One of my favorite family pics of almost all of us a few years ago!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

There Isn't Much Difference Between Football and Real Life! January 30, 2013

My husband and I were driving back from the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.  In case you don’t live in the south or aren’t a football addict, the Alabama/Georgia game determined who plays Notre Dame in the National Championship game in January.  This is BIG.  And by BIG I mean that the outcome of this game determines my husband’s mood and mindset for at least the next month and perhaps for the next year.  (I don’t mean to be a spoiler, but Alabama won!)

This is a big deal for me because it gave me a reason to go with my husband to Atlanta for the day without a single child – something that rarely happens.  And by rare I mean hardly ever.  After 23 years of marriage and a total of 53 children, we only get to be completely alone about four or five times per year.  Last year, two of those times were on the days of his colonoscopy and the subsequent removal of 12 polyps. I’m serious. 

Ironically, this year, two of our four dates happened the week of the SEC Championship. On the Monday before the Saturday game, one of my adult children called unexpectedly and said to my husband, “I have the day off.  You and Mom go out for the day.  I’ll babysit everyone.” We ran.  We still don’t know what she really wants, but we decided to deal with that later!

We had little money and nothing to do, but we left the house and stayed gone until all the kids were in bed.  It was thrilling.

The football date is all for my husband.  I enjoy sports, but I honestly believe that it is “only a game.”  I know that these are treasonous words in the South.  And some might question whether I actually am a born and bred Alabamian.  I am.  But I was raised by Notre Dame fans.  Anyone see any irony in that?

Anyway, my husband obsesses about football for a good portion of each year.  He thinks about it.  Prays about it.  Analyzes it. Reads about it.  Memorizes stats.  Pays attention to the recruiting season and is a walking encyclopedia of everything Alabama.

About 15 years ago we were at an Alabama game – in the days before so many kids when we used to have at least one date a week….. hmmm maybe that’s how we got all these kids.  Naaah.

He bought a program.  That is when we had money to waste on programs and I still went with him to most of the games.
Anyway, he was reading the program and there was a page of scores from past games.  I don’t remember the exact details, but he looked at the program and said, “That was not the score of the 1972 game.  It was blah v. blah!” I stared at him in disbelief.  Keep in mind that he was challenging the printed program stats in a game that had been played more than 20 years before.

Really?!?  Are you kidding me? My facial expression says it all. “ I believe you because I know you.  But really?!? How is their room in your brain for that kind of mindless detail?  And how can you retrieve it instantly?”

In all fairness, my husband is a numbers guy and he has provided for our mega-sized family for 23 years without a single complaint.  Nonetheless, neither of us can keep up with our anniversary each year.  He can’t find anything in the refrigerator or bathroom unless it jumps into his hands.  And he intentionally stays out of the loop on the details of the kids’ educational needs unless it involves math – which is his category.  He’s a good man, a great husband and a loving father, but the fact that he knows AND CARES about such minute details from 20 years ago totally amazes me.  I really just don’t get it.  Really.

But something BIG happened to me today. 

The difference between our reactions to some things are quite telling.  I get wound up thinking about, trying to predict, and control the outcome of my daily interactions with my children.  I’m always calculating how to impact my kids.  How to get them to care.  How to get them to see the value in things.  I  have learned not to “worry” in the usual sense of the word, but there is no doubt that I spend 23 of every 24 hours focusing on the issues related to my children.  Not much else crosses my mind.  You might say I obsess

During the game we are amongst 75,000 people.  My husband has been talking non-stop all day about predictions, calculations, his thoughts,  the thoughts of others,  his thorough review of all the experts who pontificate and attempt to predict the outcome of the game, as if they have some special gift that allows them to know what will happen in a game that has not yet been played. He knows every detail and every factoid. 

At the game, between shouts and screams loud enough to scare a raccoon out of our kitchen (true story), he’s biting his nails worried.  He seems to think that he can change the outcome of the game by thinking and talking about it non-stop. 

He looks at me.  I’m standing and cheering and yelling and having fun.  But, I’m not at all worried.  He asks me why, and suggests, “Because you don’t care who wins.”

My response was simple. “No.  Because worrying doesn’t help me or them.  I know that I have no control.  I know that all my worries won’t change the outcome of this game.  I know that if they do what they are supposed to do.  If they do what Saban has coached them to do, it will all turn out fine.”

He smiled.  “It’s all about the process for you, isn’t it.” My husband and children have heard me say that a billion times.  I value the process as much as the result because that is where character is revealed.  Winning can be based on luck or prayer or circumstances, but how we react to the process reveals our heart.  And from my view, if we aren’t playing for the heart, then what value is there in competitive sports for our children?

That’s when it dawned on me.  Why is it so simple and easy to recognize that fan worry has no impact whatsoever on the outcome of the football game?  No amount of planning or shouting on my part will change the outcome of the game.  Other than participating in crowd noise, the only way to actually have an impact on the game, is to have a relationship with and/or authority over the players.

So, why do I feel at complete peace about an Alabama football game and recognize that if the coach has done his job, I can remain calm?  

However, I can’t seem to recognize that if my husband and I have done our job, worry and obsessing alone won’t change things for my children

Touche', my dear.  Touche'.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"No Husband. No Kids. No Rules." January 2007

NOTE:  Just to remind myself how much things change... I wrote this in January 2007, when we only had 13 or so kids and a little more money to travel and eat out!  This is a fun memory.  I'm glad I wrote it down. With all the serious stuff I'm writing about lately, it's nice to be silly.

No Husband. No Kids. No Rules.

I got up at 4:45 am this morning to drive my 16-year-old to Louisville, Kentucky for a two-week conference. We home school some of our kids. For the record, Louisville is 383.2 miles from our home. Anyway, I don’t get to stay. I’m just the transportation and I hate driving. With a passion.

Nonetheless, the opportunity to legitimately escape my family for 30 hours is worth the 14 hour drive. Me and one kid in the family suburban is a moment to be treasured. We have some serious quality time. But an even more rare treasure awaits.

As soon as I dump the kid – I mean drop her off at the pre-determined location where another responsible adult has graciously agreed to supervise my daughter and take her to the hospital in case of emergency (thanks Laurie) –I have exactly 14 hours remaining.

I have no plans. That would spoil everything. But just in case, I brought my bible, 2 history books, my writing notebook, a needlepoint stocking that I’ve been trying to get started for 3 years, and the kids assignment books so that I can check grades.

Instead, I simply wander into the local Rite-Aid to splurge on a pink writing tablet, a diet dr. pepper and some Swedish fish – but only after I meander down every isle making sure that I haven’t left any critical item untouched. Then I get into the car and start driving to what looks like a major road, hoping to find a reasonably decent hotel that doesn’t cost a fortune.

I pass a Target. Even though I’ve already been to Target twice this week getting the kids ready for their trips, I wonder if the Targets in Kentucky are different than mine in Alabama. 

Two hours later, I’ve searched every isle and come to the conclusion that they are all pretty much the same. But they did have that ornament box I needed to finish taking down the Christmas tree. So I bought it. January 11 seems like a good time to take down the tree.

Next stop. Food. I love eating alone in a restaurant. I choose one I’ve never heard of before. Life’s an adventure.

As I glance at the menu, the server tells me the specials. I casually say, “I’m really trying to eat healthy tonight.” I order unsweet tea and then unfold the three part menu. Fried green tomatoes with Japanese bread crumbs. Half-pound sirloin steak burger with bleu cheese and bacon, baby back ribs with skinny fries.

What was I thinking? I was ALONE. No husband. No kids. No rules. Not even a budget. There was nothing to stop me – except the little annoying voice that reasoned, “You can’t order THAT. What will the server think? You already ate...”

The other little voice interrupted, “Are you insane? You are never going to see this guy again. Order whatever you want. Just pay in cash and he can’t track you down.”

Realizing that I had just handed over my last cent to my daughter, I ordered the salad with dressing on the side. I hate that little voice.

After paying my bill, I exited the building and noticed a familiar, sweet, yeasty smell permeating the cold air. Looking to my left, I couldn’t help but notice a Krispy Kreme Donuts.

My thoughts raced as I tried to ignore the opinions of that annoying little voice, “I think I’ll pick up a dozen chocolate-glazed for breakfast. And this time, I won’t talk to anyone.” 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Do We Trust God to Take What We Have and Make it What Someone Else Needs?

Question of the day: Why aren't we more willing to give up more and more of what we really don't need and certainly don't own -- at least in the spiritual sense of the word -- to someone else in need?  

Do We Trust God to Take What We Have and Make it What Someone Else Needs?

I have an 8-month-old baby that just discovered that he can both crawl and stand. He is fully mobile and quite unhappy in his usually confined spaces.  He needs the opportunity to explore freely, but that requires me to be in the room with him so I can rescue him when he stands and can’t seem to sit again and to swoop out whatever he manages to find to put into his mouth! 

I use this as an excuse to sit in my comfy chair on my laptop – reading and writing - while everyone else is sleeping, the laundry sits unfolded beside me for the second day, and my toddler explores his new world.

At 6:10 a.m., after turning the heat above freezing, picking up every item my tired old eyes could see on the floor, changing diapers, making bottles, and finding my computer, I sit down and promptly spill my morning Diet Dr. Pepper all over my comfy chair and blanket. And when I jump up, I  flip over a box on the table knocking out all of the items I have just collected from the floor.  I cuss. Knowing - but not really caring - that what just happened didn't deserve the specific words I used. 

After picking up all the pieces and parts and trash, I use a clean towel to soak up 14 ounces of a bad-for-me soft drink and sit down to my computer. 

It is Sunday morning. I am up early.  I have a squirming baby and only minutes before the rest of the kids start waking.  I want to be curled up dreaming with no responsibility, or at the very least writing.  And I just spilled an ice cold drink all over myself and my chair. I’m not exactly grateful.  

Somehow, I don’t seem to notice that my home is heated and I can control the temperature.  I can see.  I have a floor.  I can buy diapers and have the physical ability to change my baby.  We have milk and bottles.  I own a personal computer.  I have my favorite drink and a comfy chair.  I not only have a towel for the mess -  I have a clean towel. And a washer and dryer and laundry soap, not to mention electricity and water and even dryer sheets.

But I don’t recognize any of that. 

Or the fact that my child is healthy and developmentally normal.  Or that I have a fairly safe place for him to explore.  Or that he has a bed.  And I have a bed.  And clothes… and…and…and…. The things I should be grateful for are actually too numerous to list here.  But I assume you get the point.

So instead of gratitude, I’m frustrated.

Perhaps because adopting is part of our story, my Facebook is linked to all sorts of adoption websites - reading about families that share our story in some way! 

When I look at the  Ten for Orphans Facebook page these words flash like neon signs in my mind….

Fundraising to adopt…. special needs…. heart surgery… meningitis… 3-years-old weighing 12 pounds… Donate $10 ... family willing to take on the physical, emotional and spiritual responsibility for life, but need help with the $53,000.00 in fees associated with the adoption … hardly any donations have come in  ... hardly any donations have come inwilling … only raised $116.24 of the total amount needed…. willing…. need… willing… need… only raised $1 1 6 . 2 4…. One hundred and sixteen dollars and twenty-four cents…..

Seriously? Are you kidding me? A family is willing to sacrifice the comfort of their American lives to care for a special needs child from another country, with no certainty of the outcome, and they can only raise $116.24 of the remaining $15,000.00 needed to pay for the opportunity to adopt this child!

That is insanity.   That should piss me off.  That should make me feel like an idiot and a heel and an ungrateful jerk, who is so self-absorbed in my own happiness and security, that I choose my own comfort over those of others. 

And I am a pissed off ungrateful jerk who knows better.

It doesn’t matter that most people would say that adopting 18 kids is doing more than enough in the orphan world. I can and should be doing more.

Why?  Because I can.  It’s as simple as that.

And quite frankly, so should you.  And you.  And you.  And all the you’s out there that are reading this on a computer – which by definition means you are among the elite in the world simply because you have access to this information.

And yes.  I’m saying should. I'm well aware that I'm making a generalization.  And I feel certain that I'm socially and politically incorrect because I didn't sandwich my should between sweet compliments to make everyone feel better about themselves.  But truth is TRUTH.  And this is truth.  

And I'm saying it to MYSELF first.  If we measure ourselves against this standard.  If we compare our lives to these children.  If we compare ourselves to most of the world.  Then we must conclude that we are the "wealthy" Jesus speaks about in Luke when he tells the rich ruler to sell all his possessions if he wants to enter the kingdom of God.  If we are honest, most of us would have to admit that for the most part, we are ungrateful spoiled people who need to seriously reconsider how we live what we claim to believe. 

I have to ask myself, "Am I placing my faith in myself and my husband's ability to meet our needs  or is our faith in our Savior?

Am I saying that we should live with broken windows in sub-zero temperatures in a Russian orphanage to care for mentally and physically challenged children just because we can?

No.  But I am suggesting rather boldly that if our calling isn’t to care for these kids ourselves, then perhaps we should consider whether we should be financially supporting the people who will do it. 

Or maybe we could offer long-term, consistent help to someone outside our immediate circle who needs something.

Maybe your heart isn't for orphans.  Maybe it's for troubled teens.  Or poverty.  Or homeless people.  Or special education.  Or the arts. Or the elderly.  It doesn't matter.

The needs are literally everywhere.  Which might be why we tend to overlook them.  We think we can't solve the problem, so we choose to do nothing at all.  Not trusting God to take what we have and make it what somone else needs.  

Like the brute strength of the two men that pushed my fully-loaded 15-passenger van into the gas station on a busy road.  They had strength and knowledge.  They gave. And I was blessed beyond the value of what they actually did.  (See my previous post, "If you have to call 911, it's officially not a normal day.")

It doesn't matter that you don't have any extra cash on hand to give away and you aren't in a position to adopt.  You ARE in a position to do something for someone.

Why aren't we more willing to give up more and more of what we really don't need and certainly don't own -- at least in the spiritual sense of the word -- to someone else in need?  Why?  Perhaps because we don't really trust.  

And that's gets to the core of who we are as Christians.

My writing is frequently interrupted by my daily chores and responsibilities.  My gut instinct is to think, "Aww crap.  Do I really have to do that again?  Can't I just finish writing one freakin' sentence about what God is trying to tell me without some snotty nosed kid or needy teen wanting something else from me?" 

I'm such an idiot.  Unless I'm not.  And I actually catch on to what God is trying to unfold before my eyes. 

Today - it was kind of like a slap in the face.  We went to church.  Wanna guess what message our pastor Jonathan Haefs delivered? Let me give you just the NEON words ....

Jesus looked at him and said, “How difficult is it for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God?" "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:24-25

The problem isn’t being wealthy, it’s not putting your trust in God….

If you are sitting in this room, then you are part of the wealthiest people in the world.

Do you know that most of the world lives on less than $2.00 per day?

We hold onto stuff because we don’t trust God to take care of us.

We are fragile and not in control... yet we hold onto whatever wealth we have thinking we can live in a safer place, with a safer school, with a safer car ... all to protect ourselves....

It's a mirage.  A false image.  A lie.

We are one accident or storm or  misstep or heartbeat  from eternity. Yet we continue to act like we are actually in control. As if we are the rulers of our world.

Okay God.  I get it.  I understand.  

My two year old spills his milk all over the floor.  I have milk to feed him.

My 6-year old needs help putting the insoles back into her stinky shoes.  She has shoes to wear that fit her.

Four kids are sitting on my lap driving me nuts because every single one is moving every body part like a fish out of water  trying to get comfortable- all on top of my fragile nerves, which is literally painfulI have a lap and a chair and kids that want to be on top of me and the pain I feel will go away as soon as they stop moving.

Without knowing anything that I had been thinking or writing, my husband shows me a stash of cash he just found that he had put away and forgotten. I laughed and said, "You are gonna hate my blogpost this morning!"

He said, "I don't care what you do with the money." 

"Good," I say.  "Because it isn't ours.  Never was.  Sure, we have lots of bills and perceived needs.  But all of it is going to someone else in need.  Today. In Faith.  We will give it all away."  

Friday, January 25, 2013

I'm Not a Pushover. But I Choose to Overlook a Lot From My Troubled Teens

I’m Not A Pushover.  But I CHOOSE To Overlook A Lot From My Troubled Teens.

The people who love me and know me best routinely ask me the same questions time after time – out of concern for my sanity I’m sure. I would think that the people closest to me would understand by now.  But I’m not sure that is really possible until you actually live with troubled kids (and even previously traumatized adults) 24/7, constantly trying to assess their needs to best address their problems and issues for the long term. And my family and friends have my best interest at heart.

The truth is, my friends and family watch me bust my butt. 

They know when I’m totally exhausted, but I still have to make another child or event feel “special.”

They see me hurt by deception and terrified by some of the risky actions of some of my kids, and they want to know why I continue to put myself in that position. 

They watch me burn out when enough is enough and I don’t have anything left to give.  But I have to give anyway.

They listen to me cry when I’m at my wit’s end.  

They have to endure my complaints when I find myself asking these same questions – trying to determine if it is worth it – again.

They know that I take on more and more responsibility – even when it doesn’t make sense. 

They watch me and my husband sacrifice to raise my children’s children while the mommas go about life as they choose.

Although I rarely speak it aloud, so as not to cause unnecessary fear in others, I think they know that I occasionally go to bed wondering if one of my crazed troubled kids or their friends will kill me in my sleep. 

And they witness all this knowing that I do this without pay and without much in the way of earthly rewards – at least as we are accustomed to seeing them. 

The questions vary a little based on the situation, but they are something like this: 

Why do you let your older kids take advantage of you?

Why do you let him scream?

Why do you let her walk out of the house with her cleavage showing?

Why do you work so hard and let them off the hook?

Why do you let her walk out of the house and leave her child(ren) behind without even asking if you care?

Why do you allow her to come back home again and again when all she does is run away? 

Why do you let the birth parents have contact with their children when they never do anything to show that they care – unless they want to see the kids? 

The answer begins with a command.  God called our family to this mission and he hasn’t told me or my husband to stop in the past 17 years.  Some of my family and friends understand the simplicity of that answer.  Some don’t. 

Second, although this instruction is given to all God’s people – not just our family, we are told to take care of the widows and the orphans. And by definition, widows and orphans have suffered a major loss that may affect their actions. 

But these two answers only account for why we voluntarily foster and adopt troubled kids. 

Why we parent this particular way, requires another set of answers.

First, God gives me grace and compassion and mercy and understanding.  But he also gives me commands and instructions and limits and consequences.  I pretty much suck at it most of the time, but our goal is to raise the kids with this kind of balance.  The truth is, I have zero patience or tolerance for the little annoying things all children and adults do, troubled or not.  However, much of the time I’m fairly decent at doing this when the kids are traumatized and I can literally see and understand what motivates their conduct – or misconduct – as the case may be.  Maybe that is why I was called to this particular job.

I’m not exactly the kind of person one would describe as a pushover.  I’ve got a strong personality.  I’m confident and assured. * Heck, I’m an attorney so I was trained to be combative. It’s not easy to fool me. I tend to be more authoritarian than democratic in my realm of  decision making for our super-sized family, simply because we are too large to operate otherwise. (My husband is far more democratic!)  

Generally, I don’t tolerate disrespect.  I will nag my kids for hours about proper work ethic when we encounter people in the service industry who give less than adequate service. I expect a great deal of respect from my children – just because I’m the mom.  I challenge others.  I challenge myself.  I don’t like to be around other people’s children who are being disrespectful to their parents.  I don’t accept mistreatment of me or of others in our house.   

So, it’s a little crazy to think that I am somehow unwittingly being subjected to the alleged mistreatment. And I’m not.  I’m still a no-nonsense, obey because I said so kind of parent, even to the troubled kids.  I set limits and have many rules and expectations.  But I try to tailor the rules and expectations to the particular problems that need to be addressed for that particular child at that particular time. 

I am knowingly and willingly choosing to overlook much of what would drive a normal parent of a normal child (as if there is such a thing) bonkers.  And “overlook” is the best word I can think of to describe what I see and what I know is a problem.  Yet, I overlook what might be a capital offense for another child because intellectually or intuitively I know that the issue can’t be dealt with just yet.

Raising a houseful of troubled kids (some of whom are now adults but still a work in progress) brings new meaning to the phrase, “pick your battles.”  I am forced to prioritize the issues created by the trauma that each has endured and thus far survived. Typically, the problems are so numerous, that we are only able to deal with a few at a time – starting with issues involving life or death. 

In case you are wondering what kind of issues I might be talking about, let me give you some general examples of the kinds of experiences these kids have lived through:  Repeated rape, incest, severe neglect, abandonment, constant lies and deceit, domestic violence, hunger, extreme poverty, prostitution, witchcraft, guns, forced games of Russian Roulette, stealing, alcoholic and drug addicted parents, infidelity, divorce, multiple fathers, unwanted pregnancy, constant physical and emotional abuse, murder, prison, and the list goes on and on.

And these aren’t things the children did.  This is what the parents were doing, or what they were doing with or to their children.  And what the parents of the parents did to them.

And I’ve only given you words.  Not stories.  The stories are horrendous.  It is a wonder that any of my kids can string words together into a thoughtful sentence, let alone become functional, productive members of society.

Perhaps this is the point at which I need to clarify.  I am consciously and conscientiously avoiding doing anything that enables the bad conduct to continue. But you can’t teach a child to read all at once, and you can’t teach someone to quilt in one sitting. You have to tackle the problems a little at a time. 

So, if a new teen comes to us suffering from sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather and she’s dressing promiscuously, I ignore the clothing that I would normally never allow one of my other kids to wear.  And I skip the purity lectures for the moment.

When a teen comes to me angry and defiant, but is also suicidal, I place my attention on the underlying issues and ignore the rants and raves and defiance.

When one of my adult children lies to me, and I know it is a lie, and they know I know it is a lie, I often will ignore it and wait for an opportunity to discuss it at a later time.  Even if it means I get the short end of the stick because of the lie.  For some of my kids (even adult kids), there is an ongoing struggle.  If it isn’t life or death for me or them, I try to let it go.  And I really do let it go.  I’m not angry, because I’m choosing to let it go.  I have the power and I made the choice.

When a child screams at me and curses and tells me how much they hate me for stealing them away from their family, I don’t try to reason with them and explain that I had nothing to do with their removal.  Heck, I didn’t even know their family. I don’t even acknowledge the cursing and screams.  If I am able, I just take it without comment or with a simple statement like, “You and I both know that is not true.   What is the real problem?”

When my 4-year-old starts wetting his pants after being fully trained for years because he was tied up and left alone in the dark, I don’t get mad that he has wet his pants or that he demands to sleep in our bed every night. 

When my pre-schooler, who was found in a house where they  were cooking meth the night he was taken into care, exhibits immature and sometimes uncontrollable outbursts at school, I don’t expect him to respond to the normal reprimands and reminders.  It is admittedly frustrating, but I know that he is not choosing to act this way.  So, when I can muster it, I am more patient with him than with some of my other children who weren't exposed to seriously harmful drugs.

When a child runs away from a nice home, warm food, a loving family, and people who want to help, to live on the streets – again – I report it to the sheriff and then wait.  Knowing that waiting usually brings a phone call.  And a phone call usually results in us saying what we always say, “We haven’t changed.  The rules are the same.  The love is the same.  The expectations are the same.  If you want to come home, you are welcome.  If not, you can stay where you are until you are ready. We don’t want you to be here if you don’t want to be here because we can’t help you if you don’t want our help.”

When a teen becomes pregnant through no fault of her own and is too young or immature or mentally ill to make a decision about whether she wants to parent her child, we take both mom and baby and take full responsibility for raising the baby, allowing the mom to choose how much or how little she wants to do for her child, sometimes for years. 

Why?  Partially because the teen did nothing wrong and is unable to do this on her own, yet she doesn’t yet know what she really wants and shouldn’t be forced to decide in the middle of the trauma and emotions.   But also because it is what is best for the baby, who has done absolutely nothing wrong. 

We have taken care of 53 children, and made 21 permanent.  Many come for horrid pasts.  Yet, I have not met a single one that didn’t want to return to their parents for at least some period in their lives.  And not one that didn’t wonder if their mom or dad loved them.  In our minds, giving the child and the mom safety and security is the best of both worlds.
Unless the momma leaves us and leaves the baby behind.
And that has happened.  More than once.  But, as long as she is drug and alcohol free, we have allowed her to maintain a relationship with her child at the level she chooses. And more than once, the momma has begun to heal and to recover from her traumatized past and is finally able to create a new relationship with her child.  Sometimes in our home, sometimes in hers.

And that is the ultimate goal and the reason we sacrifice to care for our children’s children.

Of course, what I have just described is my parenting at its best.  It's unconditional love, with boundaries and rules.  Unfortunately, I’m not always at my best and I screw up daily.  And sometimes hourly.  And sometimes my screw-ups are HUGE.  GIAGANTIC.  UNACCEPTABLE.  ANGRY.  But I’m a strong believer in big picture parenting.  When your heart is in the right place, your motives are pure and you love your kids, you can exercise a broad range of emotions and techniques –some good, some horrible – and still turn out kids who feel loved and can function in society.

There is so much more I could say.  Parents who have parented traumatized kids will understand even if I say nothing more.  Parents who haven’t may not get it because it isn’t within their realm of experience.  And that is okay. 

But I challenge you to think about how you react to people and their situations.  Hopefully, the things you experience aren’t as dramatic as the things my kids have experienced.  But when possible, in order to keep peace, consider simply overlooking certain things people do that annoy you or make you angry. Even if you have a right to be angry or upset.

I know this.  I believe this.  I do this.  But not well.  And not all the time.  It is a daily exercise for me.  And sometimes, I just throw myself a pity party.  But I keep plodding along because I’m committed.

How do you decide what to overlook and what must be addressed?  That is the subject of another blog post.  Maybe I will write that one next.  :-)

Post script:  In another extremely odd turn of events, I was proofreading this blog entry and I turned on the television to a show called Teen Trouble, which I watch when I can to help me better understand my troubled kids. One boy had severe anger and drug issues.  The mentor took him to a boxing ring where a well protected man allowed himself to be hit over and over again by the teen.  The idea was to allow the teen to release his anger. But when the boy realized the man was so protected that he couldn't actually hurt him, he quit.  Another boxer agreed to let himself be hit by the teen over and over again without returning any punches and without any equipment at all.  He said he was willing to do it to help the boy.  He just illustrated exactly what I am trying to explain.  I care enough to put myself in harms way to help the kids.

* Aside: I wasn’t always so strong. As a child I was younger than many of my classmates and I had a one-time bladder control problem when I was 4-years-old that became the subject of torment for the next 7 years of my life.  That led to bullying and tormenting by just a few kids in my class. Another story will explain how I overcame this bullying. But it did involve my mom telling me to punch Missy as hard as I could when she bullied me again.  And then to tell Sister Judith Dianne to call her when I got sent to the office.  J

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"When you have to call 911, it's officially not a normal day." January 24, 2013

Preface:  The holiday season is over and people are back to their normal busy lives.  Our hearts seem to be more aware and open and looking for ways to contribute to making the world a better place around the holidays.  But people are in need all day, every day.  I encourage you to keep your eyes open.  Look for opportunities to interrupt your daily life and help someone else.  A friend.  A stranger.  Anyone.  Just be purposeful about it.  You will be a better person for it.  And it will change your life.

“When You Have To Call 911, It’s Officially NOT A Normal Day…”

I was describing my crazy morning to a fellow friend and teacher this morning when we finally got the kids to our home school coop.  We left the house 15 minutes late, which was not a big deal, but adds a little stress to my day. 

We left late for the usual reasons.  I have been so busy the last 3 months that I’ve been averaging about 6 hours of sleep. Exhausted, I missed my alarm and slept 37 minutes late.  We couldn’t find shoes for my 5-year-old, who has suddenly outgrown every shoe in the house.  My now 13-year-old was enjoying her new birthday outfits and was leisurely enjoying a bowl of cereal, forgetting her morning chore to feed the baby his cereal.  My 9-year-old was who knows where.  Two of my boys wet their beds and we had to strip sheets, blankets and clothing – as well as take a bath to rid ourselves of the urine smell.  I forgot to read with my 6-year-old last night, so we had to do it this morning so she could take her comprehension test. The baby just learned to stand in his crib, but hasn’t yet figured out how to get down – so he’s taken to screaming for help.  But as soon as we put him down, he gets back up and needs help again. 

All this was in addition to the usual task of getting 9 kids ready and out of the house by 8:00 a.m. – fully dressed for public consumption. 

Anyway, I looked at my gas gauge as we got in the car and realized it was on empty. Of course.  I’m late and have no gas.  Figures.  But the light hadn’t yet come on – telling me I have exactly 25 miles to go or I will find myself stranded on the road.  I felt comfortable that I had enough to get the kids to school 15 miles away.

I was wrong.  Or the gas gauge was broken.  It doesn’t matter. 

While waiting at a light on a steep hill, the engine suddenly died.  I tried to restart it and it wouldn’t crank.  I looked and the low fuel light wasn’t on.  But experience told me that the odds were good that it was a simple problem.  No gas. I had just passed a gas station at the bottom of the hill and I knew I couldn’t just sit where I was without getting hit.

So, with 7 kids in my car, I carefully coasted backwards down the steep hill – stopping when cars started to drive up the hill.  No one around me seemed to notice or care that a 15-passenger van full of children was coasting backwards down the mountain on a busy road.  Not one car (of about 100) even slowed down, except to go around me in frustration. 

The kids were perfect.  They didn’t make a peep – sensing how dangerous the situation really was.    

Anyway, I get to the bottom of the hill and I’m literally 300 feet from a gas pump.  But I can’t push my car alone and I can’t get myself or the kids out of the car without  being mowed over by the cars flying past our stranded car. 

I also can’t get a gas can and bring it back to the car without leaving the kids in the car, which scares me because I was afraid we might get rear-ended.  I couldn’t prevent that, but I didn’t want the kids to be alone if that did happen. And still not one person stopped. 

10 minutes into the ordeal and no one thought it was important enough to even ask if they could help.  I decided my only choice was to call 911.  So I did.

This triggered memories of a life-changing car accident when I was about 21-years- old.  I was on a busy 6-lane highway and had been hit head on by a drunk driver.  Not one person stopped to help me.  It was almost more traumatizing than the accident itself – watching as car after car simply drove around me as I sat bleeding and broken, pinned into the car.  

Ironically, it was two men from the gas station across the street that finally got me out. 

Since then, I make it a point to stop to at least ask if a person needs help if I see anyone alone.

And in a serious accident, if I’m the first on the scene I stop and stay until help arrives, even if just to direct traffic or calm a person.  I have been the first on the scene at 3 major accidents in the past few years.  I’m trained in first aid and CPR, but these accidents were far too serious for my skills.

Two involved a person pinned under a car.  One man died while his wife and children watched. I could not help the man, but I stayed with the women’s children for almost 5 hours in her car while they retrieved her husband’s body.

One involved a pregnant woman and her 3 children who were side swiped by a semi when his tire blew.  Two of those times my own car was full of children, who waited patiently and stayed in their seats while I did what I could just so the person wouldn’t be alone.

And I would hope that someone would do this for me or my family.  I don’t know if anyone stopped and stayed with my daughter Heather when she had her car accident in Texas.  I know someone called 911, but I don’t know if they stopped.  She  was presumably killed instantly in the accident when she hit a concrete pole and broke her neck, so she wouldn’t have known the difference.  But it would make me feel better to know that someone … anyone… would deem it important enough to step out of their comfort zone and stop their lives long enough to at least check on her.

In my mind, nothing I’m doing is more important than making sure these people have someone with them.  Even if I can do nothing but stand there and wait.

So, when people don’t stop for me, it hurts again.  It says to me that the world is too busy to notice or care.  And that simply doesn’t feel very good. 

As the police officer arrives from one direction, another car has worked its way around me to pull into the gas station. I thought they would ignore me too.  But much to my surprise two gentlemen get out of their vehicle and ask if they can help.  I saw the police officer heading my way, but I knew he couldn’t help me alone. 

I gladly accepted their help.  Without hesitation, these two employees of the Royal car dealership across the street first pushed my car using their bodies and then with their car, while the policeman watched.  When I got close to the pump, and they had to use their bodies to push me again, they didn’t hesitate.  They got out of their car and pushed my car right up to the pump. 

Twenty dollars worth of gas later, my car magically started. 

Donating 5 minutes of their time, and a lot of brute strength, these two men restored my faith and turned what could have been a bad experience into one worth writing about.

I didn’t have any money to pay them.  I didn’t have any gift or trinket to give them.  I could only give my thanks, over and over again.  Telling them that they are the only ones who stopped and offered help.  And that that meant a lot to me. 

When I told my friend a much shorter version of this story as we were heading to class, she said, “It looks like you’ve already had a pretty rough day.”

I laughed it off and said, “Actually, this is pretty normal.”  I didn’t mean this exact situation is normal, but the reality of raising 21 children means my normal isn’t very normal for anyone else.

Marla looked at me and stated rather adamantly, “When you have to call 911, it’s officially not a normal day.”

All I could do was laugh.  She is right.  Calling 911 takes even my days out of the range of “normal.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Heather's Journal #69. "I got a pocket full of sunshine" No Date 2008. Today, I'm posting the same thing I posted on my Mother/Daughter blog at Today is the anniversary of Heather's death and the irony of this entry falling on this day is not lost on me.

Today, January 16, 2013, marks the second anniversary of Heather's death.  I had no way of knowing that these words, written by her in 2008 and by me in 2011, would be the blog post for her anniversary.  Re-reading them clarifies for me once again that this is truth.  The day Heather got in the car and drove to Texas when we specifically told her not to and when her friends advised against it, she suffered the ultimate natural consequence of rebellion.  And by that I simply mean that if she had not been in that car, on that rainy road so far from home, she wouldn't have died that way, at that time.  Of course, if it was her time, it doesn't really matter where she was.  But it certainly didn't seem like it was her time to go meet Jesus.

Anyway, I don't think she did it to rebel.  I think she did it because she had no way to reconcile her feelings and she honestly believed that driving to Texas to confront her love would somehow give her the peace that she had been seeking almost her entire life.  I don't blame her.  In fact, in the two years since her death I believe I have come to know her and understand her far better than I did while she was living.  

I don't want other parents and teens to wait until tragedy or trauma occurs to figure each other out.  That's why I post these blogs - hoping that the emotions and experiences of a mother and daughter can speak to others and help them better understand each other. 

“I got a pocket full of sunshine.”
No Date, 2008

Just tryin to get through today in 1 piece.  I’ve been struggling a lot lately w/ alota different things.  Something I choose not2 print on paper is completely out of my life now. 

Mom explained to me that rebellion is different than sin.  It’s sin, but it’s a different type. I laid it all down2 Jesus Sun. night @ Core, felt good 2 finally let go.  Then I prayed for like 45 min. & I finally felt peace w/ God on that area of my life.  No more… feels so good2 say.

I’ve had countless conversations w/ Mom talking about what we can do2 change me.  Mom would always say it’s natural4 me2 sin but when I got in  trouble, she’d say  she just couldn’t believe I would do something like that.  So I was always left feeling confused.  Did mom secretly give me credit & was she yelling @ me just bc that’s a parent’s job?  Nope… I’ve totally  misunderstood 4 so many yrs now.  But now that I do… I’m really gonna try & do better.  I wanna grow up & look back & feel proud, not disappointed.

I will strive to be better.
In Christ,
Heather Lee

Dear Heather,

I tried to explain the difference between sin and rebellion, but let me give another crack at the full explanation. Remember, this is my personal explanation of the difference as I see it. I’m not sure that I’m theologically correct, but in my mind these words have different meanings and help explain the difference between doing things that are wrong and consistently and knowingly doing what is wrong when we really know better.  Writing it is easier than saying it.  And you can also read it more than once until you understand.  It’s long, so bear with me. 

You asked an interesting question – “Did mom secretly give me credit & was she yelling @ me just bc that’s a parent’s job?”

This is a complicated issue to explain because it has so many layers.  But I will try to explain – at least as simply as I understand. 

First, everyone of us is directly accountable to God.  He is always first in your life.  In theory, that means he’s more important your parents.  And if God is directly telling you to do something different than what your parents say or do – choose God’s instruction. 

But because of the way God structured our world – that shouldn’t happen very often.  (That means you don’t need to get any bright ideas of using this as an excuse for disobedience!)  I can imagine a situation in which parents are abusing their authority and causing harm to their children, or where they are neglecting their duties.  In that case, it would be wise to seek help or refuge from another adult.

However, the idea that you are answerable directly to God from birth isn’t quite the way it is in practice.  Because God designed us to mature over time.  We aren’t born knowing and understanding everything.  We have to learn most of what we know.  There is no magic age for being fully physically and intellectually mature. And there is certainly no set age for reaching spiritual maturity.  Everyone matures at a different rate.

The physical changes are slightly more predictable.  For instance, a baby isn’t born walking.  But somewhere between 9 and 18 months, most every child who is not delayed or disabled will walk.   Speech fully develops somewhere between 15 months and 3 years.  Girls will begin to physically mature somewhere between 9 and 16. 

Intellectual maturity varies more because it often depends on the physical and emotional environment.  A child who is starving and malnourished, may not learn as fast as someone with a healthy diet. Parents who are spending every waking minute finding food for the family may not invest hours a day in the child’s learning environment.  Anyway, we all learn at different rates – although again, some things are fairly predictable.

I say all this because it matters in the way God set up our world.  God gives us parents to help guide us through life until we are ready to survive physically and make decisions on our own.  He gives us parents and instructs them to take care of their children and treat them as a blessing from Him.  He gives parents responsibilities – and one of the most important responsibilities is to “raise our children up in the love and admonition of the Lord.”  He also tells us to discipline our children in order to teach them - the same way God teaches us. 

In other words, parents are supposed to be the physical, earthly representation of your relationship with God.  When you are ready, your parents will move to the background and you will be directly accountable to God.  It often happens a little at a time.  With your parents turning over to you whatever you are ready to handle. 

Okay.  So – as best I understand it -  that’s how God planned it.  He could have made humans like some animals that leave their parents soon after birth and have to make it on their own from the beginning.  But he didn’t.  He made parents to be in relationship with their children.

Now lets jump over to the idea of sin and rebellion. Then I can answer your question and see if I can unconfuse you on paper when I answer your question.

Sin is sin.  It is simply anything we do that is against what God has told us.  Rebellion is one kind of sin.  But to me, rebellion suggests that we are intentionally and defiantly disobeying God or our parents or whoever. In other words, it isn't because we didn't know better or haven't matured enough to understand, it is because we CHOOSE to go rebel.  

We have already talked about the fact that since the fall of man when Adam and Eve stole the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, man was destined to sin.  As much as we might not want to sin, somehow, we can’t or don’t do it on our own.  God knew that we could never follow all the rules perfectly enough to get to Heaven like He originally planned.  And he wants us with Him. 

So He sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross to account for all our sins.  Jesus’ death means that we are no longer living under the law, but under grace.  We will still sin, but once we ask God for forgiveness and accept that Jesus is our Savior, we become Christians and we begin a new life in Christ.  All of our sins are forgiven.

But here’s the confusing part that we have talked about before … and we’ll probably talk about again.  When we become Christian, that does not mean we are free from sin. (Although some people claim we should be.)  It simply means we are free of the consequence of sin – which is death.  We will continue to sin because there is a battle between our old self and our new self.  But all we have to do is be sorry (repent) and ask for forgiveness and God forgives us. 

But - and there is that word again – that doesn’t free of us from the natural consequences of our actions.  Nor from the consequences that are imposed by parents or the law or some other authority.  So forgiveness isn’t a free ride.

Lets take an example from your life – something simple like sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to go party someplace.

The first time it happens, your friend is over and ya’ll are bored and your friend suggests that you sneak out.  You know that it is wrong.  You know that we will be upset.  You know that you will get punished IF you get caught.  But you are willing to take the risk (and hope you won’t get caught) simply because you want the thrill of the moment.  This is the first time you have done this, and you aren’t mature enough to think through all the possiblities and make a good decision.  So you go.

And you get caught.  And there are consequences.  And trust is broken.  And you are miserable. 

But you know what you did was wrong and you ask God for forgiveness and he forgives you.  It is done.

And then you do it again.  This time knowing the consequences, but still not mature enough to fully recognize and choose based on what you know.

And you don’t get caught.  So you do it again and again.  Sometimes, you recognize that it is wrong and you ask God to forgive you.  Sometimes, you simply don’t care. 

Until you are caught again.   Then, you lie to try to escape trouble.  You lie more to cover your other lies.

And there are consequeces.  And trust is broken.  And you are miserable.

And then you decide that everyone in authority over you is clueless.  They are ridiculous and stupid.  They have no idea how mature you really are and they don’t have any right to tell you what to do.  You are grown and you can do whatever you want. 

So you do it again.  Content in your decision that no one can tell you what to do.

At this point, you have clearly stepped over the line from simple sin (disobeying your parents, lying, etc) to rebellion.  You are intentionally choosing to go against your parents, God and anyone else that was put here to guide you.

Rebellion can be forgiven, just like disobedience and lying.  However, rebellion is a pattern of intentional sin done as much to show that you are in charge of yourself, as it is an act just because you think it’s fun. Rebellion is a slap in the face to God and your parents.  It says, I know I’m supposed to obey you but you don’t know what you’re talking about so I’m going to do what I want anyway.  I don’t really care  how you feel.

So, now we get to answering the question.  Because I know that we are all prone to sin, why am I surprised, angry, upset, hurt or whatever when you do sin?  Why do I give consequences if God has already forgiven you?

The answer is that when I am surprised or angry or hurt or upset or whatever – it’s because I think you have learned your lesson about that particular sin and I don’t expect you do to it again.  Or because I think you are intentionally choosing to go against me.  Or because you have broken my trust and that hurts me.

Sometimes, I am angry because I am scared.  When you took the car that night and I found out that you got stuck on the railroad tracks while a train was coming I sounded angry.  But I was really terrified.  I understood fully what might have happened.  I knew how dangerous the situation really was.  I knew that you could have killed yourself or someone else and that scares me.  And sometimes, when a parent is terrified – they sound angry.  Your sin affects me too.

And I give consequences because that is my duty as a parent.  To teach and train you.  The consequences aren’t necessarily a punishment (although it can feel that way).  Rather, they are designed to help you learn and remember the things you need to know. 

So you might notice a difference in my reaction to different things you do.  Sometimes, I know what you choose to do is a result of immaturity.  That you have made a mistake, realized it, and probably won’t do it again.  If you do that, I don’t have to do very much.  You have done it yourself.

Sometimes, I know that you know better, because we have been through the situation once or twice or ten times before.  I’m impatient and offended because I know that you know better and you choose poorly anyway.  In those cases, I have to continue giving consequences – not only to protect you from getting into that situation again – but also waiting on you to learn the lesson.

Sometimes, what you do – like lying – is very personal.  It literally hurts me when you lie to me because the core of any relationship is trust.  Without trust, your words are meaningless.  And that is not a good thing for anyone. 

I hope that all this fits together and makes sense like it does in my mind.  All I’m really trying to say is that my job is to teach and train and guide and protect you.  Your job is to obey and learn.  If you do, things will go well with you.  If you step outside our guidance, things may not go so well.

I love you.