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.

Five Minutes

I need a five… and a one, I guess. These are not supposed to be on my wall. Hmmm.

During the school year, I have one set rule when we get home from school, cheer, games, errands… whatever it is. For five minutes, I get a hot shower. By myself. Uninterrupted. Or that’s how it’s supposed to work. I am a preschool teacher. Preschoolers require lots of one on one attention. The job is a combination of physical and mental stamina, similar to parenting. So when I come home to my own teenagers, husband, and preschooler, that five minutes is not a luxury. It is essential.

Since being quarantined, that five minutes is not always available to me. Between preparing lessons and work packets for my students, keeping up with laundry, housework, and feeding five people, taking a break does not happen often. Some days are better than others. There are so many posts on social media about being Supermom and being thankful one hundred percent of the time we are with our children. I have had a BLAST being at home, but these types of posts make it easy to feel guilty about having an “off” day. Today has been that day.

The morning started with my husband getting up, going outside, and setting off the car alarm… at 4:15. I am not a morning person. The dog began to squeal at 5:50 and my toddler followed suit at six. So much for sleeping in. I had a two-hour Zoom meeting, then it was time for lunch and nap. “Um…. who fried pork chops and left grease everywhere?” I thought. The rest of the kitchen did not look much better. My little one was NOT about taking a nap today, either. Great.

By this time of day, I have usually done some housework, played with my little one, and worked a little. Nothing was getting done except the little one and I both stepped in dog poop (our dog is STILL not house trained), and then he stepped in it again. The mail didn’t pick up my package and I had to redo some work I thought was correct. I figured a hot shower (and five minutes alone) would be the ticket. Little did I know that my husband, toddler, and daughter were walking in the bathroom together as I was standing there about to get in the shower! Typical!

I guess what I am trying so say is that during this challenging time and, really, any time… it is okay and necessary for moms to take “five minutes”, whatever that means to you. Honestly, I cried for five minutes today, and I just really needed that. Praying, listening to music, taking a shower, and, yes, sometimes even crying for a few minutes is what can make us better moms. I hope you find your five minutes sometimes today… and every day. You ARE doing a wonderful job.

Brave

I am not brave. This sounds almost as if I assumed at one point in time that I possessed this trait. Actually, I am naturally inclined toward anxiety. There are times during this pandemic that I feel almost numb. Then, the fear and uncertainty of it all washes over me like cold water and I feel the need to gasp and steady my breathing. During these moments, tears, insomnia, and even irritability supersede any effort to remain calm. Hopefully, some of you can see yourselves as I see you…This blog post is dedicated to all of you, the brave ones.

To our medical heroes. You are brave. From the front lines of hospitals and clinics, you fight for others. You are in harms way, often at the expense of your safety, your family life, and sometimes, unfortunately, even your own.

To my fellow educators. You are brave. Providing an education for your students in new and different formats is challenging and you have stepped up to the plate. What we do is a calling. I applaud you.

To the Class of 2020. You are brave. All I can say is how sorry I am that you and your parents are missing milestones that cannot be replaced. My son graduated last year and this would break my heart as a parent. There will be new, wonderful memories to be made, but no one should deny your disappointment.

To the essential workers. You are brave. My husband is one of you. I pray for his safety, as well as yours, and pray that our families stay well. You keep the country going, stock the shelves, build the ships… and you are vital.

To the parents. You are brave. Many of you are working from home and doing school with your children. Remember that you do not have to be just like the teacher. If you are a single parent, I pray extra blessings and grace for you.

To the one who lost a job. You are brave. Life is not fair for you right now. Do not give up. So many are praying for you….there will be better days ahead. Keep going.

To the students. You are brave. Adapting to a new way of learning and isolating from friends are hard on their own much less at the same time. Give yourself grace. This will strengthen you in the long run.

Finally, to my three children… you are the bravest people I know and I love you. One of you has had to leave close friends and roommates and an inaugural college baseball season. Another is also isolated from friends and is still waiting to wear the beautiful ball gown in the closet for the spring ball. The youngest is somewhat confused but understands enough to know that he misses his friends… he asks about them daily.

Thank you for being brave. Because you are, I will be, too.

Normal

The Escatawpa River is fairly quiet right now. This isn’t normal for spring…. but nothing is right now.

Easter is my favorite holiday. I love it, not only for its Christian significance, but because of the memories I have as a child. My Mamaw used to make all my Easter dresses and my momma always bought me a new pair of white patent shoes. I remember hunting for eggs we had dyed and sometimes one would get overlooked and start to smell in our yard. As a mother, Easter has meant finding the perfect outfits for my children as well as making sure they understand the spiritual significance it holds for us as Christians. I also must add that spring is my favorite season because it has always meant watching our son play baseball and watching plants bloom after the winter. Easter and spring signify new life.

This spring has definitely been anything but normal. What has struck me, though, is how some things never change regardless of the circumstances. Just this morning, I’ve headed off my little one’s hissy fit so my husband can sleep off night shift. This is fairly typical for our house. The dog has managed to pee and poop on the rug even though I just took him outside. He’s probably mad because I bathed him. My older two still ask. “What is there to eat?” several times a day. When I checked the mail yesterday, I took some pictures of the cows and the wildflowers. The woodpeckers were working on their respective trees, and dragonflies darted around. Nature goes on as intended, vastly unaware and unconcerned about a worldwide pandemic.

Since we’ve been out of school, several things have changed. I’m cooking more. The house is neater. We spend more time together as a family. I’ve also seen changes outside our home. People are more unselfish, patient, kind. This reminds me of how things were after Hurricane Katrina… neighbor helping neighbor, stranger helping stranger. The small things are the big things. And it’s wonderful. The juxtaposition is that a pandemic has seemingly made us come back to what’s important…. and there’s nothing normal about that.

I will never forget these precarious times. I wouldn’t want to, for I’ve been broken into a million pieces with the realization that MY normal hadn’t been what it should be. I hadn’t put my faith and my family first. And as I internalize my new normal, my new priorities, I must go now. The dog needs food and so do the children. Some things never change. Thank goodness for that.

Grace

One day at a time, little one…

Grace:(n) “….. the unmerited favor of God.“. Unmerited:(adj.)”not deserved.”

Where do I even begin? The day started innocuously enough. Granted, my husband woke at 3:30 to get ready for work. I’m a light sleeper so going back to sleep sometimes eludes me. However, when the puppy woke at 4:30, I began to wonder how this day would actually unfold. My rest during the night had been at least fitful. Every noise meant a quick awakening to check on the baby. I believe this is referred to as being “on edge.” Obviously, I had already arrived at this state.

If you would have told me two weeks ago not only would my school be closing for at least a month, but that we would also be scrambling to find groceries , I wouldn’t have believed it. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around what is happening. This blog post is one I started two weeks ago…. I’m just now getting to sit and finish it. Well, technically, I’m just now TAKING the time to finish it. My other excuse for not completing it sooner is that if I write this, I must face my emotions. Fun times.

Because I started this particular post two weeks ago, I can’t vividly remember the specifics of the day. I do, however, remember exactly why I began writing this. I remember because of the same reason I’m writing tonight. I need forgiveness and grace. From God. From my family . From myself. On this particular day about two weeks ago, I ran out of patience with my little one. I’m sure it wasn’t for lack of trying, but he is three and he is strong-willed. Still, I felt guilty for feeling so impatient.

Fast-forward two weeks and I still need grace, especially in the evenings. Although we have made so many wonderful memories in spite of the threat around us, bedtime tends to be the weak link in the day. This tends to begin at supper, and tonight was no exception. Little one began to get more and more “active.” He wouldn’t sit down to eat and kept rolling on the floor and making me worry about germs. More than once, I found myself getting short with him because it seems as if his little ears cease to listen around 6 pm. Guilt began to wash over me.

During supper, our college-aged son began to talk baseball. This isn’t unusual considering he’s been playing since he was four, but it struck my heart. Just like thousands of others, his first season in college was cut short by this insidious virus. He has prepared to walk on a college field for 15 years. As I looked at my daughter sitting at the table, I thought of the times she mentioned others her age still congregating on beaches despite the warnings. Two weeks ago, she bristled at our stance of no socializing at this time. Now, her attitude about the quarantine had changed and she seemed older and wiser in such a brief period of time.

All of these thoughts began to swirl simultaneous, and as I walked to the pantry, I began to cry. Truthfully, I’ve cried many times in the shower. I couldn’t even make it past the pantry, though! I cried for my son and his disappointment over baseball. He hasn’t complained at all, which somehow breaks my heart even more. I cried for my daughter’s loneliness. We are blessed to live on a beautiful river, but she has no friends nearby to even sit safety apart with outside. I cried for my lack of patience with my little one. How many times has he asked me where his friends are and why he can’t see his grandparents? His little heart doesn’t understand what is happening. Mostly, I cried because my children, ALL children, are facing some hard realities that just seem so surreal.

My husband put little one to bed and the “games” began. He asked to get up and potty. Then, he asked again. After that, he wanted his lamp on. Get the picture? I remembered asking God earlier in the day to give me grace… to just be patient and give me another chance. Really, I was asking for forgiveness . The realization that my children deserve the same grace wasn’t lost on me. I turned on little one’s lamp. Instead of leaving, I sang his favorite songs and he asked me to rub his little eyebrows as I sang. I did…without hesitation. One day I’ll explain this unprecedented time in history to little one. I’ll explain grace to him, as well. But for now, I’ll just be thankful for God’s grace. I’ll pray for the strength to extend the same grace to my three precious children. And I’ll show them grace, one day at a time.

My sweet daughter
My handsome older son

First, Take Care

It’s all going to be ALL right!
Corinthians 12:9

This is going to be a quick one. Wait. I’ve used that line before. Oh, well. This IS going to be a quick one. There. The time change is messing with me, so I’m staying awake and will pay dearly tomorrow. What with church, groceries, and International Women’s Day, it’s been a busy one. I had never heard of this day until today and keep seeing lots of inspirational posts on social media. I’m not going to get into the specifics of International Women’s Day because I’m not the expert on the particular day itself. However, I AM an expert on being a woman.

In church this morning (yes, this is going somewhere), my pastor preached on what to do after putting on the Armor of God. Without getting wordy, the Armor of God are spiritual truths which one uses to stand against evil. He spoke of praying for oneself, praying for others, and praying for pastors. My pastor pointed out that we must pray for ourselves first.

Me? Put myself first in prayer? As a woman and a mother, this surprised me. Isn’t the point of my life to take care of others first? The term “self-care” is really popular right now and sometimes it can come across as being shallow. As he continued to preach, my pastor used the example of a rescuer. If a rescuer goes to help someone and he/she doesn’t take care of his/her safety FIRST, then both the rescuer and the one needing to be rescued are doomed. This made perfect sense! A firefighter can’t run into a burning building without a fireproof uniform and oxygen. A police officer cannot rescue a hostage without a bulletproof vest.

As a mother, I need to pray for myself. Before I can have the wisdom or strength to help guide my family, I must ask for God to equip me. By myself I am neither strong or wise enough. I need to put on that protective “armor” that only He can give. I’m not saying that moms should never have alone time, time with friends or a spouse, a much-deserved pedicure, or the like. I love ALL those things! But when I feel at the “end of my rope”, weary, worn down, and discouraged… I can go to the One who can provide strength, courage, and hope where there seems to be none.

Take care of yourselves, moms. It’s okay to be first sometimes.