Between Grace and a Hard Place

I always post more pictures of little guy… it’s not on purpose. Being a mom to two different age groups is a blessing… and a challenge.

I am sitting in my den on my husband’s recliner. Paw Patrol is blaring and my Yorkie is sniffing around like he is about to mark his territory. Honestly, I would rather be on the couch, but I am tired a being kicked in the stomach. My preschooler literally has almost a whole house in which to play, sit, kick…. but wants to be attached to me with super glue because I am SO awesome. Just kidding. Today I am not as awesome as usual. Still kidding! I do my best and whether that counts as awesome or not I have yet to know.

My daughter is with a friend. They are varsity cheerleaders and her friend’s mom (a friend of mine) graciously offered for my daughter to ride to the game with them and stay the night. My husband is on night shift. My oldest son is away at college studying and playing baseball. I am grateful my daughter has such a sweet friend and I am grateful for the opportunity my oldest has to do things he has dreamed about since first setting foot on a baseball field at the ripe old age of four. I am also grateful for my youngest blessing.

I am a preschool teacher. My youngest is in my class. No playing favorites… I promise. I am blessed to teach him, but it can be hard. Today was one of those days. Like many three year olds, he “tried” me. After school, we had a staff meeting. My principal was talking and he steadily talked, fussed, got up… you get the picture. I was NOT happy and instead of just reprimanding him calmly, I was very short. I already felt badly about missing my daughter cheering tonight at the football game. And I know my husband and oldest have been texting about baseball. As the mom, I do not get those text messages as often. As frustrated as I was with my youngest, I felt guilty about being so short with him.

As we drove home from school, I began to think. I thought about how God gives me an unending amount of grace. I thought about how I am not perfect and sometimes that is going to manifest itself in my parenting (or anything else). I realized that I may have a hard parenting day but that I can always pray for grace and ask for forgiveness. I also realized that I am human. While other moms my age are sitting at the game (and I would love to be, as well), there is grace in the hard places to be what I need to be to all three of my children.

Not Forgotten

I was teaching on September 11. Our principal summoned us to the conference room and this is the first image we saw. (Image: Google)

I am writing and I am literally sitting in a booth at a Mexican restaurant… a rare “date night.” Our daughter is cheering tonight and my mother in law has the little guy. Adult time. Rare and welcome to someone raising a preschooler later in life (also a teacher so doubly grateful for adult conversation). My husband is humoring me. I really do not mean to be rude. He knows writing is my version of therapy. It is crowded in here. There are lots of conversations going on and the television in the bar area is blaring with the latest news on a possible tropical storm. I see some people I know from work. To my right are four women with September 11 remembrance shirts on and I really want to tell them I like the shirts. The sharp contrast of sitting with my husband while eating dinner and listening to laughter on this tragic anniversary is not lost on me. If one can feel blessed and selfish concurrently, then I absolutely do. Such a sad day of remembrance mixed with the mundane….

We pay for our food and go riding around as the game does not start for another hour . I am guilty of looking at Facebook when I should just be enjoying the free time and decide to put my phone down. There are some cows grazing in a rolling, green pasture. I love cows. In a conflicted and sometimes scary world, they are unaware and unmoved. They just keep on living. I read stories earlier in the day about wives that just had to keep on living when their husbands died on September 11. They had children that needed them. I had my first child seven months before the attacks. I suffered from postpartum depression and decided on that fateful day that he needed me, too. These women are among the heroes that day. They just kept going.

We head back to the football field and find some seats. As is the custom at sporting events, we stand in honor of the American flag and listen to the National Anthem. I miss our son who is away at college as he used to play on the same field, but am nonetheless grateful to see our daughter cheer. I cannot complain as there are many parents on that fateful day nineteen years ago that would have given anything to see what their children would have become. I learned today that the youngest victim of September 11 was a two year old little girl…. one year younger than my youngest blessing. She was with her parents on a plane. They were taking her to Disneyland. I feel a tinge of remorse as I recall my impatient tone with my youngest the day before.

Life is unpredictable. Little did I know that tragic day that my seven month old would grow up and play college baseball, that I would have a daughter three years later, and another son thirteen years after that. I did not know that I would still be teaching, lose my two grandmothers, build a home, go through many hard times and good times…and the list goes on. But maybe that is the whole point. Those people did not know. They did not know that it would be the last date night, peaceful drive, ballgame, goodnight kiss, story time…or any other seemingly normal event. So tonight I will remember those lost and those who have lost. Thank you for inspiring the rest of us to make memories in the seemingly mundane. Because of you, I will put down the phone and take in the scenery, plan more date nights, and be more patient with those I love most.

God is Everywhere

This oak straight ahead was tiny when we planted it 11 years ago. It’s witnessed baseball, riding mowers, and child-sized Jeep rides….

It’s been a hot minute. Not exactly Wordsworth material, per se, but it is better still than the absolute writing desert I have traipsed through for three months on now. This is relatively painful for one who has admittedly told others that “writing is like breathing.” Cue the eye rolls. Call it writer’s block. What is absolute baffling is that it has not been for a lack of material. My mental energy has been spent making decisions about the usual family things and getting my own classroom together. Also, I just saw my college sophomore off to school and my high schooler and I have been having mutual conversations about how we miss him already. Also, I. Am. Exhausted.

Fun fact. Did you know that it is entirely possible (and probable) to be grateful and sad at the same time? My youngest and I went for a walk today. We walked past a house that my husband and I lived in two years after we married (and one year before we had our oldest child). Already I had been mourning my children growing up before my eyes… and quickly. My memories of that house were midnight trips to Waffle House, standing at the kitchen sink window that overlooked the front yard, and tying our Christmas tree to the window with fishing line after one too many falls (resulting in most of the ornaments breaking).

I always have mixed emotions. I assume we all do (please tell me I am not the only one). Today was blessed. That little walk with my boy with a gentle breeze fluttering the oaks (and a dog antagonizing an unsuspecting bull). We played on the swing set and just sat in the shade. We also took naps. There was lots of laughter today. There were a few tears, as well. Our oldest was home for several months and worked at the family lake. As I walked our road home with my youngest, it was quiet without Clark’s truck coming down the road. I cried (just a little, I promise) . “Mommy, don’t cry. He’s at baseball school.” said my little guy. My sweet daughter misses him, too. I know we raise them to fly, but so did the time and my throat has a lump in it from trying to be strong…

I almost felt like God was in these beautiful, low-lying clouds.

Sometimes I think I see things others might not see. It has nothing to do with my being more spiritual or closer to God. But I have a need, and although I do not believe in signs from God, I believe He is all around us if we look and still our minds and spirits. But that is the hard part, is it not? I get up on weekdays and literally do not stop until I collapse at night. How can I have the time to find God in the craziness of packing lunches, forgetting my school keys, managing a full classroom of preschoolers, taking care of my own children…I find it in the smallest of things. The rain, the five minutes I get to myself in the shower, a hummingbird at the feeder, watching my oldest continue to flourish in college, hearing my daughter tell a funny story, my little one giving me a kiss, low-lying clouds on a walk. And I remember the He is everywhere. When I do not see Him, feel Him, make time for Him, doubt Him, and even when it is hard….God is everywhere. Stop. Look around you. And listen.

These Days

A quiet day on the Escatawpa River

My little one and I went to the beach on the river today (yes, we social distanced). I began to think about the “good old days.” Honestly, I was sad. Life is always an ebb and flow of mountains and valleys, but sometimes the valleys seem to be more in number and mountains harder to climb. I am not what is referred to as a “fish”. I grew up landlocked, cried at swimming lessons, and always preferred mountains over the beach. But for some reason many of my most precious memories revolve around some sort of water.

My Mamaw used to take me fishing when I was very young, probably four or five years old. She baited the hook with real worms. I wore a bonnet that she sewed to keep the sun at bay. This is probably one of my earliest memories about water and I miss her always. I remember going to Destin, Florida, as a child and not once worrying about sharks,jellyfish, sunburns, social distancing, or flesh eating amoebas. Good times they were. My little brothers would toddle around under a tent with my parents and I spent hours riding the waves. Summers were spent on the Ross Barnett Reservoir. We had a camper and there was nothing as exciting as seeing my dad pull up to the driveway with the camper out of storage. These memories include fun times with my two younger brothers and miles and miles of riding bikes around the campground.

As I got more mature (alright, alright…older), weekends were spent at Rapids on the Reservior and three Coke product drink tabs got me into Waterland for free. That wave pool was the best. Then, in college I remember the first time I told my husband (then boyfriend) I loved him. We were on Sand Island (one of my first introductions to Coast life). He had already used those three words a couple of months before, but I needed a little time… he was quite surprised and we were so young and carefree. The same summer, he popped the question in Cancun… on the beach, of course. We had two children and took them to the beach on the river where we live and tubing, of course. They learned to swim in that cold water. One time, my daughter’s tooth got cracked when she and our older son collided as they fell off the tube.

Sometimes I pine for those days in the past, and that is okay because it means they were good days. Not that these days aren’t full of good things, as well. This year, my two teenagers worked at our family’s campground down the road taking up money and filling ice cream orders at the window… the same campground where my husband would throw them in the water off his shoulders after a long day at work. My little one and I watched the annual fireworks at the campground, too. I have loved being home with him during these strange times…I have a feeling that I will pine for the current days in the future, as well. There is a pandemic. There are protests. I am not as young as I used to be. But I have my family and memories of today on the water.

Image: Google

My Country

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedom, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Abraham Lincoln
Image: Google

Whether you have stumbled upon this blog or opened on purpose, there will be no political leanings to be found in this post. Do not get me wrong. I am passionately devoted to a set of values and beliefs that come from a place of prayer, research, and old-fashioned experience. This is not an attempt to sway, cajole, or persuade anyone to “see it my way.” There are too many other opportunities for those conversations. Yes, conversations. Have we forgotten how to talk? Debate? Is it just me, or does it seem as if social media readily fans the flames of dissent? It was most obviously already there. And our news outlets are usually part of the egging on process. I did not point to a party, a group, or a particular subset. This is what I personally see.

Facebook was created in 2004 and followed by Twitter two years later. Instagram had its beginnings in 2010. Since then, many a friend, foe, celebrity, and everyday person has voiced an opinion, been silenced, unfriended, unfollowed, blocked, reported, and spat upon (just kidding… maybe?). As I was driving my preschooler to the pediatrician for a check-up (call when you get there and get scanned for a temp… so unreal), my mind traveled back to another place and time on the very same road. Times were different then. Technology was not what it is now, and I miss those days.

I have traveled the same backroads for many years getting my three children to the pediatrician. My first was born in 2001. I had an easy pregnancy. Harder delivery. A combination of factors led to some postpartum depression. Everything was going smoothly as far as adjusting to having a new baby and I was completely smitten with him and with motherhood in general. But women sometimes have these issues and I was not immune. Try as I may, I could not shake it. I felt down and cried often. Yes, this is going somewhere.

On September 11, 2001, I dropped off my precious seven month old at his daycare and went to work as a remedial reading coach. Around 9 am, our principal called us to the office and told us to watch the television in the conference room. I was floored…. so much so that I had to ask our school counselor what was happening. Then, we watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center. THEN we were told some planes were missing. Our area has a major oil refinery and a shipyard that builds warships…. my baby’s daycare was in front of the shipyard. My principal sternly directed me to go get him. Parents began feverishly checking out their kids from school. I do not remember anything after that except for holding onto my child and watching the news until late in the night.

I remember thinking that this was a scary world to raise a child. My husband would not let me check the mail… remember anthrax? Keep in mind, this has been almost twenty years ago. As news continued to unfold about the terrorist attacks from day to day, there was a tangible sense of togetherness in our country… no certain race, religion, or politics stood out… just the fact that we were all Americans and we were all in this together. It became acceptable to reach across political lines, pray, help our fellow neighbor regardless of differences, sing God Bless America….we were seemingly blind to the insignificance of our differences.

Now, about that postpartum issue. For some reason, the attacks on September 11 made me “snap out of it.” Postpartum depression is very real and it is perfectly acceptable to get help. But on that day, I decided that I had to pull out of it and realized that my child needed me to be strong. Twenty years later, that has not changed. Now I have three children and they still need me to be strong. And it is HARD. The coronavirus, political unrest, and other issues our country is facing has made me realize that we are not united as before. Rather, we are more divided than ever. I wish September 11 never happened. But my country came together. I miss that.

There Were Three

“I want Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Twinkle Little Star, Jesus, and God.” These are the four requests I get every night from my precious toddler. The last two are somewhat vague, but I know what they mean. I am his mother, after all. He wants “Jesus Loves Me”, “Jesus Loves the Little Children” or another spiritual song. I choose “Amazing Grace.” I am not sure why. Maybe I remember that the last time I sang this, he was peaceful and still. I sing one verse of the Row Your Boat and Twinkle Star. I run my fingers through his hair. He wants me to rub his little eyebrows and demonstrates with his chubby fingers…..I am well-versed at this, though. He has two much-older siblings.

I rub his eyebrows and sing “Amazing Grace.” I have to be honest …. it is not my favorite hymn (I do love hymns, though!). He seems to be transfixed, however. His turned-up nose is ever familiar. I sing the second verse and almost cannot finish….

My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood, his mercy reigns. Unending love…. amazing grace.

“Please,” I think. “I have to remember how his little ringlets feel in my fingers. I have to remember his chubby little hands in mine.” I cannot forget. I said twice before I would not forget and yet I did. The familiar curls, upturned nose, baby breath… this is not lost on me. Years ago I sang. I sang to another precious toddler boy, then a little princess girl. I breathed them in and hugged them tightly vowing not to forget. But years come. And years go. And now I cannot remember. My heart breaks while I struggle through the second verse. My heart breaks that I cannot remember. My heart soars. My heart soars because I have one more chance. One more chance to remember, one more chance not to take anything for granted. Not that I took my other babies for granted, but there always seemed to be plenty of time. And now that one is in college and the other is in high school…I’m concurrently proud and admittedly a little sad. It came and it went… all too quickly. But there are three reasons to be thankful. And I am.

All children are miracles…. but some are unexpected miracles. Four years ago this summer at “advancedmaternal age (in medical terms), I found out I was expecting. I was already going through health issues. It was a harrowing experience. I am constantly amazed that he is perfect…. in every way, just like my other two blessings are.

Just Because…

Two of my three blessings holding hands.

Just because you want some time for you… doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because you vented to someone about your kids… doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because you cried or raised your voice in frustration… doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because you didn’t make every game, recital, or program… doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because that child was an unexpected blessing…doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because you can’t give your kids designer clothes and the newest car… doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because you taught them well, but their choices are disappointing…. doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because the tv or iPad was the primary babysitter for that one day… doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because you work outside the home and others watch your child…. doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because dinner wasn’t fresh out of the oven, but rather leftovers or drive-through.. doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because you’re a stay at home mom and may not supplement income… doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.

Just because you feel overwhelmed at this motherhood experience…. well, you’re overwhelmed because you love. You care. And you’re a wonderful mother.

Refined

This coin necklace was a special gift from my Grandaddy.

Cleaning out closets is never my favorite pastime. Unfortunately, I like the results without the work that goes into it. I have a family and not too many opportunities to have hours at a time to tackle such projects. If you’ve ever gotten a sudden motivation to take on a chore like this, you know that’s it’s “now or never.” So this was the week and I made it happen (i.e. I hurried!). I’m always hesitant because I’m a sentimental person and don’t want to donate/sell things or I’m admittedly emotional when I find something that I’ve not seen in awhile.

I literally took everything out of my closet…. including jewelry. There’s a shelf that wraps around the top of my closet where I keep seasonal items I’m not wearing. I dust mopped the floors and then stepped on a chair to dust the shelf. There it was…. I knew in the back of my mind that I’d put the necklaces up there, but had forgotten. Several months had probably passed. There was the gold coin necklace my late Grandaddy had given me when I was young and it was irreversibly tangled with two other necklaces that I liked. The other two weren’t sentimental, but I didn’t want to ruin them OR the special necklace… so I had just settled on them being permanently intertwined.

Hot mess!

Determined I was going to “fix” this mess, I began to try and untangle the three necklaces with my fingers… it was hard to tell one from the other except that the gold necklace had a gleam the other “costume” necklaces lacked. Oh, I tried. Actually, I had almost decided to leave them that way (pretty silly, huh?). I just thought I could save all three. After about one minute of this, I realized that I was wasting my time. I was going to have to take extreme measures. Cue the scissors.

As I began cutting away everything that WASN’T the special necklace, so many different things came to mind. I realized that God works in similar ways. We hold onto things that don’t matter, similar to my costume jewelry, and forget about what’s important… just like my precious gold necklace. And what’s REAL gets tangled, so to speak. Sometimes we decide to “let go” and cull what’s holding us back ourselves, but sometimes God orchestrates this cutting away… and it’s unpleasant.

I only have worth if my house is clean, I have to ALWAYS be my best at my job, my kids need to be______, I have to have all the _______, I need to be invited to _______, I have to look like _______. I can’t forgive _____ because he/she isn’t sorry. No one understands me. And the list never ends. Ever.

And we tell ourselves these things because it’s hard to change. Scary, actually. But God loves us too much to let us stay this way. Although small in comparison, I could have just left the precious necklace tangled. It’s too small to wear anyway. But I know it’s worth. God knows your worth. So He’s cutting away everything that doesn’t mirror His character and that doesn’t matter. This sounds beautiful. It’s ugly sometimes and quite painful. So let’s get real.

Someone hurt my feelings this week. No, this isn’t a sob story! Stay with me. I was upset and maybe even a little angry. Months ago I probably would have had something to say that wasn’t very gracious. Now, my emotions didn’t FEEL gracious when I was hurt. But I took a moment to think and even said a little prayer (more like a cry for help!). And…guess what!!! I was still hurt.😂But my response was calm and gracious. Can I tell you that months ago this wouldn’t have been the case? And this isn’t a reflection of my maturity or spiritual state at all, but simply a product of some painful but necessarily cutting away of insecurities. And I know that I have a long way to go. A long way. Lots of ground to cover. Miles to go before…. you get the picture!

The after…. much better!

As much work as it takes to clean out a closet, decluttering those things in our hearts and minds that AREN’T real is so much harder. And it sometimes even feels like we’re being punished when, in fact, God is seeking to refine us. When we’re hurt, ashamed, afraid…,those are valid feelings and we want to be understood. But gradually we can see progress, even if it’s a little at a time. We have to continue to pray, read God’s word, talk to a trusted friend, or even seek out counseling. I probably cut on these necklaces for at least ten minutes. Interestingly, the costume necklaces pulled away very easily at the end of the process… and when we can lose the weight of what’s not real, not true, in our lives…. be it insecurity, shame over something in the past, hurt, unforgiveness, then we can see what’s real. And it’s beautiful.

Thank you, Drew

Sergeant Drew Rahaim, U.S. Army

Dear Drew,

You probably don’t remember me, but I certainly remember you. Actually, my earliest memories of you are in church. You and your sister Erin sat in front of my family often in church. Both of you would turn around and smile at me. I just remember thinking what beautiful children you were with your brown hair, you with big brown eyes, and your sister’s green. I was probably 13 and your mom asked if I would babysit. You were about four years old. I talked to Erin recently… she loves you so much and said I could write.

I babysat you and Erin several times, but I remember the first time the most! This is probably because your mom wanted me to cook some hamburgers for y’all on a countertop grill. I was very nervous that I would get it wrong. I don’t remember messing up or either of you complaining. Actually, I just remember playing with y’all and something about making sure you were in bed on time. Honestly, I think it’s all fuzzy to me because you and your sister were such easy children to babysit …. just very sweet.

So many years passed without me realizing it and we all grew up! I had a little boy of my own. He’s 19 now, but used to remind me a little of you. When he was little, he had tousled brown hair, too, and his eyes are big and blue. Actually, I have three children. I’m am grateful that they live in a free country. I know it’s because of you and other brave men and women. Today, Memorial Day, we will be spending time together, but I promise to tell them why we have that freedom. When my oldest was 17, there was some talk of a mandatory draft and it frightened me as a mother. I mean, you’re 22 and that’s so young! I actually heard a pastor on Sunday talking about how we envision our soldiers as older, bent over veterans from wars long past on walkers and wheelchairs, but I know better, Drew. So many of our soldiers are just boys like you.


Erin told me that after 9/11 you had to immediately fly out on a helicopter. I didn’t realize you are a sniper… that’s also the name of her dog! She mentioned how worried she was because she couldn’t reach you, but you called her that night to reassure her that you were okay. And because big sisters REALLY love their younger brothers (I know because I have two), she also told me that you couldn’t disclose your location to her but for her never to forget how much you love her. I can promise you that she hasn’t forgotten at all. You sent her a birthday card that said, “Thank you for being a great sister and friend.” She has your handwriting on a tattoo with an infinity symbol. That’s definitely a great sister.

And that’s why I wanted to write… just to say thank you and that we will never forget you, Drew, or any of the other selfless men and women who sacrificed their lives for something bigger than the rest of us. You are not forgotten. I know you’re forever 22…. but I will always see you as the little boy with the big brown eyes smiling at us in church.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of Sergeant Drew Rahaim. He was killed on February 16, 2005, two weeks after his twenty-second birthday (Jan.31). Sergeant Rahaim was on voluntary patrol when the road collapsed under his humvee. The humvee then flipped into a canal. Before he died, Drew sent his sister Erin a birthday card that read, “Thank you for being a great sister and friend.” Drew, thank you for being a great friend …. and hero to us all.

A special thank you to Erin Rahaim for continuing to be a great sister and honoring her brother through this blog. She was gracious and generous with her time and memories.

What I’ve Missed

I always flew kites with my older two and now little one is enjoying this (I am, too!).

I like planners. This is probably because I’m a slightly anxious person who thrives on consistency and knowing what to expect on a daily basis. Some months the planner looks fairly typical with appointments and reminders of deadlines written in the spaces. Other months, the squares completely disappear under a tangle of handwritten reminders… almost one on top of the other. That’s the overwhelming part. For obvious reasons, my planner has more empty spaces right now and sometimes I don’t pick it up for days. Honestly, it was time.

Much has been said during this quarantine about what people have missed. We miss shopping in certain stores, dining in, ballgames, concerts, traveling…. and the list goes on. Heck, I’ve said it, as well… mine is mostly limited to HomeGoods and Target. I’m learning that I’m more of an introvert than I previously thought. It’s surprising how much I haven’t missed. My son graduated last year, and my heart absolutely hurts for the seniors and their families…. years of anticipation of prom, awards night, and graduation ceremonies duly put off or canceled. I’ve missed my parents who live several hours away. My thoughts go to the people in hospitals and nursing homes who look forward to those visits from loved ones… how lonely they must be. On the practical side, others are missing a paycheck. Small businesses are struggling and some are going under . Life just doesn’t go on as usual for these whose livelihoods are affected. We can’t deny that all of us are missing something, some more than others.

Our cow dog and my daughter.

But as I’ve had time to reflect on the minor inconveniences of being in a quarantine, so much has been brought to my heart and mind of the more important things I’ve missed before all of this happened. Do you ever look at your children and it’s as if time all of a sudden skipped? They seemed so young one day and almost grown the next. I’m not going to say we’ve sat down every night and played a game, but we have played games several times and eaten together. We’ve watched television. We’ve just sat and had conversations. My youngest and I have spent much time cooking pretend food in his little kitchen , playing in the sand, and flying kites… something I did with my older two that makes me very wistful of bygone days sometimes.

All of this newfound time to play, to do nothing, to hang out, to be lazy, to sit and talk, to listen, to just be with my children is a silver lining to an unexpected and unique time in our lives. I don’t miss my planner. I don’t want to completely go back to normal. Honestly, I was struggling before all of this happened. Family seemed to get my second-best. For me, this is a poignant and somewhat sad reminder that no amount of work, errands, appointments, or self-imposed to-do lists can replace the time spent watching those children grow… because time is fleeting, irreplaceable, and gone in a moment. And time with them is what I’ve been missing all along.

My oldest has had more time to fish.