5 Summer Survival Tips For The Mom Who Is About To Lose Her Ever-Loving Mind

It was 11:00 on the first day of summer break when I heard the words, “I’m bored.”

Eleven o’clock in the morning! On the very first day of summer! My kids had only been awake for a handful of hours when they managed to utter those dreaded words. The words that cause mothers everywhere to lose their ever-loving minds.

Of course I responded with the tried and true momism: “If you tell me you are bored, I will find something for you to do.” (This phrase must be uttered in a voice that sends chills down your children’s spines. It works best when accompanied by laser beam eyeballs, one finger pointing at a mound of dirty dishes and the other at the overflowing laundry basket.)

I love summertime. I really do. I love sleeping in and going to the lake and watching movies in our pajamas at noon. I love not having the pressure of homework weighing down our evenings. I love the ability to spend loooooooong hours with my children.

But sometimes I feel like I might lose my mind.

Having six children home all day long means I can never find a quiet minute alone to write, or answer emails, or pee. Summer break means instead of the regular meal schedule….

 

We have the bottomless pit meal schedule….

The summer meal schedule is designed to keep me in the kitchen all the live long day. It also guarantees there is never a clean dish in the house. Speaking of dishes, I only have six children so why at the end of every day are there five thousand three hundred seventeen dirty cups lining the countertops?

To help ensure my survival and the survival of our species, I have put together a list of my Top 5 Summer Survival Tips. We have made it this far, fellow parenting heroes. We are more than halfway through summer break. Let’s finish strong.

Survival Tip #1 – Give Them A Schedule

Summertime is about freedom and flexibility, but we can still provide some kind of routine. Children thrive on structure. It doesn’t have to be military-esque. We need just enough schedule to keep our sanity. Even though it is summer, I still enforce a loose bedtime. Around here the summer bedtime is 10:30ish. Sometimes we stay up late to finish a movie. Sometimes we have sleepovers and stay up all night. My oldest knows he is the last one to go to bed so his bedtime is usually closer to 11:30. Despite the variations, everyone understands that around 10:30 on most nights I will be sending them off to brush their teeth and wash their face. Having a loose bedtime cuts down on the daily arguments about how late they should be allowed to stay up.

I also have a meal schedule. I hate rummaging through bare pantries and empty vegetable drawers at five o’clock, trying to figure out what to feed my starving children. It helps me to have a dinner menu planned out for the week. I make my menu every Sunday and grocery shop every Monday. Having a dinner schedule also provides security for my children. Coming from a history of hunger and malnourishment, they tend to worry about their next meal. I hang the menu in a prominent place to provide reassurance that I will in fact feed them, as I have fed them every night for as long as they have known me. This also helps to eliminate the oft-repeated and delirium-producing question, “What’s for dinner?”

Survival Tip #2 – Give Them Chores

I know, I know. This does not sound like summertime fun. I am not saying my children enjoy chores. They complain just enough to let me know they don’t appreciate it. But they don’t whine too much. If my kids give me a hard time about doing one chore, I have them do two chores instead. They have learned to keep their whining to a minimum.

We do chores all year long, not only during the summer, but having children home all day means there is more mess to clean and more hands to help clean it. I can’t do it all alone and I shouldn’t have to. Every single day my children help with something around the house. Taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, folding the laundry, feeding the dogs. These kinds of chores often take less than ten minutes to complete, but they teach life skills. I want to raise my children to be fully capable adults and this includes being able to do their own laundry and clean their own toilets. You are welcome, future spouses.

Survival Tip #3 – Have Fun With Them

I am not here to entertain my children all day long. They need to be able to entertain themselves. However, I am here to have fun with my children. I don’t sit back and watch my children participate in all of the fun activities, I join them. I don’t want to miss out on summertime memories.

Plan a lake day, put on your swimsuit, and jump in the water. Go on a bike ride. Take them bowling and show them how you throw a gutter ball. Walk down to the corner store, get an ice cream cone, and lick it while it melts sticky on your fingers. Stay up too late and watch a movie. Pull out the board games and sit down to play with them.

We have done all of these things this summer and I do not regret even one of them. I don’t want to be on the sidelines of my children’s memories, I want to be smack-dab in the middle.

Survival Tip #4 – Read

A good book is like a good friend, you can spend hours together and it will seem like only minutes. Find the good books. Give them to your children. Enlarge their world.

Four of my children are avid readers. It is easy to walk into any bookstore or library and find a stack of books they are eager to dive into. Two of my children struggle to read. It takes more work on my part to find a book they are willing to spend time with. I take the subjects/people/sports they enjoy in real life and look for books related to this topic. My daughter loves to play soccer. I found some biographies on professional women soccer players. She devoured them. My youngest loves superheroes and anything related to science. He is smart and inquisitive and asks a million questions, but he doesn’t enjoy reading. Here are some books I found to tempt him with.

While your children are reading, you might be able to enjoy a good book yourself. Here are my top three picks, the books I most enjoyed reading this summer. You guys, these books were AMAZING. I highly recommend adding them to your summer reading list.

Photo Cred: my daughter Leah.
Bonus tip: allow your children to be involved with your projects. Create opportunities for them to work alongside you. They will feel valued.

Survival Tip #5 – Sprinkle Grace All Over It

Here’s the truth: I struggle with mom-guilt. My children are finally old enough to stay home alone but I feel guilty when I leave them too often. I work outside the home three mornings a week. I also have an editor who appreciates it if I meet my deadlines. Add to that grocery shopping, running errands, taking children to appointments, etc. Life is busy and I find myself feeling guilty that I am not spending enough time with my children.

Sprinkle grace all over that.

I worry I allow my children to spend too much time on electronics. I have loose boundaries on screen time, but the boundaries are fluid and change depending on my schedule. If I am working, they get more time. If I am home, they get less. If I am tired, cranky, and close to loosing my mind, they get more time. If I am well-rested, caffeinated, and ready to play, they get less. If I read an article about online predators, the dangers of social media with teens, or how computer screens are scientifically proven to rot your brains, I unplug everyone forever (or until my next article is due and I am faced with the reality of working from home.)

Sprinkle grace all over that.

Our summers are going to be loud and busy. Our kids are going to have fun and they are going to get bored. We are going to enjoy the lazy summer mornings and we are going to count down the days until school starts again.

Sprinkle grace all over it and enjoy the beautiful chaos of summer.

Blessings!

When You Hear The N-Word at Church

Warning: contains explicit language.

My daughter’s words dropped heavy in the air between us.

She pulled the comforter up over her head so I wouldn’t be able to see her. She hid her face from me while she cried.

I sat on the edge of her bed and drew a deep breath, the nasty words echoing in my mind. I tried to push down the anger that tightened the back of my throat as I gathered my thoughts. How should I respond?

I had known something was wrong as soon as she got in the car after youth group. Her sisters and brothers were chattering away in the back seat, but she turned her face to the window and stared quietly into the dark. She was withdrawn during the ride home and then escaped quickly to her bedroom.

I managed the chaos of our nightly bedtime routine and when I finally had everyone else settled and tucked in, I climbed the stairs to her bedroom.

It took another twenty minutes to convince her to tell me what was wrong.

“Erin* (not her real name) and I were walking through the parking lot before youth group. I told her I liked the shiny black car parked in front of the church and she said to me, ‘Oh. Not that car. It is nigger colored.’ Then she kind of covered her mouth with her hand, giggled a little bit and said, ‘Oops. Sorry.’ But I don’t think she really was sorry.”

The comment had pierced my daughter’s heart and festered there for the rest of the night. By the time she got home and climbed into bed, she couldn’t contain the hurt anymore. She didn’t understand why her friend would say this to her.

I rubbed her back and talked about ignorance. I told her those kinds of words are a reflection of the person who says them, not the person who hears them. I reminded her we don’t find our identity in what other people think about us, but in the One who created us.

But nothing I said really mattered in that moment. She needed some time to process her feelings and a little extra love from her mother while she did it.

When she cried herself out, I kissed her beautiful coffee-colored cheek and said her prayers. I walked softly out of the room, afraid to shatter her still-fragile feelings.

I thought about calling Erin’s mother. I know her well. She is my friend. She would be horrified if she knew Erin said that word to my daughter. She would sit her down immediately and have a serious talk with her.

Then I thought, Why has she not already had this talk? Why has she not discussed the vile meaning and devastating implications of this word? Why has she not impressed upon her children the importance of never using this word, even in jest?

There is the possibility that she did talk about all of those things and still her daughter chose to use that word. But there is also the possibility that this is a conversation she has never considered having with her children.

Have you?

When you talked to your children about their behavior — about coarse language, profanity, or bullying — did you discuss the n-word? Did you single it out and explain its origins? Did you talk about the dark underbelly of our country’s history? Did you tell your children that this particular word is not the same as other curse words? This word wields more power. It carries the weight of hundreds of years of slavery and institutionalized racism.

Dictionary.com says The term nigger is now probably the most offensive word in English. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive. A contemptuous term used to refer to a person of any racial or ethnic origin regarded as contemptible, inferior, ignorant, etc.”

It is not a word white parents like to discuss with our children. It makes us uncomfortable. We don’t know how to deal with the feelings associated with it: feelings of guilt and shame, feelings of unease surrounding racial tensions we don’t fully understand. We worry we might further perpetuate racial divides. We wonder if we can properly address the topic. We don’t know what is okay to say and what is not.

Why do some people whisper the word “black” and cut their eyes to me when we discuss my children’s heritage?

Not because they are racist.

But because they don’t know if it is proper for them to use this terminology.

Why did the lady standing behind me in line at the department store say to her friend, “I don’t know what to call them anymore. They don’t want to be called African American because they are not from Africa. What word should I use when I talk about them?”

I almost turned around and said, “People. Human. Brother. Sister. Friend. Take your pick. There are plenty of appropriate words to use.” But I held my tongue and stood facing forward, thankful my children were not with me to hear.

Of course, if my children were with me, she never would have had this conversation with her friend. She felt free to say these things because none of our African American brothers and sisters were nearby.

Parents, we must take it upon ourselves to teach our children. Ignoring the racial tension in our country is not going to make it disappear. Feeling uncomfortable about discussing it does not give us a free pass. Let’s accept the challenge of training up the next generation to be better than we are.

I will lay it out for you.

African American? Okay.

Black? Okay.

Nigger? NOT OKAY.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the complexities surrounding this issue. I know there are nuanced layers to the word and its history. Many steps need to be taken to begin to heal the racial tensions in our country.

Let me tell you step one.

Talk to your children. Tell them about that word. If they don’t understand it, they might feel free to use it. Not because they are racist, but because they are ignorant. And the fault for their ignorance will rest squarely on your shoulders.

I am not claiming to be an expert on this topic. This is not a comprehensive discussion on all things race-related. In fact, I am probably getting some things wrong and ruffling some feathers while I do it. But at least I am talking about it. I am trying my best. I am willing to make a misstep if it means I am moving in the right direction.

Let me finish with this: My daughter is going to meet people who think less of her because of her skin color. She is going to have to fight harder to be granted the same privileges my white children will be automatically afforded. She is going to hear this nasty word again in her life.

Please do your best to ensure it is not coming from the mouth of your child.

Thank you.

I Would Rather Be Stupid Than Fat

The girls stood at the finish line and laughed at me.

“Look at her stomach. It jiggles like jello.”

“I can hear her fat screaming for help.”

“Thunder thighs! Ugh. If I had her legs I would never wear shorts.”

My face burned with embarrassment as I pretended I couldn’t hear their taunts. I finished my lap and quickly escaped to the locker room.

I dreaded PE. Every day it was the same. The constant teasing about my weight never got any easier to deal with. I developed strategies for changing out of eyesight, often hiding in the bathroom stall and waiting until the other girls left. I started wearing baggy sweatshirts to school, even on the hottest of days, hoping to hide my body and my shame.

Seventh grade was a hard year for me. A new city. A new school. Three months of homelessness. Bullying. It was the year of the urine-soaked shoes and the lack of toilet paper (read the story here). Food became my comfort. I ate to make myself feel better about life. Cookies and ice cream were my friends when I didn’t have any others. The girls at school made me the target of their teenage angst and I was lonely.

Thirteen year old girls know how to use their words like weapons.

So do thirty year old women. But by this age, the weapons are most often directed at ourselves.

Our society is obsessed with the thin ideal. We are constantly being fed the message that thin equals happy and healthy and smart. Thin is what we should all be striving for. It is the pinnacle of success.

We swallow this message and it fuels a fat phobia.

We are afraid of being fat.

A recent study found that 50% of females between the ages of 18 and 25 would rather be hit by a truck than be fat.

They would rather be HIT BY A TRUCK.

Two thirds of these women would rather be mean or stupid than fat.

Why do we believe fat is the worst thing we could possibly be?

19 years old. Six months before my wedding.

When I was twenty years old I was obese. By the time I was twenty-one I had lost 75 pounds and became a fitness instructor. When I was twenty-four I had a newborn baby in my arms and extra weight on my frame. Over the years my size has fluctuated.

I have been fat. I have been thin. I have been somewhere in between.

As I journeyed through all of my shapes and sizes, I searched for self acceptance. It was hard work. I had to learn how to speak kindly to myself. I realized my worth doesn’t come from the number on the scale or the size of my pants.

It comes from within.

I still struggle with wishing my stomach didn’t jiggle. I still find myself criticizing the size of my butt. I still hear those voices from seventh grade telling me I am fat.

And then I remind myself that I am healthy. I am strong. I am happy.

I try to focus on the voices that matter.

My children telling me they love me.

My husband telling me I am beautiful.

My God telling me I am worthy.

Being a fitness instructor has allowed me the opportunity to meet many people. It is the best part of my job. I love the new friends I make. The relationships we create. The chance to intersect lives with someone I might not have otherwise ever known. I want to help them realize their goals. The number one reason people join a gym is to lose weight. This is okay. It is a valid goal. But it should not be the only goal.

These people, my new friends, come from all backgrounds. All professions. All demographics. I have the great privilege of being entrusted with one hour of their life three times a week. I want to use this hour wisely.

I want to focus on becoming MORE, not on becoming less.

MORE confident.

MORE powerful.

MORE accepting of ourselves and others.

I don’t want them to spend an hour with me as a punishment, but as a reward.

I want to help people focus on their whole person, to become healthy in body and soul.

If I can do this, I have done my job.

I am turning forty this year. It seems a milestone of some sort. A milestone of self acceptance.

My forty year old butt is smaller than my twenty year old butt. It is bigger than my thirty year old butt. It is a happy and healthy butt. I am thankful it is mine.

Blessings!

 

Someone Is Getting Lucky Tonight

I looked at him standing there in the evening light. So strong. So handsome. I could hear the waves crashing on the shore and my heart beating in my chest as I crawled between the sheets in our beachside hotel.

He joined me in bed and we began kissing. Softly. Passionately.

I enjoyed the feeling of him next to me. The warmth of his skin. The lightness of his touch. The…..what WAS that? Sand? Was there sand in the bed? I felt tiny granules rubbing into my backside.

I shifted my weight and tried to ignore the gritty substance beneath me. I needed to get my mind back in the game. Focus on the task at hand.

But ewwww! The sand was getting stuck behind my knees. I could feel it mingling with my body heat and rubbing me raw. I had to say something.

“Honey. Honey, stop. Don’t you feel that?” I said.

Disoriented, my husband pulled away. “Stop? Did you say to stop?”

“There is sand in our bed! The maids must not have changed the sheets after the last guest left.” I jumped up and turned on the lights.

Flinging back the covers, I pointed an accusatory finger. “There! Right there!”

Wait a minute.

Peering closely, I realized it was not sand that filled the bedding. It was……black? Small, black crumbs covered the white sheets. What in the world?

And then I realized.

It was my lingerie.

My black lace nighty had disintegrated into a pile of dust.

It had been so long since I had worn my lingerie that it had literally disintegrated off my body.

Taking selfies before selfies were a thing.

When my husband and I decided to go away for the weekend and leave our three-year-old son and infant daughter home with grandma, I wanted to bring along something special. I searched everywhere. I shuffled through the nursing bras and the control top panty hose and finally found it in the back corner of my bottom drawer. Aha! My long lost black lace nighty. His favorite one.

Ever since having my second baby, I had been too tired to care about a lot of things: cooking, cleaning, and lingerie to name a few. Between the middle of the night nursings and the colicky crying, my lingerie hadn’t been getting a lot of action lately. But I was determined to change that. This weekend away would be the perfect opportunity to remind my husband of the young girl he had married all those years ago.

Obviously, things did not go as planned.

We called the maid and asked for new bedding. I hid in the bathroom while she changed the sheets, too embarrassed to show my face. We showered to remove the lingerie fragments from our crevices. I threw what remained of my nightgown in the trash. And we laughed at our predicament. What had happened to us? Were we really two old married people whose romantic weekend rendezvous had turned into this?

Yes. This was us now. Instead of leisurely lingerie-filled nights, we had cold showers and laughter. Things had certainly changed over the years. We were no longer the teenagers who stayed up until two o’clock in the morning talking on the phone, whispering so our parents wouldn’t hear. We were no longer the high school students who skipped third period to make out in the parking lot. We were no longer the college freshmen who rushed home from date night at Taco Bell to try to make dorm curfew. We were no longer the starry-eyed newlyweds who thought they would wear lingerie every night for the rest of their lives.

High School Graduation

The night he proposed. We were babies! 18 years old and so sure we had love figured out.

No. We were now the parents of two young children, fixing up our new home, busy with DIY projects on the weekends. Business owners, working long hours in order to make payroll. Tired, overwhelmed, short-tempered some days. Figuring out what marriage really means.

It means loving your spouse even through the dry spells. It means finding joy in the everyday life you have built together. Serving each other in the small things: a cup of coffee in bed, a foot massage while you watch TV, a listening ear and a soft place to land when the world conspires against you. Laughing when your lingerie disintegrates and realizing that lingerie doesn’t matter in the long run. Love matters. Choosing each other over and over again matters.

My husband and I are celebrating twenty years of marriage in May. We added four more children to the mix since the Great Lingerie Debacle of 2005. We have done a lot of life together and let me tell you something – lingerie is not a big part of what makes our marriage successful. What does make our marriage successful? We don’t expect perfection. After all, expectation is preconceived disappointment. We champion each other. We laugh together. We choose to love each other even when, especially when, it is hard. We forgive.

At the end of every day, he is my favorite person to come home to.

Blessings!

The Girl I Saw At Starbucks

This is my friend Jen. We have never actually met, but we lead similar lives. She is also a mom-to-many, a writer, and a fitness enthusiast. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my run-in with a person who the world views as unworthy. Jen had a similar experience. Here is her story:

My new favorite Starbucks is about two blocks from my kids’ school—Fifth Avenue, downtown. I went there this morning. The perfect parking spot opened, just as I arrived. There were two minutes left on the meter and no change in my pocket. Lucky for me, this location takes credit cards. I quickly paid to avoid a parking ticket and jumped into the hustle and bustle of the city life. This Starbuck’s is pretty small. The barista’s aren’t the fastest in town. But it pulses with the heartbeat of my downtown neighborhood, and I find it quaint.

It’s always fascinating to watch people there. I have met up with a mom or two from school a time or two. But the amazing thing for me to observe is the big business deal happening right alongside a young man receiving some form of acupuncture from a beautiful Latino woman. All of it right there–everyone with his or her cup of “Joe.” Of course every city is full of young hipsters. I find beauty in them sipping cold brew right next to retired men, who unknowingly wear the same suspenders. There are the “haves” from the downtown penthouses and upscale lofts. There are the “have nots,” straight from their bedroll on the sidewalk around the corner. It’s racially diverse, socioeconomically broad, multi-generational and everyone seems to belong there.

This morning’s visit left me standing in line for the bathroom. As I waited, my back up against the wall, I watched a woman, likely in her fifties, pouring extravagant amounts of cream and sugar into her coffee. She paused, then began stirring rapidly. She was alone, yet talking as though in a conversation with someone. She was passionate about her topic and I couldn’t help but listen in. She was ranting on and on about Jane Seymour–about her having twin boys, sired by the President in 2009 and the cover-up conspiracy that was duping America. She was intense, perhaps even desperate. Her words rambled on. They slurred together, not always making much sense. I leaned in. I stepped a little closer. I wanted to be a listening ear for the story she seemed frantic to tell. She was determined. There would be no convincing her of any other truth here.

She had no idea I watched her. She didn’t see me listening. She couldn’t hear or care about me … thinking. She just stood, stirring her coffee, talking to herself. I realized she was one of the ‘broken’ ones. Somewhere along the road of life, her mind began playing tricks. I wondered about her family, her siblings, her … mom. Not long ago, she was just a child—just a little girl. Now, she was here, mumbling about the CIA and the President and Jan Seymour, while she stood, alone and mentally broken on Fifth Avenue, stirring her morning coffee.

How did she get here? What path landed her so fragmented at Starbucks? Was it the choices she made? Where was she from? Was she born into an average, middle class family and drawn into darkness by the wrong crowd of friends in her teenage years? Or maybe she was a product of her environment—born into a cycle of mental, emotional and economically hardship, leaving her fighting upstream with no other resource to get her out.

Perhaps someone harmed her. Was the trauma of another human’s poor choices so damaging to her that she simply snapped? All these questions and wonderings ran through my mind as I stood watching. But does it really matter? Does it make her less human? Is her life any less valuable?

Where I live, she is not extraordinary. She is on many street corners in my neighborhood. She is one of them. I pass them daily on my morning run. We see them on our drive to school and they reside on the streets just blocks from our home. They are at my grocery store, or living on my sidewalks. And today, I just so happened to see to her at my favorite Starbucks. She has become a part of my “normal” daily life. And to me she matters.

I understand it’s complicated—all the brokenness around me. I’m not naïve. But what’s simple in my mind is that THEY are loved by God. On some level, we’re all broken.

Life just hasn’t been quite as harsh to me. But some days I feel lost and fragmented at the coffee counter too. I get a little crazy on Fifth Avenue from time to time. And sometimes I have a story to tell, but I struggle in solitude—big crowd or not. So when I see her, — and when I see all of them —I think any one of them could be … me.

I bumped into a confused, broken lady over coffee. And I’m glad for the time granted me by a slow barista and a bathroom line. Time to lean in, step a little closer and see God’s love.

Thank you, Jen, for taking the time to lean in. Every day we are presented the opportunity to do the same. May we take those opportunities to see others as God sees them. If you want to read more from Jen, you can find her here.

Blessings!

I Got Suckered By A Scam Artist

I walked past the shivering transient without really seeing her. I barely glanced up as I hurried to get out of the rain. I rushed through the door into the hotel lobby but my steps slowed when I heard a baby cry.

Turning my head, I looked more closely. The woman sat huddled under the overhang. She had a little boy on her lap and a stroller by her side. The stroller was covered with a blanket and plastic bags stuffed with odds and ends overflowed from the basket underneath. She held a cell phone in her hand and stared at the screen, seemingly oblivious to the wailing of her infant.

I watched for a moment and then walked away. I was cold and tired, ready to check in to my room and get some rest after a long day of training. As I handed the hotel clerk my credit card, I argued with myself.

She might be waiting for someone. There are plenty of other people here who could help her. She has a cell phone. If she can afford a cell phone, she can afford a room.

As I finished my transaction and turned to grab my bags, my eyes were drawn back outside. It was dark and I could barely see through the rain, but the screen from her cell phone cast a little bit of light. Her toddler was now running up and down the sidewalk. He splashed through the dark, stomping his feet in the puddles. She didn’t seem to notice him as he played.

She is oblivious to everything around her. She is probably on drugs. If she can afford drugs, she can afford a room.

But no matter how hard I argued against it, my conscience wouldn’t leave me alone. Begrudgingly, I stepped back outside into the cold.

“Do you need a room?” I asked her.

“What?” she seemed startled by my question.

“A room for the night. Do you have somewhere to stay?”

“No. I don’t have nowhere to stay,” she said quietly.

“Then let me buy you a room for tonight,” I said as I helped gather her belongings.

Tears filled her eyes and she followed me back inside, thanking me over and over again.

Several minutes later I was settled in my room. I showered and put on my pajamas. As I brushed my teeth I heard a commotion in the hallway. It was my new friend. She and her children must have been given the room next to mine. I smiled as I heard her shushing her baby. Her toddler chattered non-stop and it sounded like he was jumping on the bed.

Good. They will have a warm, quiet night in here. I’m glad I helped them, I thought as I climbed between my sheets.

I had barely closed my eyes when I was startled by the baby’s cries. The thin walls did little to disguise the sounds coming from the next room. I listened as he gathered intensity, his wails growing louder and louder.

But the mother was too distracted to calm the baby. She was busy welcoming visitors into the room. I heard the door open and close several times. More voices. Laughter. The clinking of beer bottles. I lost count of how many people were now in the room next door. I heard the toddler yelling. The mother yelling back, telling him to shut up. Then someone turned on the music and the party really got going. The bass thumped through my headboard.

The music mixed with the baby’s cries. The toddler started to throw a tantrum. I could feel him kicking the wall. Kick. Kick. Kick. The wall vibrated between us. It seemed I was the only one aware of the children at all. Everyone next door was either drunk or stoned. They laughed and partied and had themselves a grand old time.

I lay in my bed and listened to the chaos I had helped bankroll.

The party ended around 5:30am. I heard the last person leave and the room settled into silence. I think the mother and her children finally fell asleep just as I was getting up to start my day.

I stopped by the front desk on my way out of the hotel and I explained to the morning clerk what had happened. I wanted to be sure no extra charges had been placed on my credit card.

“Oh, this happens all the time,” the clerk said. “She sits outside and waits for someone to buy her a room. Don’t worry, though. She doesn’t ever charge anything extra. You should be fine.”

I didn’t feel reassured. I felt annoyed. She does this all the time? I thought I was helping but in reality I was simply enabling a scam artist.

As I walked out of the hotel, tired from lack of sleep and frustrated by this woman’s selfish actions, I realized something: I was still glad I had paid for her room.

Why do we help others? Why do we give or serve or obey? Should we do these things because the recipient has earned our kindness? Do we search for someone deserving before we give of ourselves?

How do we determine who is deserving in the first place? A checklist? Perhaps we should make sure people measure up to our standards before we give them anything.

No. I don’t think so. I don’t want to quantify my giving in that way. I don’t want to be responsible for judging other hearts. I have a hard enough time keeping my own heart in line.

I am not advocating senseless generosity. I am not saying we should become enablers. We must use our head and our heart when we determine how to best allocate our resources. But I am saying I can’t base my actions on another person’s intentions. I have to do what I believe is right, regardless of the deservedness of the receiver.

After all, are any of us truly deserving?

Christ died for me while I was still a sinner. He did not wait for me to be worthy of his gift. I will never be worthy. He gave his life for me even though I am undeserving.

I want to pour my love into the world freely, just as He did. Yes, I will occasionally get taken advantage of. It seems a small price to pay in exchange for others being able to experience a little bit more of God’s love through the actions of this one sinner.

Maybe when I handed a Starbucks card to the homeless man on the corner, he had a stolen bottle of whiskey hidden in his backpack. So what? He can still enjoy a hot cup of coffee. He can still hear me when I speak the language of kindness. He can still receive love even though none of us deserve it.

Blessings!

Ohana Means Family

We celebrated my daughter’s birthday this week. She turned fourteen. She is fourteen years old, sweet and sassy and beautiful.

My daughter has been alive for fourteen years and yet I have only known her for four. She lived ten of her years completely apart from me. 72% of her life does not include me.

No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I can not make up for those lost years. No amount of love can atone for the missing 72%.

Things happened during the 72% that I will never know. Memories she keeps locked deep inside, maybe never to be shared.

When I am most honest, I admit to being jealous of the 72%. Jealous and angry and a little bit scared of the shadowy underbelly of that part of her life. I worry the darkness from her past might overshadow the brightness of her future.

She has only been my daughter for four years. Four years is barely any time at all, when you think about it.

When I asked her what she wanted for her birthday, there were only two things on her wish list.

She wished for a dinner date, just me, her, and her daddy.

She wished for the stuffed animal Stitch.

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She is fascinated by Stitch. She loves to draw pictures of him and hang them around her room.

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She talks about his story line and scenes from the movie as if they were real. She laughs when she relates the funny situations he gets himself into.

I think she sees herself in Stitch.

Stitch is an alien. Foreign. Displaced from his home. He finds himself living with strangers who don’t look like him. Who don’t sound like him.

He struggles with loneliness.

He feels isolated even when surrounded by people who love him.

He can’t figure out whether to stay with his new family or leave in search of his old.

No matter how much his new family loves him, they can never replace the family he left behind.

The tension lies in living between two families. Feeling pulled in opposite directions.

I do believe this is a tension he will always live with.

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I do believe this is a tension that will always be a part of her.

This tension is woven into the very fabric of her heart. It has shaped her into the strong and resilient young woman she is. A young woman with a family who spans the entire globe. No matter where she goes, we will always be with her. We are a part of the tension.

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This tension pulls us apart sometimes. It is a tricky thing to navigate, this unseen and often unacknowledged part of our relationship. It can appear at the most inopportune of times, coloring our words with frustration, flavoring our days with tears.

It nibbles around the edges of our family, an unwelcome intruder. She pushes me away. I harden my heart.

We are both getting stronger, though. Better at recognizing the tension and allowing it to shape us instead of break us. The more time we spend together, the better we understand each other. We are learning the true meaning of family.

Family is not about birth parents or bio parents or adoptive parents. Foster parents or step parents. It is not about “real children” or “your own children” or adopted children.

It is not about how long you have been together or the time you spent apart.

Family is not about blood.

It is about love.

Maybe four years is enough time after all. Enough time for both of us to reimagine our definition of family.

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Blessings!

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