Wherein Parenting Takes An Unorthodox Turn

It was a Wednesday and I stopped and dropped in the middle of putting clean sheets on my bed because the weight of my mundane world crashed in a heap upon my shoulders and the tonnage of it propelled a forward bend, palms pressed open against the mattress, back arched like a bow and the heaviness of my head hanging careless between my shoulder blades. I told my Father that I was certain that He had made a mistake and that surely having three boys AND homeschooling them . . . plus this, that and the other thing was too much weight for any one person to stand up under and more specifically: TOO much for an introvert who craves solitude and stillness and quiet more then all the known things on God’s green earth.

Then I remembered that God only gives us what we could NEVER handle.

On.

Our.

Own.

With the brackish water breaking from my eyelids and spilling on the bed I’m bent over, I says to my God: “I ain’t got what it takes and my back is broken here. I need wisdom because I have no idea how to be a mom right now”

To be more specific with you, we’ve been aching and desperate to comprehend what to do with our oldest son who is transitioning from boyhood into young-manhood and seems to all of a sudden have pre-adolescent hormones raging through his developing body. Somebody told me one time long, long, ago that this would happen some day—the hormones and whatnot—and I’m going to tell you right now that there are some abstracts I wish would just stay the freakin’ heck away from reality. Because these boy hormones?

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SOMEBODY, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY, SAVE ME!!!!!!!!!

I digress.

Our boy, Gabe, has been monumentally struggling with disproportionate anger. And this anger can rise up inside him from just one big snot-sniffle coming from the nostril of a brother sitting next to him on the couch. And no amount of reasoning and deep breathing is enough sometimes to pull him out of his sudden hysteric space. Later, when the cool down finally comes, he makes his way so repentant-like to all the family members he violated and begs for forgiveness, with tears and sorrow and all the rest of it. He prays everyday that God would help him not to react to his sometimes frequently pesky little brothers or to any other thing that might get an immediate rise out of him.

Gabriel and I were having a post-fraternal-war conversation on the couch the other day and with cry-streaks all over his cheeks he says to me: “Mama, I’d rather be able to change then have a million dollars. I don’t understand why God isn’t helping me”. Let me go ahead and confess to you that my heart split to slivers while watching my son hunger for a transformation that felt so far-reaching for him. Especially since he’s been praying for [what feels to him like] a very long time. And mama don’t have the answer to his big-boy question.

That’s the gist of our repetitive struggles. And by “repetitive”, I mean: more then once every day. And I am so tired of hearing myself talk and all the teachable moments that I just CAN’T pass up. He’s tired. I’m tired. We’re all tired. At the same time, you need to know that Gabe has such a gigantic heart of goodness and strength inside his chest and we are constantly affirming who he is and building his character up and reminding him of who he is in Christ Jesus and anyone who isn’t his mama would still marvel at the way this God-son spreads seeds of love all over the land around him.

In the midst of all this, Austin and I have—at times—messed up massively in the ways we responded to Gabe’s challenges, getting angry and shout-like just as the good scriptures tell us not to and we have sorrowfully sought his forgiveness and somehow by a Grace higher then ours that process has knit our hearts even tighter together with our boy Gabe.

So, that day when my mattress became my confessional, I had reached the most stretched-out shred of myself – for things mentioned and unmentioned. But, what I was most despairing for was a way to help my son through his breaking s and transitions.

The next day Gabriel’s anger came back, it couldn’t stay away . . . with wild eyes and clenched fists he tornados around his brother Jude for barely any reason at all. I’m in the kitchen elbow deep in sugar cookie dough when the tyrant-tune reaches my ears and the first thing I do this time is all the deep-breath-taking I can possibly suck in, all the way to my belly and back up again, while whispering my “Oh, God . . . help.” And I call for the angry son to “come here please” and I quietly ask him to “go somewhere alone just until I can wash my hands and come talk to him”. The good Lord knows I didn’t need time to wash my hands. I needed time to wash my heart so I could enter into a space with my son and see far beyond the surface issue being repeatedly expressed.

That’s exactly when I had this helpful idea fall into my thinking space and I rushed to meet Gabe in the guest room where he was being quiet and took his hand in mine and guided his body gently to lay down on the rug, positioned his limbs in the most relaxed pose, placed a palm on his forehead and a palm on his stomach and felt the Spirit literally whoosh in on the wings of my urgent pleas. What follows is the record I wrote in my journal the second I was done ministering to my boy, because I didn’t want to forget even an atom of it.

Me: “Ok, Bub. Close your eyes and take five deep breaths all the way down to your belly. Breathe . . . Relax your face. . . Loosen your limbs . . . Breathe.”

(One minute pause while Gabe stills down.)

Me: “While keeping your eyes closed, I want you to tell me where your anger is located in your body. Is it in your mind? Or your heart? Or your stomach? Is it in your left thigh?” (Seriously. You NEVER know.)

Without missing a single beat . . .

Gabe: “The anger is in my stomach.”

At this point I move both my fire-hands to rest softly on his bare belly.

Me: “Ok. The anger is in your stomach, what does it feel like?”

Gabe: “My stomach feels tight and really tense. It hurts all over.”

Me: “Ok. We know the anger is in your stomach and is making your stomach tense and painful. Now, I want you to imagine the anger in your stomach and tell me what it looks like.”

Without missing a single beat . . .

Gabe: “It looks like a dark, red cloud.”

Me: “Imagine for me this dark, red cloud sitting in your belly and taking up all this space where it doesn’t belong. (Pause) Do you see it?”

Gabe: “Yes.”

Me: “Now imagine the dark, red cloud being sucked out of your belly until it’s all the way gone.”

Almost immediately, Gabriel’s eyes POP open and bug out of his head while he exclaims: “HOW did you do that?!?! I CAN’T believe it!!! My stomach hurt SO bad and now it’s all GONE!!! It’s a MIRACLE!!!”

I’m smiling over his wonder and joy, but tell him: “Hang on a second, we’re not done yet . . . close your eyes and imagine the space in your belly where all that anger was . . . now that it’s gone, you have all this empty space inside you and I want you to envision that empty space. Do you see it?”

Gabe: “Yes.”

Me: “Alright, now that you have this empty space, what do you want to fill it back up with?”

Gabe: “God’s love. I want to fill it with God’s love.”

Me: “Good . . .that’s beautiful, Gabe. What does God’s love look like to you?”

Gabe: “God’s love looks like Jesus’ face.”

Me: “Ok. Imagine Jesus’ face coming to you and filling all the empty parts inside your stomach.”

And he did, he took Jesus’ face right inside him and with so much gladness and appreciation coming out his eyes, my boy throws his adolescent arms around my neck and fervently whispers against my neck: “Thank you so much, mama. I feel FREE!” And mama says: “Oh, honey. Jesus set you free, He just used my hands and my heart.”

I learned an invaluable lesson that day: in many situations that seem like a punishment would be in order for negative behavior being chosen and displayed, maybe the offender isn’t always begging for . . .

Time-outs.

Or privileges revoked.

Or firm words.

Or extra chores mandated.

Maybe sometimes he only needs to be touched where he is hurting most. Maybe being a parent means less about correction all the time and more about offering ourselves as a medium of healing for our children. The healing process can take more time then we are willing to sacrifice when life is full and busy, but for the 20 minutes I spent on the floor with Gabe I felt like I was in an alternate universe with my son and I couldn’t even feel the clock ticking.

(Note: I don’t think Gabe received some magic cure-all. BUT. It has been two weeks since this interaction with the Spirit on the extra-bedroom floor and we have not had ONE outrage. NOT. ONE. Sure, he still gets mad here and there – it’s just not even close to the same anymore.)

 

:: Linking with Emily for Imperfect Prose ::

 

12 Years and Why Are We Married Again?

There once was this man who bent himself over our married-feet and prophesied that thousands and thousands would gather around our married-love, but we didn’t have much time to reflect on his seer-like vision because shorter then a month later our love shattered into a million little shard-sharp pieces. Oh. Well . . . we didn’t see that coming. And our married-eyes still look back and marvel that we decided—in spite of ourselves and our choices and our circumstances—that neither of us was “going” anywhere. Man, this girl could re-write the definition of “miracle” off the broken back of our story and here we are 12 years later, 6 years since we began to “fix” ourselves and the best part? I don’t rightly know. Because there truly are too many “best parts” to itemize or rank, but I will offer you the best visual I can to describe our “right-now” married-souls: Just like the river we live on and where we feast our gazes day after night . . . Austin and I? We just flow. We flow back. And forth. In and out. Up and down. The moon rises and wanes and we go low and we go high – moving with the rhythm of the life-tides and season-cycles. We’ve got it down and we know what to do when the water is thin and when it is thick, when it is calm and when it’s a torrent. Also like our river—and equally so—we know how subject we are to pollution. We’ll sit on our dock and watch the litter float by and this I see: We are “bound” together in the most vulnerable and fragile constitution under the sun. We have to be so careful with our eggshell-state and we try real good to clean ourselves in Christ every night before we sleep and additionally practicing every practice we can think of to protect our crackability.

But all the cracks we already have? Oh, the Light beams through ‘em real bright – so we’ll just keep those and let our married-love shine. Eh? And AMEN.

Two years ago I wrote a story about our 10 year anniversary vow renewal and other reflections on “why marriage?”. I would share it with you again as Austin and I just celebrated our 12th and it always puts me in mind of why we belong to each other.

:::

It was a holy night when Austin and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary with a vow renewal ceremony – oh, holy sacrament and our heads bent in holy wonder and the tears, even, were salted with the holy emotion. Holy emotion that we had “made it” this far. And if ever a voice quiver can be holy, it was in this time when vow-words written in black, scrolled on white paper, were strongly spoken into the grey shades of our reality.

That holy night we stood in the middle of an arm-to-arm ring of our 20 dearest friends and spoke our re-pledges to each other and would you know that heaven’s holy hush soaked our air and stretched our senses to inhale Spirit as He whorled around and between all our limbs and over our skin in that sacred, brushing whisper of His? We felt transported to another world; gently placed inside a shielding bubble where no evil things could penetrate – not on this holy night, not on His holy watch.

Our second ceremony was different then the untried joining of our youth. This time, we knew. Oh God, we knew. We knew what cards life could deal and we knew that our own humanity could cheat with the hands we are dealt. We knew that vows are meant to be kept, but instead—and often—get torn a hundred ways to Sunday. We knew all this and beyond and because of our knowing, our vow words meant more and the definition is ten years long and ten years deep and ten years burned through holy fire. We knew, and we still stood on our holy legs of flesh to say “yes” to each other again.

We said “yes” again because we didn’t go through holy fire without being refined, restored, redeemed, resurrected.  And we said “yes” because our intentions for marriage had evolved alongside our purification and went beyond the answers that come skimmed off the top: “I want to wake up every day with my best friend” or “Two are better then one and he/she completes me” or “I’m loved unconditionally by my spouse”. After being affixed to someone for a decade, these reasons cannot stand alone any longer. The rigors of reality demand that you have an exceptional reason for being joined and and an exceptional reason for staying joined.

On the eve of our commitment renewal, with the quiet and Spirit-air for company, I gently asked my question again, “why marriage?” I had hoped to grasp an answer that every other answer could find it’s roots in, longing for something I could hook my entire heart on when the day is done and the deeds are dark. And where my imagination took me, was not where I expected to go, but how would you like to crash a wedding in Cana?

“…The story of the wedding at Cana has a curious luminousness about it, the quality of almost a dream where every gesture, every detail, suggests the presence of meaning beneath meaning, where people move with a kind of ritual stateliness, faces melting into other faces, voices speaking of elusive, but inexhaustible significance.” – Frederick Buechner

I have this vision of a strange and stern guest with his big, drinking eyes. He’s inhaling wine and breathing sacramental symbolism into the air around him. He is at a wedding and how can he not think of why he was born all this way? Contracted and pushed into time to marry himself to the whole world. So while he laughs and feasts and merry-makes with the rest of them, his Spirit is stretching and reaching with fanciful wreaths of invisible God-fingers, touching every which way and throughout, soaking the deeper meaning inside every wedding ritual. His entire purpose as a Groom coming to love his bride is being played out on the micro stage of this Cana wedding. He’s dreaming of the intimate mysteries of vows and rings, clasping of hands and sacrifice, of feasting and ultimate Love. Maybe just a small sigh and his eye-lids fall as he envisions another marriage . . .

His mama breaks into his waking reflection because she just overheard the servants talking about a beverage deficiency and she petitions her son for help because the party planner didn’t order enough wine, of all things. And while he’s telling his mama about time not arriving and don’t put the cart before the donkey, the mother caresses her knowing fingers along the son’s face and tells the servants to do whatever he says. Before he can issue any orders, he hears a familiar whisper, the Father speaks to the Son’s soul, “I’ve arranged a marriage for You. It’s time . . .”

Without any added ado, the Son says to the servants, do this and do that and the miracle was heard around the whole thirsty world – never again would refreshment be lacking and with this, the bride was born and the Groom set out from Cana, anticipating his own wedding after what he knew would be a 3-year-long wild and audacious wooing.

And three years later, with dust in all the cracks of His sturdy, peasant feet, He walked a long and rocky trail to the top of death hill. Because that is where His chapel was and He was going to get married. But His vows of love needed to be written in blood; red ribbons of split-wide sacrifice. Cross-eyed and crossed-out and criss-crossed in pain, six-ways-damned till Sunday, He said, “I take you . . . to have and to hold . . . from this day forward, in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty . . . as long as we both shall live” – which is nothing short of eternity.

Right after Austin were pronounced “man and wife” the first time, these words were spoken over us, “You Austin, and you Erika, together, represent the image of Christ.”

The image of Christ.

You mean the one I just detailed? This was and is the answer my soul was desparate for hearing. “Why marriage?” Because I would give my living and dying breath to reflect an image like that – an image of a marriage declaring an insurmountable love.

When Austin and I re-fastened ourselves one to the other it was with the intention that we, together, are a mirror of the risen Son on His wedding day.

my heart wasn’t made for this.

{ source :: pinterest }

There are times when I feel like all the seeing and knowing and hearing and reading . . . all the immediate access we have to everything in the world at the same time can’t be good for our wee God-woven hearts? And to top it off we have a veritable highway of opinion and commentary for the entirety of it. And this million-lane-wide-opinion-highway is without speed limits or traffic violations or ticket-writing-police and there are engines burning at 8000 rpm’s and can someone please let me off at the next exit?

::::

Do you ever wonder if your heart wasn’t made for it? The internet, I’m speaking of now and the other night a popular justice-fighter made a very public mistake and every web-avenue was bursting with this “delicious” and “titillating” news before anyone could say “Bob’s your uncle”. Jason Russell of Invisible Children was hit hard by God only knows what kind of invisible force and I only read 5 minutes worth of responses from people sitting on their self-righteous couches before I was screaming, screaming inside. And weeping over my tea kettle and telling Jesus that “my heart wasn’t made for this”, this expansive knowing of what is being said and done to just one man {let alone the world} and with the breadth of meanness and judgement coming off my computer screen? I hurt so bad—everywhere—for the unconscionable abuse being kicked against him while he was already down. And I was burning-in-my-lungs mad. Any madder and maybe someone would’ve found me running naked in the streets doing strange things, scandalizing polite society.

Join me today at Deeper Story for the rest of this post? Click HERE or HERE or HERE. :)

Love,

Erika

Three Little Notes And Some Lowridin’

Someday when they’re older then breast-height, they will have shot so high and flown so far . . . I am sure they’ll go right past where the stars are born and be away from the under-shadow of my mother-wings and I will sit in this empty nest with my forlorn arms and remember the morning when I sat quietly in the living room with my good-morning-hands wrapped in reverence around the habitual-tea-drink, a Buechner book open on my blanketed lap while they were hush-hush busy in the kitchen and whispering from oldest-ear to youngest-ear. I will remember how I thought that I should check on them because they were too quiet and too quiet means too much trouble, but somehow I knew to let be.

Then they came forth like a barbarian-parade, heavy on their feet and heavy with the excitement-noise and their teeth-baring-smiles reach all the way to crinkle at eye-corners and oh, those eyes? They shine like twinkle-shot-jewels and their arms reach right towards manhood when they stretch them out to me, their open hands bearing courtly envelopes with homemade wax seals.

“We made these for you Mama . . .” and I just think there are times when they say the Mama-word and it comes out sounding like mystery and fairytale, like a harmony the un-seen spirits must sing and there was the Supernatural injecting His magic into the vein of this ordinary moment with this most ordinary-heard-word, the one that bounces off my eardrum at least a hundred times a day. And how often does it sound so old . . . ? But, this time I listen to them say “Mama” and I think it was just different sounding enough to be understood as an invitation. An invitation to pay attention and remember the exact lilt of the “m” and the “a” as it rolled from their mouths. I had this sensation that Someone wanted this memory to be harbored-to-keep for a noise-less, boy-less, rainy day down the road.

And their three little notes with the messy wax seals? I’ll grip them strong and tuck them safe and bring them out with the Mama-word-memory when my future-heart longs to go back to a smaller-child time.

Gabe: “Dear Mama, I love you so much and I am very thankful to have you in my life. You are a great person to all of us. Thank-you for giving us your time to give us a great education! You are the greatest mom 3 crazy boys could ever have. You are very loving, very kind, very quick to apologize, very forgiving and many more. Love, Gabe”

Seth: “Dear Mama, I love you so much I can hardley brethe. I am so thankful to have such a careing Mama who deal’s with three kid’s every week. Love, Seth”

Jude: “Dear Mama, I am so happy you are my mom. You are the best mom ever. I am so happy you can be in this family.”

Oh my heart.

:::

Later that same day . . . 

When Mama is away, Papa and the boys have “guy time” and who knows what they’ll turn out doing, but on this particular evening they raided my closet with their little-grubby-Viking-fingers and HANG ON A SECOND!!! IS THAT MY WHITE SCARF?!?!?!

We live in Da Hood and lowridin’ is a way of life here and the boys dress themselves up in their own hilarity and parade around the house in Papa’s “teenage shoes” and the undies showing {the way they see the neighbor kids doin’} and an ongoing litany of “YEAH, WUS UP, UH-HUH, YEAH” rapping from their white-boy lips. And they’re giggling like school-girls.

Papa-Husband sends me these photos in txt and I smile big for all the flavors of this family and how the taste changes from morning to night, from Mama to Papa. And these memories that didn’t cost us a thing? Priceless.

Wherein He {Still} Makes Music

It’s the sweetest sound, really. And I can hear it everyday if I’m sitting in just the right spot at just the right time . . .

When I first laid my 17-year-young-eyes on all 6 foot 3 inches of unbridled male virility, I dove, DOVE I tell you, into love. (Which is just a way more dramatic method of “falling” in love.) All I remember thinking was, “ME WANT. UGG.” I might’ve even beat a fist against my chest once or twice. (I don’t usually exhibit neanderthal qualities . . . I swear.)

To my further delight, I discovered very shortly after meeting said heart-throb that he was a drummer. (Like, EEEEEEK!!!) AND he played Jesus in this dramatic presentation that his YWAM mobile team performed at my church. My little-smitten-heart repeated like a pull-string doll that night, “What could be better then a drum-beating, Jesus-acting, heart-throb? I want one.” Never mind that every other girl in that church auditorium was thinking the same thing. We all know who he ended up with. What Erika wants, Erika gets. Totally kidding! Or am I? If you know me and you’re reading this, I absolutely forbid you from commenting.

I digress.

In the early days of our married life, drummer-husband collaborated with his friends and created the songs of Ten Shekel Shirt, among other gigs. But, shortly after we conceived our third child, Austin and I needed to upgrade our dwelling space to accommodate our rapidly emerging offspring and we found that a musician’s salary didn’t cover our monthly expenses anymore. Overnight, my music-loving, drum-beating spouse went from living his dream to becoming an apprentice to my brother’s carpentry business and swinging a hammer for our bread and butter.

He still hits his drums whenever our schedule-stuffed lives afford him the time, but it’s been 7 years since he’s been a full-time musician. Can I tell you something though? His various mediums of music-making has met my ears for 12+ years and I’ve loved every beat of it, but the sweetest rhythm he composes is not the noise from his musical prowess, it’s simply and profoundly the sound of him coming home everyday. And I can hear it from start to finish if I’m sitting on my favorite couch cushion in the living room.

Through the thin, historic-old glass of our 1856 apartment, the distinct purr of his truck engine bleeds through to my ears and it – sure as the sunrise – puts a smile on my face and lifts my heart higher because I know we’re about to be whole again, our family circle – he completes it. The motor dies, the F-150 driver-door opens and closes, his footsteps up the yard path reach my waiting ears from the second story.

I can’t see him yet, but I know he’s going to be dirty, covered from head to foot with dust – all the cracks in his trade-roughened hands will be filled, his hair concrete-powder-white instead of chestnut brown. His work-weary movement echoes as he crosses the front porch heavy. Pushing through the entrance door I can hear him drop his boots on the mat and reach to unhook his apartment keys from the backside belt-loop of his Work-n-Gear pants. 17 more steps up and a little jangle, the key fits in our door and I’m still smiling and the boys notice their papa’s coming-home-music, they come galloping and hollering from every corner like it’s Christmas morning. It never gets old.

All that to say, he still makes music, always and no matter what he does. Because who he IS, is our harmony, a vital refrain to his family and further relational sphere.

I love my musician.

The End.