Teaching Rest and Overcoming Family Traits

“Those who can’t do, teach.”
After teaching in many different capacities including public high school, that phrase always earns an eye-roll or groan from me. The intent is to be a biting remark and I’ve always found that master teachers show through demonstration.

Tonight I’ve realized that I’ve been called to teach my boys to do things that I have NO idea how to do and often feel completely inadequate demonstrating. Raising my sons has helped me branch out and make deliberate efforts to think like a logical engineer, taking a boy outside to learn tree-climbing and hitting a ball with a bat, etc. Still, there are always those moments when I have to concede; I cannot demonstrate how to properly pee standing up. I’m becoming increasingly aware of my limitations.

Tonight I treated myself to a phone chat with a most beloved cousin.
As the topics bounced from laughing matters to the bare-raw-feelings of facing challenges, I asked her about her two pre-teen children. The rush of the season and her 7 day a week work schedule made her reevaluate the sincerity of the family Sabbath. Church happened of course, but truly resting and worshiping as a family had somehow been overshadowed.

“I told the kids we needed devoted time for worship and for God as a family where that would be the only thing we did for an entire day each week. Ellie (age 9) then said, ‘Mom, I think you’re forgetting something. We’re ALLENS.'”

God bless her, I don’t think a more true, meaningful or layered statement has ever been said.

Hours before I had the same conversation with my own mother. Allens are tough and hard-working. We aren’t the family that says all we want is for our kids to be happy. No, sir. After all, Adam had a job before he had a wife and before there was sin, right? Work is good and if you can’t find work, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Even in the attempt to give God our best, in our sowing and reaping we can forget to enjoy the harvest. We run ourselves into the ground although each generation warns the next not to make the same mistakes. We expect doing what is right and giving the best effort do obey and be fruitful as good servants toward God. (As is dictated in or book from 4 generations ago. A legacy to be proud of, if you ask me.) Resting in grace and not working is a Spiritual challenge and apparently, it is a family trait. Thank goodness we tend to marry people with more balance.

My cousin and I discussed this issue; she said, “I’m learning and I frankly have no idea how to rest for an entire day but I have to learn so that I can teach my children.” This dear cousin knows what it is like to suffer and be in medical pain. She knows the sound of silently crying out to God when there are no words left. She’s worked until there is nothing left and then had to sit and just be. She’s done it well; I would be wise to pay attention and learn.

I’ve been marinating in that all night. I have to learn for the sake of my children. My kids have to see things modeled. Right now our family is facing several challenges. This isn’t just on-the-job-training; it is a test of my faith and what I put into practice.
I’ve been reading in the Old Testament lately and I’ve noticed how many sons go astray because their fathers neglected wise instruction. I’ve also noticed how many times God commands us to teach our children through demonstration, with words, and in celebration.

I’m not good at suffering. I feel emotions deeply and dramatically and pain gets unbearable if not balanced with determined joy. I’ve tried to show my struggling and restless children how to dance through trials, read their little Bible books and to pray when we are angry, upset, happy and thankful. I’m learning. It’s messy.

This weekend I’ve been at home with my Firstborn. The child is always moving, working and building. When processing his anger, frustration and sadness over all that is happening he gets restless and wants to be outside where he can run or play alone. He cleans, organizes, builds and is productive- like an Allen.
Then this week I was too exhausted to go on. I just sat down on the couch, closed my eyes and thought in my heart, “God… it hurts.” In inhaled and just felt The Ache of it all. Suddenly a little one crawled up next to me.
He snuggled. He rearranged. He rested.
There is something sweet about grieving together. Sometimes the grieving means rest. Maybe in that stillness of sorrows when there is nothing except Light and Hope real worship can happen. Maybe that’s what Sabbaths are all about. If we work for His glory, we can find rest in in too.

As it turns out, my sons are teaching me how to rest too.
As it turns out, those who do make the best teachers and leave amazing legacies.


Wipe Outs and Getting Unstuck

I’m stuck. It’s Sunday morning at 9:24. I’ve already fought my toddler for hours, discussing the major life questions such as, “Why do I have to pee in the potty?”, “Why do I have to eat ANYTHING at all when I want to live off of nutritional shakes and cookies?, “Who decided we need pants in public?” and “Why did we dress nicely and get to church on time on a day when there is only one service that is two hours from now?”

Yeah, Mom. Get it together.

So here I sit on my brown leather couch feeling as stuck in a sea of “what now?”. I’m surrounded by colorful toys and plastic gingerbread-like Christmas decorations from others. I really feel stuck in the ’34 turns in the Candy Land fudge swamp’ kind of stuck.
I’m the fudge swamp monster.

As I sit I watch my son play. This living room is a death trap… because a three year old boy can take basic toys and make the Home Alone house in 15 minutes.

My mother, God bless her, decided to give my son a "little roller coaster" for Christmas. You know, gifts that parents didn’t buy contribute to 46% of childhood injuries. The slide also has ridges for Hot Wheels and small train cars to go down. Slick socks, slick slide, trains at the bottom… You say risky parenting. I call it Physics 101.

Only a few minutes into folding a stack of clean clothes, I saw a blur of a red shirt and khakis fly down the slide, heard toy trains on the wood floors, heard the unmistakable crack of a head on the floor, and saw a splayed little body on the floor.

His little shocked face stared up at me for a reaction. I LEAPED off the couch. Now, my mind FULLY intended to be the affectionate mother who kisses and assesses concussions but my heart took over. I jumped up and then hit my knees in front of him, cheering as wildly as a painted, overweight Superbowl-team-fan watching a game-winning touchdown. I have NO idea why.

"GREAT WIPE OUT! WOW!" I yelled. I tackled and tickled him, cheering on his quick recovery. "You got back up!"
He smiled in disbelief. He stared back at the course he had taken and with a bit of trepidation, went right back to where he was. A little more carefully he climbed and then said, " I did it.
As I returned to the couch I realized that is exactly where I am. This parenting “ride of my life” is perilous and too fast. I am a master at losing my balance and crashing to the floor.

Sometimes it isn’t about the ride. It’s about the wipe out and how we react.

My son is now trying to walk up the slide backwards while “beeping” like an 18 wheeler in reverse. Sometimes you have to back up the truck and replay the tape to realize what you went through.

So as I try to breathe, metaphorically sprawled on the floor with the wind knocked out of me, I am thankful for those who yell, “GREAT WIPE OUT!” We all need those people when we face the ringers of life.

In fact, my kid just did that for me. The Jonah movie is playing and just as Jonah was about to be vomited up and go flying, he said, “You could’ve died.”


Wipe outs are how we learn. If we never fail or fall, we won’t know how sweet victory or soaring feels.
Here is to a great wipe-out getting us all unstuck.

Day 45: Empty Beds

December 2014 has passed at break-neck speed.

Will has been on droplet precautions for two weeks; he cannot leave the room at all unless it is for surgery. It is only after midnight (when William and a few other night-owls are awake) that the hospital calms down a bit. Notice that I did not say quiets down. Children cry around the clock here and pumps are always beeping.  When I need to compose myself and summon resolve I sometimes walk down the long hallway to the designated family room with my electronic window to the outside world. As I pass I can see  dimly lit rooms with children watching movies or resting while  IV bags drip. Every so often I see something else.

An empty bed doesn’t last long around here. When someone leaves, the room is hurriedly cleaned and occupied again. I’ve seen the transition commence in only twenty minutes. A bed that remains empty overnight is somehow strangely peaceful.

Of course, someone leaving a bed empty can mean the worst. Usually the children are moved to the critical unit before that point, but an empty bed stands like a grave, silently reminding us to live life gratefully and fully.

It is understood widely that home is a treasured luxury. Whether someone has been here for one night, seven nights or months without leaving, the significant peace of a familiar bed is as understood as a smile. We rejoice because it is excruciating here. The pain may become familiar, but hearts grow weary and tears fall. Our secret to not becoming bitter is simple– we refuse to let the pain be wasted. We will learn, grow, and make the world around us better with our participation. Look outward and toward others while you suffer and most of all, look to God to see what He is doing. That’s the secret.

Tonight I walked the hall; 8 children have been discharged to go home for the holiday.  Four left to be buried last month. A few new children have arrived to fill the beds but three doors open to reveal crisp, white sheets that are turned down to greet new patients. Surrounded by the cold metal, smells of alcohol based cleaners and the sounds of beeping, the beds are a soft place to rest. Empty beds may mean death, but they also mean hope.

After checking repeatedly to see what day it is, I realize that tomorrow is Christmas Eve.   It doesn’t feel right to be here right now.  I long to be home, yet that doesn’t seem right either. If we gathered together under a tree and I exhausted myself to make everything perfect, cancer would still be looming. A bed would still be waiting for us. For the moment, this ‘unexpected bed’ is where we need to be, even though I longed for a different scenario.

I’ve discovered that there is great comfort in seeing your child in unexpected beds. The peace comes from knowing God is active and doing something extraordinary.  The extraordinary ones are there, in God’s Will and unexpected beds.

I am sure that while a manger was occupied an empty bed was ready for Jesus at the house Mary left behind. Mary didn’t have her family nearby when she wrapped the Son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger-bed. Surely she expected a bed to give birth in!  Shepherds from the field joined her in those first hours, which probably wasn’t as pleasant as we make it look in our pristine Christmas cards. (Oops…forgot about those this year!) Then again, Jesus also had the best birth announcement on record. God knew Mary and Joseph couldn’t send out announcements, so He loaned them a star and a host of angels.

An empty bed and unexpectedly full manger-bed is what Christmas is about. More than ever I understand that when the right bed is occupied, real peace and healing can come.

Empty beds mean hope.  Empty beds mean victory in a hard-fought battle. Empty beds are a memorial. An empty resting place means “It is Finished” and “Y’all ready for this? It’s going to be amazing.”

Our hospital bed is full this Christmas, but it is full of good things.

Many of you will have beds and couches full this week. My heart rejoices for you;  Embrace that, moms of college kids and empty nesters! Those with empty beds, whether for sorrowful or for unexpected reasons, take heart. Empty beds can mean something wonderful. Just be sure to look and remember the whole story. The struggle of empty beds are not worth comparing to the joy of an empty tomb. That is how I can rejoice this Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Y’all.

Steel Magnolias and Leather Chaps

On Sunday William the Conqueror had his central line replaced, which lead to a week of ‘hurry up and wait’. We hurried and hurried to get into surgery and suddenly William was taken from me and I was left in the ICU waiting room.
It was absolutely full to the gills; families in their Sunday best and their pajamas filled nearly every seat. I finally found a vacant one and settled in. The family surrounding me was from 30 minutes away; the sister had a blood clot in her brain and needed emergency surgery. This was one that had bumped us to later in the day; seeing the faces and realizing the circumstances felt like a relief and return to reality.

The sister and I chatted in between her caring for the others around her. Her adult brother brought a computer to play video games and she offered him some chips. At one bite he wrinkled his nose and with a forced smile he said, “These must be good for you.”

As more visitors came I scooted into the hallway and waited next to a man in a leather jacket and chaps. He was weather-worn and clearly a Harley rider. Two bikers came off the elevator shortly afterward and glanced about; “He’s over here!” I pointed. From what I could discern their friend from Fayetteville had a significant wreck and an artery was in danger. Honestly, I couldn’t make about more than a few sentences. His mumbled sentences would put any Nascar commentator to shame. I looked around to see a flood of leather chaps, beards, braids and black boots storm the hallway and waiting area. The cavalry had arrived.

I scanned across the televisions and mostly saw football when I suddenly heard a familiar and unmistakable voice. Dolly Parton. “Speaking of drawers, hang on to yours! Taa daa!”
Steel Magnolias was playing.

Now, Steel Magnolias is a southern woman classic but it is known for the extremely sad sequence in which Shelby dies after complication from a kidney transplant.

A gentle hush came over the busy and loud waiting room as M’Lynn rushed down hospital hallways, sat next to a bed and carefully tended to Shelby in the hopes that her motherly care would somehow revive her.

The beeps of the pumps, even the 80s style, were very familiar. “What if she wakes up for two minutes and I’m not here?” is a question we understand. I realized I hadn’t eaten a ‘real dinner’ in several days.
shelby hospital
I watched the ‘tough scenes’ with a new perspective.
IMG_3907 My heart’s senses were completely heightened. Tears where ready to escape my eyes when I realized the waiting room was pin-drop silent. No one had spoken for over six minutes.

I looked at the clock and realized the doctors would come to get me at any minute. I hoped I could get just a few more moments. Tragedy and laughter are often intertwined; nothing heals the heart like laughter because it lets the heart know surviving is possible.This emotional catharsis was very needed to counteract the exhaustion and emotions I’d been fighting all month.

I HAD to see the funeral scene.

Afterward I felt MUCH better. As M’Lynn says, “Life goes on.”

In that moment everyone began to speak again and I realized how silent it had been. In that moment I very, very badly wished the Duck Dynasty Harley Commander had leaned over to me and said, “I just love Dolly, don’t you?”

Families of all kinds were in that waiting room. We needed to laugh. We needed to know we aren’t alone. Even Steel Magnolias need the Biker Gang from time to time.

steel magnolias easter bunny

You haven’t lived until you watch a classic 80s chick flick with a gang of leather-wearing bikers.
May we all have our Steel Magnolias and a gang of those who kick butt and take over the road when we need it.

Central Line Surgery: Take 2

On our first day in the hospital, Will had to get a Broviac central line inserted. This is the white tube that is used to get fluids and medicines to a main blood vessel and also get blood labs out very easily. They can be yanked out over time and even with tape and extra precautions, Will’s central line came loose. Last night the whole thing wiggled out! This week three of the toddlers managed to lose their Broviacs. We are keeping the nurses and surgeons busy!

We were scheduled for 10am but a few emergencies pushed us back. Without the ability to eat, we had to distract this kiddo! First, one last dance with Aubie before she her flight back to Texas.

Then onto some stretches!

Our turn finally came after 1:00; Will was THRILLED to escape the room for the first time in a week.

The surgery went well but like a true redhead, Will gave the anesthesiologists some grief. He came up swinging and needed another dose.

When we returned to the room Will’s dressing was bloody and he was having a tough time. The amazing nurse tag-team did their work quickly and well while I couldn’t do a thing but listen to the wailing. At this point my dear friend Jennifer offered some reinforcement. She made sure I ate a real meal complete with chocolate and made me leave the room while William was struggling and I couldn’t help.

When all was calm we had a dance party!

He has now played with every toy in the room for over an hour and is feeling tired but unwilling to sleep. I’m amused to think how on Day 1 this was something that terrified me. Now it is no big deal.

The difference between “I don’t know what I’d do…” and “It’s just what we do” is a lot of experience and simply having to do it.

Thank you for the prayers!

Laughter: Great Medicine

Proverbs says that laughter is good medicine. I needed a good dose of medicine for my heart-ache this week. Cue the reinforcements! What could improve the situation like three gorgeous ladies bearing cheesecake?!

Nothing boosts my spirits like visits and laughter.
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22

I went to meet them outside and realized I hadn’t smelled fresh air or felt the sun in days. Soon after the sound of laughter announced their arrival; apparently the girl at the store was unsuccessful at tying a string on the smiley-face balloon. Somewhere in the atmosphere over UNC, someone has a face smiling down on them.

William finished a much-needed nap by then and was ready for some ladies! You can’t just visit us wearing any old thing…it’s a masquerade ball in here! With yellow gowns, blue masks, blue gloves and a cute little prince, all we need are glass slippers. We danced with Will, told stories and howled.
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. Proverbs 15:13
will ebola

After a group photo, William’s loose central line wiggled out and fell from his chest dressing. In a strange mommy moment, I was able to catch the darn thing so there was NO blood!

To relieve the stress of a sudden rush of nurses and a dressing change, the girls took me for non-hospital food!
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” Luke 6:22

Unfortunately, it was Saturday night a few miles from a college, so turned into a scavenger hunt! We thought it might be a good idea to wear our masks out…during this flu season you can’t be to careful. If it freaks people out and we get to move ahead in line when everyone backs away, all the better!

Between all of us, we four ladies have close to a dozen kids. Our husbands are all gone frequently and with farms, pregnancies, homeschooling, cancer, busy schedules and other responsibilities on us, when it is just us girls and we are relatively free for an hour, we get a bit silly. We giggled and guffawed. I spilled my Diet Coke so I rocked that “I just peed” look on the way in. Overall it was a hoot. I felt 10 pounds lighter after a few short hours. Laughter is essential to a life that is more abundant.

Do you have great friends Do you laugh until your sides hurt and someone snorts? Take some time to laugh. It’s great fun and feels better.

Round 2: Battle Arms

Yesterday was a battling day.
There were moments of great joy. There were also some new challenges. William ripped out his central line which necessitates surgery to replace it. This requires IVs for blood draws and increases the risk of infection. There was bleeding from the stomach, rashes, general crankiness and screaming.

As I struggled to hold William still for x-rays I scolded myself for feeling so exhausted. I had a night of sleep and time in God’s Word- why couldn’t I get this believing and faith thing right?
I thought of Exodus 17. When we quarrel within ourselves our true enemy can come up against us and soon everyone’s hollering for Holy help. I felt the Lord very clearly earlier in the day and now I couldn’t sense him in the chaos although I fully knew he was there. It’s the difference between knowing and believing.

Exodus 17: 7 says, “They tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” 8Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”

I’m sure Joshua had some questions about this strategy. I’m going to go against the enemy in battle and you’ll just stand on a hill? Joshua had seen what God had done through Moses before but he had to believe and obey.

10So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.

I feel much like Moses. I can’t fight cancer for William. I can be here, feed him, change his diapers and his tubes, keep his as clean, healthy and entertained as possible, but I can’t determine his outcome against AML. God had already told Moses that he would blot out the adulterous Amalekites who delighted in idolatry and harassing the Israelites, but Moses still had to stand over the battle.

12But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side.

Last night, 3 different people messaged me about standing under my arms like Aaron and Hur. THREE. Totally separate and unprompted, not knowing that had been on my heart.
Notecards and verses had poured in.
The Word and truth of the LORD is like comforting armor!

Two amazingly uplifting volunteers named Jeannette and Jodi visited.These ladies make me want to tease my hair and dance for joy!
A survivor stocking arrived (Melt my heart!)

Even today the local girls’ basketball team showed up. You can just imagine the fun he had with 20 girls all staring at him.

Dozens of people prayed for rest and we both had our best night of sleep to date. Reinforcements and friends are coming. With a ROCK to rest on (let that one sink in, Children) people got underneath my arms and held them up for me because the battle is at stake even if the war’s outcome is declared.
moses and amalekites
Exodus 17:12-13 So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

It’s amazing to think that while I am in desperate need of help by just standing with my arms raised, my little Conqueror goes from winning to losing by the day. In the end, Joshua OVERWHELMED his enemy. Not survived, not limped home thankful that God handled it…OVERWHELMED.

I feel like we are winning this morning because my arms feel held up. You are an essential part of this, my friends. Thank you for fighting with us. Sometimes seeing what God has declared come to fruition depends on our keeping out hands up.

Thank you for holding up my arms, Warriors. It makes the difference.