Creating Heavenly Pearls

Every woman should have a southern friend at least once in their lifetime. In fact, I would go so far as to say that until you have a southern friend, you don’t really understand friendship. Really. That’s how incredible sweet tea sipping, sunhat wearing, smocked jumper buying, pie making, advice giving southern women are. Or, maybe that’s just my friend Melissa. I have a suspicion it’s all belles though.

Among the many southern-isms I’ve learned in the past 4 years of friendship, one stands out. A cultural idiosyncrasy I immediately wished was part of life in the Pacific Northwest. No. Not hush puppies. Although, the story behind those is adorable. Not even that “Bless Your Heart” is actually somewhat of an insult. Who knew? No, the tradition I lamented never learning involves pearls.

One morning, a few years ago, Melissa seemed a little down. When I asked if she was ok, her response was, “Well, I’m wearing my pearls.” She then clued me in to the most delightful secret girl code ever. In the South, if it’s a bad day, you wear your pearls. It makes you feel better — how can you be grumpy with pearls on — and is a signal to your friends that things aren’t the greatest. I mean come on. How did I live 30 years before hearing about this? Car broke down? Pearls. Kids trashed the house? Pearls. Baby spit up on you and then blew out the diaper…but only after you’d changed out of your curdled milk pants? Double strand of pearls! It’s amazing! The pearl solution changes my outlook on the day. I feel like a secret agent and a princess all at once. Ooooh, “Princess Secret Agent”. Coming soon to a theater near you.

Heavenly Pearls
As Christmas approaches this year, I decided to pass along this Southerner wisdom to my two teenage nieces. I set about writing a little poem to package with a set of pearls for each niece. As I started writing, the thought occurred to me that there was a deeper spiritual wisdom to the whole Southern pearls tradition. Pearls are created when sand irritates an oyster right? In the process of pearl creation, something beautiful is developed out of the annoyance and pain. Do oysters feel pain? Surely they must. As I mulled about this, James 1:2-4 came to mind.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

What an amazing scriptural tie in! Wearing pearls when you are upset, and also remembering the truth of trials producing perseverance, which helps us be mature and complete. Exactly what I want for my nieces. I added these principles to my poetry and bada-boom-bada-bing, the gifts were finished. I can hardly wait for Christmas! And, for my own daughter to get her own set of pearls when she’s  a little older.

Heavenly Pearls

Print the poem using this pdf and select 2×2 per page to make it turn out just the right size for slipping into a little jewelry box.

If you are interested in a starter pearl set for the young lady in your life, click here to purchase the ones I did. They are freshwater pearls, unique in shape, not round. They don’t come in a box, just a little pretty bag. So, I purchased these gift boxes to put them in.

Heavenly Pearls

For those of you in the neighborhood of a Shane Company jewelry store, who are rolling in the dough, I absolutely ADORE my pearls from Shane Co. They are an amazing place and I’ve never been disappointed with the service, quality or selection there.

For all of you ladies, as we hit the season of peace on earth and joyful hearts (and crazy family, drama, traffic, stress and spending), remember your pearls! Anyone have other Southern traditions or wisdom my life isn’t complete without?

Constant Repeated Training Required

This morning, I came across a blog from (gulp) over seven years ago, entitled “Training Required”. Written pre-homeschooling, when I was “almost 30”, and an extremely knowledgeable parent of a toddler and an infant. Ha-ha-ha!

Fast forward to today. My oldest just turned ten, the rugrats provide constant repeated growth opportunities, the “mommy/daughter cry for no reason” days have come far sooner than anticipated (so have the mommy/son waterworks — who knew that was a thing?) and there are still afternoons when I want to throw an epic toddler tantrum. I realize now more than ever that there is no “mature enough”, “stable enough” or “well trained enough” to have children. Never. Nope. Not gonna happen.

10 seconds after becoming a mother it dawned on me how little I knew about being a parent. Or so I thought. 10 years later, I’m still discovering how vast my ignorance really is. 10 years from now I could be a grandmother. Dear Father in Heaven, how is that possible?

Enjoy this trip to the past, I give you my mind in the magical year of 2009.

*****************************************************************

I had an interesting conversation with my brother this weekend. He’s been talking to some folks at work who have passionate opinions on who should be allowed to “breed”. Apparently, the criteria goes something like this. You should be able to provide your children with “every opportunity”. You need training to be sure you’re capable of raising kids. Must have financial stability. Must be able to prove you are mature enough. On and on and on.

I have known plenty of people who have a similar take on being “allowed” to procreate. The funny thing is, most people who hold these views don’t have kids of their own. As such, they’ve got zero clue what having kids really means. I actually used to think along these same lines when it came to having kids. My oh my, how having some of your own changes your perspective.

First, the argument that you should provide your kids with “every opportunity”. It kind of goes hand in hand with the “financially stable” point. The basic principle here is fine – obviously every parent wants their kids to have the best shot at success in life. Good schools, the chance to excel at whatever gifting the child has (sports, art, music, drama, science, math…whatever), college if they so desire – and all that takes money. But the underlying problem with this argument is that it assumes some check-point in life when you’ll know you have the capability to provide your kids with these opportunities. Let’s be real here. If you decide to have kids today, it will be 4-6 years before your first child is ready to start exploring all the options life affords. How on earth do you know you’ll be in the same position that far into the future? If there’s anything to be learned from the financial turmoil of the past couple years, it’s that nothing is safe. There’s no guarantees. But, to me, the larger issue with these arguments is that it propagates the notion that somehow the most important things to provide for your children are things.

Yes, material things are important. But the basic necessities in life do not cost much – and just about any Joe (or Jane) with a job can provide food, clothing and shelter. All the other stuff is just that…stuff. There are far more important issues with kids than what “things” you can give them. Success does not equal money. I’d love to see parents become concerned with providing their kids opportunities to learn to be kind, giving, selfless, considerate, and polite – rather than opportunities to have the latest video game console, designer clothes and fancy cell-phones. Even more, how about showing children emotional stability over the financial kind? Too many children grow up in homes with every newest, latest and greatest – but never see their parents because they’re too busy earning all that money. No amount of stuff can make up for the loss of family. The time that flies by while trying to establish financial stability can’t be bought back. No matter how much cash you accumulate.

Now, how bout’ proving you’re mature enough to handle kids before getting to have them. Here’s a news flash for you – when I’m 75, I’ll let you know if I feel that I’ve matured enough to deal with kids on a daily basis. Nobody is grown up enough for kids. I don’t care what people tell you. When they place that baby in your arms for the first time, the second thought you have (right after the “He/she is the most perfect thing on earth”) is “Oh holy crap…I’m a parent. I’m not ready for this.” It is possible – if you are one of those uber-mature folks who waited until you were ready for kids to have them, that thought might not hit you until the first day you have the baby at home. I thought I was ready for kids. My husband and I had been married 5 years. We had a house and our cars were paid off. We’d made all our plans. Nothing prepares you for how much life changes after kids. Those of you reading this without kids – I know these words are pointless. You’ll get it when you have one.

I now have a two and a half year old and an infant. I’m almost thirty. Surely I should be mature enough now. However, there are days when I want to dissolve into a tantrum right along side my daughter. I’m sure when she’s a teenager we’ll have mommy/daughter cry-for-no-reason-at-all times. I have lost the expectation that I’ll ever feel prepared for life raising children. Parenting is a baptism by fire, on the job training kind of gig. Sometimes I realize that while I’m teaching my daughter about life, I’m re-learning what I thought life was about. Then I get all freaked out about learning from a two year old and need to take a little break.

Lastly, the ever popular “you should have to complete training before being allowed to breed”. Really? What would that class look like? I used to be a trainer…and would LOVE to see someone try and teach a bunch of childless people what kids are really like. Here are just some of the things my daughter and son have trained me on in the past three years – I’d like to hear how any class could have given me these lessons.

1. Poop does come out of just about any fabric.
2. What love really looks like.
3. A child never thinks their nose needs blowing.
4. Add 20 minutes to whatever time you think you need to leave.
5. My mom was right. About everything.
6. The new definition of a clean house.
7. Trying to get it done faster usually just complicates things.
8. The beauty of silence.
9. Twenty-four hours is not long enough to do it all – so pick the most important thing, and do it well.
10. Sleep is something you actually can function without.
11. There are no sick days for parents.
12. How to use my imagination.
13. The simplest things are often the best.
14. I can’t do it alone.
15. “Why?” Doesn’t really mean they want a reason.
16. Joy
17. I am stronger and weaker than I thought.
18. Pregnancy only feels like forever.
19. How God must feel about me.
20. How my parents must feel about me.

Bottom line. There’s no training that would ever be sufficient. No stability that is stable enough. Kids are an amazing blessing that cannot be compared to anything else in life. They will change your life forever – and you’ll realize how much you don’t know within the first 10 seconds of parenthood.

Hiding From Healing

Voices floated across the warm placid air, carrying to my hiding place beneath the trailer table. “Has anyone seen Tonya? We can’t find her anywhere.” The urgency in the muffled question almost propelled me from the protection of my secret spot. I willed myself to become as small as possible as I listened to the voices trail away across the field outside and felt the sweet relief of remaining undiscovered wash over my huddled frame. Only too soon I knew someone would think to recheck the trailer, and then the pain would start again. I knew it was a temporary respite, but for now, I was safe. Hidden. My arm encased in the cast that had been my companion for months.

My earliest memories are of agony. Of a medicinal smell tinged with the fragrance of blood. Of pleading any words I could muster and fighting with every ounce of my petite frame to force my parents to stop. I recall being assured how much I was loved, that this was the best thing for me, but only wanting to run and hide from the daily torture of my life. It was that desire to flee that found me crouched in a stiflingly hot trailer as the sweltering summer afternoon faded towards twilight, praying that this day I might escape the inevitable.

It took over a decade before I glimpsed the extent of my parent’s devotion to me. And only 20 years later, after experiencing parenthood myself did I truly understand their willingness to struggle with me through heartache and gut-wrenching pain so that I could face life without a permanent reminder of the accident that almost scarred my life forever. The accident. At the age of five, as a freckled, exuberant pixie, I fell while twirling and rolled straight into the side of a barrel of burning trash. From my knuckles to my shoulder my flesh was singed. Scorched. Destroyed. Through the layers of sun spotted skin, the blazing metal demolished my tissue down to the nerves. I suffered third degree burns. Even with proper treatment, horrible scarring would almost certainly be the result.

In God’s eternal graciousness, my mother’s best friend “happened” to be a nurse at Seattle’s premiere burn unit. Harborview. She rescued me from a lengthy stay in the burn unit by assuring the doctors that with her oversight, my parents would do whatever necessary to treat me at home, and would return me weekly to Harborview’s capable staff for check-ups, thorough treatments and admission to the burn center, should the at-home care prove insufficient for my recovery. However, in relieving me of the loneliness of a hospital stay, she sentenced me to the realities of burn treatment without drugs to dull the pain, or professional staff to shield my mother and father from my daily screams of anguish.

Burns of this magnitude and depth cannot be just left alone to heal on their own. Our bodies will quickly scab over such wounds in an attempt to protect them, but the deep void beneath become a breeding ground for infection. In addition, not allowing the burn to heal inside up is what ultimately results in scars. The only solution is to repeatedly remove all scabs, opening the wound multiple times a day, washing, medicating and re-bandaging it until the burned tissue regrows from the deepest parts out. The process takes months. Multiple times a day, my father had to pin me down while my mother scrubbed the newly growing skin off my arm, revealing the slowly healing burns beneath. It was his six-foot frame that steadied and vainly attempted to comfort me because fueled by pain and adrenaline, my 40 pound body could overpower my mother. Once a week I returned to the hospital burn unit to be scrubbed down by professionals, where, breathing in drugged air, I laughed and joked with the staff as blood covered my arm. Days stretched to weeks into months, the repeated horribly familiar cycle becoming almost normal. Until at last, fresh skin covered my wounds and was allowed to remain. To this day, my mom’s nurse friend marvels that I’m the only patient she’s ever seen to come through third degree burns with no scarring.  Zero. None. A testament to my parent’s unyielding love and devotion to do what was best, regardless of the daily emotional toll it took on all of us. You would never guess which arm suffered such a traumatic event. I even recovered all my freckles. A miracle I’m thankful for every day.

Freckles

I was reminded of this painful period of my life this morning in church. With this scripture 1 Peter 4:12-13 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

The imagery of “fiery trial”, is obviously applicable in a very real sense for me. To this day, 30 years later, any analogy involving fire instantly makes me uncomfortable as the symbolism hits too close to home. This morning, as I scribbled down my thoughts, for the first time it occurred to me that healing from a severe burn replicates our need for healing from the wounds caused by the fiery trials of our earthly life. Betrayal, lies, broken relationships, disappointment, anger, resentment all inflict emotional damage that burn past the surface, to the nerves of our souls. Our natural instinct is to scab over these hurts. To insulate our pain and develop a crusty outer layer. But is this really healing? To pretend that wounds don’t exist? We hear to “just move on”, to “get over it” and that seems to make sense, but is it truly what’s best for our souls?

Maybe we need daily emotional scrubbing. Perhaps our wounds are best bandaged by continually opening up the ugly rawness to the tender hands of the Lord. The irony of third degree burns is that because of the damage to the nerves, the actual burns are not what causes agony. It’s the regrowth of the tissue that hurts. The burgeoning sensors of pain bursting to life as healing takes place is truly torture. I think our emotional trauma is the same way. Better to leave the scorched damaged memories buried and unscoured than open ourselves up to the tremendous suffering of true and lasting healing. Processing our pain and allowing the inward change that comes from turning our hurts over to the Father is the emotional equivalent of my childhood torment. It feels awful. We feel vulnerable. The ache is consuming. It doesn’t seem worth it. We just want the pain to stop. To go back to cowering under our table. Praying nobody will find us. Pretending it isn’t there. But just as my parents searched me out, our Lord wants to meet us in our hiding places and walk with us in the hard painful parts of life. To comfort us amid overwhelming circumstances. Seeing us through the fiery trials of this world into forever healing, not just temporary scabs or permanent scars. Allowing us to come forth through the anguish to find exceeding joy and freedom on the other side.

How Impressionism Revealed God’s Perspective

I recently traveled to Chicago to enhance my copiousness. Yes, that was a stated purpose of the training I received there. To grow my mind and experience an abundance of historical thinking. I love the saying “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”, and try to model my relationships after that premise. I’m happiest when surrounded by those who enrich my thoughts and encourage me to develop big ideas. Never was this more true than during my time at CC’s Practicum Speaker Trainer Training. That’s training for those who will be training practicum speakers. A room full of CC folks with a passion for classical education, equipping others and public speaking. It was like returning to the mother ship. These were my people all the way down to our very core.

Intentionally, I scheduled my homeward flight for late in the evening, so I could traipse around Chicago for a day. My primary goal was to see The Art Institute of Chicago’s Impressionism wing. Specifically their room full of Monet. It just so happened my trip coincided with Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the dyeing of the river green. Not a deep natural forest green, but a bright psychedelic emerald. The garish color was mimicked all around me in thousands of people enjoying the celebratory mood of the day. They started partying around noon by 5pm had reached a fever pitch even my Uber driver was anxious to escape as he happily left the city to deposit my un-drunk self at the airport. Apparently I was the only sober fare he had all day.

St. Patrick's In Chicago

I’d rambled around the museum for almost two hours enjoying Greek, Roman, Modern and Ancient Indian art, but longing for Impressionists when I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. Just the very edge of a painting hugging a corner two rooms away. I knew instantly it was Monet and proceeded to avoid group tours and step around slow-moving elderly in my haste to see the full painting.

As I stepped into the room, I was overcome with awe. A dozen masterpieces by the great French impressionist encircled me. There to be savored. As I moved around the perimeter, I looked at each painting twice. Once as close as I could muster (without a docent scolding me anyway) to see the smallest detail, then a few steps back to observe the painting in toto. As I repeated this process, my awe gave way to an emotion not easily described, but one which created in my soul a desire to sit and weep.

I am not a crier. Not at movies, Mother’s Day, loss, happiness, not for much of anything do I shed tears. As such, this overwhelming flood of sentiment disquieted me enough that I found a nearby bench and sat struggling to compose myself while gazing at Monet’s Water Lilies.

I lost my battle to hold back tears as I identified the root of my emotion. My eyes were suddenly opened to a little of God’s perspective. As I muddle through life, moving from the mundane of laundry, to the routine of homeschooling, groceries and dishes, I tend to become tunnel visioned. My world seems incredibly small most of the time. I’m just trying to get through the next task, whatever is the most pressing concern or need of those around me. Often, I can’t think past Tuesday to make plans for Friday. As my focus narrows, life becomes a Monet up close. It feels pointless, just a swirl of nothing layered over more meaningless smudges. Life going around again and again in a jumble of details, relationships and tasks, with no value, no broader purpose.

Monet Water Lilies Up Close
This is where I really lost it and became supremely grateful nobody from training was able to trek to the city with me. Although we get lost in the minutiae of daily life, that is not God’s perspective. In the midst of seeming chaos, of colors that appear misplaced, relationships that look a mess, unrest and disquiet in our souls, He sees the completed master work. Not a brush stroke is wasted or errant. Our lives are His to develop through dusk and light, vibrant color and shadow. Our Lord builds layers that bring out the perfect balanced harmony of the work He is faithful to complete in us. In this life, we see a smidge of nothingness, the tiniest sliver of the finished masterpiece. As the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:12 “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

As I managed to (finally) get a grip and head out of the room, I glanced back at the painting that first caught my attention and had another realization. If our lives encompass God’s creative genius, shouldn’t they shout His unmistakable composition in the same way Monet’s color and form drew me in from two rooms away? As Christians, our lives should be a demonstration of who the Lord is. His truth, grace, love, patience and gentleness should flow from the canvas of our soul. The mural of our being should be a reflection of The Great Artist who created us. Imperfect and flawed, we are a fallen jumble of brushstrokes when viewed up close, but a stunning expression of the Master’s hand with the proper perspective. His. Monet gave me a glimpse of that viewpoint, and I am eternally thankful.

A Little Mud Never Hurt Anyone

In fact, muddy dirty play is incredibly good for you. According to research, playing outside in the grime and muck has health benefits for your heart, skin and immune system. Plus, studies show enjoying a good clean (dirty) day in the dirt increases happiness, reduces stress and enhances learning. Really. Here’s some reasons to encourage you to back away from the hand sanitizer, laundry soap and hand towels, and embrace the gloriously goopy joy of nature’s immune-system-builder extraordinaire.

Continue reading

Why I Just Quit My Job as a Stay-At-Home-Mom

Because some days, don’t we all want to? Due to the nature of the internet, I feel it is necessary to preface this post with the following disclaimer. I love my kids. Most days, I feel blessed beyond measure to have the privilege of raising such remarkable little people. However…there are days. Unbelievably challenging, never-ending afternoons of horror. Days that stretch me to the very breaking point. Today was such a loathsome 24-hours. I’d had enough. Beyond frustration. I’d taken a breather, and a short walk. Neither helped. There was nothing left to do…so I quit. My husband received the following resignation letter this afternoon.

Continue reading