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.


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.

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)

Frog Breathing

imagesI was in a supreme hurry to get dinner on the grill during a very tight window of time after homework and before soccer practice. I flew out the back door and whisked the cover off the grill only to be startled out of my skin by a tiny green frog cowering on the control panel between the flame-adjuster knobs.

I hate to admit this, but I screamed. And not a cool, high-pitched, girly movie scream, more like a kind of gutteral manly groan–like the one you make after coming around a bend in the road to find fresh roadkill with blood and entrails and crows picking at it, or the noise you made just now.

No one heard me. I could have poked the frog with a stick and sent it hopping. But the shock had halted my mad dinner rush and forced me to stop and breathe. The surge of adrenaline bathed my brain and birthed a great idea.

I called my kids from the creek below, “Hey guys! Come see! There’s a FROG!” There was a blur of boots as my kids scrambled pell-mell up the hill trying to be the first to lay eyes on the creature, “I wanna see! I wanna see!”

After staring at the huddled creature, we got a box and a stick. Then I gently prodded the poor thing to leap from the grill and caught him in the box, which caused much hilarity and screaming amongst the littles.

The three amigos trilled in excitement as they transported the frog-box to the creek, then quieted as they settled it on the ground and peered over the top.

After plopping the teriyaki chicken breasts onto the sizzling grill top, I stopped to take in the picture of my children huddled over that box, waiting, watching, anticipating.

The displaced frog was sitting in the corner of the cardboard prison as if it were frozen, or a fake plastic toy. After a minute of staring down the tiny green creature, Ellison shrieked, “Mom! Mom! It’s BREATHING!”

They knew the frog was alive from its initial leap into the box, but because it was sitting mannequin still, they weren’t sure it was still alive, and began to doubt. It took them a while and a good look to make sure it wasn’t dead.

I don’t want people to wonder if I’m spiritually dead. I shouldn’t have to make a big leap every now and then to show that I’ve got God inside of me. I want people to see me constantly moving so fast they just assume that I’m alive and breathing because of all that that is being done to further God’s kingdom. Not peering over the edge of the box, waiting to see a breath, poking me with a stick and wondering if I’m still alive.

In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
Job 12:10  (NIV)


imgresThis week has started out…bumpy.

The first rattle began bright and early Sunday morning. I think I got myself into this one…

Our small group leader meeting ran late, so I was rushing to get to my group’s carpet round. One of my small group girls attacked me with a cookie order form before I even got both of my scurrying feet into the classroom, and my harried auto-response kicked in before my brain did with a “no, thank you”. What happened next, though, really woke me up.

She threw the form onto the ground, kicked it, and snarled at me, “well now I did all that work for nothing. I brought it all the way to church and YOU didn’t even buy anything, so I can’t even believe how much work I did and it was all for nothing.”

The “Lead Small” in me kicked in and realized that even though I probably should have initially overridden or quickly taken back my “no thank you” auto response and just ordered some cookies to show my support of her extra-curricular activities, the mom in me would not allow me to reward terrible behavior.

I’m still trying to decide how to recover from this one…I think next week I’m going to sneak her an envelope to be opened at home with a small donation in it because I don’t want to seem unsupportive, but our family budget won’t allow me to support each of the girls in my group asking for money, so I’ll have to be subtly supportive.

This morning jolted me as if I were using cruise control on the highway and unexpectedly hit a speed bump. While dropping off my preschooler, and despite three instructions to do so, he chose not to get himself unbuckled by the time we arrived at the drop-off spot. He informed me that he didn’t want to go to school today, he wanted to stay home and watch DVD’s.

I gave the “helper” permission to “hug him into school” (aka carry him in) and she did, despite his kicking and screaming. Our routine is that he unbuckles well before we get to the drop off point, that way he has time for a hug and a kiss from me before being dropped off so we don’t hold up the line.

But today, his poor choices and refusal to get out of his car seat didn’t allow him time for the hug and kiss and the helper and I (and probably everyone in carline behind us along with anyone in the path from carline to his classroom) had  to suffer his consequences.

I think God is trying to show me something about myself by allowing me to bear the brunt of a peculiar amount of tantrums in my life right now. My eyes are being opened to see how ugly, selfish, and unnecessary they are, not to mention how awful they make everyone in the vicinity feel.

I’m rattled. So I’m stopping to take a look and make sure I’m not living a giant “tantrum” right now, because I’m thinking if there are so many happening to me, God might be pulling one of those awesome-parenting tactic “teachable moments” on me right now.


So instead of plugging my ears, rolling my eyes, stomping away and slamming the door, I’m tentatively looking into His eyes and whispering, “what am I doing wrong? What do you want me to do to make it right? I’m sorry. Will you please let me try that again?”

Some verses running through my mind that help me remember how to deal with anger and emotional outbursts are:

Ephesians 4:26 “In your anger do not sin”

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

I definitely need to do less of one and more of the other.

Have you ever had a “grown up” tantrum? What are some other great verses you’ve found helpful?

Dunkin Donuts, the Pentagon, and Ethiopia

mzl.gjdzvroj.175x175-75When you’re on a 14 hour road trip, you have lots of time to think.
Especially when you’re the driver, your spouse is sleeping off his 4am driving shift, and your 4 kids are absorbed with their technology in the back of your vehicle and not making a peep.

The iExit Lite app on my phone alerted us that we were coming up on a Dunkin Donuts stop near Pentagon, VA. Finally–we were nearing sugar, caffeine, and civilization again! When we turned off the highway, it seemed like many more turns and miles before we finally reached Dunkin Donuts. I’m always racing the “ETA” on our GPS, and this out-of-the-wayness was losing us valuable minutes off our time!

The  donut shop was empty, except for two cops sitting at a front table talking up a very amicable storm over coffee. I encouraged the kids to be on their best behavior since there were police officers in the shop–telling them to make themselves proud in case the patrolmen were watching them.

A bell on the door tinkled upon entering, and we were greeted by two svelt ladies, whose age I couldn’t quite discern. They had beautiful cream tea colored skin and their hair was mysteriously masked in loose turbans of muted white cotton cloth with with the tiniest hint of rosy pink flowers dotting a pattern through the material.

I said hello looking directly into their shy, tipped-down faces before heading to take up my position outside the bathroom door to usher the kids through their “duties” while Dan based himself by the cash register to place donut orders after each child finished at my “station”. I could see that there was an interaction going on at the register with lots of smiling. When all were finished and I approached the counter, I saw each of my kids happily munching on two donut holes apiece, and figured that was the interchange and reason for the smiles.

I placed my donut and coffee order, helped the indecisive child decide on something, and thanked the ladies that had served us wishing them a wonderful day as we walked back to our van to load in for another few hours of driving. The police officers acted as if they hadn’t even noticed us.

“That was so nice of them to give the kids donut holes–they didn’t have to do that!”, I said.

Dan replied, “They said it was a ‘Happy New Year’ treat. And they asked me if Taye was from Ethiopia, they said they could totally tell where he was from!”

I was amazed. I try not to assume all people of color are from Africa, but I HAD noticed their bone structure, the shape of their faces, shy downturned glances, and way they wrapped their hair. Something in me knew but was too afraid to assume or ask in case I was wrong.

As I spent the next few hours driving, I thanked God that I lived in a country wrapped in rich history, oozing with freedom and blessing, safety despite the tragedy that happened more than a decado ago and could have been worse in the city we had just driven by. And for taking us right to that particular Dunkin Donuts at that exact time. We were supposed to be there–to feel safe in an unfamiliar city thanks to the presence of those two policemen. To see and be recognized by people who share a birth country but enjoy the freedoms of American living.

I hope I never get over the wonder of God’s orchestrations of life and these ironic encounters. My times are truly in his hands (Ps. 31:15a)…even on a road trip that I think I planned!

Overheard at camp

I’m at Camp KidJam this week.

I had just finished kicking around a soccer ball with some campers when I decided to grab a piece of shade and cool off for a minute.

Here’s what I observed and overheard:

The soccer ball had rolled under a bus, and my son, Liam, found my husband, Dan, and said, “Dad! My soccer ball is under the bus. Can you help me get it out?”

Here’s what happened next that I just can’t stop thinking about.

Two campers were in the shade eating Sno Kones and had seen and heard the same soccer-ball-under-the-bus that I had just seen. One little boy quietly said to the other, “It’d be cool to have a dad. I wish I had a dad.”

And in that moment, I knew why I spent 7 hours doing laundry and packing, filled our van with gas and drove endless hours, ate cafeteria food, slept in beds with squeaky plastic mattress covers, and walk ’til my feet feel like throbbing bricks. Because there are kids that come to camp to feel like they’re a part of something, like they belong to a family. Even if it’s just for a few days.

And while my sleeping arrangements weren’t exactly five star, I found sleep harder to attain last night as I prayed that our Heavenly Father would be evident to the kids this week. That He would fill the void in the lives of the kids that are here looking for a place to belong and someone to love them.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.
~I John 5:1