Walking in Your Shadow

I was given a magazine a while ago by a friend who thought I would appreciate it, because it had an article nicely written about my late grandmother.  It was a lengthy obituary, which said very little about her.  The author referred to her as “Mrs. A.S. Bursey”.  Trouble is, her initials were not A.S.  Those were my grandfather’s initials.  Nanny’s name was Rebecca.

My grandmother was known for who she married.  She was not the type of person who would stand out on her own.  She was not the type to put herself out there for everyone to know.  In fact, putting herself out there in crowds was actually something that made her uncomfortable.  She was not a tall woman by any stretch and she married a fairly tall and stalwart man.

My grandfather was well-known wherever he went in Newfoundland back in the day. He was the leader of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and had been instrumental in the foundation of many churches there.  He was constantly in demand to preach all over the province.  His face was recognizable to many who lived in the province at the time.

Poppy was a big man, or at least he seemed so to me.  He had a big personality and he commanded attention wherever he went.  He would preach with confident tones, sometimes almost sounding more like he was singing a song than preaching.  He could hold the attention of an audience for an hour as he spoke (and sometimes much longer).

Then there was Nanny.  She was a small woman, who stood quietly by his side, not saying much at all.  She was courteous and friendly to people, and hosted many people through the years.  But I got the feeling that she was often outside of her comfort zone when she did so.

Poppy loved her, and you could tell.  He would call her “Becky” or “Bucket”.  When we would go visit them, he would always try to entertain the grandkids by saying, “C’mon, Bucket, gimme a kiss, my lovey!” and then she’d giggle, smack him and say, “You go on now.”

When I was a child, my grandmother seemed like an enigma.  I never knew lots about her background or who she was as a girl (something I really regret), and I never knew about the things she really was passionate about.  She wasn’t the type to talk about those things freely, or at least with mischievous grandkids.  She had a very intriguing house, that had those old doorknobs that looked like huge diamonds, a mysterious printing press in the basement, and portraits in Poppy’s study that looked like their eyes were following you.  She always had a bed for us with crispy clean sheets and would send Pop out to pick up KFC for us to have as a treat when we visited.  She had shag carpet that looked like it grew out of the floor and a backyard that had the tallest flowers I had ever seen.  She had African violets all around her house, and they were always healthy and blooming.  She wasn’t the “huggy” type, but would freely accept hugs that were offered.

I felt a bit upset when I read that she wasn’t given her own name in that article.  After all, she had a life of her own, and identity of her own, I thought.  Why couldn’t they do the courtesy of typing her real name?

But as I thought it through, I realized that that name may have been perfectly fine with her.

In her own way, Nan had a ministry of her own, though her ministry was unsung.  Pop got all the accolades and notoriety, but she was always there, looking perfectly “done up”, with hair always styled and a freshly pressed dress at every event.  She went along to the camps, the conferences, the services, and supported him.  She was the one who heard the painful stories, and supported during the hard times.  She sat by his bedside after he ended up in a ditch outside of his car after a near-fatal roll-over. She often went along to the nursing home and hospital visits.  She supported Poppy’s ministry.

People like my grandfather cast a long shadow, and Nan could always be found in that shadow.  But that’s what her ministry was: to be a partner, to support, to listen, to facilitate, to encourage.  She did this in the shadows rather than the limelight.

Those of us who do vocational ministry are often praised for the sacrifices we make and for giving our lives for the ministry, but it’s those who stand with us who are often unsung ministry partners.  We can’t all stand behind the pulpit.  Some of us were called to bless and facilitate those who do.

Nanny was in Poppy’s shadow.  But that’s where she liked to be, because it meant she was close to him.  That’s where Rebecca Bursey found her place of service to the Lord.

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Across the Country in Reverse

I think my parents were insane.

Yep, I said it.  Insane.

In the early 70’s when we were all little kids, my parents decided to take 6 of us on a road trip from Labrador City to the Calgary Stampede.   Hence my belief that they must be insane.  No one in their right mind would take 6 kids on a road trip across the country unless they had some method of staying out of touch with reality.

We were loud children.  Every so often the loudness was punctuated with, “You crowd are gonna drive yer father off the road!” coming from the front passenger seat.   Sometimes my Dad would throw in an 8-track and we would sing to the old Gaither stuff (which, I guess, was new Gaither stuff then).  But mostly we would just be talking, laughing, rough-housing or arguing.  I always thought my mother was staring straight ahead to help watch the road, but I’m pretty sure now that she was going to her “happy place”.

My big brother Stan and I were the youngest at the time, as my little brother, Dan, didn’t come along until later (that’s a blog for another time).  Thus, Stan and I were relegated to that weird seat that came up out of the floor in the back and faced backwards.  So, my brother and I saw the whole country in reverse.  (We had an especially good view during the road trips when the trailer was not hitched on to the back.)

Then there was Debbie.  Many of us who are a younger child in the family have a “Debbie” big sister.  Don’t get me wrong… she’s a lovely person… now.  Back then, she was not entirely delighted to have a little sister bugging her while she sat for endless hours in the car.  (Personally, I can’t understand why.)  Debbie would get in the car for road trips and would draw an imaginary line down the middle of the seat between us.  She would point her finger at the imaginary line and say, “Do NOT cross this line.  This is MY side, and THAT is your side.”  (She would also do this in the bed that we shared at home.)

Now, it’s a little much to ask a little wee, skinny, fidgety girl to hold imaginary parameters in her head. Let’s just say that I was keenly aware that great woe and sadness would befall the poor little sister who crossed that line.

Back in the day we had no iPods, videos or things to entertain us outside of each other.  My mother would make up silly songs that didn’t make sense, or she would get us to point out interesting things along the way.  Other than that, it was just a lot of “together time”.  Nobody was able to zone out.

Nobody that is, except Donna.  She is my big sister, who always seemed to know how to tune us all out.  She is the quiet type, who appreciated her solitude. She would be absorbed in a book or drawing a picture.  I was quite fascinated by her.  She would always be able to read things in French, and at 9 years older than me, she was like an adult in my eyes.  I hung on every word she said and was enchanted by her creations.  I really wanted to be her, but knew that I couldn’t because I was too loud and silly.  She managed to keep her sanity intact while fending off three little brothers and two little sisters.  She didn’t even have to draw a line on the seat.  All siblings just knew where it was.

My two bigger brothers, Dean and Rick, were the clowns.  They figured out a way to make every situation funny or about meeting girls.  I suppose they must have been good looking, because whenever we parked our trailer somewhere, teenage girls would suddenly appear out of nowhere, just sauntering by with no place to go.   It’s a wonder my mother got any sleep at all.

Now that I’m a “grown-up” and I have attempted the dreaded road trip with just 3 kids, I have realized that the whole thing is insane.  The “holiday” part of a family road trip only belongs to the children.  For the parents, this is a massive undertaking and an incredible amount of work.  For my parents, there were 6 kids to pack up, 8 sets of meals to be either bought or prepared every day, 8 ice cream cones to carry from the store to the car, 8 people’s laundry to bring to a laundromat, 8 bathing suits to keep track of, endless fights to referee, and miles and miles of road stretched ahead.

But that’s the life you choose when you choose to parent.  My parents sacrificed a lot in energy, sanity and finances to provide vacations for us.  Their investment in family holidays has paid off in a family that is bonded across many miles and in memories that have endured for years.  They are memories that will always be in our hearts as a family as we move down the road that is stretched ahead of us.

…or behind us, if you’re sitting in the back.

Mondays With Dan

For years, Monday has been my favourite day of the week.  It’s my one day off when I can catch up on what’s been lagging behind from the week before.  It’s the time to get groceries, do some gardening, clean the house, and perhaps sneak a 20-minute nap. 

That all changed when Dan came along.  Daniel and I spend our Mondays together.  He goes to school until 10:30 and then I pick him up, and we spend the day together while his brother and sister are at school.  Dan isn’t the strong, silent type.  Strong? Yes.  Silent? No.  He’s always got something to say about everything.  He is a high maintenance guy, who requires a lot of attention and gives you lots of attention as well.  He’s interested in everything that everyone is doing and how he can be involved.

On Mondays we have had the same routine all school year.  I wait in the schoolyard for him to come out.  He yells, “MAAAAWWWMMMEEEEE!!!” every time, as if it is a surprise that I’m there.  He runs over and jumps up into my arms, almost knocking me over.  Then he yells, “Raceyatodavan!!!” and bolts across the schoolyard to the van.  Inside there is a little drink waiting for him, and then we go about our day.  Sometimes it’s a day of cleaning at home, sometimes shopping, sometimes playing.

For a while I lamented the fact that I had a little guy who needed so much attention on the one day I had to get everything done.  It was hard to get any constructive work done with him wanting to be a part of everything I did and talking incessantly all the while.

But yesterday was my last Monday alone with Dan.  At any time during the day, I could have been brought to tears if the right words had been said.  I didn’t get those days of being at home with my older kids to bond with them and play with them for hours while they were growing from babies to preschoolers.  They came to me at school age, and there was no stay-at-home time with them.

But Dan was a preschooler when he arrived, and I had a small time to spend at home with him.  Once I had finished my nine months of parental leave, Mondays were that time.  

Yesterday was my last Monday alone with Dan.  I can’t seem to process how I feel about it.  In the Fall, he will be back to school full-time and there won’t be any Mom and Dan days. 

It’s easy as a parent to wish time away, to hope for that time when we can be free to have time to ourselves, to be able to have more freedom without having to give full attention to a little person.  But along this parenting journey I have to remind myself that little boys are only 5 for one year.  We only have them with us and at that stage for such a brief moment. We have to be able to let go of what isn’t in order to recognize the value of what is here, now.

I suppose I will enjoy my Mondays in September.  I will have quiet days to myself, getting lots of housework caught up, buying groceries and taking a nap.  But I would trade all of that for more Mondays with Dan.

Gotcha Day

Today is Gotcha Day. It’s the anniversary of the day the kids were officially ours and we were finally “Mom and Dad”.

It was an exciting day. We invited the Social Worker over to get all of the details finalized, and she brought along all the official papers that we had to read and sign.

Once it was all done, it seemed a little strange to me. From the second a paper is signed, the kids are yours to raise. It seems a little strange that a little person should be given in such a formal, sign-on-the-dotted-line kinda way. I think that when a child is what is signed over, there should be a parade or fireworks involved. However, it was just a quiet moment of excitedly signing papers.

We knew in our hearts that we had a long way to go that day. Becoming a parent is way more than signing a paper or giving birth. It is a day to day giving of yourself to another person who depends on you for everything. It is like pulling your heart out and giving it to someone else. It is a connection that can’t be formed by signing a paper. We knew that these kids needed to form an attachment with us that would need a lot of hard work. We were going to have to prove to 3 little ones that we were who we claimed to be.

Once the Social Worker had been thanked and was on her way, we went out on the patio to sit and talk. Moments later, the second “Social Worker” arrived on the patio. This one was eight years old and carrying a file of her own. She announced her arrival, shook our hands, and handed us the file.

This little girl wasn’t much of a speller at the time, but we could make out that we were signing an adoption agreement. Some of the things that the first Social Worker had said were repeated to us, but this one had a few more questions that, in her opinion, had not been adequately asked by her colleague.

“Now,” she said in a very formal voice,”I have some questions for you. Please answer all of them.”

“Certainly,” we responded.

“First, are you going to be mean to the children, or hit them?”

“Never.”

“Good. Are you going to love them always?”

“Definitely.”

“Are you going to fight and scream at each other?”

“Nope.”

“Are you going to stay with them forever?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, then. Please sign here and here.” She pointed to the lines where we needed to sign. Then she stuck out her hand to us.

“You may be the parents of these children. Have a good day.”

We shook her hand, signed the papers, and she happily left them with us. Then she trotted off to play with her brothers.

Today, if you were to ask me for the adoption agreement, I would pull two pieces of paper from our filing cabinet. One has perfectly-worded statements and legal jargon. It names us and binds us to legal guardianship of 3 little miracles.

The other has the writing of a responsible little girl who was trusting herself and her little brothers into the hands of strangers.

In our eyes, that’s the official one.

Gramma

Nobody expects to become a parent in their empty nest years.  Nobody expects to start all over again with getting lunches made, racing kids to the bus, buying kids clothes and becoming a taxi to sports practices.  Most people, if faced with this challenge, would not be up to the task.

Our kids were placed in the arms of Gramma when they were all still very small, as their parents were unable to care for them.  Although she is a very young grandmother, I know that this is not what Gramma expected in her empty nest time.  I’m convinced that our kids will never really know the depth of what she did for them, and neither will we.

She taught them to do so many things, gave them manners training, made sure they learned to swim.  She fed them constantly, allowed sleepovers, and made sure that lots of extended family were around for support for them.  Most of all, she wiped away tears and walked them through what is likely the most painful loss of their lives.

All the while, she went through the heartwrenching task of finding new parents for her children.  This was not in the plan, but she did it in spite of what it would cost her, and in spite of the risk to her own heart.  She met with social workers, hashed through what the kids needed, and hoped for the best, trusting the judgement of people who really didn’t know her kids like she did.

There were a lot of unknowns.  Would these new people take them to swimming lessons?  Would they be harsh?  Would they teach them manners?  Would they bring them to Grandma’s again?  Once she signed papers, all of that was up to the discretion of people who didn’t know her kids at all like she did.

People asked her, “How can you give up these kids?  Isn’t it selfish to want to be alone again?”  Her response was that keeping the children and not allowing them to have parents to love them would have been the selfish act.  No one really knew how difficult and how much of a personal sacrifice this really was for her.

But she took the risk.  She waded through the papers that needed signing and gave consent for two strangers to walk into her life and take her most precious possession.

How do you thank a person for that?  I’m not sure that we ever will repay the debt that we owe to her.

Real love is not something that can be demanded from a person.  It is something that is given freely, willingly, and in spite of the personal cost.  We have a Grandma who truly loves her kids.  She has also extended that love to us.

When we walked in her door, she greeted us like long-lost friends, showered us with lots of stuff to help us, gave us endless streams of advice and help (which I should have written down), and accepted us as her own.  We never feel like intruders or strangers in her home.  We didn’t just get 3 new kids, we also got an awesome friend in the deal.  We are so grateful for her.  It’s a debt that we will never be able to repay.

The Ten-Feet-Tall Rule

ImageAt WOWkids, our children’s ministry at Woodvale, we believe that children are ten feet tall.  The first rule that all of our ministry volunteers learn is the “Ten Feet Tall Rule.”  If you go to any of our training opportunities you will learn that rule before any other.  It simply says this:

All children at Woodvale are to be loved, valued and treated with respect.  They must be made to feel ten feet tall.

We believe wholeheartedly that children are valuable to God.  Jesus placed high value on the lives of little ones, even to the point of telling us stodgy adults that we should be more like them in order to enter His kingdom.

Let me say this first: Making a child feel ten feet tall is not making them feel that they are the centre of the universe.  

These days children are given more voice than they were when I was little.  The generation before mine believed that children should be quiet and should do exactly as they are told or face strict discipline.  Our generation apparently bucked that school of thought and, in my opinion, have overcompensated by permissively raising our kids to believe that they are the centre of the family and consequently, the centre of the universe.  Children who are taught that way are difficult to lead in the ways of Christ, because they have not been taught submission to authority.  They have not been taught to be humble like Jesus.  Even though Jesus actually was and is the centre of the universe, He didn’t act like it.  He submitted to the will of His Father and gave everything He had for others.

So here is what a ten-foot-tall child should look like:

1.  Their voice is heard.

I have a little boy in my house who is heard all the time.  He never stops talking.  He gets up talking and falls asleep with a word half-spoken on his lips.  He talks loudly and incessantly.    Obviously, when there are children about, there is noise.  But really hearing a child is listening to their words and what they are trying to communicate.  It’s getting down at their eye level, maybe holding their hands and really taking in what is said.  What is happening in their family?  Do they feel comfortable?  What makes them tick?

I’ll admit that sometimes this is hard for me, especially now that I have children of my own at home.  It’s amazing how much they ask, demand, scream and say random things all the time.  When I get into my Children’s Pastor mode, I sometimes tune out the little voices that are saying things like, “Pastor Shelley, wanna know what I did today?”  “Look! I lost my tooth.” or “I didn’t get to see my Mom today.” I am constantly reminding myself to stop setting up that prop or projector or whatever to get down on someone’s level and really hear what they are saying.  Sometimes it’s quite profound.

2.  They are spoken to with kindness and respect.

My daughter came home the other day from having been to a corner store with her friend.  They were just looking at something and then stood there for a few minutes talking about it, deciding whether or not they would buy it.  The storekeeper yapped at them, “WELL?  AREN’T YOU GONNA BUY SOMETHING?  IF NOT, LEAVE!” Methinks that perhaps the storekeeper would not have said that to them if I were with them.  Many people deal with children in a very sharp and disrespectful manner.  After all, they’re just kids, right?

Jesus never dealt with kids that way.  The Bible doesn’t record any actual conversations with them, but kids always felt happy to go see Him, and to be with Him.  I am pretty sure His words were sweet.

3.  They are complimented and encouraged.

As a parent, I have noticed that a large part of the adult feedback that you get regarding your children, whether from teachers, babysitters, or whoever, is centred around what the child did wrong.  They are constantly reminded of the wrong things they do.  How sweet it is when a teacher calls just to say that the child did something amazing.  You can see a child stand a little taller when a school teacher or Sunday School teacher compliments them, especially in front of others.

Children are pretty sharp, though.  You can’t throw out an insincere compliment or they will see you as a fake.  Try to find something great in the child (and there is always something spectacular in each child) and point that thing out in a sincere way.  You will see them grow about 7 more feet taller when you do.

4.  They are disciplined.

One wouldn’t think that disciplining your child helps them feel great about themselves, but think of this:  What does it communicate to your child when you don’t care what they do? Proper, loving discipline says that you care about them.  Children do not articulate that in their minds, but they know that they are safe and that they mean something to you when you care enough to not let them get away with being a scoundrel.

5.  They are welcomed.

Sometimes when children come to church, it’s easy to not notice them.  After all, they are little and they are low to the ground.  They are also fast-moving, and they often don’t have great communication skills, especially with adults.

At WOWkids we believe that children should feel welcome, that church is their home too, and that it is a fun place to be.  Take a minute and shake their little sticky hands.  Give a pat on the head.  Sneak ’em a candy.  Show that you see them.  Call them by name.  If they are still an infant, clap your hands and give a big smile to show that you are happy to see them.  Jesus said, “Whenever you welcome a little child like this in my Name, you welcome me.”  Set out this Sunday to welcome Jesus.

6.  They are having fun.

Make sure that church is always fun.  I truly believe that Jesus was fun.  I know that because little children flocked to be with Him.  Children don’t flock to people who are always serious.  Knowing how to be appropriately silly with kids communicates to them that you know how to relate to them and you care that they are comfortable and having fun.

7.  They are given opportunities to serve.

Children have so much to offer the kingdom of God.  They are talented, smart, and extremely uninhibited.  They can do just about anything that an adult can do in ministry, in their own way.  They need to know that they have a purpose, that they can serve God in the way that they have been gifted.  Help them find their gifts and use them to God’s glory.

8.  They are included in the church family picture.

A friend of mine was in a large church once in a city that shall remain nameless, and she attempted to enter the service carrying something that was contraband – her children.  She was told at the door that children were not welcome in the service, and that there was a special place for them elsewhere.

Are you kidding me?

Any church that is uncomfortable with a child in the service is not a church I would like to attend.  We offer children the opportunity to attend our Children’s Ministries, but they are not required to do so.  I believe that the best spot for a child to learn from God is at the side of their Mommy or Daddy, but we offer them the opportunity to come and hear a kid-style message that is geared to their ears as well.  It is definitely not required.

Children are baptized, they are given communion, and they participate in worship both actively on stage and in the pew.  They dance at the front and let their voices be heard.  They are hopefully learning that there is a place for them in the service, just like everyone else.

When a child walks away from our church on a Sunday morning, how does he or she feel about themselves?  Do they feel significant?  Have they made a new friend?  Have they been noticed?

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” Children are welcome in any church that listens to the voice of Jesus.  Let’s be the place where children feel at home, where they are accepted as they are, and where they feel that they have been with Jesus.

Let’s make them feel ten feet tall.

Aaarrggghh! I’m a Pirate!!

One of the things that we enjoy about our 5 year old is the unique way he pronounces things.  To my secret chagrin, he is just now starting to correct his speech and talk more like a big boy.  

When he arrived at our house for the first time, it took me a while to figure out what he was saying.  He would make a “y” sound for the letters “L”, “R” and “W”.  For example, the word “Yight” could be “light”, “right” or “white”.  It made for interesting conversations.

One day he was talking to my best friend.  Elaine asked him what he wanted for his birthday.  He said, “I yant a py-yit cos-toom.”  Confused, she asked him to repeat himself.  Some kind of costume, but she wasn’t sure what kind.  When he repeated himself, she said, “Oh, a PIRATE costume!”

He said, “No, not a pi-yit what says, ‘aaarrrr’ but a pi-yit what fyies a pyane.”

For kids, there is something awesome about dressing up.  They love to pretend that they are something they are not.  In the minds of kids, when you wear a costume, you morph into the person that you are pretending to be.

It’s not so easy in real life for a child to simply morph into a new person, to take on a whole new identity and become a part of a different family with new memories to learn about, new idiosyncrasies to figure out, and new family members to understand.

After the kids had been with us for a few months, they finally got to meet their Uncle Dean and Aunt Esther.  We were excited and proud to be introducing them to the kids, and brought the family down to the GTA to introduce them to my side of the extended family.  

One of the challenges of adopting kids is assimilating them into your existing family.  Will they fit in?  How are they going to be accepted?  Will they always stand out in the family pictures like in the old Sesame Street song: One of these things is not like the other… 

When we arrived at my brother’s house, my big brother rushed excitedly to the door, flung it open and announced, “Aaarrrggghhh!! I’m a pirate!!  Wanna come in and hunt for my treasure box??” He even had an eye patch.  From there it was mayhem.  They ran in like wild goats and excitedly explored his whole house before I had a chance to say, “It’s not polite to go running upstairs in someone’s house.”  My brother didn’t care about that.  He now had a new niece and 2 new nephews to spoil.

To this day they still call him “Uncle Dean the Pirate”.

I have thought about this other family that I belong to.  I am a Child of God, and I belong to a huge family of followers of Christ.  As I’ve thought about my little family’s experience with assimilation, I have wondered how well we as Christian family members assimilate others into our family of faith.

My kids started a whole new life, and they didn’t know how to be a Bursey, or a Good.  They didn’t know what it meant to be “tall like the Keefes” or the details of how Gramma Janet came over from England.  They have to figure out this new identity as they go.

In our church we see people like this every week.  Each Sunday and throughout the week, people are coming to Christ and starting life over.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (1 Corinthians 5:17) 

They don’t know how to live this new life.  It is a huge learning curve.  A huge part of that new life is learning to coexist with their new family members.  How they are greeted at the door and how they are welcomed into the family is so vitally important.

When the new family arrive at our church home, the door should be flung open, and the welcome mat thrown out.  There are no thoughts of anyone being an outsider.  You are instantly family here.

 

Cows, Folly & My Epiphany

“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.”  Proverbs 22:15

One day when I was standing in my bathroom doing my hair, I was particularly exasperated with one of the boys, who had just gotten on my last good nerve.  I whispered to God that I can’t take any more foolishness.

It’s at that moment that I’m pretty sure I heard God chuckle.

Since having our kids in our home I have lamented different challenges to my own mother.  She lives far from me, but through the phone I can hear her smile in an evil way, as if somehow she was finally seeing me receive something that I have been deserving for a very long time.

Kids have an incredible power to infuriate.  I guess I’m not supposed to admit that.  In true Children’s Pastor form, I am supposed to say that they are blessings from the Lord.  Most of the time I view them as blessings, but there are moments when they say things that make me lose my mind.  But as I stood in the bathroom that day, I had a small epiphany. It dawned on me that there is nothing that my children can do to me that I have not already done to my Heavenly Father.

Let me show you what I mean. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

1. “Maaawwwmm, are we there yet?”
This is the question that makes a parent want to turn up the radio to eardrum-shattering volume and drive like the wind. Although I try to remind them that the best fun is in the journey and I attempt to distract them with, “Look, guys… cows!”, my children ask that question incessantly during the six-hour trip to Grandma’s house. They start from the moment their bums hit the car seat until the moment they see me with my head on the steering wheel as they hop out at Grandma’s house.

Here’s how the question sounds when I say the same thing to my Heavenly Father: “God, when am I going to be where you’ve promised to take me?”

I am constantly looking forward to some other time when things will be better, when the difficult part called “the journey” will be over and I will be at a better spot in life.  Perhaps down the road I will have it together.  Perhaps down the road I will see the promise that God gave to me fulfilled in my life.  When are we going to get to that always-elusive place where I will walk in the fulness of what God has promised me?

But God is reminding me constantly that there is joy in taking the ride.  It may seem long, and there may be a long wait before I see what He has promised me, but I need to look around at the countryside and enjoy what’s happening in the moment instead of wishing time away.

2.  “I can do it myself.”

As parents we like to foster an independent spirit in our children.  We like it when they are self-sufficient.  However, there are times when they require assistance, but insist that they can do it themselves.  I have a son who is particularly strong-willed, and I fully believe that he is working toward world-domination.  He believes that he can pour boiling water from the kettle, use sharp objects at will, and jump from really high places (it doesn’t help that he lacks depth perception).   He does not like to have assistance and is constantly reminding me that “I can do it MYSELF!”

Do I have an independent spirit?  Of course I do.  I tell God all the time, whether in a conscious way or unconscious way that I don’t need His help.  I am fine all by myself.  I don’t ask His opinion, don’t listen to His warnings, don’t follow His instructions.  I don’t lean on Him for support.  “No worries, God,” I tell Him, “I got this.”

I’m not sure how many times I have to be confronted with my own insufficiency to realize that knowing who to lean on is a sign of my strength, not of my weakness.  There are moments when I need to be strong-willed, and there are moments when I need to recognize my own desperate need of God in everything that I do… especially when it comes to being a mother.

3.  “I’m not listening.”

Nothing infuriates me more than a child who ignores me when I’m talking to them.  All 3 of our kids have selective hearing.  I can yell instructions at top level with a megaphone in the middle of the living room, and each of them will stare at me blankly when quizzed as to what I just said.  However, if I mention the word “candy” in a small whisper in a back corner of the basement storage room, they will be standing next to me in .5 seconds asking the whereabouts of said candy and whether they are able to have some.

I am often not listening when God wants to speak to me.  I like a lot of noise in my life.  I don’t very often have quiet time.  I like to fill silences in the car or in my room with some sort of entertainment.  “It helps me relax,” I tell myself.  But all of this noise drowns out the voice of God in my life.  Just like my kids, I want to talk while God is speaking.  I like the sound of my voice, my opinion, my way.  I don’t allow God to download things into my heart because my own thoughts and sources of entertainment are making too much noise.

If I want to be sure that my children have heard what I have said, I ask them to look at me while I’m saying it, and then repeat back what I’ve just said.  Perhaps I need to follow the same instruction with my Heavenly Father.  I don’t stop to look at Him much.  I have my eyes on a lot of stuff.  I don’t repeat His words as often as I should either.  Perhaps if I focused my attention on Him and spoke His words over my own heart, I would hear Him more clearly.

4.  “I don’t love you anymore.  I want a new Mom.”

At first I found this sentence particularly hard to take.  Given our family situation, and the reality of what is involved in getting a new family, one would think that those words would be far from our kids’ lips.  However, they are just regular kids and many kids say those words in the heat of their exasperation with their family members.

Sometimes that is the only way that a kid can think of to really stick a verbal knife in a parent’s heart.  “I don’t love you anymore.”

This statement is usually made not because the child doesn’t feel love, but because the parent isn’t giving them what they want.  Usually I respond to that statement with, “Well, I still love you, and I will not be leaving you. So I might as well pack my bags too.”

Not sure I’ve ever said such an awful thing to God, have I?  Oh wait…

I have love for God that has been very conditional at times.  He doesn’t tend to do things on my agenda and in my timing.  He seems to know what is best for me.  Go figure.  The whole omniscient thing.  And that makes me angry sometimes.  In an indirect way through my heart condition and through my actions I have pulled back my love from Him.  “You didn’t do it my way, so I don’t love you anymore.”

How I wish that I was lying by saying that.  But I am still working on being faithful and trusting and all that difficult stuff.  And God is not changing His mind.  His response to me is always the same.  “Well, I still love you and I will not be leaving you.”

5.  “I’m not cleaning that up.”

People ask me what is the biggest challenge for me in becoming a Mom. I say that it is definitely housework.  I was not prepared for how hard it would be to keep a house clean.  For some reason, children don’t notice dirt.  They seem to enjoy it like little piggies in a sty. The reason I believe they enjoy it is that they bring more and more dirt into the sty and throw whatever they can around the room to add to the already existing plethora of dirt.  All the time.

When asked to at least contribute to the cleanup, their responses range from, “later” to ignoring me, to “I don’t want to”, to just flat-out “No.”  Teaching children to clean up after themselves sometimes feels like trying to teach a cow to fly.  It’s just not in their nature, and they stand there, unmovable, with a blank look on their faces.

In my life with God I have made quite a few messes along the way.  Some of them I have cleaned up, but a majority of the junk still lies there, not dealt with.  I would like it if He would just clean it up in some way that I would not have to deal with it, but there are times when I have to face it head-on and start working.  Christianity is not for the lazy.  God has already done so much for us, but there are some things that we need to clean up from our lives.

Like a true Father, He could do it for me, but instead He hands me a broom, because there’s something in the work that keeps me from making the same mess again.

6.  “Can I have more?”

Last night I took the two oldest kids to Walmart.  Having to take more than one child to the store at a time was one of the things that scared me about potentially becoming a mother of three in the first place.  Generally it is a nightmare.

While we were still in the parking lot, my son began announcing that he needed new “high tops”.  I explained to him that we were there to pick up shoes for his sister, and that he had recently gotten two new pairs of shoes, one pair of which were “high tops”.  Nike’s to be exact.  “Nike Air” to be more exact.

“But I need more.  They aren’t high tops.  I am not going to Walmart unless I get shoes too.”

Are you kidding me?

It seems like no matter how much parents give kids, they are never happy.  We give them life and keep them healthy, shower them with love and with many toys and things to keep them entertained, invest our whole life savings into them, and still they ask for more.

I’m sure I’ve pulled that one on God many times.  I never seem to be happy with what I have.  I’m continually looking for more.  God has blessed me with health, a great husband, amazing kids, a great career, a home, and on and on.  And still, I hold my hand out and say, “Is there anything more?” or “Yeah, but can I also have THIS?”

Truth is, when I’m dealing with kids who want more, I explain to them that they will play with that thing or use that thing and then want something else.  That’s why I don’t give them everything they ask for.  They just won’t appreciate what they have.

May the Lord help me to be more thankful for what I do have.  And may I be a steward of those things in a way that pleases Him.   Then perhaps He will entrust me with other things.

7.  “That’s not fair!”

Children are extremely concerned with what is or is not fair.  Many of them have been raised to believe that they must be treated fairly, to get whatever someone else gets. (That’s a blog for another time).  They think that if their sister gets to have ice cream with Daddy, then Daddy owes them an ice cream too, otherwise that’s not fair.

I often don’t feel that God’s decisions keep fairness in mind.  Once when I was pregnant, I had a friend who was pregnant too.  We were both due at the same time, and it was all very exciting.  She had three kids already, and this one was going to be my first, perhaps only child.  After a number of weeks, I miscarried.  She went on to have her fourth child.

In my own hurt and pain I questioned God as to His fairness.  After all, she already had 3 children.  She was an excellent Mom, and deserves every blessing she receives, but then there are other mothers who get pregnant when they are incompetent, or when they don’t even like children or want them.  I questioned what God chose to give or not give me.  Slowly and painfully, God taught me that I can’t trust Him to do what is fair.  But I can trust Him to do what is right.

I don’t treat all my kids the same.  What works for one does not work for another.  What I give one I can’t give the other.  What I use to teach one doesn’t work on another.  I can’t trust one child with the same things I give to another.  God knew what is best for my life, and He has worked it all out for my good.  Just like He promises to do.

Someone has said, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  I say that if you want to hear him laugh, complain about your kids.  He gets it.

Sparrow’s Knees

I just noticed that I have biceps.  I’ve never had biceps before… at least not flex-able ones.

When I was a little girl, my “Poppy” used to say, “The muscles on your arms stand out like sparrow’s knees!”  Really funny in retrospect, but at the time I wasn’t certain what a sparrow was, but I was certain that they had huge knees.

In honour of Poppy I have passed something of him on to my kids.  Sitting at the dinner table the other night, our 5 year-old announced proudly, with “muscles” flexed, “Yook, Daddy!  Sparrow’s knees!!”

I have developed my own sparrow’s knees from lifting 40+ pound weights for the past 2 years.  It’s my belief that children should feel significant (a blog for a bit later), and one of the ways that we do that is by looking at them at eye level.  I like to pick mine up (except for the 10-year old (’cause that would just be another on her list of aaw-kwerrrd things her mother does).

Aside from bicep development, I believe that my children have made me stronger in many ways.

  • I now have a better sense of smell.  Biological mothers talk about having a better sense of smell post-pregnancy.  I believe it’s just a mother thing.  I can sniff out nasty socks hidden behind a couch from all the way across the room and know who the offending party is, not to mention the colour of the socks too.
  • I have better hearing (although I like to make my husband think that it is getting worse with age, especially at 2 a.m. when someone is knocking at our bedroom door).  From all the way down the hall and through 2 closed doors I can hear someone whispering a diabolical plan to rig something to whatever and swing from this thing to that thing and jump from something to something else and shut down the plan.
  • I have better vocal volume.  I can raise my voice louder than Toby Mac’s “Boomin'” song at top level and screech, “TURN IT DOOOWWWNNN!!”
  • I have ESP.  Well, that’s probably not accurate, but my kids think I have it.  They have no idea how I know the things I know.  Most of the time it’s me manipulating the info out of them, or me having gotten a text from Daddy or the babysitter ratting them out.
  • I have the ability to carry 10 times my body weight in a combination of groceries and child and stuff that is “just not staying in the van any longer” because darned if I’m going out to that van for a second load.

Elisabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”  My children have made me more conscientious, more loving, more hopeful, more observant of beauty, more selfless, more faithful and more funny.   As I’ve watched them move about in their big world, I have watched my heart walk outside my body, and my heart is constantly growing.

…and so are my sparrow’s knees.

 

Oreo Toothpaste

My house is a lost cause.  

I have always felt a need to have my house in perfect order when guests came, especially those who are more given to housework themselves.  For many years I worked hard to keep my apartment, or house or whatever in such a way that people had the impression that I had it all together.

But then it happened.

Children.

Someone said that trying to keep a clean house when you have children is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos.  Jerry Seinfeld said that having little kids is like having a blender with no lid.  

When I look at my kids and their way of getting through the day, I am amazed that they have not yet contracted some awful dirt-borne illness.   Every shirt is a napkin, and fingers double as booger-extraction tools.  There are constant reminders to wash grubby hands, and the tub constantly has a mysterious ring around it.  (Today the ring is purple.) I totally believe the Creation account that God made Man out of dirt… because little boys ooze dirt from their pores.  They stand in one place and dirt finds its way onto them.  There is no point in trying to keep them clean.  And then there’s the little girl, who is constantly trying out new crafts and clothing options and makeup configurations.  There is a trail of “creativity” behind her.

The other day Kaitlyn asked, “Was your house clean before we came?”  I thought about it… Why yes, it was.  Very clean in comparison.

There were no toys lying around. 

There was nothing sticky on my computer monitor.

There were no clothes lying on the floor of the empty rooms upstairs.

The furniture never got rearranged in preparation for a wrestling match, a hockey game or a “Toby Mac” lip-sync concert.  All was in order… all the time.

Proverbs 14:4 says (NLT) “Without oxen a stable stays clean.”

There will be days down the road where I have lots of time to clean up.  People will come to my house and be extremely impressed with my culinary skill and my housekeeping abilities.

But today is not that day.  Today we play hockey, sing by the piano and make lots of noise.  We eat nuggets and laugh and do silly things.  We track in dirt and clay from our soccer cleats and scrape the paint off the car doors with our bike handles.

And I would not have it any other way.  I have already lost too much time in the lives of my kids, so I have lots of time to make up.  I have learned to do my best, and at the end of the day take an account of what I DID accomplish:  The kids are in bed, all have food in their tummies, all got hugs and kisses, all are well and know they are loved.  I look around and see all the unfinished things and stuff to do “tomorrow”.   That’s it for today.  Sometimes “good enough” is good enough. 

I’ve got a concert to get to.