Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Very Potter Birthday

Some things in life are just obvious.

There was clearly no question of how we were going to celebrate our Harry Potter-loving child turning 11. We've know for a year that this year would be the year we had a Hogwarts party.

And friends, this is when the internet pays off. Yes, we came up with some ideas ourselves, but we also had a ton of fun looking through different ideas and getting ready together for this party.

So, without further ado, I present to you our Very Potter Birthday.

First, we sent out the invitations. Each one individualized, printed on parchment paper and sealed with a wax seal. (And big thanks to my friend, Kim, who happens to own a wax stamp with the letter "H", thereby making this a very cheap project.)


Next it was on to planning the day out. We knew we wanted to have the guests arrive in style.

Josh greeted them at the door and let them choose a fun name tag for the day. We printed out a lot of the major characters and added a little Hogwarts Crest in the corner. The kids loved choosing who they would be.



Next, I (as Professor McGonagall, of course), offered the kids a sweet treat from Honeyduke's Sweet Shop while they waited for other guests to arrive. Click here to find the recipe we used to make these Acid Pops.



Next we had fun bringing the kids through the front door which we had fashioned to look like Platform 9 3/4. I had a lot of fun with this one. Used a white sheet, a bunch of paint, a sponge and voila, which was an idea I got from this You Tube Video. As they walked in, we had the sountrack to the movies playing in the background to add a little ambiance.







After the kids came into the Wizarding World, I ushered them into our very own version of Ollivander's Wand Shop. I blindfolded each kid in turn and they were chosen by a wand, which they were allowed to keep as a party favor. They were pretty excited about this!



To make the wands (because goodness knows I was not about to buy 10 wands), I used this awesome tutorial. The kids were all pretty impressed and wanted to know how I had made them. And any project where I get to use my glue gun gets me pretty pumped.

Next we headed downstairs to let Oliver Wood tell us how to play Quidditch. We played the three minute scene from the first movie where he explains the game to Harry. Then we split the kids up into two teams, Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. They got really into this and we had three awesome games of backyard Quidditch!






After Quidditch, the kids took a break and fed Scabbers. (Really, this is our guinea pig, Loretta, but I couldn't resist.)
Reading Clues on the Horcrux Hunt
Next, it was time for the Horcrux Hunt. This was something we came up with on our own. I wrote out two sets of six rhyming clues each and hid a locket and a ring. The kids raced each other as teams to see who could find their Horcrux first. Again, they loved this!

By now the kids were tired and hungry, so we settled down to eat in the Great Hall.

Josh and I came up with these floating candles. He covered empty paper towel rolls with white duct tape. I mod-podged it to make sure it stayed on. He cut little pieces of cardboard out and placed them just inside the tube, held tight with hot glue. We punched two holes and threaded white thread through and attached them to the ceiling. Then we turned on electric tea lights and rested them inside on the pieces of cardboard. It was a really neat effect. We then just scattered more electric tea lights around the room and lowered the lights. We put up the four House Crests on the window, which added a nice touch.

I also had fun making these authentic Butterbeers! I used this recipe and filled these bottles that I had covered with a free printable and mod podge. So easy and they loved it. I let them keep the bottles as another party favor. 



We followed the meal up with these fun Wizard Hat Cupcakes to round out the party. 



Though the best present in the world would be my ability to actually make Hogwarts a real place, we settled for this party and I think his smile says it all :)





Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Heart Breaking

There are moments, as a parent, when your heart actually breaks.

Some kinds are the good breaking - the moment a child is born, the day one comes home with you, the first time he calls you mama. The kind of breaking that expands your heart to love more than you thought you ever could.

Then there are the other kinds. The kind of breaking that makes you sweat and scream and makes you cling harder and closer to the cross than you ever thought you'd need to. The kind that comes with loss and illness. The kind that comes when your child is wronged or hurt by another. The kind that you cannot prevent. The kind that makes it clear that you, ultimately, have no control.

There was a moment this week.

It was one I knew would happen at some point. I knew they were words he would hear. I didn't know how and when they would come and I readied myself for it the best I could.

But there is no way to truly be ready to hear your own child tell you that someone told him his skin is "ucky, ucky" and that it "looks like it has poopoo on it."

At the ripe old age of 3.5, my son now knows what it feels like to be othered because of the color of his skin. And not just othered, but othered in a negative way. Last I heard, describing someone as the color of poop was not a compliment.

And I know some people might read this and have one of the following reactions.

(1) It was a little kid. He or she didn't mean any harm.
(2) Your son might be making it up. Preschoolers aren't necessarily trustworthy.
(3) That's not prejudice, it's just a childish observation.

If you thought one or more of those things, I'm going to ask you to pause for a minute. To ask God why your first response was skepticism or dismissal.

And honestly? If your first response isn't sadness or shock or anger, I really hope that you and I can grab coffee soon. We can't hash out what's going on through facebook. Seriously, call, text or email now and let's chat.

Because here is the deal.

I sat on my son's bed with him. I asked him how his day at school was. And anyone who knows him, knows that he is exuberant. Lively. Spirited. Funny. That his normal reaction to anything that goes wrong in his day is anger and frustration.

He is almost never sad.

But this day? This day, he told me a story. THIS story. And I asked him how it made him feel. He said he didn't know. My child is not one to be without words. But his body language, friends. His shoulders were slumped. He had trouble meeting my eyes. I asked him every question I know to ask a preschooler to discern whether he is telling the truth or making up a story. (Particularly given some recent encounters with his holding the distinction between fantasy and reality fairly lightly.) He stuck to it. He used the same words every time. And he was sad. He laid on my chest and, friends, oh friends, he told me that he wants to be white so no one says that to him again.

And my heart broke into a million pieces.

As a transracial adoptive parent, I knew this would happen. I know that it's actually normal for children to want to look like their parents. I didn't panic. We will work through that part of it. Every day.

But I held him. I held him tight. I hurt with him in his pain. And I whispered words of love and beauty. I told him that this little friend was wrong. I didn't tell him that child didn't mean it. I am not going to lessen the impact of what he was feeling. I can't know the intention of why that little child said what he did. Even if I did, intention doesn't matter in this case. In this case, my son heard that he was different and that that difference is bad. That made an impact on him. And it won't be the only time hears it. Next time the words might be worse.

Please hear me loud and clear.

IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE.

What we teach our children from day one makes a difference. The books we read to them. The churches we go to. The ways we choose to give them language (or not) to understand that God's image resides beautifully in all backgrounds of people. When we teach them these things, we aren't teaching them to "see color" as so many people put it. Science has proven that from the tender age of six months, kids see it. It is our job as parents to help them understand it.

Why in the actual world would we leave them to make their own judgment call on this when the world around them has spent thousands of years making the wrong judgment calls on this? Why would we leave something that has the power to cause so much hurt up to a child to figure out? Why would we possibly trust them to get this right when generations of people have othered and murdered and stolen from others because they have gotten it wrong over and over and over again.

I don't know this child and I don't know his parents. I know my son's teacher and I am grateful that she was upset about this. That she was the opposite of dismissive. Grateful that she brought in pictures of her own children who don't look like her and showed them to my son and affirmed his beauty and worth. Grateful that she is the kind of teacher who recognizes it as part of her job to talk about this. Not all teachers would.

You want to know why I say what I do and write what I do and lead groups like I do to talk about this? You want to know why I am working with a friend to develop a PTA training for parents on how to talk to their children about race? You want to know why I cared about this long before I had two black sons who would experience it firsthand?

Because I had friends, close friends who told me the truth.

Because I saw my own biases and lamented and confessed and ask the Holy Spirit every day to keep rooting them out and changing me.

Because I learned to see that this was all over scripture, from day one, and that God's heart breaks for injustice more than I can ever understand.

Because I have a deep hope that if we can change the conversation in this next generation, that maybe, finally, we can start to see some change.

And because of those things, I speak. I speak to children and to adults about what I believe to be true - that God intended our differences to be beautiful, to reveal the vastness of his character, but that the world uses them to divide. I hold my own kids tight and attempt to undo the messages the world is sending them. And not just to undo them, but to replace them. To replace them with the truth that they are beautiful and precious and loved in His sight. That their color is on purpose. That my white son with his blond hair and blue eyes is beautiful and made in God's image. That my black sons with their curly dark hair and brown eyes are beautiful and made in God's image.

God doesn't make mistakes. So many people think that colorblindness is the Christian way to respond but I haven't found a single scripture to support it.

The world is not colorblind, my friends, and neither is God.

So friends, let's wake up and listen. Let's tell our kids the truth when we hold them tight.

And then watch them change the world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On Boxes and Murder in the Church

Just a few days ago, a good friend of mine called me out. In that, "I-kinda-wanna-crawl-under-a-rock-and-lick-my-wounds-but-I-know-she's-right" kind of way.

We had been talking about a news item and I said something uncharitable about the protagonist of the story. Something rude. Something I have no business saying as a follower of Jesus.

She wrote back to me and said this: "There is more than meets the eye to most people."

She's right.

But oh, do I prefer to put people en masse into boxes. Groups. To places I can easily dismiss or self-righteously join.

I saw a man with whom I disagreed and easily vilified him.

I chose not to see him as made in the image of God. And because of that, I sinned against him.

Shame on me. And, to be honest, shame on many of us.

Instead of being light and salt to a broken, messy world, so many of us sit around name-calling and whining like we are stuck in some never-ending middle school recess of a nightmare. Facebook looks like a war zone. Between Christians, no less.

My heart, this week, has brought me back to a verse from college that changed my life.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, , 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.  
Matthew 5:21-24
Perhaps you were expecting some inspirational verse about trust or faith or hope or love. Seems a little morbid to ruminate on a verse about murder. But I remember the moment this verse became a way to live my life. I had been at a retreat with my InterVarsity group and our staff worker had made us really, truly think about what this was asking of us as followers of Jesus. 

It was saying that if we are coming to worship our God and realize that someone is angry with us (and, it seems likely to add, someone with whom we are angry), to stop. Ask for forgiveness. Apologize. Forgive. Do whatever it takes. But be reconciled to your brother or sister BEFORE you have the audacity to come before God in worship. It was saying that our unwillingness to do so, our holding on to unhealthy or judgmental anger, our calling others "fool" is actually just like murdering them.

That's pretty serious, guys.

That night, we were able to go around the room, look people in the eye and create space for forgiveness and reconciliation. Since then, I have tried to live my life in a way that doesn't let resentment fester, that confronts and repents and changes when disagreements or hurts happen.

But I haven't done a very good job of it recently.

You know what's easy? Complaining and cynicism and blame and name-calling.

You know what's not? Actually following Jesus into the hardest, most broken, dark places and letting him develop empathy and lament and hope and self-awareness and forgiveness and action that seeks to reconcile. THAT is the hard work of living out the gospel.

A few months ago one of my pastor's charged us with this: Until "we love we"(meaning Christians being able to truly love one another), no one is going to give a rip about what else we have to say and one way to love is to stop, listen and learn. (Paraphrased)

But what do I see instead of "we loving we?" What do I see (yes, in myself) instead of stopping, listening, learning and therefore seeing each other as beautiful people made in God's images?

I see Christians hurling epithets at one another. Calling each other liberals and snowflakes and conservatives(and never in a descriptive way, but a disdainful way), boxing each other up, taping it shut and then finding like-minded believers to mock and laugh and smugly pat each other on the back.

Brothers and sisters, this is not what it's supposed to look like. What in the world are we doing? Becoming?

As I have been pondering this post, I finally sat down and made a list of all the people in my feed that have made me angry. That post things that make me feel like I have been placed in a box. And I asked God to help me forgive them.

But you know what else I did? I made a list of people who I know have not always liked what I had to say. Who likely have something against me. And I asked God's forgiveness for ways that I have "othered," ways that I have "boxed," ways that I have spewed hate in my heart, instead of offering grace across discord.

Look, Facebook is complicated. It's not "face to face" like people used to be able to argue. I can't get everyone in my feed in a room and walk around and offer apologies and hugs.

But I can get my own act together.

I can remember that while there is space in my following of Jesus for righteous anger, for conviction, for passion, that if I worship my cause more than my God, I will most likely end up being an agent of hate.

So, today, I ask us all to pause. To look at what we've written and what we've pondered in our hearts towards people over these last few crazy years.

Is it the fruit of rage and fear and murderous hearts or is it the fruit of following Jesus into the hard places?

One thing I plan to do is this: before I say anything, I am going to pause, try to hear what that person is saying, remind myself that he or she is just as precious in God's sight as those with whom I agree and then figure out if what I have to say is helpful to the conversation. If it is a truth that points them to a God who loves them and pursues justice and reconciliation. If it's not, I'm going to keep quiet.

As my pastor put it this past Sunday, I am going to do my best to set more tables, not make more labels.

Who is with me?  

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

To the Mama and Papa Warriors

I see you limping towards the finish line of the summer. 

I know as you watch other people post pictures of kids on the first day of school, that you might not have had a happy picture to post or that you might not even try to snap a picture of your own kid, knowing that getting to her school on that first day with clothes on is about all you can do. Or that you are already dreading the battles and the tears and the meltdowns that come with any fresh season, knowing that September is usually just a survival month. 

Maybe the summer went better than you expected. 

Or maybe it was absolutely impossible, a child who was functioning well, suddenly sent off the rails because of a "vacation" or a bullying incident or, in the case of my own sweet boy, a stomach bug that drastically altered our lives for an entire month, sending three of us out of town so he could be an only child and have full parental attention for 8 days in the hopes of healing finally happening.

Maybe you were fighting back tears by 10 am this morning like me because even the anticipation of the changes coming has sent your household into a tailspin.

I see you. 

I've done what I can to keep my family together this summer and it hasn't been easy. So many of us are finishing the summer exhausted. 

Going into the fall brings a strange mix of anticipation, hope, fear and dread. Will his teachers be as compassionate as last year's bunch? Will they see him for the beautiful child he is or consider him a threat to the classroom? Will they see his exuberance and joy as an asset or misinterpret his energy as dangerous? Will they offer him theri-putty and a trampoline when he's spiraling? Or send him to a corner in punishment and call me early to pick him up? 

Will they work with us or against us? 

Will it be a fight or a partnership? 

Oh, warrior friends, I see you. I know about the IEP's. I know about the times you actually hope for some kind of new diagnosis that might come with strategies that might really work this time. I know that it's possible your child isn't functioning because you bought him the wrong pair of socks for the first day of school or because she knows enough to expect that there will be unkind words from peers who don't have the empathy or language to process differences as good. I know about the long lists of allergies and sensitivities you have to hand to that teacher and the skepticism with which you might be met. I know that people might take your rigidity is a parenting fault, but that you know it to be the only way your family can function. You don't mess with naps or schedules or diets or plans. 

If it's on the visual calendar, it's happening. There's no such thing as "let's just be flexible" because anytime you have tried, the costs have far outweighed the benefits.

I see it.

And because I see it, you know what else I see? 

I see the fierce. I see the fight. I see the hope. It's there. Even on the days when you are seventeen kinds of done before 9 am - the hope is there because we are in this together and there is a God who loves our kids more fiercely than we can. On the days when you don't have anything left, there is another warrior who is fighting hard beside you. Who can listen to you vent, cheer you on, hold you up. And you can do the same on the days when she is all out of strength. 

People don't fight wars alone, friends. 

This is YOUR child, but you are not the only one who loves him, who wants good for him. He or she is beautiful. And precious. And perfect in so many, many ways. And so you wake up and you fight, sometimes from a good place and sometimes not, but you do not fight in vain.

Because love is powerful. And even with all the exhaustion and the frustration and, yes, sometimes the hopelessness, you will fight for that kid to within an in of your life just like God fights for you.

I see you. I’m with you.

The next month is going to be rough. It just will. If you need to scream, let it out. If you need to vent, I will listen. Seriously. I GET IT.

But please, if there is one thing I don’t want you to do, it is to buy into the lie that you are fighting alone. 

God loves my son more than I can imagine. HE wants good for him. HE wants him to thrive and to dance and to laugh and to function. And HE is fighting right alongside us. We are not warriors because we are strong in ourselves. We are warriors because we accept that we need grace, forgiveness, creativity and hope every second of every day to be the kind of parents our children need.

So, friends, take a deep breath. If you are trying to do this alone, call someone fast. Invite him or her to fight and pray alongside you during this transitional time of year. Do it for you and do it for your kids. 

We've got this. Together. One hour at a time.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Sad

I walked into his classroom on Monday and saw my little boy sitting by himself reading a book. I could see the dried tracks of tears on his face. I could feel, almost physically emanating from him, his sadness. He (all 60 pounds of him) wanted to be carried out to the car. My boy, my bundle of energy who lives life like it's a competition to get anywhere first, who usually sprints to the car, his beautiful head on my shoulders, slumped in defeat.

On the drive home, I asked him how he was feeling.

"Mama, I so sad." 
"Why, buddy?"
"They took the pictures off the wall. School is ending. I don't want school to end." 

While so many kids around the country are literally bouncing in their seats with anticipation of this Friday or who have already celebrated that last day all the way home in the last few weeks, there are kids like my son. 

Kids for whom school, its regularity, its comforts, its amazing teachers, its friends for the raging extrovert, is everything. Some kids have tough home lives and summer is a long, terrifying unknown. Some, like my son, have a diagnosis that means that any kind of change in his routine causes him actual neurological distress. 

All he could do on Monday was cry. And all I could do was hold him, help him understand that camp is coming next week and try to remember that it's ok. 

I am not a failure as a mom because my boy would rather be at school. It's taken me awhile to be alright with that fact that I am "at home" with my kids but that I have a 3 year-old in school five mornings a week. To know that I am not abdicating responsibility. To be comfortable in the knowledge that I am actually doing the absolute best I can to give him what he needs in all his challenges and gifts. 

On Tuesday he came home sad again. And I knew that we needed to go to his happy place. 

So, after nap, we skipped swim practice and went to Target. Yes, Target is my 3 year-old's happy place. He picked out end of year gifts for his teachers. (And those who know him well will be unsurprised to learn that he chose to give them new water bottles.) We headed to Kid-to-Kid next because he had outgrown yet another pair of shoes and really wanted some new red sneakers. That kid scored some red and white Jordans for 8 bucks. He wore them out of the store, charged home, colored his teachers some pictures and wrote them notes. His smile was back. 

All these rituals. The gifts, the notes...even the buying of new shoes for the summer. They were comforting to him. Things he could do, even at 3, to process saying goodbye. To think about what the summer will hold for him.

And that next morning when he went to school? That child sprinted in wearing his new kicks, hugged the administrators on the way and tackled his teachers with his gifts. 

And they know him so well. 

"Look at your new shoes! Those are amazing! Did you find those at Kid-to-Kid?"
"I did, I did!" 

When I left, there was a little less sadness. A little less clinging. A little less panic. 

Will the next few weeks be hard around here? 

Yep. 

It's ok, though. We are ready.

We are armed with our social story full of pictures of his camp. We have our visual calendar we will do every morning and night. We have our theri-putty and our trampoline. We have our "sensory diet" and our "no drama discipline" to meet him where he is each morning. 

Most of all, we have hugs. Tears are ok. Saying goodbye is hard. I want him to know that it's ok to be sad. That it's fine for him as a boy and one day as a man to FEEL. To be unashamedly who he is in all his chaotic and beautiful and emotional glory.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

One Year Away

I can remember pretty vividly a few things about our first year of marriage.

One, when we would meet anyone married more than 5 years, we automatically assumed they had arrived at some kind of marriage wisdom pinnacle.

Two, we had literally no idea what we were doing or who we were as a couple. We just knew we wanted to figure it out together.
June 7, 2003, Right after the ceremony

Three, we spent a lot of time in silence because we didn't yet know how to fight.

And now?

Now we are one year away from celebrating 15 years together in marriage. 15 years, 4 houses, 3 interstate moves, 3 children and countless hours of making the choice, again and again, to say "I will."

I think back on those young people. On how much we didn't know. How we didn't know that he would go back to school and we'd move three times as a result. How we didn't know that we would deal with miscarriage and infertility and come out stronger, by God's grace. How we didn't know we would have to go through the agony of finding a church and a new community (supremely challenging for a couple of introverts) more times that we would like. How we didn't know we would have to learn multiple ways of being parents because of the unique challenges and joys of being an adoptive family. How we didn't know that those hours in silence that first year when we didn't know how to deal with conflict would turn into a faint memory. How we didn't know that it was possible to love someone more 14 years later than we did that wedding day full of love and joy and celebration with all those we held dear.

But we know now.

Marriage isn't easy. It's not all rainbows and unicorns and skipping through meadows of wildflowers. It's not just "Hey, let's have some kids and share our love and grow happily old together." At least not for everyone.

It's a choice. Every single day. To look at one another, say "yes" again, and invite God to help us love that person more than we are capable of on our own.

One of the things I will never forget from our ceremony was the moment our pastor said this:

"You won't wake up every day and look at each other and think "this person is such a blessing to me". You will have to make a decision every day to love."


Our First Dance
We talk about what he said all the time. We remind ourselves that it's not about how we feel in the mornings, but the promise we've made to each other. And that promise usurps everything else. How our kids are feeling and what they need. Whatever else is going on, WE come first in this family. Our marriage has to function for our family to thrive. This reality, I am increasingly learning, is a countercultural way to look at marriage in a very kid-centric America.

So what do I think on this 14th anniversary?

I think that though it is continually about making a choice, I do love this man more than I did on that day 14 years ago. That I have married this incredibly generous person who embodies sacrificial love to me and to our boys. I am reminded every day of his goodness and his light. When I walk downstairs every morning and see him on the back deck, starting his day in prayer, I pause. I can trust him because I know that he is trusting God for what he needs to love me well.

That, my friends, is a miracle. Especially from a recovering marriage skeptic.

I think we don't have any particular wisdom, we just have experience. 14 years and multiple moves and 3 children worth of experience. And that means something. We aren't the same people we were on that rainy day in June. We are so much better.
At UR, June 7, 2003

So, to my love, happiest of anniversaries. 14 years down, hopefully many more to come. Hopefully we will stay put for awhile in this new home, this new town. Hopefully that will give us a much-needed chance to breathe and set down roots and continue to figure out who we are together.

I wouldn't want to do it with anyone else.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Just Jump

Remember when you were a kid and you didn't care whether or not the pool was cold? And you just saw that sparkling water, revved up and jumped in without a second thought?

Yeah. Neither do I.

What I do remember is my mom, grandmother, aunt, dad...anyone, really, over the age of 20, telling me it was cold and not to rush them getting in the pool. Not to get them wet before they were ready. And I get it. Because cold water feels like Satan now that I am an adult.

There have been some videos and articles circulating lately, encouraging women to just stop caring and put on their bathing suits and have fun, for goodness sake. To stop worrying about what they look like and just BE.

And I think those are great. I have friends who struggle deeply with body image. Who hate bathing suit season. Who would threaten your life if you aimed a camera in their direction at the pool. (I am not naming names NOR am I saying this did or did not happen to me just yesterday.)

But I don't really know what that feels like during this phase of life, to be honest. I don't mind putting on a suit if it's high cut enough at the top. My main worry is a wardrobe malfunction that would leave people emotionally scarred. Not all bathing suits were created to parent spirited toddlers, for the love.

What I do struggle with is this: old lady grumpiness.

You know what I want? To sit on the side of the pool, dry, rather than freezing my patootie off in a frigid pool. To read a book for a whole hour straight with the sun beating down while I sip an iced coffee or chat with my friends. I want to RELAX.

I also want to be a good mom.

And it's clear that relaxation and toddlers are not possible at the same time, particularly around water hazards. Or, really, when they are awake.

So.

I woke up Monday morning and I knew we were heading back to the pool in a few hours. I knew my boys were going to want to spend 2 hours straight jumping in, climbing out and doing it all over again because it is exactly what they had done the two days before. I knew it was possible they would ask me to get in that water and not just be content with my pseudo-exercise role of bicep-curling them in a squat position out of the pool so they could jump back in to dad. They had asked me before and I had said no. I wasn't ready for that cold pool.

This time, though, I decided that, if asked, I would just jump.

I wouldn't stick my toe in first. I wouldn't creep, in infinitesimally painful increments, with a look of horror on my face, down the stairs.

I would just say yes. Just jump.

So, after about 20 minutes of bicep curling my two year old, my three year old looked me dead in the eye.

Jumping with Nate
"Mama, will you jump in with me?"
"Yes, bug, I will."
"Really??!!!! Let's do it together, Mama!"

Friends. I wish I could have captured that grin on film.  That toothy, thrilled, exhilarated, water-already-dripping-from-his-face grin. (My neighbor stealthily did manage to capture us jumping together without me knowing it, how cool is that?!)

Was that water cold? YEP.

Was it worth it? YEP.

That grin is going to carry me through every cloudy day when I want to stay on the side. Through every moment when I am carrying a grudge for how he has acted and don't WANT to go in the pool with him in retribution. That grin was pure magic.

I know I will fail to always follow through on this, but my summer goal is to "just jump". Just say yes when my boys ask me to do something that I might not WANT to do but that I know will be good for US.

To not, this summer, be a grumpy old lady.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Village

Today was opening day for our neighborhood pool.

I watched as my oldest laughed and jumped and swam and raced with all these amazing young people that he didn't know a year ago.

I chatted and laughed with kind and funny people, women and men I know call neighbors and friends. I walked around the outside of the pool with a friend so she could get her "steps" in and, at the same time, spy on her teenage kids. (Shh.)

They helped me laugh off the fact that earlier in the day, within just one short hour of the summer officially starting, I had to wrestle a screaming, kicking toddler and three bags on the long walk of shame from the kiddie pool to the parking lot. One hour was all it took for us to bless the neighborhood with our very special (and ear-splitting) brand of chaos.

Last year I would have left the pool, lonely and dejected and embarrassed, vowing never to come back again. (And then my husband would have eventually talked me into trying again.)

But here's the difference this summer.

This summer I know we are surrounded by people who have been there. Who know us. Who aren't secretly judging us in their heads and saying things behind their hands like "that kid just needs a good spanking, look how he acts in public!" Who remember (and share about) their own times racing from the pool to the car with their own unhinged toddlers in their arms.

Friends.

This time last year I was struggling hard with the reality of moving back to Richmond.  Fearful, really, that we would make the same poor choices we made last time around. That we would overschedule our lives. Hide the true realities of our days. That the painful way we left it last time around would follow us right back and set up shop shop in our home as an unescapable anxiety.

But it hasn't. God is so good.

Yes, we had a slow start last summer.  A lonely first two months here. Tears before bed. Isolation in our chaos. There are few things harder than watching your normally joyful child struggle deeply with sadness and know that you have been the cause.

But then school happened. Neighbors came outside. We took a risk and skipped right past the painful small talk and just got to know each other. No hiding. Our kids became friends. My oldest found some besties. My younger ones found some teenagers to hero worship, boys who actually knock on the door and ask to play with our toddlers. Friends who drop everything when you call and say "we need you to come grab the boys" as your younger one is having  a seizure. Who clean your house and watch your kids and fill your fridge so you can keep going when you come home from the hospital.

I found friends to pray with, who see our boys as beautiful and precious and children created in the image of God who I know will fight with every ounce of their being alongside of us to make our schools and neighborhoods and churches better and safer places in which to raise our black sons.

We have found something so, so precious here.

This time last year I wrote this:

"Most of all, I hope as I continue to untangle and forgive myself and move forward, that we can start
fresh as a family. 10 years later. 2 more pets. 2 more children. 2 more sets of goodbyes under our belts. We have changed and so has RVA.

Ready or not, here we come."

I can honestly say that one year later, I feel like we've been able to do this. To start fresh. To be who we are in this place, in all our chaotic, loud glory. There ain't no hiding it, anyway. We've found that most amazing of things: a real community of friends who treats us like family even when our kids are losing it, when we haven't showered, when the stress is too much. Who helps us get back up after a tough day. Who lets us love on their kids like our own.

Who helps us to laugh at what life throws at us and keep going.

So today, as I watched my son with eyes glowing and smile so wide, and as I sat next to these amazing new friends, I felt overwhelmed. With gratefulness, with hope and with joy.

And with the knowledge that this village has been a part of my healing in ways I never could have expected.


Monday, April 24, 2017

The Longest Walk

I have a growing list of activities that it seems increasingly likely I may possibly accomplish.

  • Composing a concerto in my head.
  • Memorizing, in chronological order, every president of the United States.
  • Learning to rap "Ice, Ice Baby" backwards. 
  • Counting the number of times I have said the phrase "listening ears" since my children were born.
  • Identifying the current number of gray hairs I have.
  • Visualizing a map of Africa and successfully remembering the name of each country and where it is located.

These are just a few of many.

When (and why?) would I possibly accomplish these seemingly useless activities, you wonder, when I am parenting two toddlers at the same time?

The answer is easy: During the time it takes for my youngest child to walk up the stairs.

Let me paint you a little picture of how this goes each time.

(1) We approach the gate. Young one insists on opening the gate but is not developmentally capable of opening said gate. Conflict ensues. Mama opens the gate.

(2) Child takes one step up.

(3) Child takes one step down, opens gate, closes gate, insists on opening gate again. Cannot accomplish this aim. Conflict ensues. Mama opens the gate. Conversation about how we will only go UP from now on.

(4) Child takes one step up and spots a speck of dirt. Child picks up speck of dirt, hands it to mama and looks for more. This can last up to 3 minutes until stair is fully cleaned and mama is reminded of how dirty the step actually is.

(5) Child takes one more step up.

(6) Child gets distracted and asks mama to name every single person in every picture on the opposing wall.

(7) Mama complies because she is desperate for youngest child to be inspired to talk.

(8) Child takes one more step up.

(9) Child teeters on the brink of falling backwards down the stairs but screams in rage if mama attempts to keep him from plummeting to his death.

(10) Child recovers. Mama promises not to touch him.

(11) Child takes one more step up.

(12) Child takes another step up. (Mama tries to pretend she is not exceedingly delighted in this so that child might take another step up because HE WANTS TO.)

(13) Child proceeds to clean this step with same vigor as earlier step. Mama's pockets are now full of crumbs, dirt and leaves because, no, it is NEVER possible for her to vacuum the stairs. Ever.

(14) Child takes another step up and stops to take a break.

(15) Mama breathes in and out. Walking anywhere slowly is not her strong suit.

(16) Mama encourages resting child to make a big push to finish going up the stairs and begins to sing song she has composed to help little bottoms get moving when they are dawdling.

(17) Child responds gleefully to song and dances up the stairs, almost falling backwards again but scaring himself enough that he lets mama help this time.

(18) Mama keeps adding activities to her long list of what she might accomplish within the confines of her brain during stair-climbing episodes.

(19) Child reaches the top of the stairs and immediately turns around to go down the stairs.

(20) Mama attempts to explain that we are going to stay upstairs for at least 3 minutes so she can feel like there was an adequate reason for going up the stairs in the first place. Child isn't buying it. Conflict ensues. Reconciliation occurs. We stay upstairs and accomplish ONE THING and then come back down.

Five minutes later, start over.

Now let me make something clear.

I am happy my child can finally maneuver the stairs. This is another step on the long track that leads towards physical independence. Soon he will only fall up or down the stairs as often as I do. I look forward to that.

But for now? When every trip up the stairs goes so painstakingly slow that I am confident at some point we will forget whether we were going up or down?

I've got that list that keeps my mind busy.

'Cause mama can only stare at an adorable little backside for so long without losing her mind.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Voice - Part 2

Last week I wrote Voice- Part 1 to share a pivotal point in my own understanding of the importance of using our voices. This is my follow-up.


"I can remember heading south on a road trip with my family and seeing, for the first time, "colored" water fountains. I was so confused."

"I don't think I've ever heard a sermon on race. I don't think I've even heard the word used at church."

"I was raised in the colorblind generation - if we don't talk about it, it will go away. I don't know how to teach my kids differently."

I glance around my living room at faces ranging from 30 to 65. Women raised in the south and the northeast and midwest. Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Baptist. Some with grown children and grandchildren, some with very young ones, some newly married, some divorced.

All asking questions. All talking, sharing their stories. All believing that racism is real, that our country and our churches are deeply divided and broken and all wanting to see change.

And also, all white. But we'll get back to that.

Just this past fall, I began to feel an itch. The election was ramping up, tempers were running high. I had been having more and more conversations with white parents who didn't know where to start in educating their children about race. And more and more conversations with black friends who were absolutely exhausted with the current state of affairs.

I took a risk and posted on Facebook asking if anyone local might want to get together to talk about it all.

I thought maybe I would get a private message from one or two people interested, but I got a crowd.

You never really know who is reading your posts, do you?

In the meantime, a good friend and I began talking about what it would look like to host these conversations together as God was moving similarly in her life. To invite both our sets of friends and see what happened. To pray and dream and hope together for what God might do.

So we set a date. I invited those interested. And most of them came. We talked, we laughed, we mourned, we prayed.

We agreed to do it again. Regularly.

And friends, it's been awesome. To be real, to talk about race and racism without wondering if the person to whom you're speaking is going to jump down your throat or tell you it's not real. To have a safe space to air frustrations. To be able to ask and answer questions. To share resources. I am coming to love these women.

But yes, we are an all white group right now. We've acknowledged it to one another. We know that it isn't ideal. And we know that we can only meet for so long and grow so much without that needing to change. We NEED the voices of our sisters of color. We need their lived experiences, their anger, their hurt, their hope, their honesty. We need to look us in the face and TELL US. And we need to be able to listen and really hear.

And we've invited some of our friends of color to come. Knowing that they might be too tired for this. Knowing that they don't know this group. And, therefore, not necessarily expecting them to feel that we are a safe enough space for them.

One of these women, a newer friend of mine, had the boldness to be honest when she said she wouldn't be joining us. And with her permission, I'm sharing her response.

"As an early thirties, stay-at-home mom (to six), wife (to one), ministry leader, friend, etc., I often find that in some spaces there is one distinguishing characteristic that sometimes trumps them all: black woman. I have found that in many spaces that say they are places of safety and for honest dialogue, my race and gender don’t give me the chance to be completely honest and true to how I feel. Sometimes my presence in majority white spaces is solicited to be the “representative”, “token of diversity”,“spokesperson”. My face is valued so long as I hide my story behind its blackness.

My struggle is always that I don't want to posture myself in a way that comes across as entitled to be angry and forcing others, especially my white friends, to see my point of view. Having attended a predominantly white church for the last three years, I've found that there's an unseen line that must not be crossed when it comes to race. I've felt either I'm supposed to be the spokesperson for the whole black race or everyone's "one black friend" but when there need to be conversations, I must not speak lest I come across as "angry black woman." - Cassandra A.

Hear her. Listen. Especially if you are a white woman in the Christian church. Listen, friends.

How do her words make you feel?

Her words break my heart. Because I know they are true. I know I have been a perpetrator. And I know that without repentance, listening and intentional change, our churches will never be safe spaces. They will always feel like this.

And here's the other thing: I couldn't assure her about our group. I know our intentions are good and safe...but I know that impact weighs much more heavily than intentions and until we could be together a little more regularly, I wouldn't truly know how safe we really are. What our impact might be. Whether microagressions might happen. Whether she'd need to code switch to be comfortable. All the things I'm sure weigh on her mind but are usually absent from us as white women.

I hope with a deep yearning that our group will grow in racial diversity. But I also know that for that to happen a friend will need to take a huge risk.

I hope my new friend might come some day, I really do. But I don't blame her for not coming now. I am grateful for her honesty. And I respect her choice.

In the meantime, we are going to keep talking and meeting and praying. We are going to ask the Lord to transform our own hearts. To show us the places where we have failed and send his Spirit to help us do better. To enable us to speak life and truth. To be change in our churches and schools and neighborhoods and circles of friends.

This is, after all, not just about talking over coffee. This is about learning to find our voices and refusing to stay silent.

And you know what else? This is not about politics, friends. This is at the very heart of the gospel, a gospel where God himself reconciles us to him and breaks down the walls of division in our lives and our communities.

Maybe you think sitting around and talking about this and praying together with intention to act doesn't accomplish anything?

I disagree.

If something changes in just one of us, if even one church becomes a safer place, if one less white kid is raised as a racist...well, then, we'll have done something. And because I believe in a God who is exceedingly more passionate about all this than I can ever be, I also believe He is showing up and wants to do big things.

I will leave you with one last sentence from my friend to all of us to ponder:

"My dear sisters, please hear my heart. When you are tempted to ask, “Why is it always about race?” or “Can’t we just get past this?” please remember that your black friends don’t have the choice for it not to be about race. As much as we would like to move forward, we hit roadblocks time and time again when we turn on the news, when we scroll through social media, when we think we can have honest dialogue in predominantly white places, especially in our communities of faith. We want to think that the next time will be different, we want to be hopeful that our seat at the table will be one of welcoming and an opportunity for transparency. Just please know that for every step of progress that gives glimmers of hope we see our country, our friends, our church family regress decades in the past.

Please know, dear sisters and friends, we are hopeful and we will not quit, but we are tired. We need allies to shoulder our burdens, to weep when we weep, to speak when we have no words or when we have been silenced. We need you and in this journey of solidarity, you will learn that you need us too."

Amen, may it be so.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Voice - Part 1

I remember the first day I truly began to hear.

A dear, patient friend of mine looked me in the eye and said "You look in the mirror and see a woman. I look in the mirror and see a black woman."

We had been friends for awhile. I had been asking questions, trying to listen, but, when you've grown up with one perspective on life, an entirely middle class white perspective, opening yourself to another is no easy feat. It takes work, intentionality...and it takes willing to be wrong, to repent and to try again. And again. And again.

No one likes feeling wrong. No one likes seeing the truly ugly parts of oneself revealed. The biases, the failures. It hurts. No one likes admitting a whole society could possibly be so off track. No one.

Her words stopped me in my tracks. She knew that all her interactions during her day would be colored by the truth in that mirror. That though we were sisters, our experiences were vastly different. Could I understand sexism? Sure. Could I understand, truly feel the pain of, racism? No. Not a chance. And there was no way I could understand the particular ways in which racism and sexism collide for a black woman.

It hurt. It made me sad. And angry. And helpless. And it would have been easy that day, in my privilege, to defend myself. To shed white tears and plead for comfort and absolution. Or tell her she was imagining things. Or choose to step off the journey because I have that choice, unlike my friends of color. I can walk away if it gets too hard.

But you know what? Hurt is worth it, my friends. Not if we just stay there, no. Tears, prolonged and self-pitying, are ineffectual. But tears of true lament? Tears that cause us to say enough is enough and then seek to change? Those God can use.

To lament the history of our country. To grieve the lives lost through enslavement and genocide and white supremacy. To weep for those ostracized from the church. To mourn the brokenness of our justice system. To look at ourselves as individuals, root out our own biases, and replace them with a passion for justice rooted in God's good news.

That is the work of a disciple.

And friends, let me make something clear, I have not arrived. No one has. I know more than I did 10 years ago. God willing, I will know more tomorrow than I do today. Because I am making the choice to stay in it.

Some days, I truly wish I were still ignorant. It was way more comfortable.

Being comfortable, though, is not really part of the call to follow God.

And that same friend, during a difficult discussion said one other thing that is always, always in the back of my mind.

I was angry because I felt it unfair that her voice didn't carry as much weight as mine in convincing white people of racism. I was raging. I was guilt-ridden. I didn't want to believe in injustice.

She looked me in the eye and said "Use your voice. Use it. And maybe someday your voice won't be more powerful than mine anymore."

Dang.

Friends, every time I have wanted to back down from a debate on Facebook, every time I have witnessed a racist event and wanted to keep my mouth shut, every time I have wanted to avoid the truth, I have heard her voice in my head.

Use your voice. Use it.

It's a privilege to stay quiet. And so I speak.

What about you?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dear Skeptics

Dear Skeptics of all things allergic and sensitive,

I get it. I really do. I once was you. Irritated that I had to pack a nut-free snack and lunch. Feeling like the whole movement is one big overreaction. How in the world could this many kids have so many food-related issues?

And then.

Then, our family was subjected to 1.5 years of nonstop screaming, meltdowns, constant diarrhea and, generally, the most challenging behavior I have ever witnessed firsthand in a child. Behavior that affected every corner of our family, our marriage and our life.

We eliminated dairy. And nuts. And preservatives, dyes and sugars.

We had behavioral evaluations done. We read books. We scoured the internet. We asked friends for wisdom. We cried and despaired of ever seeing change.

Ultimately, we had him tested for leaky gut and food sensitivities and allergies.

The result? On top of what we'd already taken out, we nixed gluten, coconut, lettuce, tomatoes, lemons, oranges, apricots, cucumbers, celery, corn, grapes and eggs.

And yes, if you are wondering if it's hard to create food for a ravenous food-loving child with none of the above ingredients, you would be right. It is of great irony to me that my child who loves food the most and eats more food than even I can consume has the most restrictive diet.

People questioned the severity of it. Food sensitivities are controversial, they said. Get more opinions. It's probably just his personality and he'll be fine when he's no longer a toddler.

They might be right.

BUT.

We were willing to try anything to see change. To come up for air from what felt like an impossible lifestyle.

A month into the drastic diet change, after weeks of even more intense behavior as these foods left his body, things shifted. He was calmer. His meltdowns were shorter. His happy lasted longer. His speech dramatically improved. He started to learn strategies to self-calm. His bowel movements radically improved. His trigger wasn't as quick.

And our family began to take a deep breath. Maybe, just maybe, we could have good days. Days that didn't find me with earplugs in and tears running down my face by the time my husband got home. Days where my youngest child wasn't in physical danger from his older brother's rage. Days where my oldest son wanted to spend time with his brother.

And we did. We had lots of them.

But here's the thing.

People don't always get the food insensitivity thing. Or the allergy thing. We have school and parties and Sunday School at church. When we get flyers home saying "Superbowl party with fun snacks!" I cringe. Maybe we'll skip that church day. He won't be able to eat one thing on that table. And he will feel, as always, left out. Or, knowing him, he'll covertly sneak some of it and we'll have a big setback.  Birthday party invitations are basically unwelcome. People offer to bring us dinner? Sure, but here's a list of 1000 things you can't cook for us, so have fun. (And add in the soy allergy for my youngest and it's really a big party around here.) Seriously. Soy is in everything.

Two weeks ago, there was a new teacher in my son's Sunday School classroom. He wears a tag every week that says "Allergies! Only give food from his bag!" This teacher didn't read the tag. She didn't look for his snacks. She handed him microwave popcorn slathered in butter. (And, probably preservatives, let's be honest.) She gave him goldfish crackers. (Gluten, dairy, corn and sugar.) And that child was happy. Man.

And then she noticed the tag. And panicked.

The nursery director came to find us. Is he going to be sick? Is he going to be ok? We're so sorry.

Yes, we sighed. He won't need to go to the hospital. He's not anaphylactic. BUT.

Since that day, 9 days ago, our life has been on pause. Our child went from happy and his version of calm to completely unhinged within 12 hours of consuming that food. And it hasn't let up.

Meltdowns, violence, screaming, defiance. And every corner of our life revolves around trying to keep him regulated. Again.

8 months of hard work undone by a 5 minute snack.

So, please.

If someone tells you not to give a kid something, please listen. My son doesn't have a medical reaction. Many kids do. Many kids can actually end up hospitalized or dead if exposed to something. We are grateful he isn't one.

Believe me, we are not trying to make your lives more difficult. Everything we do, every decision we make in our lives revolves around making sure we have access to the right foods. Road trips, parties, church. We leave with lunches and snacks packed everywhere we go. There is no safe restaurant. The decision to put him on this diet affects all of us every day.

But you know who is hit the hardest?

My 3 year old. Who cannot have ice cream and cookies. Who can't go to chick-fil-a or to birthday parties or enjoy the same snack as his buddies at church. Who constantly asks for food he cannot have and has to deal with disappointment.

When you don't listen and don't take it seriously, he is the one hurt the most. As difficult as the last 8 days have been for us, I can only imagine what his little body must feel like to be reacting like this.

So, dear skeptics, please believe us. Believe us when we tell you our kids can't have sugar or eggs or gluten. Don't quote an article that says the gluten thing is overblown or tell me I should have given him nuts at 6 months old. It's not helpful and it doesn't change the fact that these things affect him much more than they do most other children we know.

We don't know why. But we know they do. That should be enough.

Sincerely,

Recovering Skeptic Whose Son Needs You to Trust Her

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

All You Need Is Love?

It's Valentine's Day.

And just like last year and the year before and well, pretty much every year that I can remember, I couldn't actually care less. That's not because I don't have an amazing husband and a lot of love in my life. It's just because I've come to believe that a lot of little, wonderful moments of doing life together goes a lot further for me than a fancy dinner and chocolates. Not that a fancy dinner and chocolates aren't welcome - but at this stage of life, we take dates when we can get them. And we've already got a fun one planned for Friday that has nothing to do with the holiday.

Valentine's Day is a day when we are meant to celebrate love by buying little trinkets and spiderman valentines and saying "I love you." (Which means that I, as a parent, spend time buying, filling out and making sure said little gifts get sent to the right places so my children can still participate in a holiday I don't care a whit about. I'm not yet so cruel as to force on them my own level of grumpiness about it.)

Like Christmas and Easter, we have learned to express love through gift-giving in our culture. And like with those holidays, sometimes the gifts are meaningful and other times they are just "stuff." Some people love the holiday and the exchanges and others would gladly skip it since it leaves them feeling empty or disappointed.

Some, like me, just don't care.

People like to toss around the phrase "all you need is love." I don't know if the phrase predates the famous song or if the song introduced the now-famous phrase. But I read it and hear it all the time.

It never sits well.

I've had a lot of love in my life. I grew up in a stable family. I married into a family that has made it clear they love me. I got married almost 14 years ago and love my husband more today than on the day we said "I do." I have three boys who express their love for me in countless ways. I have friends who speak truth and make me laugh.

Love is beautiful.

But, at least in earthly form, it's not everything.

In adoption circles, you hear about it a lot. "Those kids just need love and once they are in a "stable" family, they will be fine." Yes, they obviously need love just like every kid out there needs love. They are human. But they need a lot more. For my kids, they need me to be the kind of person who recognizes the importance of their culture, the reality of racism and the challenges of a multiracial family. Who takes research and listening and humility seriously and is willing to risk failure. They need me to care about their hair and learn how to do it correctly. They need me to speak well and often of their birthparents so that they feel the freedom to explore their own history when they are older. They need to be able to tell me they love their skin color and ask why mine is different without me panicking and shutting down the conversation. They need us to make choices so that they are in schools and churches and neighborhoods where they are not the only black children and so that there are authorities in their lives who look like them. They need us to recognize there is trauma in adoption - that even though we brought them home as infants, there is loss in their life, loss that love can seep into but not obliterate. That the identity questions with which they will struggle as black adopted children with white parents are no small thing.

I truly wish all we needed was "love". That I could fill up my heart with all the feelings and emotions and joys that are associated with it and be whole. But the way love is sold to us is so often lacking. It is shallow. It is impatient. It is all about what we get out of it and rarely about what we are meant to give in its name. God's love is the opposite. It is bigger and stronger and more sacrificial than anything we've ever seen. And it calls us to love in response. Not in small and frivolous ways, not just in words, but in action, in hope, in sacrifice.

So, yes, today my husband might come home with flowers because it is Valentine's Day. He will give me a kiss and ask how the day was and my little ones will giggle. He'll scoop them up and hold them close and kiss their curls and hug my oldest. He loves them and those actions are still powerful and good.

But I'm grateful that love is so much more than what we settle for so much of the time. That it is, in the immortal words of the old school DC Talk song, "a verb." It's action and sacrifice and challenge and choices, its sometimes choosing someone else's good over our own, all rolled into relationship and held together by God.

Let's celebrate that today. And tomorrow. And every day that we are fortunate enough to have people are in our lives. Let's do it in real and honest and challenging and beautiful ways.

Because if we could really see and live love in all its depth, poured out in service to those around us, the way it was taught to us by a sacrificial God who loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine, maybe the world really would be a better place.

Maybe that kind of love really would be all we need.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Fall Down Tree

Every Sunday morning our family unceremoniously and rather chaotically piles into our minivan to head to church. Snacks packed (because when you have kids with allergies and sensitivities, sunday school goldfish could derail your whole week), lunches packed (because, let's be honest, with three growing boys, it's a long time from breakfast through church and Sunday School and that fifteen minute ride home is much more peaceful with mouths chomping) and a sense of having accomplished the impossible, getting all five of us out the door by 8 am, permeates the atmosphere.

No matter how we enter that car, I know now that something is about to change for our family. We are about to encounter "Fall Down Tree."

Just after we started coming to this church, we came across it. A huge tree, roots upended, laying right by the side of the road in someone's front yard. Somehow, this tree has become the focal point of our ride. It is cause for speculation, pontification and flat-out aesthetic awe.

How did it fall? Why don't the people who live there clean it up? How old might it be? Can we knock on their door and ask to play with it?

All these questions and more are answered in serious and silly fashion. (Maybe Joshie bonked it with his bike! Maybe Nate pushed it over with his strong arms! Maybe God blew on it and, poof, it fell over!)

But however it has happened, the conversation always ends with a chant. My youngest laughing and pumping his arms in the air as the middle and oldest chant "Fall down tree! Fall down tree! Fall down tree!" Dissolving in giggles at the end, we often enter church with lighter hearts and goofier outlooks.

Friends, this is a powerful thing.

You see, Sunday mornings have traditionally been calamitous. Screaming, crying, multiple changes of clothes, arguments. Usually this has culminated in two very exhausted parents who spend the greater part of the church service trying to remember why we even attempted to come to church in the first place. Too exhausted and defeated to even attempt to open our souls to what God may have for us that morning. Just grateful on some level that childcare is provided, we  would fight to stay awake during the sermon and then trudge back home again.

But now we have "Fall Down Tree." This strange and unexpected beacon of distraction and hope. No matter what mood everyone is in when we enter that car, as we turn that bend and "Fall Down Tree" comes into view, there is a shift in that minivan.

And entering church in its aftermath is a whole different world. Laughter has helped us shake off any early morning tomfoolery. Chanting has helped us loosen up our rigid need (ok, MY rigid need) to be early for church and the ensuing stress when someone has caused us to be late. Again. The camaraderie of three boys rejoicing together, united in spirit for even 5 minutes, gives everyone the chance to take a deep breath. To enter church with thanksgiving. To walk in with a posture that invites rest and redemption and joy.

Some day I am certain that that family will clean up the tree. We will turn the bend and as the chanting begins to rev up, the car will fall silent. There will be disappointment and mourning and the end to what is, at least for now, a tradition. Possibly we will pull some deep lesson out of its disappearance.

For now, though, I am relying on "Fall Down Tree." Because right now it is a tangible, beautiful reminder that any day can be reset. Any hard moment can suddenly turn into one of laughter and joy and lasting family memories. That giggles and silliness can be powerful preparation for inviting God to do His work of healing in our souls.

I know that one day, a long time from now when this tree is a distant memory, we will look back and tell the boys about it, about this tree that brought hope and life back into Sundays for our family.

Maybe God did blow it over for us, after all.