Dirt and all



I’ve been thinking, writing, and praying about some hard things lately, so it felt like a break was needed on the blog. Found the writing in my journal from not long ago (a venting piece written a bit tongue in cheek) and then this fun pic of our kids at Shedd Aquarium last fall-minus Kelly 😦   

When my children were little and I would find sticky spots of who-knew-what under high chairs and on doors and …everywhere, I remember thinking that once they got to a certain age, I would need to simply hose down the entire house.

The logic behind this was that, at that “certain age,” my children would be cleaner, neater, tidier.

Um, when is that stage?

They’re all in double-digits now, and I still feel like dirt and sticky substances literally drip from their fingertips and feet. I can clean a kitchen countertop so squeaky I would be fine eating right off it, and two hours later I come back and it looks as if a family of small animals has been living on it for several weeks.

They’ve grown more autonomous, which means they can do things like fix meals for themselves, but it also means that ketchup, flour, hot dog “juice,” bits of banana, etc.!  can be slopped across the floor, in the fridge, under the microwave, behind the sink…

And since they eat all the time and anywhere, let’s add “in the couch and on the rug and on the windowsills…”


If they are capable of fixing the food, of feeding themselves, are they not also capable of seeing the mess it creates?

And how, honestly, does a person make that much mess simply pouring a bowl of cereal? How is that even possible?

My inner “martyr mom” tells me they see at least some of the messes they create, but they assume, maybe even unconsciously, I will clean it up.

But I don’t think “seeing it” is the entirety of the problem. I am discovering there is a great chasm—Grand Canyon-sized—between my idea of “clean” and theirs.

“Wipe the countertops, please,” I ask.

When they are finished, it looks to me no different than when they started, but when I bring the offending child in to look, and I point at the offensive countertop, he or she responds, “What? I cleaned it.”

THAT is not clean!

Surely this will get better, right? I have this terrible image of my children, in their 20s, still blissfully unaware of the messes that follow them everywhere they go. This makes me want to create some giant plastic bubble suits into which I can zip them, with a little slot for me to pass food inside. All the slop will be with them in the suits and when they get disgusted enough with it (if they even notice it), I could send them outside to unzip and shake and hose down.

At times the state of our house gets to the point that I see nothing but the dirt, and every crumb-pile and crusty plate and spill in our house seems as if it’s jumping up and down, shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!” That’s when I go on a little rampage, pointing out all the gunk to whichever of my kids happens to be around. But even though I think the evidence of their slovenliness is quite overwhelming, all they do is look at me with that expression on their faces that tells me they think I’m losing it and probably need to see a doctor.

I wonder if they will ever notice or if I will be cleaning up after them when they visit me in their 30s. And usually at this point in my thinking, I indulge in a little fantasizing about a clean house, a tidy house, with everything arranged just so, staying just so.

Staying quiet.

With my introvert self being too quiet in the middle of it.

And I find I am grateful for my house being exactly the way it is.

Dirt and all.

a turn at the wheel


April of 2009

I could blame it on the quality of the light or the setting sun,

But it was more probably that I’d just asked my oldest if she’d like to take a turn at the wheel—

And that made me look at my own hands on it

and notice how worn and age-spotted they’d become.

Strange that I mind my own aging far less than I mind theirs.

The little ones are not so little anymore. The youngest is in double digits—something that bothers me more than I let on,

The middle ones are doing nearly-teenager kinds of things with their friends,

And the oldest, though she remained in the passenger seat, could have sat where I was.

I don’t know which of these caused my heart to gain weight and sink low.

When they were small, banshee loud and wild,

I thought moments like this would never, never come.

“They’re going to live with us forever, you know.”

My husband often said that, generally after a minor catastrophe or an interminable putting-to-bed,

And we would both laugh.

But now…

Stop, I think, stop.

For it is not the “not keeping up with them” that I fear

As much as it is the being left behind, losing my belonging with them.

Silly, I tell myself. You’ll simply belong in a different way.

And yet the exhausting “being needed” of their younger years

Is giving way to an independence on their part that makes me anticipate loneliness.

Strange that the fulfillment of what I have worked so hard for

Should cause my heart such pain.

“You’re going to leave soon,” I say into the quiet car,

and my oldest, somehow reading my mind, responds,

“Not for two more years, Mom.

That’s still a long way off.”

But she doesn’t realize.

Two years is a blink.

I’ll turn around and find her gone,

With the twins graduating high school,

And the youngest out gallivanting with friends.

I shiver,

She sees and turns up the heat,

And I want to cry.

Held, always

daveandpj hands

My husband’s and youngest child’s hands–in an incredible shot taken by my oldest

“Mom, how do you know you’re a Christian?”

My child who has never seen shades of grey—least of all in herself—has begun wrestling with some of the hard questions of faith. Tonight she is struggling with a question I remember from my own growing-up years.

How do I know I’m saved? I don’t feel saved. I’m not doing a very good job as a Christian right now. I’m not loving God much—others either. I feel distant, and God seems vague—or worse. What if it was all fake—and I’m not really saved?

Oh, yes, I remember.

I also remember what I did in response: said the sinner’s prayer again (and again, and again), just to be sure, just to “seal the deal.”

But that’s not what I suggested to my troubled child. Instead I used a metaphor.

Do you remember when you were little and I would carry both you and your brother on my hips from the car into the store?

A nod.

Did you always hold onto me?

Head shake.

Sometimes you did. Sometimes you clutched tight, arms and legs. I could have let go completely, and you would have still hung there like a little monkey.

But much of the time you were like a sack of potatoes—you left it all up to me—and other times you actually struggled to get down. You pushed against me. I had to hold on tight.

I looked into her eyes.

We’re all like that with God. There are times we cling, times we know our desperate need for God, and we hang on for dear life. But that’s not all the time; it’s not most of the time. Most of the time we sit like a disinterested sack of potatoes. We’re not really concerned with our relationship with God. We’re not working on it. Sometimes we actually push him away. We don’t want anything to do with Him.

Her look changes from worried to thoughtful.

Did I ever just drop you when you acted like that?


Neither does He. He’s still holding you, no matter what.

And because I have learned much lately about the Body of Christ and our deep responsibilities as members of it, I told her this.

Darling, I see the evidence of God’s work in you. I’ve seen it for years. I remember the first moment you said you really wanted to follow Christ, and I saw transformation even then. It’s still happening now. I am testifying to you of God’s work in you, of His faithfulness to continue His work in you.

Not long after this conversation, I read a book about us Christians being invited into a community of atonement, and I remembered a story someone once told me about a man, a Christian, who was in deep distress. He’d lost a dear loved one and his grief was overwhelming him. A fellow Christian encouraged him to continue coming to church, and the man responded, “I can’t participate. I can’t pray. I can’t even recite the Lord’s Prayer or sing the Doxology. I can’t do any of it.”

His friend told him, “That doesn’t matter. We will do it for you, on your right, on your left, in front of and behind you. We will praise and confess and worship around you, for you, in a sense. It will carry you along, and when you are ready, you can join in again.”

I have long loved the prayer cried out by the father who asked Jesus to heal his child: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. I have prayed it many, many times myself. And I am beginning to understand that not only does the Lord personally help—with the Father’s strong, gentle hand, with the whisper and comfort of the Holy Spirit, with the active Gospel accomplished by and in the Son—but He also helps through His Body, His Church.

Hebrews 10:23-25 (RSV)~ Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10: 19-25 (Message)~ So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. 22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

Giving Tuesday and a funny

blanketGiving Tuesday is coming up (December 1), and while I don’t really care if you “observe” Black Friday or Cyber Monday, I hope you celebrate Giving Tuesday big time! For the last couple years I’ve posted a list of gifts-that-give-back opportunities on Giving Tuesday, and I plan to do it again this year. This year’s list will include most of last year’s, but it will also have some new additions. Do any of you have suggestions to add to the list? If you do, leave me a comment here or email me at jenunderwood0629@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

Speaking of “giving,” my kids are already gearing up for Christmas presents. They swapped names for their sibling gifts a couple weeks ago (the list is stuck on the refrigerator as a ready reminder!) and this past weekend they all gathered around the dining room table to discuss their collective gift for me and my husband. A couple years ago they got us a beautiful blanket from Hand and Cloth (it’s on the Giving Tuesday list!). You can see a picture of it above.

Anyway, I was in the kitchen just a few feet away, so they made me put on my daughter’s big old headphones and listen to music while I washed dishes so I couldn’t hear. Suddenly my youngest was by my side, rubbing his eyes in the way he does when he is trying very, very hard not to cry. I looked at him and then into the dining room where the older girls were motioning me to take off the headphones.

When I did, Em said, “Ask him why you don’t deserve a Christmas present.” She was grinning.

I laughed. “So, bud, why don’t your dad and I deserve a Christmas present.”

“Christmas is just for kids,” he said, very, very seriously.

This child is quite attached to his wallet, so I suspected the reason might be more a fiscal than philosophical matter. “How much are they wanting you to put in?” I asked.

“Fifteen cents!” he wailed, and when I started to laugh, his older brother hollered, “It’s all he has!”

Finding, part 1

Two weekends ago, seven of the eight of us (Kelly was at a game with a friend) went downtown for the evening with Dave’s brother who was visiting. We wandered up and down the Magnificent Mile enjoying the lights and then trekked west to the Portillo’s on Ontario. Before eating, Judy (our older international “daughter”) went to the restroom, took out her retainers (a recent expenditure—they’re not cheap!), and wrapped them in a white paper towel from the restroom (some of you already know where this is going!). She set them next to her plate while she ate.

Near the end of our meal, a Portillo’s employee kept buzzing around picking up trash. She was so quick and quiet doing this, we almost didn’t notice her! When we completely finished, we continued the cleanup (you bus your own tables at Portillo’s), and Judy suddenly realized her retainers were not next to her plate.

Quiet panic. I assumed one of us had thrown them away, so I turned to the trashcan where we’d put everything we cleared. A man in a Portillo’s uniform with a nametag reading “Sherman” was just about to empty the trash. We explained the situation to him, and he helped me look through BOTH of the side-by-side cans. In fact, he stopped me a couple times when I was about to pick up a particularly soggy something and lifted it with his own gloved hand. “I should have gotten you a pair of gloves,” he remarked.

No retainers in the first can. Judy was rigid at this point. Dave had already helped her go through every pocket in her coat and every compartment in her purse. Em had checked under and around the table.

We reached the bottom of the second can. I saw something pink shining through a white paper. I grabbed it.

Not retainers.

I looked up and met Sherman’s very, very sympathetic eyes. “Thank you,” I told him. He nodded. I turned to Dave. “I’m going to go wash my hands before we leave.”

On my way up the stairs, I prayed. “Please, God, by some miracle let those retainers be in the bathroom. I know she brought them down to the table, but if You want to just re-locate them right now and have them on the counter when I walk in, that would be truly incredible. She is never going to stop beating herself up about this! Please, God, a miracle!”

No retainers on the counter.

As I came back down the steps I saw my brother-in-law, Scott, had an arm around Judy. All the other kids were gathered around them. My heart sank. She’s crying, I thought. I made it all the way up to the group before they noticed me. I reached out a hand to Judy when Scott saw me. “He found them,” he said. “Sherman found them!”

Judy was crying, but they were tears of joy!

I turned to Dave, and he gestured to Sherman, who was several feet away, emptying a different set of trash containers, these farther from our table. “He decided to look through those, too,” Dave said. “He thought the Portillo’s lady might have taken them for trash and put them there, so he looked before he emptied the cans.”

I went over to Sherman. His grin was broad, but he was a little embarrassed. “Thank you,” I told him. “You are an answer to prayer! I was praying for a miracle!”

“Me, too,” said Scott.

Sherman raised his pointer finger up. “Wasn’t me,” he said. “That was God.”

I was crying by this point. Dave followed Sherman to thank him again. He tried to give him a gift to thank him, but Sherman refused. Dave found a manager and told him what Sherman had done. A few days later I visited Portillo’s website and filed a formal statement of gratitude.

As we left Portillo’s that night, one of my fifth-grade twins said, “Hey, that was a God sighting!”

“Yeah,” said the other twin. “I’m going to write it in my notebook at school! This week I won’t have to think and think to remember one.”

“They happen every day!” I reminded them. “We just don’t always have our ‘eyes’ open enough to see them.”

I hung back to where Judy was walking with Emily. I hugged her. “Don’t beat yourself up,” I said. “You didn’t do anything wrong, and God just gave you and all of us a miracle. Give yourself over to it and rejoice!”

She nodded, tears still in her eyes.

Thank you, Sherman! Thank You, God, for having him in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time so he could be a testimony of Your faithfulness and greatness to us.

odds and ends

In this post you will find 1. an addition to the 2014 “Gift that Gives Back” post; 2. a Guatemalan church using clothes to draw children and families to Christ and His Body; 3. a few pictures; 4. a couple funny Underwood kid stories, and 5. a link to a story I wrote for Wheaton Academy that is such an inspiring and beautiful story I wanted to share it here, too.

1. As an addition to the 2014 “Gifts that Gives Back” post, one reader suggested Trades of Hope, a business that empowers women out of poverty. They work with women from ten different countries, including the U.S., and produce jewelry, scarves, home decor, handbags, and stationery.

2. My sister-in-law also sent me a wonderful ministry I want to pass on. Both her older daughters have lived for extended periods in Guatemala, working with a fantastic church and ministry there. They have started a Christmas initiative called Una Noche Buena, which provides a full set of new clothes to underserved children in the community, and they do it in a way that fosters relationship not only with the child but with the child’s family. It’s a wonderful ministry, and I’d love for you to check it out. Visit the link above and then click on “English” in the top right corner (unless, of course, you’re fluent in Spanish). Great stories–and you can pray for the ministry–and contact the pastor if you would like more information.

3. It’s hard to believe on a day like today, when the temperature climbed out-0f-season to

first snowman 2014

nearly 50 degrees, but a few weeks ago we had two snowfalls. The first was really light, but enough snow fell for the kids to make their first snowman. I put a glove next to it so you can see how small it actually was–but it was cute!

Soon after, we had a little more snow–but still not that much, so I was quite impressed when I saw the snowman the kids made from it on the back deck.

Then, just a few days later, the snow all melted. I looked out the back window and
second snowman 2014noticed a pile of twigs and leaves. “Jake, Maddie, Patrick,” I called out, “who dumped that mess on the back deck?” Maddie came to the window and looked out. She seemed puzzled, but then said, “Oh, that was the center of our snowman!”

melted snowman

rosatis conga lineI took this last picture on a Friday night a few weeks ago. Exhausted from the week, when the inevitable “What’s for dinner?” question was posed, I wailed, “I don’t know!”

“We should get Rosati’s,” someone suggested, referring to our local pizza joint. Within a minute, they’d formed a line and wound their way through the main floor, chanting, “Rosati’s! Rosati’s!” It was effective. Forty minutes later we enjoyed pizza that I didn’t make. Yay!

4a. Jake was reading the nutritional information on the Corn Chex (or whatever the off-brand version we get is called). “Mom, does too much fiber make you poop?”

Me: “Not too much, just fiber.”

J: “Then how is it bad?”

M: “Fiber isn’t bad. You need it to poop. It’s good.”

Jake looked at the box again. “Awesome! This cereal has fiber and it’s glutton-free!” (He meant “gluten.”)

4b. PJ had to dress up as a book character for school. Jake was coming up with suggestions for him. Jake’s final one: “Too bad Mom’s not finished writing your adoption story. You could just go as yourself.”

4c. It was pajama day at school for Maddie and she was concerned with her clothes matching. “Mads,” I said, “it’s pajama day. Who cares if they match? Look at me.” I was wearing my very old threadbare blue sweats, one of Dave’s running shirts, and my late Pappaw’s rust-colored button-up fleece shirt–with the running shirt hanging out the bottom.

Maddie looked at me for a long moment. Then she looked at Dave. “Dad, when I grow up, do I have to be awkward like Mom?”

5. WA Boys Soccer Team Inspired by Eight-Year-Old Superfan–follow the link to read a story about an eight-year-old with an undiagnosed illness who befriends and is befriended by a high school boys soccer team. The relationship that develops is beautiful.

26.2 miles for a reason

The back of Dave's Refuge for Women shirt.

The back of Dave’s Refuge for Women shirt.

He did it! On Sunday, October 12, my husband, Dave, ran his sixth marathon (second time in Chicago), this one for women rescued from sex trafficking. His “Run for a Reason” shirt arrived too late (and too small) for him to actually wear it during the run, but his efforts still raised money for a safe house here in the western suburbs. A big thanks to all you who supported Refuge for Women, and, for those of you who still might like to contribute, visit this post I wrote last month to read more about the organization, its partnership with local ministry New Name, and Dave’s reasons for running for this particular purpose.

DSC_0759It was an awesome day–especially for us spectators
who were not slogging out 26.2 miles! We enjoyed funny signs, were inspired by courageous people (like the blind runner–also on crutches–we saw at mile four, far behind the others), and loved, loved, loved seeing runners’ faces light up when we hollered out their names and reminded them that, yes, they really could do it.

All seven of us went down to cheer Dave on (plus Em’s friend Abby), and we DSC_0767were joined by my friend Beth (who just ran a marathon last week herself) and her two kids. They were cheering on husband/dad Geof, who was running his first marathon on
Sunday. Dave and Geof ran the whole thing together (well, they lost each other in the last two miles, but that’s close enough), and
DSC_0781we managed to see them at mile 11 and then again at 17. We tried to see them at 26, but the crowds of spectators were too packed. So we met them just after the finish, watched their drawn, sweat-crusted faces light up when they saw us, and told them we were very, very proud of them.

If you’re in the Chicago area, and you’ve DSC_0783never watched the marathon, DO IT! It’s a great day, filled with chances to cheer on strangers and talk to fellow spectators and walk down streets that are actually empty (Patrick absolutely loved this!). You get to spend the entire day wandering around downtown without a bit of pressure to shop (sorry to all my shopaholic friends).

Other highlights: the band at UIC, the crazy DSC_0787outfits worn by some runners (it wasn’t that hot, but still, the full-length character outfits had to be toasty), getting ice cream, playing in the park, congratulating exhausted finishers who hadn’t yet met up with friends or family, and, most of all, going home all together after a wonderful, wonderful day!

At  mile 17, the guys got hugs from the kids.

At mile 17, the guys got hugs from the kids.







Patrick giving out high fives.

Patrick giving out high fives.



Going home on the el--not sure which one looks more tired!

Going home on the el–not sure which one looks more tired!

What not to say to an adopted child: my list

Finally a good picture of all of us. This is Dave and I with Judy and Kelly (our international student "daughters"--their real mom and dad live in Hong Kong and love them very, very much), Emily, the twins Jake and Maddie, and PJ. Honestly, it's usually the boys who mess up family shots. (Stand still for a picture if I'm not posing as a professional soccer player or bodybuilder? What's up with that?)

Finally a good picture of all of us. This is Dave and I with Judy and Kelly (our international student “daughters”–their real mom and dad live in Hong Kong and love them very, very much), Emily, the twins Jake and Maddie, and PJ (Patrick).

Not long ago, one of our elementary school principals sent a letter to every adoptive family in the school. “We want to meet your child’s and family’s needs,” he wrote. “Can you let us know any ways we are not doing that as well as ways we can do that better?”

I appreciated the question, though nothing came to mind right away. The school is filled with caring teachers and administrators who celebrate adoption and try to integrate multi-cultural literature and projects. They’re not committing any of the obvious insensitivities. But then I thought of a couple of less obvious things, and as I wrote them down, my heart began to pound. These are more important to me than I realized, I thought.

I know every adoptive family and every adopted child have their own particular struggles, so what I wrote to our principal will not apply to all adoptive situations, but I’m sharing because many of you know or will know a family who adopts or fosters, and this may give you an inside look at some of their less obvious struggles.

  1. We’re really open to talking about PJ’s background with him. It’s clear he’s adopted, so we don’t avoid that topic when he brings it up (sometimes we even initiate it). When he asks about his birth parents and brothers, we speak openly and positively about them, and we allow him to talk about them, even when he’s going through a stage (which has happened a couple times) of kind of wishing that he were with his birth dad (who has AIDS; PJ’s mom died of AIDS when he was just an infant). We don’t say anything like, “Hey, we’re your parents. We’re the ones raising you. We’re your REAL mom and dad.” We don’t want teachers and others to say that either. It’s both okay and normal for PJ to wrestle with that, and even though I think most people’s natural instinct is to say, “But look at the family you have now, the mom and dad you have now–they’re your real family,” I don’t think that helps the kid to process the fact that he’s not with the family he was born into, that for one reason or another, his family life (and his entire culture) is different. If someone is not really, really, really close with an adoptive child and his/her family, then I think there is no place for saying something like, “You need to be grateful for the family you have.” Even if that’s a mostly true statement, chances are that the adoptive child is wrestling with a lot more than simply an ungrateful spirit.
  2. We don’t think of what we did—adopting—as anything special or heroic. For us, it was a really clear call from God and it would have been disobedience for us NOT to do it. Patrick is an incredible gift to US, not the other way around. I’ve had people say to me, “What a wonderful thing you did for him,” and, honestly, it makes me angry because I can’t imagine how that would feel if my son ever heard someone say that to me, like I loved him because he was a charity case. The truth is that God showed us PJ was meant to be ours. He planted him in our hearts as our child, and we adopted him simply to make that official. He’s ours; therefore, we love him. I don’t want Patrick to be presented with the idea that he is privileged to be our son. The truth is, we are privileged to be his parents, just as we are privileged to be the parents of all our kids.
  3. I KNOW adoption is a beautiful picture of God bringing us into full “son-ship,” with the same status as a biological child—and that’s absolutely incredible—but the analogy on an individual level can, like in my second note, send the message to the adopted child that he/she was being done a favor. It also emphasizes the differences between biological children in a family and adopted children in a family. I think an adopted child needs to be a certain age or of a certain understanding to be able to see this on a spiritual level without correlating it to his/her own situation.
  4. Anything that emphasizes that difference between the adopted child and biological children should be avoided. Examples would be talking with an adopted child (or talking with someone in the family in front of the adopted child) about how much their siblings look like each other or how one of their siblings looks like mom or dad. (Several years ago when Em was 8, the twins 5, and Patrick 4, we were all together, and I mentioned that someone at church had commented on how much Em and Jake (one of the twins) look alike while the twins look nothing like each other. Oddly enough, if was the other twin, Maddie, who was bothered by this. “Well,” she said, “I look like somebody, too. Patrick and I look just alike. Don’t we, Patrick?” He was really small then and just nodded, but I realized that if Maddie minded being told she didn’t look much like her siblings, then that could really be an issue for PJ.)

*If you are reading this as an adoptive parent or adopted child, and you have an idea to share, I would really love to read your response. Please, please leave a comment below. It will not be posted on the blog; I’ll receive it as an email.

Needing and finding

Speaking of Chai (she's mentioned late in this post), here's a shot of her lounging on the only piece of furniture she's "supposed" to get on.

Speaking of Chai (she’s mentioned late in this post), here’s a shot of her lounging on the only piece of furniture she’s “supposed” to get on.

This morning* I crushed the spirit of one my children.

At least that’s what it felt like.

It was over an organizational issue we’ve been wrestling with ever since school started (well, actually, for years). It’s also an issue that this child refuses to really face as a problem. I hear “I’ve got this” and “No big deal” often enough that it makes me want to scream.

And this morning I did.

“When are you going to see this as a problem?”

“When are you going to admit you need help?”

“When are you going to stop telling me ‘I got this’ and start listening to what I and so many others are telling you?”

Oh, there was more—though God, in His grace, stopped me from saying at least some of the destructive things that were on the tip of my tongue.

But I went on and on. Not a dripping faucet, oh, no, a full-open tap.

And my child cried.

And I felt like, pardon my French, shit.

During it, following it, twinges of it even now.

After the tears, after my anger, I pulled my child aside in the kitchen, held this precious one close and said, “I can’t let you go to school without you understanding that my frustration doesn’t mean I don’t love you just the way you are.”

(And at the same time I said that, I thought, but that’s not what my earlier words and anger communicated!)

I affirmed this child’s wonderful qualities of kindness and generosity and oblivion to differences in other people and unawareness of standards that others set. This child is individual and easygoing and full of so much love.

“But you’re running into some things that are showing you that you have some areas of weakness, too—just like we all do—and until you admit them, you can’t grow in these areas. Do you understand that?” I asked.

My child nodded.

“I’m so sorry for the way I said it, though. There may have been things that needed to be said, but they shouldn’t have been said in anger, and I know I blew it and hurt you. I was wrong.”

My child nodded—but I knew that my apology, which also included “something to work on,“ was a lot for a kid to process.

We got lunches packed. We drove to school.

This child was the last to get out of the car “It’s really okay for you to be mad at me,” I said. “I did you wrong this morning.”

My child paused. Then said, “I love you, Mom.”

I was thankful there wasn’t an immediate statement of forgiveness. I was thankful this child was taking the time and the right to process.

But I barely made it down the carpool lane and around the corner before I began sobbing.

Oh, God, please heal the hurt I caused, I cried. Please come behind me with love and grace and mercy.

Heart churning, I tried to remember all I’d said, tried to sort out the good, the bad, the ugly. Some things felt as if they needed to be said—but in that way?

Then I simply quit, stopped my sorting and picking. “You’ll have to show me, Holy Spirit,” I whispered. “Reveal to me what You want me to see, help me to simply acknowledge my wrong, and then show me how to communicate that to my child. And, please, oh, please, draw this child close to Your heart.”

Home again, I cried more, on my knees, next to my bed.

It wasn’t completely about this morning any more. I’d just had a glimpse of how very fragile we all are, how easily relationships are damaged, how easily I could have said (and maybe did) something my child will carry through the rest of life.

And here's a much better pic of her, taken, of course, by my daughter Em

And here’s a much better pic of her, taken, of course, by my daughter Em

The dog heard me and came into my room. She pushed her way between me and the side of the bed and nuzzled my ear, and I was grateful for this warm-bodied creature sent by God Himself to comfort.

I found myself suddenly singing, the song itself a gift:

Lord, I come, I confess,

Bowing here, I find my rest

Without You, I fall apart

You’re the One that guides my heart.

Lord, I need you, oh, I need You,

Every hour I need you.

My one defense, my righteousness,

Oh God, how I need You.

What followed was a day of living into that song, cycling through needing and finding again and again.

Finding rest and rightness with God, and later, blessed reconciliation with my child.

And then, at the close of the day, another gift.

From the bathroom, where my child was getting ready for bed, I heard singing.

When the door opened, I heard it clear.

“Lord, I need You, oh, I need You/Every hour I need You.”

“Hon, why are you singing that song?” I asked.

A smile. A shrug. “Don’t know. Just came to mind.”

We have a Lord who guides—and heals—our hearts.

Oh God, how we need You.

*I wrote this yesterday–about yesterday.

Being “Mom”

*An audio recording of this piece is at the bottom of the post.

Weariness is an unavoidable byproduct of motherhood—no matter how committed you are to it.

A few weeks ago, at the check-in desk for Women’s Bible Study at church, I filled out my nametag next to a young mom with a preschooler perched on her hip. She pressed the tag onto her sweater. “Mommy,” her little girl said, pointing a forefinger at it.

“Well, I’m also ‘Julie,’” her mother told her.

“No, no ‘Julie,’” the preschooler protested. She jabbed the nametag again. “Mommy.”

Her mother smiled, a tired smile.

And I wondered if she felt, in that moment, as if she’d lost any identity other than “Mommy.” But then I thought that perhaps I was projecting my own sometimes fear that my children will lock me into the “mom box” and throw away the key. I remembered a recent conversation with them. Someone had been complaining about having to go to school, and I decided not to say, yet again, “Remember that in many countries, children would jump at the chance to go to school.”

Instead I said, “I would love to go back to school.”

Their looks condemned me to the loony bin. “I would!” I told them. “I keep looking at these two programs of study and thinking about applying.”

They didn’t even consider it.

“You can’t go back to school,” one of them said. “You’re our mom!”

Yet God does something supernatural in our hearts when we become mother to a child.

I was volunteering at a World Relief job class for immediately-arrived refugees. A young woman approached me, a mock application in her hands. She pointed to the question at the bottom of the form. “Children? Yes or No.” I put my hand, palm-down, a couple feet from the floor. “Little ones. Children. Do you have children?” She nodded. “Yes, I have.” She cradled her arms and rocked them back and forth. “A baby?” I asked. She nodded again. Then, “In my country. Baby there.” Her friend, from the same country but even younger, stepped forward. “She is mother there. Not mother here.”

I nodded and kept my face smooth, but my heart cried out in protest. No! I thought. We carry our children in our hearts. She is a mother here and everywhere. It is a gift of God, but when our children are lost or hurt or rebellious, it rips our hearts apart.

We forget at times the greatness of this gift, but moments of ferocious love remind us.

As I made my way down the hall of my children’s elementary school, a first grader walking past said, “Hey, you’re PJ’s step-mom.”

Something flared up, red and hot, in my chest. I blocked it from rising up my throat, from coloring my voice. “No-o-o, I’m not.”

“Oh, yeah,” the little guy continued, “not step-mom, adoption mom, right?”

I was well past him by then, so he didn’t hear my response.

“Just ‘Mom,’” I whispered. “I’m his mom.”