Daisies and Butterflies

I don’t aspire to be a writer. I have no desire to be a well-known, gal-of-the-moment blogger with a million followers. Lord knows I’m not equipped for any of that. I simply write because sometimes I feel God puts something on my heart I’m meant to share. I’m usually pretty good at following His prompts. The one thing I absolutely do not ever in a million years want to do is pen posts solely about daisies and butterflies. In other words—I want only to keep it real. The good. The bad. The ugly. Real.

I write a lot about munchkin’s achievements. And they blessedly are ever increasing. But my heart was really pricked this past Wednesday at Jackson’s weekly equine therapy session at Hopes, Dreams and Horses. It was a lackluster day at best. The instructor, Miss Kristy, had the same basic commands on repeat this day. She could’ve simply recorded a voice memo and pressed the repeat button, with an amplifier attached. “Sit up straight.” “Butt down.” “Elbows in.” “Heels down.” Hands to pockets.” “Keep those elbows in!” “Keep that butt in the saddle!” “Sit up!” Bless her. No, really. Bless her!

When you have no control, just sit a spell.

When you have no control, just sit a spell.

Jackson has been riding here weekly for two solid years. And he loves it here. He loves horses. He loves to ride. But sometimes, he just can’t put it all together no matter how many times he’s heard it or done it. It’s as if it’s his (let’s be honest without hyperbole) third or fourth time on horseback. These are the days I take a deep breath and remind myself that we’ve come a long way with a long way to go.
Walk
So why am I sharing this non-newsworthy drivel? Because someone out there needs to know that it’s not all daisies and butterflies all the time. It’s two steps forward and one step back. Or one step forward and two steps back. All that matters is that you’re making progress. Whatever that progress is, own it. Own it! Did you hear that? Own it! Don’t let me or anyone else out there whose stuff you read on social media (the interwebs!) cause you to feel less than you (or heaven forbid, your child) are/is.

I’m just sayin’… You’re awesome. Continue to fight the good fight, no matter what that fight is. Just keep moving. It’s gonna be okay.

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

A Cup of Cold Water

A Cup of Cold Water

Giving someone a refreshing drink of water is representative of the smallest act of charity one could practice. And love is never absent from charity.

According to scripture, a cup of cold water is the minimal requirement for hospitality, the definition of which is: friendliness, helpfulness, warmth, kindness, geniality, courtesy, generosity, etc. Or perhaps more simply put at its base level, the love of others, including strangers. (Hebrews reminds us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for some have entertained angels. Unaware.”)

Jesus, in speaking to the disciples, states each act of service is unto God and has its reward. We are all servants of God Almighty. All of God’s servants will be rewarded, even a person who gives a simple drink of cold water to one of God’s “little ones”—especially when given with a smile. (Matthew 10:42)

God calls us to love and has tasked us with making strangers into neighbors and friends. Jackson, my sweet son, I pray you always rise to your Almighty Father’s call to love, and may others always see Jesus in you.

We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. ~Charlie Chaplin

As is the mother, so is her daughter. Ez. 16:44

My mother was born deep in the mountains of West Virginia, early in The Great Depression. Her father–my grandfather–eked out a living in the coal mines while my grandmother stayed home, caring for my mom and her six brothers and sisters, and toiling to put food (usually beans, salt pork and fresh or canned homegrown vegetables) on the table. It’s fair to say, Appalachian life did not afford an easy existence for the family.

My grandfather lost a leg and literally broke his back in mining accidents. Eventually, stricken with black lung, the family relocated to Western Pennsylvania, where my grandfather took a job as a farmhand. World War II was coming to an end, and my mom entered the workforce as a junior in high school. She was fourteen years old and worked after school tending the sundae counter at the Elite Restaurant in Rochester, Pennsylvania.

Within a year, my mom returned to Grantsville, West Virginia, where she lived with her Uncle Clay and his family. She graduated from Calhoun County High School at age fifteen. After graduation, my mom returned to her parents’ home in Pennsylvania. She then began working at a five and dime counter making $8 a week, selling razor blades and shave cream. Eventually, my mom became a waitress at Prior’s Restaurant in Portersville—a place I’ve heard her speak of many times. My mom seldom cashed her own paycheck, instead giving her earnings to her mother. In addition to contributing to the overall support of the family, my mom bought my grandparents their first refrigerator (used) for $10. She also bought my grandmother her first washer—a wringer washer. Prior to that, my grandmother washed the entire family’s clothing, my mom’s cotton uniforms included, utilizing a washboard. It was during this time that my mom met my father, who had just returned from serving overseas in the United States Army. My mom worked at Prior’s from 1946 until 1949, at which time she married my father.

My mother and father lived in two homes before settling into the family homestead where I grew up.   My father worked as a machinist at Mesta Machine until his untimely death in November 1970. He was 49 years young when he passed away of a massive stroke, leaving my mother to raise four children, ages three, six, 12 and 15, alone. I cannot imagine what it was like to be widowed at the age of 39, with four mouths to feed. Despite the family’s meager social security benefits, we were well cared for. We had food to eat and clean clothes to wear. My mother made certain we had health insurance coverage and went to the dentist regularly. As I became older, I did wish we were better off financially than we were. Looking back, however, I wonder if I would have felt we were lacking had my mother not routinely told us how hard it was for her to make ends meet. Ignorance, after all, is bliss.

Shortly after my father’s death, my mom returned to work, working nights as a waitress at the Castle Inn. A don’t recall seeing my mother very much during this time period. My younger brother and I were virtually reared by my 15-year-old sister. She ruled with an iron fist and was vehemently intolerant to even the slightest question of her authority. In retrospect, I believe this to be attributed to the fact that she was suddenly forced to become our pseudo mother at such a young age. As a child, I didn’t grasp the magnitude of the responsibility thrust upon my sister. I simply came to resent her greatly. To this day, our relationship remains irretrievably fractured.

My mom eventually remarried and our home life improved. She was once again afforded the “luxury” of being a housewife, maintaining a household, caring for the kids, watching soap operas and putting dinner on the table, promptly at 5PM. As someone who’s a product of the 70s, I’d love to tell you we lived out our own version of the Brady Bunch but alas, that’s not the case. We all simply coexisted as best we could.   Our paths crossed at dinnertime and occasionally in the evening if we watched a television show or two together. But outside of those instances, everyone was pretty much left to his or her own devices. I got in a lot of trouble as a kid, especially as a teenager. I’m proof that if your kids aren’t nurtured and loved at home, they’re going to seek it elsewhere. I had plenty of discipline—usually physical (belts, switches and the most dreaded, disgusting flyswatter)—but it wasn’t balanced with love. Mind you, my mom did the best she could. She had a lot on her plate. But discipline without love, or vice versa, creates a very lopsided dynamic. I spent my entire teenage existence angry, lost and seeking. Simply put, I was my mother’s worst nightmare come to call.  Bless her heart.

Oscar Wilde is credited with saying, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Thankfully, age has indeed brought me wisdom—at least in relation to family. Over the years, I’ve developed a deep affection for my mom. I love her to pieces. She is 84 years old and I want nothing more than to protect and shelter my mom as she ages. She asks for nothing. She never has. My mom is a woman of very simple means. I envy that about her. She doesn’t have the restless nature that often overtakes my soul. She is content. Content in life. Content with life. Content despite life. One of my deepest regrets is that it took me so long to appreciate my mother—who she is and where she came from. She hasn’t had an easy life. But I don’t ever recall hearing her complain about her circumstances. She worked hard and made the best of what came her way (or didn’t come her way). I am truly honored to be this incredible woman’s daughter.

Basking in the sun on a Florida visit.  She wears it well.

Basking in the sun on a Florida visit. She wears it well.

Mothers are the people who love us for no good reason. And those of us who are mothers know it’s the most exquisite love of all. ~Maggie Gallagher

She runs. [How moms are like Marines.]

Guest post by Ashley Dickens

Ashley Wedding

Hello friends! Today, I’ve invited Ashley to write about Mother’s Day from a different angle: through the eyes of an adult daughter. Her reflection on her mom’s love might surprise you, and we can only pray our kids say the same about us someday. Enjoy!

When I think about my mom, I think about the Marines.

It’s an unlikely pairing, given that the only uniform my mother has ever worn is a cringe-worthy little number from her high school cheerleading days. However, several years ago my husband’s dog-eared copy of It Happened on the Way to War by former Marine Rye Barcott radically altered the way I thought about motherhood. It’s a gripping read that made me forget to breathe more than once, arresting my attention with the repeated refrain, “Marines move toward the sound of guns.”

The fierce imagery of that captivated me. The defiant, almost irrational courage of unquestioningly running toward what others are running away from makes my heart beat wildly. I see that same unflinching courage in so many mothers across the globe—women who run toward danger simply because that’s where they’re needed. It’s a universal truth that transcends culture, race, and socioeconomic status—from suburbia to the Sahara, where you find a mother you will find a woman fighting fiercely for her children.

My mom isn’t a Marine. She’s a world traveler, an unapologetic risk taker, a passionate activist, and a killer chocolate-cake baker. Pint-sized and with an unflappable conviction that both zebra stripes and sequins are neutrals, she imparted the delicate art of sarcasm to me like it was a precious family heirloom and taught me that walking with Jesus is about infinitely more than being a “nice girl.” You’re far more likely to find her in a pair of feisty red heels than combat boots and fatigues—and she is the single bravest woman I’ve ever known.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.11.48 PM(photo credit: USMC archives)

Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, Hallmark tells me to buy her a flowered card with a cotton-candy-fluff sentiment penned in careful cursive—something the Ingalls sisters might have given to Ma. The absurdity of it puzzles me—something about a generic pink card has never quite seemed right for my mom. Or, I think, a lot of moms.

My mama is a force to be reckoned with. I remember standing wide-eyed and nauseated in our kitchen as a little girl when, without warning, I began to projectile vomit all over the white-tiled floor. The whole scene looked like something from The Exorcist—minus a Catholic priest or two. Indelibly etched into my mind is the memory of my mom running toward me, her hands irrationally cupped open.

She’s been running toward me my entire life.

My mother’s unflinching bravery carried her from the comfortable little town she grew up in to a doll-sized apartment in the post-communist city of Kiev, Ukraine. She packed up three children under the age of six and as much Jiffy peanut butter as she could stuff into her carry-on and moved our lives to a place where the only thing she knew how to say was a hopeful, “Do you speak English?” In a city with no workable educational options, where those who had come before her had thrown up their hands in surrender and left, she opted to start a brand-new school for her children to attend—one that still exists today. Her bravery has carried her into crumbling refugee camps and crumbling marriages—to the places that looked irreparably dark and broken. Very hardest of all, two years ago it carried her into a dark ICU where she held her 21-year-old baby’s hand as he died of cancer.

It’s what mamas do, isn’t it? They run toward the hard, the ugly—they run toward the sound of guns. Our mothers bravely dive into dark and splintering brokenness with us and show us who Jesus is over and over again. They’re the first on the scene when our bones and hearts are shattered, when savage insecurities rear their ugly heads and our dreams feel worn out and hollowed. They hold the midnight watch beside cribs and cancer beds, speaking life over our dead places and believing on our behalves when nobody else will. Our mamas love wildly and fiercely, mirroring the God who runs toward us as they teach us to be like Him—second-chance-givers, hope-bringers, restorers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.12.45 PMMy belief in the power of motherhood is an enormous part of why I love HOPE International so much. Through the power of the gospel and a small loan, HOPE empowers mothers around the world to keep running toward hard and holy things, to keep bravely fighting for their children, their communities, and the broken world around them. At HOPE, we have the breathtaking privilege of watching mothers trapped in poverty harness the power of a small loan and a safe place to save their money, and run toward the most broken places in their communities. Day after day, they courageously step into the hard work of building stronger families, neighborhoods, and churches, one person at a time.

Mamas and marines—they have more in common than I ever imagined. This Mother’s day, if a generic pink card doesn’t quite reflect the valor of your mom, consider joining me in framing this for her instead. “There is no fear in love”—moms across the globe put flesh and bone on it every day.

If you’d like to join me in giving this digital print to your mom, you can snag a free download here.

Why We Support Autism Speaks (And why you should to.)

It’s no secret our family supports Autism Speaks. And although our son is on the spectrum, our support isn’t based on any tangible benefit received from the organization. Our support is rooted solely in the commonality we’ve found within.

If you know our story, you know I recognized symptoms of autism in our son, Jackson, very early on. Our son was officially diagnosed in early November 2011, just three weeks shy of his third birthday. Although I had suspected autism for quite some time, I was devastated when the neurologist delivered the diagnosis. I was so fearful of the unknowns. I had no idea what life held for our son and was terrified of facing the future with a “team” comprised solely of my husband and me. In retrospect, my fears were unfounded, but that was my reality at that point in time.

Following our son’s diagnosis, I found a much-needed sense of community within Autism Speaks. I perused the organization’s website ad nauseam. As anticipated, I found a wealth of statistics, information and resources. We participated in our first Walk Now For Autism Speaks in 2013. Words cannot express the overwhelming sense of community I felt when we stepped into a literal sea of families at that first Walk. It was overwhelming and very much needed.

So you see, this is why Autism Speaks is an organization near and dear to our hearts. Please join us in supporting them. If not for our family, then do it to benefit the millions of other families affected by autism. Chances are, this means you.

#1in68

About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. (CDC, 2014)

Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 births. (CDC, 2014)

More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. (Buescher et al., 2014)

Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention. (Autism Society estimate based on Government Accounting Office Report on Autism, 2006)

Pour it On

Motoring.

Motoring.

I snapped the above photo en route to school this morning. This has become our typical commute, as munchkin has declared he no longer wants to be a car rider. And as long as weather permits, I’m okay with this.  There are so many benefits to this two-mile ride.

Of course, the most obvious benefit is the fitness factor. Jackson and I are both burning calories and building strength and stamina while bathing our brains in awesome mood enhancing, stress reducing chemicals. The benefits don’t end there though. The greatest benefits can’t readily be measured. I do believe, however, they’ll be immeasurable in the long run.

Our twice daily, 20-minute commute amounts to perhaps the richest 40 minutes of my day. I use this time to pour into Jackson’s soul in a manner I am unable to achieve at any other time of day (with the exception of bedtime perhaps). He is my captive; he is my teammate. There are so many elements at play while we make our way to school. We have wet, moss-covered and very slippery sidewalks to contend with. We have elevated sidewalks, driveways and intersections to navigate, which we do so fluidly. I guide Jackson along, subtly yet sternly. With all that’s going on, there is no room for carelessness or wanton disregard for my instruction. Do you know what? He steps up to the plate every single day. He is my captive listener. As I see it, some of the myriad benefits for Jackson in this (literal) exercise are:

  • Learning to rely on someone for guidance
  • Learning patience and grace as we wait to cross driveways and streets
  • Observing my expression of gratitude to drivers who patiently wait for us to cross said streets and driveways, and to the crossing guard for being there to keep us safe every single day, rain or shine
  • Learning how to use all our senses—not solely sight—for safe travel
  • Learning how to accommodate others in our path as we make way for fellow walkers, joggers and bikers
  • Learning to acknowledge (value) others as we greet each and every individual with a hearty, “Good morning!”

The greatest benefit of all, however, is our ability to have meaningful conversations virtually free of distractions. We observe cloudscapes and nature. We talk about God, heaven and this beautiful world He created for us to enjoy. We talk about anything and everything (Montana, family, horses, animals, weather, rocket launches…), unimpeded. I use this valuable time to remind Jackson of the importance of being a good listener, why we need to be kind to others and why he must be a good team member as it relates to his teachers, and peers. I use this precious time to pour love and encouragement into Jackson. I bolster his confidence by pointing out all of the things he has done and is doing right. These 40 minutes are an extremely, extremely valuable opportunity for me to affirm and reaffirm Jackson’s worth as a child of God.

Would I prefer my morning workout be more challenging? Absolutely! As a former (decades long) early morning gym rat, I miss the daily intense cardio workout and strength training I did religiously in my “former” (pre-Jax) life. I can unequivocally promise you, however, those workouts were not nearly as rewarding as my present “work out.” Would I trade it if I could? No way. Not in a million, billion, trillion years. God doesn’t give us what we want. He gives us what we need.

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. ~ Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

The Sweet Smell of Rain

I took a gamble this morning in trying to beat the rain for a morning run. I figured I had a 50-50 chance of making it home without being caught in a downpour. There’s a reason I’m not a betting woman. I didn’t make it to the entrance of our development before it began to pour. I could have easily turned around, but I thought, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll get wet? (Turns out that was a gross understatement.)

While running, I couldn’t help but think of the downpour as a metaphor for life. When you’re stuck in a storm, how great does it feel when you finally reach a safe/dry shelter? My desire to return to dry sanctuary was motivation to run. Fast! But for that brief period of time while I was slogging along, I was on sensory overload. I was overwhelmed by the sweet yet earthy smell of the rain itself. I was aware of the cold, hard rain pelting my skin. As alive as I felt while running, I couldn’t help but focus on getting back to a warm safe place. As much as I loved experiencing these sensations (I felt alive!), I was uncomfortable. And I thought—this is a lot like life!

Sometimes we’re most alive when we’re in the midst of a personal storm. A storm forces us out of our complacency.   It makes us face our surroundings and situations head-on. Our days unfold in sharper focus and we tend to feel things much more acutely when life is raining down on us. And when we’re in the midst of a storm, we naturally want nothing more than to get back to safety and security.

I experienced something else too. I increased my pace (9:08 mile!) in order to get home quickly. Isn’t that something else we tend to experience in life’s storms as well? Storms tend to kick us in the butt, sending us into overdrive in an effort to rectify all that’s wrong with our life/world.

Whatever storm you’re facing, keep your head down and keep moving forward.   Use the instinctive momentum to carry you forward to safe shelter. Hopefully it’ll be a good bit of time before you’re caught in the rain again, so take time while you’re in the midst of the current storm to feel the rain on your skin and take in your surroundings. Your life will be richer for it.

Home Safe

Rain! whose soft architectural hands have power to cut stones, and chisel to shapes of grandeur the very mountains, as no artist could ever do! ~Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit

You Won’t Believe What Happened!

Disclaimer: Unless you are the parent of a child who faces exceptional challenges or has special needs, the following maybe lost on you. And that’s okay. Truly. It is.

This may not seem like a big deal to you, but today Jackson snapped and unsnapped his shorts. You may not grasp the significance of this, but I’ve waited for years for this to happen.   I’m talking about what most folks perceive to be the simple act of closing a fastener with two fingers and two thumbs. To date, this simple act has been out of Jackson’s grasp (no pun intended).

Fastening a snap!

Fastening a snap!

While I was getting dressed this morning, Jackson came running in to show me what he had done. I was happier for the pride he had in himself than I was for how proud I was of him. We’ve worked on this “simple” act for years. Today was a watershed event for our son.

Additionally, while at lunch, Jackson was able to traverse independently, and follow instruction when needed, in order to complete the maze on the restaurant’s placemat. Please don’t miss this. Jackson has worked with an occupational therapist for years. Until recently he was unable to properly grasp a writing implement. The fact that he is not only able to hold a Crayon, but is able to focus and discern a path and heed instruction is something we thought to be potentially impossible.

Navigating a maze

Navigating a maze

Our God is so good, folks. He is so very, very good. And we are so very, very grateful.

The difficulties and struggles of today are but the price we must pay for the accomplishments and victories of tomorrow. ~ William. J. H. Boetcker

Hearing Truth

The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise. ~Proverbs 15:31

This morning I received reproof from a five year old. I would like to tell you it was an inappropriate exchange—a child giving a parent correction—but it wasn’t. It was spot on.

As with any working mom, my days are busy with marriage, child caring, child rearing, child transportation, homework, work, housework, yard work and any other kind of work you might want to throw in there. I’m no more or less busy than most folks. I have, however, been distracted lately.

News flash: Upon returning home from vacation in early August I had a bad attitude. I’m less than proud to admit that. I was feeling fed up with all things South Florida. I was tired of the heat, the bugs, the critters, the traffic, the people, and on and on and on. I grumbled to anyone who would listen. A lot. (Forgive me, friends!) But God had a word for me. He distinctly told me I should tend the garden I have instead of looking longingly at the neighboring one. Honest to goodness, that is what God spoke to me. Admittedly, His correction was difficult to take. Although I knew precisely what He was talking about, I still wrestled with it. I know we need to make some repairs and enhancements to our existing home. Aside from wood flooring we installed prior to munchkin’s arrival, we’ve not done much, and our 25-year-old home is showing its age. Investing in a home I don’t really care to be in was a difficult prospect for me. God softened my heart and I finally yielded to His correction, hence my recent preoccupation. I’ve been busy researching wise, cost-effective ways to perform some upgrades without putting ourselves deeply in debt. I want to do this in the most financially responsible way so as to honor not only God’s directive, but to honor HIM as well. [After all, it IS HIS money.] This isn’t an easy task.

My research has taken my attention from Jackson, and he had no reservation in letting me know so this morning. Just before breakfast, Jackson took me to task. He told me straight up, “You never play with me anymore.” This isn’t wholly true. We ride bikes or scooters to/from school. We tell jokes. We play Rock-Paper-Scissors, I Spy, number, word and guessing games, and read plenty of stories. But this isn’t the type of play Jackson was speaking of. He craves physical, interactive play. I know this better than anyone. He said, “You never play tag with me anymore. You don’t race with me.” And he’s right. I’ve been taking the easy way out, and he called me to be accountable to it. Initially, I wanted to mount a defense, but I didn’t have one—at least not one suitable for a five-year-old boy. He had me dead to rights. I admitted I was wrong and apologized to Jackson. I accepted his reproof.

German mathematician Johannes Kepler stated, “I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” I concur, even though the intelligent man is only five.

Unworthy

This morning as Jackson and I were pulling into school I pointed to a break in the clouds and told Jackson God was looking down on us and telling him to have a great day. He said, “Good morning, God! Keep your eye on me today!” I reassured him God keeps his eye on him at all times, watching over him, protecting him. Jackson then told me of playing tag at recess, and how he laughs with his friends. As I pictured this in my mind, my eyes filled with tears. Tears of joy. Tears of happiness. Tears of humility. Tears of unworthiness. Tears of the knowledge of God’s overwhelming grace.

I always tell people I’ve never met a happier child than Jackson. He is happy from the moment his eyes flutter open at the crack of dawn until they flutter closed at day’s end. The child does not know a bad mood. Something about this really struck a chord in me this morning. It was an unexplainable sense of how blessed–yet how unworthy—I am to parent these two children of ours. Every time I think about it, I’m overcome with emotion.

I have no idea what God sees in this wretched soul, but I am grateful for this precious gift of parenthood He has bestowed upon me. My undying prayer is that I bring glory to Him in this mess of life.

Children are not casual guests in our home. They have been loaned to us temporarily for the purpose of loving them and instilling a foundation of values on which their future lives will be built. ~James Dobson