Category Archives: Life Stories

A Lesson from Motherhood: Learn to Laugh (so you can yell less)

There’s two year old who lives in my house, so there’s a lot of angst to go around. She misses her siblings who have abandoned her for school all day. But when they get home, they’re tired, and they don’t want to play with her. She tries to bate them to play with her, but this just makes them mad and escalates the situation. There’s hitting, there’s shouting. There are so many tears.

So much change. So few coping skills. So many emotions. This all has led to a pretty angry atmosphere in the house. Unfortunately, anger is a fire that spreads. And the two year old has been setting the tone for the whole house.

In truth, it’s been my reaction to Hannah and her uncooperative siblings that’s actually setting the tone. Because I’ve given her control through my reactions.

Disturbed by the atmosphere in my home, by my own shortcomings, I searched for a devo in my online Bible app to get me reoriented in the proper direction. I found just what I was looking for in a study that promised to rid your home of angry parenting techniques. Sign. Me. Up. On the first day of reading this new study, I was cut to the heart by so many truths…

Blessing follows obedience. This is why I desperately want to teach my children the importance of obedience. Yet, my own angry responses were not obedient to God’s Word which instructs me not to sin in my anger.
In addition, I know that I don’t feel good when I suffer criticism, or if someone should yell at me. How can I expect my children to blossom under that kind of treatment?
Finally, the icing on the cake… “There’s nothing that anger can do that love can’t do better.” WOW. I got on Amazon, ordered the full book, ordered the study guide. Sold.

And then yesterday happened. I sent the children upstairs to wash their hands after school while I fixed a snack. I asked my son Micah to help his little sister wash her hands, but he passed the buck to his older sister Sophie. The one with autism. The one who loves to play in the water. Can you see where this is going? All you need to add to the picture is the knowledge that our bathroom sink drain is quite slow. I was busy making sandwiches, and you know, time flies and all, so I wasn’t tuned in to the length of time that the girls had been “washing their hands.”

Hannah walks out of the bathroom as I’m putting sandwiches on the table: “Mommy, I’m all wet!”

Indeed. Drenched is a better adjective. Saturated. Soaked.

Sensing that something was amiss, Micah bolted up the stairs. He loves to get his sisters in trouble. “Mom! There’s water everywhere! The girls overflowed the sink!”

Palm to face. Lord Almighty. “In your anger, do not sin,” I whispered under my breath repeatedly as I marched up the stairs.

What a sight to behold. The whole sink top was flooded, dixie cups floating tither and yon, and water was drizzling down the sides of the sink. It looked like the toilet, on the other side of the room, might float away. I think I even saw a lego man trying to hop into a boat among the bath toys.

“In your anger do not sin. In your anger do not sin. In your anger do not sin!!!!”

With a surprising clam only explained by the presence of the Holy Spirit, I sent Sophie to her room and began mopping up the flood. I found a lot of dirt in the process, so I guess that was good. The bathroom’s really clean now. Super.

But wait, folks, that’s not all!

After the great flood, we headed outside to enjoy this nice cool fall day. The children recently acquired a gift from their daddy’s work in the form of a power wheels vehicle that they can tool around the yard in. It’s large and a bit hard for me to wield, getting it out of the garage, past the minivan, up the small hill in our front yard, but I had promised Micah, the shirker who ultimately began the series of events that led to the great flood, so I got the car out, even though our time was cut short from the great mop up.

Micah drove the car into the back yard and started doing loops on the pre-approved track near our yard. Our three year old neighbor girl and my two year Hannah old jumped in to ride.

At some point while I was shooting the breeze with my neighbor, trying to catch just one little moment of sanity with another grown up, describing in elaborate terms the flood that had just occurred, Micah (the shirker) abandoned the ship to use the restroom (sparkling clean!), without my knowledge. And he left the three year old and two year old girls at the helm of the power wheels. (Shirking again!) Before I could catch them, they had run into the neighbor’s down spouting, rammed our fence, and pinned a patio chair to our tree, snapping it in two. As I reached them to get them out of this pickle, shouting and directing them to stop pushing the pedal, to reverse the car, to get out, to desist, for goodness sake, desist, they took good care to drive the car directly into my shins, and then, when backing up, over my foot.

“In your anger do not sin. In your anger do not sin. In your anger do not sin!!!!”

As I evacuated everyone from the power wheels toy-turned-weapon, I felt my ire raising. But I also felt something else: A holy desire to laugh at all of it. I’m a firm believer in the adage that motherhood is sanctifying. And if I’m going to decide to work on an aspect of my spiritual life, you better believe I’m going to have opportunities to practice. That is what is meant by the working out of your faith (Phil 2:12). God is not a genie in a bottle, good old Pastor Ron always says, who wants to zap you into holiness. If you want to get better at something, he gives you chances to practice. My day yesterday was the prefect example. I’m glad I was able to laugh, rather than scream or cry. Rather than a tone of anger, this is the tone I want to set for my home — a tone of humor, laughter, grace, and more grace.

You won’t be surprised to know that the same types of difficulties unfolded again this morning. (I’ve never mopped my floors before 8AM until today, out of necessity, I assure you!!) But I’m hanging on to my peace. My shins are still hurting, but my heart is happy.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Prov 17:22)

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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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A Thanksgiving Story: Chutes and Ladders

One of my favorite times with my son Micah these days is our afternoon time when Hannah is napping and Sophie is still at school. It’s our special time of day where we get to be together just the two of us. As the middle child, he really needs that time. Sometimes we bake together. He loves to help. And sometimes we’ll play cars, or blocks, or hide and seek. But most often Micah will ask me to play a game. He’s just getting to the age where he understands games well, and I think he perceives that I enjoy games, too.

Recently, I decided he was ready for Chutes and Ladders. It’s a bit more complex than Candy Land or Memory, but he picked it up quickly. He also quickly picked up how to cheat. If he could see a ladder ahead, he would jump two squares while only counting one number so that he could get ahead. Or, he’d count a square twice if he realized he was going to end up going down a chute. The only problem is that all his attempts to control the game didn’t always lead to him succeeding overall, or even in the very next turn. He’d try to manipulate one turn to avoid a chute or gain a ladder, only to end up at another chute on the next turn, because of the square he jumped on the previous turn. Micah quickly became so focused on controlling the game — avoiding the chutes and finding the ladders in the game — that he ceased to enjoy the play. We stopped in the middle of one of our games to talk about this. I explained how his attempts to control his game weren’t really helping, and they were just causing him to not enjoy playing. When he quit worrying about controlling his every move on the board, he was able to return to enjoying it, even if he did have to go down a few chutes. He learned that those few chutes didn’t determine the outcome of the game, nor how much he enjoyed the game.

Isn’t that just like life? Maybe it’s just me. I know that I have spent large amounts of time trying to control each detail of my life to work out “just right,” or worrying about each detail that feels out of control. But then the next turn, despite my careful efforts to control it all, I just ended up going down that darn chute. We can waste a lot of energy and thought worrying about things we can’t control anyways so much that we don’t enjoy life. Those things don’t control the outcome for us either. But we are quick to lose sight of that. In the face of a job loss, a diagnosis, an addiction, an illness, a death, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that it will all be ok in the end. I’m not saying that we must enjoy always the chutes of life. There are moments of deep grief and pain that must be endured. But we can’t allow those to rob us of our foresight of the outcome, or of our joy at playing the game either.

Sophie’s autism diagnosis has been hard for me. Really hard. But I’m learning that I can’t let that steal my joy. There’s still a whole lot to enjoy about this game, even though it looks different than I anticipated. This week in response to my pastor’s message on giving thanks, I recounted the different things I had to be thankful for specifically because of autism, that I would never have been blessed by without this diagnosis.

There are people I have gotten to know who I would never have known. Many of them. And I am so thankful for each one. Multiple speech therapists whom I will always tear up when I think of, because they literally gave my child her voice. Patient, kind and gracious educational aides who have helped Sophie with tasks that no one but her mother should have to do. Teachers who have loved my little girl like their own, who have rejoiced at each hurdle she overcame. Little friends who taught this grown up about true friendship. I tried to imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t know these people or hold these memories of them. It felt barren. These people have brought a richness to my life that I would otherwise not know.

And there are also so many lessons I have learned, ways that my faith has grown, because of this diagnosis. I have learned to live in today, and not the future. I have learned to trust in a deeper way. I have overcome fears. I have developed faith-filled friendships, some where I have walked before another mama going through this, and some where I have walked behind another wiser mama. I have learned to lighten up, and learned to be more patient. So while I may continue to rage at the brokenness of our world, I find that I can also be thankful to my God who is always “working all things for the good of those who love him who are called according to his purpose.” Even for autism.

Whatever your chute is, can you trust Him enough to say thank you and trust anyways? Can you grab ahold of your blessings and your joy in spite of the bitterness of the slide? Thankfulness is a choice. It is an exercise in faith. It is a very good place to begin if you’ve lost your joy of the game for the chutes you’ve tried to control but had to slide anyways.

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A Love Song

Life has been heavy lately.

I don’t have much wisdom to share about dealing with grief and loss. It’s been two months since I lost my friend, and I still sometimes feel at a loss as to how to move forward, or to process that she’s gone. I still wonder daily, “will I always feel sad?” The answer is probably, yes, I will always feel sad when I think of the loss of my dear friend. But, as another friend reminded me, to not feel sad over such a loss would be far worse. Grief and loss are just hard. Plain and simple. The only way I know to move through seasons like this is just one step at a time, one day at a time.

My hydrangea, in honor and memory of Chris. The plant I bought her for her birthday, one week before her accident.

Aside from the season I am currently experiencing, there was one other season in my life fraught with tragedy, loss, and grief. Three of my high school students drowned while on a missions trip. I think I cried every single day for at least a month. And I know that the loss I experienced then, and what I am experiencing now, don’t hold a candle to what some have lost. The tears go on for years, decades.

Our world is broken. And it sucks. Dementia, cancer, drownings, autism, car accidents, heart attacks. They were never part of the plan. It is because I believe that they were never part of the plan that I can continue to draw breath and walk through these seasons of loss. It is because I see a loving God as the lens for my circumstances, and not my circumstances to form a broken view of God, that I can continue to trust and walk forward in faith.

During this season of grief in my life, God has spoken one word over and over to me, and I realized that the word is the same this time as it was last time. And it is this: I love you.

In the midst of long sleepless nights waiting for my friend to take her final breath, I heard it over and over and over again: “the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Oh, it chases me down, fights til I’m found, leaves the 99.” As I tossed and turned in the bed, it was there, in. my. face. Seven years ago, I heard it in the words of my students’ favorite song (all were singers and musicians), “Oh, how he loves us so. Oh, how he loves us. How he loves us so.” I could not get this song out of my head. The Holy Spirit was insistent and relentless in his message of love to me, both then and now.

Why in times of loss is God reminding me of his love? The only conclusion that I can draw is that, like any good father, my Heavenly Father is comforting his dear child as she cries. When my children are afraid, or sad, or hurting, I often reassure them of my love. And when they have to go through scary things like shots or doctor appointments, I tell them that it’s ok, it’s for their good, even though it hurts for a bit. It’s because they know I love them that they can trust me and walk it out. Because I know my Father loves me, I know he’s working for good and for his glory. In my loss and hurt, he just wants me to know, “I love you.”

As I processed the similarities in these two seasons of grief, I was reminded of Zephaniah 3:17 where the prophet writes, “he will rejoice over you with singing; he will quiet you with his love.” I have felt his insistent love song in these seasons of sadness. My Father is there, singing over me, quieting me with his love.

If you are grieving today, friend, I pray that you will feel his love singing over you and quieting your soul as well. I pray that you will receive his love song, and that it will carry you through your loss. I pray that his loving presence will be all around you, through the sleepless nights, through the long sad days. And I pray that you and I both can keep heaven in our view, remembering that all our losses are temporary, and one day, all will be set right.

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Bitter Water

About a month ago I accepted a new job as the director of youth and children’s ministry at my church. I was (and am) humbled and delighted to be offered this job! I could say a lot about the process, because it could not have been more clear that this was what God had for me. But if I get off on that, it will totally hijack this other post I need to write…

My first week on the job, I contracted a wicked stomach virus that just would not leave me. So I was sick for the majority of my first week of work. The next Monday morning, I was excited to be feeling well and back at it. But when Tuesday rolled around, my world turned upside down.

My dear friend, neighbor, and my kids’ “granny” was in a bad car accident. She was taken to our major trauma hospital in the area and admitted to ICU with kidney failure, irregular heart rhythms, and numerous broken bones. Friends, in that moment when I heard that news, my world just stopped. I was overwhelmed with grief at the thought of losing this dear loved one. And, of course, after thoughts of her well-being, quickly followed thoughts of how in the world I was supposed to do my new job with Granny, my babysitter, laying in the hospital. For four long days, I did not know if she was going to live or die. Some of the worst moments of my life.

I remember waking up the morning after her accident, with everything feeling upside down, praying for her, asking God what in the world he was up to, and specifically praying, “God, I know you have something in mind here, so I need you to show me your thoughts. I know you have a thought about this, a direction that I should go. This didn’t surprise you. So reveal your thoughts to me.”

So we’ve been functioning now for two weeks without Granny. The first two weeks in six years that she hasn’t been by the watch the kids for a few hours, even if to just give mommy a much needed minute for sanity. It has been a strange two weeks. It has intensified the adjustment period for me, having added new job responsibilities, while losing a huge part of my support system. I cannot say that it has been the smoothest two weeks of my life. While I’m really enjoying the job, life has gotten crazy busy, and my children are with me 24/7. So all the mamas know what that’s like…. A special kind of blessing, honestly, it is.

And so this week I’m working away on all my Sunday school lessons, and the lesson for the junior high and high school is just the hottest mess. I use a curriculum, and I just tailor it to our needs, and usually it’s pretty spot on. But this lesson was just making me scratch my head and say “Wuuuttt?” And it was really frustrating. So I put it away and prayed for divine inspiration. And woldn’t you know, when I took it out today, that Holy Ghost just opened up my eyes.

The story we are studying is of the Israelites at Marah, where the water is bitter. In spite of all the miracles they’ve seen God do in the past few weeks of their lives, the Israelites begin to whine and complain that God isn’t providing for them. I read that, and I’m like, “Wuuuttt? Come on, guys! You just walked through the Red Sea on dry ground! I think God can help you with your water situation.” But they didn’t see it. So Moses, bless his soul, cries out to God for help. And God says, “ok, throw this tree into the water.” Say what now? How is that going to solve this problem? Good ol’ Moses doesn’t question, or if he does, he made the editorial choice to leave that part out when he wrote the book of Exodus. He just puts the tree into the water, and BOOM! sweet water!

So here’s how God hits me between the eyes with this: “What are you going to do, Catherine, when I serve up bitter water for you? Are you going to complain and gripe and be frustrated that your life is less convenient now? Or are you going to choose to obey, whatever craziness that may look like? Are you EXPECTING me to move or not?”

See, I started out pretty good right after the accident, asking God for his thoughts and all, but the living it out, that is the tough part. Even though my church family and friends have come together in amazing and beautiful ways to support my family, the fact that my friend and my babysitter is laying in the hospital with a very long long road to recovery still stinks. We miss her. Our lives are actually less without her, if you know what I mean. She added to our lives in a very sweet and unique way. This loss, however temporary, is a firsthand taste of some bitter water.

The brokenness of this world stinks. It meets us every day in the ways we sin and fall short and in the ways that others sin against us. Our friendships break down. Our families break down. Our health breaks down. And eventually, our hearts break down along with these things. Bitter water. It’s everywhere in this life. So the question is, what are we going to do with our bitter water? Are we looking for God, expecting him to move? Or are we wallowing in self-pity and frustration?

I think I’m going to look back on the faithfulness of my God and trust and remember that he has still got a plan, and he is still good. Even in the bitterness of this loss, I will look for sweetness. I will look for the miraculous. I know it’s there. I see it in the ways others are stepping up to care for us. I see it in Granny’s slow but steady healing. And I know I’ll see it in other ways as I continue to look.

 

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Green Beans on Cake

It is 10:30 AM. Today they are giving me a run for my money. (Let’s be honest, every day they give me a run for my money.) I have already lost count of the meltdowns and timeouts we’ve had this morning. It’s a green beans on cake kind of season around here with my older two children.

Micah precociously tells Sophie, “No, you’re not allowed to do that.”

Sophie shouts, “Micah! Go AWAY!” swinging her arms (and her toys) around wildly trying to remove his presence from her space.

… And the yelling continues ….

OR

Sophie tells Micah, “You’re going to wear this shirt today.”

Micah dissolves into a puddle of angry tears on the floor because he wanted to pick his own shirt.

Can somebody please just take a chill pill? Yikes.

These are the cringe-worthy moments that my days are made of right now! They’re just kids being kids, but I happen to believe it’s my job to train them up in the way they should go, and green beans on cake is NOT the way to go…

So we use this saying on a daily basis. “Don’t put green beans on your cake.”

Here’s how it began —

One day when Micah was spouting off some kind of attitude towards me and his sister Sophie, I exclaimed, “Micah, stop that, it’s just ugly!”

He was very offended, because already at three he wants to look good. “Mom, don’t call me ugly. That’s not nice.” He was truly hurt when he thought I was calling him ugly.

So I explained, “Micah, you are not ugly at all. You are a wonderful boy with so many good qualities, but when you have this bad attitude, it looks ugly on you. It ruins the good you. It’s like putting green beans on cake!”

That really got his attention! “Green beans on cake, Mom?! That’s disgusting!”

“Yes, it is. That would be so gross! It would mess the cake all up. And that’s what your attitude does to you. God made you to be a wonderful little boy who is kind and funny and smart! But when you have this attitude, you’re putting green beans on your cake.”

Suddenly it was crystal clear to him what I was saying. He realized to some degree that his sinful choices are not a reflection of who he truly is, but they are a distortion of who God created him to be. This vivid, disgusting image helps my children understand what their sin does to their souls.

And it helps me too. Sometimes they’ll even say it to me, “Mom, that’s green beans on cake when you say that.” And sometimes they’re right. We all put green beans on our cake now and then. But now all we need to do is lovingly remind each other when we’re starting to load the cake up with beans and it helps diffuse the situation, remind us that we’re not being the best version of ourselves, the one we were created to be.

So we soldier on, through these years when the children are each other’s best friend and worst enemy from moment to moment. I know I’m going to blink and it will be in the past. I won’t mind if I forget the fighting and the meltdowns, but I hope I remember our phrase, green beans on cake, because I don’t want to lose sight of what my sin does to my soul. I want to be the best version of myself that I can possibly be on this earth.

And  I hope that my kids will remember it too as they grow, so that when they are teenagers walking through school hallways, they will be kind, they will reach out to the lonely. When they start their first job, they’ll be a light for Jesus because their lives look different. When they go out into this broken world, they’ll have something to offer, something sweet like cake, that leaves others feeling uplifted instead of grossed out.

At the center of my job as a mother is the responsibility to teach my kids to know and to be like Jesus. Many days that feels like the impossible dream. But I know it’s not. Because we have the good moments too, where we’re talking at breakfast about Easter and they’re talking about how Jesus died on the cross for them, and rose again, and is coming back to take them to heaven because they have Jesus in their hearts. Some moments it’s just pure sweet cake.

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