Raising Princes in a Pauper Society
Finding ways to raise your kids to live selflessly in a narcissistic world
Finding ways to raise your kids to live selflessly in a narcissistic world
Motherhood: All love begins and ends there. —Robert Browning
Earlier this week I got a notification from Shutterfly that made me literally gasp. As I read “Look what we found for you. Remember eleven years ago?” I scrolled down to see your beautiful faces from one of our many memorable Nantucket vacations…so many years ago. My heart skipped a beat. For a moment I felt that anticipatory sensation on a roller coaster that typically comes right about midway up the chain lift of the biggest hill. You know—when the visual cues of what’s about to go down physically lead to that sinking stomach feel only to be amped-up while going full speed ahead down that amazing hill.
Time has gone by SO fast. It’s overwhelming.
When each of you came into this world, I was in awe of your miraculous perfection and couldn’t believe that God had entrusted each of you to me. It is truly an overwhelming privilege and joy to be the mother of three spectacular boys that God so perfectly knit together in my womb.
From your first steps to your first missteps…I’ve been your biggest fan and supporter. You honestly never stop amazing me. With every milestone each of you have reached so far, I’ve reveled in joy and celebration.
As you continue to grow and thrive, I’m in awe at the amazing young men you’ve become. You each have your own unique personality, your own thoughts and opinions, and your own crazy sense of humor. I embrace the individual uniqueness that makes up Colby, Logan and Lance. I am blessed and honored to be part of your lives—you’ve all undeniably taught me the meaning of true, unconditional love.
Years ago, when I gave you the book and keepsake CD—I Hope You Dance—I prayed that each of you would grow to understand the deeper meanings of these lyrics, and perhaps when you did, I would know that I’d done the best job I’ve been entrusted with—as a Mother.
My prayer remains…
Psalm 65:8—The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.
I’ll always pray for each of you to be satiated with His perfect plan for your lives. But even when you’re “full” I want you to still hunger and thirst for personal growth. Never stop pursuing your dreams or become complacent where you are. Live a life that has meaning and purpose.
Don’t forget to take it all in. There’s beauty everywhere…sometimes you just have to look a little harder. Don’t become jaded. Instead look for freshness in all that you do so it never grows mundane.
Philippians 2:3-4—Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
First and foremost, may you always know your worth and how incredibly precious you are not only to Him but to me. As your mom, it is my privilege to impart these important truths to you. Throughout your life, always be humble—never having an inflated ego. While I always want you to be confident, humility is even more important. By remaining humble, you are open and receptive to improve. A humble leader is secure enough to recognize his or her weaknesses so growth can take place.
Jeremiah 29:11—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.
Don’t be afraid to take (prayerful) risks in life. You can often accomplish great things by taking risks. Get outside of your comfort zone, never letting insecurities hold you back from taking a chance. There’s nothing worse than saying…I wish I didn’t stay on the sidelines when I had the opportunity to be part of something bigger.
Whatever you do…don’t take life too seriously. Have fun. Laugh often…even at yourself when you make mistakes. Don’t worry about things you cannot control. Enjoy life to the fullest…and dance.
James 1:2-4—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.
Struggles and other hardships are an inevitable part of life. Don’t let the challenges of tomorrow consume your “today.” It is often in these hard climbs in life that we learn and grow—making room for future opportunities to help and encourage others going through something similar. Ceaselessly pray on the climb, pray once you reach the top and continue to pray when you’re over the mountain and coasting along on the other side. Pray. Pray. Pray.
Hebrews 11:1—Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
God’s handprint is on each of you. Never stop striving to see Him—as He’s always there seeking for you to draw close to Him so he can draw closer to you and encourage you each day. Never lose the wonder of who He is and what He’s doing around you. Allow your uniqueness to shine through. You never need to change who you are for someone else. You are magnificent exactly as you are.
Time is indeed accelerating—even faster than the biggest drop on our favorite roller coaster. While I want to freeze so many moments and not let them go…I know that I need to make room for so many more to come.
Thank you, boys for always being the reason for my smile at some point in every day. While I know I can be tough and am FAR from perfect as a mom, I thank God for this gift of motherhood that is both overwhelming and beautiful. Know that I love and adore each of you…always and forever. *Don’t ever forget the words of my favorite book—you know…the one that makes me ugly cry—I’ll Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Even though I don’t sing it to you anymore (insert sad face), the words will always be true:
“I’ll love you forever…I’ll like you for always…as long as I’m living…my babies you’ll be.”
It has been said that something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.
People who know me well, know I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon of any snake oil trend society is selling to make me feel more “progressive” as a human being. However, when the widely controversial 13 Reasons Why Netflix series came to my attention recently—first through my daily news feed—then as an important “Emotional Communication” from the schools, I knew I needed to take a closer look. The closer look for me came in the form of binge-watching 768 minutes to get me to Hannah Baker’s 13th reason why she killed herself. Yes, it’s true…if you don’t already know…the central character in this series is a young teen who takes her own life. While that sounds like something you’d rather run far away from, I implore parents to join me on taking a “closer” look. Because no one—not one—is immune.
At its core, 13 Reasons Why is a realistic exploration of the profound impact our interactions have on others. Our words, actions, tone—even our availability to one another—matter. Matter a lot. While it’s true that we can’t always determine who is struggling inside, we can certainly be sure that everyone struggles at one time or another. For teens, entering middle and high school means an increasing amount of independence, when many of them look to friends instead of parents for guidance. The fluctuation of teen hormones and the undeniable pressure to fit in with their peers, not only clouds the judgment of vulnerable kids, but can easily make them more susceptible to risky behavior.
As a parent of three boys ages eleven to fifteen, I stand firmly on the well-known scripture “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). To that point, I vigorously pray that on this parenting journey, I do my best to guide them effectively—supervising the right choices—because as a deeply flawed human being, I know full well that when temptation and opportunity meet, something can always go wrong.
13 Reasons Why examines a number of ways our kids encounter the crossroads of temptation and opportunity, and I won’t sugarcoat it—it’s very difficult to watch. The unyielding look into particularly difficult topics including depression, rape and suicide also make it a very important show to watch—especially if you have teens in your life that you care deeply about. Please don’t ignore these uncomfortable truths.
Here are 13 reasons (in no particular order) why we need to keep the conversation about these difficult topics alive:
“No one loses their innocence. It is either taken or given away willingly.”
While we’d all like to think of our kids as little pillars of excellence and innocence, sheltered from the scary realities of this ugly world, the truth is they aren’t. In fact, while we want desperately to protect them from anything bad that could come their way, without them understanding the dangers that may lie in wait, it would impossible for them to be a light in the darkest places. Knowledge is power.
It’s best to open a dialogue with your children about this particular series because unless you’re living in an ‘old order’ Amish community or North Korea, where technology is forbidden, chances are your preteens and teens have heard about it or have already perhaps binge-watched it without you. While the series is ABSOLUTELY too intense and graphic for children under 15 years old to watch, it still opens up a great opportunity to discuss social themes and situations with a younger, preteen audience, including the consequences of bullying—without carrying the heavy burden of the show’s violence.
For my 15-year-old son, I think it is very important we watch the show together and/or explore difficult themes so that, even if he doesn’t encounter these issues personally, he can be a voice and light for those that do.
“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”
We all make mistakes. In fact, there are times when we think we’ll never recover from our mistakes. For teens, who are still physically and mentally developing, it’s easy for them to find it difficult to see beyond the mistake and the consequences that come with it. Teaching our children (and ourselves) how to practice grace and forgiveness is so important for those friends or loved ones in our lives who may be watching us to model our behavior.
Teach your kids to view each mistake as an opportunity to learn, grow and potentially…teach others.
“Never do a wrong thing to make a friend–or to keep one.”
–Robert E. Lee
The children’s rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me” was a blatant lie. Words can—in fact—break one’s spirit.
Bullying occurs every day, in every school. Yes, I mean every. So if you think you’ve placed your child in a Christian or other private, “sheltered” environment to avoid this…you’re in denial. While it’s easy to identify the prominent effects of a fist fight, the subtleties of bullying range from hurtful gossip to emotional attacks, to social media harassment. Regardless of the disguise it takes on, bullying is destructive.
I laugh when I hear parents of toddlers, gently telling them things like “use your words,” because the truth is, often the wrong word can create irreparable damage to one’s integrity. Talk to your kids about the destructive power of words and how one otherwise, “innocent” comment or suggestion can put a permanent mark on someone’s reputation. Just as importantly…open up a dialogue with your child to make sure help is sought if they are a victim of bullying.
“Distracted from distraction by distraction”
Don’t lie to yourself, we are all distracted by social media. One of the things I tell my boys all the time is: when you take part in social media of any kind, you’re leaving a permanent digital footprint, one that can help or hinder your future. Having the instantaneous ability to send or receive information—and disinformation—can lead to just as instantaneous, even devastating consequences. Remember the Public Service Announcement from the 70s and 80s: “Do you know where your children are?” While it’s easy to think we’ve got the lowdown on everything going on with our kids when they’re with us in the home…it’s 2017 folks—so unless you’re shadowing their every virtual move, do we really know where our kids are?
Our crazy world treats social media like a reality TV show. Because of that, our youth have less self-esteem and less of an ability to sustain themselves through adversity. Teens see themselves through a reflection of pixels…with Snapchat photos and Instagram posts dictating their identities.
When you take one look at the opioid crisis facing our nation right now, it’s easy to see the connection between the “virtual” numbing we do with our feelings through social media to the physical numbing some do with the rampant availability of drugs like heroin. Young people are increasingly becoming strangers to real feelings. In many ways, social sites like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat have become the popular drugs our teens are overdosing on…every single day.
Do you know where your kids are?
How often do you talk to them about their social media use? Do you know which accounts your child uses? Do you have access to the content they see daily? Remember, ignorance is dangerous.
“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
Kindness wins every time. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to opt for kindness. Every. Single. Time. I don’t like my boys using the word hate…because we should teach (and model) the fact that we should never hate anyone, even our “worst enemies.” Everyone has something good about them (even it’s like digging through 70 tons of muck to find it). Find the redeeming quality and love the person for that. Always remember a smile or a hello could make someone’s day…perhaps even be the one happy point that gives someone the hope or encouragement they need. Imagine if your smile gave someone the courage to reach out for help? Make a difference…every day.
In one of the final episodes of the series, the main character, Clay says to the school counselor: “It has to get better, the way we treat each other and look out for each other. It has to get better somehow.”
Imagine if we all did just that…would the world still be so dark?
“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
People always disappoint. It’s a given. The sooner we come to terms with that fact, the more time we’ll have to start improving our own character flaws. Authentic friendships are the “gems in the rough” of relationships which have the power to save lives. Seeking deeper, trusting friendships instead of popularity, allows you to be yourself with ease. Having an authentic friendship allows you to not only notice changes, struggles and out-of-character behaviors in that person, but that person can notice changes in you too—which can be lifesaving. When we are vulnerable, others feel comfortable to be vulnerable too. Encourage your children to make meaningful connections with their peers—letting authenticity guide the way.
“Trust instinct to the end, even though you can give no reason.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Teach your teens to trust their instincts. When they find themselves in a situation that doesn’t feel right or look right, change course. If someone’s behavior concerns them or seems off, teach them to not be shy to ask or seek help with compassion.
I encourage my boys to pause and pray when they feel that gut instinct kick in.
“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
For my boys, roughly 10 hours of every day is spent on a bus, in a classroom or on the field for sports. Combine that with sleeping and homework and that’s a lot of time during the week without active family communication. So while I need to trust and pray that they are making good decisions when they leave the house in the morning, we as parents need to make the time we do have together count.
It’s easy for a teen to lose a sense of comfort when communicating with you if they know that anytime they open up they will be met with the third-degree. Be open, so they’ll feel comfortable to do the same. Don’t get me wrong…I am definitely not saying we need to create a more laissez-faire relationship when it comes to discipline with our kids, but teens need to know that talking to you and advocating for themselves will be met with love and respect.
If your child was being bullied in school, would he or she feel comfortable telling you? What if they were sexually assaulted? What if your child made a terrible mistake, one that might even be illegal, do you trust that he or she would confide in you? Remember, our kids are watching our responses to our own struggles and missteps. I’m preaching to myself when I say: be your best self for your kids. Admit your mistakes in front of your kids, so they see that it’s okay to share and discuss our imperfections.
“We are only as blind as we want to be.”
It’s never okay to allow underage drinking and drug use…regardless of the liberal viewpoints you hold dear. Rationalizing substance use and abuse with things like, “They’re going to drink anyway. They might as well do it at home” is a poor excuse for parenting and simply WRONG. Condoning illegal (and potentially addictive) behavior puts children at risk for SO many things. Let’s face it, even adults under the influence make bad decisions. Turning a blind eye to the illegal drug and alcohol use of (still-developing) teens puts them at a heightened risk of hurting themselves and others.
“Be assured, if you walk with Him and look to Him, and expect help from Him, He will never fail you.”
Teens need to root their identity in something stronger than their reflection or their peers. While the world is full of counterfeit truth claims, the most important thing you can teach your teen is choosing God’s reality rather than fake versions of reality.
Teaching your teen how to discover what it means to live out their faith is a lifelong journey as we integrate what we believe with every area of life…including middle and high school. In my house, we feel it’s imperative to help our boys understand that God is personal and desires to reveal His truth to them. Prayer, scripture, church and meaningful discussion help provide the necessary tools to let them know that He communicates with us all the time when we acknowledge His powerful presence in our lives.
“All positive interactions with other human beings involve, to some degree, the experience of visibility– that is, the experience of being seen and understood.”
It is important to encourage healthy interactions among peers…in the classroom, on the basketball court, and even through our technology screens. We all want our children to associate with kids who will have a positive influence on their lives, and obviously we want them to stay away from those who will do the opposite. Make an effort, to support their peer relationships by giving them unconditional love, time, boundaries, and encouragement to think for themselves. Above all, get to know their friends…what their interests are, where they live, etc. While you don’t have to stalk the families, casual conversations around the dining room table on a Sunday night may spark more insight.
No matter what kind of peer influence your teen faces, he or she must learn how to balance the value of going along with the crowd against the importance of making morally-based decisions.
When the only interactions for your teen come in the form of screen time through video games, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Youtube, your kids will never achieve the level of interaction necessary for real communication, connection, admiration, or respect. Encourage them to be involved in healthy extracurricular activities that give them a break from the fake realities society wants to sell them.
“No” is a complete sentence.”
Raising Princes in a Pauper society (as I like to say) is no easy task, but should certainly be every parents’ goal. Bottom line, we need to be intentional in our parenting. While I want my message as a parent to inspire my boys to return God’s love with a lifestyle that loves Him, we have to invest the time and attention to model the right behaviors ourselves, so that we become the muse to instill that message. Let’s face it, none of us are perfect—despite the fact that you may try to convince the world otherwise on Facebook.
“Sex talks” are not nearly as important as crafting a lifestyle for our children that leads them naturally into making the right choices that produce good consequences. Just as we teach our children the importance of proper hygiene and how to brush their teeth, sexual health has to be part of an overall approach to wellness. One thing should always be crystal clear when talking about difficult subjects like sexual assault. We need to instill the message that it is never acceptable…ever…for one human to force his or her body on another human. Say it often…and then say it again.
“When people kill themselves, they think they’re ending the pain, but all they’re doing is passing it on to those they leave behind.”
Suicide is the second-most common cause of death among American teens ages 15-19. While suicide itself is not a mental disorder, it is a leading cause of death for people seriously affected by mental illness including Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia and Substance Abuse Disorders. When Hannah’s spirit becomes absolutely broken, she begins to embrace the emptiness of not feeling anything at all. While life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect, hope exists and it’s stronger than anything coming against you. Sadly, talking points on mental illness cannot cause someone to “snap out of it,” instead, it’s watching for indications of depression and hopelessness that can prompt medical treatment to restore one’s hopefulness of life.
The warranted controversy surrounding the suicide scene in the series was too painful to watch…and I closed my eyes for part of the scene. It was too real. But don’t we need people—maybe those who have become so desensitized by society’s temptations—to see and acknowledge the horror of taking your own life?
There is nothing…I repeat NOTHING glamorous about killing yourself. While there is much controversy over the thought that the show romanticizes suicide, personally, I didn’t walk away with that message. I wanted to. I wanted to be enraged by yet another senseless Hollywood drama instilling more notions of violence and hatred in our kids. Instead, I walked away with the simple fact that Jay Asher, author of the book leading up to this story writes:
We are all part of that everything and need to be accountable for the affects our interactions have on the everything we touch in our lives.
When our teens are equipped with the right tools, they can combine their gut instincts with some basic, but distinct warning signs to spot if a friend or school acquaintance may be at risk for suicidal or depressive thoughts:
According to the American Association of Suicidology, a warning sign is the earliest detectable sign that indicates heightened risk for suicide in the near term (i.e., within minutes, hours, or days).
conceptualizes the theory that even the most subtle and unobtrusive change effects other things, which build upon each other, and may eventually result in a massive change, which for some, would be quite unexpected or even tragic. In the fictional story of Hannah, the cumulative effect of the actions of others and her inaction to seek further help resulted in her tragically choosing hopelessness.
The Butterfly Effect is one of the most important reasons to believe that a single life can have a profound impact on the world. It’s really our call to action. 13 Reasons Why makes poignant points about what we owe one another as humans. Let’s make our daily actions and interactions become the Butterfly Effect for change by altering the tapestry of the world in a positive way.
Even the smallest step one takes in his/her life can change the course of said life immensely.
Evoking feelings of nostalgia isn’t a hard task. One scent, one picture…or even one smile can drift you back to that sentimental place or time in the past. After a recent conversation with my Mom, I took a little nostalgic journey back in time, back to a period in my childhood where the “Council” existed. The Council, as it was known, was a regular gathering at my Great Aunt Rita’s house—made up of mostly Italian women—who would congregate around a large dining room table and talk and talk…and talk (usually in debate-style) about life, love, family, politics, memories—all while naturally being encouraged to mangia, mangia over the Italian yummies laid out before them (and yes…I can recall the redolence of anisette in the air from those fresh Italian cookies).
When it comes to Italians or Italy, let’s face it, the first thing people usually think of is the warmth, joy and utter magic created around the dinner table. It’s well known that Italians are accomplished in the gioie della tavola, or “the joys of the table.” In fact, the dinner table is one of the most steadfast images and emblems in Italian art—celebrated in our paintings and films, from the Renaissance to present day.
If you were an outsider looking in on those gatherings of the council, you’d likely be dizzy with confusion—because just like many large Italian families, all gathered around that table would not only talk at higher than normal decibels, but also all at the same time…and don’t forget the hands, which also spoke volumes. But it was there at the table, where hearts would open, and life’s greatest celebrations and sometimes even dramatic battles would unfold.
We all seem to crave time that will create nostalgic memories, like our winter bones crave the warmth of summer. Time with family. Time with friends. Time to reconnect to oneself. Just. More. Time. Yet the irony comes during the week when all we wish to do is speed that time up…a magical fast forward to Friday, where the challenges of the week can be left behind.
For me, with work and school dominating our days, and homework, sports and activities dominating our evenings, there often seems to be little room for creating memories as a family around our dining room table—but they’re a necessity. My boys crave “family nights” in the dining room during the week and they always become the high point of any day. There we connect. We laugh. We pray. We share our struggles and joys…and ultimately we strengthen the bonds of love and friendship.
There aren’t many members of that beautiful Council left on this side of Heaven, and though the table is still there in my Aunt Rita’s house, all you can really see is what is not there anymore. I guess a table is not simply an object in a room, it’s the people gathered around it that bring it to life.
Time is short and precious. Embrace more moments in gioie della tavola…appreciating the magical synergy that is created when the joys of conversation and intimacy commingle with the pleasures of amazing food and drink.
On the tender heels of Thanksgiving, my 11-year old, Colby asked to share a bit of his heart from this past year. I’m overwhelmed posting this … but it’s wonderful to see my 3 beautiful boys holding on and pressing in to the gift of Faith that they have eagerly unwrapped. I am blessed.
Thanksgiving was a really good time for me to look back on my life, including the rocky road of the last year and find all of the blessings that abound. I truly thank God for my life, my health and SO much more … my family, house, food in my stomach, a free country, my Mom’s health, my education, and the very air I breathe. I realize that sometimes God throws tough times (tests) at you. In order to get an A+ on each test, you must remain faithful to Him, and never give up. Even though this was a struggling time in our family we never gave up on Mom, or God.
So the big test, the journey we never expected to take was this past year. The test has been the most difficult one I’ve taken so far in my 11 years. On December 26, 2012 my Mom and Dad called my brothers and me into their room. As they told us that the call came and a stage III breast cancer diagnosis was confirmed—I felt a sudden pain in my gut. At that moment I knew it was serious … this was really happening. My parents were open and honest about everything they knew, and that alone helped to make us feel safe. Though I know people who have gone through cancer, it’s hard to imagine it happening to my Mom. It was very hard to believe, and though at first I didn’t want to, I knew that I had to face reality and trust God to take the wheel.
Before that dreaded day, we knew “cancer” was definitely a possibility. But regardless of that thought lurking days before Christmas, my parents made everything as normal as possible and full of love. They still showed us the wonder and generosity of the season in the face of such upsetting news. Shortly after diagnosis, the next challenge was learning that chemotherapy treatment would be the first thing my Mom would experience. My parents helped to explain chemotherapy and the side effects that would likely happen. It helped me to know that if and when Mom was sick, it was not because the disease was making her sick, but instead because the medication was attacking the cancer cells with the intent to make her better.
My Mom was strong and worked through treatment. Every Thursday for 20 weeks starting in January, she would go into Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Though I was not able to go with her every week, my Mom made special arrangements to be sure we went with her at least a few times. I think my mom wanted my brothers and I to see that chemotherapy wasn’t scary. The first time I went to Dana-Farber I was a bit nervous, thinking it would be creepy with a lot of very sick people there. It didn’t take long to learn that my fears were far from the real thing. Though difficult for the patients experiencing chemo, the people and atmosphere were both warm and welcoming.
Chemo was still sometimes scary for my brothers and me. It’s awful when you want so much to take away someone’s pain but can’t. During this time I tried to help in every way possible throughout the house. Since mom was getting weaker after many treatments, her ability to do all the things she used to do in the house decreased. I tried to spend time after school doing some simple cleanup and chores around the house. It felt good to give back to her, especially when she was tired and struggling with a serious illness. I hated seeing her sick and really loved making her happy. I knew that as tough as chemo was, it was made to help stop the cancer in its tracks.
When my Mom started to lose her hair during chemotherapy, as a family, we gathered and made a family time to shave her head. I know it was hard for her to lose her beautiful hair, but we helped to lighten the mood with a little “buzz” party.
Chemo was a very difficult time, but we got through it as a family.
Things moved fast. After Chemo was finally over, Mom was trying to get strong for surgery. The goal of surgery was to remove any remaining cancer out of her body. I was very scared for her. Every night I prayed, and prayed that she would be fine. The day of surgery finally came (actually on my younger brother, Logan’s birthday). My Mom was a brave person on that day. She was in the hospital for 5 days and we missed her so much. My grandparents watched us and helped prepare for Mom coming home. Before she arrived, we made her a big “WELCOME HOME!” sign. She lit up seeing that and it made us so happy! When she got home, things were tough for a while. She was always very sleepy and never felt good. But, The Lord is good. He kept her safe through all of this.
Radiation treatment came next. Mom was a little anxious at first, but then she learned that it wouldn’t be as bad as the other treatments. I was so thankful that she had gotten through the treatments before. Through the house, all of us were asking questions like “Doesn’t radiation give you cancer?” and “Won’t you get burned?” All of the questions were answered, and we weren’t as anxious as before. The family got together and prayed that mom would get through the last treatment. Mom did get some burns, but she took it in stride … nothing too bad.
I love that my parents have been honest with everything going on. They always make us know that we can go to them anytime with any question and we trust and believe that they will answer it honestly.
I thank God every day for Moms health. I hope and pray that God will always keep her in his healing hand.
My heart goes out to other kids traveling this same road. My prayer is that they will have Faith and believe that God has them in the palm of His hand regardless of the situation. Thieves can’t take you away when you’re resting in the palm of His hand.
(originally posted on my CaringBridge page on 2/ 17/13)
Snow globes. Children always seem to have an innate attraction to them. Once upon a time, I distinctly remember that giddy feeling, especially during the Christmas season when stores would display beautiful collections of these magnificent little transparent worlds frozen in time. Instinctively, I’d rush to stir up the beautiful, idyllic scenes in each one, watching the snow gently fall over each perfect little landscape.
As I found myself pondering magical snow globes this past week, I’m not sure why, but I recalled a moment in a disturbing, but brilliantly written novel by Alice Sebold I read several years ago—The Lovely Bones. I distinctly remembered a part in the book referring to a snow globe. I found the book on one of my shelves and looked up the part that came to memory:
“Inside the snow globe on my father’s desk, there was a penguin wearing a red-and-white-striped scarf. When I was little my father would pull me into his lap and reach for the snow globe. He would turn it over, letting all the snow collect on the top, then quickly invert it. The two of us watched the snow fall gently around the penguin. The penguin was alone in there, I thought, and I worried for him. When I told my father this, he said, “Don’t worry, Susie; he has a nice life. He’s trapped in a perfect world.”
Trapped, isolated in a world being stirred up beyond one’s control is most definitely a lonely place. The penguin, in many ways similar to how I see myself some days . . . stood lonely, frozen in time, with no control over anything going on around him.
On Tuesday night, while I was running my hands through my long, lavish locks (just kidding, they don’t exist)—I felt a very real, immovable lump at the base of my skull, an occipital lymph node, as it were. John felt it and insisted I call the doctor in the morning. Without having an active infection that could cause it, and also already having positive axillary lymph nodes, it was unsettling to say the least. On Wednesday I called, and the oncology team asked to see me on Thursday prior to chemo, to check it out.
Thursday arrived—Valentine’s Day, and my four princes blessed me with love. First and foremost, John and I were both overwhelmed by our three little men who wrote us a beautifully-written letter expressing their appreciation and love for us . . . we were both moved to tears. They had also put their own money together to buy us a Valentine’s Day gift. It was beyond heartwarming. I was later greeted to 2 dozen long-stemmed roses to beautifully color my office . . . from all my boys.
The pre-chemo Valentine’s Day blessings continued, as my best Valentine’s Day gift arrived, meeting me at work to be my Dana-Farber date . . . Jean McAdams-Jenkins. Those of you who know Jean, know that she is that gift that keeps on giving. As she says, once you’re in her life, you are there to stay. So true. Thank God. Though I would have withdrawals, you could actually go months without seeing Jean, but just as if time stood still . . . as soon as you reunite, it would seem not a day had lapsed. She is low maintenance with style. Always there no matter what. There’s not a day that goes by that Jean isn’t praying for hundreds of people . . . seriously. The list, though miles long, is never forgotten in her memory. I have absolute confidence that if there were no one else on the face of the planet praying for me, Jean would be. Additionally, her life is a living, breathing testimony of God’s miracles—she is a 15-year pancreatic cancer survivor. That is just one of the many ways her life has been an example of God’s merciful love and grace.
Needless to say, I was blessed beyond measure to have Jean with me on Valentine’s Day. You always know you’re in for lots of laughing intertwined with many more moments of wisdom and thoughtful reflection when you’re with her.
I was seen by the oncology team regarding the enlarged lymph node. Though there is a possibility that the node is in fact cancer-related, there is also a possibility (my hopeful one) that this could be a Nicole-variable. A lymph node that may just be part of me. They are thrilled by what they are seeing with regard to chemo-shrinkage in the breast and other nodes . . . and are hopeful, that if this were cancer-related, it too will suffer the consequences of the juice. Time will tell. In the meantime, they are keeping it under close weekly watch and have measured it for comparative purposes.
I think of the Dad in The Lovely Bones, assuring Susie of the Penguin’s nice life in the snow globe . . . trapped in his perfect world. Though I feel Susie’s worry in the face of isolation and loneliness—having no control over the circumstances swirling all around me, the dad’s right. In the midst of the inverted globe, life’s disasters and worries stirring about, the penguin remains immoveable— in a sense trapped in a perfect world.
There is nothing more meaningful and real than knowing earnestly your life is in the Lord’s hands. I love the verse in John: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you . . .” (John 15:5-7) It’s not that we make a wish and get what we wish for . . . instead it’s all about the steadfast dependence on Him. As long as we remain in Him and His words remain in us, our desires will align with His will, and our prayers will reflect that.
It is in my best interest to embrace my scene in this snow globe. I am safe there. He will allow the snow to swirl around me, yet I can remain safe in His presence . . . unharmed, immoveable. It is a perfect place to be.
I can truly do nothing apart from Him. Even when shaken, I hope to remain steadfast . . . abiding in the one and only true Vine.
Thank you all for being vessels of encouragement and support. Please continue to pray. I feel them.
Loads of love from the globe.
(originally posted on 2/6/13)
I remember back in Junior High, being fully enamored with a farm I often visited. The farm, belonging to my friend’s grandparents wasn’t active, but still had all the rural charm and glory of a traditional, working New England farm. I always loved taking trips there . . . running in the orchards, playing hide and seek in the fields, sitting high up in the hayloft of the barn—looking out over acres and acres of green expanses. Being there felt perfect. As we got a bit older, we’d visit the farm less frequently, and when we would visit, it would usually be at night—typically to use the awesome land for . . . (ahem) social “celebrations” with bigger crowds. Though there were undoubtedly exciting, crazy adventures during parties on that farm, what I remember most about the ‘nightlife,’ is how magnificent the sky looked, the breathtaking illumination. Far removed from any urban atmosphere veiling their awesomeness, the stars in the dark night on the farm shone the brightest, appearing almost within arms reach—touchable . . . heavenly in fact.
John and I recently recalled a conference from years ago, and though neither of us can remember the main topic at the conference, what we both do remember—is a speaker’s simple little exemplum of sorts . . . one that may be well-known to some of you. For us, the imagery was simple, yet powerful. The story was about a father trying to explain heaven to his son one evening:
Living in “Big Sky” country, this Montana-family enjoyed vast, wide open spaces on their beautiful farm. The little boy in the story loved to play with his matchbox cars in his little secret place under the house. He loved this special spot under the floorboards of the house, and there he would quietly build and create little roads and hills, houses and garages for his cars. Though he could hear everyone walking about inside, they never knew he was just below, playing.
One evening sitting at dinner, the young man turned to his father and asked “What’s heaven like?” His father thought about it for a moment and said, “Well son, you know underneath the house where you play with your cars?” The boy had no idea that anyone knew about this secret hideout, so a bit embarrassed, he smiled and nodded his head.
His dad continued, “Well tonight after dinner I want you to go down where you play with your cars underneath the floorboards of the house and this time look up at the underneath side of the floorboards. Then I want you to meet me outside in the pasture.”
Obediently after dinner, the boy crawled underneath the house to his quiet, private play space and looked up. He was shocked at what he found. Rusty nails sticking through the floorboards, dozens of cobwebs clinging altogether with large spiders and nests in the corners, dirt and splinters that have been wedged between the cracks in the floorboards and shredded insulation mixed with glue and tar. He quickly gathered up his cars and crawled back from under the disgusting floorboards vowing never to go under there again.
He then went to his father standing in the middle of the field. It was a crystal clear night sky and the moon shone brightly while the stars brilliantly twinkled, some even dancing across the sky—perhaps one of the most beautiful night skies he had ever seen.
Pointing up to the sky, the boy’s father said, “Son, while I don’t know exactly what heaven is like, I know that it’s up there, and that it is more beautiful than we can ever imagine. But do you see how beautiful the night sky is tonight? Think of it this way—this gorgeous, beautiful, brilliant sky is the floorboards of heaven. What you saw under the house was grimy, dirty, and disgusting, yet compared to heaven that’s what the sky looks like. Heaven is more beautiful, more brilliant and more unimaginably spectacular than we will ever know.“
As the little boy and his father stood there looking up at the gorgeous floorboards of heaven, the boy had just a little better idea of what heaven is like.
I just love that. It’s such a simple, profound reminder that this side of heaven will never equate to that perfect destination we all hope to see one day. Even in the beauty of creation around us, with all those stars in the sky . . . they’re all mere floorboards to what’s waiting on the other side.
Living closer to the city, far away from a serene, rural setting—it’s always harder to see the stars as brightly as my memory on the farm. The fact is, the view isn’t as easy … no front row seat. You really have to look to see them shine in all their splendor.
Staying grounded in Faith is a choice, not a feeling. Sometimes, when the shadows of my “night” close in around me—even becoming pitch black at times, my sky seems void of light. How can I find my way back to the farm, that awesome farm where the chaos and clamor of this world (those city lights) don’t block the very luminosity of the stars high above? Stars give off light in the dark whether we realize it or not. It’s their very luminosity that lights the path for those who are stuck in darkness. It is our job, as believers to look beyond, knowing there’s a path lit . . . even when you desire that easy, “big sky” view.
This road I’m traveling on is a dark one . . . fatigue, fear, pain, insecurity, confusion—just some of the cobwebs under my floorboards. My prayer though is to follow the brilliant glow of the stars, regardless of how distant they may appear. When I need those stars to burn brighter—I need to find my way back to the farm in the simple things, those little moments of joy often overlooked: watching my gorgeous boys laugh and play . . . running with my dog . . . getting a little wink from John across the room . . . laughing with friends . . . singing in the shower . . . shopping with mom . . . extra dry non-fat cappuccinos . . . and just living to love.
If those beautiful stars are but the floorboards of Heaven, what possible dark shadows along this rocky path of life can hinder me from living with joy in each moment.
This old Irish proverb says it best: “Drop to your knees and give thanks that you can stand.” Too much time is wasted on dwelling on the rusty nails . . . the cancers of joy and peace.
Thank you all for twinkling bright in my neck of the woods . . . your encouragement, inspiration and love are without doubt helping me get back to the farm.
With love, light and hope . . .
(originally posted on my CaringBridge page on 1/15/13)
Only the gentle are ever really strong.
~ James Dean
Have you ever woken from a deep sleep with a face ingrained in your mind? Confused for a moment, not quite recalling what you were dreaming about, but knowing it had something to do with this face. Often times this face is someone you know who’s been heavy on your heart, or maybe someone you’ve recently encountered. Sunday morning I woke up with a face fixed in my mind of someone I’ve only ever “met” through pictures and films—James Byron Dean. Not sure why exactly? . . . I mean, I haven’t been thinking about him lately, haven’t seen one of his films recently. Anyway, there it was . . . his beautiful face.
We’ve always referred to our oldest son, Colby as an “old soul,” incredibly wise beyond his years. When he was three years old, his favorite movie was It’s A Wonderful Life, and he earnestly remained captivated, even during parts of the film that would likely bore even the most passionate Jimmy Stewart fans. I, too, was one of those “old souls,” a girl before-my-time. While many girls were donning posters of Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze on their bedroom walls in the late-80s, it was not uncommon for my walls or bookshelves to include black & white images and books of actors such as Montgomery Clift, Audrey Hepburn . . . or more significantly, James Dean. I was especially enamored with him. Recalling my fancy over this complex, young actor—who came and went before my time, I began to think about one of my favorite reads of all times . . . John Steinbeck’s, East of Eden. James Dean’s face brought this book to mind, as I was reminded of his infamous role as Cal in Elia Kazan’s film based on this haunting novel.
As a lover of literature, I read this book at a fairly young age and reread again later . . . at the time never exploring the depth of my own human condition. Cal was symbolic of Cain in the Bible, and like all of us, he had free will to decide between good and evil. Choice. Just as each character in East of Eden faced—so does, ultimately, every human being. This same free will that we’ve been given, even blessed with, applies to every aspect of our lives…and at times it can be really hard to choose responsibly, especially in the realm of the mind, when the bad creeps in at your weakest moments.
This past weekend, I got to enjoy a wonderful “date” weekend with my three little princes. The good stuff came with: snuggling by the fire w/a movie & popcorn, watching magician, Logan perform his latest card tricks, laughing with Lance as we read through a great book, and getting goose bumps, listening to the latest story Colby wrote in his journal . . . and then church Sunday followed by a fun, “mom & guys” brunch afterwards. Good times.
The bad stuff found a way in too, looming in the always active mind. It can quickly become a vestibule of doubt, worry and fear—closing in when you least expect it. It usually presents after a long day of distracted fun, perhaps in the middle of the night, when everything else appears peaceful yet lonely. My mind visited some unwelcomed destinations. I won’t share them, but I will tell you how much I thought about the significance of mothers. Being one. Having one. Loving many. I thought about my mom who is tangled up in her own web of worry—over a daughter who is ill, over her own mother, struggling with leukemia, and seemingly in a downward spiral …blood transfusions more often than not. It saddens me to the core to know how much heartache my mom is no doubt dealing with.
If you’re not careful, when it’s left to its own device, the mind becomes a filthy watering hole, “corrupting” your being with negativity and lies.
I love the line early on in East of Eden when John Steinbeck writes: “I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east.”
You can love the east for the light that every morning sunrise brings or sigh at its reminder of another hard day’s work ahead. You can dread the west for the darkness that every sunset creates or relish it for the colors that linger on the horizon. Basically, we can choose to wander east or west . . . not always finding what we’re looking for.
As for me, I so long to rest my head in Eden, allowing paradise to guide my heart and mind.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
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Life and work of a Scottish woman newly returned after many years in Asia, a brief step into Africa - with the after and side effects of Breast Cancer thrown into the mix!
opinion and commentary from the author of "Breast Left Unsaid" http://breastleftunsaid.com Twitter: @JudeCallirgos
About 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage will develop distal metastasis. I am one.
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