Friday, August 28, 2020

Not Quite Grown


           I have a daughter who thinks she's grown, but she's not quite. A few months ago the State of Iowa gave her a driver's license. To her this is a badge of Freedom. She is head strong when I talk to her.

"Mom I know," she will say, "I took driver's Ed."  

     I have lived a long time now. I have had to renew my driver's license many times and some how the picture comes out more disappointing every time.  I have one question, why can't we smile in the photo? I mean really? I am concerned about the depressing mugshots we all are required to carry in our wallets and purses.  

     Seriously though, do I have the attitude that I have arrived. I took the class on life and there is nothing else to learn? I seriously hope I don't slip into that attitude, but I know sometimes I do. 

     I remember the confidence I had going into becoming a parent. I had a clear road map of what it would be like after reading What to Expect When Your Expecting.  But on the way home from the hospital all that confidence seemed to fly out the window as I sat in the back seat next to my tiny son. He wasn't a Premie, he was an average size at birth; 8 Lbs, 3 ounces. He looked like a little pink ball in the huge car seat, and I couldn't get his head to lay back comfortably. 

     Where were the directions? I remember thinking. But over time ... It's hard not to feel like You've got this.

      In a home of children in the teenage stage I realize I am back to a place of question. How do I raise these brilliant kids in a dark world? In the age of social media and cell phones I find myself wishing I could smash it all with a hammer and go back to a simpler time. When friends had to call you on their land line to go to a mall you had to get out of your car to shop in.

    The truth is we can't go back to the 90's. We are in a new time and I am getting more unsure of myself everyday as the world gets increasingly darker, so where do I turn in all the chaos?

    I am learning to catch myself when I act as if I know it all. I am starting to stop myself and look up. I am starting to pray to the Lord instead of lean on my own understanding. Could prayer be as simple as the Lord's Prayer Jesus laid out to his disciples in Matthew 6:9-13.

Our Father which art in Heaven Hallowed be Thy Name

     When I pray this, I essentially admit that God is on a different level than I am. I invite his wisdom that is greater than my own to change my perspective. 

Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven

    What if life is not summed up in all I can see with my physical eyes. Perhaps on the road to life I can't see the full picture. There are blind spots. When I acknowledge God's perspective, when I see His kingdom is greater than my own then I can make room for his Voice to navigate my life.

 Give us this day our daily bread. 

      I need to know that I am not alone. I need help with raising children, and over time I can stop asking for help and just try to deal with the demands parenting brings on my own. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that my own way of dealing isn't the best way. I need a bigger perspective. When I acknowledge that I need God, I open my heart to a possibility of gaining a wisdom bigger than myself.

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil 

for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever


     Praying this phrase reminds me that I may have a driver's license for life but I see that God is the one in control. I want to live in such a way that I reflect his hope, joy, and healing to the broken world around me. And as I raise this almost grown girl, I want to look to a wisdom that is higher than my own. 

     Sometimes I may think that I am grown, but I'm not quite. I'm still in a process and that is okay. I am gaining hope as I turn to God in prayer. Life is uncertain these days, but I am reminded again this morning that God is good, and so today I give him permission to Take the Wheel.      


Friday, July 31, 2020

Little Red Curls

      I have a friend who has a daughter with carrot red curls. This baby's fine curls stop you in your tracks. The perfect ringlets make it hard not to reach out your hand to touch them.

I asked my friend one day, "How did you get her curls to look like that?"

   I have worn my natural curls without apology all my life. In the 90's when perms were all the rage it was easy, but when the 2000's hit with the flat iron taking hairstyle's main stage I declined the pressure to conform and live a straight hair life. But taking care of curls is not as easy as it may appear, as I look at this little sun-kissed face under the halo of auburn curls what I saw, more than anything, was her mother's love and care for her.

   It takes a lot of work just to allow this little one's hair to curl in all its glory. It reminds me how hard it is to raise our children and cultivate their uniqueness. The challenge to look beyond the struggles and moods is daunting. To piece together a plan for the child to shine in all her glory can even seem impossible.

     I realize now that I misunderstood the Christian life when I thought my kids would blindly follow in my footsteps if I just pointed them to Christ. Unfortunately, I forgot the first story of the Heavenly Father and his kids, Adam and Eve. I never thought raising them to know God would be a spiritual battle every single day. 

    Sometimes I wish I could go back to the Preschool years and repair what I missed when I had three children back to back. Later on, I wish I was more present when they came running home from school to show me their projects and their achievements. I wish I celebrated the small things more often. In those years I was chasing my own ambition and trying to balance a thousand plates like some Chinese acrobat from Taipei.

    No I didn't make it without dropping some major plates...

    And today I am feeling low. After spending hours last night in conversation with one of my almost grown, I couldn't help but feel the sting of my short comings.

"I'm Sorry," I heard myself saying.

     Now I'm sounding like my Father.  When I was a teenager after an argument I would slam my bedroom door. Without fail in a few minutes I would hear a knock and his voice gentler now, Dianne I'm sorry...

      I remember thinking if he didn't lose his cool he wouldn't have to apologize. 

     Now I realize how much love it took to make peace with an unreasonable teenage girl. Now I know that tough conversations with our kids are risky but worth it in the long run. I finally see how his muffled apology through my slammed bedroom door groomed my heart to find a man that cared about my thoughts and not just my appearance.

    As I looked at my own troubled child my heart hurt with I didn't mean to let you down!
       I don't like saying "I'm doing the best that I can" but I can't help feeling like I am raising these children in the dark sometimes. I hate the moments when I realize as much as I wanted to walk in wisdom I fell short. That is when faith comes in.

     My Sons and daughters will you trust me to try my hardest? Will you still love me when I mess up royally? Will you still forgive me on the 78th time for the same annoying habit? Will you continue to love me if I smother you? Even when I know I shouldn't. I am trying to let the sticks build up in the nest so these young almost adults will find their wings... but it is wrecking me.

     Parents, am I alone here? I look at my Facebook feed I see more of my peers turning gray in their season of raising teenagers. I see wrinkles gathering in the corners of their eyes and the furrows in their brow. I understand and I forgive my own face for reflecting the sleepless nights, the stress and heaviness this season has brought.

    Today I don't feel like I have even a kernel of wisdom to share.

    Even when I want to give up there is hope. Sure in this present moment there are some major road blocks, but somehow I still believe. That somehow is the Holy Spirit who lives in me. At first appearance I look like a meek little lamb, but on the inside there is something fierce like a lioness.

It is true, I am a Jesus Freak. I have been known to sing it out loud without apology, but somehow in my own home I can get really quiet. Some how in an effort to listen, to lead gently I can slip into a lambs skin...

         but just in case I forget who I am,
         who God says I am, who God says my offspring are 
         I am pausing right now to let out my roar.

     I love how my friend takes time to care for the little details in her daughter's life. She gently cares for her natural curls so they will bounce and shine. I am thankful that God has given the mother's heart the ability to look into all the details. It is our way, and when the times get tough I am also thankful for the firm foundation I come back to again and again. The rock that is higher than I.

    If you are discouraged today gather up your faith. Tend it carefully for it is secret to our strength as women. It is our strength in times of long suffering and on the road of parenting those times will come upon us all. So tend your heart, allow God to encourage you from the inside out.  

We've got this.

Friday, July 24, 2020

From Sorrow to Praise

I saw you tonight on the track. The pink sky cast a golden haze across the black surface as my shoes hit again and again. I saw your blue eyes there between the night sky and my revere, intense like the ocean waves. You were intense, I remember, with a smile as I finish the first mile.

 You were my friend first because our youngest daughters were in the same Sunday school class. Your little girl was white blond with the same brilliantly blue eyes. My little Lydia had my brown eyes. They shared an affinity for Princesses. I learned that you had a passion for the Word of God and raising the four children God had given you. You loved a good bargain and had a green thumb. But more than anything you cared deeply and put your whole heart into everything you put your hand to.

 I marveled at the story of how you found out you were expecting your youngest. You laughed as you told me how you couldn't believe you were going to have another baby at the age of 40. I remember thinking I would not even dream of doing that. Time passed. Our little girls had birthday parties and started school. Our lives became busier with my work and the sport schedule of your kids. Each one of them so important to you.

 Then one day you came to see me. There were storms brewing in your eyes. The Oncologist had found cancer again. This time it had spread to other areas, the report wasn't good. I sat with you for a few hours as you told me about an alternate treatment you were trying. I listened unsure of what to say. I silently hoped that the new treatment would do what reports had said it had done for others. I wanted to believe as I prayed for God to heal you. Then we hugged, it was like saying Amen.

 Months flew by before I saw you again. Your oldest boy was in his Senior year. You were frustrated because you wanted him to do his very best. I don't think those blue eyes could see how amazing your kids were turning out. But I sat and listened and prayed. When I found out I was pregnant at 39, I thought of you instantly. By that time you had been struggling with the diagnosis for over two years. Your hair was cut short which made you even more beautiful. I whispered the news to you first at a luncheon held at the church. As others were talking about the most recent NFL game I was whispering my surprise to you. I will never forget how your eyes lit up and your face burst into a huge grin. I hugged your thinning frame as we shared that moment. You remembered your own story as I shared mine under whispering tones surrounded by people.

 Later that year I visited you at home. Hospice had come in to care for you. Even on your bad days you would gather your strength to talk and laugh and recount that crazy year you were expecting your little Olivia, now 10 years old. We laughed and prayed and sang and shared scripture. Even in the pain your blue eyes glistened with hope for the future. You had hoped to live to see her graduate from high school. Although you hated cancer you loved life and believed all the way to the end that Jesus would raise you up off the bed of sickness.

 The day before I went into the hospital to have the baby I came to visit you one last time. Your family greeted us as so many others had gathered. Pictures of your pretty smile flashed on the television screen. I could hear the quiet melody of Amazing Grace playing over head as family and friends gathered to comfort your husband and your four kids. I stopped to look at you resting in the casket. As I looked at the shell that remained of the strong vibrant woman I knew I thought cancer never won, you had rung every drop of life out of your days.

 Your handsome oldest son now in college stood tall as I whispered, “Michelle, he made it.You did so good.” As I spoke to your older daughter who had the same intense blue eyes I cheered for you again. Tears welled up for your third, my son's friend, as he looked lost standing in line with his siblings and grieving father. My heart hurt most for your little Olivia. The one you didn't expect to have, your surprise. It didn't seem right that she would have to grow up without this amazing woman to mother her.

 "Good bye," I whispered to you. I really whispered to an empty casket because the Michelle I knew was free from her body of sickness. The Michelle I knew was dancing on streets of gold and sitting at the feet of the ultimate bible teacher. The Michelle I knew was no longer fighting cancer. The Michelle I knew was finally free. The next day as I was in labor I couldn't stop thinking about you. I kept asking the Lord, Why? I never saw you waiver in your faith that God could do the impossible for you. You sang a song of healing all the way to your final breath.

 The hospital room was dark, the hour was 3:00 PM, when I started to praise. I didn't feel like praising God. He had just taken my dear friend home before I felt she was needed. The contractions were intense and the Pitocin given every half hour didn't seem to be working toward my induction, but in the midst of my pain and suffering I began to praise with this simple phrase, God you are good. Your blue eyes were glimmering in my mind's eye as I praised the God of heaven and earth again. God you are good. I gave the Lord all the sorrow for you and for me, I surrendered it there.

 God you are good.

 The nurse came into the room as I asked for an epidural. But before she could give me one my son was born. I named him Judah, which means Praise. Every time I look into his eyes I think of that first day, the day of his birth. The day my grief turned to praise.

 As I run the length of the track I hear your faith in the quiet breeze of this summer night. I remember you, Michelle, tonight through labored breaths and the burn of muscles moving toward the finish. I will never know why you were taken too soon, but I have learned from you. I am raising my little Judah surprise with joy for today, for this moment.

As I think of you I remember life is short, it is unpredictable. But I refuse to give into the fear of what tomorrow holds. My work out is over and I am drenched in the summer's humidity and again I am grateful for my old friend, the one with the beautiful blue eyes. And as the last of the sun sets behind the trees I whisper, Michelle, I will see you again.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Graduation Day

      I remember when I became a parent I was confident. I was confident I was ready. I was 24 years-old. On maternity leave from a preschool teaching position, I was sure I had it all under wraps. The nursery in our little home was painted baby blue with little stars on the ceiling. Tiny clothes were folded with care and put into the refurbished dresser I painted to match the theme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. 

         Then in the middle of the night on a Sunday morning my water broke. No more prepping for this baby boy, he was coming. I remember the excitement that I felt as we drove to the hospital before the labor became intense.  I didn't appreciate the nursing students that were invited into the room as I roared through the contractions. In the arms of the doctor his angry cry filled the room as he peed on the doctors shoes, a detail Isaiah would boast about later. 

I loved him instantly.  

          I hoped he would always be strong like he was in his first moments in this world. It must have felt bewildering to be pushed into bright light and cold air and loud voices. But when they gave him to me I cried. His tiny fist clutched instantly around my finger, he was mine.

          Four years later I held his hand as we entered the narrow hall toward his Preschool classroom. I had to let go to hang up his tiny backpack on the hook by his name printed neatly above his cubby. The teacher waited for us with a warm smile. I smiled down at him knowing tears threatened to appear. For a moment he struggled. Beyond his teacher the room was full of wonderful things and other children coloring, playing with plastic kitchen food, and handling puppets. He took in one more hug before he slowly joined the rest of the kids. I remember leaving that day sadly wondering where four years had gone.  

         Our home has never been quiet. After Isaiah, Elaina and Lydia came quickly. Isaiah was a good student. He knew his ABC's before the first day of preschool, in fact he could already read. We knew he was bright but also shy. We hoped he would fit in.

        How did the years fall like leaves on an autumn day? How did my my little brown haired boy grow up so quickly? I have a hard time writing about this present moment. Again he is standing at the door. Life is standing before my boy welcoming him to leave the nest I have worked hard to create these past eighteen years. As he puts on his graduation gown I smile bravely. He made it to this important milestone and I know from this point on I have to let go so that he can find his wings to fly.

       Any parent  reading this right now knows that this process though crucially important is also very difficult. I look up at his face and his slender frame towering above me at 6 Feet tall. His hugs are a precious gift though a little awkward now. I cherish the, Mom I love you I hear from his deepening voice.

        There is a pain in my heart. As the sense of the past 18 years surges through my memory bank. I sit in the stands in the high school gym. The air filled with the smell of hairspray, perfume, and hand sanitizer. As the families spread out keeping social distance we silently watch our sons and daughters file into the room to take their seats. Because of the pandemic of COVID 19 I didn't have to face this moment quite as early as normal. I am thankful for the last few months. I am thankful for the long conversations into the night.

         As a parent I am not as confident as I thought I would be. I realize that faith has played a huge part in raising this son. How I have hoped to get it right, and I pray for grace to cover the areas I got wrong. 

        As the Principle announces my first born's name I watch as he walks across the platform. The diploma is placed in his hand. For a moment I think back to the anticipation I felt on the night before his birth. Standing in his nursery. I remember how confident I had been before this adventure was born. 

      Now I hold my hands out to God and I release this boy. I pray, Lord watch over this precious son you have given me. I know he will now have to start his own journey in this world. And though tears are pressing I am confident that he will find his way. 


Friday, June 12, 2020

Happy Birthday to Me

 It is early. The alarm went off but my eyes didn't want to open. Then I remembered, today is my birthday. I am getting up early to enjoy the whole day. The sun is shining through the drawn curtains as the moving shadow of the near by wind turbine reminds me that I live on a farm. 

      I never thought I would live on a farm. I never thought I would marry a Pastor. I never thought I would be able to do all the things I have done or traveled outside the country to South America, Africa, and India. I never thought I would have four children. In fact, I never thought through what my adult years would look like, but here I am, turning 43 years old today.

     I don't like that number. Ever since I turned Forty I hear the whispers of "over the hill." These words come from inside more than outside, although my teenagers definitely feed this insecurity. As I look in the mirror I see the lines that life has forced into appearance. But I also see the wisdom that has grown through living and learning.

    I don't speed down the country highway by my house anymore, because though it is scenic I still got pulled over going 80 in a 55. When the officer asked me why I was going so fast I stammered out an explanation.  But to be honest, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon so I floored it. 


   I am presently in the season of teenagers. A time when I am learning to choose my words carefully. A season spent on my knees interceding for my three almost grown. 

   So what do we do when time keeps going and life is demanding?

   For some reason when I ask this question I think of my grandmother, on my Father's side, Grandma Tullis. In her golden years we would sit in her front room together. Sometimes our conversation centered around her purplish-blue Morning Glories. Sometimes she would talk about the poems she wrote after her early morning walks. Her favorite topic to discuss by far though, in her own words, The Lord. 

    When I think of her I feel proud that she bought a piano in her Fifties so she could learn how to play hymns. I remember gathering in the living room as a family to hear her play. Afterward my cousin and I would sit on the piano bench together to tinker around on the ivory keys. Her piano is now in my basement, it is one of my treasures. I still run my finger across the metal sticker on the lid that says Jesus is Lord thinking of grandma.
      I vividly remember the pew the whole Tullis family sat on at the Baptist church every Sunday.  It was hard to sit quietly in my Sunday best. But as she looked down the pew at all of us, I knew she was proud to have us there. She came to know Jesus as her Savior later in life, and she was never entirely free of the rough edges, and neither am I. But she loved her God and as we sat talking together her love for Jesus spilled out.

    Some how as I get older I see her in the mirror. I see the optimistic attitude to keep trying new things. To keep noticing the little things. One of her favorites was to spot cardinals on her early morning walks. Thinking of her reminds me of the happy ring of her laughter, when my dad told a funny story.  I see her warm smile encouraging me, "Dianne you pray so beautifully. "

    When I was 20 I could never picture being 43. That would be out in the future, somewhere after marriage and children, but I have arrived.  
    And in this moment I realize the most important thing I have learned, I learned from Arlene Tullis, Love the Lord. So I have, and oh the adventures I have been on. As a twenty year-old I looked at life fearfully wondering if I could actually live life bravely. But through my faith in Jesus Christ I have been amazed at the courage He has given me.

    So today as I face another milestone I am excited to embrace 43. I know that God is with me and life with Him is an exciting pursuit. 
   Friends I know it is hard not to battle fear at this time in our country, but there is Hope. My grandmother found her Faith in her Fifties, and she passed it down to the next generation. It is my prayer that I too am passing it down to my children. 

 Thank you Grandma Tullis for your faith, it has meant the world to me. 
  So when time keeps going and life is demanding I encourage myself and I encourage you, don't give up. Dig deep to find Faith and don't ever stop trying and looking for the little wonders in life.

Happy Birthday to me.   

Saturday, May 30, 2020

On the Edge of the Ocean

      It felt good to sink my feet into the wet sand. My freshly painted toe nails stood out against my tanning feet as the clear salt water rushed over them. The roar of the ocean was only disturbed by the seagulls call over head and the giggling laughter of my two year-old as he ran along the edge of the water. The sun over head warmed our mid-western skin.

    Behind us two teenage girls sunned themselves on lawn chairs we had rented. Their phones were in the air as they posed for selfies. I watched them for a moment behind sunglasses and underneath a baseball cap. I didn't want to burn my face. The water was warm at my feet so I took another few steps to let the waters surge around my ankles before they went back into the ocean.

    Judah fell and salt water splashed into his mouth. He spit and sputtered before wiping his face on my cover-up. In a moment he was back to running, jumping, and exploring. I stood looking out upon the vast waters. Little white dots lined the horizon, I knew they were boats but I couldn't make out what type they were. I was hoping to see a dolphin, but the waters were quiet this mid morning on Treasure Island beach.

    I smiled thinking of our time as a family. We had loaded the plane in Iowa relatively quickly. We had found our rental van without a hitch. We drove from Orlando Florida down to the coast through a rain storm but now the clouds were gone. The beach vacation was in full swing.

    I have given up the notion that we will gather around the table to play a board game. We have never been able to play more than one round of Monopoly without a major upset. My favorite game Boggle doesn't even interest anyone. We have never been into playing cards, but the ocean I was sure would bring us together. We are from Iowa, a state that only boasts of fresh water lakes as crystal clear as a glass of muddy water.

    I looked up the coast to see Brad walking, thinking, maybe praying. Family takes a lot of prayer. Who knew that six individuals would have a hard time seeing eye to eye. We are in the midst of the teenage years when Parents are stupid morons that don't know anything about anything. I encourage myself that I grew out of this stage and they will too...

Please Lord, hear my prayer. 

    At the edge of the welcoming waters I linger not sure I want to get wet. My hair will be a disaster and what if there is a jellyfish. Before I can take another step a red bikini splashes past me. The younger daughter calls out, "Mom get in, its perfect!"

    She wants to be with me? My heart grows warm with joy. This is a rare treat these days. So I run in, Cover-up discarded on the beach as sunglasses and hat are cast aside. The waters drench every inch of me. My hair unbound flows freely under the waves. The tingle of salt covers me from head to toe and I submerge next to my happy faced girl. We chatter as the waves carry us. The puffy white clouds smile down on us in blue and white.

    This is what I had hoped for.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 1Corinthians 13:4-7