Put a Little Dirt on It

Around noon, I arrived at the church parking lot. Within minutes, Cooper’s Boy Scout troop was due to return from a weekend’s campout. I craned my neck to catch a glimpse of my son’s approach.

“Late again,” I sighed as I rechecked my watch for the third time.

Within minutes, Cooper bounced from a vehicle and bounded towards our car. I leaped out of the driver’s seat and raced towards my son. I imagined our embrace after a weekend apart; I would squeeze his middle and tussle his hair. He would grin and rest his head on my shoulder.

But as we moved closer together, I soaked in his appearance. Muddy streaks caked his forehead and cheeks. His clothes looked as if they were dragged along the highway and then tossed into a pond. And as he came closer, I noted a distinctive odor. Memorable may be the best word to describe it.

“How about a high-five,” I suggested with my hand in the air

He whacked my hand and beamed with elation, “I had the best time.”

Cooper walked over to the car and tossed his equally grimy backpack into the trunk. Then, he jumped into the passenger seat.

On the way home, I rolled down the windows for “better ventilation.” The stench, however, seemed unwilling to vent. During the short commute home, Cooper gushed about his weekend’s events. He mentioned a plethora of outdoor fun, but I heard nothing about a shower. Hygiene it seems is a superfluous activity.

For a tween boy, a weekend classifies as a success when the dirt outweighs the showers.

I reminded myself a little dirt won’t kill him, or his mama.

Teen Training: Hold Your Tongue

I have a cousin whose wife birthed four boys in four years. Her boys range in age from toddlers down to a baby. To say her life is busy would be an understatement of epic proportions.

At a recent family function my cousin’s wife and I swapped stories from the trenches as mothers of four boys. After discussing diapers and tantrums, she commented, “I keep thinking about the ages of your sons. It must be so much easier at your boys’ ages.”

I choked on my drink as I pondered whether my cousin’s wife ever met a teenager.

While my boys have entered a very fun age where conversations center on more adult topics and their independence is welcomed, older children bring their own unique set of challenges.

Currently, one teen son fights authority and voices his disdain in the teenage version of a toddler’s “no.”

It’s tough.

The struggle is real.

Like real, real.

When he’s arguing the merits of my decision and opinions, I’m tempted to throw my own version of a toddler tantrum. I want to raise my voice, toss back hurtful words, or yell effective threats. Somedays it takes willpower to firmly bite my tongue and step away.

On one particular day when my teen was feeling feisty, I prayed about my response. The verse “Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV)

I let this verse soak into my heart.

I’m quick to think my teenager is the problem. But, what role am I playing in the breakdown of communication? In an attempt to have my teen comply, am I exasperating his spirit?

I asked God for forgiveness for my missteps as a parent. Then, I asked my teen for forgiveness too.

I’d love to report a quick turn around in my teen’s behavior and our communication.

That didn’t happen.

But within the hour, we both spoke with a greater level of kindness and respect towards one another. My heart had more compassion for a son who is learning to walk into manhood.

I’m grateful that God placed this verse in my mind. Since that time, I’ve been mindful that my goal is to train, not enrage. I’m learning to speak in a better way.

Camp Stowaways

Yesterday afternoon, my two youngest sons piled into the minivan. Backpacks, sleeping bags, and pillows packed the trunk. I jumped into the driver’s seat and the boys buckled their seat belts.

“Ready to head to camp?” I asked the boys in a chirpy tone.

Both boys nodded and stared out the window.

“We’ll be there in 90 minutes,” I announced while pulling out of the driveway.

As I turned the car onto the Interstate, Cooper asked, “Mom, do they search your bags at camp?”

Warning bells rang within my mama’s brain.

Typically it’s not the innocent child who is worried about a camp bag search. The child fretting about the search is the one smuggling in the Twizzlers, six-pack of Cokes, sparklers, bb gun, or (the worst offender yet) a cell phone. I wondered which item Cooper stowed away in his bag?

I thought about my options:

  1. Admit the list of “don’ts” on the packing list is unenforced by camp staff.
  2. Let him fear a search and hope his guilty conscience (or fear of getting caught) leads to better packing choices.

I chose the latter.

I never witnessed Cooper pulling anything out of his bag. Today, I pondered whether his question was purely inquisitive or fear-induced. Only time will tell, or a phone call from the counselor. I’m bracing myself for a call.

The Manual for Living

During a recent morning commute, I surfed the radio stations. I flipped through an array of choices: country, rap, contemporary pop, and classic rock. Eventually, I clicked onto a new local station. Gospel music flowed from my dashboard radio, a mixture of soulful crooning and spirited vocals. I was entranced with the music.

Immediately, I tried to save this station to my programmed list of radio stations. I wanted to easily access this station again. But, here’s one thing to know about me: technology is not my friend. I fumble aimlessly with my iPhone and easily become frustrated with my computer. It would help if I read directions and invested in training. Instead, I like to push a bunch of buttons and toy with switches until something magically falls into place.

I wouldn’t recommend this method to others.

I have a friend who reads manuals…..for fun. She recently bought a car, and she spent the next day reading the entire manual. The whole dang thing.

I question her sanity.

However, she knows exactly how to connect her bluetooth, locate her spare tire, and operate her parking break.

Maybe she’s on to something.

While trying to program my radio, I thought about my friend. Maybe I should actually read the car manual. In the glove compartment box, I dusted off the thick paperback book and found the right page. The instructions pointed to buttons and a correct sequence of events. Within minutes, I breezed through programming my radio.

By looking at the manual, I had so much more success. I thought about how it applied to my life. Why do I waste so much time trying to fumble through things with no direction or guidance? When was the last time I truly looked to scripture to determine my next step?

A friend uttered some careless, hurtful words.

A son pushed the parental boundaries.

A neighbor asked for wisdom and guidance.

A stranger needed help.

I’m not left to aimlessly find the answers through a series of trial and errors. God already provided the manual. All I need to do is read it.

I Am Who He Says I Am

A friend and I wandered through the grocery store aisles in the hunt for fresh tomatoes and leafy greens. My friend, an amateur chef with the culinary talents of the Barefoot Contessa, offered to make dinner. It took me about two seconds to eagerly accept and accompany her to the store to buy the ingredients.

In the grocery, we exchanged small talk while reading can labels and examining the produce. Our conversation largely centered on serving sizes and nutritional values. But somewhere before the frozen food section, we stepped from light chatter into vulnerable dialogue. It started with a discussion about our mutual friend.

“She’s effortlessly juggling motherhood and work,” I shared about our friend. “Her kids are thriving and so successful.”

I grew quiet and continued, “But if I am going to be honest here, I feel really inadequate when I’m around her.”

Then, I spewed onto my friend all the negative chatter in my head. I disclosed all my perceived deficiencies, especially in comparison to our friend. I divulged my parental shortcomings, personal failing, and work missteps.

My kind friend listened to my endless, anguished musings. Finally, she responded, “I don’t think you appreciate what you bring to the table.”

I stopped pushing the cart and gazed in her direction.

She continued, “You have a warmth and friendliness that can only be described as a gift. Why aren’t you looking at what you bring into relationships?”

It was a record scratching, pivotal moment.

In a recent Bible study, we discussed who God says that we are to Him. The list ran long, but I remember a few key phrases. We are His beloved, daughters and sons of the King, chosen, and redeemed.

Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are His workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”

I so often buy the lie that I am less than who God says I am. I focus on my flaws and mistakes without fixating on what I bring to the table merely as a child of Christ.

I am not less than, faulty, flawed, or lacking.

I am who He says I am.

Because of that, I confidently bring everything to the table.

Worshipping the Creator of the Music

I crept into the back row of our church’s sanctuary. Before I had a chance to slide into my seat, denim-clad musicians walked onto the stage. As if on cue, the parishioners jumped to their feet. The music minister strummed an electric guitar. A tattooed percussionist tapped on the drums, a blond vocalist belted out lyrics, and a pianist danced on the keys. The combined sound electrified the room transforming the space into a make-shift rock concert.

I swayed and belted out the lyrics. As a gift to my neighboring churchgoers, the pulsating sound drowned out my tone-deaf crooning. Most of the time, I stood transfixed to the music, engaged in the worship. But, I had moments where my eyes wandered around the room. The array of praise styles mirrored the vast diversity of the audience. Some people merely stared blankly at the screen; while others participated with the fervency of enthusiastic devotees.

I observed that many of the gray-haired congregants silently retreated when the music began. I remember my Dad explaining why his generation shrank with the boisterous sound. “It’s just not our style,” my Dad explained. “The music is just way too loud.” From the body language of his generational peers, I gauged many other seniors shared his sentiments.

However, one gray-haired woman nearby danced like a teenager. She waved, shimmied, wiggled, and applauded. Watching her, I had a glimpse of what worship must look like in heaven where inhibitions and bashfulness have no place.

Did she like this style of music? I questioned internally. Wouldn’t she rather chant hymns with familiar lyrics and recognizable melodies? I speculated.

But the woman didn’t look conflicted or agitated, just joyful.

I wanted to probe the woman about her worship, but she slipped out of the service before we had a chance to talk. Instead, I mused over her actions and conjured up a conclusion. I imagined this woman found worship to be more about the creator of the music, than the style of the song. She treated worship like, worship. And when one sings like that, the music doesn’t dictate the dance.

Beautiful Redemption

Yesterday, I sat in an attorney’s office with my friend, a mediator, and her legal counsel. Laptops, paper piles, and notepads littered the tabletop. An expansive window provided a view of gray skies and accumulating rain pellets. The gloomy weather mirrored the somber mood in the room.

My friend had hoped for a different outcome to her marriage. She’d prayed for healing, miraculous interventions, and shocking transformations, but conditions remained the same. Almost two decades of marriage were reduced to numerical values and percentages.

I sat by my friend and grieved while she grieved. What words are best said to a friend when her world is ensnarled in turmoil? I’m sorry about your divorce seemed trite. I understand seemed insensitive. You’re better off without him seemed harsh. Ultimately, I decided to serve as a silent support and prayerful presence. My purpose was not to be vocal, but reassuring and consoling.

The next day, I chatted with my brother about the mediation process. My brother underwent his own divorce mediation a year earlier. “Through your divorce and my friend’s divorce, I’ve learned life just isn’t fair,” I declared.

I waited for my brother’s “Amen,” as he had experienced a tremendous amount of heartache and hurt over the course of the last few years. Of anyone, my brother should be cheerleading my declaration.

Instead, my brother cleared his throat and began. “I think you’re half right. Life isn’t fair, but you left out the second part of that statement,” he replied. “Life isn’t fair, but God redeems our pain.”

Then, my brother recounted writing a recent document, six pages filled with ways God provided for him within the last few years. He chronicled people, phrases, and provisions that appeared at just the right time. With his words and stories, he recorded numerous examples of how God had been good to him. All the time.

I rethought my role as a friend to those suffering. In the last few years, I’ve served as a confidant and companion to a few friends and family walking through divorce. It’s been a privilege to hold the hand of a loved one battling wounds. Yet, I’ve been more apt to settle into the injustice rather than recognize the redemption. How many God moments have gone unidentified and unappreciated?

In the Bible, God promises He can create beauty from everything, even dirty, tattered ashes. God can do the same for my friend facing a fractured marriage. Maybe the marriage will not be stitched back together, but beautiful, God-orchestrated redemption still shines through the dust.

“Thank you for reminding me that injustice is not the end of the story,” I thanked my brother. “Redemption has the final say.”