive, my progress as a homemaker by whether or not they see dust bunnies or carpet lines when they walk through the front door.

And I measure the healthiness of my mental state by the expression on my face and the direction of my brows as I fumble with goodie bags and twist-ties, the condition of my heart by the genuineness of my smile and whether or not I’m relaxed or pretending to relax and enjoy the party.

Because we all do it. We all have our different coffee spoons by which we measure our lives. And we drift through our days holding up those measuring sticks and scratching out our little pencil marks reminding ourselves how our performance stacked up against other days’, how far we still have to go, how imperfect we really are.

We allow ourselves to fret and worry about a score card that is graded solely by us, the red pen marks bolder and harsher than any we received in school. And we let our poor grades interfere with enjoying our greatest accomplishments.

Or maybe that’s just me.

I’ve thrown 11 kid birthday parties now, and while I learned my lesson and threw out the score card on party #9, I still find old cards hidden in the junk drawer. I’m tempted to reassess and get out my red pen. But I can’t because the score doesn’t matter.

The score will never be perfect.

But the memories, yes, the memories of bright eyes and wide smiles, hugs with family and laughter with friends–these are the sticks by which to measure life.

‘The memories of heartache and tears and gentle fingers ready to catch them as they rolled down my cheek–these are the sticks by which to measure life.

The memories of times when no words were spoken, but we sat together and waited together and endured together–these are the sticks by which to measure life.

The times spent with others; pouring into each other; living life, the good, the bad–all of it–these are the sticks by which I will measure life because these are what will endure long after I don’t; these are what matter.

Not the coffee spoons. Not the paper streamers. Not the lack of high-fructose corn syrup (No, I can’t write it. Eliminating high-fructose corn syrup totally matters). But those who used the coffee spoons and sat under the straight streamers and ate the natural food–they are who matter.

Hannah Grace, you will always matter to me. I made the mistake earlier on of not enjoying every moment because I was too stressed out trying to create it. And while I still have those moments when I fall back into my perfectionist mode, I’m doing better. You’re too special to not enjoy every moment with you and your brother and sister. I hope you enjoyed your 4th birthday party, every minute of it, because I enjoyed every minute that I watched that beautiful smile on  your face. I love you, Mommy.

By what do you measure your life? By what do you base your figurative score card?