Memories of Daddy’s Rubber Gloves

My Daddy is a day away from a move that he is totally unaware of. He is in advanced stages of dementia and is shortly moving to a nursing home to receive full time care. It has been difficult for my mind to even process this. Mostly it feels like an out of body experience. I live a couple of hours away from my parents, so it’s not part of my daily experience to see his dementia. When we are together, he tends to do well because he enjoys the company, even if he’s not always sure who we are. Daddy has always enjoyed life. I remember so many times he claimed to be a child stuck in a man’s body. Not far from the truth. He played often, told corny jokes, and never sat on the sidelines of life. He was a hands-on dad. Engaged.

This week all that he means to me and all that I’m losing hit me squarely between the eyes when my two year old came out of the kitchen wearing the rubber gloves he keeps at my house. She exclaimed happily, “Papa’s gloves!” Tears immediately filled my eyes as I helped her put her chubby fists deeper into the giant blue and yellow gloves that dwarfed her hands. His rubber gloves. Every time my parents would visit us, my dad would insist on washing the dinner dishes, and any other dishes left over from the day, for that matter. He always had to serve us in that way, even feigning offense if we tried to dissuade him. Like me, he prefers to wear gloves when washing dishes, so he purchased a pair years ago to leave at my house so that he’d be prepared to wash any time he came. He has always been the family “dishwasher,” even when I was at home, insisting on serving my mom by cleaning the dishes after she had cooked a meal for the family. Whenever I have lamented not having an electronic dishwasher, or my mother before me, he would say, “What do you need that for when you’ve got me?”

Funny how such a simple thing  as rubber gloves can set off the deepest emotional response. Partly the tears came because, even at two, Hannah knows whose gloves they are — evidence of the bond she already shares with him, and of his importance in our family. How I wish that she would experience the version of him that I know. These gloves remind me of all that we’ve lost to dementia. That Daddy has probably visited my house for the last time. That the gloves will be empty. That he is forgetting his grandchildren, and that they will never know the version of him that I hold so dear. That he knows me less and less each time he sees me. The thief of dementia. I miss the heart of the hands that once filled those gloves.

Whenever I slip on my gloves to serve my family, I am aware of the legacy he created, the servant’s heart he and my mom both shared with me and my brother, which we now have the opportunity to walk out. Though his yellow and blue gloves are too big for me to ever fill with my feminine hands, I know that through my heart, I fill them as I serve my family and my Savior.

Like Daddy, I won’t sit on the sidelines of life. He taught me by his example how to engage, to take action, to love, how to seize the opportunity, to fully live. During times of sadness such as this, it is easy to want to check out, to go numb so that you don’t have to feel the pain of your experience. But that’s not what Daddy would do and it’s not what he would want me to do. When my mom got cancer many years ago, I can still remember my Daddy sitting in his recliner, in the same position it sits tonight, calling each one of his closest friends, and through his tears, telling them the news. He never held back. Always engaged.

This week happens to be VBS for me, so I’m doing it with all my heart. For Daddy, and for the Savior he lead me to as a child. Daddy loved nothing more than spreading the love of Jesus to others, especially young people. That’s an opportunity that must be seized every single today we have, no matter what else is fighting to distract us. That’s what Daddy would do.

I’ve been singing this over and over again….

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Sophie’s Story: ADHD, I See You

Sophie finished kindergarten in May in good standing. Her reading level was early first grade level, and her math was progressing. It’s not her fave. Her handwriting continues to be a struggle for her, in particular because of her low muscle tone. All in all, her abilities seem to be what they should, but getting the child to focus, oh boy!

Near the close of the school year, we met to review her IEP, to make updates and to prepare for first grade. Throughout the meeting, over and over again her focus kept coming up as a problem. She’s a smart girl and she behaves well, but she was very busy and unfocused in the classroom. Her teacher feared that the level of independence required for completing work in first grade would cause many challenges for her.

So this summer we decided we would give ADHD medicine a try. I know people are all over the map on whether or not to medicate children for ADHD. After the past week, I understand that struggle. It is hard watching your child’s emotions swing wildly because of a substance you put in their body. It is hard weathering the sleepless nights with your child fighting insomnia. It is hard forcing your child to eat because they’re appetite-less.

But.

Today was day 5, and boy did we turn a corner.

Sophie and I have been doing school worksheets together pretty much every day this summer in order to prevent the summer slide. When kids take an extended break from schoolwork, their abilities tend to slide backwards. So I knew if we were to see any improvements from medication, they would be easy for me to spot. Sophie’s unmedicated limit for worksheets was about 1 to 1.5 worksheets. This week even on the difficult days, we stretched that to two or three sheets.

Today blew my socks off. Check it out!


I have never seen Sophie color inside the lines for any length of time. While she might start a coloring page and begin as if she were going to color inside the lines, she would quickly move into scribbling, and then abandon the page altogether within a couple of minutes. Today saw at least 45 minutes of solid coloring. Inside the lines. You probably think I’m crazy to be as excited as I am about this. But for Sophie it is huge. See that’s the thing about ADHD, it masks a child’s true abilities. All along Sophie has had the ability to color inside the lines, but she has lacked the focus to do so. Time will tell if she can overcome the side effects enough that the good of the medication outweighs the bad. It was scary taking this plunge, but I’m glad we did if there’s even a chance that it can help Sophie be more successful!

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At the Farmers’ Market: A Harrowing Experience in Motherhood

I read this meme recently that shook me up a bit. It said, “You get 18 delicious summers with your children. This is one of them. Soak it in.” Wow. 18, huh? When you put a number on it like that, it does tend to give you some perspective. Who am I kidding? I already know just how quickly time is flying by as I raise my three monsters. But this meme made me feel all this pressure to have a memorable summer. So right out of the gate (it’s summer break day 4 today) we’ve been “making memories.” On day one we walked to the school playground, play outside with a neighbor, had an indoor picnic for lunch. On day two we had an outside picnic and attempted a farmer’s market. And that’s where the real memory making began….

This market was one that I hadn’t been to before, but I had heard good things about it. It’s a mid-week market, and about a fifteen minute drive from our home. I should have seen the red flags flying, giant ones, whipping in the wild winds of chaos in my home. Everyone was already grouchy. And then I decided to “make some memories” and drag them to a farmer’s market. “There’s free stuff for you kids to do!” I promised with a smile.

I could feel wisps of anger beginning to churn in my belly as we loaded into the car and the whining intensified. When your kids are two, five, and seven, everything is a race or a competition with a clear winner and a distinct and much shamed loser. Even opening the door to the van. Insert eye-roll. And of course it was too hot. And someone didn’t get to do it exactly how they wanted. More red flags flying before my eyes. But I persevered.

Must. Make. Memories. 18 summers. Only 18.


When we pulled up to the lot where the farmer’s market was held, I literally almost drove right by and took the kids to the park. I mean, how many red flags did I need to abandon ship? Evidently more than the dozen that had already flown in great billowing capacity in my mind. This market had all of five or six tents. And NO. Fresh. Produce. What!? A huge part of my motivation in coming out was to get some fresh produce partway through the week. I grew up on fresh fruits and veggies, and in the short growing season of Ohio, I want to cram as much flavor in my mouth as I can. Evidently in this smaller community, none of the local growers are ready to sell goods yet. Still I persevered. Must make memories.

We quickly found the kids’ tent where the much acclaimed free activities were located. And this portion of the experience was lovely. For about 7 minutes. The kids excitedly decorated a plastic cup, filled it with dirt, and planted a seed. They were delighted to spritz the cup with a gentle mist of water to moisten their newly planted seed. Then they turned their attention to the play doh area which was full of interesting fake natural adornments such as birds’ eggs, silk flowers and greenery, rocks, and bark. This kept them occupied for 2.5 seconds. Then came the question I knew was coming. “Mom, can we buy a treat?” Of course. I knew when we pulled up and saw so few tents that their eyes would immediately notice the tent of homemade baked goods. I doubted I could get away with buying them nothing. Although the fancy cupcakes looked absolutely delicious, I limited them to a large sugar cookie each, for which I had to pay a small fortune.

With nothing much more to see, we started to head for the car. Although the trip was underwhelming and shorter than planned, it hadn’t been terrible. Until that moment.

“Mom, I want to go over to that truck with the ice cups.”

“I’m sorry, son, we’re not going to buy an icee. You just got a cookie.”

Wild crying. “It’s so hot. I’m so thirsty. I want some ice!” More wild crying.

“I’m sorry, son. You should have told mommy before I bought you a cookie that you wanted an icee instead.”

More angry crying.

There are a few things that make my blood boil pretty quickly. One is a fit thrown after mommy has tried to “make memories” and done something special for the kids. Cue boiling blood.

As if one fit-thrower wasn’t enough. The littlest monster decided to join in because she had to hold my hand in the parking lot. Oh, the horror.

And, big sis decided she may as well join the mayhem, whining over the lack of water because mommy had not thought to bring any. And that was the last straw.

“I’m sorry Mommy doesn’t have any water for you guys. I was planning to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, not sugar cookies, so I didn’t know we would need water!” I ranted.

After many tears and more stern words about being thankful for an outing instead of throwing a fit, we were all inside our hot stuffy van. Had this been the end of the journey, we may all have survived unscathed. Unfortunately, we had an errand to do on the way home. Dun-dun-dun. All the mamas know that doing any errand with the all the babes when they are cranky and parched with thirst is the actual worst.

Into the Dollar General we went to buy buns for dinner. You see, I had forsaken my original dinner plan so that I could take them to the farmer’s market, all in the name of these unholy memories we needed to make. So now it was a quick dinner on the grill that we had time for, but buns we did not have.

Of course they saw the drink cooler by the cash register and began that awful whining that makes a mama twitch like a crazy person. I instructed the boy to grab a water for them to share. The baby went into writhing hysterics because I would not put her down and allow her to get in to all the many items nearby, and I would not let her hold the water bottle. And then of course there was big sis. She alone in a store is a handful. Her sensory issues demand that she touch and feel every last item she sees. Her ADHD runs rampant and she cannot listen to me to save herself. If I thought my blood was boiling before, I was wrong. Now all of me was boiling. It is truly horrifying when your good sweet children act so very badly in public. I gave them a stern talking to as we made our way to the car and they took turns quenching their desert dry mouths with that bottle of water that cost more than an entire bag of hotdog buns. Oh the memories.

I came home from this memory making excursion totally defeated and feeling like a failure. I should have been more patient. I should have maintained an ounce of humor over the whole thing. A couple of days later, I can laugh about it. It certainly wasn’t the kind of memory I wanted to make with my children that day, but indeed a memory was made. And all I felt as I reflected on this harrowing tale is how much Jesus I need.

It’s not so much the memories we can make, the experiences we can have, the parks we can go to, the picnics, or the farmer’s markets. None of that really satisfies our souls. And when we try to fill ourselves and our children up with these experiences that just leave us thirsty, parched for something more satisfying, I think we’re missing the point. Doing life with my kids is enough. Teaching them about Jesus, leaning in to life WITH HIM is what satisfies. He is what makes my 18 delicious summers with my children satisfying and wonderful and meaningful. If we did special things every single day of the summer, this would not equal giving my children a meaningful childhood. What’s meaningful is living life with them and leading their hearts towards Jesus. I think what was worst about this whole day was that I felt like I hadn’t led my children towards Jesus at all, but instead sped down the highway to hell! So for all of you folks out there basking in your delicious summer with your children, more power to you. We are just going to be over here taking it easy and soaking in some Jesus and loving on each other. I know that the meme which sparked this whole bout of nonsensical pressure in my mind is well-intentioned. As moms of littles we tend to function mostly in survival mode. And maybe that’s why the writer of this meme wrote it to begin with — maybe she spent too much time in survival mode and she regrets it. I hope I don’t regret how I’m spending my time with my children. I hope I play enough. I hope I’m a good mom. But I know for darn sure I will regret it if they don’t see Jesus in me and meet him in our conversations and interactions. Simple. Sweet. Living and loving. Jesus. That’s what I want this delicious summer to taste like.

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Finding a Why in Sophie’s Story: Special Needs Ministry at Church

Seven years ago this June, my family’s special needs journey began. Sophie was four months old, and while she was meeting milestones like smiling, babbling, and rolling, her doctor discovered that her muscle tone was incredibly low. This, I now know, is a big, big red flag for developmental disabilities. Over the course of that first year in our special needs journey, as we waited and watched to see what Sophie would do, and as we began the barrage of tests and doctors, a never ending rabbit hole, searching for answers, God’s question to me resounded loudly: “Do you trust me? Do you trust that I have chosen the best plan for Sophie?” My answer was and continues to be, “Yes.” But in the past several months, I have begun to see the big-picture puzzle pieces clicking in to place. This is not just God’s best plan for the life of one child. This is God’s best plan for my family. This is God’s best plan for our church. This is God’s best plan for our community. This is God’s best plan for me. Because I have a child with special needs, God has opened my eyes to a great need in our community, which I would be blind to, if not for my sweet Sophie.


I recently started attending a small group for moms of special needs kids, and what I’m hearing over and over again is this heartbreaking statement:

We can’t come to church because our child has special needs.

This breaks my heart! Of all the families, special needs families are ones who perhaps need church ministry the most. The statistics about stress, anxiety, illness, fatigue, financial strain, and divorce are staggering in these families. There is a whole community of people who we as a church should be ministering to. God has brought this into my view over and over again these past few months. I can’t escape it. Everywhere I turn, he’s bringing people across my path to draw my heart and mind back to special needs ministry. I’ve been having one of those megaphone experiences with God. You can’t not hear it. You can’t look away, because like a focused parent, he keeps turning my chin right back to look where he wants. From every angle these past few months, God is bringing before me a special needs ministry at Life Church. This is not something I ever envisioned for myself, and yet I find it is something that I HAVE to do, because it is something that God envisions.

Last week, I received a text from a friend, Debbie, about a friend of hers whose 5 year old son has autism. Their family has been unable to attend church because of his needs. She wanted me to reach out to them, and gave me her friend Ginger’s number. She was excited to hear about my desire to have special needs ministry at Life Church.

Fast-forward to that evening: I took the youth group to see the new movie Breakthrough. I arrived early and stood near the door to pass out our tickets. As I stood there waiting, a young family came in, and their little boy, about 5 years old, politely said, “excuse me, are you in the line for tickets?” I explained that I was not, and the family moved on. But this little guy took a shine to me, and he kept coming back to see me over the course of the next 20 minutes as he waited with his family. He introduced himself, he asked my name, he invited me to his house. He wanted to know what movie I was seeing, and what snacks I was buying, and he shared what he was seeing and buying as well. Over the course of these four or five exchanges, his mom apologetically called to me, “I’m sorry he’s bothering you!” To which I responded, “that’s ok, I work with children! He’s fine.” I truly could not have been more pleased to be passing the time with this cutie! When I told her he had invited me over and shared their address, she chuckled and mentioned, “He has autism, so he doesn’t really understand some social boundaries.” I quickly reassured her that I understood, because my daughter has autism too. We went our separate ways and saw our movies. Twice in one day, I thought, God has brought special needs kids back to my mind. Wow.

After the movie let out, I stood talking with our church family. I turned around and saw this same young family coming towards me with my very excited friend Debbie. She was exclaiming, “Catherine, this is the family I was texting you about earlier today! This is Ginger and her son who has autism.” I stood dumbfounded. I know God crossed our paths that night for a reason. His eye is on these families. His heart is for them!

As I prepared to share this message with my church family this past weekend, I was overwhelmed with the realization that this is why I’ve been on this journey. Many people search for a why when difficult things happen in life. Honestly, I’ve long since given up on that quest, and I’ve made my peace with our life, because I trust my God. I wouldn’t change Sophie in any way. I wasn’t looking for why anymore, and yet suddenly I found a big piece of that answer. God will always use any difficulty in your life if you give it to him and walk in obedience. He wastes nothing. Opportunities will arise out of those trials, but it is our job to stand up and grasp them. To do something with the opportunity. To act. To obey. To find MORE in this life than our own happiness or self-service. So I am saying, “Yes.” Yes, to whatever God has for this ministry. I hope you can make your peace with your own why’s, and I hope that in some way God opens a door of opportunity for you to use your experiences for his kingdom. And I invite you to join me in this new ministry, whether you go to my church or not. I am happy to help other churches launch similar ministries so that we can reach more and more families. In whatever way you need to today, say “Yes” and embrace his opportunities for you.

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Peanut Butter Easter Eggs of Grace: Unwrapped

Last week I shared with you an object lesson I used to teach my kids about grace. They received a peanut butter egg even when they behaved badly and didn’t deserve one. This, I taught them, was grace. If you missed that post, you can read it here: http://www.catherineburleigh.com/devotionals/peanut-butter-easter-eggs-of-grace/

It occurred to me as I further contemplated this object lesson that there was a piece of the lesson I hadn’t unwrapped — the unwrapping of the egg. At the end of my post I touched on the invitation to open and enjoy the egg. But I didn’t delve in to what so many of us do with the grace that is offered to us.

We leave the it sitting on the table unopened. Unenjoyed.

You can imagine that when my children received their peanut butter egg of grace, they didn’t just leave it to sit on the table. I would have thought they were nuts if they did!

Can you imagine a child saying to his parent, “Wow, that’s so nice, Mom, I think I’ll just admire this treat on my shelf rather than eating it.” Or even more shocking: “No, I really don’t deserve this treat, so you can’t give it to me.” As parents, we would be shocked to hear this response to the offer of a treat. The treat is meant to be opened and enjoyed.

My kids didn’t save it for another time.

They didn’t fuss or moan about how unworthy they were.

They didn’t try to tell me, the giver, that they were unqualified to receive the egg.

They eagerly opened it up and devoured all its goodness. They simply enjoyed the grace that was given to them.

So many of us carry around this same type of arsenal of excuses as to why we’re unworthy of God’s grace. Why we leave it sitting on the table unopened.

But the fact of the matter is that it is HIS GRACE TO GIVE.

He is the one who determines who receives it — and he offers it freely to all. It’s not up to us to decide if we are worthy of his grace. Of course we aren’t. That’s the whole point. Yet we seem to allow ourselves to believe that we can’t receive his grace because our own merits are lacking. Grace is a gift, free and clear. If we don’t allow ourselves to receive it because we’re unworthy, then we are missing the point altogether.

It’s not meant to be admired from afar. It’s meant to be consumed, taken in, enjoyed fully.

Don’t leave God’s grace wrapped up, sitting on the table. Don’t save it for another time. Don’t make excuses and whine about how unworthy you are. Just enjoy it. Unwrap the grace and be thankful for a God who loves you and lavishes grace upon you.

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Peanut Butter Easter Eggs of Grace

Grace is a concept that I have really struggled to explain to my kids. It often comes up when we’re talking about forgiveness and what Jesus has done for us, but that’s so abstract for little minds to take in. This past week, we had the perfect object lesson for grace.

We were at Walmart… Doesn’t every good story begin that way?

I rarely take all three of my children to the store with me, except during the dreaded grocery trips of summer. But sometimes, circumstances necessitate an after school trip with all three of the babes. Sophie’s new glasses coming in after nearly two weeks of all the other pairs being lost (the third pair since December, friends, Arg!), was the extenuating circumstance that led us all to the store together after school last week.

And I also needed paper clips. Of course. So we couldn’t just go into the vision center at Walmart and then sneak right back out. We had to actually travel into the store itself.

As we passed through a check out lane in reverse, heading into the store, Sophie spied the Easter candy and swiped a bag of peanut butter eggs. Now folks, I really love peanut butter eggs. There’s no comparison, in my book, of any other candy that comes close to the peanut butter egg. So I consented that they could get the eggs, IFFFFFFF they would behave in the store.

I bet you can guess where this is going.

They DID NOT BEHAVE.

All three of them threw fits and cried at one point during our brief (BRIEF!!!) trip, over some sort of nonsense. I scolded them and threatened them about losing their eggs, even told them that they weren’t going to get an egg when we got home. But I’ll be darned if I wasn’t going to get one after my bravery in taking ALL THREE CHILDREN to WALMART. So we bought the eggs. Most definitely.

The car ride home was very quiet. While I didn’t lose my cool on them, they knew they had pushed it too far. When we got into the driveway, it was Micah’s tiny, meek voice I heard: “Mom, are you still going to give us an egg?”

Calmly I replied, “You know what son? Yes. Yes, I am. You don’t deserve one at all, do you?” (Everyone agreed with me.) “But I am going to give you one anyways. Do you know why?”

Blank stares in my direction. Confused faces. Shakes of the heads.

I continued: “I’m going to give you something that you don’t deserve because I love you, and that’s called grace.”

Finally, the lightbulb went on! That is GRACE!

As I passed out the eggs at the table inside, I asked each child, “What is this called?”

And they all replied, with varying degrees of speech impediment: “Grace.”

That, my friends, is grace. It’s getting the peanut butter egg of life, even when we’ve been a rotten monster. It’s receiving Jesus’ love and accepting his gift of life even when we least deserve it.

So go ahead and enjoy that delicious life that Jesus has offered you. Don’t let the enemy convince you that you shouldn’t have it because you don’t deserve it. That’s exactly what makes grace so magnificent — you don’t deserve it. And yet it is offered to you, full and free and wonderful, because He loves you!

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A Good Helper is a Good Listener

My older kids are 7 and 4, so they are in the prime age to be little helpers. They LOVE to help! But as anyone knows who has been helped by a young child, “help” is a relative term. Even though sometimes allowing my children to help me means the job will be slower for me, I want to honor their desire to help and to learn. So I find ways to allow them into the process of whatever I’m doing.

Because we believe in teaching personal responsibility and family teamwork at a young age, our children have weekly chores. (I could write an entire post on the benefits of chores!) One of Sophie’s jobs that she loves to do is to be the dinner helper. When I’m getting ready to put dinner on the table, Sophie’s job is to make sure the table is cleaned off of all toys and craft supplies, and then she can begin helping me with getting dinner on the table. She’s usually very eager to do the second part of this process, but very resistant to doing the first part. She doesn’t want to clear off the table and put away her toys. This week, this conundrum resulted in a meltdown. She didn’t get to help with putting dinner on the table, because she was still engaged in the first task of putting toys away, because she didn’t get to it when I asked her to. Sophie was devastated that she didn’t get to help in the way she wanted.

Again the next day she was eager to help me with a load of laundry I was folding and putting away. I gave her a task to do, but she didn’t want to do that particular part of the job (putting away the clothes which were hers from the load). Instead, she wanted to take one bath towel to put away. Given that she can’t reach where the bath towels are kept, and that there were several other linen closet items, I resisted her request to do this task. While I continued folding the remainder of the laundry, she argued with me about how she was going to help.

“But I want to put the towel away” she whined.

“I asked you to put your items away” I reminded her.

“But I want to put this towel away too” she replied.

“Ok, thats fine, but you haven’t done the first thing I asked you to do yet.”

“But I want to help with this towel” she persisted.

I’m sure you can see how this played out. She argued with me so long that again, she didn’t get to help at all. I finished folding and gathered up all the other items and put them away. This really set her off. And since it was almost time to leave for school, the conversation continued into the car.

“Why didn’t I get to help with the laundry this morning?”

“Because Sophie, when you are a helper, you do what the boss asks you to do. Helping isn’t done through doing whatever it is that you want to do. It’s done by doing what you’re asked to do. Sometimes what you want to do isn’t the most helpful thing or even the thing that needs done or even something that you are able to do. If you truly want to help someone, you have to do whatever it is that they need you to do.”

And I finished with a line that my children probably could say in their sleep: “A good helper is a good listener.”

Since I was already on my soapbox, and since the Holy Spirit was nudging me yet again through my own words, I carried on in our morning prayer. “Lord, help us to be good helpers to you today. Help us to do not just whatever it is that we may want to do, but help us to listen so that we can know what it is that you need us to do. Help us to be good helpers who listen and do what you’re asking instead of just what we want.”

This conversation really impacted me. How many times do I ask God what he needs and then just charge ahead with whatever I want to do anyways? This is exactly what my children, particularly Sophie, like to do when helping. I love that they have the desire to help, and I want to include them, but it would actually be helpful if they were listening to me and aiding me, instead of just doing their own thing.

If we’re honest, we all could probably improve upon our listening. If we took a closer look, I’m sure we would all find instances where we asked God how we could help, but then we did what we wanted instead. And maybe that wasn’t the thing that He needed done the most. Maybe we missed out on truly helping because we were too busy throwing a fit about what we wanted to do when he asked us to do something else. Like children who want to help a parent, we all need to remember that a good helper is a good listener.

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Memories of Daddy: Prayer

When I was a little girl, I recall vividly the way my Daddy prayed. He prayed about everything. All the time. We’d be pulling into a parking lot, and I’d hear his familiar prayer, “Lord, we just need one parking space.” It seemed like such a silly thing to pray for. And yet, as an adult, I find myself saying the same thing, out loud, with my own kids in earshot as we pull into a parking lot.

My Daddy had an ongoing conversation with his Heavenly Father. If we passed an accident, he always prayed, “Lord, those people need your help.” If he couldn’t find something, I’d hear, “Lord, where is so and such. You know where it is. Please show me.” If anyone in our family was sick, he was quick and ready to lay hands on us and pray for healing. Before every meal, he prayed more than just “Thank you for our food,” often tearing up as he spoke with his loving Father. My Daddy was a man of prayer.

While I sometimes catch myself praying similar prayers as an adult, I don’t think I realized the full impact of his continual dialogue with God on me until just recently.

A grandmother in our church shared with me about a time she visited our preschool classroom with her granddaughter who was visiting and wouldn’t stay in the class alone. The teachers asked for someone to lead in prayer before snack, and my son Micah was a ready volunteer. As he began to pray, her eyes bulged out, recounting it to me, she exclaimed, “He took us to church!” as people often say of someone who prays a moving prayer. She was blown away by the prayer of my four year old. (But, not to worry, she said, as he was soon talking about poop and being a typical four-year-old again!)

In that moment of talking with Pam is when my Daddy’s legacy hit me. He was a man of prayer. He made me a woman of prayer. And now my children are becoming people of prayer.

My Daddy left a legacy of prayer in my life because he was always doing it in front of me. I’m sure we can all identify problem habits that our children have because they’ve seen us model them. But are we modeling the good habits also? My Daddy modeled “pray without ceasing” every day of his life when I was growing up. And now it’s ingrained in me. I want the same thing for my children. But I realize that if I don’t model it for them, then they won’t grasp it in that way. If I never prayed with them or in their earshot, then how would they learn to pray?

Many people like to use rote prayers that are repeated before meals or bedtime, “Now I lay me down to sleep” stuff. That’s alright, but I don’t think it captures the real relationship I have with my Heavenly Father. Sure, there are things I don’t pray about in front of my kids because they don’t need to know the intimate details of certain situations. But there are a lot of things I do pray about in front of my kids. I want them to know what authentic conversation with God sounds like.

That’s what prayer is in our house — a conversation with God. And my kids know they can talk to God anytime. He’s always listening, I tell them. My kids are invited in to prayer time throughout our day. Sometimes they choose to repeat what I’m praying, and sometimes they pray their own prayers.

I’m thankful I had a Daddy who taught me to pray continually through the way he lived his life. And now, in turn, I hope to model that for my children as well.

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Say Thank You

As you begin reading this, I’d like for you to think of something you’re grateful for. Just a word or two, something that you’re grateful for. I’ll come back to that in a little bit.

Most of you know that I’m in the trenches of motherhood that many know can be very draining. Little people can be very demanding, very needy, very emotional, very irrational little people. Tiny tyrants attempting to rule the house with their miniature iron fists. As we battle for control each day, one of the things that I’m always drilling into my kids while they are still young is “Say thank you.” I want them to grow up not as entitled, spoiled, grown up tyrants, but as people who realize they are blessed every day.

Here is a lesson in saying thank you that really hit home with me.

My children go to two different schools, so every morning we have the hustle and bustle of getting everyone out the door on time. Some mornings you would think Mary Poppins is directing traffic in my house as everyone does everything they’re supposed to do, in a timely fashion, with a happy face. I almost catch myself whistling “A Spoonful of Sugar!”

But other days, my journey through the morning feels more like the highway to you know where! Everyone’s crying. Everyone’s yelling. No one can find their shoes, or their mittens, or their glasses. I’m more like a drill sergeant throwing children out the door and into van.

One particular day not too long ago, this was the tune of our morning. We were all yelling, crying, the kids were fighting, running late, of course. Not my favorite type of morning. And I hate to drop my kids off at school when everyone is mad at everyone! That’s the worst. So this particular morning, as everyone was bundled in the van, Sophie was crying and throwing a fit, Micah was complaining and whining, the baby was just making noise to be part of the chaos. And I thought, how do I flip this? How do I help these babies get through this yucky morning and have a good day?

Gratitude. That was the answer.

So I (loudly) asked everyone “What’s something you’re thankful for today?” I had to ask it more than once to be heard over the mayhem. But soon the answers started coming: a warm van to get to school, the beautiful snow, my friends at school, my mom, twinkle twinkle little star (from Hannie, of course). Soon we were on a roll, and everyone was feeling SO MUCH BETTER. We turned those thankful moments into our prayer time for the day before we dropped my son off to school.

Gratitude makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

One of my favorite Scriptures is I Thessalonians 5:16-18. It’s probably well known to many of you. It reads: “Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I have a background as an English teacher, so whenever I approach words, I do that with my English teacher brain on. Can’t do it any other way! But what I first notice about this Scripture is that it’s a command. It’s written in the indicative tense, which means the subject of the action is “you” understood. In other words, you could read “YOU rejoice” “YOU pray continually” “YOU give thanks in all circumstances.” The “you” isn’t written there, but it’s understood that the sentence is talking to you. It’s commanded of “you” to do this. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not a feeling. It’s a command.

The next aspect of this short Scripture that I notice is the adverbs. These are the words that describe the action of the sentence. We have “always” “continually” and “in all circumstances.” These words further show us that the action commanded is not something we do just when we feel like it, or when it’s convenient. These are things we should do all the time. Always. Continually. In all circumstances.

Yet on mornings like the one I described to you earlier, rejoicing and giving thanks were the furthest things from my kids’ minds. As an adult, it wasn’t all that difficult for me to draw them out of that little funk with a time of thanksgiving. It really did turn our whole morning around, mine included. But that’s just a difficult morning.

What about when the really hard days come? When you lose your job, or your spouse loses their job. When someone you love gets a difficult diagnosis. When your spouse leaves you. When a friend dies. When a child falls into addiction. When you lose everything. There are many moments in life that it is very, very difficult to give thanks.

I’ve had many moments like this in my life. Moments, seasons really, where is it very difficult to be grateful. Most of you probably know that my daughter Sophie has autism. Her journey has been filled with difficulty from literally the moment of her birth. At times, that’s something that’s been very hard to say thank you for. I remember one morning in particular not that long ago, I was feeling sorry for myself about her autism diagnosis, and I felt that gentle nudge to give thanks. So I began to try and think of things I was thankful for because of autism. It’s still a little hard for me to say, “thank you for autism.” But I’m working towards that. But still there were so many things that I found to be thankful for.

There have been so many people that we’ve been privileged to interact with because of her diagnosis. We’ve received the help and support of so many different teams of people. The beauty in her overcoming so many obstacles is incomparable. That would be absent if it weren’t for her struggles. Our church family has come around us in such an amazing way to love and support our daughter and our whole family. Again, blessings that would be absent if our need had not be present.

And then there’s those little things that make Sophie Sophie. When I’m cleaning and I find all of her hatchimals shoved into a tiny baby sock that she was using to cart them around. Just those little things that make her her. She wouldn’t have some of those endearing habits if it wasn’t for autism. And even though the diagnosis is difficult to accept and be thankful for, I wouldn’t change Sophie for the world. I love her completely, every bit of her, with my whole heart. Would I remove some of her obstacles? Yes, in a heartbeat. But I also know the same God who controls all things in this giant cosmos for his purpose sees Sophie and controls her life in his good hands too.

So let’s call to mind what you thought of earlier when I asked you to choose something you’re grateful for. If I had to guess, or if I’d been in your seat, I would have probably written, my family, my husband, my job, my church, something like that. I doubt very much I would have written “autism.”

And yet, this is something that God has allowed in to my life. And gratitude, I believe, is the key to finding peace in those situations. Because gratitude restores my perspective. Instead of seeing God through the lens of my circumstances, I can see my circumstances through the lens of his love. I can remember that I believe in a God who is both totally good and totally sovereign. There’s nothing that happens to me that he hasn’t allowed. And there’s nothing in his nature of doing that, that isn’t good and kind. I have chosen to believe that no matter what is happening around me, my God is always kind. And so even when the difficult moments come, I can say “thank you.” It doesn’t erase the grief or the pain or the anger or the fear immediately, but it does restore peace, the peace that passes understanding which is promised in Philippians 4:6-7, another passage that reminds us to pray, to give thanks, and to trust.

So as you think back on that thing you chose to be grateful for, I want challenge you to add a second thing to be grateful for. You won’t feel grateful for it, but you can choose to be. You can choose to be grateful in all things because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. And I trust that as you choose to be grateful, the Holy Spirit will bring you peace, and your perspective of a good and loving God will be restored to guide you through the difficult road you may be walking.

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Think About what You’re Thinking About

I had a conversation with Sophie this week that started me thinking about what I’m thinking about. One of the issues that often accompanies autism is anxiety. Sophie struggles with anxiety in regard to a few specific things, such as loud noises,  safety drills at school, her daily routine, and candles — they are terrifying. Her anxiety causes her to fixate on these certain things, which manifests as continual questions about them.

“Mom, what do we do if there’s a tornado drill today?”
“Mom, what if there are candles in the school?”
“Mom, what if the kids get loud around me, what can I do?”
“Mom, what are we doing today?” times 100, especially when the answer is “Nothing” or “We don’t have plans” or “It’s a snow day today.”

Sophie enjoys routine, predictability, and perceived control. When she feels out of control or loses sight of the routine, she asks these questions over and over again. It can be very frustrating. She knows the answer to the question she’s asked, and the answer never changes. The answer also doesn’t alleviate the anxiety that she’s feeling.

Most of the time, I try to just change the subject or ask her to talk about something else. But this week I went at the issue head on with a little Jesus action. I said, “Sophie, why are you dwelling on things that cause you to feel anxious? The Bible says, ‘Set you mind on things above.’ That means you need to set your mind on better things. You shouldn’t be continually thinking about things that don’t help you feel good. You should be thinking about things that make you happy.”

I expected a zillion questions about this statement. But instead, she quickly shifted into topics that make her happy. “Like how my teacher left me the star student sign in our yard? That makes me happy.” Then we began spelling words together, which makes her SO happy.

Teaching our kids what the Bible says about how we should live, and think, is so important! I am continually reminding myself as a parent that my kids are born knowing NOTHING. Having a one and a half year old at home, this is very evident right now. I explain to her older siblings all the time, “Hannie didn’t know that the paper would rip if she did that” or “Hannie didn’t realize the toy would break if she threw it.” Kids don’t know. They just don’t. It’s my job to lead them by example and by teaching how God says we should live our lives. I think there was a lot of freedom for Sophie in that conversation. She realized that she doesn’t HAVE TO think about things that make her feel anxious. It’s much better for her if she thinks about things that are pleasant.

These moments when I’m trying to teach something simple to my children, the Holy Spirit always gives me the elbow and says, “Yeah, why DO YOU do that??” Because I struggle with negative thoughts too. I don’t always dwell in my fears and anxieties like Sophie, but there are many ways where I fail to “set my mind on things above.” Whether it’s dwelling in a grouchy mood or over-analyzing a relationship or problem, or simply complaining about my situation, I let my mind sit in a negative rut too. There are so many better places to dwell than in a problem. And we are not captives to our minds. We are not the victims of our thoughts who just have to sit there and take it while our minds run wild. We can take control of what we’re thinking about and do what Colossians says: “Set your minds on things above.” We can count our blessings. We can dwell on a God who loves us and who is working all things for our good. We can be intentional about seeing what’s going on that’s good.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

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