A Big Announcement

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For several months, my husband and I have been prayerfully considering a new opportunity for our family and trying to discern God’s will for us. About a week ago, we made the final decision to move on from our current church in Ohio and accept the call to a church in Minnesota. This move will bring us close to both my family and my husband’s family, a blessing we have not experienced since before we were married.

Yesterday, we had the difficult experience of breaking this news to our loving church family here, as well as the rest of our friends and family. I am relieved to finally be sharing this with everyone, and I am looking forward to sharing more about our new ministry opportunity soon.

Among my racing thoughts in the past week are visions of my children knowing, REALLY knowing, their grandparents and other family members we have missed so much over the last six years, but also grief over the hard goodbyes in the coming weeks. Our church here has become our adoptive family, and we love these brothers and sisters in Christ who have treated us as their own through the many holidays, pregnancies, births, joys and challenges we have had here without the support of real family nearby. Words can not express the special impact this church has had on our lives, and we will always look back on our time here with fondness. It is a blessing in itself for a goodbye to feel this difficult – an confirmation of the love and care we have experienced here.

We are confident that God is directing our path in this new journey, and we have seen him affirm our steps again and again throughout this process. The church where we are being called to serve next is a great fit for my husband and we believe God will continue to use his gifts and passions to build up the kingdom and make disciples in this new role.

I want to invite you all to pray for us through this transition. Pray for our family, our church, and the church we are soon joining. I hope to be able to write more about this process as we go, and I will try to keep you updated. Moving will take place the last weekend in July! Pray we will end our time here well and be a blessing to this church even as we say goodbye.

An Alternative to Boxed Macaroni & Cheese

Mac&Cheese

I confess: I am a wannabe crunchy mom, but I struggle to commit in the kitchen. I have read a zillion (slight exaggeration) articles and watched several documentaries on the value of eating whole foods as well as the consequences of a diet high in processed foods.  I see the posts floating around on social media about specific additives and chemicals in our foods that should really not be in there, and my stomach turns a little as I wonder how threatening last night’s dinner really was.

Unfortunately, I can also be a wannabe lazy mom who enjoys quick and easy cooking a lot more than she should. Look, last week’s poor dinner choices haven’t given us tumors yet, right?! So we must be fine?

I am a lazy fool.

Anyway, on the days my crunchy side wins over, I experiment with ways I can replace the “big offenders” on our processed food grocery list with a tasty alternative.  One of those is boxed macaroni & cheese.

Now, I am aware there are plenty of recipes online that will tell you how to make a beautiful dish of macaroni and cheese from scratch, but let’s be real: the appeal of that blue box is that it is inexpensive, quick, easy, and the kids will eat it, right?

So when I am wanting an alternative in 10 minutes or less, this is what I use:

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 cups dry, whole grain pasta (I use elbow macaroni or penne)
  • Butter (I use 3 tablespoons)
  • Sea Salt
  • Dill Weed
  • Garlic powder
  • Parmesan Cheese

Instructions: 

  • Cook pasta to desired tenderness. 
  • Stir in butter until melted.
  • Sprinkle in the remaining ingredients according to your own taste. (I lightly coat the top with each and stir.)

It is definitely not bright orange, but we like it just as much.  The dill weed & parmesan together provide the tangy cheese flavor without the high sodium content, food coloring, and preservatives.  In the past I have used a little lemon juice in place of dill, and that would work well if you have a child who would scoff at the little green flecks.

What about you? Do you do anything similar to reduce your processed food intake?

I’d love to hear your favorite tricks in a comment!

Amelia’s Birth: A Natural Childbirth Story (Part II)

This is part II of the long overdue story of the birth of my second child last September. To read the part I follow this link!

It was a Wednesday night. Five days earlier, I had been told I was already dilated to 4 centimeters and was expected to be in full-blown labor by the end of that day. As usual, my plans did not quite line up with God’s plan. As usual, his timing turned out to be better than mine.

I posted this on my Facebook page the day I went into labor with the caption: "She just loves it in there. I'm gonna need some bigger shirts."

From my Facebook page on the last day of my pregnancy, captioned: “She just loves it in there. I’m gonna need some bigger shirts.”

My contractions had been coming and going in waves for nearly two weeks and finally kicked into high gear that evening while my husband was at church for Wednesday night services. My mother-in-law was staying with us during this time to care for our son, so when Ryan arrived home we would be ready to hop in the car at whatever point I felt it was time. Although my patience had been wearing thin up until this point, I did not want to check into the hospital until I was sure active labor was well underway.

While my husband was still at church, I put our son to bed and retreated to our bedroom to watch YouTube videos on natural birthing techniques and pace the floor. I was determined to remain relaxed throughout the birthing process this time, and to do so I wanted to be prepared with a variety of breathing techniques fresh in my mind.  One of these techniques involved vocalizing through each contraction with a long “Ohhhhh” while visualizing everything opening up for the baby to pass through the birth canal.  (I’m sorry if this is too much information! I just want to be helpful to those who are preparing for a similar birthing experience.)

I quickly found that vocalizing and visualizing were my new best friends in the child birthing business! As the contractions became more and more powerful, it was as though my mind was completely focused on the purpose and productivity of the contraction rather than the pain it was causing.  When the contractions were consistently within five minutes of each other and difficult to talk through, I called my midwife and let her know we were on our way.  It was shortly after 11PM.

We arrived at the hospital around 11:30PM and were settled into the holistic birthing suite by 12:15AM. I was already amazed by God’s provision. Here are just some of the ways His timing blew my mind:

  • Though the labor & delivery floor at the hospital had been overflowing the previous weekend when I had WANTED to be in labor, it was now quite empty and I was the only patient in active labor.
  • The holistic birthing suite was vacant and ready for me!
  • The midwife on call that night was the one who knew me best and had seen me most throughout the pregnancy.
  • The nurse assigned to my care was INCREDIBLE. From the time she checked me in to the point she grabbed our camera to take pictures after the birth – absolutely incredible.
  • As we were being admitted to the hospital, the nurse was shocked to find that I was already dilated to SEVEN centimeters.  I wish I could show you all the look on her face when she made that call.
  • Active labor was well underway, but my water had not broken.  This was a hope and prayer from the beginning!

When my midwife arrived at the hospital, she estimated that the baby would be born within a few hours.  After some discussion, I agreed to allow her to rupture my water — though I admit I was unprepared to make that decision and still I am unaware of any risks associated with it. She assured me it was safe, and I chose to trust her.  She advised my nurse to let me continue laboring as I had been and allow me to get into the birthing tub at whatever point I felt ready.

So I continued to labor, chatting with my husband in between contractions, and then getting into my “comfort position” to ride through each wave of pain.  I found my ideal position during this time was kneeling beside the bed, hands folded in prayer position, and legs shoulder width apart.  I would close my eyes, vocalize, and rock my hips from side to side.  Around 2AM, the intensity of the contractions began to wear on me, and I requested to get into the tub for some relief.

It was so comforting to feel as though my care providers trusted my instincts and were willing to follow my lead.  This was such a welcome change from my first birthing experience.  My midwife simply wanted to know when I felt ready to push, and other than that she let me make the calls and did not question my decisions in the process.

The "Am I dying?" part...

The “Am I dying?” part…

It did not take long in the water before I reached the “Oh, Lord, I think I might be ready to die,” phase of labor, otherwise known as “transition.”  Up until that point, I had not felt myself well up with fear. This was the hard part for me, though, and somewhere in the midst of my most intense contractions I felt the fear roll through my body and tell me I could not handle one more surge of pain.  For the first time since labor had begun, I knew I needed the women in the room to help me calm down.

In the 60 seconds I had between contractions, I started to whine.  Just like a small child looking for her mother’s sympathy, I told my midwife I didn’t think I could do it anymore.  I told her I was scared, and I just wanted it to end. “Soon,” she told me, “your baby will be here very soon.”

“You’re doing great,” my nurse kept repeating.

Before I could start in on my next whining session, I felt my hands begin to tingle intensely and chills run through my body.  I had only felt that sensation once before in my life, and I remembered it well: five minutes before I pushed my son into this world.

This realization renewed my drive to continue.  I told the nurse it was time to push, and she hurried to help my midwife prepare for delivery. I fully expected the midwife to take control at this point.  During my last birth, this was the part when my previous midwife told me exactly how to position my body, held me in that position, and told me when to push.  She reached down, guided the baby out, and lifted him out of the water.

Do you know what my midwife did this time? None of that! She sat back in her chair and calmly told me how to reach down and deliver my own baby. No one tried to hold my legs or force me into an unnatural position, no one screamed at me to push, and no one even tried to touch me! I followed my midwife’s instructions, slightly shocked that she wasn’t helping me, and I delivered my baby with my own hands and pulled her up onto my chest.

At 3:33 AM, I held my baby girl for the first time.

At 3:33 AM, I held my baby girl for the first time.

After only three hours of laboring in that birthing room, I had the unique honor of being the first person to hold my newborn baby. At this point, do you know what my awesome nurse did? She grabbed the camera from my husband so he could come meet his baby girl, and she took some awesome pictures for us.  She seemed just about as excited as we were to be a part of this process and didn’t put that camera down until she absolutely had to do so.

Birth Collage

“This was a text-book perfect birth,” my midwife told us, “the kind that should be video recorded!” I don’t know how I feel about a video of me giving birth, but she was right: it could not have possibly gone any better than it did.  Everything progressed quickly, I coped with most of my contractions calmly and without fear, and not a single complication arose.

Amelia nursed well from the beginning, another specific answer to prayer, and she even let me get some sleep the next day during my brief stay at the hospital.  I am one who prefers to get home as soon as possible with my babies, so we checked out first thing Friday morning. I stand amazed at the beautiful birthing experience we were able to have, knowing that this is not the norm, knowing that it is something many women dream of having but are never able to have. I don’t know what to make of that, except that I am overwhelmed with gratitude and joy.  This experience was the gift of a lifetime, and I am thankful to God alone for that gift.

Amelia is now over eight months old! The word that always comes to mind to describe her is “delightful.” Purely delightful. If I never have another birth or baby as easy on me as Amelia, I will tease her siblings in adulthood that she will always be my favorite. (Don’t worry, I’ll make sure they know I am only joking!)

DSC_0871If you are reading this story and you have any questions regarding your own birthing plan, don’t hesitate to send me an email or comment on this post.  While sometimes there are medical reasons that make a birth like this impossible, most times that is not the case.  I believe the first steps toward a healthy birthing experience are prayer and education — I am happy to encourage you in either of these steps!

Amelia’s Birth: A Natural Childbirth Story (Part I)

This is part I of the long overdue story of the birth of my second child last September. To read the [much longer] story of the water birth of my son in 2011 and to learn more about my choice to give birth naturally in water, follow this link!

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This is my sweet baby girl, Amelia, just moments after I delivered her with my own hands in a holistic birthing suite at a local hospital.  She was about five days “overdue,” yet right on time and as healthy as she could be.  We had prayed for months that God would give us a safe, smooth birthing experience and that I would endure it without fear, and I stand amazed to report He did all of that and more.

Pregnancy & Preparation

I’ll be honest, when I first saw the two lines on that pregnancy test in late December I immediately thought, “What if I can’t handle another natural birth?” I had nine months to prepare, and yet I was already fearful of the pain that comes during childbirth.  I remembered all too well how shocked I was after the birth of my son — shocked by how much it hurt, shocked by how much I wanted to give up and DIE, shocked that I actually survived it and he was finally in my arms.

I have often avoided talking about my son’s birth because, although it was healthy and beautiful on the surface, I remember feeling overwhelmed with fear the entire time.  It is a strange feeling to be praised by others for the strength and endurance it takes to give birth in such a way, yet know inside that I was a tired, weak coward the entire time and any “success” I may have had should certainly not be credited to my own strength.  Still, I have fielded some, “Wow, you are like Xena, Warrior Princess or something! I could NEVER do that!” comments.

Trust me, I am NOT Xena, Warrior Princess.  Is there a lesser character that whines and complains a lot and constantly needs other people to rescue her? That’s more like me, but I digress.

I am crazy committed to giving birth with as few medical interventions as possible, fearful or not. This is not to prove my own strength or to exalt anything at all human within me, but rather a decision my husband and I came to together by researching our options and finding the one that best fit our convictions and ideals. (You can read more about that here.) Amelia

Though my first birthing experience was not the peaceful, euphoric experience I had hoped to have, I could at least approach my second birth confidently saying, “Well, I did it last time (somehow), so I can do it again.” So I started there – scared to do it again, but knowing I was capable provided no unexpected complications arose.

From there, I started praying for very specific aspects of the pregnancy and birth. I asked that He would provide the right midwife at the right hospital.  I asked that the nurses attending to the birth would be diligent, compassionate, and supportive of my desires to avoid medical interventions.  I asked that I would not be overcome with fear. I asked that labor would be well underway before I arrived at the hospital and that my water would not break until close to the final stage.  I asked for endurance and strength.

The more I prayed for these things, the less I feared.

Days of Early Labor

As I came to the final days of my pregnancy, I experienced an incredible peace. God had given me a healthy pregnancy and provided a midwifery team I loved at a hospital where I felt very comfortable. The room where I planned to give birth, referred to as a “holistic birthing suite,” was located on the Labor & Delivery floor, but tucked away at the quiet end of a hallway.  It had everything I could have wanted for my stay, including a large birthing tub with a shower head and plenty of handles. As long as the room was available when I went into labor, it was all mine — so I prayed for that, too.

38 Weeks!

38 Weeks!

The day before Amelia’s due date, I had my final prenatal appointment.  I had been nauseous all day and — TMI warning – constantly running to the bathroom.  I had also been having steady contractions for days, at some points enough that I needed to time them to consider whether labor was really getting started.  I learned at my appointment that I was already dilated to 4 centimeters, which is wide enough that most women would check into the hospital and start a Pitocin drip.  My midwife told me I was in early labor, sent me home, and estimated I would be back to check into the hospital by the end of the night.

So we went home, and nothing happened! This was a Friday, so we anticipated our baby would surely arrive by the end of the weekend. We took some long walks and I did stretches and exercises to prompt my contractions to pick up, but still nothing more than a few false alarms.  Each morning I woke up thinking, “This has GOT to be the day.” And every night I went to sleep thinking, “I sure hope I get woken up by contractions tonight!”

By Monday, I had decided to just stay pregnant forever, which happened to be a good decision for that day.  While I was getting ready for bed that night, my son woke up to a horrible coughing fit.  He had been fighting a mild cold, which turned into croup.  Because he was really struggling to breathe and throwing up in the midst of it, we ended up rushing him to the closest ER that night.

So there I stood in the wrong hospital, 40+ weeks pregnant and dilated enough to be considered “in labor,” praying for the first time that the baby would STAY PUT. I couldn’t help but picture myself checking in to that hospital to birth a baby alone while my husband was with my son downstairs in the ER.  Thankfully, that did not happen! The ER staff was wonderful with my son, and we made it home sometime after midnight.  Exhausted, I prayed again that the baby would stay put until I could get some rest.

And stay put she did! Though my contractions mildly came and went each day, they did not become consistent enough for me to say, “This is it, grab the bags” until Wednesday night. I followed my plan to labor at home for as long as possible, and when the contractions became strong enough to take my breath away I put the call in to my midwife.

I was ready to have a baby!

Read Part II (The Finale!) of Amelia’s Birth Story Here!

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Book Review: 101 Bible Stories from Creation to Revelation

Zondervan provided me with a free copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

101+Bible+Stories+from+Creation+to+RevelationSummary

This Bible story book contains 101 briefly summarized stories written in basic sentences that are accessible for young readers. Each “story” is contained within one page and includes a typical heading, for example “The Fiery Furnace” or “Jesus is Baptized,” and a scripture reference from which the story has been adapted. On each spread of pages, one page is fully illustrated to complement the content.

Impressions

This is a Bible storybook that is going to simply provide the nuts and bolts of what happens in each story throughout the Bible.  Unlike many of the other popular Bible story books of recent years, this is not one to provide additional insight or draw theological conclusions from the original text.  Rather, each story and image works to answer the “who, what, when, where, and how” questions and leaves the “why” up to the reader to ponder and seek answers elsewhere.

While I love the additional insight provided in books like the The Jesus Storybook Bible and others, I fully appreciate the simplicity of a storybook like this one and believe it will be very well used and loved by my children — especially as they learn to read themselves.  I see great value in leading my children through these stories without providing any insight or interpretation FOR them, but instead helping them to draw conclusions themselves through discussion and further reading in other biblical texts.

My favorite part of this book is that the illustrations are well done and more biblically and historically accurate than any of the other Bible story books we own.  On the cover, for example, you can see that Jonah is facing a giant fish, not a whale as is often depicted.  Other examples where the illustrator’s work should be similarly praised:

  • The nail holes in Jesus’ hands are placed on his wrists.
  • The arc resembles what biblical historians believe it actually looked like — there are no giraffes and elephants overflowing on deck!
  • The size proportions between David and Goliath depict a realistic size difference rather than a man who resembles a mythological man-like creature.
  • The tiniest details have been illustrated with care and intention for accuracy – right down to things like David’s harp, the kind of fish being caught and eaten, and even the look of the coins.

Fun fact: For those of my readers who (like me) are living in the Cleveland area, the illustrator of this book is Dan Andreasen and he resides in Medina, Ohio.

Recommendations

I recommend this book as a great addition to any family’s collection of biblical children’s literature. The brief stories can be used in a number of ways by parents to engage a child in the events of the Bible and stage opportunities to discuss the theological implications about the God who orchestrated those events.  Though this is a very simple collection of Bible stories, I believe you will find it quite practical in teaching your children the ways of the Lord.

When the Struggle Blinds and Suffocates

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. — Isaiah 43:2

Weary Path

There are times in our lives when the tunnel narrows and darkens and we begin to question whether it is worth crawling forward to the tiny light we are told is waiting for us at the end.  There are times in our lives when the darkness becomes so overwhelming that we can not begin to trudge forward alone and we curl up desperately in a ball without the energy to even pray or ask for help, and as we try to look around it seems that everyone else has already moved forward to some beautiful mountaintop somewhere and they are yelling back to us, “Just GET up! God is GOOD! You can do ALL things through Christ who STRENGTHENS you!” And all you can do is feel their words bounce off of your lukewarm shell of a body and whisper, “I just can’t…”

Have you been there? Have you felt your insides deflate or twist so tightly that breathing is a sport of Olympic stature and everything you thought you knew about God and his goodness feels like bitter fruit on your tongue as you spit it back out and weep at the hunger that remains in your spiritual belly?

Can you feel it?

What do you do when you find yourself so overcome with the pain of your current circumstances that the spiritual disciplines you have known and pursued faithfully in your life are no longer appealing and you can hardly lift your gaze to place one foot in front of the other? What do you do when help and comfort do not feel helpful and comforting and the personal God you know and love feels far off and untrustworthy?

A friend who is very dear to me has been going through one of the biggest struggles of her lifetime.  There are days in which seeing other people or holding ordinary conversations feel like torture and she has expressed that there are days when reading her Bible and praying feel completely empty and without purpose. Though I have never experienced what she is walking through, I know those days all too well.  I know that crawling forward in that dark tunnel is both terrifying and exhausting and the very will it takes to open her eyes feels like epic courage.

I have been there. Under different circumstances and with a different load on my back, but I have been there.  Sometimes the most hope I have for her comes from knowing that though I was once there, God delivered me out of that place.  While I can look back and say that it was the strength of God alone that pulled me through, I know that there are ways in which we can shine light into the darkness as God weaves his plan for the good of those who follow him.

So what do you do? What do you do when you feel your tongue-tied and your eyes blinded and your lungs held tightly in a vice grip?

1. When you don’t feel like praying, pray anyway.

If you lack the words, let the spirit groan. Or turn to the Psalms and pray aloud the Scriptures. Pray for peace. Pray for strength. Pray for restoration of faith.  Pray to God that he would help you WANT to pray.

2. When you don’t feel like reading, read anyway.

Meditate. Memorize. Copy the text into a journal. Take a deep breath and do the work it takes for the Word to come off of the page and cross your emotionally exhausted mind. Do not let the guilt of your own apathy towards Scripture stop you from turning to it and consuming it at whatever level you can. You may lack the appetite, and you may find no satisfaction in your bites, but the food will still nourish your soul.

3. When you don’t feel like listening, listen anyway.

Though you want to bury yourself in stillness and silence, God is always speaking to you.  His truth is echoing through the voices of your friends and family.  His truth is dancing through music and the vibrant testimonies of those who have been delivered a time or two from the dark place in their tunnel.  If nothing else, strain to hear God’s voice in this time. Select music that is filled with biblical truth and blast it through your home, your car, or your ipod as you go to sleep at night.  Download sermon podcasts from biblical teachers and take long walks each day as you breathe in God’s creation and hear what is sometimes hard to hear but always good for your soul.

In these dark and confusing times of our lives, when our faith feels at its weakest and our hearts struggle to believe what we already know to be true, God often does the most incredible handiwork. Until you find yourself in a place where you are able to look back and see the work God was doing all along, I pray that these three simple suggestions will help you lift your gaze and carefully place one foot in front of another.

What do you think? Have you been there? What helped you to breathe and step forward?

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This post is linked up with A Mama’s Story.

The Most Important Question

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. — Isaiah 53:5DSC_0207-001

It is Good Friday, the day we [Christians] remember the death of Christ and all of the events of that day.  It is the day we [Christians] reflect on the disgusting way in which Jesus was put to death on a cross, just as it was foretold, and we [Christians] meditate on the magnitude of this event in the scope of human history.  It is the day we [Christians] come together to sing about “the old rugged cross” and how Jesus “paid it all,” and we pray that the meaning of his death would be made new in our hearts.

It is a good day for Christians.  Solemn, but good.  We know the story, we know what happens three days later, and we know who wins.

It is good. I love it more than any other day in the church calendar.

While it is true that the resurrection of Christ is the bedrock on which we rest our faith in him as God and Savior, it is only in understanding the “why” of Christ’s horrid suffering that we may truly celebrate the death of death, the empty tomb, the “Amazing Grace” offered to us through a RISEN Savior.

There is no question more important in the entire world — no question more crucial in the lives of every single soul who walks this earth — than this:

Why did Jesus need to suffer and die on that cross?

This day, my friends, this “Good Friday,” is the perfect day to stir that question up in the hearts of those who do not yet know the answer. Perhaps you are reading this and you do not fully know the answer. You need to ask it. You need to wrestle with it and dig deep into the Word of God and beg for understanding.

You need to know that it’s personal.  “He died for the sins of the world,” is technically true, but WHY did he die for the sins of the world? WHY did he need to die in that way? WHY should it matter so much to you and to everyone on this earth?

Ask these questions. Don’t accept surface answers.

We live in a time when many churches and “Christian” leaders shy away from the ugliness and convicting truths of Christ’s death. We can not afford to be shy.  We can not afford to be ignorant.

Ask yourself, ask your family, ask your friends, ask God:

Why did Jesus need to suffer and die on that cross?

You might be surprised by how few people have reached God’s answer. Point them to it.

Book Review: Whatever You Grow Up to Be

Zondervan provided me with a free copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

SummaryWhatever You Grow Up to Be

“Whatever You Grow Up to Be” by Karen Kingsbury is written from the perspective of a little boy’s mother speaking to her son about the many possibilities for his future. She begins at birth and rhymes her way through early childhood playtimes, athletics, teen years, college, marriage, and finally fatherhood. Throughout each stage, the mother/son relationship is emphasized as well as an understanding that whatever happens in the little boy’s life will be God’s plan for him. Also, every possible scenario she presents is followed by a line like, “If that’s what you grow up to be.”

Each page is fully illustrated with bright, bold depictions of the envisioned scenes. The pictures also feature a small Bible verse that loosely applies to the topics on each spread of pages.

Impressions

As I read through this book for the first time, I felt like it was a little too sweet & idealistic for my taste. I was struck by how the cliché American Dream came forth in the mother’s vision for her son, and I was struggling to feel in sync with the rhythm of the rhyme. At first glance, the most praiseworthy element of the book was the illustrations.

BUT — Then I read it to my son a few times and got into the rhythm of the reading. He is three years old and he immediately enjoyed it.  As he looked at each page and pointed at the details in each scene, asking me what the little boy was doing and trying to understand how he was growing and changing, I began to appreciate the book in a new way.  While it does follow a very picture-perfect vision for a young boy’s life, the truth is that it does depict a wide variety of possibilities for his future (interests like drama, music, science, business, etc.) and includes many scenes that are likely to unfold in a boy’s life.  In addition to the words, the illustrations provide further possibilities to imagine together.

Recommendations

This is a cute book that provides for fun moments between a mother and her young son. Though there is no spiritual depth to the content, there is a loosely underlying Christian message that a boy’s life is ordained by God and that the mother trusts that his future is all within God’s plan. The illustrations are wholesome and engaging for little minds and provide additional content to discuss with your child. (For example, “What if you become an astronaut someday? Or a veterinarian?).

In my opinion, “Whatever You Grow Up to Be” is most suitable for little ones between the ages of two and five, but could become a family favorite that is enjoyed for years. As I said, my son is three and he has liked it very much. I can see this being a great baby shower or welcome home gift for a young mother expecting a boy. Even if the child takes little interest in it (not all children care for the same books, of course), many mothers might find it becomes a book with sentimental value for themselves.

 

The Girls Who Throw Invisible Punches

This group of girls could not have been more than 11 years old. They were somewhere in the middle of “I’m just a kid, let’s play Barbies” and “I know everything, so don’t tell me what to do.”  When does that “I know everything” part of childhood happen? Like 12? Yeah, they had to be getting close to there.

I hadn’t even noticed them until they planted themselves in front of the slide my son was trying to climb up to. They were trying to encourage him and the other little kids to go ahead on the slide; they didn’t mind waiting. It seemed like a nice gesture, but my stubborn little boy could not bring himself to budge in line and clearly just wanted these “big kids” to get on with their turns.

“Please just go ahead!” I yelled up to them. “He wants to wait until you are all down!”

The three of them looked at each other with some sly yet defeated expressions, as if I had just busted up the coolest party of the year, and began to reluctantly slide down the giant tube slide, one by one.  As I rounded the corner to get ready to catch my son at the bottom, I discovered that this group of three was actually a group of four.  The three girls who had clogged the top of the slide were taking their sweet time making their way to the bottom, and as I observed the bouncing young lady (literally bouncing) at the bottom yelling, “HELLOOOOOO! Best FRIENDIES?! Are you COMING? Come on best friendies!” I suddenly understood the kind of party I had actually busted up at the top of that slide.

It was the old “Yes, let’s play hide-and-seek! You go hide and wait for me to come find you!” technique. Unfortunately, this bubbly young lady was playing the part of the unsuspecting child who would wait in the closet for the better part of an hour before realizing she had been suckered by an adult who had never wanted to play with her in the first place.

The mom in me wanted to grab those mean girls by their pony tails, give them a firm talking to about treating others as they want to be treated, and drag them over to apologize, but the creeper sociologist in me wanted to stand back and stare at the all-too-familiar scene unfolding.

There was no pony tail grabbing that day, though the longer I let the situation stew in my mind the more I wanted to go back for a re-do.

I have definitely been that eager-to-please little girl who would try just about anything to “belong” in a group of peers.  I’ve also felt that pit of embarrassment in my stomach when I finally recognized my efforts had all been for the entertainment of girls who wanted me to be more of a neglected pet than one of their friends. I’ve felt the helplessness of knowing the punches those bullies were throwing at me were invisible to the adults around me, and even if I were to try to ask for help it would lead to more invisible punches.

Shamefully, I have also thrown more than my share of those punches. I have been the girl to strategically ignore and exclude a “friend” in order to maintain my status and power in the popularity pyramids. I have faced questioning by authority figures about the invisible punches which led to another’s tears, and I have successfully manipulated the truth enough to maintain innocence and shun that “friend” further into isolation. I have laughed with my accomplices at slumber parties while the girl next door cried herself to sleep every night of the seventh grade. Try as she might, the right hair cut and name brand clothing just wasn’t making things better as she had hoped.

There’s a very good reason none of us care to go back to middle school – the peak years for invisible punches.  I navigated girl world from multiple angles in those years, and learned quickly that it was better to punch than get punched. It took many years for me to look back on these experiences and see how absolutely horrible I had been.  By that time, those who had been punched the hardest had firmly established walls around themselves.  They had learned the best ways to exist among others without attracting any attention and resolved to a life without real friendship with any of their peers. They didn’t want an apology — they wanted to be left alone while they imagined my head exploding.

I am feeling disgusted as I type these things.  I believe it is because, of all of the hideous sins I could confess to you from my past, it is the sins of this part of my life that hurt the most people in a real and lasting way.  By God’s grace, I did apologize to my victims as an adult.  I confessed my sin. I asked for their forgiveness. They forgave, but had clearly never forgotten.

One of these friends later told me that middle school and high school were her idea of “hell,” and no amount of money could ever be enough for her to relive that time. My stomach turned with guilt, though she insisted I was not the one at fault.

As I look back at the scene that unfolded on the playground that afternoon, I ache for these girls as they approach this familiar road. I yearn to spare them from all of the drama and devastation that they will soon create in their sin and emptiness. As a student of sociology, I read all too many books and wrote too many essays that proposed solutions to this “bully” problem among our youth — this invisible battle that takes place among young girls everywhere, undetected by parents and teachers until far too late. I won’t regurgitate those solutions here, but I will tell you they have solved nothing.

The same girls are throwing the same invisible punches today as they were decades ago. The same girls are crying into their pillows over the meanness of other girls as they were decades ago.  Anti-bullying campaigns are out in abundance, but the serpent laughs and carries on — as he has for centuries.

I’ve already said it, but I want to be sure it is emphasized: The problem I am describing above is the result of sin.  The problem the girls were facing at the playground is the result of sin.  The aching helplessness I feel for them is the knowledge that nothing, NOTHING will rescue them from the consequences of that sin but a sinless savior.

Do you want to spare your daughter from the pain of invisible punches?

Do you want to raise her to be someone who never throws an invisible punch?

For my own daughter, I answer, “Yes! I want to spare her! I want her to be blameless in the pain of others! I don’t want her to be like me!” From the time I learned I was having a girl, visions of mean girls and invisible punches floated through my mind. I was already praying for a battle plan.  I was already begging for God’s mercy on her. DSC_0645

Today I have a battle plan and I should not be surprised that it is nothing new. She needs the gospel.  She needs to know she is sinful and that she will want to do wrong.  She needs to know she is poor and helpless. She needs to know everyone else is, too.  She needs to know her only hope in this world is Jesus Christ — not her mom, not her best friend, and not herself — Jesus Christ.  She needs to know what he did for her and why he did it.  She needs truth, not anti-bullying campaigns — and she needs to hear it, see it, breathe it constantly.

She needs to know she is meant for so much more than simply “fitting in” or being popular among her peers.

Lord, help me be bold with her. Arm her with truth. Secure her in your grace.

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This post is linked up with The Modest Mom and A Mama’s Story.