It was a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood


Much like family, you can’t choose your neighbors.  You find a house, love all of it and its imperfections, and move into it.  You might have driven a time or two in the neighborhood to look at your new house, but you really have no clue as to whom you’ll be living next to or near.

For seven years my family and I lived in an unfriendly subdivision at the north end of town.  This was our first impression of Knoxville, which was disappointing.  It was a nice area, in that it had a walking/bike trail through the subdivision and a couple playgrounds that we could walk to quickly.  The actual people, however, were around a C+.  That whole “southern hospitality” expectation was not met.  In fact, a week after moving into our home, an anonymous handwritten note was placed in our mailbox to “make sure and pick up all the grass clippings after mowing.”  It looked a bit like a ransom note.  To this day, I’m pretty sure it was the couple across the street with the immaculate lawn that seemed to be their full-time job.  

We knew very few of our neighbors.  We were always out and about, but none of them seemed very interested in us or our lives.  After two years of living there, we had our firstborn child.  Even with introducing children into our family, not many people wanted to get to know us or form a relationship of any kind.  There was one exception, and this woman truly was a gem.  She was the catalyst to connecting us more with another neighbor.  It’s too bad that we moved not too long after she had moved into our village.

Fast forward seven years after we moved into that first home, and we took a leap of faith by moving our family to the west side of town.  As mentioned above, all I really knew was that I loved the charming older home built right in the middle of lots of trees.  The neighborhood was beautiful and secluded but not too far from the bustle of the town.
We lucked out, folks.

This neighborhood is not only beautiful, but the neighbors here are beautiful on the inside and outside.  In the (almost) five years that we have lived here, we have had each others’ backs at every twist and turn and up and down.  We have watered each others’ flowers, cooked meals for new mamas, attended funerals of their loved ones, celebrated holidays together (Independence Day and Halloween being the biggest two!), and the list could go on and on.


I’ll never forget running into two of my mom friends on our street this past fall when an illness had hit our house.  Of course, as Murphy’s Law predicts, my husband was out of town, and at this time we were foster caring for two children.  These moms didn’t back away or make excuses.  They saw me distraught and in tears, and one of them offered to go pick up dinner for us that very night.  A couple weeks ago a neighbor quit mowing and spent so much time trying to fix my oldest son’s bicycle for him.  He took time even when he didn’t have to because he cared.  Recently, our good friends and neighbors offered to swing by and help pull boxes down from our attic because I didn’t know that the movers would not do so.  One night this summer our neighborhood got together for pizza and water volleyball at our neighborhood pool…just because.  I observed a neighbor who has three grown children playing with my littles in the pool and making them laugh until they were almost in tears.


Woodbrook Park is just a special place with special people.

Not every neighborhood is like this.  My prayer, however, is that our new place will be special too.  I know that it won’t be the same.  A subdivision is more than a string of houses connected by yards.  It’s so much more.  It’s about the people who reside there.  A friendly face, a good deed, a helpful hand.  Kindness is what it is all about.  Kindness then births into something more, which is a relationship that hopefully develops into a friendship.

And to be clear, I don’t need for every neighbor in my neighborhood to look like me or to be the same age as me.  In fact, that’s what made Woodbrook Park special:  intergenerational, diverse individuals loving and respecting others.  Young parents and bachelors and retirees all living in the same space.

Many of our neighbors have become like family to us, and it is hard to say goodbye.  I leave, however, knowing what a great neighborhood looks like.  If I find it in my new city, that will be awesome.  And if not, I know how to cultivate one because I know what it looks like.

Woodbrook Park residents, thank you for being a friend.  It was a beautiful five years in your neighborhood.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself     Matthew 22:39 ESV
 

Standard

Yes, I Will Child


Colton:  “Mom, I love you.”

“Honey, I love you too.”

Josey:  “Mom, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”  She then slips her hand into mine as we’re walking.

“I don’t know what I’d do without you either, sweetie.”

Wyatt:  “Mommy, will you hold me?”

“As long as I can lift you, buddy, absolutely.”

Parenting can be tough.  This summer has been perhaps one of the toughest seasons for me.  I’m in the middle of flying solo with my kiddos, and even though it’s only for a short time, I do miss my reinforcement walking through the front door in the evening.  Talk about having a new appreciation (and humility) for those who fly solo all the time.  Single parents, you are my heros!

Lately, I have been so focused and on mission with moving, that it has taken a toll on me and drained me of my energy to focus on my children like I usually do.  Unfortunately, I don’t look at them as the blessings they are on the hardest days.  I hate to admit that.  Doing what I’m doing right now with all of the responsibilities of running the household, preparing to move, and working toward a big transition has made me lose it a time or two.  So many times my answer to the kids becomes…

“No.”

“Not now.”

“Maybe later.”

“Wait a second.”

“I said no.”

But there are sweet, beautiful words and actions that my three do often EVEN AFTER I HAVE GIVEN THEM SECOND PLACE, and I can always say, “Yes” to those things.  They make me pause and recallibrate.

Colton loves to affirm me with words.

Josey wants to physically show me she loves and needs me by holding my hand.

Wyatt wants me to hold him just because.

And I always oblige because I’m learning to say “yes” more than “no,” if possible.  I’m taking their words and actions and stamping them in my head and on my heart because I’ve been chosen to mother them in this world.  It’s not always easy, but to know that they are mine and that we are not together by accident is all I need to know.  It’s enough.

So even with a lot of “no’s” lately, my answer will always and forever be “yes” to giving them love and affection.  I will drop everything to give life-affirming words, hug big, hold a hand, and pick up my little.

Yes, I will my child.  There is always time for love.

Standard

Hard

HardI just sat down with a huge sigh.  I’m tired.  No…exhausted sounds better.  Defeated.  Beat up.  I just put my kids down for bed, and it is 10 o’clock p.m.  Nope.  Correction.  My daughter is awake and awaiting her twin bed sheets to dry in the dryer EVEN THOUGH SHE COULD SLEEP IN THE MADE BED ON THE BOTTOM OF THE BUNK BED.  I give up.  I’m not gonna win.  She can wait up, but I’m not going to make that top bunk bed.

As many of you know we are moving.

I never want to move again.

It’s hard.

I might just have a good long cry about it.

At this very moment my husband is hundreds of miles away in our new town.  He has stress too.  It’s unlike mine, but he has it as well.  Starting a new job has its sighs too.  OH yeah, and that house hunting thing?  The act of closing on one house and making an offer on another and counteroffers and showings and house inspections and signatures and AUGHAUGHAUGH!  That’s not for the weak.  HGTV makes it look smooth and sexy.  It’s not.

I realize that these are all FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS.

But they are ours.

This summer was not exactly what I planned, but we’re rolling with it.  And by rolling, I mean my boys are rolling on the ground fighting.  Seriously, though.  There’s been a lot of fighting and arguing, some complaining and grumbling.  Relationships are hard, man.  Especially those with the ones you love the most.  I’m currently googling, “How to deal with disrespectful kids”.  My oldest has been really disrespectful lately.  The article I just read stresses to remain calm and get to the root of the situation.  <insert nervous laughter>.  Yeah, that hasn’t happened.  I go from a 0 to 10 as quickly as he does because don’t you know, child, it is in the Bible:  “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER…” Deuteronomy 5:16.

I feel a bit ill equipped for this crazy summer and scenic route leading into a fall that I cannot even think about at the moment.  There are a couple camps, but any structure I had wanted to put into place for my kids has been thrown out the window.  I’ve been packing and researching and packing and planning and occasionally ordering groceries.  The kids are somewhat on auto-pilot with the exception of a couple camps sprinkled here and there.  The guilt sets in for just a little bit.  I carve out time each day to be out of the house.  I’ve also been intentional about visiting all of our Knoxville hot spots.  This town has treated us right for 12 years, so we want to bid it a proper farewell.

Bottom line:  I’m trying.

And that’s about all anybody can ask of me.  “Do your best” is on repeat around my house.

“But mom, I can’t do this!”

“Do your best.”

“This is hard, mom.”

“Do your best.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Do your best.  That’s all I’m asking you to do.  Give it your all.”

And so with that same advice I give my children, I’m going to “do my best.”  Because you know what?  That’s enough.  As Joseph Kennedy said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

I better get going now.  What doesn’t kill me will make me stronger, and strength is something I can roll with.

Standard

Bittersweet: I Hate Goodbyes

Well, as it turns out, Lloyd Christmas and I have something in common:  we both hate goodbyes (that’s a Dumb and Dumber reference for those of you who are scratching your heads!).

After 12 wonderful years in Knoxville, TN, we are moving to Tallahassee, FL.

How do you say goodbye to the people and the place where you’ve spent over a decade?

Knoxville is where Greg and I bought our first home.

All three of our children were born in Knoxville.

When Greg and I moved to East Tennessee 12 years ago, it was farther from family than I had ever lived.  We were truly on our own, and we dug roots…deeper than we ever imagined we would.

It’s been a good ride.  Life has really happened during our time here.  Greg and I both grew up a lot.  Greg got his feet wet in a different area of collegiate athletics, and he found out that it was something he was good at and really enjoyed.  I began a different career path in the home.

Bittersweet is the word I would use to describe this move.  We are leaving an amazing community, but we are also on to new adventures in Tallahassee, FL.  This is a place that Greg is very familiar with (his alma mater) and that I will learn about quickly.  We are going from one university (The University of Tennessee) to another one (Florida State University).

We have blanketed this decision in prayer.  Oh, if you knew the “behind the scenes” leading up to all of this!  It is not a decision we made lightly.  There has been wise counsel and research and lots of prayer.

When I’m reading a really good book, I tend to put the brakes on during the last couple chapters because I don’t want it to end.  That’s how I feel in this chapter of our lives.  We have been in the middle of a really good story, and now that it is coming to an end, I’m savoring every second.  With every place I go and every person I see, my thoughts quickly turn to, “This could be the last time.”

I don’t have time, however, to slow down too much, as this move will be a fairly swift one.  Greg will report down to FSU in the next month, so it will be a whirlwind of activity. Perhaps that is best…not much down time to get emotional.  All of my to-do lists will keep me occupied.

I’m scared.  I’m excited.  I’m scared because of several things:  farther from my family in Ohio, new place, new people, new schools, new routines, new culture.  It will not be my comfort zone for awhile.  On the flipside, however, I’m excited for those very things (except being farther from my family!) as well.  It will be a clean slate, a blank page, a fresh start.  As we do a lot of “lasts” in the next month, we’ll also look forward to a lot of “firsts.”

And if I’m being frank, home is wherever your heart is, and my heart is with my people: Greg, Colton, Josey, and Wyatt.  I love them fiercely, and we will start over in Tallahassee. Transitions can be difficult, but we are resilient and game for wherever the Lord takes us in this life.

To my Knoxville friends, you will be greatly missed.  Many of you have become “Framily,” which means that your friendships turned into living life so closely with one another that you were really like family members to us.  We have cried together, laughed at each other, comforted each other during the hard times, and applauded each other in the good times.  You have touched our lives and made an impact that will last forever.

Thank you.

If you think about us, please lift us up in prayer as we make this move.

DSC02104

Standard

Dear Mom, I Want to Be You When I Grow Up

Dear Mom,

It’s crazy to think that the woman who gave birth to me could not only be my mom, but also become my best friend (right behind my husband).  Of course, growing up you had to be a disciplinarian, the authority on all things from how to treat others to the importance of doing chores to how to balance school and extracurricular activities. Alongside dad, I saw the two of you love and care for us but also command respect.

Somewhere along the timeline of our lives as you watched me blossom into a young woman you slowly started to let go, little by little.  You trusted me (despite the whole incident where my friends and I decided to be rebels one night and head to a dance club instead of dinner and a movie like I told you and dad…whoops!  Grounding me from driving the car the rest of the weekend was the right thing to do.).  You empowered me.  You loved me unconditionally.

There are two lessons, however, that you taught me that I will never forget for as long as I live.  It is because of these two things, and in this order, that I have a strong bond with you that I want to instill in my own life:  Faith and Family

Your faith has always been important to you.  It gives you meaning and purpose in this life.  It guides and directs you wherever you go, and I love the example you have set for me.  Never has your faith in God shown so strongly as when you stood by dad in his five-year battle with cancer.  Though your world was turned upside down, your trust in God never shattered.  In fact, I think your faith was made stronger through adversity.  The trials and turmoil you went through just anchored you into God even more.  I stood by you and watched as you carefully balanced your roles as wife and nurse.  Sometimes you couldn’t help yourself, and the nurse in you took over.  I admired the way you cared for dad by making appointments, researching his cancer, juicing carrots, making him comfortable in our home, and the list could continue.  You fought just as hard as he did to kick cancer’s butt.  In the end, it overtook him, but you were not bitter.

You might have gone through the stages of grieving, but you never lost focus on the fact that dad, who had a personal relationship with Jesus too, was in a much better place with a brand new body.  Your walk with Jesus is inspirational.  You are a Proverbs 31 Woman:  You “dress yourself with strength and make your arms strong” (verse 17).  You  are “a woman who fears the Lord and is to be praised” (verse 30).

Your family has always come in a close second place, right after your faith.  Again, your relationship with dad was a great example for me as a wife.  Although it was difficult at times, dad was your first priority in our family.  The lines might have gotten blurred at times, especially during those difficult years when we were younger.  Andy, Aaron, and I needed you too.  Your sacrifices were not unseen.  I have a new appreciation for you now that I’m a mother.

Although you worked when we were younger, you made the days seamless.  You were always a couple steps ahead of us, figuring out schedules and childcare.  The passing of the baton from you to dad on those nights when you worked third shift were so smooth.  You never missed a beat.  You also never missed an activity.  I could always count on looking out at the stands and seeing your smiling face.  Sometimes I even heard you cheering loudly for me and my teammates.  You walked beside me in every new adventure, including the tough middle school years where you tried to tame my perfectionism and navigate hard transitions, especially with friendships.  You also helped me during my busy and challenging high school years where I balanced schoolwork, sports, and band.  I’ll never forget the day you and dad dropped me off at college.  It was bittersweet.  I was excited to start a new chapter but scared to be away so far from the shelter of you and dad.  These things are also true for Andy and Aaron.  You loved us enough to let us go.  You are a Proverbs 31 woman:  You “are called blessed by your children” (verse 28).

Now that I’m a wife and a mother, I understand these things.  So many times during my days I have moments that make sense and remind me of my own childhood.  Your example has been solid.  Faith and family have always been important to you, which is why we have moved from a parent relationship to a friendship.  I don’t take this for granted.  Not all girls have friendships with their mothers during their adults years.  Thank you for showing me how to transition from parent to friend so well.  I want to be you when I grow up.

Love,

Your daughter and best friend

 

Standard

Pray

design (1)

Gosh, this morning was yet another reminder that God is in control and not me.  So many times this past year I have flown the white flag of surrender.  Things have not gone as planned, and I’ve heard the word, “no,” more than I would like to hear it.  Who doesn’t like control?  Who doesn’t want to feel like they have a hold on the future?  The issue is this:  nobody does.  There is probably a reason that we don’t know how our futures play out here on the Earth.

This has led me to see the importance of prayer in my life.  At the end of the day, that’s all I truly have:  my relationship with Jesus.  It needs to become more important than any other relationship I have.  Communicating with others is the key to any relationship really, so this is no different in my friendship with Jesus.  How often, however, do I try to seize control in situations and forget to come to Him first?  A lot.

This morning I got angry with Jesus, clenched fists, animated body language, loud words.  Another “no.”  I had my little fit and then my eyes fixed on a craft my daughter did at her Bible study…a simple hanging sign above my sink that said, “Pray.”  So that’s what I did.  That’s all I had at that moment.  I cancelled plans and re-calibrated my focus.  I expect so much.  My standards are high.  So are God’s but with grace for when I miss the mark, which is often.  Gosh, I needed time with Him.  Sometimes I get off track and only see this small piece of the picture and neglect the fact that God is the big picture.

IMG_4901

So learn from me.  When you feel like you’re going to lose it and chaos surrounds you, get calm and go before God in those moments.  He is in control.  His plans are better, and His ways are higher.

“Always be joyful.  Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Standard

Another Year: Looking Back and Moving Forward

design

Dear 37-Year-Old-Self,

It’s been another year.  Wow!  What a year it has been at that.  Life-changing.  Gut-wrenching.  Fear-bending.  Faith-building.  It’s been 365 days of the above.  Approximately a year ago you, along with your husband and family, embarked on what would be a wild ride.  It was crazy.  Crazy for so many reasons.  The plunge into foster care was an adrenaline rush.  It was scary but exciting at the same time, and gone was the people-pleasing, fist-clenching, comfort-craving person as soon as you said, “Yes!”

It’s been a little over four weeks now since you said good-bye to the girls you mothered for five months.  This is what I want to say to you:

Be proud of what you did for five months out of obedience to a calling from God.  It’s okay to look back fondly at some of the accomplishments that took place with the girls.  Handling five children is not an easy task, but you did it.  If anything, your journey this past year taught you that, you can do hard things.  You are stronger than you think.

You are not a failure.  Go ahead and grieve, though.  Disrupting a placement is like experiencing a death in the family.  It is a loss that hurts to the core.  But you are not a failure.  You gave them a life for five months where they saw what a healthy and happy family looks like.  They observed your husband going to work.  There was an understanding that in order to make a living, you had to secure a job and provide for a family.  They observed you taking care of your family through grocery shopping, packing lunches, reading books, helping out with homework, and making appointments.  They observed you and your husband, a solid unit, loving each of them well.  You were a success in that season of their lives when they so desperately needed someone to provide love and safety.

You can still be involved in their lives through prayer.  You may not see them every day now, wake them up for school, make their meals, wash their clothes, or tuck them in at bedtime, but you can always fall to your knees and cry out for the Lord to hold them in His hands.  Their journey is not over.  You played a powerful part, though you may dismiss it.

You can move forward.  This might not be the end of foster care for you or your family.  God is so much bigger than you give Him credit for on a daily basis.  Perhaps foster care will be working behind the scenes for an organization or an agency.  Perhaps it will be providing respite care for a foster family who so desperately needs a break (because now you know the sacrifice it entails).  Perhaps even there is another placement down the road.  Only God knows.  You can focus on what’s ahead while remembering the past.

You have permission to be still.  You don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS.  This is not being lazy.  This time when you can reflect and journal and maybe just maybe begin to write a book is important.  This world is so crazy busy, and you do have a lot going on in your own family, but don’t forget to be still.  God commands it actually (Psalm 46:10).  You need to savor and enjoy time, while managing it wisely.

I’m not sure what this year will hold for you as a 37-year-old, but there’s never a dull moment.  It might not be as big and life-changing as foster care, but this life is anything but boring.  Each day is a gift.  Birthdays are a time to reflect on the year behind you and dream about the year ahead.  Seize the day.  Seize the moment.  You’ll blink and be 38.

Sincerely,

Yourself

 

 

Standard