On being thankful when there’s nothing to be thankful for

The first holdiay season after Mattias died was the hardest. Not just because it was the first without him, but we lost him at the beginning of December.

being thankful when there's nothing to be thankful for

I was still in shock. I remember standing at the checkout at Kohl’s with an ice cream maker we were buying for my daughter for Christmas when the checker asked, “How are you today?” I froze. He had no idea. He was just doing his job. He asked and had no idea how much he did not want to know the answer. But my little auto-play “fine” was broken. I had no answer. I wanted to scream, “My son is dead and I’m buying an ice cream maker!” But it wasn’t his fault, so I just shrugged. “Merry Christmas!” he said cheerfully as he finally handed me my purchase. I took a deep breath. “Merry Christmas to you, too.”

My tone wasn’t so cheerful. In fact, he looked startled. But I meant it, probably more than any other time I had wished somebody a Merry Christmas. I stood at the door, watching the mass of cars out for the holiday rush. The whole world was rushing buy and I hadn’t quite yet accepted that any kind of life went on after my son’s had ended. I wanted to scream at them all, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is utterly meaningless.” Except that all this was because of the birth of another baby. Sure, many of the people rushing about had no knowledge of that baby. Others had lost sight of Him. Some were distracted by the season. And yet . . . it is because of the birth of that baby boy that hope came down. And it is because of His death and resurrection that Mattias’ death on an operating table was not the end of his story.

I am thankful for the time we had with him. I am thankful for our memories. I am thankful that my children still count him when people ask how many brothers and sisters they have. I am thankful for a savior who grieves with us in our sorrows. And most of all, I am thankful that, because of his sacrifice, we have hope because death is not the end.

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you would like to listen more about being thankful through tragedy, Dr. Jay Wile gave an excellent sermon on what we can be truly thankful for. My little Mattias even makes a cameo appearance at the end, so I may be a tiny bit biased.

On Parenting Teenagers and Peace

A very wise woman and teacher once told me that all the teenage “attitude” we see is the release of years of parents attempting to control their young offspring.

“Lead, don’t force,” she said.

It made a lot of sense to me at the time, when I had only two children, both of whom were still young. But even then I recognized a serious flaw in her theory.

parenting teenagers

She had no children of her own.

The only people I have ever met who have this parenting thing figured out are those who have no children. Those with only one are close behind them.

When I was in the midst of dealing with the talking back and sometimes irrational outbursts of my first teenager, a very wise man who had raised four teenagers of his own gave me another piece of advice.

“The cure for 13 is 15.”

And it turned out to be true. Because sometimes, patience is all that’s required but patience is the hardest thing of all. Because it requires a fair bit of faith as well.

All that is to say, be careful with parenting advice. No one on the other side of a computer screen has a clue what is actually going on in your home or what is best for your child. That doesn’t mean you can’t brainstorm together.

But listen closest to those who are a few years ahead of you, walking the same path you find yourself on and who have the grace and compassion to tell you that sometimes, it’s just hard. You don’t know what’s right and you just have to do the best you can with what you know and have faith that love truly does cover a multitude of sins. And perhaps the hardest lesson of all is realizing that your teenagers are young adults, capable of their own decisions and their own mistakes. It isn’t always about you and what you did right and what you did wrong.

So what’s my advice? I don’t give a lot of that around here, but if you want a few principles that I believe help make the teenage years more peaceful, get a grain of salt ready and I’ll share. A cup of tea would be nice, too, because I’m having one right now and all the best parenting conversations occur over tea or coffee.

Recognize the teenage years for what they are: a period of transition.

Teenagers are going through a world of changes as they come into puberty. Their bodies are developing fast enough, it can throw off their coordination. Their brains are expanding, grasping new ideas and exploring abstract concepts. Just like their two year old selves might have had to try on every item of clothing in their wardrobe at the same time, they need to try on these new ideas. They are starting to recognize themselves as a person separate from you. A year or two ago, their entire existence was under your control, from when they woke up to what clothes were in their closet, from what food was on the table to what kinds of books they were allowed (or even required) to read. In a few short years, you will have no say in any of those decisions at all. In these few years of transition, it’s time to begin loosening the reigns. letting them take on more responsibility and helping your home be a soft landing for their mistakes.

Lead. Don’t Force.

Wait. Didn’t I lead off with that as problematic advice? Yes, but not because I thought it was bad on its own. The premise is off. If a perfect father like God can end up with Adam and that conniving wife of his, it can happen to anyone. Teenagers are almost adults and they need to be treated like almost adults. They need more freedom. They need more opportunities to make their own mistakes. And they need someone who will help show them the way. It won’t be long and you will only have the influence over them that they allow. That’s already beginning to be true, but think about what you want your relationship to be when they move out. Lead by example, lead by encouragement, lead by stepping back and allowing them to make those first faltering steps of independence before they leave the shelter of your home.

The cure for 13 is 15.

Or, like I said above, be patient. Be consistent, be loving, be kind, be faithful and be patient.

Get to know them.

Don’t get so focused on child training and behavior management that you don’t take time to find out who they are becoming. Step into their world a little bit. Get to know their friends (not just the ones you like), play their video games with them, read a book they recommend to you. Somewhere in these years, you are going to start to transition out of your role as parent and into the role of friend. I don’t mean you get all buddy buddy with your kids, becoming enablers rather than parents. But remember, when they move out, all of your authority leaves with them. This new found freedom will be a lot easier to navigate if they received it in small doses over a few years.

Know that sometimes, it’s just hard.

We are sinners in a fallen world dealing with other sinners who can’t seem to figure out how to put the lid back on a gallon of milk. (Please tell me I’m not alone in this.) We make mistakes. They make mistakes. We question our parenting. They make more mistakes. We wonder where we went wrong. They make more mistakes. Sometimes we lose our temper. Sometimes they lose theirs. Sometimes, we just want to cry. Sometimes, stepping into our room and just crying is probably the best choice in that moment. And that’s OK. Always strive to be better. But be quick to forgive.

Err on the side of grace.

Our savior does. Each day is a new day. I think that verse about forgiving your brother 70 times 70 times is relavent here. Particularly if you are struggling with ongoing behavior problems, disrespect or downright defiance. When the consequences are served, let it be over. Christ removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. Try not to see your teens as nothing more than the mistakes they are making. Don’t bring up last week’s issues while dealing with this week’s. Drop the words “always” and “never” from your behavior discussions. Try to find a way to connect in the calm periods. Build your relationship. Give them something to look forward to. As another wise person once told me in relation to raising toddlers, “If time-out isn’t working, make sure the time-in is worth working toward.”

Pray continually.

Pray for them. Pray for their friends. Pray for people to be put in their lives to draw them always nearer to Him. Pray for their future spouses. Pray for your relationship. Pray for patience. Pray for your own growth. Pray for grace. And especially pray when you just don’t even know where to begin anymore.

And finally? Love them.

Fiercely. Gently. Sometimes mama bear, sometimes mama robbin. Because love really does cover a multitude of sins. And the more they feel that love, the less the mistakes matter as they mature.

#MeToo and Why it should matter to the church

When #metoo first popped up into my facebook feed, I decided not to comment. A quiet little #metoo isn’t going to change anything. Anyone who cares doesn’t need #metoo to not harass a woman. Those who don’t will roll their eyes and talk about how a little flirting isn’t harassment. But then I read this in response to a post:

“[They] just need to suck it up. If they want to avoid it then don’t interact with society.”

#metoo and why it should matter to the church
Yeah. You know what? I’m overweight and over forty. One of the greatest blessings of those two facts is that I don’t have to deal with “it” any more. I “sucked it up” most of my life. I don’t think about it all that much. I don’t talk about it at all. In fact, there are things I’ve never told anyone and I don’t really know why. Perhaps because of just that attitude. I learned to “suck it up.” Tell me, to, however, and apparently I find my voice.

I’m about as far from a feminist as you can get. I stay home with my children. I homeschool. I vote Republican. I go to church and that word “submission” in the Bible doesn’t bother me all that much. And most of my life I’ve known that to interact with society, you have to “suck it up.” Because you can either let it get to you or you can swallow the venom and go on with your day.

But in the last few hours, I’ve read as many diatribes against what random posters don’t think qualifies as harassment as I have #metoo stories. Or should I say, “harassment?” Because those little quotes around someone else’s experiences are oh so convincing to their arguments.

I know it has to be a little difficult for men dealing with a changing culture, where what once was considered chivalrous is now considered belittling. And in a culture where women who were once taught to be coy and passive just might turn around and tell you what they think of your cat calls, your whistles and your sweethearts.

Honestly, though, I know more what it’s like on this side. To be pushed against a wall in a soccer hall by a man three times my age. To be afraid to call out because I’m not sure if the other men standing outside would come to my aid or his. To marvel at just how quickly I wasn’t there any more. To become a passive observer of what was happening to my body. Fortunately, a good deal of alcohol was involved on his part and despite his weight and strength and violence, I was able to get him off balance. I was out the door before he was off the floor and found myself standing in the midst of a dozen other men who in that moment seemed no different to me than he. Because he was also my neighbor, a respected member of the community, the director of the soccer league who unlocked the building so I could use the restroom. To get home, I had to walk through a small wooded area that took me on a dark path right by his house. So I stood there in the midst of the celebrations, unsure what to do or where to go, even as he left the building, locked up and so casually offered me a drink.

I sought out the assistant coach. At least he was safe. He offered to walk me home. For the price of a kiss, I found out when we arrived. But what’s a little harmless flirting? I laughed nervously and started to walk away. He didn’t think it was so funny and fortunately for me, all he did want was that kiss.

I know what it’s like to work drive thru late at night. To have strange men order though the speaker system, “I’ll have a Whopper with cheese . . . and one of you if you’re good looking.” I know what it’s like to swallow the ire. The customer’s always right. To stand there taking orders as he pulls to the window, undresses me with his eyes, strokes my hand as I hand him his sandwich. I know what it’s like to have him ask me for a little smile. But the thing is, it’s my smile and I’ll give it to whom I please. Not to you and not to the countless men after you, some of whom are arguing in my feed about whether telling me to smile is harassment or if I should “suck it up.” You know, so I can “interact with society.”

But this is the thing. No one has ever “just” told me to smile. It’s really the eyes and that smile. That filthy smile and those penetrating eyes that look right through my clothing, leaving me feeling naked while he asks for, just a little smile.

And that’s just “harassment.” In quotes. Because the easiest way to demonstrate that air of condescension on the internet is with quotation marks.

I know what it’s like to have a manager get into my file for my phone number, start requesting I come into work early, before anyone else is there. To have him use any excuse and no excuse to step into my personal space, to touch me as he reaches across for things that are there on his station as well, to endure the constant comments . . . the “innocent” flirting . . . that no one would think constitutes “harassment.” And as I got more and more forceful about defending my personal space and warding off the advances of an older (and married) man, I was the one who ended up in the office, talking to the female restaurant manager.

Because she knew he could be “annoying,” but I really just needed to “suck it up.” It was my atitude that was affecting the workplace environment.

It wasn’t until he cornered one of the 16 year olds and kissed her that he was finally seen as the problem and let go. It never really surprised me he chose her. She had been molested when she was younger. She didn’t know how to deal with him, bit her tongue and was silent. She tried to stay out of his way but never made any waves. She never landed in the manager’s office because her attitude toward one of her superiors was affecting the workplace environment. She “sucked it up” way better than I ever did.

I know what it’s like to have a male coworker start crossing the lines between a friendly workplace and being a little to familiar. I know what it’s like to wrestle with what exactly constitutes harassment, to know that I could ruin a career and a marriage if I say anything. And yet . . . no means no. Not interested means not interested. Back off means back off. I started saving the emails so I would have evidence if I ever decided to do anything. I was relieved when my husband found them and thought I was having an affair. Because most of my “suck it up” training had told me I was overreacting.

And now he’s the one I think about every time I read another post about the difference between innocent flirting and workplace harassment. Because it may be clear to anyone who isn’t experiencing it that it’s harmless. But it isn’t so easy to put into words when you are on the receiving end and you ponder filing your complaint and even in your own head it all sounds so petty. Except he makes your skin crawl every time he’s near and all of your internal sensors warning that this person isn’t safe go off. Because it isn’t any one comment or any once glance. It’s all of it together, coupled with the fact you know his wife and kids.

Getting from 16 into my mid thirties was a gauntlet of unwelcome gestures, comments and contact. No, it wasn’t all men. It wasn’t all the time. But for a conservatively dressed young woman who stayed away from the party scene in high school and college, declined sex until she was married, who worked in professional environments and who never flirted with anyone she wasn’t already romantically involved with, it happened to me often enough that it is hard for me to imagine that there are very many women out there who haven’t experienced it to some degree.

Because it’s part of growing up female. Just look what happens when a few women come out and talk about what it’s like on this side. We’re told to #suckitup. We’re treated to lectures about “harassment.” We’re dismissed, marginalized, blamed and even mocked.

But that’s not the message I want to teach my daughters. And it most certainly isn’t the message I want to teach my sons who have far more control over how the women in their lives will be treated than my daughters will.

What I’m not as sure of is how to teach them any differently in a sex-saturated culture which seems to scoff at any separation between what is private and what is public, what is intimate and what is superficial.

And you know what’s even harder? Trying to figure out how to teach them any differently when so many of the scoffers are Christian. Sure, there are good men out there. Lots of them. But this isn’t about them. We cannot fix the problems in our culture and in our churches by sweeping them under the rug and “looking for the positive.” We can’t fix them by belittling those who come forward or by dismissing their testimonies with quotation marks. We can’t fix them by asking them to “suck it up.”

When I imagine Christ in heaven watching as woman after woman shares a small, frequently hidden piece of herself with an unassuming “#metoo,” I don’t see Him responding with, “Oh you silly little thing. That’s not ‘harassment.’ You just need to look at all the good in the world!” When we hurt, He hurts. When we weep, He weeps. When we grieve, He grieves. And that is what He calls His church to, as well.

In fact, it is the very heart of compassion.

com = together, passion = suffering

Compassion literally means to suffer together. To bear one another’s burdens. To offer a whispered #metoo when it’s appropriate and an it-grieves-me-that-this-is-your-story when it isn’t. Because that’s what the church is supposed to be.

1 Peter 3:8-9 — Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.

Instilling Wonder in Children

Long drive, late at night. It was after bedtime when we left Tecumseh and I’m hoping to get to the hotel by one. Mild bickering.

“He’s touching me.”

“She won’t put her seat up.”


“Why do we have to go to this dumb Cosmosphere anyway?”

And I’m wondering if someone reset the GPS to Most Confusing Route Possible. Or if this really is the only way to get through central Kansas without driving all the way to the Interstate in Missouri.

instilling wonder

So I bite my tongue and drive, hoping they’ll start to fall asleep, that my patience will hold out and that this really will be worth the drive and the expense and the whining of overtired children who really just need to fall asleep already.

In the distance, I see red flashing lights. They take up most of the horizon, blinking in perfect unison. It’s the synchronized blinking of the lights that catches and holds my attention. It seems so out of place, yet in this computerized world, asynchrony should be the anomaly.

“Hey, look!” I call to the children.

It buys me a moment of silence as they all stare into the darkness. It seems to take forever for the lights to blink again. But just as their attention drifts back to who is touching whom, the lights flash against the horizon again.

“What is it?” They are intrigued.

Now, I do have a clue. I saw something similar driving across Iowa on my way home from my uncle’s funeral. As the sun set, we drove into an enormous windmill farm. And what caught my attention then was how all the lights blinked on in unison, flashing together for some time until they slowly fell out of synch. But the sun set hours ago and these lights were still flashing in unison.

But this is the thing with children. You can answer their questions and increase their knowledge. Or you can withhold just enough information to maintain a sense of mystery. Wonder stands at the base of the things we see and do not understand, not in the flood of information that answers every question we can think to ask. So I decide not to answer.

“I’m not sure. What do you think it is?”

“CHRISTMAS LIGHTS!” Nisa calls out. “They say Merry Christmas!”

“It’s a bit early for that. But maybe?”

They all lean forward, staring out the windshield as best they can, waiting for the next flash to confirm this first hypothesis.

Another flash. There is no discernible pattern and I hear a disappointed sigh from the entire back of the car.

“What could they be?”

“I don’t know, but I think we’ll see them. We turn in 13 miles. It’s hard to judge distance at night, especially when it’s just lights flashing against a black sky. But I think they are closer than that.”

I continue to drive, watching the miles pass beneath us while the children all strain against their seatbelts, trying to be the first to catch a glimpse of what is producing these strange lights. They are silent, watchful, expectant.

I turn and the lights seem to disappear. I’m disoriented for a moment. We’ve watched these lights flash for over 13 miles and they suddenly disappear when I turn? I realize we must have turned in between the windmills between flashes. I crouch down to look up as far as I can. Sure enough, the next flash is over my head. Then a great, gray monolith materializes out of the darkness. I have seen hundreds of windmills in my life, but never like this, gray against a black sky and just barely outside my window. They are impressive.

“Look closely, guys. They are all around us.”

They all shift to look out their own windows and one by one I hear the small, hushed sounds of discovery.

“Wow . . ”

“They’re so big . . .”

“How many are there?”

And the car falls silent.

Because late one night, I decided not to answer a question and to simply let them wonder. And as it is with so many things, when they finally happened across the answer on their own, that moment of discovery led to more questions and just a little more wonder.

How to Make Mother’s Day More Meaningful

I don’t know about you, but bringing up Mother’s Day as a homeschool mom seems sort of . . .  I don’t know . . . anti-climactic? Where’s the surprise? And a child’s simple joy at surprising mom? I mean, you could gather all the supplies and leave the room. But we all know how that would turn out.

How to make Mother's Day More Meaningful

And it isn’t so much that you wouldn’t want the final result. After all, we all know that whatever mess your little ones make, when they present it with the pride only the youngest of artists can muster and announce, “I makeded this for you!” it will melt your heart. And you will love it. At least until bedtime when you are reasonably sure they won’t remember it in the morning, anyway. It isn’t that so much as the hours of cleaning afterward.

Of course, you could take charge of the situation.

“Hey, kids. This Sunday is Mother’s Day. We are going to have great fun making me something I actually want. Something I found on pinterest that doesn’t actually look impossible.”

I thought these butterfly footprints from Mommypotamus were adorable.

butterfly footprints

Then again, that seems a little self-serving. Sure, the kids will love it if it is messy enough. And you will love it because you picked it out yourself. But where is the fun in that?

OK, so you could wait and hope that dad remembers the holiday and thinks of something grand, whether it is burnt toast in bed with half a cup of coffee (try not to think where the rest might be) or dinner out. I’m not trying to say that dad can’t handle it. You just may be blessed with a husband more like mine. Who believes that mom should be honored and loved every day.

Which sounds great and all until you realize that it just means that he has no intention of doing something special on this or any other day.

So, no messy glue creations for me unless my children happen to take the initiative or I give some direction.

But really, what is it that I want to teach my children through this? Sure, appreciating what I do for them is great. But I get that already in their sweet little smiles, the artwork on the fridge and the dandelion bouquets presented as if they were the finest roses.

Really, I want them to learn to value others, to put the needs of others before their own and to recognize the importance of the contributions that they can make, regardless of how small. Basically, I want them to learn to serve.

That’s why I thought this year I would forgo the subtle (and not so-subtle) hints, the mess of art supplies and any thought that something I found on pinterest would end up anywhere but the trash once I tried to do something with it. Instead, I’m going to take them shopping for another mom.

A mom we don’t even know. And we’re going to drop it off at the Crisis Pregnancy Center to be given to a mom who may not be feeling very celebrated right now. Hopefully, many heart warming, messy crafts are in her future, but for now, we can help out with diapers, formula, some cute little outifts and maybe a toy.

Because serving others is the greatest gift.

Plus, it means I don’t have to stand in the two hour line at the restaurant!