Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Gift of Weakness

Last week, Emily and I walked to the pool from our beach house, just us girls.  She was determined to ride the orange waterslide that had caught her eye the first day we walked around the campground where we stayed.  She hoisted a yellow tube to her shoulders and proceeded up the tall set of stairs all by her nine-year-old self while I, on the other hand, stayed behind, my forty-two-year-old feet planted on solid ground.  Somewhere in my mid-thirties, I developed a significant fear of heights -and enclosed water slides, and jumping into pools, and walking out on piers -and a host of other things that compile a pretty hefty list. God has been at work, helping me cross off anxieties one by one, especially those related to my babies -I’ve conquered letting my kids ride in a car with others, enjoy the swings at the county fair, and even drive to Walmart without texting me on arrival.


It’s a slow process -letting go of seeming control that’s birthed out of love and a pure heart to nurture and to protect.


Watching my brave little one climb those stairs brought tears to my eyes.  She’s fearless, makes a friend at every turn, dances wildly to her own beat, and just enjoys life -really enjoys it -ice cream dripping down the chin -enjoys it.


Surrounded by the sounds of vacation: kids splashing in the pool, asking for slushies, lifeguards blowing whistles, I stood and cried.  And I talked to my Father.  Why can’t I do life brave, like her? Why does there seem to be such struggle? Why is relaxing such a foreign word, a seemingly distant realm?


And there, in the sun, squinting to watch her make it to the top of the slide, He spoke to me. Spoke so clearly that it caught my breath. That it made me feel so small, yet so significant.  That it made me wonder why He would take notice of me amid all the noise of the day, yet so grateful that He did, that He does.


And He reminded me that each morning, I have to come to Him to find my strength. I have to come to Him to conquer fear. I have to come to Him to be my shield and my refuge. In my weakness, I run to Him -and therefore, my weakness is a gift.  My fear of letting go has brought me to Him over and over.  Wanting my plan more than His plan has brought me to daily repentance.  Each day, He teaches me of the sufficiency of Himself.  


And this little brave one with those blue eyes and freckled cheeks and endless smiles, He has gifted her with weakness, too.  And that gift will bring her to Him, will draw her to Him for the strength that she lacks.  


I think of Ethan with shoes four sizes different and wonder if middle school years will usher in words that will sting and form different scars to add to the ones already up and down his leg.  But I know, I really know -that he will be drawn to the balm of Gilead -to the ONE who heals, who will soothe his wounds.


And I think of Josh, beginning this new chapter, this next step, and I wonder what is to come.  But my God, He reminds me that He is with him, with Josh, wherever he goes.


And, when His Word says that He works ALL THINGS to our good, He really means ALL THINGS.  He commands us not be be afraid, and then becomes our Tower of Strength so that we can fulfill His command.  And why? Why does He notice us -why does He come to our rescue over and over when we don’t heed His commands, when we don’t trust Him, when we, as silly as it may sound, cry in water parks on vacation? Because He loves us.  Because if she cried, if my baby was afraid, I’d run to her -and He is such a better parent than me.  He loves me perfectly and patiently and eternally.

And He promises to finish this work that He’s begun in me.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

24 hours with a Brain Tumor

"My 24 hours with a Brain Tumor"
There are haunting moments in life, minutes of time that we cannot unsee or unfeel or simply store in some unretrievable bank of our minds.
The memory of calling my mother from the parking lot of Lonesome Pine Hospital, crying, no wailing, trying to form the words to say that Josh had a brain tumor will never leave me. I can hear her voice, a gasping confusion. I can feel the chill of November air - and the world seemingly stand still.
                                                                ...
And then, a couple of weeks ago, I listened to my voicemail, a nurse calmly relaying my need to come into the office to discuss CT scan results. I can still see the doctor’s face, a resolute, unblinking stare, trying hard to form the words to say that I had a brain tumor.
For twenty-four hours, almost to the minute, I lived with what I believed to be a brain mass, a measurable, 8mm lesion near my pituitary gland.
Sometimes we hear things with an inability to grasp their significance, but I know brain tumors. I know blood vessels that can pool blood into raspberry-like masses. I know craniotomies and cavernous angiomas and the bitter taste of those words on my tongue and on my heart. I know waiting rooms and waiting for news and heads shaved and stitched. I know fear.
Driving home with swirling thoughts and remembrances, I was no longer the watcher and the waiter, but this time the owner of this thing -this 8mm matter that could challenge, could change, could claim, my life.
Inside the house my babies played piano and guitar, laughter floated down the long hall and into the car where I sat, quieted, so unlike me. After blog posts and updated statuses and questions and praises and verses written on notepads and sticky notes and index cards, my voice was silent.
Perhaps HE knew that I needed to listen before I could open the door and tell that man -the one who listened to my past and knew how painful things had been before, how miscarriages and divorce and loneliness and fear had left me raw and grasping. The one who slept alone his first few months of marriage so I could hold a little boy with a stitched up skull whose blond hair the doctor gave to me in a plastic bag just in case I would need something to smell and to touch. The one who counted his son’s nine toes and told me it would be okay and has driven too many eight hour trips to Baltimore to count. The one who stood outside an operating room when my uterus tore during the delivery of his only little girl --and held my hand when I understood that no more babies would be birthed. The one who didn’t leave when anxiety took me under and fear became my mantra.
In those moments- on the way to the office, driving home, in the driveway, if I know me, I was afraid, questioning, shouting unfairness, wondering how many more things needed to be added to my list -my long list of trials and storms.
BUT, I underestimated the JESUS in me.
I cried leaving the doctor’s office, lost my keys and found them in the men’s restroom where I had entered by mistake. I imagined my husband and children’s lives lived without me. I was shaken. But I was not undone.
Something different came to me, something that straightened my shoulders and strengthened my resolve. Something that I couldn’t quite name because I had never quite seen it before. In forty-one years, I’m not sure I’ve rested, settled, quieted as much as I did in those moments.
This thing that came to me was so different from the fear that came in that waiting room in Knoxville, watching for the doctor who said that if I saw him come through the operating room door, he would be bearing bad news -news his nurses couldn’t carry to a young mother. Or the thoughts that came, after only seven months married and eight weeks pregnant, waiting to hear that Freddie’s brain surgery had resulted in no residual damage. So different from the crying times when I let the little ones spend a night away from home, questioning yet another decision made. Or times wanting so badly to simply be accepted -to feel I was good enough. Good enough wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend and teacher and housekeeper and decorator and money saver.
Christ named this thing for me -called it HIS STRENGTH, whispered that I’m not who I was. HE showed me my list from HIS perspective-those powerful storms designed, dealt, given to me -and the name at the top of the page was my name: Highly Favored.
I could see HIS hand working through this stream of difficulties, turning my reliance from myself to HIM, turning my faith from myself to HIM, turning my life from myself to HIM. I could see the JOY shifting from my plan to HIS.
I could feel this letting go that felt like being held.
Mary, she was first proclaimed Highly Favored, dealt a list that included unwed, pregnant teen, worried mother, lonely widower, only family member at the cross. HE took her list and through it, blessed her life -and yours and mine.
On the pages of my list he crossed through each dark moment, each fear, each doubt and wrote above the words in an ink of blood: MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT.
                                                                              ….
I sat in the car still settled, still silent and fully believing that HIS plan was greater-that whatever HE wrote next, whatever HE added to my story would be written for my good, my transformation and for HIS glorification.
I walked into the house to Freddie- and later that night drove to my Momma and Daddy’s house to them and my brother -and to Kelly’s house to her-each time through tears telling the news that I had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.
These five especially, they know me -my insecurities, my fears, my anxieties, but that night they heard the JESUS in me -as I allayed their fears and reminded them that HE was always good even when we could not understand.
And that I was NOT afraid.
                                                                        …..
The next day, I had an MRI and prayed in that white tunnel until I eventually fell asleep. On the way home, the same nurse called again-this time to simply say that there was no tumor.
My mom is a firm believer that God removed those 8mm of tissue and others believe that the CT was simply misread. I believe that God, in HIS divine Sovereignty, revealed HIMSELF to me through the sufficiency of HIS STRENGTH.
Christ first revealed HIS resurrected body-the TRUTH of the gospel - to Mary Magdalene -and commissioned her to go and tell the brethren. When Christ transforms something within us, HE expects praise!
Glory with me in HIM tonight -and pray with me that HE would continue to perfect that which concerneth you and me -until we see HIM face to face!
And, if you belong to HIM, you are highly favored, too! HE is crafting your list to mold you into HIS likeness!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Fibular Hemimelia and GRACE

After school yesterday, Emily talked of her friend who was so worried about her math test that she cried in class.  “Mom,” she said, “The teachers always tell her that she overthinks things.  Not me! I just go with the flow, whatever floats my boat.”
Sometimes I think that if I could trade places with anyone, it would be this fiery nine-year-old whose attitude, no, whose God given design brings me such JOY.  If you know me, then you know that I’m one of those over-thinkers.  Maybe it’s why I’m pretty good at teaching literature, but over analysis sometimes comes at a cost.

Yesterday, I was reading about the life of Martin Luther –if you know much history, you’ll remember that he started the Protestant Reformation.  He nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenbergh in protest of such practices as buying indulgences that guaranteed forgiveness of sins and ultimate salvation.  He also authored hymns, among them “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” 

What you may not know is that Luther was an over-thinker, someone who agonized with fear and anxiety related to salvation and eternal life.  He had obsessive thoughts of never being “good enough” for God and, as a result, going to Hell.  These obsessions plagued Luther throughout his life –and he struggled with fear that is hard to be put into words.  Today, he would have been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder –not what many laugh off as a need to be overly organized, but as a disorder that plagues the mind with doubt.  YET, Luther claimed that the only relief, the only remedy from his anxiousness, came from God whispering ONE WORD, ONE TRUTH: GRACE. 
God brought this realization to me yesterday, whispered this truth, His spirit communed with mine: had Luther not suffered, had his life not been characterized by anxiety and struggle, had he not sought truth, not sought God for help, then the entire Protestant Reformation may never have happened.  God, in His Infinite Wisdom, ordained his suffering to bring about a revival of TRUTH, the salvation of many souls. 

Ethan has a “bucket” list on the cork board in his room –among the items on his list: ride a bull, read a chapter book in a day, win a car race.  I noticed an added sheet to his list the other day –and one bulleted statement stopped me for a moment, brought tears to my eyes: no more surgeries. 
Sometimes as parents, as friends, as sisters or aunts or cousins of those who struggle, we wonder why.  We wonder what God is doing –why has my eleven- year- old had six surgeries with more to come? Why does my uncle have Alzheimer’s? Why is one of my former students facing cervical cancer? Why is my friend in a joyless marriage?

And there’s only one answer: GRACE.

God’s grace, if we remember, brought Christ to the cross where He suffered, the Bible says, as none as suffered before or since –and this suffering, this brutal seeming unfairness inflicted on one who had no sin, purchased our redemption.

2 Corinthians 4:17 states: “ For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” 
Did you know that your suffering –your God ordained trials and troubles, will one day result in an eternal reward? That one day, you will lay your crown of suffering at the feet of Christ –at the feet of the one who knows suffering –who prayed for the “cup” of suffering He was about to endure to be passed from Him –yet accepted God’s will and took our place.

If I asked, you would say that you believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God: TRUTH.  Yet, HE plainly tells us that we will suffer. 1 Peter 5:10 states: “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.”  He tells us, plainly, that our suffering will PERFECT, ESTABLISH, STRENGTHEN, and SETTLE us.  I want to be perfected, established, strengthened, and settled –and it will happen through suffering.  And, I want this for my son, my uncle, my former student, and my friend.


What if, through your suffering, like Luther’s, God will bring many souls to salvation? What if HIS plan really is BEST? What if HIS WORDS are TRUTH? What if we just TRUST HIM? What if we simply seek refuge In God, our MIGHTY FORTRESS and give HIM glory through our pain?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Fibular Hemimelia -Decisions


In the next few months, Freddie, Ethan, and I will have to prayerfully make a decision regarding Ethan’s future surgeries. The weight of this decision feels physical, pressing on my heart and mind, bringing tears to my eyes even as I type.  His left femur is projected to be 2 ¼ inches shorter than his right at the end of growth (it’s over an inch shorter now), and we have two options:  1) to lengthen the femur internally -which involves a major surgery, therapy, and about six months of his life, but is a much easier procedure and less risky than the external lengthening he has already endured - or 2) to slow the growth in the right leg -which involves a minor surgery on his otherwise healthy leg, resulting in the loss of a bit over two inches of height.  


Such a strange decision to be placed in our hands:  how tall will your son be.  


God mercifully chooses our babies’ eye colors, the outline of their precious faces, the color and number of hairs on their heads. So I see this decision as a heavy one.  Ethan’s wise, we know that, and practical, and his voice will be heard. But can you imagine even making this choice for yourself? Would you endure another surgery? Would you permanently alter your stature?


I’ve preached to young girls many times -and daily to myself -that God created your body, formed it perfectly. Whether it be full hips or boyish figures, we’re fearfully made.  And Ethan is, too- masterfully knitted by the hands of God.  And God has walked this before us, I know, and will answer our prayers for peace.


And when I think of all of the decisions we make each day -and their implications - I know that this one, though weighty, is not life. And simply pales in comparison to the decision we saw those young students make this week - the decision to stand in the face of fear and boldly choose Christ.


Each day, though, whether we acknowledge the fact or not, we make the same choice -we either choose Christ or we don’t.  Second Peter tells us that the Christian walk should be a diligent one - a continual choosing of holiness over unrighteousness, a pressing on toward godliness, an adding of attributes: faith, virtue, knowledge of God.  Be sure of your calling, he warns -because those who are assured look and live differently than those who are not -not because of our innate goodness, but because of the God who indwells us -who compels us -toward Himself -who promises to finish the work that He’s started -who promises to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before His glory!


He alone is WORTHY of our PRAISE!


And He Alone will help us decide what’s best, I know.  


But He also calls us to pray together -to stand together -especially here in these last days (or so they seem to be) -to finish together. So, pray for us and our decision -as your examine your decisions each day.  Let’s compel each other, each day, to choose Jesus -and to be so BOLD in our choosing that a lost and dying world might yearn for the Christ in us! Let us live each day radically choosing Jesus, so that if our death comes in martyrdom, it will be a fitting end to a life lived daily proclaiming His name, choosing Him over hatefulness, over worldliness, over selfishness, over bitterness - over all sin.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Fibular Hemimelia: a pictorial of eleven years

I wanted to compile a chronicle of pictures of Ethan's journey thus far.  Sometimes it's helpful when thinking of the future to realize how far we have come!

 
I wish I had taken many more baby pictures of his feet and legs!  When Ethan was born, his nine toes surprised us, but doctors did not provide a diagnosis of fibular hemimelia until Ethan was 9 months old -after I noticed his leg length discrepancy by three or four months of age -obvious in the picture above! (2004)



 
By five-years-old, his discrepancy was about 5-6 centimeters, and we had made our way to Baltimore and Dr. Standard.  He experienced no problems or limitations -aside from an occasional knee pain or two (probably caused by the valgus in his knee).





Ethan's first surgery was performed four months before his 7th birthday--this involved the placement of an external fixator on the tibia/fibula and an 8-plate insertion.  The first six weeks were rough -as he lost the ability to bend his knee without excruciating pain.  After much therapy, however, he began to make great gains.  His leg was quite cooperative, and aside from a few pin site infections, things progressed rather smoothly.  We stayed in Baltimore for 10 weeks post surgery -in order to be near Dr. Standard and the physical therapy department. Ethan had land and pool therapy three times a week and x-rays every two weeks! We were able to watch his leg grow 6 centimeters as new bone developed (2011)

 






Six months later, the fixator was removed -and replaced with a thigh-high cast.



Though a bit cumbersome, wearing a cast for eight weeks was a sigh of relief in comparison to the ex-fix!

 



After a couple of months, the first cast was replaced with a removable one, and after almost 9 months, his leg was free!  Ethan began therapy to strengthen his leg and to learn to walk with a normal gait.  As the picture above shows, the valgus in his knee was still an issue after removal, and his scarring was quite prominent. (2012)






 A year after fixator surgery, Ethan had another surgery to move the 8-plate in his femur to his tibia -to continue working on the valgus in his knee -and ultimately straighten his leg.  Dr. Standard also attempted to release his scars in order to correct the deeper scars that wanted to adhere to the bone (pins from the ex-fix had pushed the skin to the bone). Ultimately, some scars simple were corrected while others returned to the previous "sunken" state. Recovery was surprisingly quick with minimal pain. (2012)



The pictures above show the difference that 8-plates can make in the overall "straightness" of the legs!  However, fibular hemimelia legs are apt to slide back into a valgus position -and that's what Ethan's legs did -requiring another 8-plate transfer -this time from the tibia back to the femur.



This is a pic of the 8-plate that has been so necessary, and yet so troublesome!

 





Ethan's second 8-plate surgery was successful, and Dr. Standard again performed a scar release, this time more extensively -so that the scars were reopened and stitched.  This was his roughest recovery -being in quite a bit of pain following the surgery. His pain subsided within a few hours, though, and he was excited to finally have crutches, having graduated from the walker! The recovery period involved soreness and about ten days of limited activity (2014)


Less than a year later, Ethan's femur slipped back into a valgus position, so another 8-plate surgery was required.  Dr. Standard also decided to address his ankle! As the pic below illustrates, his ankle turns in -as it is also in a valgus position.  Therefore, an 8-plate of sorts was inserted in the ankle as well- projected to take a couple of years to correct.


 



 This was the first surgery in which Ethan experience any anxiety.  He had to be given an IV prior to being moved to the O.R., and he had more questions than usual.  Being ten-years-old, he had a greater understanding of what he faced.  Despite his reservations, recovery was, again, rather quick -aided by the fact that we were snowed in for a few weeks during this one! (2015)


 Ethan has another surgery scheduled in September -to remove the 8-plates from his femur and tibia.  At this appointment, we will also discuss upcoming procedures to address his femur length discrepancy. 

While you're here with me, can I just say that God has a plan for my son -that his diagnosis of fibular hemimelia -though labeled a "defect" by the world -is simply part of God's plan for his life.  Pslam 84:11 reassures us that God will not withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly.  God has not chosen to withhold good things from Ethan; he promises, instead, to work all things -including this, to his good!













































Friday, May 22, 2015

Grace Based Parenting because kids aren't standardized tests


Somewhere, somehow, I bought into the lies the world tells us about our children, but God is slowly doing a work in my heart to teach me the right way to see my three blessings.  What the world often uses as a measurement, God never uses.  I can’t find any biblical evidence of tests scores being an indication of right standing or a marker of one’s character.  Yet, I’ve found myself measuring my kids by their grades or, as sad as it sounds, their SOL scores–sometimes embarrassed when they haven’t measured up –and sometimes too overjoyed when they have.

Emily asked me once is if it was bad to have thin hair because they sell shampoo to make your hair thicker and should we get some for her? An obvious indicator of the amount of times she’s heard me say, “I can’t do anything with this thin hair of yours.” Kinda makes me a bit nauseous to think that by eight you’re already convinced that even your hair doesn’t pass the test.

Why is it that we allow the machine that is the media or the department of education or anyone to determine the value of our children –the worth of ourselves?

I remember a conversation in library school between mothers who were boasting about their children and the fact that their kindergartners had never “pulled a light,” and how they’d simply die if one came home with a disciplinary note –how parents today just needed to learn to parent their children.  I sat out of this one, given the fact that one of my children, not to name names, pretty much pulled a light a day for at least two years.  And I wondered if I should think less of my talkative one –who typically wasn’t disrespectful, just had a lot to say –and had God not intervened, I probably would have gone home and punished him for his preschool days just because I had lost out on bragging rights in the library.  If you’ve been around me much, I’m sure you know I don’t let much air fill a conversation –and I can certainly see where my kids have learned the art of conversation.  But isn’t that okay? Is being quiet the only thing worth celebrating in our children?  Or if you have a quiet one, one someone is always trying to pull out of her “shell” –one you’ve been made to see as odd or antisocial or somehow misfitted with the rest of the world—don’t you think there’s a place for her –a God ordained place where her quiet, reflective nature can be used.

Somehow we’ve erected this childhood idol –this straight A, rule following, college-bound, polite sports star that sometimes, if we are honest, we really want our kid to be.  We want the facebook picture of the most valuable player –but what is it that we are really being taught to value? Satan always lies, ALWAYS –and he always distorts truth, ALWAYS –and we have to be good discerners to catch this subtle lie that’s invading our ears.

The one who finishes her work on time, colors within the lines, says please and thank you –sure that girl has potential, but I was that girl –and I allowed perfectionism to almost claim me on many occasions because I internalized that A’s were good –therefore, the more A’s I produced, the better I was –and the more I was rewarded with praise (from well-intentioned people) and scholarships and awards which only fed my need to keep achieving to keep being “good.”

God doesn’t have an achievement system, though-- he has a grace based parenting approach –a “my grace is sufficient for your needs” approach –a “you don’t have to work to please me” approach –a “you’re created in my image” approach –that looks a lot different that the approach the world is embracing.  And I don’t want to be a part of the world.  I want to be SET APART instead.

Do you know what He’s teaching me to love most about Emily? How about the fact that whatever she eats inevitably finds its way all over her face –and usually in her hair –and on her clothes.  She wears one of those KoolAid grins –the kind that brings a smile to anyone’s face who sees her.  She’s the kid whose teacher says, “I bet there’s never a dull moment in your house.” –and I want to embrace this –to run with this –to enjoy this –this girl of mine who knows how to live in a way that I still haven’t figured out –who enjoys each second of each day to the fullest –who’s still talking when I’m walking out of her room at night –and wakes up with this hair that has never figured out how to be tamed.  Can I just love this about her –and stop worrying about spelling words and lady-like speech and just relax a bit and see what God’s going to do with this one?

And this middle one, this entertainer, the talkative light pulling one –who has endured so much more than me so far.  Can I just love the fact that he corrects everything I say because he knows every random fact in the universe including when all three of the three Stooges were born and when they died and how to make Origami versions of all the Star Wars characters.  Instead of pushing him to “reach his full potential,” can’t I just let him read all the corny joke books he can digest and useless information about Elvis or his fascination of the week? Can’t I just like his quick wit --that I’m sure got him in trouble the day he asked how M&Ms and cheeseballs could really help him and his classmates on standardized testing—and see how God uses all this?

And this last one, this first one, who seems so old, and so young, too –can I just like him –in his boots and jeans and t-shirt –and his pickup truck.  He was the one whose blonde hair I kept in a bowl cut –wasn’t that the sure fire method of creating a prepping boy –one who would like to read and like school –and be like me and fulfill all these meaningless arbitrary expectations that I created? I’m ready to watch him now, God’s helping me –to watch him be loyal to this group of friends that he loves and to work hard outside with his hands –doing a man’s job –and to see who He wants him to be –that will so exceed what I could have ever dreamed up in this head of mine.

Can I encourage you, as he’s encouraging me –to love your little one right where they are?  Can I remind you, as He’s reminding me, that slow workers sometimes do the best work –and that dawdling and doodling isn’t sinful.  That it takes all kinds –and that standardized isn’t a term that applies to relationships- to real love- to God’s design.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Stillness and Real Living

I read her article this morning (click the link, you won't be disappointed), and I haven't stopped crying, but it's one of those good cries, the cleansing kind -the kind that washes away facade and leads to better living.  I'm okay with that.  In fact, I've been crying, too, because He loves me enough to bring me to repentance --to change me, to make me new.

It's funny how God works -though articles, people, circumstances, His Word.  On Wednesday night, I had a "moment" -one of those, "What was I thinking kind" of moments after Emily, my seven-year-old won a "wacky-tacky Christmas" contest, and Ethan, my ten-year-old, huffed in the backseat because he had lost.  What really occurred was that Emily let me create her "costume" -a Christmas window I crafted from a piece of foam board, some old paint, a gift bag, and a hot-glue gun.  Don't let me downplay it too much --a friend told me it was "Pinterest" worthy!  Anyway, Ethan wanted to create his own design, but had "crafters' block," and I strategically made him into a "Christmas bag" complete with tissue paper and bows -at the last minute (hang in there -the point will come, and it's a major one!). In the van listening to his disappointment and vow that "he never wins anything,"  I prayed, "Lord, help him learn to lose with grace." But what the Lord whispered back took me my surprise. He said, in the stillness of my thoughts, "They don't need grace to lose, but to live."

Grace.  It's my life song -the lesson He keeps teaching me over and over, and I keep forgetting.  It's the lesson that perfectionism keeps stealing from me -and today, He told me, "Pinterest worthy mom," the need to impress, to over-do, to out-do --took joy right from the fingertips of those babies. And He was so right.

I'm "that mom" -the one whose kids match on Christmas and Easter -who repainted a bit on childhood hand prints -to make the priceless pictures "just right." I'm the one who cleans for 8 hours before inviting anyone over and declares that the house is such a "mess." I'm the one who almost died, literally, when her daughter drank Kool-aid on the day of family pictures and developed an orange-ish mustache in the process.  I dot concealer on scratches before school pictures and practice smiling with Ethan so that his eyes don't have too much squint. Yep, that's me -or it was.

The article I mentioned at the top -click here-was a confirmation of this lesson that He's so willing to teach me.  It simply talks of family pictures -of little girls in stiff dresses and exasperated parents trying to coax little ones into sitting still in order to capture the quintessential family moment -and how such moments, such images, aren't real and fail to capture the beauty of family.  The photographer, instead, prefers moments of living -moments of laughter and messes and Kool-Aid smiles and squinty grins. I looked up from the the article to see the row of picture collages on my hallway wall, and what struck me most was the stillness -the poses and the perfection of curls and matching sweaters and children lined up in a neat row.  I kinda sank a little against the wall to take in the realization of what I had been missing.  I thought I knew that life isn't about stillness --about getting my ducks all lined up in a row, but the pictures say that I have a lot to learn -a lot of grace bottled up that needs pouring out.  I wanted to take them all down, almost ashamed of what they represent -of this part of me that needs something -even a picture - to turn out "just right."

I want to let my kids live --real lives, not scripted one.  Lives where they make a bad grade on spelling every now and then because we were playing Monopoly and forgot about lists of words. Where Kool-Aid mouths are kissed and little boys make their own wacky-tacky costumes and order Elvis backpacks if that's what they want.  Lives whose seeming perfectionism aren't stumbling blocks for others.

When did we fall, I fall, for such lies? --that what's best is what's still?  I have read, many times, poems about holding our children's hands, of how time passes too quickly.  And truthfully, I know this --I do take time to see my kids -to watch Emily's one thousandth hand stand onto the couch and to listen to Ethan's random facts about the Three Stooges and to sit next to Josh and gleam what I can from his day.

But somehow the truth -the beauty of these moments -seems drowned in a world pushing us to be something that we're not --to achieve things that we can't.  Doesn't the unlined face and the unchanged body -doesn't it indicate a lack of life --and yet that's what the world demands, celebrates even.  What is Satan doing here -telling us to hold to things that aren't true --to seek happiness in seeming perfection -- in a facade that doesn't really exist -when it's actually found in the mundane, the everyday, the stretch-marked bellies that held babies and sticky counters where memories were made?  Why is knowing the truth so easy, yet putting it into practice so hard?

One of the redeeming photos on my wall is this black and white photograph of my dad and Josh -who was probably four at the time.  They were dancing --smiling -not at the camera, but at life.  That's my resolve this year -to smile at life -at the imperfection of it all -the changes that come -and to pour out this bottled up grace.  Grace for mistakes and losses and wins and Kool-Aid mouths.  Oh, how I need His grace today -so undeserved -but isn't that what makes it grace?

Let's help one another today -to "get it" this time -to err on the side of grace -and not let Satan take any more of our JOY!

Hebrews 3:13 -But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day!