When I was a child, discipline usually began with the statement, ‘You know I love you…but…’ I don’t think the conditionality of that statement scarred me, but I didn’t like the sound of it coming out of my mouth to my children. It sounded wrong. Like my love was limited to times when behavior was stellar…which isn’t going to be always with kids. I was perplexed about how to phrase my deep love for my children while addressing their inappropriate actions. I needed new words.

Enter Andrew Taylor-Troutman, minister, author, blogger (http://www.takemyhandmemoir.com/blog) . He was invited to speak at our church on the topics of parenting, pastoring, and publishing. I posed my question to him: how do I communicate ‘I love you, but you can’t do this’ without the ‘but’? He thought for a shorter moment than I expected and replied with, ‘What about ‘and’?’ Hmmmm…

‘I love you, and you can’t behave this way.’ Hmmmm… ‘I love you, and you must stop hitting your sister.’ ‘I love you, and you cannot be disrespectful to me.’ Hmmm… I liked it. I could see how it could work. Affirmation and redirection. Probably with a long pause in between to let the first message sink in before delivering the instruction of the second one. Unconditional love with the added bonus of showing them a road map to getting out of the predicament wherein they found themselves.

Yes, this would work. I liked it very much. It was hard to implement as the old phrase kept popping out of my maternal mouth. I jokingly told a friend that I needed to tattoo ‘and’ on my arm so that I remember to say it. But I actually ended up doing something a little more drastic…I painted it on the wall.


Reminders that good things come in pairs. Bacon and eggs. Hugs and kisses. Forgiving and forgetting. AND that joys and sorrows come together, too. Work and play. Sinners and saints. Love and discipline.

When the kids have asked, ‘Why did you paint a big ‘and’ sign on the wall?’, I tell them it’s a reminder that sometimes good things happen AND sometimes bad things happen. AND that we survive them both. It’s a healthy way to view life, I think. We can celebrate the joys and work through the sorrows together. Always loving, though not always lovable. And always loved.

James 1

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Psalm 1

Oh, the joys of those who do not  follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lordmeditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
    bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. 

Matthew 5

3“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

Fried chicken = grace


Grace showed up at my house tonight in the form of fried chicken. Here’s the story…

The past few days around here have been rough. My son has been sick with a high fever for four days, and sleep has been sparse for both of us. His little sister, however, is full of vim, vigor, vitality…and sibling rivalry. She’s not unaware of the extra attention that he is getting in his weakened state. And she’s letting us know about it, loud and clear.

So we all had midday naps yesterday. Much, much needed naps. And then, by the grace of the God of all seasons, the weather was fallish enough to go outside for a bit. I fixed dinner and set it on the counter to wait my husband’s arrival home, and we all went out to air ourselves out in the pleasant autumn breeze.

I sat in the yard, enjoying the season and the moment…happy that B was feeling well enough to play a while and that D was being cooperative with him. I was happy that dinner was ready…my first attempt at oven-fried chicken. It was tasty and not greasy, flavorful and not heavy. I was glad that, even though I had one man down, dinner was ready, the table was clear of folded laundry, and the house was in pretty decent order for the start of the school week.

When I went inside to get some water for my parched son, I saw it. The empty platter. With tell-tale residue still on it. And the scoundrel dog nowhere in sight. I was angry. Very angry.

When I returned outside and told the kids, they laughed, but then asked, ‘So what are we going to eat for dinner?’ ‘Mashed potatoes and peas.’ I replied. ‘Or maybe we should eat the dog.’

Later that evening, I texted a friend whose dog had once eaten an orange crayon just as my friend was getting ready to color a pumpkin. ‘How do I color a pumpkin with no orange crayon?’ he had pondered. In my text, I commented that ‘your dog ate your crayon, but my dog ate our fried chicken dinner!’

I’d love to say that I had a chuckle or even a grin about the whole incident, but I didn’t. I was tired. Bone tired from repeated nights without real rest. Emotionally spent from the war of the sibs over my attention and affection. There was no humor to be found when dinner was lost the night I had no energy to do it all again. And, admittedly, it led me to cathartic cry.

Today, when I got home from work, there was a box of fried chicken (and macaroni and cheese) on the kitchen table and a smiling friend on my porch.

I was reminded of a song that the choir at my childhood church used to sing. ‘The precious, unmerited favor of God has been extended to me/ The marvelous grace of my savior knows no boundaries…’ I didn’t do anything to earn or deserve this neighborly gesture. It wasn’t repayment for any deed I had done. It was a loving gift…a gift for someone who needed help. I couldn’t make the dog give dinner back…we really couldn’t eat the dog for dinner. I couldn’t undo what had been done. But someone else reached out to make right what had been wrong. Someone interceded in a precious, unmerited way.

Grace. I’d take it over fried chicken (and macaroni and cheese) any day.

2 Corinthians  12:9-10 (but here’s the whole chapter)

But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions,in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Hymn credit: http://www.drbentownsend.com/documents/1fsunmeritedfavor.pdf

Photo credit: http://www.thedailymeal.com/how-make-perfect-fried-chicken

Oven baked fried chicken recipe that my dog ate:   http://www.pinterest.com/pin/170855379588952588/

Great expectations

My daughter has a baby doll that she takes everywhere with her. Karababy is the lovey’s name. She goes to church, to school (though she must wait on the waiting bench), the store, Grandma’s house…everywhere. Rather similar to Linus’s security blanket. But like everything that gets dragged through public places, Karababy gets filthy. And so, she must get a bath.

My gal doesn’t really like bath days for Karababy, but she accepts that they are necessary. She sees the grime collecting on the beloved ‘fuzzy belly’ and recognizes that the only way to make her fresh and new again is to toss her in the washer. As we are blessed to have the ever-entertaining front load washer and dryer, my girl is able to watch and wait while the cleansing process occurs. She plays patiently elsewhere until Karababy enters the dryer, and then, she takes her job as loving sentinel very seriously.



My son, on the other hand, is rarely still. He’s always on the move…playing lacrosse, building forts, digging holes,  smashing dirt clods, chasing the dog.  On the odd occasion that he slows down, he wants to draw or construct or invent…still in action. The other day, he challenged me to a baking contest…with the stipulation that we couldn’t use recipes. He just wanted to mix up some stuff and hope that it would be fabulous. Well, having a few years of cooking experience, I knew that wasn’t exactly going to work out well…so I gave him a few suggestions about ingredient portions. He still had a good time with his creation…and he had to wait for the results of his labor.


I’m in a place of waiting, too. I’ve gotten restless with my part-time teaching job, and I’m ready to re-enter the classroom full-time.  I taught full-time for twelve years, nine in middle school, before having my second child. I loved every day of challenging the challenging adolescent. I am meant to do that…it’s my passion and my calling. Unfortunately, full-time jobs don’t come along at just any time of the year…and so I wait. I spend my daughter’s final preschool year with her. I volunteer with my son’s class. I take on responsibilities at church that I won’t have time for later. And I wait…I wait for my instructional lovey to be ready again. I wait for the door to open on the treat of teaching middle schoolers again.  Like my own children who patiently bide their time, I will enjoy this time for what it has to offer, knowing that the future will be exciting enough.  And I’m happy with that. 

Words that are helping me now:

from Ecclesiastes 7

10Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions. 11 Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun. … 13 Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? 14 When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.

from Jeremiah 29

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

from James 1

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.





I know why the early bird sings

4:34 a.m. That seems to be the time when my bladder and my brain collaborate and decide that I’ve slept long enough. No matter what time I go to sleep, they think that time is ideal to awaken me. So, I’ve spent some time pondering the early morning hours.

Honestly, I love the sounds of early morning. Mostly, it’s quiet, peacefully quiet. The quiet of evening is a restless quiet. Cars still drive quickly home, radios still blast…those rowdy teenagers, car doors slam shut, neighbors end their visits in the driveway with nighttime chatter. Even nature rushes more in the evening, it seems. Fireflies flicker, crickets chatter, bats swoop, color drops off the edge of the earth into its bed. Night hurries into position as if to say, ‘Y’all go on to sleep now!’

But morning is slow in coming. As slow as it’s inhabitants.  Bats and bugs and nocturnal wanderers have finished their forays and are snoozing in the peace of dark. Breezes whisper through the leaves, careful not to arouse anyone yet. Dawn slowly creeps into the sky, as if stretching its colors awake. Cars meander down the street, as though they wish they were back home instead of carrying their sleepy passengers to work. The morning tiptoes into place quietly.

But the birds…oh, the birds. So full of energy are their tiny little bodies that they can’t hold in their enthusiasm about a new day. They can’t wait to start pulling worms up from dew-cooled soil. The garden must be explored, the bird feeder must be visited, the bushes must be plucked…a busy day awaits. WAKE UP, WORLD!!! Eight hours of silence is just too long! Being cuddled up in that cozy nest, sitting in that perfectly woven thatch, well, it was nice while it lasted, but there are things to do now! The grass is perspiring, the time is expiring! GET UP, EVERYONE!!

Cheeky little chirpers they are. And as I lay in my bed and wish they would tone it down for about an hour longer, I realize why they are so happy. They look forward to each day. They have cherished families to tend, precious food to gather, refreshing baths to splash…they know what they have to do, and they want to get about doing it. They know that every day, that sun will rise and every night, that sun will fade. Every day, seeds will be available. And every night, rest will be waiting at home for them.  And they want to revel in every moment of it.

Mmmm…I’ve been shamed by birds. Early morning rascals.

morning birds

photo by: randomphotography101.wordpress.com

Hymn…or me?

My life has been a big ol’ messy pile of decisions/thoughts/confusions/worries over the past month. Job changes, desired jobs lost, patience tried, school years begun, grown-up choices required…I’m exhausted. I’m emotionally weary and worn. I feel too old and too young and too informed and too ignorant. All. And I don’t really like any of it. I’m pretty much ready for this particular season to be over.

Through it all, though, there have been these soft lyrics lilting throughthe stormy clamor in my mind. A old but precious song from my Granny’s old but precious church. If I stop thinking long enough, I can hear her warbling the words next to me. And I recall the blessed assurance she portrayed in her life. She knew who watched the sparrows, and she knew that He watched her too.

Admittedly, I had to Google all the lyrics because I could only remember the chorus. But I needed to read all the words to be reminded that the life I’m muddling through now is not what He wants for me. He wants me to look up and over the muck and trust that He is going to take care of all the details I’m fretting about.  ‘Why should I feel discouraged…Why should the shadows come..Jesus is my portion…my constant friend is he…his eye is on the sparrow…and I know he watches me…” (I’m singing it and smiling as I type).

I hope someone else can be encouraged by this today.

Why should I feel discouraged?
And why should the shadows come?
And why should my heart be lonely
And long for heaven and home?

When Jesus is my portion
My constant friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

And I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I am free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

Let not your heart be troubled
His tender word I hear
And resting on His goodness
I lose my doubts and fears

Though by the path He leads us
But one step I may see
His eye is on the sparrows
And I know He watches me

And I sing because I’m happy
And I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me

His eye is on the sparrow
  And I know He watches me             



Top Ten: Life Lessons from a Navy Seal

I’ve missed a few of my ‘top ten’ days, but I’ve been saving this link for the right moment. As this is back-to-school time, I thought this might be the right time to share it. It’s time to get out of bed, make the bed, and start a productive day.

Navy Admiral William H. McRaven tells the top ten lessons he’s learned from being in the trenches. They’re so simple, but so true. Here’s the list, but the article is so much more than just the list. Read it here:


10. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

9. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

8. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

7.If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

6. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

5. If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head-first.

4. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

3. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

2. If you want to change the world, start singing when your up to your neck in mud.

1. If you want to change the world, don’t ever ring the bell.


What little ears hear


My son doesn’t like to be startled. At all. Ever. He doesn’t like alarm clocks ( I don’t either ), car horns ( unless he’s honking them ),  or fire drills ( they bring him to his knees).  I know this about my son, and I accept it. We all have our quirks. I don’t like jumpy things…grasshoppers, frogs, crickets…bunnies are only just tolerable.

We were with a well-meaning acquaintance doing a planned activity that ended up being a bit louder and startling than expected. My son balked. He ran from the fun to a safe space some distance away…and I was okay with that. I knew what was happening, and I knew he was finding his solace. Our host did not understand that so much. And there were some chastising words spoken toward my son. And that hurt me.

I wanted to plug my son’s ears. I wanted to erase the two minutes of time that had just occurred and take him back to when that person was a ‘safe’ person to be around. Without realizing it, that individual had just permanently damaged the relationship with my great kid. No longer was he a trustworthy companion in my son’s eyes because he had poked an already sore spot in my son’s psyche.

As a kid, I used to sing the song ‘Oh Be Careful Little Eyes What You See’ in chapel at school. (And subsequent verses, ‘Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear’ and ‘Be Careful Little Feet Where You Go’…) It was a cute little ditty, reminding us not to put ourselves in places where we shouldn’t be…places where we can get into trouble…or where trouble can find us. But what if trouble finds you when you’re where you’re supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to be doing, with the people that are acceptable company? What then?

Oh for cotton balls to shove in my son’s ears, band-aids to wrap his heart or bubble wrap to roll around his spirit at that moment. I agonized for him because I knew he had tried to be brave, and though he had succeeded in my eyes and his own, he had failed in the most verbal presence there. And there’s the key. He had succeeded, and there will always be verbal presences. He had sought his safe space where he could still participate, but from a distance. He had not denied the total experience. He had not thrown a fit. He had not screamed at the adult. He had not reacted negatively. He knew his limits and he lived within them. And I was proud of him.

I cannot follow my son everywhere and protect him from everything. That would create more problems than it would solve. But I can help him become strong enough inside that he is prepared when trials come along, expectedly or unexpectedly. I cannot shelter him from meanness but I can teach him to be brave in spite of it. I cannot block him from the evil that resides in this world, but I can show him that God is bigger than evil and that God lives in him…and loves him more than anything.

People hurt us. People close to us that know our inner struggles can hurt us deeper because they know our weaknesses. But we can heal and learn from those painful times. We can learn to protect ourselves emotionally when we’re around those people, and we can be compassionate enough not to act that way to others.

Oh, be careful little ears what you hear, and don’t become like the voices that spoke those words.

Psalm 103…parenting like God.

(Picture courtesy of blog.childandfamilydevelopment.com)

Top Ten: Life lessons from sandcastles

IMG_4754                      IMG_4758

10.  The obvious, it’s free! All that’s needed is sand and hands. Buckets and spades are bonuses!

9. The other obvious: imagination stimulation!

8. Unchanging physical properties- The force of water v. the strength of sand; construction qualities of wet sand v. dry sand; incline v. recline; condensation v. evaporation…the list is somewhat endless…

7. When to stop– There are limits to how much sand can be built up, how deep a shovel can effectively slice without causing a collapse, how much water can be added to make the correct ‘paste’. Observing such limits and working within them builds structural and personal integrity.

6. Where to start–Start too close to the tide line and the masterpiece will be washed away before it’s even built; start too far away from the water source and water will be distantly inaccessible. High tide? Low tide? Research and reconnoiter before beginning the task.

5. Use what you have–Hands are all that’s really needed, but shovels and pails are great too. Need a new angle or a deeper scoop? Manipulate what is available…squeeze the bucket, turn the shovel…make it work! Adaptation is a crucial life skill.

4. Get more–If the sand is too wet and slippery, add dry to soak up the water. If it’s too dry to stay in place, add a bit of water. Want decor? Go find shells and sea grass. Want a different dig? Might be time to spring for a new spade. Sometimes is best to seek other options.

3. Networking–If you begin to build it, they will come. Little boys, big boys, curious onlookers of every age. Helpful advisors, eager engineers, passing critics. Listen to the advice, accept the outstretched hand, ignore the scoffers. The sandbox of the world is filled with diverse friendships waiting to start.

2.Dealing with loss–Inevitably, the sandcastle will become part of the shoreline again. But crying over a flattened sand structure is as useless is crying because there is sand. Millions of architects have knelt in those tiny grains and constructed greatness only to have it washed away with the timeless tide. Beginning this job is knowing that this is a temporary investment but the memory of it will be long-lasting.

1. Beginning again–Survey the scene, take stock of materials, and plan for the future. Yesterday’s masterpiece was colossal…for yesterday. What’s next? Breathe the salty air, admire all the expansive greatness and have a seat. Start anew, start renewed…but don’t let the ocean keep you from your sandcastle.






Photo courtesy : twentyfoursevenmusic.wordpress.com

My son has always had a fascination with firemen, fire trucks, fire stations…anything related to fighting fires and keeping people safe. We are fortunate to live down the road from a small fire station, the ‘retirement station’ they call it, as it rarely gets calls. Due to such local access, my little guy likes to stop in and chat with the heroes therein.

He has recently been introduced to the phrase ’24/7′, though he’s still struggling with the exact meaning. He thinks it means starting work at seven in the morning and working a full twenty-four hour day, as the guys down the street do. I have tried my mother’s best to explain to him what it really means, but at his age, he’s more determined to be right than correct.

Those numbers took on a new meaning to us this week. The evening of July 24th, (7/24) as we snuggled in bed at story time, my little theologian asked, ‘How do you ask God to come into your heart?’. I smiled a little smile, not wanting to imply teasing but happiness. ‘Well, you just ask him…really. It’s kinda that simple.’ He pondered, not certain I was right about such a monumental event. So, I went on a little further.

‘Do you remember that Bible school song that said ‘A…admit to God that you’re a sinner and you need him…B…believe that Jesus is God’s own son…C…confess that Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord…’?’ Still pondering and not making eye contact, he nodded.

‘Do you know that you sin and do bad things sometimes?’

‘Oh yes!’ He nodded and released a wry smile, probably remembering some events of that very day.

‘Do you understand that Jesus died on the cross to clean away your sin, so that you can be with God?’ Nodding…we’d had a thorough discussion about this ever since Easter this year…

‘And you know that Jesus is God’s son…You just kinda talk to him about all those things. Tell him that you know you do bad stuff and that you realize he loves you enough to forgive you and he wants to be with you.’

He still wasn’t really making eye contact with me, and admittedly, I couldn’t read him at that moment. I gave him a few moments to process what I’d said. The way his active mind works, he might have been finished with the whole topic and ready to discuss where firemen store their breathing apparatuses. I didn’t want to push my spiritual excitement on him, but after a minute or two I quietly asked, ‘Do you want to talk to God about it all?’ He said he did, but he didn’t want to do it out loud.

He put his hands over his face and curled up in a little ball and was silent for about a minute and a half. I put my hand on his shoulder and prayed my own little prayer, that he would truly know what God’s forgiveness meant… And then he opened his eyes, looked right at me and smiled. ‘I did it.’

It doesn’t matter to me that he will argue about the daily work schedules of the firemen down the street. What matters is that on that night, 7/24, I knew that he understood the forgiving faithfulness of God. Yes, he’s young, but he’s old enough to know that he needs forgiveness because he sins…and that God not only provides forgiveness, he does it with open arms. And he’s old enough to know that God wants us to care for others and share his loving ways with others. Isn’t that the gist of it all? Forgive and love on.

 No matter what he does during the twenty-four hours of his seven days a week, God will be by his side.  Dawn, dusk, noon, midnight, afternoon, evening, midmorning, midday…no matter the time, God is with him, forgiving and loving him and directing him to others who need the same.

Thank you, Father.

John 8:34-36 (www.biblegateway.com)

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.