Noticing Goodness: A MOPS challenge

“Mom! Can you help me find my backpack?” “You are literally staring at it. Your foot is touching the strap.” Sound familiar, Mommas? Sometimes it feels like only moms have the superpower to see things around the house, like laundry, cereal bowls left in the sink, and other things that help us work on patience. They don’t do it maliciously; it isn’t their focus so they just don’t notice.

Likewise, goodness is all around us but we often lose sight of what is obvious. To focus on the good, we have to define what is actually good. Is pulling all-nighter good? When caring for a sick child, yes. Playing games the night before a test, no. This is harder than it looks. The very definition of good seems fairly complex.
Webster defines Good as : 1. having proper qualities 2. beneficial 3. valid;real 4. healthy 5. honorable 6. enjoyable, happy 7. morally sound or excellent 8. skilled, considerate

From brain studies and psychologist to educators and the pulpit, the benefits of ‘focusing on the good’ and being thankful abound! Moreover, if we discipline ourselves to notice the good we renew our minds and make goodness our focus.

God is described as good 48 times in the Bible. Every description of good also fits God. James 2 says every good and perfect gift comes from God. When you see goodness, you see God at work. Many of us have struggled through difficult seasons. When suffering comes, it is hard to feel God’s goodness or Christ’s love even if we know it is true. When my infant struggled through cancer treatments, I had to literally write lists of God’s goodness and mercy to strengthen my faith through the suffering. Looking back, God allowed his little life to glorify him and spread the gospel to people who would never have gone to church. What felt terrible actually brought forth good.

Sweet Ladies, maybe no one noticed or appreciated the goodness around you this week. As you drive carpool, wipe up messes, serve meal after meal (why do they want to eat EVERY day?), break up fights and help find ‘missing’ items twelve inches from the seeker, your goodness IS noticed. The God whose very character is goodness notices and rejoices as we become more like Jesus. THAT is good. When you see goodness in your fellow ‘momrades’, mention it! I am amazed at the excellence and joy at some of you Pintrest Queens and Chef-tresses. Noticing your good doesn’t negate my lack of excellence; it is a facet of the goodness around me. Let’s notice and encourage each other. When moms are focused on a task for the Most High God, goodness is sure to abound. As the Holy Spirit works in us, goodness with pour out. (Galatians 5:22-23) We must simply train our hearts to notice.

A Plea to the “Older” Church- Those 60-100s Whom we Love

Dearest 60-100+ Year Olds of the Church,

I recently sat in Sunday School with fellow couples raising young children, chatting about our week. Someone asked a question about my son’s health (post leukemia) and I explained the answer. The particular metaphor I used had come from Mrs. Judy, a 70 year old who I admire and call regularly for advice. Another mom commented, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great to have the grandmothers in our Sunday School class? Mentor Moms are the best!” The irony is that a class full of ‘silver haired saints’ sat across the hall less than 10 feet away.

We are ALL part of the problem. Let’s fix it together. We ARE listening to you, our elders. We young mothers who are trying to teach our children to walk humbly before our God and quickly to the bathroom to avoid accidents are eager for your wise counsel. We LOVE you.

I am abundantly blessed when a woman 30 years my senior calls me to see how my boys are doing or meets with me for lunch to laugh with me over how God interrupts our plans. Please hold our babies and return them with kisses. Godly young women spend billions on books and conferences learning how to be women who change hearts and the world while doing dishes and getting supper on the table –but we are hungry for fellowship. I love to discuss how our lives don’t look how we envisioned and bond over how God uses Down Syndrome, cancer, moves, prodigal teens, adults in rocky marriages or health problems– because we learn and encourage. The authenticity is amazing and you look so comfortable in your skin. (Thank you for telling us to moisturize our necks. Pearls of wisdom!)

Now, Grandpas, Elders, Deacons…guys who have walked with the Lord longer than I’ve been alive: We need you. The young wives whose husbands were unfaithful and left, leaving us to raise up young men with less than stellar examples NEED men to instruct our sons. I know a man who is an expert at teaching young men to tie a tie and give a firm, respectable handshake. These men teach the Word of God while teaching men great study habits and modeling what loving a woman for 40 years looks like. Meanwhile, we hear your comments about our generation and how hopeless it seems.

I spent much of last year in a hospital room, watching my infant son fight for his life. I watched children die, watched parents cling for scraps of hope, and suffer well. The ones who encouraged and taught me the lost were 10-40 years older. They had experienced loss, buried children, put kids through school, lost their spouses and were fighting leukemia simultaneously. They were my lifeline. They LIVED their faith well. Suffering taught me to LONG for Heaven, when all will be made new. In all honestly, some of you will be with Jesus within 10-25 years. Rather than sharing your hope and longing for Jesus, your speech seems utterly HOPELESS. You have the truth of Christ in you and have lived decades longer than us! You’ve witnessed marriages thrive, children mature into leaders, millions of acts of kindness and sacrifice… but you sit around getting angry after watching hours of the news on repeat. Rather than humbly praying or seeking to engage ‘problem causers’, we often see angry blame cast from the comfort of a recliner. That doesn’t show us how to engage and fix problems. We want to emulate you, but we don’t want to turn into the example many of you and your peers are setting. We watch you on Sunday morning AND Friday evening.

Backtracking and explaining SIN ruins the world is difficult when a child thinks following Christ is determined by which party we vote for or which news station we watch rather than serving the homeless or supporting the orphans.  Lord have mercy. Help us to raise our children well.

Again, we WANT you in our lives. Rather than ‘spoiling our children and handing them back’, we see many of you volunteering for church functions, cheering the kids on at soccer games and holding hands with the wife of your youth. You can teach us to argue well and to not throw in the towel over wet towels on the floor…again. Teach us to love well and to abandon selfishness. We can get crafts and crockpot meals off of the internet. We can’t get great role models investing in our lives–which we desperately need. If you want to see your traits in the next generations you MUST TEACH US in a way we understand and then test to make sure we can emulate it. Then encourage us as Christ helps us write our own stories rather than making us carbon copies.

My favorite people in my life right now are 10-40 years my senior. Yes, I regularly call 50-70 year olds to touch base, to ask questions, and to share hilarious stories about raising boys. They invest in my life and I ‘keep them young’. Generations are meant to live intertwined lives. You have much to offer and we are yearning to learn it. Perhaps we can learn from each other and become more like Christ as we do it.

Also, let’s have  Sunday School class together. We promise not to make too many age jokes when we study the Old Testament.  We are eager to learn. Help us avoid sins that you battled. Help us learn from your experience. Model how to serve well. You can still change the world. You’re not in Heaven yet.

Love,

A Raised In the Church 30-something Wife and Mother Who Needs You

On Resting, Hiding in the Bathroom and Being Productive

If you’re anything like me, you may be reading this while hiding. Let’s face it; moms of young children do their best scrolling, reading and researching while hiding from our children. The usual place is the bathroom of course, but closets, storage units and cars are also good options.

Today I needed to have a time-out and count to ten (do as I do, AND as I say) because my kids are under the September possession. They are exhausted, crying for no reason and seem to be unreasonably pained and inconsolable. They are also falling asleep ALL the time, even while standing up. My 4 year old has put himself down for a nap twice this week. Basically, I am raising toddler versions of pregnant/nursing mothers. All hail Back-to-School. In another month they will be running on leftover candy and holiday-forced-good-behavior.

I decided I needed a moment to breathe and ran to the bathroom. This obvious choice is wonderful because usually moms hold it almost as diligently as teachers and medical professionals. (God bless you nurses with your steel bladders!) This was a MISTAKE.

I tried to take a deep, cleansing breath and then smelled the reality that I am surrounded by males. Thus, I am surrounded by pee. The smell never leaves, Girls. There is no bleach that can compare. Just burn the house down and wish it well. I looked down and saw a small basketball floating in the toilet. William strikes again.

I proceeded to clean the surfaces and floors, wash out the potty chair and get the spare toilet paper roll ready for an ‘at bat’ that is sure to come tomorrow.  After ten minutes my bathroom smelled neutral and was presentable.

Solace is productive. “I took a mommy break” turned into “I cleaned the bathroom”. TAAA DAAA! Even when moms rest, we still get things done! This is much like my ‘mom breaks’ being trips to get groceries without children. Ah, the joys of an unaccompanied tour.

Either I am a mommy-break Jedi Master or I have no idea how to do it. Likewise, last night I watched the LiveVideo of Jen Hatmaker for her book For the Love (AMAZING!) but needed to give my husband room and quiet to study.

I retreated to our bedroom closet and propped the computer on the top shelf, giggling away and reorganizing. By 11 pm the bedroom was organized and I had NO idea how it happened. Ah, positive and productive things happen when a mom can just focus on one area of Damage Control without also being Prevention Services simultaneously.

Take heart, Mommas. Even if you hide in the bathroom to actually-gasp-go to the bathroom, you are still productive and multitasking. May you find rest without finding puddles. I am SO proud of us, Momrades.

Why Family Dinner is Risky: A Story in Disaster Creation

If you’ve parented during the internet age, chances are you’ve seen statistics about the importance of family dinners. Family discussions, healthy meals, etc. contribute to all those great things we want for our children. Except… oh, except for when making a home cooked meal for the family comes at great risk. Yes, for the mother of the toddler it requires turning her back to either the home or the stove, dividing attention between the two. Say, for a moment, that a mother receives a phone call or needs to finally relieve the bladder she’s held for 5 hours… well now.

This is why men look at us in disbelief when we announce that we have waited for them to come home so we can use the restroom or shower for more than 60 seconds. Today, I will  show you what happened while I took leftover chicken off of the bones and threw it into a pie shell with broth and veggies to make chicken pot pie for dinner.

First, the 4 year old scurried into a room out of sight and went through every game we have, littering the contents while my hands were covered in chicken. William decided to crawl and then roll through the pieces, while giggling and playing dead, pictured here.

messy house

I ran to the room where this originated to find a desk destroyed and flowers overturned. Choking hazards littered the floor like an abandoned landmine field.

messy house desk

(I spy with my little eye… a shadeless lamp, 300 clear and blue marbles, recycling material scattered on a desk, spilled flowers and mail on the ground. Can you?)

While those were being picked up by Culprit #1, I returned to find William throwing K’Nex at the window. He had removed his pants and found the cowboy hats, which he placed on his head. I heard “Hat!” for the next 4 minutes.

messy house will

As all the ingredients were placed in their proper shell, I checked on the clean-up progress in the other room. The marbles were put away but my money was missing. Nothing says ‘toddler’ like a wallet raided of crucial identification. “I left it in my other pants” has become “I have a minion army of my own making that raids me regularly as I make dinner.” I’m sure that will go over well.

messy house wallet

Yes, ultimately family dinners do bring the family together. For us, it’s over the toy bins while singing the Clean Up Song.

If you called it a loss and ordered pizza tonight, well done. You get bonus points for paper plates as well. Heaven knows what horrors the dishwasher has seen. More than one plastic toy and bouncy ball reached a watery grave while burned on the heating coil in that thing.

Here’s to you, parents with houses that are disaster areas. Chances are you are doing it right. Even if you aren’t, you aren’t alone.

What To Say and Do When a Friend’s Child is Battling Cancer

Hearing and processing that my 23 month old William had Acute Myloid Leukemia was extremely difficult. Telling those who love us was even more so.  Everyone was a bit shocked.

only monday

“What do you need?” “What can we do?” “How can we help?”

In some ways it is like watching a swimmer get caught and pulled under the current in the ocean. Fighting at full strength, they need help. A good lifeguard doesn’t just yell instructions or throw out a life ring. A good lifeguard runs and jumps into the water, no matter how cold, runs with high knees over the waves and supports the person in peril. It is hard to pull a person who is heavy and struggling. In that state, they are in no position to ask specifically for you to help them breathe, etc. You may have to get in and do the basics FOR the person.

This September is my first Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month as a parent with firsthand knowledge. Upon request, I have revisited this year and realized how many lifeguards and life-lines helped keep me anchored in this storm called leukemia. If a loved one is battling cancer or if you want to be prepared, I’d like to humbly offer this perspective of what comprises magnificent lifeguards.

Specifically, what things SHOULD you say or do for a friend whose kid is battling cancer?

1.Pray and tell them so!  In the shock of diagnosis and early days, a person feels overwhelmed by people and isolated simultaneously. While on isolation precautions, I felt desperate for connection. During suffering, we often feel alone but in truth, hundreds of people have gone through similar events.

Let your friend know they are NOT alone and that you are available to them in thoughts and prayers. 11pm texts came in nearly nightly from one friend who promised she was on her knees in prayer for us, storming Heaven’s gates. It gave me great hope. On dark days, I was appreciative when the mailman’s brother’s hairdresser fourth removed from the dog’s side prayed. It is like being surrounded by warriors on every side who are punching cancer in the throat. I didn’t just pray for health or peace. I prayed for understanding, that Jesus would be present, that God may be glorified and that we could spread the gospel. There needs to be purpose in suffering.  Knowing people were praying that I could get sleep, that my older son would have peace at school and not feel angry or scared… those were the specific heart cries I needed met.

2. Be present and available as much as possible.  If you can be at the home or hospital and it is helpful to the family, be there taking care of them. I know my friends who couldn’t get to me struggled, but they texted me constantly. I couldn’t answer right away, but I felt supported. One friend came and spent every Saturday and Tuesday with me for dinner at great sacrifice to herself. It reminded me of college and kept me sane. Laughter and chocolate go a long way. If you can’t be there, send boxes. I LOVED goody boxes that had healthy snacks, caffeine, lotion and little treats. It made my friends seem near.

3.If “there is nothing you can say… DON’T.”  Listen. Be still. God DOES give us more than we can handle. Kids DO die–it may not be alright. Try not to say, “I don’t know how you do it.” Instead, things like “I knew you were strong, but now I can really see it more than ever. It is encouraging more people than you know” turns a simple compliment outward and reminds us that nothing is wasted. Even when we tell you we aren’t strong, don’t have it together and are falling apart, remind us what you see.  It’s hard, I know. Tragedy happens. Sit, suffer and make a meal. That is how you share our burdens. It makes us feel supported and loved.

4. Enter into their world. It is like entering a new country, learning a new language and adopting a new culture with fatal potential. Talking to friends and family that took time to learn the abbreviations, the meaning of blood counts and what the drugs did kept me connected and showed they cared.

5. Offer something specific. It is easier to say yes to something specific that to come up with what we need, especially  when we need sleep or showers. Offering to bring a gift card or pizza on a specific night and then asking which time will usually get a yes.  Look at what you can give or how you like to bless and offer. It is easier for all. If it is a dear friend, don’t ask. Just scrub the toilet. (Thanks, Mom in law. Potty training boys isn’t pretty.)

6. Keep offering. My friend Jen had to ask me about 1,345 times before I agreed to let her start a gofundme for us. Even afterward, she had to badger me to put up the link and ask. I was dreadful at asking for help. She also organized a meal train that was essential to our survival. She didn’t give up when I allowed my mommy-guilt to overcome my need for help. She used her strengths (my weak areas) and just did what needed to be done to meet our needs, even though it felt more uncomfortable than an atomic wedgie. I would NEVER ask for gas money, but a friend realized we paid $1,000 in gas and parking and soon gas cards and donations offset that need.

7. Encourage the REST of the family. Siblings are often on the back burner. Many people gave gifts to William, but the gifts I cherished came to Jonathan, who struggled mightily. Those who offered playdates, took him to Speech class, brought him cookie and sent him cards stood in the gap while I couldn’t be with him.

8. Take over the back burner. In this crisis mode, resources are thin. I moved the week after getting out of the hospital, so a dozen friends came to say goodbye and prepare the house. in 1 hour, the lawn was mowed, the kitchen was spotless, the curtains were down and the toys were packed because we did it together. The grandparents who drove Jonathan to school and friends who brought meals to my husband were as near to my heart as the nurses who changed our chemo bags.

9. Bring in the fun. This time will be memorable, so bring in good memories. I treasure the dance parties, laughs with nurses and other families, the Friday ‘girl days’, and rare visits. If you can make the friends laugh, bring favorite treats, and make the mundane into a party, do it. Don’t be afraid to ask how. When our kids have fun, we have fun.

10. Forgive them. If you are a friend blessed enough to receive the ‘vent’ or the complaining, you are most loved.We are being vulnerable with you, as well as total downers. That’s what you get for being trusted. We are also enormously sleep deprived, scared, processing and grieving. We need to lean on you as we learn to walk again, and that can be annoying. We may forget to ask about your daughter’s recital or to buy you an anniversary card, even though you mentioned it 15 times. Your understanding and patience during our worst will earn you our undying love and allegiance during our best. It is worth it.

There are many precious friends I have made because of this cancer-battle. The suffering is currently outweighed by the joy, although the grief and pain are still sharp. Thank you to the friends who realized I’d be going down the medical ‘road less traveled’ and said, “Road trip! I’m coming too- with snacks!” Life is better because of y’all.

William Erkkila 007

Remission: The Abating and the Abiding

The conversation is a familiar one; I have it almost weekly. “Oh, I see leukemia is listed next to William’s name. How is he doing?” What a loaded question. I answer simply, “He is currently in remission.”  Usually a simple, “Oh, good!” will transition to next question but every so often, I get one of the great Question-Askers. These are not the nosy ones who love the nitty gritty details; these are the deep thinkers who drive the mudane and daily into our souls with pointed questions.

“Remission. What’s that really mean to you?”

My father’s worn, brown and gold Webster’s American Dictionary that has petals pressed inside it defines remission as 1. Pardon, forgiveness 2. Release from a debt, tax 3. An abating, as if from heat or pain

Remission and recovery are two entirely different things. For us, both are happening. What most see happening is recovery. Think of the storm victims we see on television each year. The proud homes they once relied upon for shelter and memory storage is now a pile of scattered pieces. News crews shove cameras in their faces, some of them crying, and ask them to describe their loss, their experience in the storm and perhaps prod for an encouraging message of hope and rebuilding. They look out on all they knew, remembering each detail and somehow being trapped in the trauma, all while beginning to strengthen and rebuild. These things happen simultaneously.

Too often we think that we just recover from grief. I don’t think that is the case. To no longer see William suffering with pain and to see his body breaking in order to save it is a pardon. The joy of having my son and home slowly restored in spite of my inability is sweeter than a forgiven debt I can’t pay back.

Then there is the abating. So often when our pain stops, the healing is not immediate. When skin is burned, it must painfully restore. The consequences remain, even when the trauma ends. Sometimes when we are shattered, we get back up but we walk with a limp. That is why we must lean on each other. 

The abating is not enough. We must abide.

The people dearest to me were the ones who were quick to answer a call, to provide a meal and to bravely come and witness our trauma. For nearly 5 of the 6 months, I abided with William. When the battle comes, we need battle buddies who say, “I am with you”, not “everything will be alright.”

It may not be alright. The children die. The spouse leaves. The goals shatter. The money runs out. We cling to something as we let go. How precious are Jesus’ promises, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” and “Abide in me and I will abide in you.”

My darlings, William’s body will always bear the scars. My heart is changed. The task is that it must now be changed for the better. We are slowly rebuilding. We are looking at how life was before and trying to sort out the mess of what changed things. We were stripped down to the foundation and found that it was on rock, not sinking sand. It felt like being trapped underwater too long– lungs aching, adrenaline rushing and desperate for it to end. Remission feels like gasping for air but needing to lie down and breathe before trying to swim again…while everyone else is cannon balling of the high dive.

I do not have the answers. I can’t promise that it is going to be okay; that bitterness, heartache and pain will not consume you. I can simply tell you that Jesus is where the pardon, the forgiveness, and the abating is, for his blood “brings the remission of sins”. Sin causes suffering, but the beauty of remission can be known.

When we abide we are present. We can hear the heart, smell the breath and memorize the being of another. During trauma it is easy to cling to God as the whiplash runs through the body. It is afterward, when the rubble is around and the abating makes the abiding a choice that it matters. That is when the joy and the rebuilding comes.Friends, are you in remission or are you looking for an easy recovery? When we are recovered, we don’t need a Healer, a Savior or a God. When we are simply in remission, we can abide. That is why suffering is so sweet.

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