Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Choosing Grace

Extending grace does not come naturally for me.

I find it hard and challenging and really not the place I want to be sometimes...

Mom has had Parkinson's Disease for over 16 years...the last 5 of those have been pretty rough years on our family. She has not walked in five years, not talked in 2 and I haven't seen her eyes open more than a handful of times in the last year.

(above...Grandma Jane, my mom, with Lillian Jane (2 yrs)

If I could think of words that described my precious mother when I was growing up, they might be these: independent, strong, strong-willed, athletic in areas, funny, witty, creative, smart, energetic, gracious, loud, emotional, relational, a friend.

And my mom had friends.

She was a part of various groups - moms that prayed for their college-aged kids, moms that volunteered at high school auctions, moms that played monthly bunco, moms that bowled in weekly leagues, moms that served lunch at the elementary school, moms that went out for dinner and dessert and laughed till their bellies ached.

My mom was a friend.

She had good friends and she was a good friend.

I can remember as a child, my mom babysat for young mamas that couldn't afford much. They would pay her nominal amounts and she would watch their precious babies, taking them on like her own.

I can remember my mom volunteering to help the adult daughter of her good friend by staying up through the night to help the new mama feed her twins. My mom had her own kids at the time.

I can remember my mom tending to her friend after her husband had died...making meals, visiting, calling, cleaning, meeting her needs.

I can remember my mom gathering groups of women monthly to go out for dessert to have fun and laugh and share stories of their daughters.

I can remember my mom organizng parties to honor friends: cooking, baking, cleaning, decorating all in preparation to honor someone else.

I can remember my mom taking on the kids of her good friend and being called Aunt Jane. Buying them clothes, shoes, books, toys - offering to pay for college. Yes. College.

And this is the short list....
I could grow it miles longer. The point is that my mom was a friend. She was a loyal, faithful friend. She modeled friendship for me and she inspired what adult women could have in a relationship.

But here is where the extending grace part comes in...

When mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease friends were near. Friends stuck close; the disease was easy then. Easy to manage, easy to hide, easy to look at becasue one couldn't see much.

She looked mostly the same.

But when things got ugly a few years back my mom's friends began to fade.It was an amazing thing to watch as fewer and fewer people stopped by. More and more people could say to my face, " I just can't go. I just can't see her like that."

For a few years there was a sting to this. I could not believe that these women who had been such good friends- who had poured in to my mom and had let her pour in to them would abandon her. Hints of anger and bitternes began to creep into my those darn weeds that poke through my carrots.

But now, a few years down the road I am learning to walk differently. The Lord has worked on my heart, worked on my life and continues to shape me in to that woman that he longs for me to be. My best self.

And I know that I can not let bitterness or anger have anything to do with my life. Because, in the end, all it will hurt is me.

What that means is that in order for this to happen I have to extend grace to these very people that in essence left my mom in her greatest time of need. In the hardest, lowest period of her life.

It means that now I get to choose to extend grace in a way that means I let go of expectations (major life lesson), let go of trying to figure out the "whys" and the "how could theys" and move on.

Realize that each of us handles things differently.

That we all have reasons for our choices.

That we all make descisios that might not be harmonious to those around.

And so. Here I am. This day, and tomorrow. And the next day - I will make this sometimes hard choice to extend grace in a way that recognizes that I could have been or could be one of those women friends.

The life lesson here is easy for me though. If and when life's little path puts me in the position that my mom's friends have been in - I get to reflect on the lessons learned...the deep need that we have to continue friendship at it's deepest level and be present even when it's not the easiest thing to do.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Life Lessons

Months ago, maybe even a year or more I began to pray with my little girl. For awhile we had prayed with her at the dinner table or prayed at bed time but it had not gone beyond that with her.

About a year ago, my very good friend became pregnant. I was in the car and Lillian was riding along in the back when my cell phone rang. It was my friend who had called to say that she thought she might be miscarrying.

When I hung up, Lillian, having overheard the conversation but not understanding the full story said, "Mama, what is wrong with Stephanie? Is she okay?" I considered how to reply to this..."Well, her tummy hurts a little and she is feeling a little sad about that."

Without missing a beat, Lillian said, "Then mama, we should pray for her." This was a moment for me as a mom. I pulled the car over, opened the back door of the van and said, "Lillian, you are exactly right - will you pray first?" She whispered the sweetest prayer.

Oh. She was so right then.

That is so right, now.

When things get rocky, when life turns a different way, when the sadness overwhelms, when sickness takes over. We are called to pray.

It stops me in my tracks and makes me reflect on my own life. Do I stop during my busy days to just pray. To offer thanks to ask for wisdom, to ask for healing, to ask for guidance?

I love that my child is figuring this little life lesson out. That really, WE make it all so complex... "I should be sitting down, or kneeling, or in the right place or at home or...")


God is so clear when He says that we can pray anywhere, for anyone for anything at anytime.

Just the other day, I was making a pot of Grammy's Chicken and Dumpling Soup for my oh, so sick family. I burned my wrist on the edge of the steaming, hot pot. When I pulled away, whincing in pain, precious Lillian says from her perch in the dining room "Mama! What happened? You burned your hand...Let's pray for it." Out of her mouth came the sweetest prayer for healing for my hand.

It is nothing short of what I want my children to learn in life.

Sure, calculus will be important. Of course earth science has it's place. Yes, spelling is a high priority.

But when I think of life lessons - the ones that I want to stick with my children for the rest of their lives this one ranks pretty high up there....

"Lord, continue to teach me how to parent these children you have given us. Continue to reveal your heart and your words through them.."

Monday, August 25, 2008


Today my little three year old is grumpy. She doesn't want to talk nicely, she doesn't want to share. Obedience is not high on the list and walking in her own path is all that matters. Today she yelled at her trike. This morning she dismissed me with a grumble.

I found myself wondering how to parent this. And, I find myself wondering this often.

I was cleaning out the perennial bed, hacking out the overgrown and dead foliage of the daisys. When I heard my curly headed three year old, "Trike! This is not right! DON'T squeak. GO straight!"

She was losing it. And fast.

I set down my clippers, pulled off my gloves and sat down cross-legged in the middle of the driveway next to her. As softly and as slowly as I could talk...

"Lillian. What is wrong today?"

Mumbled, low, "I want my daddy." (Typical answer.)

"Well, he has to work right now. But I noticed today lots of yelling at people and things. Lots of grumpiness...Did you know that God wants you to have a 'happy heart'?

A small nod of acknowledgement.

"Maybe we can pray for him to help you with this?"

She eyed me, thumb in mouth, nodding her head. Yes. She wanted to pray.

"Father, please help Lillian's heart today. Help her to talk kindly to people, help her to be gentle with Connor and Mama and the things around her. Jesus, would you clean Lillian's heart and help her to start over today."

When we had finished she was smiling! She looked at me as if SHE was going to be the one to end this little life lesson, "Mama, want to do the whiteboard with me!?"

We moved to the open garage where we have been keeping an art easel that has a whiteboard on one side and a chalkboard on the other. We began to fill up the board with drawings and pictures...all in brown since it was the only marker not dried up.

After drawing the entire family, dog included, Lillian said, "Now, let's erase it all and start clean."

Teachable moment.

I picked up the rag and began to wipe the board down. Each scribble and scratch became obsolete and removed as if never there.
"Lillian, see how I am wiping this board? You know what, this is like what Jesus does for us when we ask him to help our hearts become clean again. Sometimes our hearts get all filled up with yucky things like these scribbles. But, when we stop and pray and ask Jesus to clean our hearts just like we did in the driveway, He does! Just like this board!"

The whole time I was talking she was smiling away, so proud! When I had finished cleaning the board, she looked down at her chest, puffed it out and said, "Mama, Jesus is in my heart - do you want to talk to him now?"

Hilarious ending to my teachable moment.

But, really. Isn't this just the right picture? My heart quickly becomes muddied with the things that are undeniably sin.

Jealously, anger, bitterness, resentment, gossip, discontenment.

Mmmm....the list is endless. The list is ugly.

But Christ says, with a prayer.
With acknowledgement.
With desire for change I can be made NEW again.
The whiteboard of my heart can be cleaned.
And this is it... This is the beauty of Christ.
I don't have to live with this heart. In a flash it can be changed and made new again. Oh, we are rich! So rich to have this gift!

Oh Lord, today I want this. Clean this heart, soiled and filled with the things that are not of you. Today, let me start anew and in the process be changed.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

1000 Gifts

My days are rushed and hurried and it seems that giving thanks is often at the bottom of my list. But, I know that we are called to do this. And we are privileged to do this.

Today - I will begin my list of 1000 things to be thankful for.
The expected. The unexpected. The shiny and pretty, the cold and ugly. The given things, the growing things. The lines from the story book of my life are gifts.
Today, Father, I will begin to give daily gratitude for things great and small.
Let nothing go unseen. Amen.

Will you join me?
Tear off a scrap of paper, pull out a new journal. Begin your list, too.

a quiet morning

warm sunshine

another birthday, another year

warm breakfast

hot coffee

a husband loving children

dinner with a friend. sans children

a class, a gift

a hot shower

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Unfathomable

Death has come and too soon it seems. I can almost not tap keys to recount unfathomable story. A sweet mama has lost. And I feel her pain.

Death in old age seems normal. Losing a parent is the order of life. But for a mama to lose precious child. To bury young girl. This it seems unorderly, unimaginable. Wrong.

The story is crushing to recount. I almost must wish it away as I lie in bed each night. Sweet mama and loving daddy have lost their youngest. Another set of parents have lost two children. They had put babes to bed, tucked and kissed and loved.

Dared not even think that before dawn their children would not breathe again.

Parents set about to do it all right. We buy the best carseat. We buckle babes in. We check for lead paint. We buy organic foods. We watch closely at the pool and in the tub. We look twice, three times before crossing busy street with child in hand.

But we can do it all right and it can still go wrong.

I sit still here.

It is quiet around me - beautiful daughter, sweet son nap. It feels safe. I am sure they are safe. I have set about to make it all safe just down the hallway.

But, it is a false feeling that I alone have created.

Though I have arranged these circumstances there are myriad of things around that could happen. Things I could dream up and things that would never cross my mind.

And it comes down to a word that can describe my whole being. A word that sums up the total of my daily sins. A word that makes self feel strong and important and powerful.


n. the power to give orders or restrain something; a means of restraining or regulating; a check.

The false sense of control that I feel for my life, for my kids, for my husband. I have taken my life, patted it and molded it in to a little form that I believe I can control.

But I am not in control.

This life lesson for me will take a lifetime to learn. The world around, the stories around reveal what I know to be true. That in the end, I have very little control.

Daily life is teaching strong-willed daughter of God to defer to a Holy Father. To a loving father, to a precious parent that wants the best for me. To Him who has all the control.

And this story is a vivid reminder to me. I must hold loosely my family: my husband, my children. For I cannot control what will happen to them. Painful lesson to learn. Burning and searing my heart. To hold loosely the people that I love so much.

Giving up control requires that I realize that my family, too, could possibly be the center of such story. My heart could one day ache like this little mama's does and will for the remainder of her life. I am not exempt.

Father, today I will trust. I will not be afraid. I will not fear what is to come in my life. I will let go today so that you can assume control and work in my life all that you desire.

Isaiah 12:2 "Behold, GOD is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation."

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Monday, August 4, 2008


I am weary and weathered and worn. Beaten down by own expectations and desires for things to be a way that they are not.

Beautiful daughter has pushed me to the edges. To the fray. To the place that if I go one more time I’ll cry. And I won’t stop.

It feels utterly personal. For many years this mama taught little ones in school. Problems were easier there. Being a step removed from children my authority and peer pressure was enough to work for most children.

But this is my child.

I am learning and growing and in my own eye it is not fast enough. In late hours, in darkness I frantically scan through books and guides. “How to Parent a Strong Willed Child”, “How to Love With Logic”, “How to Grow Your Baby”, “How to Feed Your Baby”, “How to be a Godly Wife”, “How to…”

But it is clear in the middle of soft conversation with dear friend. Wife of pastor, precious woman who walks through clouded days speaking conversation with her God. In midst of sharing she reminds me that my how to’s can be made so simple – The Word is clear. The only how to book I need. The only guide to follow.

Three words make simple what I have made complex.

“Seek Him first.”

I spend hurried days scrubbing floors, scrubbing hands, washing laundry, washing faces, making beds, making plans.

I am as busy as the plump and velvety bees that linger on lavender outside my small kitchen window. They rush from purple flower stalk to purple flower stalk. Never a moment to sit, to ponder, to seek. They are busy. They are rushed. They are doing jobs.

And so do I. I am busy. Rushed. Doing my job.

But is this how my God has called me to operate in my day? I am curious what seeking feels like. What it looks like. Have I done this?

Can I do this?

And then smallish mind, tired soul realizes I must. I can and I will. Today. One day at a time. In this moment I will make a choice.

Lord, today I will choose to seek you first. Guide me as I learn a new way to live and a new way to be.

Matthew 6: 32b-33 “Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.”

Monday, June 30, 2008

Extending Grace

It sounds easy but challenges me on every level. The complete act of letting something go and not engaging but extending to others what was once, and is continually, extended to me is a chore.

It is difficult.
It is a challenge.
It is unatural.

But it is what I am called to do. Today. In this moment. And in the many moments that will follow.

Lord, today how can I extend grace? How can I show others a gracious heart? Father, provide opportunities and provide the courage and obedience to do so.