Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Women with Empty Nests, This is Your Time to Shine.

Empty Nester {noun} : a parent whose children have grown up and left home.

You bore children. 
You raised them. You loved them. 
Worried for them. Fought for them.
Laughed with them (or at them).
Cried with them (or for them).
Supported them. Challenged them. Encouraged them.
Celebrated them.

...and then they were off.

As a mother, you gave your heart and soul to nurture these babies of yours, and you sacrificed your life to raise them into adults.

In case no one has ever told you this - you're amazing.
You probably worked through blood, sweat, and tears to do the best you could at the time, and for that, you're a rockstar.

And now The Raising part is over, and you're on to still green, but different-looking pastures.
You get to enjoy your grown kids and the grandchildren they've given you, and you also probably get to be apart of other young mothers' lives in your community.

I am here to encourage you in how important you are right now.

As young mothers (young meaning any women who still have children living in their home, for the sake of this conversation), the value of having older, seasoned women in our life is immeasurable.

If you are part of any family or community, you most likely have women in your life, a daughter, daughter-in-law, friends; who are smack dab in the midst of The Raising and are quite probably exhausted and sometimes discouraged, whether they look like it or not.

These relationships are your opportunity to do some beautiful and important work.

Do you realize the power you have to breathe life and hope into another woman's heart with just a few words of encouragement?
And do you remember how badly you needed that at the time too?

"Take a deep breath. This is REALLY hard work. But you're doing a great job. And God has got this more than you ever could."

Words like these are light in what can sometimes be a dreary and dark place.
And YOU have that to give!
You are gifted with a grander perspective. 
To see which of the little things are important, and also the value of the big picture. 
To have experienced that a lot of the things you worried about would eventually turn out ok.
To know now which things at the time you WISH you would have made a priority.

This is wisdom worth sharing with the next generation.
But it must ALWAYS be shared in love and gentleness.
Otherwise no one will be able to hear it.

Don't waste this season of your life posting articles on Facebook about what parents should or shouldn't be feeding their kids, or how you think they should be disciplining, or whatever methods or traditions you deem to be The Right Way.
I understand the temptation, when you've been through and seen a lot, to wish that all the people around you would stop ACTING A FOOL and to just be as in the know as you are.
But I'm sure you can remember being in the trenches like it was yesterday. 
How you were just doing the best that you could, and that you definitely were not perfect by any means.
Don't make the sad mistake of forgetting
Forgetting how much grace you needed and now not giving any to the young mothers around you.

Instead, love on them!
Love on these women, lift them up with your words and your support, in the same way you needed when you were wearing these shoes.
Instead of blowing an airhorn in their face with all of your opinions and criticisms, put your arm around them. Catch these flies with honey, not vinegar.
Be a safe and positive place, earn that trust, and they will most likely be begging you to share your wealth of wisdom and counsel.

If you are doing a lot of advice-giving (whether in person or on social media), but you don't have many women coming to you seeking your counsel first (or at all), is it possibly time to consider a new approach?

This season you're in, being an Empty Nester, will be just as much part of your legacy as was The Raising. Maybe even more. 
Your work is not over. You have so much to offer right now.
So go for it!
Invest in other women. Invest in your friends and next generation of wives and mothers around you.
Build them up. Encourage them.
Ask them how they're doing. Give them the Atta Girl's that you know they probably need to keep going, just like you needed (and still do!).
Remind them, over and over again, how sweet God's amazing grace is.
And how His grace is more powerful than their kid's exhausting tantrums or how much sugar is the cereal they buy.
Speak beautiful truth to her. And help her find freedom in the Gospel.

What a blessing this will be to her life and to yours.

You, sister, have power.
Power to build up or tear down.
Wield it carefully and selflessly.
 Leave a legacy of shining a light into dark and hopeless places, and breathing life into every room you're in.
This is such a simple way to be like Jesus.

You are so important. This time in your life is so important.
And we need you.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Tractors and Miracles

Last year we went camping with some of our best friends, and all of our kids. We were up at their parent's property, about 3 hours north of home, where they have a cabin, some hunting blinds, a couple four-wheelers, a tractor, and a pantoon for the river nearby.
It's one of those little slices of heaven out in the middle of nowhere, a place we all love to go.

In the afternoon of our first day up there, after we came back from swimming in the river, our friend let some of the kids (their two older ones and our two older ones) ride in the front bucket of the tractor. (This had been done a million times before on this tractor, and this bucket had been used for years for heavy-duty jobs like lifting men on ladders to build deer blinds and hauling ridiculous amounts of weight.)
It was a fun little experience for the kids and it was very slow, so there wasn't much to worry about.

So while the four kids were enjoying this fun, little tractor ride, my friend and I were off a few yards away, having a beer and chatting about life. I was looking off at the tree in the distance, when right next to me she let out a blood-curdling scream.


She had seen the latch of the bucket on the front of the tractor give way, dropping all of our kids to the ground.

The bottles had flown out of both our hands and we were both screaming and running toward the tractor. Luke and our friend's parents started running from the porch of the cabin.


Eric, who was driving, hit the brakes right away, but huge vehicles like that don't stop moving immediately, so while the tractor worked on slowing down, we ran towards it and watched as four little bodies didn't have time to crawl out of the way before getting run over.

The tractor was finally still when we hit the ground and starting crawling under the middle to pull our shrieking babies out. 
All I remember of that moment was my loudly beating heart over the deafening screams in the air and a horror I had never felt before.
And none of us knew if who we were pulling out would be alive or not.

But somehow..they all were.

They were all alive and screaming hysterically. 
They were screams of fear and pain, and we had no idea what damage was done. 
I held my 4-year-old son, Boaz, on the ground and looked for blood or broken bones sticking out. 
All I felt was wet. He had soiled himself, and I started weeping.

Our friends' two kids who were in the bucket had thankfully sat in the middle of it, so they crawled out of there with only some scrapes on their backs from the undercarriage. My kids had sat on the far right side, so they got the brunt of the damage from the tire they had sat directly above and that eventually ran them over. 
Luke and Eric carried our two kids into our pop-up camper so that we could try to figure out how bad they had been hurt. They couldn't stop screaming from the shock and the pain, and we did our best to carefully and quickly look over them. Vienna's wrist was bleeding and missing skin, and she couldn't walk on one of her legs. Boaz laid there stiffly, with tire tracks imprinted on the side of his face, and cried that his neck hurt.

His neck could be broken. He could still die from this.

My heart hadn't stopped racing yet as we delicately loaded them into our truck and got directions to the nearest hospital.

The ride to the ER was twenty excruciating minutes long. 
During which the kids continued to bawl hysterically and then would start falling asleep, at which I kept having to shake them and keep them awake in case they were concussed. While Luke broke speed limits down those country roads, I prayed with them, sang to them, and promised them all of the ice cream in the world once this was over. In the back of my mind, hoping that we would still have all of our kids to feed ice cream to by the end of the day.

We parked out front of the ER and each cradled a kid in our arms as we ran inside to the front desk.

"Um hi.. our kids got run over by a tractor about 40 minutes ago."

The nurses behind the desk dropped their jaws and sprang into action. 
They immediately led us to a double patient room, separated by a sliding glass door in the middle. We put each of them on a triage gurney and answered questions about the incident. Within seconds, each of our children had half a dozen doctors and nurses surrounding them; changing them into gowns, putting neck braces on, and taking their vitals. I stayed with Vienna on one side of the room and Luke stayed with Boaz on the other. They both laid there looking overwhelmed and in shock at all of the commotion. All of the staff worked so quickly and effeciently, and were so kind and gentle to me while I stammered and teared up as they asked me questions about their medical history and the accident. A neurologist came in to test them for cognitive impairment, and cleared them for any symptoms of concussions. Luke went with Boaz as he was wheeled away for his first set of X-rays and CT scans. 

A nurse came in from his side of the room and I asked her how he was was doing. She said that they were worried that he might have internal bleeding from the way his stomach was hard and distended.

My eyes filled with tears and she gave me a hug. 

Oh dear Jesus, please don't let my baby die.

I wiped my face off and put my happiest smile on for Vienna as the nurses cleaned and bandaged her wounds.

"Oh Sweetie, how cool are all of these doctors and all of their awesome tools? Oh my goodness, look at these cute stickers they have for you! How fun is that?!"

While this type of enthusiasm usual made my happy 5-year-old girl even happier, the fact that she was in shock made her just sort of look at me blankly. But I knew that the only thing I could do right then was to be confidant and reassuring, no matter how terrified and afraid I was on the inside.

Two geared-up paramedics came in the room and told me that they had their helicopter fired up and ready just in case Boaz needed to be medevaced up to a hospital in St. Cloud for surgery.

What? ...Is this actually happening? 

I shakily signed whatever was on their clipboard and watched them take their place in the hallway, waiting to jump into action.

It was Vienna's turn to be rolled away for X-ray and CT scans. I went with her and tried to channel Mary Poppins as much as I could, while secretly fearing for my son's life. 
I hated that I couldn't see him.

When they were done and had determined that thankfully her ankle wasn't broken but just severely sprained, and that she didn't have any internal injuries, we wheeled her back out. In the same moment, Boaz was also wheeled out into that hallway and I immediately looked at Luke and the nurses for answers.

"He's fine," they said, "he has a broken collar bone, but that's it. No internal bleeding."

"Hey Buddy! Thats great!" I said and gave him a big kiss while he happily showed off the lollipop they had given him.
I stayed behind in the hallway after they all went back into the room, put my hands over my face and broke down.

Thank you, God. Thank you for saving them.

A nurse came out, I pulled it together and wiped my face again and she gave me a hug. 

"He's going to be fine. You guys are such awesome parents." 
[I'm sure I laughed at this point]
"Seriously!" she said, "You guys have stayed so positive with them and you've let us do our jobs, and we just really appreciate you!"
Those words and all of their kindness was just another mercy we didn't deserve that day. What a ridiculous amount of grace at such a vulnerable time.

The medevac paramedics said goodbye (MMK THANKS BYE!) , and they moved us into a room where we would wait to be discharged.
I finally had the resolve to call my parents, now that we knew they were out of the woods.
I called them crying, and told them what had happened but that they were ok. As would be expected from loving grandparents, they were emotional and relieved.

Getting discharged was slow-going, because Vienna needed to show that she could walk before we could go. They had re-done her x-rays a couple times, because the sprain was bordering a fracture, so she was in a good deal of physical pain, compounded with the emotional trauma and sheer exhaustion from it all. 
She eventually did walk a step or two and we went on our way to get them some well-deserved ice cream.

We went back to camp and put the kids down for some much-needed sleep. We had a beer and probably did a little more crying with friends who were happy that everyone was okay.

The next day we packed up and drove home. We called more family on the way down and stomached re-telling it so that they knew these beloved children were okay and that God was good.

For the next few days, we hung out at home and made sure they took it easy.
Luke and I stayed pretty busy; helping them hold things, go to the bathroom, get food, change movies, adjust pillows, etc., and we were overall in good spirits.
The busy-ness of taking care of them kept us happy and relieved and thinking about other things, right up until they would go to bed.

And then we were left with the quiet stillness that we had come to hate.
And it would eventually hit us again.

They should have died.

We would go into their rooms at night and sit by their beds together, stroking their hair and staring at their peacefully sleeping faces while tears rolled down ours.

We were still in shock. We were traumatized.

Wrestling with Why would God save these babies of ours?
..But why also let this happen? weighed us down with confusion and grief.

And then we would go to bed, and cry some more together.
We were parents of these small, vulnerable people that we made together and watch take their first breath together.
And then we ran and screamed together, from opposite directions, to a tractor that we expected to pull pieces of the skull out from under.

But our kids were alive.
And our son had tire tracks on one side of his face, and grass marks on the other side.

We saw them get literally run over by a tractor..and survive. 

It was a miracle that was hard to wrap our heads around.
Part of us was now marked by this deep relief, but it was the fear and terror that would leave a scar to this day.
At that point though, it wasn't a scar, it was an open wound, that left me with painful anxiety as a mother, every moment of the day, for months after the accident.
When a fun, peaceful camping activity can lead to such heart-stopping, freak accident just because a metal latch decides to give way...it can make you a lot less trusting of the seemingly 'fun and peaceful' world we live in.

I lived in constant, paralyzing fear, and I hated it. 
I remember asking for prayer for it in our church small group.
"I want to stop feeling this way." 
(was I'm pretty sure the exact words that came out of my mouth.)

But even when I said it and thought it, I knew deep down that that's just not how life works.
Painful feelings do not instantly go away. They never have and never will suddenly disappear just because we don't like them.

Within the next week, I was organizing a cupboard and happened to pick up a stack of bible verse memory cards we have, and the very top one read:

"Have I not commanded you? 
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,
for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
-Joshua 1:9

I stood there and stared at it for maybe 5 minutes. 
I wrote it down on a notecard, and then taped it right above our coffee pot. 
I needed to see this every day.
This was The Truth I needed to cling to, to memorize, to preach to myself.
 Over and over again, moment to moment, of my anxiety-ridden days.

This beautiful, challenging Truth.

That God had never promised that this broken life would be easy or superficially prosperous or even anything less than heart-wrenching for us.
But most importantly, that in this broken life, He will be with us wherever we go.
That this mighty King of Kings, Author of Creation, Prince of Peace, and Lord of Lords...would also be my close comfort in time of need.

What I eventually had to realize was that I was never going to "recover" from the fear that had seemed to constantly surround me. 
That the fear that comes with being a parent was never going to wear off on its own.

But that I needed to learn how to speak Truth to this Fear.

I needed to come to grips with how little control I have over my kid's well-beings, and find peace in the fact that God has all of that control.
I needed to learn to trust in Him as a better parent to my kids than Luke and I could ever be.
I needed to remember that He formed my babies in my womb, and He was under that tractor with them when they were scared beyond belief.

And I needed to trust in His faithfulness.
 That even if I had lost my babies, that He would still be with me wherever I went.

This is a control that I hate relinquishing, and a trust that I hate giving.
I want to be the captain of my soul, and the lord over my future and my children's and their children.

And..I mean.. DON'T WE ALL? 
At the root of ALL sin, don't we all just want to be in control? 

But my hope has to be (and gets to be!)..
..in Christ, alone.

Who we are, as Christians, should never be known for how hard we try to be perfect and in control.
Quite the contrary, when we claim to be In Christ, we need to be marked as people who are PAINFULLY and HUMBLY aware of how imperfect and out of control we are.

And that no matter what sin we deal with or heart-breaking circumstance comes our way, we have a hope in trusting the One who is perfect and in control.

This accident made me hurt in raw and vulnerable ways, that I pray I never have to relive, but at the same time, I'm so thankful that the Lord walked us through it.
Because this life lasts just for a moment. 
And during this moment, I want to sing and cry out to the world of the glory of our merciful God and His steadfast love for us.

2 Corinthians 12:9 says "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Which is one of my favorite verses, because I've always been sort of a hot mess and appreciate that many things in life actually turn out to be "a precious blessing from Jesus in this garbage dump of a situation" (as Allison Janney wisely says in Juno.)

The gist of which is that He gets all of the glory for the hope in our lives.
Whether it's the moments He gives us strength and success or the moments we are completely weak and desperately out of control,
both show our complete and utter need of Him.

The fact is, all of us are alive right now by nothing other than the grace of God.
And what a gift it actually is when that reality is made obvious. 
For it to so completely terrify us that we fall on our knees and pray to the ONLY One who is in control. To save us and keep us and give us hope.

We seek His Truth, and we preach it to ourselves.
Over and over again.
Moment to moment.

Because He has promised to be there with us.

Without that, what other hope do we have?