Manna to this Momma

God’s got it.  I know that.  He has shown in so many ways, and in so many instances!  I have faith in Him.

But sometimes in my heart of hearts, I wonder how He will work it out.

Today, I got a bit of an answer.

My dear friend Lorie had my little two over to play at her house with her youngest.  They were playing Playmobil and had invented a game with families.  Jackson was the dad, and Lorie started listening.  Did he get it?  Did he understand the dad role?

Praise God, he did!  She said he was the proper mix of kind and strong and firm and loving.  He gets being a dad, even though he was 2 1/2 when his dad died.

Now, I will take very little credit for how he learned the dad role.  I certainly don’t act the part “dad” but stick to “mom.”  It would not be a real representation of dads anyway, nor of moms.

My oldest steps up and acts the dad a bit, being a very loving big brother, especially with the little two.

I think, though, mostly Jackson has seen it modeled around him, and for that I am so grateful.  Men at church have taken all the boys under their wing and modeled Biblical manhood for them.  Neighbors and friends have allowed them to help them build things, fix things, take care of the house.  They have talked endlessly about sports and guns and “guy stuff.”  They are crucial to me surviving as a single mom.

Even in a world where dads are often ridiculed as dumb, unnecessary, or irrelevant (look at most TV dads), the men around us are coming out of their comfort zones and away from their own busy home life to work with my boys.  My guys are getting what they need to be dads themselves some day.  The gap is being filled.

God’s got it, and I don’t have to worry.

And that is certainly manna to this momma’s heart.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.– Ephesians 3:20-21

The T-Shirts We Wear

Americans surely have a love affair with their t-shirts.

They express loyalty:  to sports teams, universities, and causes.  They express belonging:  to families (and reunions), a variety of special interests, and teams.  They express fondness and memories:  to old TV characters, favorite sayings and scriptures, and trips taken.

In my house, we have a plethora of t-shirts that show all the different rec teams my guys have been on.  The standard souvenir when we have been on a trip is a t-shirt.  All the boys have t-shirts with my alma mater (Go Hokies!).  We also have a variety of t-shirts for the Nationals, Yankees, Giants, and Colts.

I had a conversation this morning with a dear friend about the t-shirts we should wear.

You see, she has had hard stuff in her life, too.  She lives with cancer, and has for more than 14 years.  She is doing well, the doctors say.  She is a survivor.  And I think she is amazing.

But she shared with me that sometimes she would like to have a bio to pass out, rather than to retell the story.  She would rather not deal with the pity — or the label.  She would rather wear the t-shirt I Have Cancer, But I’m Still Here than to go through the whole, drawn-out explanation.

I get that.  Some days I am ready to share my life and my story; some days I am not.

Some days, I see myself wearing a t-shirt that says Widow with Four Children – Don’t Judge Me, Just Love Me.  That way, I don’t have to go through the story or the pity, either.  And I might not have to explain being a little…off.

Other days, I am more ready to wear a t-shirt that says Ask Me My Story…See God in Action!  Or, I’m Not Superwoman, But My God Is Superman!  I am ready and eager to share what God has done and is doing in my life and the lives of my kids.

I guess my point is this:  I am more than the label, more than the momentary t-shirt I wear.  In my humanness I often miss the mark of representing Who I love the most.  And I need to ask Him to forgive me for that.

I have the opportunity–and the responsibility, I believe–to rise beyond my circumstances and be a living example of my God.  I am the sum total of all I have been through and all I will go through, but, most importantly, how I have responded to these things.

And as such, the t-shirt I strive to wear is this:  God’s Child, Wholly and Completely!

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. – Acts 1:8

Holes or Holy?

My dad used to tell this old joke:  You know why I am saving these socks for Sunday?  They are hole-y!

(Bad puns run in our family.)

That seems to be the way my life goes, though.

I have been blessed with the task of raising four boys to become young men after God’s own heart (I pray).  That is a daunting task under the best of circumstances.  Add widowhood into the mix, and the task could seem insurmountable.

I could focus on this great big hole in my life.  I miss Keith terribly.  Some days it is incredibly hard.  But…

We have a God who takes holes and makes them holy.

Today alone, I have had four men — yes, four — offer to take my guys places, do things with them, speak into their lives on how to be men for God.  God be praised!

These men are working to patch the holes left by Keith’s early graduation to glory, making them holy instead–God’s work, helping my boys become God’s young men.

And that is glorious.

 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. — 1 Peter 1:3

How We Spend Father’s Day

Often I have been asked if this holiday in particular is difficult.

Blessedly, it is not.

On this day that honors fathers, we instead choose to focus on what we do have, not what we have lost.  And that is truly a lot!

This year, as every year since Keith died, my boys have figured out cards for the men at church whom God has convicted to be part of our lives.  This year’s card said, “As a father figure, you’ve nailed it.” and we included a nail in the cards.  We passed out upwards of 18 cards, and probably could have used a few more.

They get really excited, dashing around church looking for each of the men.  They welcome them with a big hug and present the cards.  They even fight over who gets to give cards to which man.

The men were touched.  One of our friends even got a bit teary (yep, I said it, though I won’t confess which friend).  I myself got choked up a few times.

This year we had the added blessing of taking a dear friend whom the boys call “Uncle” out to lunch.

All in all, a happy day here.

It’s HUGE that so many men from our congregation have followed the Biblical model and taken care of this widow and these fatherless boys.  I have said it before, and will say it again:  I cannot be a guy.  If I even tried, it would be dishonoring to myself as a woman, and dishonoring to my Creator.  Therefore, I rely heavily on the men in our lives to come alongside my boys to “father” them, modelling for them Biblical fatherhood.

And these men have never let me down!  There is always one ready to jump in and catch a ball, wrestle a boy, pat a shoulder, give a high five, teach a manly skill, or fix a door.

No question about it, my boys will remember the love showered upon them by so many, and, Lord willing, will model it in their own homes and in their own churches when they are grown.

And they will also remember the source:  the Lord God Almighty. Everything that has been done for us and to us has been in the name of the Lord.

Even though their earthly father took the early train for glory (going ahead to prepare our mansion, as I told baby Tanner so often right after Keith died), they have a heavenly Father who’s got it covered here on earth.

And so do I.

Because of the Lord’s great lovewe are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” — Lamentations 3:22-24

Teetering Through Life

Sometimes I sin against my children.  Big, glaring sins.

I’m not proud of it.  I’m not trying to glorify it.  But it happens.

And it’s not because I’m a single mom.  At least, not directly.

A dear friend had me over to tea this past Saturday to have the “are you taking on too much?” talk.  Praise God for friends who will listen to God and call me on stuff!

I don’t think I am taking on too much.  But I’m teetering on the edge.

Remember those little birds of glass, complete with red hat and red liquid inside?  You watch and watch the swaying and eventually that swaying turns to tipping.

And my children get caught in the fallout.

When taking on a new project, I sometimes use the justification that I have no husband to care for, so I have additional ministry time.  That is a true statement.

What I sometimes fail to remember in my equation of time is that I wear both hats in my family, and when I start swaying close to the tipping point, I have no one to pass off the excess to, no one to step in and even temporarily take something off my plate. The swaying of this constant balancing act of managing my life becomes top-heavy and I tip.

My stress level manifests itself as intolerance with my children.  I am mad at me, but I take it out on them.

More fallout.

And I feel broken and like a horrible mother and a horrible witness.

This happens more than I would care to admit.

When it does, it is time for a deep breath, a cup of coffee, some praise music, and lots of prayer.  It is time to have a day of chucking the schedule and just enjoy being a family, watching funny movies and staying in our pajamas all day.  It is time for thanking God for His grace and the fact that I have truly grace-filled children who cut me slack.

I am sure I will get to the tipping point again.  Life is like that.  I only pray that when I do, I will handle it with more grace myself, and not create so much fallout for my family.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9

Lego Land Mines

I have four sons.  That means I have 4 x 1,000,000 Legos in my house.

They are everywhere.  I have a real bone to pick with the Lego people who package up 5 little plastic men with some other random pieces of plastic and charge me $50 for it!  In order to get the precious figures, we add another hundred Legos to the house.  Over and over again.  Each birthday, Christmas, and mad money day.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are hours of fun and creativity in those little pieces of plastic.  Even the big ones still play with them, and it is often a common ground with the little ones, something they can all play where the big ones aren’t too bored (unlike Candy Land).

But there is a down side to Legos.  They are excruciatingly painful when you step on them.

Of course, they are all supposed to be picked up before the boys go to bed.  I try to do a sweep myself as well so that when I come down for my quiet time, I don’t impale myself on one.  But it occasionally still happens.  And boy, does it hurt!

Grief is like that.

Like the Legos on the floor of my house, I occasionally trip on my grief and have the searing pain of the loss all over again.  All I can do is sit there and wrap my arms around myself for a minute until the pain passes.

I have been through many of my “firsts,”  I am not even talking about the firsts you know you will have–first Christmas, first birthday, first Easter, etc.  There are a lot more firsts you never think of until you step on them–first time mowing the lawn, first tax season, first car repair, first trip to the ER, first call to poison control (I have made three since Keith died–yep, three).

The pesky Legos of the firsts also have another flavor, wrapped in the candy wrapper of the good things in life, the ones I really wish I could share with Keith–first baptism, first lost tooth, first words read, first vacation, first soccer goal–on and on.  And there are more on the horizon–first time driving a car, first girlfriend, first graduation, first wedding, first grandchild…

You never realize how many firsts there are in life until you face them alone, trying to respond to them as two people would.

But here’s the cool thing.  There is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother, who is there for all my firsts, all those moments when the pain is so excruciating I think I will never walk again.  Just like I comfort my little guys when they happen to step on a piece of plastic, Jesus comforts me each time I step on a first.  He is there, there, there!

And He always will be.  That’s a promise.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…  – Revelation 21:4a

God Showed Up

This was my past Sunday morning:

5:00 a.m. – Get up for quiet time (only chance I get at it – thank you, Beth Moore, for sharing it with me!)
5:30 a.m. – Tanner wakes up (fell back asleep on the couch – thank You, Lord); I keep reading, checking emails, getting out stuff for company later in the day, doing prep work for food to be served
6:00 a.m. – Tanner starts asking for breakfast – over and over and over; I keep putting him off and continue doing reading and my own morning chores
6:30 a.m. – Make and serve breakfast; try to do a family devotion; stop and explain to kids again why you don’t talk when Mom is talking or fight with your brother at the table
6:45 a.m. – Finish housecleaning for company after church (yes, we were the ones running the vacuum that early)
7:15 a.m. – Matthew asks if I can “come upstairs for a minute”; come up to find a dead hamster and a crying boy (Dang it!  RIP, Sandy!  No time to bury you now!); hold crying boy
7:30 a.m. – Pick out clothes for the little boys; fuss at everyone to start their morning chores; hurriedly get into the shower so we are not late for church
8:00 a.m. – Brush my teeth while opening my blinds and I see that my car door is OPEN
8:01 a.m. – Pray the car battery is not dead; send the children out to close the door
8:10 a.m. – Three children come in from shutting car door, armed with baseball bats (they were afraid someone had broken into the car and they were going to have to chase them out); they also found Tanner’s bike down the street where they had left it last night (did I mention in rained overnight — big, wake-you-up thunderstorms?)
8:15 a.m. – Take bats away from children (that was probably a given in your minds, but am including it anyway); give a lecture about stewardship and helping Mom out around the house; continue putting on makeup; fix 4 boys’ hair for church (yep, even Alex needed it this week)
8:20 a.m. –  Finish my own hair and makeup, fuss at everyone to pick up stuff to take to church, turn off lights, and take the dogs out
8:25 a.m. – Remind children not to talk loudly outside because not everyone gets up for church as early as we do
8:30 a.m. – Finally pull out of the driveway 15 minutes late; pray we make it on time to start our morning routine at church (I have something to stuff in the bulletin, as usual, and have to get everyone checked into their classes and be ready to greet)

Whew!  I am tired again, just writing that all down.

Here is the crux of the hardest thing as a single mom:  I have no one to share this with.  We got to church and no one knew of the craziness we had at home before we came, the accomplishment that the car was not wet inside–and that it started, that we made it on time anyway, and that I did not really lose my temper through all this (only a bit).

No one but God.

He knew.  And being the loving, gracious Father that He is, He sent a messenger to me with some strength for the day.  Here is an email I got later that evening from my dear friend Shari, far away and knowing nothing of my day:

Hi – hope the weekend went well.  I just wanted to write and encourage you …. you are doing a great job.  I’m sure it must be exhausting and frustrating, but as I was watching some single parents recently I was reminded of how you are stepping up to the challenge and allowing God to help you, rather than just saying – oh, it’s too hard, so I will give up.  Keep up the great work!!!  Don’t give up – love you bunches.
Thank You, Lord!
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19

Seasons of Soccer

Single mom raising a passle of boys = a hair-raising (or should I say hair-graying) experience!

Especially in the area of sports.

But God provides, sometimes in ways I don’t expect, but I can certainly glory in.

Alex’s second soccer season, he had a coach named Scott who had a daughter a bit younger than Alex on the team.  He was a great coach–nice, good with the kids, the right amount of praising them and driving them.

We were blessed when two seasons later, Matthew had the same coach.

Right after that season, Keith died.

I called one of the moms on the team to tell her.  Keith had been sick and in the hospital during part of the season, so they were somewhat in touch with what was going on.  This mom took it upon herself to call the whole team.

Imagine my surprise when, right with the family, Scott walked into the funeral home for the viewing.  I was gratified that he chose to come and express his sympathy, but what he did next quite literally floored me.

He sat down, prepared to stay the whole length of the viewing, and talked sports with my big boys.  Just talked.

Since then, this family, mostly Scott, has become a part of our lives, showing up just when my boys need them.

The next spring, Scott showed up between his kids’ games to watch Alex play.  Matthew, wanting to get his attention, went over and started talking to him.  Then another adult came to talk to Scott.  Scott had the conversation with the adult, but kept him arm around Matthew for like twenty minutes.  Matthew gloried in the male attention.  I thanked God for His provision (and asked Him when he was going to fill that dad spot, but that is another story).

Later that same season, Matthew scored his first goal.  I was in the car with the little ones at the time, avoiding a drizzle.  Alex ran back to the car to tell me Matthew had scored, and I was bummed that I had missed it.  Once again, however, God provided.  Scott happened to be again between games and saw it and was able to whoop and holler for him.

Fast forward a few seasons until Jackson starts playing soccer.  We were blessed once again to have Scott be our coach.  More time for him to speak into my kids’ lives.

Jackson did not score his first goal that season, but when he did a season later, it was against the team Scott was coaching, and even though he was the opposing coach, Scott hugged my son and told him what a great job he did.  He also witnessed Jackson’s second goal (again, I missed it, being on the field with another son–story of my life).

(I have told Scott several times that I wish they had four kids so that there could be one Tanner’s age that he could coach as well.)

Do you notice a theme here?  God providing through a precious family, a precious man, who just loves on my kids when he gets a chance.  He takes the opportunity when it is presented to him, and God has used that mightily to comfort my boys, to strengthen them, to fill in part of that missing “dad” piece.

Here is the part that amazes me.  This is not a believing family.  (My boys here want me to say…NOT YET!)  God is using someone who is not even on board with His general plan to speak so mightily into the lives of my boys.

Provision, my friends, provision!

The LORD remembers us and will bless us – Psalm 115:12a

Good Pictures?!

There are times when the prevailing thought in my head is, “I wish I could talk to Keith about this…..”

When I was having a stressful day with the boys, my 9-1-1 call to him always started, “Do you have good pictures of the children?!”

He would take a few minutes to talk to me, even if things were hairy at work, and would “talk me down.”

Hmmm…in this one, he is making a funny face…Well, he has gotten so much older this one doesn’t really look like him any more…This one is missing the dimple (that would be if it was Matthew)…Well…Hmmm…I think you better keep him alive…I don’t have any good pictures of him.

(Lest you think I was serious, this would be a figurative killing of the child, not literal.)

By the time the conversation was done, I would go from a stressed-out, heavy-breathing mom to a somewhat rational human being again.

But, I don’t have that any more.  I have to deal with my frustration, my anger, my stress…on my own.

Well, not really.

You know what I do now?  I have a similar conversation with God.  Right out loud.  I speak out in frustration, fear, anger, stress, from any and every emotion that I feel.  God is big enough to handle it.  I don’t blame Him (usually)…I just claim the emotions.

You what I have found?  Then I can more easily let them go.  God will respond to me in my spirit similarly to how Keith would have if he was here.

Today, for instance, in talking with God I told Him, “It’s never about me!”  His response?  In my spirit I felt Him say, jokingly, “It’s always about you!  Your worries, your fears, your stresses.”  It was not condemnation that I felt, but love and acceptance of me and confirmation that this is the place He wanted me to go — big picture with the loss of Keith, and smaller picture with these conversations with Him.

And, just like my conversations with Keith, I am back to the somewhat rational human being again.

Only now I have some food for thought about making it all about me….

The Fleece I Didn’t Know I Needed

Sometimes I have put down fleeces.  I think God honors my efforts in the fleece if I put them down with a sincere heart, desiring to be in His will.

Sometimes He gives me the fleece I did not know I needed.

We have had a couple hard weeks here.  Raising a teenage boy is a daunting practice at best.  My oldest and I have been squabbling more lately as he tests his wings and boundaries, trying to negotiate this journey to manhood without the benefit of his dad’s direction.  I was a bit discouraged when I arrived at church.  I sought the counsel of a couple male friends, but God was already working.

We have had a group of men visiting our church who have been in town for a few weeks for a training course.  Being the perpetual greeter-of-all-who-enter at church, I met them the first week they arrived and struck up a conversation.  Their first Sunday was the day the Giants played the Packers in the playoffs.  I remember specifically because Alex was “representing” (huge Giants fan) and the guys had already scoped him out for ribbing (one of them was a huge Packers fan and wanted to”belt” him–victory dance thing–guys will get it).  When they found out he was my son, they asked if they could tease him, and like any good mom I said, “Go right ahead!”

This began a relationship between my son and these men.  Being the kid he is, he has gone over every week to talk to them, tease with them, gloat over the Giants victories (good year for that), and just check in.

On Sunday, not long after I had been commiserating about the hard week, the guys came in and told me they had brought new guys with them.  I did not meet them then, but I did a few minutes later in the service.  I was introduced to “B.”  I shook hands with him and worked my way down the line of guys.  When I got to the end of the line, one of the guys, Dan, asked me if I had met “B.”  I told him I had.  He asked me if I knew who he was.  I said I did not.  Much to my surprise, Dan said he was a former NFL center!  Then Dan told me that they had made sure to get Alex over to meet “B.”  Later I found out that “B” did not want his identity known, but did want to make sure that he met my son, and so these guys made sure that it happened.  Without my involvement or prompting, they acted.

Cool story in that Alex got to shake the hand of a former NFL player!  Even cooler that God has used these men, just here for a few weeks, to speak into my son’s life, to give him man stuff that I could not give him.

The fleece I did not ask for, but desperately needed!

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 
— Luke 12:6-7