Wednesday, November 7, 2012

More Than My Zip Code

It is September 12, 2008 and we are hiding out at a hotel in San Antonio with our three children, waiting for Hurricane Ike to pass by. Coastal newbies, we aren't taking any chances staying on the Island. Only our second hurricane season living in Corpus and what will be the third costliest Atlantic hurricane in history is barreling toward our home (surpassed only by Katrina in 2005 and Sandy last week).

For almost two weeks we watch her coming, watch her wreak havoc moving from the Atlantic into the Gulf, watch the spaghetti noodles turn and take aim at our coastline. 

We waver back and forth. Do we spend money on lumber to board up? What if they run out of supplies while we second-guess? It takes everything I've got just to keep up with the two-year-old boy trying to kill himself all the time plus the two sisters in kindergarten and third grade. Do I pack? Do I not pack? Is it a foolish waste of precious time? What do I pack? When do I pack?

What is the moment we reach critical mass and move? We are new at this. We learn when the Weather Channel has updates and we watch her like a boiling pot on the burner, and we can't turn the heat down. We are calm and we are flustered. We know she will probably pass, and we wonder if she will change our life. 

I imagine coming back home to a disaster and starting over again. I imagine coming together with others to help. Then, I try to stop imagining. I am calm at bedrock because we will not lose what is most important.

In the end, we board up, pack up and leave. We get to San Antonio and discover she will pass us by and hit Galveston and Houston. We own a home there, but we are naive and don't worry, because the house is at least seventy miles inland from Galveston Bay.

At 7:00 am the morning of September 13, we are in bed and my husband's mobile phone rings - our tenants. They are still in the closet under the stairs, where they have spent the night. Wearily she says, "Don, this is Anne. The house is pretty much completely destroyed. We're in the closet. It hasn't stopped raining. The house is falling in around us." One house, two mamas, two families impacted.

No time to process and we're all on the phone in our pajamas with insurance companies - "What do we do?" For us, it began as a flurry of activity (meet the insurance guy, clean it up, tear it out, build it back, new tenants), and it stretched into a two-year-long epic before we were finally reimbursed for everything we lost and everything it cost. We are still living with some of the consequences of that storm and we didn't even live in the house when it was hit.

I will never watch the weather the same again. 

Most of the time all I need is the weather in my zip code please. And really I don't care if it rains unless it will cancel the outdoor event I've worked on for six months. 

But last week, as I watched Sandy approaching strangers on the East coast, everything was different. I saw all those mamas in emergency mode, trying to decide what to do. Not strangers, but friends in the distance.

Up before dark, breakfast, try to pack, change a diaper, find important files, morning snack, find precious pictures, find the outfit they wore home from the hospital, where are our social security cards, fix lunch, clean up a spill, how can I not have room for all of this childhood artwork.......all the while hoping it doesn't matter because surely we'll be right back and nothing will have changed.

For me, when the weather changed everything, everything changed.

When you weather destruction, you rebuild and you are rebuilt.

You become alert and prayerful. You are compassionate. You are generous. And you care about more than your zip code.

"...we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God..." - the Apostle Paul

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Monster Mama

I am amazed at the resilience of my children. While I do my best to be a good mama to them, I am thankful for their ability to bounce back from my mistakes! And I certainly give my kiddos plenty to bounce back from – especially when Monster Mama pays them a visit.

I don’t know about you, but my house has a sore spot. It’s upstairs  - my daughters’ domain. Only a bedroom, a loft and a half bathroom, it is the cause of great and constant pain for my household and its primary caretaker – moi.

In the same way you might baby a sore muscle, avoiding movement to minimize pain, I resist climbing those steps to their room.

To be honest, it’s gotten a little out of control. Okay, maybe a LOT out of control. I avoid the space altogether, begging my husband to risk it all, venturing into the fray to wake them up in the morning and kiss them goodnight. I just can’t handle the mess today, I whine to him.

Of course the girls are on to me. Knowing I won’t come upstairs gives them a certain reckless abandon. And when I finally work up the courage (succumb to the guilt) and crest the top of the stairs, I know what I will find: a disaster-area of creativity without clean up, snacks sneaked in and left behind, dirty laundry mixed with once-folded clean clothes.

I should be prepared, but I am not. I should be patient, but I am not. In a moment, I am transformed into Monster Mama. I grit my teeth, keeping the creature at bay while picking up trash (Gross, what’s that stuck to the floor!), closing dresser drawers (What is so hard about closing a drawer, I ask you?), picking up piles of dirty laundry (That still has tags on it – I’m never buying them clothes again!). I enter the bathroom (You don’t want the details here.) and it’s just too much to contain. The beast emerges.

The “mama howl” erupts. You know the voice - every mama has it, but we sweeten it up in public. No one will ever hear that voice except my family. I yell and I lecture and I hope the neighbors aren’t in the front yard.

After, I go into my bedroom and cry that I have unleashed Monster Mama and given my children one more reason for therapy. And I think, “When I croak, I hope we leave them enough money to pay for their time on the sofa.”

I pray for forgiveness, calm down, call them into the bedroom, apologize, ask forgiveness from the children, go upstairs to help them. Peace.

And then at dinner, grace.

Almost every night our family plays a game called, “High Low.” We ask them to share the highest (best) experience and the lowest (worst) experience of their day.

Normally, I look forward to “High Low,” but tonight when my husband asks the question, my stomach churns and my shoulders tighten, dreading the “low” that I know every child will choose. Monster Mama – without a doubt.

I look to my right with a forced smile as daughter number two tells us her high for the day. Then summoning my courage, I ask the question: “So, what was your low today?”

She looks up, mentally scanning the day that has passed for a low, but can’t find one. “I don’t have a low today, Mom.” I wait for the other shoe to drop, and look around the table to see if Big Sis will correct her, but don’t hear anything. I sit, fork in my hand, my mouth is closed, but my heart is gaping open in wonder.

How can they not remember? How can they not be scarred forever? How can they bounce back from meeting the monster?

And I hear, “Mama, it’s not all about today. You pour and you pour every day. It all counts. Even the lowest-of-the-lows evaporate in the atmosphere of everyday loving. Let it go.” Thank you God for miraculous memory loss. Help me accept the bounce-back blessings of forgiveness and fresh starts.

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3.21-23

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Minivan Meltdown

A mama lives a great deal of her life in the car. Taxi season is unavoidable unless you’re a hermit, so you can fight it or you can learn to make the most of it – those are the only two choices.
Last Friday in carpool line craziness, my kindergartener decided it would be a great idea to open a golf umbrella right behind my head. Trying desperately to close it while avoiding a car accident with a fellow parent proved challenging.
Later I realized that somehow my son had managed to break the locking mechanism required to close the umbrella. Not aware of this at the time however, I yanked it closed again and again to no avail while the carpool monitor stared at me quizzically through the windshield.
I could feel the tension growing in the line, now stopped dead, while I got out of the car (umbrella first) on a beautiful sunny day and continued my efforts. Finally, exasperated, I opened the hatch and violently stuffed the open umbrella into the back of the van in full view of the watching world.
Oh sure, I plastered a smile over my frustration and joked with the carpool monitor, but we all know what the parking lot was thinking. “Crazy mama at twelve o’clock.” If you were there, I apologize.
Of course most days aren’t quite that crazy, but the close quarters in my minivan tend to be a constant motherhood challenge.
It really started about two years ago when we began spending an hour in the car together picking everybody up from school.
I just never know who’s getting in my car on any given day. I pick up the same kiddos, but it’s impossible to know which of multiple personalities will be joining us for taxi time.
Sometimes the motor mouth pops in the door – he/she is one of my favorites. I don’t have to ask any questions about the day. The mouth just keeps spilling, hardly coming up for air, until happily exhausted, it comes to a stop.
Other days the grouch climbs in, the effort a strain, schlepping the backpack in the door along with a foul attitude. Everybody in the van should give the grouch a wide berth, knowing the tiniest irritation may cause an eruption on the scale of Mount Vesuvius, wiping out everyone in its path.
Some days, what I call the water balloon rolls in, shoulders slumped, eyes downcast, about to burst. Barely making it until the door slides shut, the balloon pops and the tears pour out. I love water balloon too. When he/she gets in the car, my chest squeezes tight as I listen to disappointment or hurt and then have the privilege of ministering comfort and consolation.
And then there’s the combination of any of these and a number of others I haven’t taken time to describe.  For instance, check out this formula: motor mouth + grouch = recipe for minivan disaster.
My role in the minivan is varied. I am referee, counselor, comforter, disciplinarian, coach, nurse, cheerleader, teacher. Yes, I am minivan mama.
At first, I resented the time that my minivan stole from me – stole from my family. I wished for the homey comfort of my kitchen and den, and for wide open spaces to separate my kids when necessary.
But I am learning that minivan time with my children is precious time, because I am a captive audience for my kiddos. In the van, there are no dishes, no laundry, no distractions, no other responsibilities.
I alone determine whether to be fully engaged in that taxi time so pregnant with the potential of truly knowing my children, listening to their hearts, and loving them with my undivided attention. When I choose to make the most of minivan moments, seemingly insignificant daily trips combine over time to form one amazing family journey.
Maybe this is what Honda had in mind when they named my van. Odyssey – (def) any long, adventurous, epic voyage of discovery.
"Blessed are those who set their hearts on the journey." Psalm 84.5b

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mama, Mama, What Do You See?

Island Moon Column

Perspective is a powerful thing. Like a lens, it frames the way I see the world. The awesome thing about a mama’s perspective is that it also frames the way her children see the world, and more importantly the way they see themselves.

One of the books my kids loved when they were itty-bitty was “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by Eric Carle. If you’re a mama, it’s probably sitting on the shelf in your house too.

Over and over again I read it, child sitting in my lap, until the whole book was memorized and they knew which Crayola-colored animal was coming next. With repetition I taught their little eyes what to look for on the next page.

And that’s what I’m still doing. What a heavy responsibility to help them learn to see. And I’m doing it, even when I don’t realize I’m doing it.

They learn to see as I see. They follow my gaze to its focal point and fix their own eyes there. I’m not always proud of what they learn, but sometimes I get a glimpse of something that really humbles and excites me! When I see them seeing on their own.

My kiddos are learning to look for beauty. It all started the first evening I stood at the kitchen sink, looked out our west-facing front windows and got a pink and purple eye-full. “Everybody come quick! It’s an emergency!” Hustling out the door, we took in the sunset, accompanied by little “oohs” and “aahs.”

Now, I regularly hear my children catch their breath and say, “Mom, it’s gonna be a good one tonight. Hurry up!” With Pavlovian instinct, we drop everything and run, watching in wonder as the sun melts into a watery horizon, every time just as appreciated as the one before. They tell me how much God must love us to paint such beautiful sky-pictures every day. Hmm, where have I heard that before?

They have learned to see beauty for themselves.

But even more than beauty, I want to teach my children how to see the truth. When my 12-year-old piles in the minivan after school, struggling to find her place, it’s my job to help her see clearly. Throughout the day, her lens may get foggy with emotion. Her vision might be blurry with fatigue. Her perspective may be skewed on the basis of a dozen other opinions about who she is.

Gently I wipe away the grime from her lens and remind her that she is precious, unique, significant just the way she is. I tell her what she already knows is true, but has forgotten. Taking her by the chin, I lift her eyes to see her immense value again.

I help her to see what I see in her. I help her learn what to look for on the next page of her life.

And when I see something, I’ve got to say something. I’ve got to continue to point out what’s beautiful and true to my children until they learn to see it for themselves. No other human being can take the place of a mother, can see what a mother sees, and say what a mother says.

I don’t want to use my influence primarily to point out flaws and failings. Those are easy for children to see, and they often focus on them too much. Instead I want to show them who they are, and are becoming. I want to teach them to look through a loving lens at themselves and others, and find truth and beauty there.

So Mama, what do you see? I see a privilege looking at me.


What I will add to this column is that in order to teach my child to see beauty and truth, I must first and foremost teach them to see Jesus. And I cannot teach my child what I cannot see myself. Seeing Jesus must be my utmost goal as a mother. Not only is Jesus to be our focal point, but he is also the only adequate lens that gives a correct perspective on ourselves, others and the world we live in. We look to him, we look for him, we look through his eyes at our children. He alone gives us the IN-SIGHT to mother them well.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..." Hebrews 12.2a

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4.18

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Babes with Boys at the Beach

My latest Island Moon column :)

One of the best parts about being a stay-at-home mama on The Island is happening right now. This is my favorite time of year – empty beaches, warm water, perfect temperatures. 

Before my youngest started school, I spent many a fall morning at Bali Park with his buddies and mine. I am missing those mornings and those friends, so I’m going to reminisce a little, if you don’t mind.

I loved our spontaneous beach play dates. As my kids have gotten older, their schedules are increasingly difficult to juggle. So, as spontaneity has mostly vanished from my life, I crave a last-minute beach party.

One of us would send a quick text invite, and in just a few minutes, we were off. Throw some snacks and juice boxes in a cooler, pile the chairs and toys in the back of the hot red minivan, pack the towels, spray the sunscreen…well maybe it wasn’t as quick as I remember.

But I never worried about forgetting anything. At our parties, all snacks, shovels and pails were community property, and we always brought more than enough. The boys were usually starving in ten minutes, so we broke open the Tupperware and Ziploc bags. 

We shared fresh fruit, the juice dripping from our fingers making a sticky mess, homemade granola (inevitably mixed with sand), left-over brownies from dessert the night before and of course, the obligatory Goldfish crackers. Those had to be eaten last, as a seagull can spot an orange Pepperidge Farm Goldfish from 5 miles away with pinpoint accuracy. Then, snack time was over and seagull chasing began, a favorite pastime of preschool boys.

Anyway, I dubbed our spontaneous beach parties: “Babes with Boys at the Beach.” Babe of course, is a relative term. Make-up? Ha! Shower and shave? Ha! Perfect 10s? Ha ha ha! No dressing to impress, no sucking in what’s falling out (Okay maybe a little sucking in, let’s be reasonable.) and most important, no pretending.

While the boys played, us mamas shared more than snacks. We shared our lives. If Bob Hall Pier could talk, he could let you in on our deepest desires. We didn’t waste our time gossiping about other people. Instead we invested our time and our hearts in one another. We helped one another, loved one another, prayed for one another, learned from one another. We grew up together, becoming better women, better friends, better wives and mothers because of one another.

Giving your heart away is always a risky thing for a woman, but I choose not to do life any other way.

I have moved three times in the last nine years. I haven’t had time to wait five years to make close friends. I may be spontaneous about beach parties, but what I will not fail to schedule is time to forge deep friendships – for myself and for my family. And I will not wait for someone else to extend an invitation.

I have learned to reach out and say those five little words that mark the beginning of every friendship: “Hi…my…name…is…Daphne.”

Friendship is too precious a gift to be afraid to open. I believe that we were created to live our lives in community – not to waste away alone. The risk of betrayal and disappointment is real, but there is no question in my mind that the blessings of friendship far exceed any possibility of loss.

My beach buddies have moved away, and I am missing them today. So it’s time to reach out again. The beach awaits.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mama Whiplash

My six-year-old son walked into my bedroom, sprawled out on the bed, and let this loose without a single breath between sentences:  “I love you sooooo much, Mom, but I love God the most, and all I know is I wanna be a smurf. Hey, I got a joke. Why did the armpit cross the road?” 

A mama could get whiplash just trying to keep up. (I promise I’m not making this up – I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget, and promptly texted the grandparents.)

In addition to keeping up with the mental acrobatics of the male kindergartener, currently I am also learning to respond to two female tweenagers, delicate creatures, with the emotional range of the Grand Canyon. The amount of flexibility required to be a mama is mind-boggling.

I must parent each child individually, while equipping them to live, work and play harmoniously in the same 2000 square feet. Yep...whiplash.

Whiplash is basically defined as an injury to the neck caused by a sudden unnatural stretching. Sudden unnatural stretching – well that pretty much sums up motherhood from the get-go, huh? 

Being a mom has been a stretch for me in every way. Body and soul, I have the marks to prove it. And I am incredibly grateful. Yep, you heard me right. I am thankful for my stretchmarks, because they are the evidence that God is driving out the pride that leads to whiplash.

For me, the most severe cases of whiplash occur when I am the most rigid. I am too inflexible at times, even when the way I’m parenting isn’t working.

Let me be clear. There are certainly unchanging principles and convictions that hold my family together: our faith in God, the foundation of His Word, and our commitments to one another. But when it comes to our relationships, flexibility is required, especially when the kids are going through a stretchy season. Some would say parents must remain unbending when faced with the winds of change. Instead, I believe flexibility reveals inner strength.

You don’t have to look very far where I live to see a great example – the Palm tree. It may not look like much, compared to the impressive Oak, but it is designed to hang on even against hurricane-force winds. That’s what I call strong – firmly rooted but able to bend without breaking.

To be unbending is to lack humility, I think. 

For most of us mamas, pride quickly evaporates the moment we hold that first newborn in our arms and realize that control is an illusion. We can’t even keep our babies breathing through the night; much less direct the outcome of their lives. And yet we constantly struggle with this very thing.

When I am in the middle of a storm with one of my kiddos, and nothing I'm trying is working, I have two choices. 1. Continue in my ineffectiveness with greater force and more determination (which usually leads to a major case of whiplash.) 2. Put on an attitude of humility, ask for help (from God, my husband, a wise counselor), and be willing to change.

When I do this, an amazing thing happens. Humility and flexibility are contagious.
My parents set a great example for me. When I struggled as a teen against the boundaries they were setting, they said, “You are our first kiddo. We are learning on you. We may not get it right every time, but we love you, we’re doing our very best, and we think you’re turning out pretty good.”

Their honesty and humility drew me in, as humility almost always does, and it moved us forward to face the challenges of growing up together, with our relationship still very much intact.

So maybe the formula is: Humility + flexibility draw us together. Pride + rigidity break us apart.

I choose to be as the Palm tree. I may have a funny shape at the end of my life, having weathered my own share of storms. Maybe I’ll be half-lying, half-standing on the beach. But here I stand, firmly rooted and willing to bend and stretch to be the best mama I can be. And I think, in the end, stretchmarks look more like Jesus.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Stinky Trash and Stray Flowers

Sometimes mamas get tired. I don’t mean the sleep-deprived kind of tired. I mean the I-feel-like-giving-up kind of tired.

My oldest kiddo is only twelve, but so far, my greatest challenge as a mom has been consistency and perseverance. I think that goes for mamas of babies all the way up to mamas of tweens, and I’ll hazard a guess that it doesn’t stop there.

I’ve been learning a lot about perseverance this year – learning what to do when I get tired.

Because God has a sense of humor, my fortieth birthday brought on my first gray hairs, sudden unwanted pounds and hormonal craziness – all within a couple of months. Just about the time my hubby gets frugal with the air conditioning (it’s taken 15 years), I’m dying in the middle of the night and hollering at him to turn it down to 62 for crying out loud. 

So desperation (hot flashes) pushed me off my tail and out the front door to start running. I’ve run off and on (emphasis on the OFF) for the last few years, but all these unwanted changes combined to create the perfect storm, motivationally speaking, and my consistency is improving.

Actually, I’ve come to love it. Who could ask for a more beautiful place to run than Corpus Christi? Stunning sunrises in the morning, breathtaking sunsets in the evening, ocean breezes to cool you down - I never get over the blessing of living on the coast.

One morning, I made the rookie mistake of running early on trash day – whoa. As I rounded the corner of my street (downwind), driveway after driveway, trash can after trash can, the ocean breeze was working against me. Step by step, I was greeted with the aroma of dirty diapers, rotting produce and chicken carcasses. Lovely.

Undeterred, I ran on. And as often happens when I’m running, the Lord began to focus my thoughts and answer the questions in my heart.

As a mama, I’m gonna run through some pretty stinky seasons. Like when my kids act like I never taught them anything. Or when they’re struggling and I don’t know how to help them. Nothing wears me out more than the stench of discouragement.

But I’ve got to keep on running. Rather than avoiding the trash, looking for a detour, taking a shortcut, I’ve got to keep on going until I reach the end of my run. Because the truth is, every day isn’t trash day.

Two days later, I was out running again, and I caught the faintest scent of one of my favorite flowers – Plumeria. Yum.

I looked around to see where the fragrance was coming from, and there between the sidewalk and some tall grasses, in the middle of scrubby grass and litter, were dozens of single Plumeria blooms. (I know Plumeria flowers grow on bushes, but if I’m wrong I don’t want to know, so don’t tell me.) The closer I got, the stronger the smell – almost overwhelming.

And the truth settled into my heart along with the scent. A mama’s life is all mixed up. Trash here, treasure there. If I can’t stick with it on the stinky days, I may never discover the unexpected loveliness hiding there, like a childhood masterpiece hanging on the wall of a messy room.

My job, I think, is to persevere with hope; nourishing the treasure and working through the trash.

"...and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith..." Hebrews 12.1b-2a

Run on, mama.