For Those Moments {When We Think We are Not Enough}

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When I walked up the narrow staircase one week ago today, darkness had already enveloped our country home. It was night-time, around 10:00 p.m. when I knocked on your closed bedroom door, asking if I might come in. You were reading, a bed-side light shining its sheen across the page. The room was awash in a warm glow. You looked up expectantly. I felt such relief at seeing you there. Such a safe place to be— under our roof, where a body knows they are loved unconditionally. Where a body knows that they will be cherished forever.

I sat on the end of your bed and looked at you. Stared unabashedly at amazing you.

And inside my mother’s heart I felt the need to tell you how much you are loved. Felt the need to tell you how much I believe in you: believing that you have much to offer this world, much to give this circle of influence in which you have been placed.

I felt the need to tell you how incredible are the offerings and talents with which you’ve been gifted. Telling you how valued you are to both your father and I— to our whole family. I felt the need to tell you that who you are is enough for anyone, including yourself. You have much to give. Much to put forward to anyone.

I felt the need to tell you. And so I did.

But more than that.

I wanted you to also know that you, Precious You: You are worth so much more than even what we, your parents, think and feel. You are Loved, with an Eternal Love; loved by the One who knows no boundaries, no limits, no restrictions. Who knows no Shadow of Turning, knows no minute fraction of faltering. You are loved eternally. Wholly, purely, completely.

I wanted you to know.

But Child of Mine, there will be some, who will someday, somewhere cause you to consider whether you are enough. There will be voices that will taunt, will jeer. Will question, will doubt. And there will be niggling worries that will grow into all-out, full-blown fears in your mind. There will come a day when you will give ear to the thought that ‘who you are is not enough’.

Not enough for the crowd.
Not enough for the moment.
Not enough for the situation.
Not enough for the requirements.
Not enough for the job.
Not enough for the part.
Quite simply, not enough.

There will be moments, and these moments will come. For they have come for us all, at one time or another.

God says it differently to us:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love… with loving-kindness I have drawn you.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

There is never a question of whether or not we are enough.
We always were. We always are. And we always will be.

There is nothing that will separate us from that Love.

No crowd’s opinion.
No moment’s worry.
No situational disaster.
No lacking requirements.
No failed attempt nor any missing parts that need be present.
Nothing.

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)

I left your room that night, tears falling freely. For I am so honored to have been given this opportunity to love you. It is my mission, my heart’s desire to impart to you the knowledge of this love.

A love that will endure for always. And forever ever after that.

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Be a Noticer

“The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention. The guy who invented the smallpox vaccine didn’t actually invent anything. He just noticed that people with cowpox didn’t get smallpox.” — Augustus Waters, in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

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We are almost there.
It’s almost that time of year again, Students. And while you’re probably not even thinking about sitting in class behind a desk, not anxious yet to trade in summer for fall: I am already there in my mind. It’s already happening.
I am already planning and thinking and wondering and hoping. I am already imagining you.
I wonder who you are, what makes you tick, what you like, where you live. Are you a morning person or a late-night owl; are you funny, are you loud? Do you have any fears of your own? Are you ready for this next chapter of your life to open wide and be written?
Who are you?
And while we might have never met, I do have one thing I want to offer you right now, before everything begins again and we are caught up in the surge of emotion that accompanies each given school year.
My biggest hope for you—what I want for you even before I have met you and come to know your unique personality and particular way of knowing, is that you be a ‘noticer’. A ‘see’-er of life.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to do. Told to get out our pencil and pens. Get out our paper, and write. Read. Discuss. Speak. Told to turn to page 5 and then fashion a paragraph. Told to answer six questions on page 32.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to act. Told to cut and shape. Mold and make. Told to fashion that school bus craft just as we’re told. Told to fold the paper along the crease. Told to colour in the lines.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to perform. Told to sit right, listen up, shut up, straighten up, fly right. Told to mind our manners, watch our tongue, keep it down, watch out.
We are not taught to notice, we are taught to produce. To achieve, churn out, give up, construct and generate.
But we are not taught to notice.
Have we ever stopped to consider that noticing precedes doing? And yet, we are not taught that this act in itself is essential. We are encouraged rather to act. To get things done. To carry out both our will as well as that of those in authority over us.
Students, if I can ask of you just this: learn to notice the world around you. Learn to watch more carefully, listen more closely, feel more deeply, understand more fully.
Watch with both your eyes and ears. Use all the senses that have been gifted you.
Listen with both your ears and your heart.
Feel others pain and joy with compassion and care.
Understand that this life is not just about you—it is about a world around you full of people and living things that beg for you to notice them.
We have not been shown well, not really been taught how to notice the people and world around us. You can change this pattern, Student. You can be the one to do things differently.
One smart decision at a time.

Hold On

“When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on”
― Theodore Roosevelt

retrieved from woman.thenest.com

I am sitting at the back of the Bayliner, watching the waves gently rock us to and fro as we idle in the water. Husband is at the helm, and I am flanked by three of our four children. The Other is awkwardly sitting in the river with water-skis attached to her feet. She bobs like a buoy as she awaits the pull of the boat. The call comes for her to ready herself and I can almost feel her nerves—taut and anxious as she grasps on the two-way handle-bar. There is a split-second, a moment where we all are unsure. Will she gain the momentum necessary? Will she hold on? Will she right herself in time? Will she let go?

We pull ahead with a forceful thrust and she dives into the water, side-long or head first. I cannot recall. This, an unplanned entry either the route. The same procedure begins again. The boat pulling around in a circle while the tow rope slowly makes its way towards her through the water. Her arms reaching and then grabbing onto the tow line, holding on as if for dear life. The tense moment of waiting and then the lunge forward.

The boat pulls as if hauling a butterfly. But she again is unable to manage the propulsion. She slips and topples back into the water. (Thankful for a patient teacher in her Dad.)

This holding on and letting go is taking its toll, is trying her patience; but I can see that she is determined. Even when the drift takes us into murky seaweed. Even when she falls for the eighth time. Even when. She is discouraged but not deterred.

One more try.

She finally makes it upright after her ninth attempt, and we all cheer ecstatically from the sidelines. You can see even from a distance that she is very pleased with this accomplishment. So she should be. She has held on and we are moving forward through clear waters, nothing but sunshine and blue skies overhead.

Holding on is hard work, but it is worth it. It requires grit, stamina, tenacity and determination. We have to have resolve. And when we let go our grasp, it is just as crucial that we reclaim our former position and hold on that much tighter the second, third, fourth time around. Because life is not just about holding on—it’s about getting back up again after we’ve had to let go.

There is much to fight for in this life, much for us to fight for and hold on to:

-Our sense of purpose
-Our independence
-Our freedom
-Justice
-Relationships
-The future
-Our faith in Providence and humanity

Whatever the reason that you are still holding on, take heart and keep on keeping on. Don’t be discouraged in your efforts. Holding on is tedious, strenuous work, but it is worth it. Holding keeps us positioned, enables us to move forward, brings us closer to our goals. Holding is the most difficult thing we might ever have to do, but when we fight for what we believe is worth it, we discover something else in the process: holding on is beneficial for our character, too. In holding, we develop courage. And courage gives us hope.

Whatever you are fighting to find or seeking to reclaim, just hold on.

You’ll make it.

15 Things I Know About Being a Parent

Parenting is, of course, the most consuming, challenging and exhausting task that I have ever involved myself in. Some days I ask: “what were we thinking???” And on the other days, I just don’t ask. And speaking of “we”, I readily admit that marriage is a very close second in this listing of difficult things known to humankind.

It was fifteen years ago today that I first became a mother. And how well I remember that incredible day—the moments of fear when I faced the unknowns, the moments of elation when I realized what I had gained. Holding that tiny 6 lb. 7 1/2 ounce baby boy swaddled in a receiving blanket, I knew a love I had never known before. I knew a fierce need to shelter and protect that I had heretofore never experienced. I knew so much in that instant I saw his precious baby face.

I knew so little.

Sons are interesting characters. They cling close to their mamas until they reach toddler stage, and then they can’t seem to get enough of their dads. Dads hold the world in the palms of their hands, or so it seems to bright-eyed little boys. I have watched my son and his dad grow closer over the years, and I am so thankful that they have each other. Particularly in light of the fact that they are also outnumbered in our family of six (complete with four girls). This relationship they share is a gift, one not to be taken lightly. I know neither does; never would they.

In honor of my son’s 15th birthday and due to the fact that it is also the anniversary of my 15th year being a mama, here are 15 things I know now that I didn’t know back then…

1.) Every moment is a gift, and of course meant to be cherished; but some moments are meant to just be ‘lived’, and then we move on. We don’t have to make everything special. Everything extraordinary. Sometimes life is just meant to be experienced mundanely, in the everyday ordinary routine of life. This too is precious.

2.) Kids don’t always need entertainment; the more entertainment/amusement, the less imagination/creativity (at least in the world I grew up in—which means it still holds true for my Fearless Four. Because I say so.).

3.) Sincere apologies are best taught through humble parental modeling.

4.) Some things like burps and flatulence and mysterious smells from the bathroom and spilled popcorn on the bed and Vaseline on the couch and chocolate chips all over the floor and canned goods on top of the baby…and the like: these things (while startling) are not worth blowing a gasket/major artery over. Live and learn.

5.) Seeing your child show kindness to others will make your heart swell in ways that temporary academic or sporting accomplishments never could.

6.) Patience is a virtue, but when in short supply, time-outs for mama in the bathroom/quick exits from the scene of disaster also work.

7.) Four kids is a lot of kids. But then again, so was one.

8.) The question “will I love the second (third, fourth) as much” is entirely not worth entertaining for even one little second; the answer is always yes, Yes, YES! : “to the moon and back again.” Every single time.

9.) Sometimes Mamas make mistakes. Moving on…

10.) Screaming is not the most effective form of communication.

11.) Mamas are not meant to be their childrens’ best friends (that is, until said offspring start to pay for their own bills and have an income. When this miracle occurs, the boundaries are redefined).

12.) The crucial life lessons your mama taught you about responsibility, safety, security and common sense (lessons and rules that you loathed back when you were ages 5-19): they will fall from your own tongue like pearls of wisdom to your precious babies AS IF IN YOUR OWN FORMER CHILDISH OPINION THEY WERE ALWAYS GOLDEN.

13.) There is next to nothing you will not do for your child, including acting like an idiot in public on occasion (think: jumping up and down at photo shoots), going to the ends of the earth for them and resorting to begging/bartering on their behalf. Incidentally, these rules do not always apply after fifteen years parenting as you have prioritized your ability to please and thus included yourself in this lottery.

14.) Parenting in year one is very different than parenting in year fifteen. For one thing, where you once were completely trusting and naïve, now you are a bit of a sly old shrew. Also, you are more sarcastic.

15.) You realize that although there are still some days you threaten to jump ship and escape to the nearest available carnival troupe, there is nothing on this beautiful planet you would rather be doing than mothering four of the brightest, most beautiful children God’s Hands ever fashioned. And that is the plain and simple truth.

Parenting has been said to be “one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but in exchange it teaches you the meaning of unconditional love” (Nicholas Sparks). I am thankful for the ways in which my heart has learned to expand and grow in four different directions these past 15 years.

To my Son: I will love you and your three sisters forever and always. I love you all- to the moon and back again.

Precious times, these years…

The other day, I left Alberton with four belligerent children and three others (people who were, incidentally, astonished by the commotion going on in our van). I departed the area absolutely stunned by the severity with which we battle it out over here in the Gard Household: it matters not where we find ourselves. Mill River, Florida, Dominican Republic- you name it. We fought there. Actually, we no sooner hover a toe over the threshold of the van and it is like a switch is turned on inside our brains that releases our inner warrior/dark side. Darth Vader has nothing on this family. We fight about seat positions. Fight about farting. Fight about burping. Fight about whether or not the sun sets in the west and rises in the east (maybe it does/maybe it doesn’t). Fight about music, about books, about universities that ten year olds wish to attend when they are 20.

We fight- and we do so incessantly. And because of this marvelous fun family fact, I can attest to our permanent membership in the infamous FightClub as members in good standing, with our family having the most experience tearing one another’s heads off/emotional collateral.

When I arrived home that particular day of which I write, I literally fell out if the van, a dazed expression on my face and asked my Husband, above the cacophony of noise, if he had missed us all that morning. His reply:

“Like the plague.”

He was not joking. Not even a little bit.

As I was a Kid Vid Cinema leader at DVBS all week, I had the extreme pleasure of waking my children up at what appeared to be twelve hours before daylight (hard to tell as we had no sun at all this week), coaxing them out of their warm, cozy beds (where in sleeping, they could not make any sound of retaliation/noise) and then driving my children plus three to programming at eight (or whenever) every morning- programming which I must admit that I personally enjoyed almost more than the children as I was able to exercise/hone my dance skills each and every day (to the absolute horror/disgust of my two oldest).

The best part of this experience was that this four hour stretch was a glorious time of no fighting. For four hours, my four children were not clawing each other’s eyes out, were not tearing one another apart. And even better, for most of that time, they were someone elses’ responsibility (so even if they did happen to fight, I could feign ignorance and complete unawareness of what was happening). You cannot even imagine what this opportunity meant to a mother like me who has permanent damage in her ear drums from shrill, ear-splitting screams.

DVBS, while similar to real school, is a wonderful opportunity for mothers such as myself to release their precious offspring into the wild, I mean world, for a few brief and precious hours; handing off the responsibility of breaking up their fights, following them around like a hawk, rescuing them from imminent danger, feeding them snacks, protecting them from injury and in general, basking in their presence. They also get to learn, discover and grow spiritually while there. Bonus! And in doing such (that is, releasing them/freeing yourself), they come to find themselves in the extremely competent and capable hands of other adults who do this kind of stuff for free. For any mother, it is a no-brainer.

Next summer, if our numbers haven’t quadrupled by word-of-mouth advertising I will personally sign on for therapy due to stress incurred from shock and surprise.

The fighting unfortunately does resume once the troops have landed back on home soil. I am sorry to say. We have taken to playing a particular hymn called “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love” at meal time. Thankfully there are different versions of the song because for quite a while (until we found an electronic version), Brian just sang it himself. He also has been working on “You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille” for those days when even the hymn won’t work.

He is learning extra lines of that one.

Interestingly, at bedtime- at the very last possible moment before the kiddos lay their heads on their pillows, there is a brief interlude of peace in which my mind goes blank and I forget any and all bad things that might have happened during the previous fourteen hours. This glorious experience is known as parental amnesia and it is vital to the proper functioning of any mother/father wishing to hang tight for twenty-five or so years of steady parenting and live to talk about it. (Relax: this extended time frame only applies if you have as many kids as me!) Parental amnesia has saved my sanity. It is the reason I poke my head into their rooms each night and say to myself:

“It really wasn’t all that bad of a day”…

…before waking up again the next morning to the precious sounds of kids yelling for their brother/sister to “get out of the bathroom- you’re taking too long!!!!”

Precious times, these years

Guard Your Heart

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Dear Daughter,
I watch you, bare feet running. Long hair swinging. Bright smile shining. Those slender legs that keep you chasing after baseballs, basketballs, volleyballs and bouncy balls. Those hands that touch the keys on our beautiful piano. Hands that swiftly know how to plait a braid of gold or twist a strand of chestnut brown into a bun. You are such a beauty. And I often think how precious you are to me. Right now. Right this moment.
But of course you always have been.
That beautiful baby girl I held in my arms the day after Mother’s Day, thirteen short years past. Tiny bundle of love. Little dark head, which I tucked inside a crocheted pink bonnet no bigger than my palm, two ribbons of pink gently tied beneath your elfin chin. Petite frame- so small that the health nurse wondered if you were starving. Your mama worried she wasn’t feeding you enough, so we supplemented and prayed it would be enough. So much to take in with a fragile baby girl cradled carefully in my arms.
I loved you then. I love you still. I love you even more.
That little toddler who waddled around our house, two fingers firmly fixed inside her little rosebud lips. White blankie trailing close behind. Always ready with an impish smile. That little princess, wearing tutus and fancy dresses and all things frilly and extravagant. The little diva, a girl who always had time for a show, but never wanted to get her own hair brushed. Singing, dancing, performing, entertaining- it was your business many an evening after supper dishes were cleaned and things settled down a notch. Her daddy’s heart wrapped around her baby finger.
That little girl. Where did those tender years go?
After all the gymnastic lessons, figure skating, swimming and soccer days have ended, the elementary school years passed, we are now left staring wide-eyed into the next phase of your life: the teen-aged years.
You are so loved- you always have been. And sweetheart, you always will be. You are ours.
You’ve always been so precious.
Darling Daughter, you are just too precious not to caution and advise. I want you to know that a mama always thinks of what lies just around the corner. And what I see is this:
All things shiny and appealing, but which are not always revealed exactly as they seem.
All things fascinating and interesting, but which are not so exciting as they might offer to be.
All things promising and thrilling, but which are not always as stirring as might have first been pledged.
All things previously prohibited and forbidden, but which now beckon to you with enticement and allure.
All these things- they are not always what they claim to be. There will be lies, false claims and misrepresentations. There will be promises made that might not endure the test of time. Words spoken that will prove to be short-lived and disappointing. Arrangements agreed upon that will not necessarily be followed through. This is the reality of the passage of time and growing up. It is part of the world we belong to: broken promises, shattered dreams and ruined opportunities.
Sometimes in the growing process the floor falls beneath us and our world seems to be caving in around us. This is part and parcel of growing older. There is always the good. But there is the bad as well.
In all of these growing pains, there is one thing of which I must insist. That is, you must work to always keep your heart from damage and harm. And darling, there is only one way to protect your heart. If you can covenant to yourself and to our God that this heart of yours is worth protecting, that it is truly as precious and valued as your daddy and I say it is- that God Himself has said: then you will learn the secret. The secret to nurturing a heart is to safeguard it against anything you know that could intentionally harm it. Guard your heart as if it were fashioned from the most valuable material known to humankind. For in truth- it is. It is the most important part of you. It is where your soul meets before God Himself. It is sacred and holy and precious.
It is the most precious place that lies within you.
Sweetheart, guard your heart as if your life depended on this very act of purposeful intention.
You are getting taller. You are stretching and blossoming into a beautiful young woman. You are no longer my little girl- now my teenager; and we are entering through passageways to different rooms that serve to welcome and greet us both. We are learning how to take this journey together, and I pray we will always walk side-by-side in this excursion. Pray that you will always walk by His side in this journey.
While I learn to let go of your hand little by little, you are coming to find ways in which to hold on to His hand more and more. A Hand so much greater than my own.
I love you now. I will love you still.
Guard your precious heart.
Love ,
Your mama

Stoke the Fire

For my Mom.

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You are making a difference for that one.
Eight little words. But they hold so very much meaning.

I am sitting down to eat. We have just half an hour before I leave again to drive back home to my little family, but thirty minutes is long enough for a story. As I eat left-over Easter ham and potatoes, she tells me about her friend whose husband has Lewy Body Dementia, a type of dementia that shares characteristics with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. A debilitating condition, he is now in a long-term care facility at the early age of sixty. As I listen, I am reminded again that life is not fair. But when was it ever?

She shares with me the story of her good friend, once part of a successful recording artistry duo that traveled as a team all across the States, a woman whose son had enabled her to share her journey of change (from public to private life) with an audience recently as part of a guest speaker assemblage on a cruise ship. While part of the entourage, the woman told a small audience the story of how she now cares every day for her husband in a long-term facility and deals with the pain of a loss of livelihood and way of life. She bravely shared how God was using her in albeit small ways- while He had once given her a very public platform, she now was meeting people one by one. And devoting most of her time to the needs of her husband.

Humbling mundane work when you are use to crowds of people gazing back at you from the stands. But as life continues on, this is how the story so often unfolds.

As I listened, my storyteller added this last bit to the tale, the punch-line if you will. She said that some had told her friend that somewhere down the line, those changes in her life, which were forcing her and her husband into constraints beyond their wildest imaginations- these details would all come together someday for a greater purpose… so as to influence many people once again in a big way. In other words, she deserved for this pain to pay off- she was after all, someone who had once been used in a very big way. Somewhere along the line, what was going around would come around again- for good.

But is this really the purpose of pain and suffering- is this the end result? That it must be used for some glorious, far-reaching purpose? Must we always have a reward for every suffering we undergo? What do we really deserve, when all is said and done?

My story-teller assured me that she had begged to differ with this mindset, that is, that her friend’s life must needs be counted as purposeful if everything came together somehow and someway in the future. She told me that she had encouraged her friend of this timeless truth: you are making a difference for someone you care about today, and that’s more than enough purpose to give your life meaning.

Sometimes we think that unless it is public and advertised, it must not be worthwhile. We live in an age of social media, and its influence is far-reaching. The more ‘likes’ we have, the better we feel. The more hits on our pages, the more our confidence rises. But in this era of publicly shared living, we might have forgotten the timeless truth: what happens when the lights dim is often the most telling of our truest character. What happens when the music fades is sometimes the best predictor of who we really are.

And beyond this, we can be prone to give much credence to quantity at the expense of quality. The more results, the better we feel. The bigger the audience, the greater the impact. But what if the truest marker of success was the praise we received in private?

My mother’s friend now spends most of her time in a long-term health facility, out of the public eye. While there, she talks to the residents and cares for the needs of whom she is able. She also spends long hours looking after the shell of the man who was formerly her partner in life, a man whose presence was taken from her far too early. But if you were to ask this woman’s son how he feels about his mother and the work of her calling, he would offer the highest of praise. Because he knows that she is daily doing what she can to make a difference, right where she has been placed for now.

She is making a difference for her man whom she still dearly loves and making an impact on all of the others. And for all the people whom she comes into contact with each and every day, her work is perceived as meaningful. It might not be publicly recognized anymore or lauded with accolades. It might never again be given that kind of standing. That doesn’t diminish the importance of the work she has been called to do at this season in her life. She is making a difference, one person at a time. Moment by moment, day by day.

And so can we all. May we never forget, when the lights fade and the spotlight has been removed from our lives: we can still make a difference. One person at a time.

Our work is only ever finished when the candle ceases to burn. May we stoke the fires that lie within.