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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.

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Gratitude Day by Day

A couple of weeks ago, a friend suggested keeping a gratitude journal. After I wrote entries for several days, I wished I’d started at the beginning of the year. So I decided to go back to January and hit the highlights:
January—
*We had a New Year’s Day lunch with family.
*I saw Once with Anna.
*We had several beautiful snows.

February—
*I attended a BSF retreat in Florida.
*Karen started cleaning the downstairs for me.
*We attended a classical music night at Meredith College.
*Lane passed his methacholene challenge!

March–
*I traveled to Pittsburgh to meet with my literary agent, Jim Hart, and connected with dear, old friends, Nancy, Emily, Jill, and Colleen.
*We attended Parent/Plebe Weekend with Quinn at West Point, and I wore a designer gown created especially for me by Anna!

April—
*Kevin and I traveled to London to visit Hattie! We met her delightful host family and spent a wonderful week in England.

May—
*Lane finished his first year at UNC.
*Hattie came home from London.
*Quinn enjoyed a long weekend at home.
*I began writing my third book.

June—
*We enjoyed seeing friends at Deer Valley.
*We hosted a beautiful wedding at our pond.
*I rode in a helicopter.
*Summer Story Time began to great success.
*We hosted the Thompson family reunion.

July—
*The history committee for Princeton Baptist Church’s 125th celebration began planning.
*I interviewed Sheriff Steve Bizzell and Deputy Charlotte Fournier.
*Quinn came home a day early.
*I signed my first book contract for Mars…With Venus Rising.
*Amy and Jake Paterline visited—just like old times on Woodhill Drive.
*Lane read A Prayer for Owen Meany and laughed out loud from his perch on the couch.

August—
*I signed a book contract for Irish Encounter.
*I enjoyed a birthday breakfast with family, including my parents.
*Kevin and I enjoyed a delicious 26th anniversary supper at The Chef and The Farmer with Anna and Hattie.
*We celebrated Aunt Janice’s 80th birthday with the family.

September—
*I attended the Writers’ Police Academy and learned how sheltered a life I lead.
*Princeton Baptist Church celebrated 125 years of serving God.
*I attended the American Christian Writers’ Conference and met more great people.

Now I’m caught up to October when I began writing the gratitude journal every day. I hit the high spots for the previous nine months which sort of short changed the way God provided daily gifts throughout this year, so I’m glad for the chance to remember all the sweet ways God touches my life many, many times every single day.

Fresh Eyes

We always called it the fish pond.

It’s a man-made pond hand dug by my great-grandfather out of a low, wet place on his farm. He thought everybody deserved a place to fish and wanted everybody to have access to a fishing place.

When my family and I moved to the farm ten years ago, we tried fishing in the pond. All we could catch were little sunfishes. Nothing to write home about. Even less to cook for supper.

Our interest in the pond waned as other pursuits like soccer and cross country commanded our attention.

Until last year, that is.

A friend of our family asked to have her wedding at the pond. I was incredulous. Get married at the fish pond? Why in the world?

The bride had reasons and a vision.

She had met her fiancé at the pond.

Her fiancé had proposed at the pond. I heard the ring was attached to a cane pole.

She wanted to complete the story with a wedding at the pond.

Move ahead one year to June, 2014.

The pond looked beautiful—mowed, trimmed, weed wacked, and sprayed to a flora and fauna perfection. (Thank you to a special friend for her expertise in this area.) Sunflower balls hung from the old oak tree shading the wedding tent. Bouquets of sunflowers adorned the fence surrounding the pond.
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The wedding was magical.

The bride arrived in a Cinderella carriage and was whisked away to the reception venue on her uncle’s helicopter.
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The bride had a vision that I couldn’t see until I looked with fresh eyes. My image of the pond was made new. I had a new appreciation for something that had become common to me.

Fresh eyes are what I’ll need next month when I study the Life of Moses for the third time. I’ll need to read carefully and expect to be surprised by truths that I may not have seen before or maybe haven’t considered in all lights.

I learned a lesson from the wedding at the pond: keep my eyes open to new sights, especially in old places. I’ll be looking for new sights with Moses.

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.

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.

Technology

Before February closes out, I want to share about something I love.

Technology!

Even though I’m pretty much a novice at most technological things, I’m thrilled to have so many ways to keep in touch with my children: email, Facebook, texts, phone calls, and this wonderful new addition to our communication options: ooVoo!

According to its website, ooVoo is a video chat and instant messaging app for desktops, phones, tablets, and Facebook. Similar to its more popular cousin, Skype, it’s FREE, and we can talk and see a picture in real time.

The main difference between Skype and ooVoo is that with Skype, only two computers are involved at a time. Sure, you can have several people crowding around the computer camera, but only two locations are involved.

With ooVoo, up to twelve laptops can join in the conversation. At our house, we’ve had four so far at one time. Having all us talking together like we’re in the same room is really cool—and, in a Jetson-family-kind-of-way, we are.

The first time we used it, I felt a pang when I saw Quinn sitting in his fatigues. Remember the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words?”  The pictures show what mothers could only hear in phone conversations—you sound tired; you sound sick. Now I can see the glazed eyes, see the dark circles underneath—oh wait. Am I talking about myself?

Maybe–because not only can we see our chatting partners, we can also see a mirror image of ourselves. That part isn’t so much fun because my camera isn’t very flattering, doesn’t airbrush out the wrinkles, the puffy eyes. So please give me some grace when you view the screen shot at the end of this post of our ooVoo-ing I took last Sunday.

Technology! I love it.

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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.

Hallelujah.

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.

Enjoy!