It’s always at camp

Paper1Every year at camp, something happens to me.

One year it was overhearing a camper’s heartbreaking wish.

This year, it happened in a bathroom.

At first, I thought maybe my “moment” was hearing my daughter singing her heart out in the bathroom stall. Which, was indeed quite adorable. I want her to be uninhibited in her worship–even if that means belting it out in a bathroom.

But that wasn’t my moment.

As we were scuttling back to the auditorium, a leader rushed up to me and fumbled, “excuse me, could you please come help a little girl in the bathroom?

“Where is she?”, I asked.

We walked as fast as we could…he threw out, “it’s not one of my campers…my campers said there was another little girl in there just…really upset.”

My mind went to the worst place.

As I rounded the corner and reached the bathroom door, a girl emerged. She was almost as tall as me and…well…stocky. It looked like she had tried to part or style her hair, but it just came off like a bad cut exacerbated by a bad perm–like her mom knew she was struggling with her weight or size or confidence and had tried to give her the gift of a salon hair-do, but even that wasn’t working out for her.  She had red “I’ve just been crying but have pulled myself together now” eyes, so I knew it was her.

“Are you ok?”, the other leader asked.

Instantly, she melted into tears again…

“It’s ok”, I told cooed. “What’s going on?”, I asked as she tried to hustle away.

She had a panicked look on her face, but I needed to know she was alright, so I pursued her down the hallway a few steps.

I don’t exactly remember what happened next, but amid tears and a down-turned face, the story tumbled out in bits and pieces…

She had been trying to hold it…there was only 1 stall in there…everyone would laugh at her…she had peed all over the floor…she just wanted to leave…everyone was going to make fun of her…she just wanted to get back before anyone found out…

I was relieved. This was fixable. It was not the “worst thing” as I had imagined like we all do when you hear of a little girl sobbing in the bathroom…

Without thinking twice, mom-mode kicked in and I just did what I would have done for either of my own little girls, and what I would wish for anyone who was in the vicinity of one of my little girls should they ever be in a crisis of this sort.

I asked her if she was OK–she said yes.

I asked her if she was wet and needed to get changed or if she could just go back to the auditorium–she replied, ‘only a little on my shirt, I don’t think anyone will notice it’ before the crumpled-face crying and embarrassment and shame of it all hit her again.

I told her I would take care of the bathroom, then I pulled her pee-soaked, bad permed, camp-smelly self into a hug and whispered, “you’re ok, it’s all ok, you just get back to camp and all you need to worry about is having a really good time.”

Then, I went into the bathroom to take care of the mess. And it was an ocean. And there were only those thin, scratchy brown paper towels that don’t soak up a sneeze and don’t change shape or color even when immersed in a sink full of warm water.

I began covering the puddle with the brown rectangles and watched them do nothing but float on the top. I gingerly stepped on a few to see if that would help the absorbency process along any…

My new sneakers…

The smell of the urine…

My gag reflex…

The camper that had been in the stall during “the incident” and now at the sink asking, “what is that on the floor? what happened?” knowing full well what it was…

Oh God, help me!

“Oh, something just spilled…and I don’t want anyone to slip and get hurt”, I willed the words out of my mouth around the threatening gag reflex. She stood there and watched, waiting to see if I grimaced as I bent down to scoop up the sopping, dripping cloths with my bare hands.

Dear God, give me strength to do this.

Nosey Nancy finally left when she saw that I wasn’t losing my cool and wasn’t offering up any more details.

Four rounds of stubbornly impermeable brown towelettes later, I managed to dry the floor enough for it not to be a slip hazard. And my dinner was still intact.

The leader who had asked me for help was lingering in the hallway to thank me for assisting the distressed camper–apologizing for dragging me into the situation.

“Life is already hard enough for some of these kids…it’s a tough age…camp isn’t always easy…I just didn’t want her to worry about this on top of it all”.

Always. There is something that happens at camp. And it’s usually to my heart.

Skip n shop–a new gift

As we’ve been thinking more intentionally about our growing children’s birthdays, trifles are just that to them. Although they enjoy unwrapping presents, we found that they often sat on the counter where they were unwrapped gathering dust for a week or more.

Don’t get me wrong, they loved unwrapping and squealing at the surprise inside. But the getting was way more fun than the keeping. Especially the responsibility of having. to. put. them. away. (cue torturous sounding GROAN)

So, as Orange parents trying to be tuned into what our kids REALLY want, we put on our thinking caps.

One day when I was wishing I had a third or fourth ear to listen to everyones’ days all at once on the drive home from school (yet another “gift” we give to our children…more on that one later…) I got an idea.

I ran it by Dan who thought about it for a few minutes–just because making it happen x 4 would mean a little bit of planning in advance and definitely some sacrifice on our parts. But in the end we decided it would be oh so worth it.

10155973_10154104276130161_2068209213174261056_nOur eldest daughter was about to turn 9. One of those “weird” ages…when they’re too old for Barbie, yet too young for things like tattoos or a car. She already has a bike and a scooter, a microphone with a stand and speakers people, about 437 Beanie Boos and an old iPhone that she uses for educational apps at school. What more could this girl want?

This where the plan came into play at just the perfect time. Dan–being the graphic designer–put together an awesome certificate. And not just any certificate…no “free hugs” here, baby!

We weren’t exactly sure how it would go over as we usually wrap the “biggest” or “best” present of the birthday (which is usually from us) in gold wrapping paper. This year, it was gold wrapping paper in the shape of a wonky, origamically challenged envelope…not exactly visually stunning like the large, easy bake oven or Barbie castle boxes of yore.

Our sweet birthday girl opened the envelope as Dan and I held our breath waiting for her reaction.

Granted, she is our drama girl, but her reaction was good. I mean, Oscar nomination good.

She squealed and could NOT stop talking about when we could plan to go, when she could skip school and have us all to herself, where all we could shop and spend her birthday money, where we should go out to eat, what music we would listen to, what she would wear, which Beanie Boo she would bring along with her in which purse. It was game ON, high five, in the bag, best present ever, baby!

Our other kids looked stunned that something in an envelope could be the object of such delight to their sister…and provoke such a sense of envy…they wanted a skip and shop too.

#winning

SKIPANDSHOP We did the same with our next child’s birthday, our younger daughter. She was in. her. glory. until she had purchased the 3 items she wanted to buy, then she simply wanted to go home, assemble and play with her new toys in our presence with no distractions or need to share our attention with other siblings. So. Relaxing. What a gift…not just to her, but we found it has turned out to be a gift to ourselves as well!

#winningagain

Liam Skip and ShopOur firstborn son just turned 11. And he does NOT like getting gift cards or money.  So we were a little nervous that our #winning streak might be interruption on this one. We made sure to purchase gifts in advance that he could unwrap…which was nothing more than copious amounts of Lego sets. All of which he assembled before bedtime on his birthday night.

We had to think a little harder about his “skip n ______” day, but I had my antennae up for just this reason. When he mentioned watching Captain America with a friend this past summer and that a few friends at school had seen the new movie and in a store he pointed out an UnderArmor shirt featuring Captain America and said, “he’s my favorite hero” (<–kid of few words, so when he speaks, we listen), I did the math. He received a “skip n watch” to go see the new Captain America movie in the theater. On a school day.

He expanded the experience by suggesting we get the first Captain America movie from RedBox to get Dan and I up to speed on the good Captain’s origins before we head to the theater to watch the “new” one–knowing my introvert he just doesn’t want to answer all my questions during the movie in the theater, but he also is one for “the whole series”.

#stillwinning

I love how my kids are transitioning from “stuff” to “experiences”–making memories and helping make that really hard-to-get one-on-one time with parents-of-four-kids a reality.

What are some creative ways you do or have heard of to intentionally have fun over time with your kids?

Three Thanks

imagesThis morning my fashionista daughter was struggling with her outfit for church. And by struggling I mean complaining that she did not have shoes that “matched” her outfit.

I’m talking about the my hippie morphing into a hipster daughter…the one that NEVER matches. She is fearless in what she wears–loud colors and prints mished and mashed in ridiculous amounts of layers to achieve her intended look.

So when she complained that she had no shoes to match her outfit, I was truly at a loss.

I cocked my head and looked at her hard for a minute. The issue wasn’t with the matching, the issue was a layer deeper.

We lined up  the four pairs of summer shoes she had to choose from and picked the “least awful” pair–some plain black flip flops.

Then we sat down and had a chat:

me: Look at your flip flops. Can you think of three things about them that you are thankful for?

she: <haughtily> I have shoes.

me: Yes. I can’t tell you how many children I’ve seen in poorer countries that don’t have a single pair of shoes, much less four pairs to choose from. What else?

she: <a tiny bit less haughtily>They aren’t broken yet.

me: That is something to be thankful for. Do you know that in some countries you are not allowed to go to school unless you have a uniform and shoes? Some kids want to go to school so badly they wear broken flip flops or shoes that are too small and hurt their feet, or too big that give them blisters because that’s how badly they want to go to school. It’s a privilege to have shoes that are not broken and fit you perfectly. Can you think of one more thing?

she: <begrudgingly> They are comfortable.

me: Who gave you those shoes?

she: God.

me: How do you think it made God feel that you complained about the good shoes He gave you?

she: Sad.

We practiced a real-life lesson in gratitude today. Not just she, but also me.

I needed to turn this exercise onto myself today more than once. More than twice. And I promise you every time I ended up in tears and so grateful to my heavenly Father for the many blessings I have the gall to complain about.

I relish this precious God-moment today. This parenting thing is such a giant mirror revealing that I still have a lot of growing left to do.

freewriting: waterwall

LuckyOptimist-RAIN-SUN-LIFE-LOVE-HOPE-43_largeWe do a lot of summer road-tripping, so I get a lot of “think time” when I’m at the wheel.

(I know you’re thinking, “What a liar, she’s got four kids. There’s no way she can think on epic road trips. But you’d be wrong. Because my kids are expertly trained travelers who don’t make a peep and have to be crow-barred out of their seats at rest stops to stretch and use the bathroom. They LOVE road trips and behave immaculately. #thankyoutechnology)

On our most recent trip, I happened to get the driving shift during an awesome series of thunder and lightning storm cells complete with walls of water that started and stopped with almost giggleable randomness. Like someone was squirting us with a hose, then turning it off, back on again, off, on; almost like we were being teased with the stops and starts.

I would be driving in a bright spot of sunshinyness and see a wall of gray ahead of me, squinch my eyes shut for a nanosecond as we braced for impact and the roar that enveloped our water-pummeled van.

Brake lights flared a fear-riddled red ahead of me, but I just smiled and kept on driving. Sometimes the rain was pounding so hard we wondered if it was actually hail and we worried that the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the intensity of the rainfall.

Then, without warning, deafening silence. It was over. Completely. Even the road ahead was dry. It was almost like the storms didn’t happen as I’m fumbling around for my sunglasses again. The frantic fwick-thack, fwick-thack of the wipers beginning to screech across the now-dry windshield confirm that the rain was, indeed, just there, but the sun ahead promises that for a while they are long gone behind us.

That’s where my epiphany happened. My relationship with God is just like these pockets of weather. I’m charging forward, set on a course all sunny and blithe. Then some weather hits. I can’t see, I feel a bit afraid, sometimes these gray pockets are long and frustrating and I want to pull over or stop and wait it out or just be done with this leg of the journey. I’m not sure I can see the road ahead of me and am afraid I’m off course or about to cause or be in an accident.

Then all of a sudden, right back into brightness. I felt like this was God giving me a beautiful picture of Him.

Sometimes we find ourselves in a rough patch with God. We’re not really paying attention to Him or what he’s saying to us, or our emotions are dragging us farther from experiencing His joy, life is beating us up, or worse, we’re beating ourselves up. Drifting.

God promises to always be near. So when we decide not to let the clouds and funk be our guides, squinch our eyes shut and brace for impact whispering, “God…”, then boom. It’s over.

There we are, in the sunshine again. There might be storms raging around us, even soaking us all the way through, but there IS sunshine. And we’re not required to slog through a swamp, complete an incredible journey or “earn” our way back into God’s presence. The sunshiney place is always there, smack on the other side of that waterwall.

Be a missionary every day (clap-clap, clap-clap)

flag-intI used to think that missionaries were a specific category of people. That you either were one, or you weren’t but you knew about them and your church financially committed to raise a certain percentage of their support. That only those special, chosen few had the “call” to go and do their missionary thing. Looking back I’ve been blessed to support missions in my own way from a young age– before I even realized what I was doing–as I helped my grandmother sort clothes in the “missionary barrel” in the stuffy church attic!

I thought about missions once a year when our church would hang up the colorful flags from around the world in the main sanctuary during the “Missions Conference” and  highlight what was going on in the jungles and on other side of the world. I loved the slideshows with their exotic and intriguing photographs and listened to the numbers of converts, baptisms, and “new” attendees of church plants the missionaries were starting. It was a time for the church people “at home” to nod their heads in approval as the numbers of people being reached in another country went up (hopefully…I never heard of numbers going down or a missionary being “fired”) and to drop extra money into the shiny, gold offering plate so that the missionaries could keep doing what they were doing for another year and we could check that off our lists until next year’s conference.

It was, in my young mind, the one week a year our church did its duty to help fulfill the Great Commission. To me it seemed like missions was something to be taken out and packed away like the flags in the sanctuary. Not an everyday, all day, for everyone kind of thing.

But I’m learning that not just a few, chosen people can make local and global impact, everyone is supposed to play their part. There isn’t supposed to be a “category” in my life for missions, my whole life is supposed to be influenced and infused by having a missions mindset.

I have a special talent that allows me to be a missionary too. In fact, everyone has been given a gift and a calling to play a part in the spreading of the gospel–whether it’s being a steady financial supporter, an artist, oozing love, or being a pray-er, it takes every single person doing their part every single day for individual and corporate Christians to carry out the Great Commission.

That myself, my family, and my Church–and hopefully all individual and corporate believers–will understand that missions isn’t simply a piece of the puzzle, it’s one of the fibers weaved into the cardboard rectangle that comes with the set, framing in the pieces, giving them context and helping to hold them all together.

missionary musings

6294319621_af77637323I grew up across the street from the missionary house. Every summer I had a new set of best friends…except for the silly rift and summer-long rivalry that happened between us and a set of brothers one summer. I think one of them beat us in a footrace or bragged about something that ticked us off; we were petty enough to hold it against him during his entire furlough.

The Baptist Church between our house and the missionary house was our common ground. Our bikes, whether shiny and new from Christmas or hand-me-downs from the church families all rode the same in that parking lot. Riding and launching ourselves over the speed bumps provided countless day and hours of entertainment no matter the differences in our ages. So did running on the grates behind the bushes–we loved the pounding sound our feet made on those grates as we ran back and forth until an office lady or pastor came out and gently versed us in the necessity of a quiet workplace for those doing the Lord’s work.

The missionary house was mysterious and intriguing–almost scary. Depending on who was living there it would be decorated differently with artifacts from the country where the family was ministering. The drab cream-colored walls would be draped with flowy, colorful curtains and ethnic cloth, brilliant fans or strange, dark artifacts from far away lands, beads and trinkets to remind them of their “home” while they were temporarily in the states making the rounds to churches giving their slideshow over and over in order to garner support that would get them back to the field for 4 more years.

I loved being invited over for dinner, always wondering if I would be served a snake or some other exotic food. Sometimes it was disappointingly Rice Krispies and bananas, but other times there would be a delightful mix of rice and strange vegetables–other than the canned corn I was used to– drenched in a mysterious brown sauce. On a “big” night, there might be wonderfully crunchy and strange shaped tidbits from an overly crinkly plastic bag they had smuggled back with them, sparingly shared, or my favorite–colorful shreds of this or that rolled up in some sort of weird and wonderful dough packet.

I tasted these new foods fearlessly, my world expanding a million times farther than the street I had just crossed for the visit. Often they spoke in the language of the country they were ministering in and used native names for each other. I called them by the names they carefully enunciated for me a few times over until I was able to get the correct nuance and flow to roll off my tongue. I think it was music to their ears to hear words from “home” while living in the Baptist Church’s backyard.

I think back now and realize that these families, comfortable with their being different and okay with wearing secondhand clothes and having “old” haircuts were years ahead of me in loving God and loving people. They were on a mission, even when they were off the mission field. Nothing mattered but getting back, picking up where they left off, hoping things hadn’t fallen apart while they were gone raising money to return and advance their influence and work.

I’ve been enjoying the memories I hold dear from my encounters with missions as a child–from the oversized spiral bound missionary stories to the postcards tacked onto a map in the church narthex, to walking the sheet a missionary cut out to show us the size of the houseboat his family of 6 lived on in Peru. I feel at the same time so lucky at my rich experiences and sad that my own children may never get to talk to their best friend on the other side of the world via ham radio and have to say “over” after every sentence or giggle. I got to experience missions and missionaries in a surreal way back in the ’80’s, and because of them there is something in me that has always taken missions seriously.

imagesBeing confronted with a new world and a new way to do missions has stretched me, and while I’m sad that the “old days” are gone, I’m excited that the new wave of missiology  is leveraging influence over current resources and connections in order to multiply the efforts of the faithful that have gone before and paved the way for many across the globe to know the Savior in a real and relevant way.

I have to be okay with the fact that I’ll probably never help my child hand-write a letter to a missionary and wait months and months to see if they write back, study the foreign stamp on the strange-colored envelope, and watch their faces light up in wonder as the letter tells about an intriguing trinket the missionary included or taste and gag over a disgusting packet of dried sea weed they sent for us to taste and experience their culture.

food chain

sand_fiddler_crabMy 5 year old asks me a lot of questions. Like a lot a lot. As smart as I think I am, they’re often questions I literally cannot answer. As creative as I aim to be, I cannot even make up a fictional answer to assuage this little tyke’s inquisitiveness.

  • Mom. How do trucks get so long?
  • Mom. Why can’t glass break itself?
  • Mom. What two colors are infinity?
  • Mom. How do we put things inside our bones?
  • Mom. Which frog can jump the longest?

So today on the drive to preschool I shuddered when I heard him utter, “Mom.”

I gripped the steering wheel a little tighter and braced myself for the impossible question that was about to be lobbed in my direction. I scrunched my brows together in concentration trying to prepare a new and “exciting” way to drop the “I don’t know” bomb.

Today’s question was, “Mom. Why did God make crabs?”

I exhaled a silent prayer asking God to please give me an answer today. You see, I’m so tired of having to say that I  just don’t know in answer to this inexhaustibly curious little boy’s every innocent query.

Today, I had an answer. Suddenly I had this picture in my head of giant, gentle hands crafting the appendages of a crab like a child makes a creation out of Play-Doh.

“Maybe God was just feeling really creative that day. Maybe He just wanted to make something that was really new and different when He made a crab.”

My little guy didn’t miss a beat and shot me the follow up question, “But why did He make a crab so it could pinch people?”

Again, praying for the mind of God, I inhaled thoughtfully.

“Well, you see, there are a lot of bigger creatures in the ocean that are mean to the crab, so God gave the crab a special weapon so he could defend himself from the bigger sea creatures and stay safe in that big ocean.”

By that time, the stoplight had turned green, and I was trying to eek out those words in a wavery voice while trying to see the road through watery eyes.

I needed these questions today, and the answers God gave me were just as much for my tot as they were for me. I’ve been struggling with my uniqueness and my gifting lately.

And through tiny questions, God gave me huge answers.

I’m special. I’m unique. I’m on purpose. God delighted in making me. And God has given me a special weapon to help me survive in this big, sometimes scary place.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous–how well I know it.
Psalm 139:14 (NLT)