Mulligan, Please?

Sometimes I wish I could take a mulligan as a parent.

There are days that just plain stink. And this particular aroma doesn’t come from the pungent diapers waiting to be taken outside to the trash can. It comes from within the depths of my heart. Manufactured by my very own sin.

A few weeks back I was failing at every turn. Over-reacting about trivial things. Frustrated. Lacking grace. Impatient. Grouchy. All in all, a real peach to be around. Not a great candidate for “Mom Of The Year”. I was counting down the hours until bedtime so that I could take off my parenting hat for a much-needed reprieve.

As we neared the end of Caleb’s bedtime routine, we were cuddling on his floor in the dark (It’s weird, I know…especially since there’s a plush rocking chair within arms reach). We prayed through our normal list of people. We sang our usual song. Then Caleb rolled over to face me, his squishy toddler face just inches away, and he said, “Mommy,  you’re a good mommy.” He rotated 180 degrees to face Preston’s silhouette and said tenderly, “Daddy, you’re a good daddy.”

I wiped up my heart, which had immediately melted into a puddle on the floor, and began to soak in the grace of God, which he had extended to me, in that moment, through my oldest child. The gospel was shining brightly in Caleb’s dark room.

On a day that I felt quite unlovable, God loved me still. In the midst of my failures and short-comings, he pulled me close and reminded me of what is true:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

It’s when I was at my worst that Jesus hung on the cross for me. And even now, on my yucky days, he continues to lavish me with this great and unfathomable love.

How amazing. God’s grace is always greater than my sin. It covers me completely.

But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more…” (Romans 5:21)

Instead of condemnation for my failures that day, he lovingly convicted me by his Spirit and gave me grace to keep going, to take my mulligan.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

And that’s how it goes. Just when I think things can’t get any worse on some days, Jesus overwhelms me with his grace. Sometimes he speaks through donkeys. But in my life, it’s generally through a two-year-old boy named Caleb.

20161006_103708
My stick-loving, dinosaur-holding, intertube-wearing, leftover-smoothie-on-his-forehead, grace-giving boy.

 

The Melody of my Grief

In fragile grief moments, I find it best to be alone.

To weep. To think. To remember. To pray. To just “be”.

And when nothing else seems to release the emotional pressure building up inside my heart, the Lord sends a song. Music is the safety valve to my sadness. While I don’t understand the mystery that connects a sound wave to my soul, I know it’s real because I’ve experienced it.

Where words fail, music speaks. But take a profound word joined with a beautiful melody and it creates really extra powerful stuff.

One song in particular that has been a lifeline for me is an old hymn by a gentleman named Horatio Spafford, titled “When Peace Like A River”, though it’s more widely recognized as “It Is Well”. The abridged story behind the song goes like this:

He lost many of his investments in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
His wife’s health took a turn for the worse, so he thought a European cruise would be therapeutic for their family.
He arranged for his beloved Anna and their four children to travel to England to connect with their dear friend Dwight L. Moody, but a last minute business situation came up, so he sent them on ahead, planning to join them a little later.
Disaster struck again when the ship encountered a terrible storm, dragging all 307 passengers into the water. Anna was one of the 81 survivors. All four of their children drowned.
When Horatio heard news of the unthinkable tragedy, he immediately boarded a ship to reunite with Anna. As he was passing over the ocean at the site of the wreck, the words to this hymn flowed into his heart and mind.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Though Satan should buffet,
Though trials should come,
Lest this blest assurance control:
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And has shed his own blood for my soul.

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross,
And I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.

And, Lord, haste the day
When my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll,
The trump shall resound
And the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

These beautiful melodic words are salve to my hurting heart. They draw my attention to Jesus, the One for whom these lyrics were written. They remind me that whatever my circumstances hold, I can declare that my soul is well, because Jesus has ultimately and forever rescued me. So now, even in my deep sadness, I can have hope. And peace. And reassurance that one day all things will be made well.

It’s also sobering to think that some day my children will face trials of their own. It’s my earnest prayer that they will know the great love and peace and hope that Jesus gives in our suffering.

At nighttime when we sing before bed, Caleb’s most requested song has become “It Is Well”. It’s nearly impossible to keep my composure when I hear his squeaky, off-key, two-year-old voice sing these words back to God. And, oh, how I pray that he hides this song in his heart and one day truly understands and believes its significance. (This video was taken while singing in the dark before bedtime. Sorry not sorry. May need to turn the volume up just a bit.)

Parenting Win: Kid Quote Book

Every parent in the history of forever (hyperbolic-ally speaking) has said to write down the things that your kids say because you will forget. Science has proven that parents’ memories function worse after having children than they did before children. Actually, I just made that up. But the proof is in the pudding. Whatever that means.

So I figured, what the heck? I’ll buy a spiral bound journal on clearance and make it my officially unofficial Caleb quote book.

This might be one of the best parenting decisions that I have ever made.

Some of the entries are funny:
Mommy: I like your imagination. You have creative ideas.
Caleb: I’m going poop in my imagination.

Some of them make my heart melt into a puddle on the floor:
I tucked Caleb in and shut the door on my way out of his room. He cried for a few minutes (which is unusual) so I went back to check on him and he said, “I wanted to tell you that I love you.”

Some of them make me realize he’s “getting it”:
Mommy: Good morning buddy! What did you dream about last night?
Caleb: Jesus!
Mommy: What did he do?
Caleb: Save us!

I try not to give parenting advice unless I’m asked. But to all the parents out there, this is so worth it. Whether your child is a toddler or a teen. It’s such a treasure. So simple to do. It requires paper and a pencil. (Or an iPhone or tablet if that’s the way you roll.) Unless it’s not your thing, then that’s okay. There are lots of wonderful, meaningful ways to document special moments from your child’s growing years.

But this has definitely been a winner in our house.

What creative ways does your family document stuff to remember it years down the road?

Left Behind: The Grief of a Young Sibling

{Note: We are not experts in this area. This is our story – our only experience to draw from. I believe that the death of a sibling is a unique and devastating event for each family. The cause of death affects grief. The birth order affects grief (was the child the firstborn, youngest, etc). The age of the child that died affects grief (was it a miscarriage, still birth, infant death, young child, etc). The age and personalities of the siblings that are left behind affects grief. There are so many factors that influence the grief journey for siblings. There’s no formula or method to navigate the journey. But these are some of the things that our family has found to be helpful in our particular situation up to this point. So I humbly share them with you. And I welcome your insights and experiences too.}

IMG_8676 copy

The three of us were enjoying our nightly family cuddle time a few days ago, when Caleb quietly asked, “Mommy, may I snuggle on your chest like baby Evelyn?”

My heart swelled with love for my precious little boy. My firstborn. The very one who brought me into this beautifully chaotic and holy world of motherdom. I pulled him close to fulfill his tender request.  But even as he saturated my arms with his stout toddler frame, I felt an undeniable emptiness too. My daughter’s absence became acute in the darkness of his room, echoing loudly in the wake of his sweet question. Only three of us were there instead of four.

Helping Caleb grieve the death of his little sister has not been easy. We’ve tried to be somewhat proactive on our end, while also taking his cues to talk about her when she’s on his mind.

Since he’s only two years old, life is very concrete. He doesn’t talk about Evelyn all the time because she’s not here with us. For all he knows, it’s normal for a sibling to live in a special hospital and never come home. From time to time he asks about her when we’re driving in the car or playing at home. Our typical response is, “Baby Evelyn’s body stopped working. Now she lives in heaven with Jesus. She’s not sick anymore.” That’s basically it. It varies a little depending on the situation. But as he gets older and his mind begins to understand the complexities of sickness and death and heaven, we’ll share more.

But for now, these are some of the things we do for our toddler to keep it concrete and simple:

  1. Have a prepared response that the child can remember (like what I mentioned above).
  2. Read an age-appropriate children’s book about heaven that helps spark short discussions.
  3. I made a Shutterfly book especially for Caleb. It’s all about Evelyn and him. Pictures, words, memories, and a simple story line. It’ll be a precious keepsake for him as he grows older. But in this present moment, it’s a helpful tool to keep her memory alive and talk about her when she comes up.
  4. Watch a video of our family that was taken the day before she died. It’s a treasure to us. It captures some of the few moments that the four of us were together during her 20 days. Caleb loves to watch it over and over and over.
  5. We have pictures of Evelyn in our home. There’s one on the fridge. There are a few included in gallery displays on our walls. It’s not over-the-top. But it’s enough to show that she’s a part of our family and always will be.

I’ve heard of other families baking birthday cakes on the child’s birthday. Or letting balloons go on their birthday/death date. It seems that there are a lot of thoughtful ways to grieve and heal and hope and remember. I’m sure the conversations and tributes will change for us over time.

I’ve tried to be careful that I never force Caleb to talk about his sister. He has never shed a tear over her death. And that’s okay. Some day he probably will. As I see it now, God’s mercy abounds in Caleb’s life because when he thinks about Evelyn, it only brings him joy. He giggles and squirms when he sees her pictures and videos. He’s filled with uncontainable delight at the thought of his baby sister.

But as a general rule of thumb, if I can’t remember the last time we talked about her together (maybe it’s been a few weeks), I might bring it up gently – put the feelers out, if you will. For example, I’ll suggest reading his Caleb & Evelyn book before nap time. If he’s interested, great. If not, that’s okay too. We move on.

Above all, my prayer for Caleb (and our other children who will never meet Evelyn this side of heaven), is that her life and death will cause them to trust God more deeply. I pray that they will see God’s goodness and mercy through her life. I pray that they will see the peace and hope that Christ brings in the darkest of circumstances. I pray that when they’re sad, they will run into the arms of Jesus, our Friend and Savior and Shepherd, who will quietly weep with them and comfort them with his love. I pray that they feel confident taking their doubts and questions and uncertainties to our Heavenly Father, who can lead them in his perfect truth.

One day we will all reach the absolute fulfillment of this promise: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5).

Until then, we will pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us as we help our children handle their grief in all of its stages and waves, and point them to the One who can truly bring them the comfort they need.

Prayer Sticks

 

Evelyn Joy Edits-0355
When Evelyn was alive, we prayed. Oh, how we prayed. It felt as if we prayed without ceasing, pleading with God to heal her because we know that he is able. And you know what? He did. He is faithful and full of mercy. The moment she set foot on eternity’s shore, she was whole and perfectly healed. Her first steps took her straight into the arms of Jesus. She bypassed the difficulties and pain of this world, and she entered into her forever heavenly home. I’m not sad for her. I’m just really sad for us because we’re left behind, waiting, until Jesus calls us home some day too.

An incredible amount of people were praying for our family during that dark time. Prayer meetings. Fasting. Individuals. Congregations. One of my favorite memories is from a friend that said her young daughter prayed for Evelyn every time she went to the bathroom. I loved that. Partly because it brought some comic relief to my heavy heart. But mostly because it was humbling to know that even the tiniest saints were covering our family in prayer.

God heard those prayers. We were strengthened. We were filled with hope. We were surrounded with peace. We were able to make painfully courageous decisions, only because the Lord himself was walking with us, showing us the way to go as we approached each new fork in the road.

And people continue to pray faithfully even now as we grieve and heal. We are so blessed by the sheer amount of people lifting us up to the Lord. Many of them we know, but many of them are strangers.

Since Evelyn’s death, we desire more than ever to be a source of prayer for other people because we were the recipients in such a powerful way when we so desperately needed it (and still do).

So we try, albeit imperfectly, to nurture an atmosphere of prayer in our family. Lately Caleb has been asking to pray for the crane that set trusses at our house a couple of weeks ago. Oh, and we also pray for Buzz Lightyear on a fairly regular basis. He does, after all, face copious amounts of peril in his space adventures, so somebody needs to be covering that brave little toy in prayer.

Ephesians 6:18-19 says, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit…”

I recently learned that the word for “at all times” is kairos, which refers to specific times, precise occasions, and particular events. General prayers are certainly okay too. But what a beautiful thing that we can present our specific, real, unedited requests to God. Things like trusses. Buzz Lightyear. A hurting heart. A loved one who needs healing. A relationship that needs mending. A bank account that needs money. A car that needs repaired.

And the amazing thing is that God hears our prayers. Psalm 18:6 says, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” Our prayers reach heaven. That’s amazing. And God cares. That’s even more amazing. Then he answers according to his perfect will. That’s just downright astounding.

So we started a tradition at mealtimes where we put a few sticks in a mason jar. Each stick has a picture of someone that we know who needs prayer. The first round we prayed for our pastors and the missionaries that we support. This second round we’re praying for some sweet children that we know who are facing serious sickness or injury. Caleb picks a stick and that’s who we pray for. (I cover the pictures in clear tape so that it’s more durable. Toddler hands are pretty sticky.)

It’s helpful because it’s concrete. He can see the person. He can hold the stick. His little two-year-old mind can better connect our prayers to the people we’re praying for as we lift them up to Jesus. (And let’s be honest. It’s helpful for me too because it’s a tangible reminder to slow down and be faithful in prayer.) For now, the sticks are just the scaffolding that will eventually be removed as the habit is built over time. That’s the goal anyway.

This morning Caleb said, “Mommy, let’s pray for all of our friends.” And he carefully set each of their pictures in front of him.

Then halfway through breakfast he realized that we forgot to pray for the crane…

What are some of the ways that you cultivate prayer in your family and life? I’d love to learn from you.