To my soon to be adult child(ren)

You are a teenager on the edge of independence, almost ready to leave the comfort and safety of the nest. You can see the freedom of the world outside and long to enjoy all life has to offer.

To you, my protection has sometimes felt like a straight jacket, because you can’t feel my arms in the sleeves hugging you. You don’t see the detours I know are there. You don’t have the wisdom of my years of life experience to warn you of dangers around the corner.

I know because of the unique challenges our family has faced, you are much wiser than your years. But you are still young, and that emotional maturity cannot replace life experience.

I challenge you, as you prepare to make your own way in the world, to remember these 5 things:

1. Everyone has something to offer.

No matter how young or old, everyone has had some experience that you haven’t. They can offer you a different perspective on life or share a unique tidbit of wisdom that nobody else can. It could be the innocent view of a child, untouched by a cynical world, or the calm patience of someone who has learned to stop and savor each moment.

2. Choose your friends wisely.

You can be friendly without getting too close. Don’t trust until you know someone is trustworthy. Don’t follow the crowd because it’s easier than making your own decision. Make sure your friends are a good influence on you, and you are a good influence on them.

3. Don’t give too much of yourself.

It is important to be a good friend and to give back to society. Just be sure you don’t give to the point that there is nothing left. Protecting yourself from harm is just as important as giving and doing good. If you can’t function, how will you be able to serve others?

4. Do what brings you joy and peace.

Do you enjoy drawing? Then grab your sketch pad a few times a week and get lost in the art. Does music calm you or lift you up? Make sure to take a few minutes every day to listen to some favorite songs. Whether your passion lies in animals, dancing, baking, or playing an instrument or a sport, make time for it regularly. This is what takes you from being alive to really living.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

The only stupid question is the one that you already know the answer. It is easier to ask or answer a question than to fix a mistake. If someone thinks less of you because you asked, they are the one with the problem. Know that they are not wise enough to help you learn, and move on. Never lose your thirst for knowledge.

I can see you becoming a fine young adult with a faith and compassion that are not common in our world. I love you and am beyond proud to have had a hand in shaping who you are. You are a precious child of God and many, many people care about you.

Don’t ever lose the spark that makes you uniquely you.

Photo credit http://elderberry.blogspot.com

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Hey Mama

Hey, mama. Yes, you with the sleeping child. The child you just comforted enough to relax and sleep in spite of the pain. The sick child.

We’ve been there. One day your child is healthy, the next day they have a fever. One day they are playing, the next they have lost their appetite and every ounce of “endless” energy. One day they are exploring their world, the next all they want is you. Mama.

Having a sick child is a game changer. Cleaning is unimportant. Laundry can sit unwashed. Dinner may be late, and will not be what you are used to. Those bills will have to wait. Your sick child needs you. 


We get it. You have to take care of your child. You love and care for them, nurture them, and teach them to become independent.

Suddenly they don’t need to hold your hand. They don’t want help carrying their science project. I can manage my own gear, thank you. Can I go to the party if I’m home by midnight?

But tonight they are your sick baby. You would move heaven and earth to heal them. You would change places with them in a heartbeat. It tears you apart, and you are exhausted. 

You can’t take away the pain. You can’t give them back their energy and appetite. You are helpless, reduced to giving comfort and praying. And trying not to let them see how concerned you are, because that’s your job. Mama is supposed to make everything better. But it consumes you, because a kiss won’t make it all better. 

It doesn’t matter what is wrong or how old they are. It could be the sniffles or a major illness. Teething or surgery. A fever or a severe, debilitating disease. They may be six months old or 22 years. We understand. We’ve been there.

If you are among the fortunate majority, recovery will be quick. Your child will soon be running, jumping, eating and playing again. When this happens, be thankful. Because not every mama bear gets to see their cub get better. Some cubs stay sick. 

If you haven’t been there, count your blessings. Too many of us have. 

Blessings in Disguise

We’ve all heard the saying, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” People keep saying it because it’s true.
For over a year now, I’ve been trying to make a certain change in my life that just wasn’t happening.  For one reason or another, God kept closing doors. The one time it seemed to be an urgent need, He provided another solution to the urgency. Because of this, I have been patient, looking for solutions regularly.
Recently a solution practically fell in my lap.  Through a course of events, and a little nudging from the Holy Spirit, my son was the broker for an act of kindness that our family gave to one of his friends. Although it was not a big deal for us, it meant a lot to the friend.  What I didn’t realize was that it would turn into a big deal for us, providing a solution to that year-long quest. 
After we made the initial gesture to the friend, I felt God telling me to take it one step farther. This next step was one that most people would think is completely illogical, but I trusted God. During that conversation with the friend, we both cried, hugged and talked about options. Immediately I felt a sense of peace that I haven’t felt in a long time.
She accepted the offer, and in doing so managed to open that door that had remained closed for so long. There is one other step to take before we can walk through that door, but God has already shown me the way to navigate that brief delay.
By doing what I thought God was telling me to do for someone else, He provided me with a blessing I have waited for over a year.

To my son’s first girlfriend 

I wasn’t ready for you. I was just getting used to him driving and working. He’s not even close to being independent. I know that is supposed to be the goal, but deep down I have to admit I don’t want it. 

I have always told my kids they are growing too fast. I imagine most parents feel that way. Those feeling are purely selfish. The goal of every young person is to have the freedom of being independent, even if they don’t understand the responsibility that comes with it. 

He seems to think I don’t like you. That’s not the case at all. I don’t know you very well, but what I know is a sweet, likable girl who happened to catch the eye of my first baby. That is hard for me to swallow. 

 

Wasn’t this just last week?

 
My job as a mother is to protect and nurture my kids, and teach them to be responsible, caring adults who love God and family. So far I think I’ve managed to do that, even if my ways are not the most conventional. Yes, things have happened that were beyond our control, but I was there to pick up the pieces when our world was turned upside down. 

Of course, I want to guard my son’s heart. It’s only natural. It’s hard for me to let go and allow him to make his own choices. I’m trying very hard to offer advice without telling him what to do.

I’m glad he is comfortable enough with me to talk about you in ways most teens wouldn’t share with their parents. He knows I won’t judge or jump to conclusions. He also sees the value of lessons I learned by making bad choices when I was young. 

I hope I have a chance to spend time with you soon, just the two of us. I would like to get to know you myself, instead of just hearing what he thinks of you (which seems to be all good, by the way). If you’re lucky I may tell you some of the cute things he did when he was little. I may even show you some of those embarrassing pictures every parent seems to have. 

I parent, you parent, we all scream at our kids

No two parents have the same style. They shouldn’t. What works for me isn’t going to work for everyone. I have always tried to keep the lines of communication open. My kids know they can come to me with anything and I won’t yell or have a knee jerk reaction. I may not be happy, but I always try to get the facts before getting upset. The more severe the offense, the more time I take deciding how to handle the situation.

I am also open with them about my past, in the hopes they won’t repeat my mistakes, but learn from them. I make a point to try and adjust the things my parents did with me that clashed with my personality. If one technique doesn’t work I don’t keep beating the dead horse, I try a mule. Or a carrier pigeon. Or…you get the picture.

kids5

My favorite picture

I have friends that take a quite different approach. They manage the details of their kids’ activities, monitor their social media, keep a tight rein on their schedule and do their best to keep them away from bad influences. That works for them. It would never work for me.

With all the medical and emotional challenges we face, I don’t have time or energy to micromanage my children’s lives. I trust that I taught them well enough they can be responsible. I have gradually given them more autonomy, remembering how I was when I no longer had my parents watching my every move. I don’t want my kids to suddenly have freedom without the experience and judgment to handle it.

If you have teens, do you trust them? It will only be a few short years before they have to make their own decisions. Will they be ready? If you aren’t sure, it might be time to ask them some tough questions. Questions about sex, drugs, alcohol, choosing friends, being responsible with their time and money, all those things that teens and adults face.

Do your children confide in you? Do they know it is safe? Are you sure your teens feel they can talk to you about whenever is on their mind, without you judging them or dismissing it as trivial teen drama? Do their friends see you as an adult they can trust?

I’m not so naive as to think my kids are perfect. I know there are things they keep from me. I spend plenty of time praying that God helps them through the consequences of their choices.

But they know I am safe. Their friends know I am safe. They can call me in the middle of the night for a ride home without the Spanish Inquisition on the way home. They can confide in me when they aren’t sure how to handle something their friends have shared. And I keep their (and those friends’) secrets, unless it is something I absolutely believe the parent needs to know. If that happens, I discuss it with my kids before I go to the parents, so they understand why I have to break that confidence. They usually agree with my decision.

I encourage you to ask your kids, wherever their age, some open ended questions and then listen to the answers. Really listen. Don’t judge, don’t try to tell them why they are wrong, don’t jump to conclusions or tell them how they should feel. Ask. Listen. Love them for who they are. Let them see your humanity and imperfections.

And above all make sure they know you are safe. Nobody should be afraid of their parents.

December

The weather was nice today. Like 75 degrees. On December 11.  It’s hard to remember Christmas is 2 weeks away when I don’t even need long sleeves and the thermostat in the car wants to turn on the air conditioner (although my friends in Australia would think it is chilly for this time of year.)

It’s easy to remember it’s December when I look at my calendar. On top of my regular work, medical appointments and handbell rehearsals, I am running lights and sound for a Christmas play, have a couple extra tech shifts at the church for special programs, and am playing in the handbell choir for 2 services on Christmas Eve. Whew!

If you are anything like me (and half the general population) it’s easy to meet yourself coming and going in December. I (and the aforementioned general population) also have to consciously carve out time for prayer, relaxation, meditation, or whatever you to do keep yourself centered and sane.

No matter what keeps you busy this time of year, make sure to spend quality time with those you love, and to take that time for yourself. Don’t get so caught up in the busy-ness of the shopping, decorating , cooking and celebrating that you find yourself exhausted before the holiday arrives.

Well, the play is starting. Catch you later. After some quiet time.

 

A Community in Anguish

Human society is built around communities. Most communities consist of either family, neighbors, or colleagues, or acquaintances who share a similar journey. One of my communities was rocked yesterday when we learned of the passing of an eight-year-old girl from complications of systemic juvenile arthritis.

Yes, that’s right. Arthritis killed a little girl.  Let that sink in for a moment.

My heart goes out to the family of that girl who had to make the agonizing decision to discontinue life support for their precious child. I have friends who have come close to losing a child, some on multiple occasions. I have watched fathers in tears describing the struggles their child has faced. I have held in my arms mothers remembering their battle with this horrible illness. I have nodded in sad recognition of the difficulties of other families. I, too have cried in unbelieving grief.

When I hear stories of other parents that have struggled to find a diagnosis for inflammation of the spleen or liver, fluid in the lining of the heart or lungs, high spiking fevers, strange rashes, joint aches, morning stiffness, or swollen lymph nodes, I realize how fortunate my family is. We have not had to deal with joint replacement surgery, eye inflammation that can lead to blindness, ridicule and judgment from family and friends who don’t believe the diagnosis, intolerant educators blinded by their ignorance, unavailability of trained pediatric rheumatologists, and a medical system that can make it almost impossible to obtain expensive life changing treatments.

Yes, we are fortunate. In spite of the loss of innocence of both my children, in spite of the dozens of medications my son has had to take in the last seven years, in spite of the hundreds of hours we have spent in doctors’ offices and hospitals, in spite of the thousands of dollars in lost wages, we are blessed. I have never wondered, although partially from denial, whether my son would live to see his next birthday. I have never had to choose between paying rent and buying medication. I have never lain awake nights wondering why doctors can’t figure out what is wrong with my child. I have never feared for my job because of too many medical appointments. Unfortunately, I have heard numerous stories of exactly these concerns.

There are other, less tangible ways we are fortunate. We have made lifelong friends in an instant. We have become stronger and more compassionate. Our family has become closer and more resilient. We appreciate the little things more. We don’t take our health for granted. Our faith has been strengthened.

Many people who learn of our situation feel sorry for us. While I appreciate the sympathy, it is unnecessary. I do not look at this as a curse. Yes, there are painful moments, such as this week. I and thousands of parents like me will never stop fighting for our children. But most arthritis parents have not lost a child. It profoundly wounds all of us when one does.