Monday, May 9, 2011

Hazards of the Job

It’s been a few weeks now since I last “lost it” with my kids. I feel like I wear an electronic sign on my head that says, “23 days without incident.” What will it say tomorrow? “24,” I hope.

I’m a mom. Losing my patience is a hazard of the job.

Before having kids, I pictured my future self as the perfect balance of nurture and tough love, an embodiment of the fruit of the Spirit—always patient, always kind. Calm at all times. But then I gave birth to Jalynn—smart, passionate, strong-willed little J. My perfect (and unrealistic) plan wasn’t the only thing she’d break.

We were at the park at the time of my last incident. Jalynn was racing up the steep concrete steps that separate the duck pond from the playground. Malakye toddled behind his sister, failing in his attempts to keep up. Jalynn slipped and fell. The result? One tiny speck of blood and an emotional reaction fit for the victim of a broken limb. Her frantic sobs attracted a crowd—babies with worried looks, grandmas with first-aid kits and cell phones in hand, fingers poised to dial “911.” I tried to smile, to laugh it off as I hauled her like an awkward piece of furniture to the top of the hill and applied a small Dora band-aid to her tanned knee. I tried reasoning with her. But her cries only got louder. She had lost it.

Then so did I. Loud words, rough body language, angry eyes. Right there in front of the onlookers. I’m not sure what bothered me more—Jalynn’s embarrassing matinee or the fact that she’d thwarted my storyline for the day. I’d lost control (in more ways than one).

Back in the privacy of our mini-van, I cried the whole way home. My tears of frustration eventually gave way to a different kind—the tears that fall when I’m overwhelmed by Grace. I had lost it. I had failed my daughter that day. But He hadn’t. He still wanted to make something beautiful from my ashes.

A few minutes later, I put Malakye down for a nap and walked wordlessly into Jalynn’s room where she lay on her bed, dirt and dry tears staining her still-round face. I sat down next to her; she cuddled into my arms. “I’m sorry for the way I acted, baby,” I told her. Then I prayed simple words of confession and praise to our loving God.

We continued to sit quietly for a while, feeling each other breathe, resting in the cover of God’s perfect love.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Oh, to be a little girl again ...

(I originally began writing this piece as a work assignment.* But somewhere in the writing process it became deeply personal to me and morphed into what I've included here. And I want to share it with you.)

We were gathered for home church at some friends’ home when my dad got the call that his father had passed away. My grandpa had suffered a stroke several days before, and we all knew his remaining breaths were numbered. Dad stepped outside to take the call, and when he reentered the house a few minutes later, his eyes were red with tears that hadn’t yet fallen.

I knew I should say something, do something, feel something. After all, my dad had just lost his father. But I couldn’t shake the seeds of apathy that for years I’d allowed to take root in my heart. My grandpa was a religious man and could probably have quoted more of the King James Bible than anyone I knew. But he was human, and in his humanness, he’d made mistakes, mistakes that hurt people I love. So in this moment when my daddy needed someone to hug him, to hold him and give him permission to cry, I just stood by and stared.

Jalynn, not yet two years old at the time, was with us that evening. She didn’t understand strokes or death. But she did understand the heart of Jesus. So when her grandpa came back into the house, she walked over to him with her arms stretched out. He bent down and picked her up as she wrapped her chubby tan arms tightly around his neck and held on, his silent tears wetting her untamed curls.

Precious Jesus, forgive my own heart. I want to be a little girl again!

(*an edited version of this piece appears in a Tru Wonder Weekly Homefront. Check out Tru at

Monday, December 6, 2010

Life, Death, and Caterpillars

Jalynn almost killed a caterpillar last week. I was sure he was a goner when he slipped from Jalynn's still-toddler-like hands onto the cold tile kitchen floor. Panicked, she scooped up his limp body, petting him gently until he got his wiggle back. The joy of the miracle didn't last long, though. Minutes later, when J went to place him into the hard plastic insect cage that she and Daddy had furnished with cucumber slices, leaves, and several snail friends, her less-than-ginger release resulted in something that sounded a lot like "splat." The little green guy lay curled up, motionless.

In my very serious Mom voice, I informed her that he was probably dead, and gave my best "you need to be gentle" lecture to date. Jalynn's context for the concept of death is limited, at best. A couple months ago we came across a beautiful—but relatively foreboding—illustration in The Big God Story of the three crosses standing upon Golgotha. At first she was scared. Scared of the cross. Scared of "Jesus died-ing." Even scared of the clouds and thunder that accompanied the saddest hour in history. Soon, however, her fear turned to fixation. Every time we drive by a church or see an intersection sign, she shouts out from her backseat booster, "A cross, Mommy! A cross!" And each time we talk about it.

Me: "Why did Jesus die on the cross?"

Her: "Because He loves us so much."

Me: "What happened next?"

Her: "He got alive again!"

Sometimes Jalynn starts singing about the cross. Sometimes she asks me to pray about it. Sometimes we even talk about sin and forgiveness.

Sometimes we don't.

Tonight as we drove into the parking lot of the Chino Hills Public Library, Jalynn saw a cross on the steeple of a Catholic church across the street. The ensuing conversation was pretty typical. Only this time she told me she was sorry for all the bad things she did. She wanted Jesus to forgive her.

I parked the car and climbed into the back seat, popping a pacifier into Malakye's mouth—his temporary mute button. J climbed out of her seat and scooted her bottom next to mine. Eyes open and hands held palm-up, Jalynn prayed. She said "sorry" to Jesus, and she thanked Him for "died-ing." I helped her with next part. She didn't know all the words—but she understood them with more faith than I could dream mustering, even on my good days.

An hour later, she burst through the door, giddy.

"Daddy, I have Jesus in my heart!" she announced. "And the angels are having a birthday party for me in heaven."

Tomorrow we're going to bake a "Jesus in My Heart" cake and party like angels.

Anyone know if caterpillars like cake? Maybe we'll share some with our little friend, who, somehow, against all odds, "got alive again ... and again."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Angel Dresses and Flower Petals

Last Wednesday we packed up the sippy cups and fancy clothes and flew the friendly skies to Colorado for Megan and Brian's wedding. It was a big weekend for Flower Girl Jalynn. We arrived at the beautiful Black Forest wedding chapel a couple minutes late the day of the wedding. I tore Jalynn from her car seat and rushed her into the bridal party's dressing room, ripping off her polka-dot leggings and pink cotton dress as though they were tear-aways. Her tights, ivory dress, shoes, and crown of white flowers finally in place, I spun her around in front of the giant gold-framed mirror.

"Mommy, I look like an angel," she said. Her words brought me back into the moment. She was right. She did look like an angel.


About a week before the big day, Jalynn and I started watching wedding videos on YouTube. We glued ourselves to the computer screen as dozens of flower girls from all over the world walked the aisle, smiling and dropping their white flower petals along the way. So when the big day arrived, she was ready.

I watched what I could see of the processional from my post at the end of the front row. I couldn't see Jalynn until she was even with me. Her eyes were focused on the front. I could tell she was determined, driven, and, to my relief, past the threat of potential melt-down. I didn't, however, see any evidence of white flower petals scattered along the middle aisle. She joined me in my seat a few minutes later. A quick glance into her white satin basket confirmed my suspicions. She'd forgotten to drop her petals. My performance-driven, old self would've been quick to point this out. But I resolved not to say anything about it to her. Ever. Turns out, I didn't need to. About 20 minutes after the ceremony ended, Jalynn realized her own oversight.

"I forgot to drop my petals, Mommy!" she said.

"That's okay," I reassured her. But she had other plans in mind.

The two of us went back into the empty chapel, now entirely cleaned up. Jalynn walked down the aisle, smiling her huge, baby-tooth smile as white flower petals flittered from her fingertips. A minute later we gathered them back up into the basket. Both of us laughing the whole time.

On our way back home to my brother's house in Denver that night, I asked Jalynn what her favorite part of the whole day was. "Dropping my petals," she said. Her words brought me back into the moment. Again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Giving In

There are days when I think it’d be easier to just give in … To Jalynn's persistent pleas for more TV or fewer vegetables. To my taste buds’ cry for just one more Nutty Bar. To my body’s desire to nap all morning, afternoon, and night.

But most of all, there are days when I think it’d be easier to just give in to the enemy and give up the fight. To settle for ordinary—ordinary marriage, ordinary kids, ordinary existence.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was hot out. Really hot (even for southern California). We’d exhausted about every indoor activity in our reportoire—board games, pretend games, hopping and skipping and jumping games. There was just one thing left: the dreaded and always-messy watercolor paints. With a tiny brush in hand, Jalynn began crafting her newest masterpiece on a sheet of bright yellow paper. I recognized the circle and two lines as a three-year-old’s version of a person. “Who’s that?” I asked. “It’s you,” she explained. “You’re laying down on a bed at Jesus’ house.”

As He so often does, God used this often-defiant, vegetable-deprived little person to show me a piece of Himself. “Come to Me, and I will give you rest,” He seemed to say. “Lay on the bed at My house, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Following Jesus—inviting Him into each moment, then acknowledging and obeying His voice—sometimes feels like the opposite of giving in. In reality, it’s the ultimate act of surrender, of handing over the fight to the One who wears the gloves on my behalf. And it’s the only way to know true rest, to experience an extraordinary life, even in the ordinary moments.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two Dollars and Fifty Cents

Sometimes the best memories aren't free. Sometimes they cost two dollars and fifty cents. We moved to California two years ago. And when we did, Jalynn, then just 14 months old, was introduced to a new and exciting concept—the kiddie mall train. At first she whined and lunged at the tinny sound of the pre-recorded train whistle. A few months passed and her passionate whines turned into a passionate "Choo choo!" Now when we visit the mall she still looks longingly toward the oval track. "Mommy, please can I ride on the train, please?" But I am not a sucker for her please sandwich.

You see I'm sensible ... and cheap, really cheap. I am the self-declared queen of Ross clearance racks and Craigslist bargains and the proud owner of not one but two $5 pairs of brand named jeans. Instinct kicked in, and I clutched my purse a little tighter under my arm as I strolled our green plaid Graco by the mall train. Two dollars and fifty cents for a chinsy little ride around an oval track? Not a chance.

Yesterday Jalynn and Malakye went with their Aunt Jamie to the mall. I gave her a five to cover J's lunch. A frugalista in training, J ordered off the dollar menu. They had money to burn, so Jalynn finally got her ride on that train. I wasn't even there to see it. Around and around the oval track she chugged by for all the Tuesday morning shoppers and August-heat escapees to see. She did what every good three-year-old knows she should do—she waved at Jamie and smiled for her camera phone. But you see this isn't the same little girl who first spotted this magical ride two years ago. She's been to Disneyland, ridden on Space Mountain, and known the many thrills of Camp Snoopy (thanks, Craigslist, for the tickets). The train was fine. But it was no longer a priceless step towards independence. It was what it was—two dollars and fifty cents of fun.

In a couple months Malakye will undoubtedly start to lunge and whine as he passes by the mall train in that same green plaid stroller, now stained with strawberry Poptart and smelling like the beach. Only this time—while the magic is still in the train and a two-minute ride still represents the greatest two-minutes of independence he's ever known—I think I'll loosen my grip on my purse. At least just once.

Apparently whoever said the best memories are free never deprived her little girl of a ride on the mall train.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mostly Random Observations (21 Days' Worth) ...

It's been three weeks since my last entry, three busy weeks. Packed with life, a blur of family visiting, trips to the beach, and a couple firsts for Jalynn—her first fireworks show and Space Mountain ride. As I reflect on the past 21 days, I have nothing specific to say yet my mind is alive with things I don't want to forget. So here they are, the mostly random observations of a tired (but satisfied) mom, wife, and daughter:

My kids are friends. When one sees the other for the first time in the morning, they both light up. She sings. He giggles. She pulls him into a near-violent hug. He doesn't fight it. Tough little thing, that Malakye. Good thing he's built like his daddy. Tonight Jalynn confirmed what I had already observed. "We're friends, Mommy," she announced as she squeezed her little brother. She took the words right out of my heart. I wonder when my mom first noticed that Kory and I were friends? I wonder if she still notices?

Family. My family visited for a week. Parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece. A houseful. A glorious, most-of-the-time lovely houseful. What is it about being around my family whom I love so much that brings out the ugly in me? Don't get me wrong. It's not them; it's me. Really. (And no, we're not breaking up.) When I'm with them I so readily travel back to familiar unpleasant places that used to be all I know. I guess it's why alcoholics are never "recovered" but only "recovering," even after decades without a drink. People pleasing. Martyrdom (over the silliest little things). Insecurity. At times their affirmation means more to me than God's Himself. And I interpret any moment of unanticipated silence as disapproval. It's messed up. It's my flesh. It's evidence that transformation is a process and not yet a destination.

Swim lessons. Jalynn started swim lessons last week. It's adorable and hilarious and well worth the $56 we paid (if not in measurable swimming improvement than at least in memories). It's her and three other three-year-olds in Mr. Louie's class. On the first day he called their names and told them to "climb on." Then like a daddy duck, he swam his four ducklings out to a little raft in the middle of the pool, two on his back, one in the crook of each arm. While the other kids take turns practicing their kicks and bubbles and floats with Louie, Jalynn occupies herself by "going under water." What she thinks is full immersion is really just putting her head back just far enough to get her hair wet. The rest of the class were no-shows last Thursday. So J and Mr. Louie had 25 minutes of undivided time. He taught her how to go under water for real. One of the cutest things I've ever watched from a short distance. Do I do that? Tell myself (and sometimes others) I've gone under when really only my hair is wet?

Generosity. My parents are hands-down the most generous people I've ever known. They are also the most under-appreciated people I've ever failed to appreciate. Gifts. Time. Constant, unreciprocated service. Washing dishes. Watering flowers. Sewing buttons back on Jalynn's curtains to replace the ones she bit off while she was going through an oral phase after Malakye was born (yes, kids are weird). My parents are breathtaking, and I want to give like them when I grow up.

Confessions of a busy couple. Our pastor challenged everyone in church last week to confess their sins to someone sitting near them. Jimmy and I looked at each other. It'd been a fleshy week for both of us. And we had more to say than I had even realized. Six years of marriage—we've prayed together countless times. Shared, cried, and laughed together. But never had we straight-up confessed our sins to each other. And I sincerely hope it's not another six years before we do it again. Amazing.

Splat. Malakye army-crawled noggin-first into our sliding glass door yesterday. I looked up from my station at the kitchen sink just in time to see it happening (but not in time to stop it). Had I glanced a second or two earlier, would I have rescued him from certain mishap? Honestly, I'm not sure. You see, it was one of the sweetest, most heart-breaking things I've ever laughed at. Like an unsuspecting, chubby little bird. He didn't cry, just looked at me and grinned, which lessened my guilt a tad. Maybe I should stop washing the window so often (and by "so often," I mean once a month, on a good month).

Home. When Jimmy and I got married and moved into our first house together, I programmed our new number under "house" on my cell phone. My parents' number occupied the "home" spot in my contact list. It remained that way for several years. ... Almost two years ago while I was working full-time outside of the home I texted Jimmy one afternoon to say I was on my way home from work. My words: "Coming home." His reply: "To the place where you belong." We're moving again next month, this time to an area outside of LA that's closer to Jimmy's work and all-around more affordable. It'll be move #5 in just under six years. We checked out the area and a potential preschool for J last week before dropping my mom off at LAX. Pretty much circled all of southern California in one afternoon. Before the last leg of the journey Jimmy typed "home" into the GPS. A cute little house icon shows up when you program in your home address. I had never noticed this before. Seeing it brought these little things back to me—my cell phone contact list, the sweet text message—and I realized that I am home. More than ever before. And perhaps as much as I'll ever be until I really am Home.