The Parenting-Picture Challenge

Recently a friend took a picture of me…behind my back.

We were leaving her house to go in and make dinner. As I hoisted the toddler on my hip and walked home hand in hand with my other one, she called out, “Great job, Supermom!”

Then she snapped a picture. This picture.


The irony is, in that moment the kids were in a “witching hour” cranky mood. One was wet, one wanted to keep playing and heaven knows where he kicked his shoes off. It was a moment when I felt flustered in my motherhood, and quite weary.

She sent me the picture and I admit, I started to pick apart the “errors” and things that need improvement when she said, “Look at this beautiful moment.”  What others saw was beautiful parenting when I saw the mess. Thank goodness for friends that take the wider view (but thankfully, not always the wider lens.)

I know we often see fellow parents in their mothering and see beautiful moments. We see sunscreen wiping and gleeful laughing at the pool. We see first steps and caring smiles as mothers push wheelchairs into therapy. I say that we capture, candidly if possible, some beautiful pictures of mothering.

This doesn’t have to be a literal picture. It can just be a call or text to a friend that says, “Hey, you really handled your kid’s public meltdown well. Your love really shows in the hard moments.” It can be a comment to a stranger who is rocking this glorious challenge we call parenting.

The other half of the challenge is not to pick apart what others see. While we are looking for missing shoes, weeds in the garden or examining that unflattering behind-view, we miss out on the beauty. We miss the fact that both my boys are together, unhooked from machines and can eat dinner in the same home. I get to make a healthy dinner. We have friends nearby to play with until dinner. The picture is beautiful in that light.  Sometimes we need a friend to loving smack some sense into us.

I challenge you to take a mental or literal picture of someone in a great moment of parenting, and tell them so. Make this someone you know– don’t be the iphone picture stalker, okay? I don’t want anyone thinking you are filming a meltdown. More importantly, remember that you are more beautiful and sanctified in the every day moments than we know. The laundry, the wiping, the scrubbing, the potty training, the driving lessons… these are the moments. The kids are ‘taking pictures’ in their hearts. You might be surprised how beautiful you look.


Waiting, Jesus and Tom Petty

I’ve decided our family balance is more like a see-saw. The objective is to keep moving, brace the crash and try not to bruise anything.

We are a bit out of sync right now. It is the only weekday without appointments, when Jonathan is free to play and be on his own schedule. Today his celebration of a friend’s birthday was interrupted twice so that William could have an evaluation and take a nap. William’s health concerns take precedence and Jonathan’s needs fall to the back burner. This is common in families with medical needs or other considerations. We say it makes them resilient, compassionate, and mature. It also leads to guilt, meltdowns, and resentment. Today it led to cookies. Jonathan looked at me today and said, “I know. Wait.” He promptly built a pillow fort and crushed it.


I am fighting the desire to grow weary in doing good, my friends. Trying to do all this in a new place with new people is difficult. A new friend told me how impatient I am in seeing progress with the boys. She’s right– despite amazing progress in two months, when they are constantly measured against an arbitrary standard they, and I, can’t keep up with. It’s my responsibility to move them forward, but eventually you drown the horse that you are trying to make drink.

Every time I wait in an office or at a therapy, my head fills with, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.”

Today was William’s seventh evaluation in 30 days. SEVENTH.   My boys have developed several new skills in two months, in spite of a move and 46 appointments in 75 days. They are doing better than me, I assure you.  Sometimes smiling and saying, “We basically lost a year of development in our family, but we’ll get there in time” feels like a promise that will never be reached. If there’s anything I have learned, it is that God keeps his promises, even if they don’t look like I expected.

waitiing room 3

“Be Still and Wait on the Lord.” I’m not sure if there is a more comforting or painful instruction for my heart right now. Stillness is not something a house of toddler boys does well. I feel like we must do everything with greater effort to catch up to a useless and unattainable standard.

“Am I a good mom?”  isn’t as important as “Am I a Godly mom?” God’s standard is different. I used to have a to-do list of the therapy exercises on the white board. Now I have a list that says, “Hugs. Encourage. Praise. Write down the victories. Tell them about Jesus. Show them faith in action. Pray.”  Whether my sons talk, read, or do grade level math on time isn’t as important as whether they  serve the Lord with an upright heart.

In Genesis, Joseph explained the meaning of  dreams for two fellow prisoners. When the Pharaoh’s cup-bearer was released, Joseph asked him to remember him. No doubt he thought he would escape his unjust sentence. Instead, he sat in prison for years until the Pharaoh’s dreams needed interpreting. YEARS. An innocent man worked hard and was given esteem in prison and yet remained there for years. I imagine the bitterness and frustrations crept up often.

Sarah, Rachel, Elizabeth… these women were given sons on divine timing after years of barrenness.  The new generation of Israelites waited 40 years to enter the Promised Land. King David was chased for years by raging Saul, alienated from his family and land. Jesus knew in advance how he would be crucified. The waiting, even when we know what is coming, is hard because it requires faith. The waiting is the hardest part because doubt creeps in. We wonder if clinging to hope is foolish. We know it doesn’t “always just work out”.

Behind me, my son is watching the story of Moses. The announcer begins by saying the years of plenty Joseph prepared for were enough to get the years of famine, leading into when God brings the Israelites out from Egypt.  I am certainly in a year of famine and God’s provision but I am certain a bumper crop is coming. I believe it. I know God is faithful because I have evidence written all over my life. Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming soon.” That was 2,000 years ago. In the scheme of eternity, it is nothing at all.

Sometimes waiting is the hardest part.Sometimes it is treasuring this moment and not measuring how long it took to reach it.  Sometimes it is clinging to faith. Sometimes it is keeping the toilets clean.

The scriptures say to run the race set before us. They mention staying on the path and running with diligence, not how fast. It never says to be first, the fastest or the happiest to arrive. The last shall be first in God’s Kingdom. Keep running.  I’m cheering you on and running with you– it’s better than waiting.

waiting room 1

What I Learned From Leukemia: Revisiting the Battleground

My dear Friend,
You have waited patiently for me to fully answer your questions. I tried to the best of my ability, from the middle of the story. Tonight I sat and felt like the answer in my heart had finally formed into words– how can I have Faith that directly opposes my feelings? How can I be willing to make peace with my child’s potential death? Why am I still grieving and when will it stop?

The answers were flowing freely when my computer hiccuped and my writing was lost. A search for my draft yielded only one from April, a mere three weeks before we were released and moved to a new state.  I love you, so I’ll let you eavesdrop.
April 4, 2015

I’m sitting in a darkened hospital room in the middle of the day. For days I have pondered and held things in my heart that are precious treasures– wanting to share them but not quite able. I know that if I don’t open the treasure chest of my heart they will be buried and only benefit me, so I am opening my chest to show you how Christ is working in my heart.

I am sorely disappointed today. Despite fervent prayers for his recovery, William’s counts dropped and we will be in the hospital much longer than originally anticipated. I hoped we would be done by now. I thought that by today I would be at home, celebrating with my family and resting. Complications now indicate another week in the hospital. Exhaustion, excruciating pain and disappointment feel like a dagger’s acute pain on top of scar tissue that knows this too well. I’m tired of making a home in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I’m tired or watching a newsfeed of friends crying over the televised death of a fictional doctor when people are crying over the deaths of their children down the hall. The stark contrast makes me struggle to keep my heart soft. Suffering can make hearts hard, and I am tempted to do so out of self protection. I am now looking back and praying that I suffered well and glorified the Lord.

I have seen the glory of the Lord in the Land of the Living. I learned it is okay to hate suffering and to wish the trial would end. If Jesus can ask for a way out and yet submit, I am free to as well.

I am ready to rejoice. The glittering illusions that this will be over and things will get easier are tempered with reality. I firmly believe this is NOT the hardest thing I will endure in my lifetime, or even one of the top 5. Christ develops perseverance in us when these trials come. A soldier doesn’t go to the difficult training before Basic Training. Theoretically, the courses and demands increase over time. God ALWAYS gives us more than we can handle, but never more than HE can handle. I am happiest when I am most humbled because that is when God shows up. He loves to part the Red Sea for us– we are often too busy building bridges to allow it.

Likewise, there is a greater joy and comfort that comes from suffering. Seeing friends and family in the hospital has been a glorious joy- more so than if it were not so desperate. William’s crawling, standing, new words, weight gain, and even smiles after hours of crying are more valuable to me than if he had been ‘the leader of the pack’. I know he is alive and thriving despite all odds because God has been gracious and heard prayers. I know that my strength is feeble and pitiful– and I have felt the rush of power that comes from the Holy Spirit. I have felt the comfort of the Most High God because I have been broken and helpless, unable to accomplish or handle anything on my own.   Diamonds sparkle more brightly against black velvet.

Back to the present, my Friend. 70 days have passed. Now I am left to grapple with finding a New Normal without forgetting what I have learned. There is much to grapple with. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of the hospital, although it was Hell in many ways. The people there were valuable and unforgettable, for they were alongside me for the fight of Will’s life. I miss them. When someone asks why my two year old is so small, not walking or not able to feed himself, images of his life flash before my eyes but I can’t make them understand. I have learned that a life yielded to Christ is full of suffering, but never suffering alone.

I am learning that God is sovereign and good AND he allows suffering. It seems like a contradiction. I know my son thinks I am cruel and untrustworthy when I withhold something good or discipline him for disobedience because I love him and have something else in mind. He fights against me as I spend hours helping him learn to walk, to drink, to progress when he would rather do it his way which could have dangerous penalties. If he will trust me, he will see all I have and more importantly, we will have a relationship beyond his expectations. It is the same with God, although sometimes the pain is so intense that I drop to my knees and just picture Christ in human form hugging and holding me in my brokenness. My weakness has never been so evident, painful or beautiful. Truth be told, I scared my Jonathan when I started crying as I sang, “Jesus Loves Me” to him one night. “I am weak but He is strong…yes, Jesus loves me.”

This is where I will end for now, Dear Friend. The grappling with grief, adjustment, advice on how to grieve with someone well, etc. will all come in time when I find a voice for my heart. Until then, thank you for being with me in this place.
William Erkkila 003

What I Learned From Leukemia: Recovery Adjustment

It has been almost 8 weeks since William was declared “in remission”. Here is the next installment of what I’ve learned about recovery and adjustment.

1. It is not advisable to move to another state the week after leaving the hospital.

2. It is like learning to be a new mom all over again– complete with tears, laughter and wondering why you thought you could handle this.

3. Emotionally, it is going to hurt and be draining. Feeling guilty for not feeling joyful all the time is normal.

4. Faith and belief are a practice of knowing and trusting what God says, even when you don’t feel his love or that he is trustworthy.

5. Great adventures have LOTS of obstacles.

These 5 lessons are mixed in below, exactly as they happened because life doesn’t come organized into lists and lessons with explanations. It’s messy, just like us.

On a Friday, Will had his final surgery. By the following Friday we arrived in a new state, knowing only one other family in the area.  Nothing in our lives was stable, structured or familiar. The house was unpacked and settled in 8 days and we began to meet neighbors, and find our way.  I also had to learn to plan and cook meals, balance both sons, learn how much sun William could handle and figure out life with my husband again.  We also needed to establish care, which meant new insurance, new doctors and all manner of check ups in our town and in Baltimore, 30 minutes away.

In 45 days, we have had over 30 appointments from school registration and Early Intervention to endocrinologists, cardiologists, oncologists, and the usual physical and speech therapies. Through all this, my husband and I have been able to tag team and share the load. The stacks of paperwork are literally three feet high. In the midst of this I am seeking out friends that I can “military mom-date”– I have 90 days to make a new friend, trust her with my children, drop to one knee and ask, “Will you be my emergency contact?”   Oh, and your new friend may be moving the next month, so choose wisely.

Truthfully, this has been a hard time but also a time of great joy. We are savoring everything we can do as a family, often taking pictures and asking each other, “Can you believe we are able to do this?!”   Both boys are blooming physically and emotionally. My quiet Jonathan is making friends, starting to talk and sign much more, and is smiling, laughing and playing without stopping to make sure a parent hasn’t disappeared. He is a totally different kid in many ways and it fills me with joy and thankfulness. William had a very rough time not being the center of attention and not being at eye-level, as he had been in the hospital crib. He is eagerly working on crawling, an scoot across a room at an amazing speed and is working on pulling to stand.

I learning to write these down and practice thankfulness rather than focus on how much farther we have to go. My heart is raw and little comments cut deeply. The constant evaluations of my sons’ progress, while necessary and helpful, feels like we can not start with a fresh slate. “Expert” strangers force me to recount every weakness and struggle the boys have so they can provide services to help, never asking about their strengths or assets. For a recovering perfectionist, it is hard to feel like all the ‘helpers’ are only finding fault and where we need to catch up. Coming to a new place and revealing all my vulnerabilities to strangers three times a week makes me long for those who are masters at celebrating the good.  Keeping a soft heart when the world wants to harden it is a process. Bitterness and brokenness don’t help anyone and certainly don’t glorify God or draw people toward Christ.

Right now I feel like I am sprinting on a broken leg; our family is making great progress but the pain is real and the healing will take longer than expected. We are mourning the loss of the familiar, the safety net of friends and community and the idea of “when we get there”. Now that we are cancer free, moved, readjusting, it seems like things should fall into place. They really are, just with a bit of a thud.

Now that I have the chance to go to lunch with a friend or attend a birthday party, those friends are states away and we must begin again. I am realizing many “scars” I thought I had are really still wounds in need of care and cleaning, like all moms who have fought to save their child’s life and stabilize a family in crisis. I miss the intensity and focus of the hospital, where I could let little things roll off until later. I’ve awakened thinking I hear pumps, smell the plastic couch-bed, and even had a craving for the burrito. I miss the team of people who loved us so well, yet feel strange for missing one of the worst times of my life.  If you are there right now, you aren’t alone.

The great news is, we are connecting as a family. We are stronger than ever. We are making friends and fighting for peace. We are starting to not are what mistaken impressions cause people to say ignorant or thoughtless things. We’ve reached “the Promised Land”, only to realize we have a fight on our hands before we can be comfortable. Still, God has provided for all of our needs and many of our desires. I know God is faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Faith is trust God Christ more than your feelings about Him.

There you have it, folks. We are a mess, but we are a beautiful mess. Peace doesn’t just settle on you one day; ironically, you really must fight for peace. It is worth the fight.