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Doing Hard Things

My husband and I met an acquaintance back in November who asked about our sons, sophomores in college. The man said his son had decided not to accept a scholarship to play baseball at a local college and was working in the family day care business.

Then he made a comment that has rankled me for several months now. He said, “He didn’t want to go, and I ain’t gonna make him.”

At the time, I just nodded. I didn’t know how to respond to such a stupid statement. Later I wondered how he would have responded if I’d said, “We had to make all four of ours go.”

Actually, we made ours go several times. Every time they came home during the first year especially, we’d have to encourage them to return. They didn’t exactly hate college, but college, of course, is hard. College classes are hard. Living with new people who have different ways of doing things, different belief systems, and different tastes is hard.

But isn’t it a parent’s job to help a child to do hard things? If children don’t learn to do difficult things while they’re growing up, how will they do hard things when they’re adults?

That comment has rolled around my brain since November and brought to mind many of the hard things I’ve pushed and pulled and prodded my children to do.

Every stinkin’ summer, I registered my children for two weeks of swimming lessons. Almost every day I’d make them climb into the pool. I’d steel myself against the boys’ yells echoing from the side, “Mommy, get me outta here. I’m fweezing!” Knowing how to swim is an important skill, right? So I gritted my teeth and ignored their pleas.

Although our four-year-old boys wanted to play soccer, when practice time came, reality set in. I’d hear from the back seat from one to the other, “Just foyce yourself not to cry.” They grew to love the sport and played through high school, becoming captains and winning coaches’ awards.

We moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina when our oldest daughter entered eighth grade. At the end of the year, none of her new friends planned to continue with band in high school. She would’ve participated in band in the old community, so I wanted her to give it a try at the new school. Her tears were almost my undoing, but we held firm with our insistence to participate for ninth grade. She discovered she liked it and continued through high school as did her siblings, learning to play more instruments and making friends in all grade levels.

Writing thank you notes, practicing piano, earning Eagle Scout rankings, or reading Jane Eyre wouldn’t have happened if not for a firm, parent’s nudge.

My children aren’t perfect by any means, but tough things don’t rattle them. They’ve learned to push through their fears so that they can enjoy the blessings on the other side.

Doing hard things is tough—but worthy—just like parenting.


Of Things and Daughters

I’m a collector. I knew that subconsciously, but a personality test confirmed it a few years ago.

The first thing I remember collecting is bottle caps. I loved the different colors. When I visited my great uncle’s store, he’d empty the bottle cap holder in the drink machine into a little plastic bag for me.

I’ve collected metal buttons, the kind politicians used to give away, since high school. The last ones I bought are from England. I have one with a bust of Jane Austen and one that says, “I heart Mr. Darcy.” I don’t wear these buttons, but I have them.

I have yards of fabric waiting to be cut for a pattern. I have skeins of yarn waiting for a crochet hook to loop them into a shawl or scarf or sweater.

It’s crazy the way I feel about having only two similar items. For instance, if I have two books by the same author, I feel like some small part of the world is perfect. A tiny bit of joy sighs in my heart.

Collecting is fine to a point, but collecting can morph into something oppressive and unwieldy, maybe even ridiculous.

That’s where I am now. Actually, I’ve been here for a long time.

Thank Goodness for my second daughter, Hattie. She is an organizer. She is a cleaner. She determines a course and sticks to it.

For the past week or so, she’s been cleaning/organizing my office/crafts room. “Madre, what is this?” “Does this go in the giveaway pile or the throw away pile?” “Do you really need two of these?”

Don’t think she’s heartless. Plenty of times she’s said, “If you want to keep it, that’s fine. I’ll find a place for it. Just tell me what it is first.”

I have a great office thanks to a creative friend who designed cubbies and shelves and drawers and cabinets to keep all my stuff, but it’s been a miss pretty much since the paint dried.

Here’s the problem: I love remembering the stories attached. I suppose if I throw something away, I throw that memory away because the item in question recalled the memory in the first place.

Here’s my secret: If I’d known years ago what to do with some of these things she’s unearthing, I wouldn’t have stuffed them into the back of a cubby in the first place. So for the past week or so, I’ve forced myself to deal with items that should have been dealt with in 2004 or earlier.

The end is in sight, however, and it’s an organized, efficient office.

Yea for children who are better people than their parents.

Simon’s Lesson

In past posts, I’ve written about my sons’ journeys to West Point. Last year, Quinn was accepted, but Lane was medically disqualified because of childhood asthma.

 This spring, Lane re-took the methacholine challenge test and passed it, overruling the asthma diagnosis from his medical chart. Yea. Praise the Lord.

He received a senator’s and a congressman’s nomination to re-apply for West Point. He worked hard all year at UNC-Chapel Hill with his academic classes and as a freshman ROTC member, earning coveted spots on the Army 10-miler Run in Washington, DC and the Ranger Challenge team. He earned the respect of his ROTC upperclassmen through good decisions, a positive attitude, and a willing spirit.

Everything looked excellent for his second try at the military academy.

I prayed earnestly for God’s will for his life. But even while those prayers rose from my heart, I kept dreaming of his acceptance. Thoughts like “When Lane has to survive Beast Barracks,” or “At Plebe-Parent Weekend next year” regularly flitted across my brain.

Recently, Lane received a lovely letter from West Point announcing that although he was “academically qualified” and “medically qualified” (Praise God again), he couldn’t be offered a placement in the class of 2018 because of “shrinking class sizes” and “budget cuts.”

Lane said he was fine. He worried about Quinn, his twin who wanted his brother to experience West Point with him. Of all of us, Quinn probably was the most disappointed.

Driving him home from college, I reminded Lane of Simon of Cyrene, the Jewish man who had arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover but was forced to carry Jesus’ cross on the way to His crucifixion. Simon had his plan in mind, but God had another one.

I likened Lane’s story to Simon’s. “God has a plan for you, Lane, and because it’s God’s plan, it’ll be a great one.” (Jeremiah 29:11 is one of our favorite verses.)

Simon had worked hard and traveled a long way from north Africa to Jerusalem, maybe anticipating being part of the Jerusalem Passover for the first time in his life. He never expected to be part of the horrible experience of a crucifixion.

Thousands of years later, however, we’re still discussing him and learning from him. This incident affected him so much that it seems he shared his experience with his family. His sons, Rufus and Alexander, were known to the early church and are mentioned in the Bible as well. (Mark 15:21)

Lane said, “I’m fine, Mom. I know I’m supposed to be at Carolina. All the time I was re-applying, I felt like I was slamming up against God’s will. I look at it this way—I’m supposed to be a missionary for those guys in my suite.”

Well, okay then. Lane’s got it. He didn’t need Simon’s story.

Pretty sure his mom did.

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Juliet Act II, Scene 2 Romeo and Juliet

I agree with Juliet. A rose would still emit the sweet, rose fragrance if we called it a daisy or a hydrangea or a bachelor button (also called cornflower and the Boutonniere flower.) A name is simply a label. The essence of a thing doesn’t change because of its name, right?

At our house, my name changes with almost each person who calls for me. All my children began calling me mommy, but through the years they’ve stamped their personal identities on my moniker.

Anna usually calls me “Marmee,” like Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy called their mother in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. She’ll sometimes shorten it to “Marm.” Other times she elongates it to “Marmalade”, not because I like the orange jam but more because she thinks it’s a funny word. She’s a funny girl.

Hattie always calls me “Madre.” I have no explanation for this name. She studied French, not Spanish. Once in a while “Mum” will sneak into an email, but “Madre” is her normal choice for me.

Lane and Quinn mostly still call me Mommy. It’s true, but sometimes, they’ll call me Mother. Lane, for example, will resort to Mother especially when he’s exasperated with me and dealing with an imagined infraction on my account. He says it with emphasis on the last syllable and draws it out several beats, like “Moth-errrrrrrr.” It’s back to Mommy, though, when he wants me to proof an essay for him.

A few years ago, I discovered a cool website for the different names of God. It provides the Hebrew text for the name, the most common English transliteration, and the name’s definition. Some of my favorite names include El Hanne’eman, The Faithful God, from Deuteronomy 7:9; El Olam, The Everlasting God, from Isaiah 26:4; El Roi, The God Who Sees Me, from Genesis 16:13; El Gibbor, The Mighty God, from Isaiah 9:6; Immanuel, God With Us, from Isaiah 7:14; and El Hannora, and The Awesome God, from Nehemiah 9:32.

The one I’m thinking about this week, Holy Week, however, is El Yeshuati, The God of My Salvation, from Isaiah 12:2: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.”

No matter what we call Him, or even if we don’t, He is God.

Praise be to God for His great and awesome gift.

I started something new this year. I send a quotation of the day to my children in a good morning email. It’s a nice way to start the day and an excuse for a daily email.

I don’t choose the quotation myself. I use a quotation-a-day calendar sent to parents of students by Nido Qubein, president of High Point University.

These daily statements are usually affirming, positive, and encouraging. Lately, however, the daily thoughts seemed a little lacking to me, so I added an extra thought to my morning message. Here are two examples:

1. “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” Carl Sagan.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

2. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
The Bible says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you,plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11

I like encouraging my children with positive statements.

I like encouraging them with biblical truth even better.

Bumper Sticker Pride?

I’ve never been a bumper sticker kind of person.

When our first daughter was born, those Baby On Board placards popped up in vehicles all over the country. I chose not to hang one in my car, though. I avoided the cartoon images of dad, mom, child, child, pet, pet clinging to the back window, too.

A few days ago, however, I think I made up for all those years of maintaining a clear bumper with an obnoxious display of motherly satisfaction.

Car Decals

I said it was obnoxious.

Comments from my Facebook post that shared the picture have ranged from “Congratulations!” and “Good job” to “Good thing you don’t drive a Prius…” and “As long as you can see out the back window!”

After collecting them, then hesitating to adhere them, I decided I’d earned these decals. I consider them badges of honor. I’ve thought of some reasons why (in random order):

1. Making lunches times four children times thirteen years of school.
2. Planning holiday parties as room mom.
3. “Sleeping” on hard floors as a Girl Scout co-leader, as a youth group chaperon.
4. Driving to sport practices.
5. Watching every athletic match (even during character-building seasons)
6. Watching every athletic match (even in snow and sleet)
7. Watching every athletic match (even in ninety-five plus degree heat)
8. Hosting slumber parties.
9. Hosting pool parties.
10. Hosting Capture the Flag parties.
11. Sewing Halloween costumes.
12. Reading essays.
13. Proofing essays.
14. Rereading essays.
15. Praying.
16. Encouraging.
17. Praying.
18. Cajoling.
19. Praying.
20. Pushing.

I drive my van now, empty and quiet and boring, with those emblems emblazoned on my back window. And I have to say the display, which reminds me of years of hard work and sweet times with my children, makes me smile every time I see it.

Obnoxious or not.

Storing Treasures

I’ve been studying Matthew 6 this week. Jesus speaks about the Christian’s focus by teaching about the two different kinds of treasure: earthly and heavenly. He reminds us not to treasure earthly things like houses, cars, careers, education, or talents. Rather, He challenges believers to store up treasures in Heaven.

Earthly treasures are temporal and subject to thieves, rust, mold, disease, and death. Heavenly treasures are eternal because God is keeping them for us. They are secure and “can never perish, spoil, or fade” (1Peter 1:4).

That lesson came hard for me this week as I sifted through decades’ worth of pictures, cards, books, dance costumes, and games that were ruined when our basement flooded in August. Insurance disaster people packed up all the contents of our basement, then ripped up the carpet and repaired dry wall.

I should have taken care of the boxes immediately, but my attention was captured by settling children into college, preparing for a writing conference, and ignoring what was happening in the basement. I didn’t want to think of the ruined keepsakes, so I didn’t—for two months until it was time to restore order down there.

My treasures included pictures that should have been scrapbooked years ago, cards that probably should have been thrown away before we moved in 2004, teaching paraphernalia that I haven’t perused in twenty years and most likely never would because I have no desire to teach again, and books, books, books.

Some of the books I’ve kept since college. I haven’t opened them since then, but I liked having them on my shelves. Others, children’s books, I bought for twenty-five cents at used book sales. They were already worn, then my children added their wear and tear, but I was keeping them because of the pleasant memories they evoked and maybe because I might have been thinking about the possibility of other children (grandchildren??) enjoying them in the future.

Anyway, having the Matthew lesson in my mind helped loosen my fingers as they gripped the collected things and dropped them into garbage bags. I reminded myself that I have good memories, but my real treasure is in Heaven. Waiting for me out of mold and mildew’s reach. Being kept safe by God.


My go-to recipe especially for the fall is one I found in the Three Rivers Cookbook Volume I. It’s called Burger Bundles, and it is one of the most requested dishes in our house. I’m making it today, in fact. Quinn loves it so much that he wrote about his love of Burger Bundles for one of his college application essays last year. Really. The original recipe is wonderful, but I’ve adapted it to fit a busy lifestyle.

Here’s my take on Burger Bundles.
1   pound ground beef (I use the 93/7 lean version.)
1   12-ounce can evaporated milk, divided (I use skim.)
1 – 1 1/2 cup Pepperidge Farm Stuffing
1   can condensed cream of mushroom soup ( I use the Healthy Choice one.)

Mix 6 ounces of milk with ground beef. Add the stuffing mix. Shape the beef into meatballs and place in a 8×11, sprayed casserole dish. Mix 6 ounces of milk with the mushroom soup and pour over the meatballs.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour.

This dish makes house smell wonderful and feel warm and toasty, a perfect dish for ravenous teenagers after soccer practice. For that reason, I always double this recipe.


Teaching Your Children Well

A question in my Bible study this week asks, “How did your parents prepare you to for Christianity?” (This is my paraphrase.)

I like this question because it made me remember the ways my parents helped develop and nurture my faith. They modeled Christianity, urged me to pray, had breakfast Bible studies, took me to church, Sunday School, summer Bible school, and youth group–even when I grew tired of it and stubbornly wanted to stay home.

My mother’s reply to my flair of independence was firm and constant, “You’re going.”

I think of that parenting skill now when I hear a friend say things like, “Saturday and Sunday are the only days he gets to sleep in,” when I invite her son to join mine in Sunday School. Or another friend who says, “My husband doesn’t want to go, and I don’t want to go without him.” I think of her three children steadily moving toward high school and the questions and choices that await them there. They’ll have to navigate the scary halls of peer pressure without a solid foundation of truth to use as a plumb line.

The best (or worst) cop out is this line: “I don’t want to force my religion on her. I want her to find her own.” When I hear that excuse, I want to knock the speaker over the head. (Not exactly a Christian response. I know.)

Here’s what I think. It’s my job to introduce my children to a good idea. That’s why I fed them nutritional meals. Healthy eating is a necessary thing.

That’s why I, in their words, forced them to take piano lessons and join the marching band. That’s why I introduced them to James Taylor’s music and Nanci Griffith and Van Morrison and the Zac Brown Band. Music is a good thing.

That’s why I read to them every day, carted them to the library, made them read classic novels. Maybe one day they’ll appreciate Jane Eyre as much as I do. For now, though, they’ll know the reference if a professor mentions Mr. Rochester.

And that’s why my husband practiced sports with them. Physical exercise is important.

I did my job as a parent to introduce my children to necessary, good, right things. Now, as young adults, they can choose French fries over fruit if they want to. My oldest tolerates country and blue grass music, but the other three always want to hear more. They ask me for suggestions on book ideas, but they choose their own also. They run several times a week because they feel better if they do, not because they’re on a team. The point is my husband and I laid the foundation, and now they choose.

Just like salvation. We can’t give our children salvation or make them choose it. We can model our faith. We can surround them with it. We can pray over them, but in the end, the choice is theirs.

I wanted my children to be their best in mind, body, and spirit, and so I chose a path that would lead them there. Whether they continue walking on it is up to them.

A New Chapter

My house is a tomb today.
And I am in mourning.
Three college move-ins/visits in five days.

No sounds in the house except my laptop’s swooshy breathing as it waits for me to add words to the empty screen.
No giggling from downstairs.
No piano playing and off-key singing.
No nerf-gun battles.
The washing machine sits, silent and dry.
I loved it while it lasted.

Thanks be to God who gives good gifts.

Love you, Anna, Hattie, Lane, and Quinn.