Lost and found

Well, I have now managed to lose both of my children in public places.

20 months or so seems to be the magical age when this happens. With my older daughter, we were in a Carter’s clothing store and while I rummaged in the diaper bag for my debit card at the checkout counter, she stealthily slipped off. When I couldn’t spot her, the employees closed the store entrance until she was found, sitting happily on the floor behind a shoe display, trying on shoes (why didn’t I think to look there first, knowing her fondness for dress-up?). She looked up with a smile and lifted her foot in the air in a proud display, oblivious to the tension of the moments leading up to her discovery. She was missing for less than a minute, but my fear in that minute was real. The front doors had been open thanks to an unusually cool spring day in Florida, and my heart plummeted imagining what could have happened if she’d been bound for the exit—straight into a busy parking lot—instead of to try on footwear.

Last week at an indoor theme park, my younger daughter pulled a disappearing act of her own, on a slightly larger scale. This one is fast and sneaky, and we’ve known that about her since she started walking. (A few months ago she ran away from me in Publix and hid in the frozen foods aisle behind a stock crate. I caught her when she peeked around it and giggled at the look of frustration on my face. Oh, the gray hairs!) But this time, in a large space thick with short people (aka kids), she really scared me. She was standing right next to me, I looked up from her to her sister, who was asking for help tying shoes, and then I looked back, and she was gone.

I whirled around in a circle, scanning the room, which suddenly felt way too big with way too many places for a tiny person to hide. My friend and I instructed our older kids not to move and quickly split into opposite directions to look, but my girl was nowhere to be seen. My friend grabbed an employee who began asking me to describe my daughter. What was she wearing? How tall is she? What’s her name? Is she walking? (Um, no, she crawled away at light speed.) I stumbled through my description of her (“She’s really small! She has short brown hair and big brown eyes… She’s just really small!”), my mind racing.

I’m not the mom who loses her kid at a place like this. I’m the mom who knows where my children are and what they’re doing at all times! … right?

She was gone for maybe five minutes, which doesn’t seem long but is way, way, way too long. And then there she was, tears rolling down her face, in the arms of a young employee who’d had her wits about her enough to think like a toddler and climb way up into the big kids’ gym. Of course that’s where she was. My monkey. I hugged that girl so tight and tried to fight the tears and reset my fried nerves.

I tell this story because

1) It embarrasses me, but I know I’m not alone. I know this because when I posted a photo later that day on Instagram and mentioned her brief disappearance, three or four friends chimed in to commiserate (one of them was my own mom). I want to be forthcoming about my parenting failures because maybe you need to know you’re not alone. Sometimes friends compliment my parenting and I laugh before I realize they’re being serious. I am not a perfect mom—far, far from it—and that’s ok. My kids will grow up knowing that their mom makes mistakes and isn’t afraid to own up to them. Believe me, they’re already quite aware.

And 2) In those brief minutes last Wednesday when my baby was nowhere to be seen, and even that day at Carter’s so many years ago with her big sis, I caught the tiniest glimpse of how our Father feels about us when we wander off.

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. —Luke 15:4-7

He is the shepherd, searching relentlessly until the one sheep is found. 

He is the father of the Prodigal, waiting expectantly and scouring the horizon for the sight of his son returning. 

He is the woman who dropped one of her 10 coins—a day’s worth of income—holding a lantern in her dark home and sweeping the floor in search of it, calling friends and neighbors to celebrate when it is recovered. 

I wasn’t panicked. I knew that the one I loved was there somewhere. She wasn’t lost, not forever. But how I longed for her! I knew she was alone and afraid. I wanted more than anything to have her safely back in my arms, but the realization dawned on me that it was not for my own sake or my own comfort. It was for hers. Because I love her more than I love myself and could not bear to think of her suffering alone when I was right there with arms flung wide, ready to hold her and wipe her tears away.

Because despite my daughter’s moments of reckless bravery and independence, she needs me.

Call it a parenting fail, but I’m grateful to God for reminding me of His relentless love for us and the truth that no matter how confident and independent I might feel, I need Him. 

Now. Where does one buy a leash for a toddler?


To give what I have and know it is enough

In college, I decided to major in journalism because I wasn’t quite sure what else to do with myself.

Most of my high school friends were education majors who had known from the time they were wee that they wanted to be teachers. Not having found anything that “made my heart beat faster,” as my old pastor used to say, I followed along for a while, even joining the Future Teachers of America club, because why not? I wasn’t an artist, wasn’t into science or math, and didn’t think anything technology-related would hold my attention. I could carry a tune and harmonize with my altos in church choir but I wasn’t a singer by any means, and the drama teacher always assigned me the role of peasant #6 or townsperson #2 so clearly acting wasn’t really my jam either. I was on the yearbook staff at my small high school and thought that was fun, so maybe journalism would be my best bet. I made good grades on my English papers and could diagram sentences like a boss, and I knew how to spell. And most importantly, a journalism track meant zero math courses, and I liked that idea a whole lot.

So off I went to the Communications building to first learn about marketing and the history of newspapers and magazines, which I found interesting. But as I moved through the years of college and into actual news reporting classes, I made a discovery. I didn’t really like writing the news—and haaated bugging people for interviews—and judging by the grades I received from my professors (mostly Orlando Sentinel adjuncts at the time), my writing was just okay. Feature writing was more fun—book review on Harry Potter? No prob!—but the feedback from my professor in that class didn’t leave me feeling too optimistic either.

Editing 1 though—the class where you memorize entries from the AP Stylebook (yup) and destroy sample articles with a red pen and proofreader’s marks galore—that class felt like home to me. Go figure. I got an A even though the prof said no one would… and thus began my career in copyediting. I guess if I’m not that great a writer myself, the least I can do is help other writers look better. Wah waaaah.

Yet somehow, here I am 10-ish *cough* years later with this blog and the stories in my head and the thoughts I try so hard to accurately express through written word. Lately I’ve struggled with this blogging business because the more I write, the more I want to read, and the more I read what other writers write, the more I feel like I’m back in journalism classes again with that disappointing, mediocre B scribbled atop every assignment, reminding me that I’m just okay at this and maybe I should just go back to helping other people with their writing.

It hurts.

There’s so much I want to do and often I feel too inadequate to even try. Too many things to attempt and not enough time. I want to encourage women. I want to help moms be better and kinder to one another and to our kids (and our husbands). I want to share these little thoughts I know God has put in my head for a purpose, whether it’s in a 1,000-word blog post or a quick sentence I throw out into the universe. I struggle with feeling like what I want to say is going to sound staged or fake or pretentious, because I hate that. I love it when people get real with each other in a way that is encouraging and promotes growth and change, steps forward—not pretty all the time. I still want to edit. I want to write a whole book. I want to organize all the photos I’ve ever taken and put them in albums so that when my children are grown, they will look back and know how much I loved them, because thousands and thousands of photos! 

I am quick to let my head take over and my thoughts spiral completely out of control. I get lost in them.

Rebekah. Stop.

What has Christ asked of me? For only the wisest and deepest words? For a sentence that will solve the world’s problems in addition to having layers and layers of meaning and mystery? For perfectly crafted, tweetable statements that someone will inevitably paste onto photos of sunsets and wildflowers to be reposted 26 times in a row on my Instagram feed?

No. He whispers to my heart simply,

Follow Me.

Share the stories I have given you as best you can, and know that I love your meager gifts—your B grades, your “just okay” words.

Be present with your children—the children I have entrusted to your care—in the everyday.

Love Me.

Love others. 

Just follow Me. 

We plant, trusting God for the growth.
We act in faith, trusting God for the outcome.
We build, trusting God to fill.
We offer, trusting God with the response.
Emily P. FreemanSimply Tuesday

The truth is, I need those other writers, the ones whose beautifully strung-together words frustrate me (why can’t I write like that?). I’m learning that God uses other people’s gifts to inspire me to use mine, however unworthy they are to my own critical eye. To encourage me to dig in a little more, to think harder, to study, and to remember that whatever I have to offer, God can and will use it if I just give it to Him.


Step onto someone else’s lawn

On Sunday morning, we got flipped off on our way to church. Yes, I’ve written before about how strongly I feel about drivers giving each other the finger. You can read that one here, or I’ll save you the time and sum up: I detest it. This time, a neighbor a couple houses down and across the street from us—an older man whose always-manicured lawn is clearly his pride and joy— was outside mowing. He was near the street with his back turned, and I guess we startled him when we drove by, because what my husband saw in the rear-view mirror was the man’s finger and his angry face, clearly cursing. I missed the whole exchange because I was busy praying. Just kidding, I was putting on mascara.

We briefly commented on the fact that we hadn’t driven anywhere near him, how it must be sad to be such a grump all the time, and how that guy had always seemed a little off. I had been chatting with some girlfriends that morning via text about this and that, and I shared the story with them (you know, so I could get some support that obviously we’d done nothing wrong and that guy was just being a jerk). We all agreed. What a grump. What a sad life he must have. I shrugged it off. We went on to church and went on with our day, and I pushed the incident from my mind.

I should have known that my husband is not the type to write something like that off and say, “Oh well, I guess we just won’t be friends with that neighbor,” regardless of whether he deserved the finger. Now for the record, in my opinion and I think Jesus would back me up on this, it is never okay to give anyone the finger. And now I promise I’m finished talking about that. Moving on.  

On Monday morning, Mr. Lawn Man was outside mowing again. (I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it’s his pride and joy. He puts up reflectors and occasionally ropes it off—with signs—to keep cars, bikes, feet, and pets off.) My husband had been a little quiet, and I asked if everything was okay.

“I’m going to go over there and talk to him,” he said.

Now, I don’t know how you deal with confrontational situations, but I do not handle them well. Not at all. My heart races, I break into a sweat, and I begin thinking of all the things I could do as an alternative to having that conversation. No, don’t do that sweetie. We’ll just sell our house! Let’s move. All new neighbors. Nice ones. Sound good? 

Of course, in this case, he was the one doing the confronting, not me, so I just said, “Okay.” And then I immediately planted myself on the back of the couch by our front window and watched like a hawk as my brave, brave man crossed the street and over to our neighbor’s yard. My heart was pounding. Is he smiling? I can’t tell if he’s smiling! Are those angry gestures? What kind of message is someone sending if they have their hands on their hips? What if that guy punches him? Wait, are they laughing? WHY CAN’T I READ LIPS?

And then, after about 10 minutes, I saw them shake hands and part ways.

Here is what my husband had done: He had let go of his pride and any defiance at the fact that he had done nothing wrong, and instead offered our neighbor the other cheek. He apologized if he had, in fact, startled the man when we drove by. And you know what happened? That man didn’t puff up in anger. He didn’t tell my hubby off. Actually, he looked a little sheepish, apologized in return, and said he hadn’t realized it was us driving by. (This is not a good excuse! But that’s beside the point.) We had startled him, but you know, his wife always says he stands too far in the road when he mows. (That part made me laugh.)

And here is what we learned about our neighbor, Mr. Lawn Man: He has an actual first and last name, which we now know. (Shocking, right? This is embarrassing. We have lived across the street from each other for five years.) He used to be on our town council and is quite interested and involved in the local government. He likes rules. He likes things neat. We always assumed he was a war vet based on our own observations, but he’s not. He is, however, a huge American history buff (as is my husband), and has written some books about World War II, which he seems quite proud of.

God made this man. He is a human being, he makes mistakes just like you and me, and he has a story.

The next day, my husband found an envelope tucked under the wiper blades of his car. Inside was a note that read, “Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed chatting with you” along with information about those books he wrote and where we could find them online if we were interested.

My heart swells with pride and honor that I am married to a man who sets this kind of example for me and for our kids. Our 7-year-old observed the exchange through the window with me, and she had been with us in the car the day before and knew what happened. We watched this leader of our family grieve the situation, summon God’s help, and lower himself enough to take those steps across the street and extend a hand of grace, make an apology regardless of fault, and begin a relationship with someone we’d made all kinds of negative assumptions about.

I learned a lot from that interaction, so much that I’m still processing it all, but what I will leave you with is this: I pray the next time something like this happens to me or to you (because we all know these situations are inevitable), we take a moment to put our own defiant anger aside, seek God’s heart of mercy, and humble ourselves enough to take the first step onto the other person’s [perfectly clipped] lawn. There’s no telling how God might use it for good, but I guarantee He will.

Logging it away and letting it go

One of my first memories—one I can relive in my mind, without looking at an old photo or hearing retold by one of my parents—is from around 1986, I’d guess. My family had moved into a new home not long before, and I remember feeling pride, a sense of “this land is my land,” territorial ownership. There were lots of kids in our new neighborhood, and they were always out and about on bicycles and rollerskates and skateboards. We had a driveway that was perfect for rolling down on any of these vehicles, and the other kids knew this too. One afternoon while my mom napped, I remember sitting in the living room and watching through the big window as a bunch of boys on bikes and skateboards repeatedly scooted up our neighbors’ driveway and back down ours. My heart began to pound and I was filled with fury. Were they allowed to just do that? No. That’s my driveway. Private property, I’d heard of that before and knew what it meant.

So, I marched my little 5-year-old self to the front door and flung it open, and in a voice that I’m sure wasn’t remotely threatening, hollered at them with all the authority I could summon, “Get off our property!” and immediately flushed red in the face and shut the door. Take that, you naughty kids. (Did I mention I’ve been a Rules Girl from the time I was small?) I turned around to see my mom standing in the entryway behind me, and just the look on her face told me I shouldn’t have yelled at those kids. I don’t recall her exact words, but she explained it was OK for them to be in our driveway, and they weren’t doing anything wrong.

Oh. I felt deflated and very, very embarrassed. And it seems like such a silly thing, but I never forgot it.

Why, oh why, is that the childhood memory that comes flashing back to me so effortlessly?

There are others I can recall along the same vein, and I can see them so clearly… Cutting my baby sister’s hair with my preschool scissors and throwing the pieces behind the living room couch. Saying “stupid” (or maybe it was “butt” or “shut up” or one of the other words we weren’t allowed to say)—not at anyone in particular, but just because I was curious what would happen if I did—and being sent to my room. In elementary school, playing tricks on an unpopular girl at a slumber party. In middle school, laughing with a group of girls in the lunchroom at the expense of a boy in our class. As a teenager, snooping to read something that didn’t belong to me (and worse, getting caught).

Of course, the little-kid stuff makes for funny stories now. The middle- and high-school sins are a little more painful to recall… And what about all the stuff I’ve done as an adult who knew better? What about that time I screamed at my child in utter frustration or let a bad word slip in front of her? (It wasn’t “butt.”) I remember those things, too. There are a lot of them.

All regrets. All memories that replay clear as day at unexpected times. That feeling in the pit of my stomach… I wish, I wish, I wish I could go back and not do that one thing. Choose silence in that one moment instead of saying something unkind or unhelpful. Choose to speak up on behalf of someone even if it means I might be ostracized. Give myself five seconds to calm down before reacting to my kid drawing on the wall or spilling her juice again.

I have a sharp memory and can recall conversations—old ones, you’ve been warned—pretty accurately most of the time. (My husband likes to say, “Uh oh, she’s logging it away!”) It was super for helping me get through school with good grades. Not so great when I’m trying to forgive others and leave the past behind. Not great at all when I’m trying to forgive myself.

But then again, maybe those memories, as much as I hate reliving them, can help me to recognize the difference between the person I’ve been in the past and—by God’s grace—the person I want to be in the present. Maybe by not being able to forget my mistakes (ugh), I’ll handle things a little better the next time around. Maybe. I hope.

The book Unconditional? by Brian Zahnd significantly altered the way I understand forgiveness—changing not only the way I *try to* respond to being wronged, but the way I handle forgiving myself  when I mess up and allowing myself the same amazing grace God offers me. I love how Zahnd throws the old “forgive and forget” concept out the window (because we can always forgive, but can we ever truly forget?):

The way of forgiveness does not forget the past, but through truth and reconciliation it finds a way beyond toxic memory.

Through the act of forgiveness the past is not forgotten, but by faith in God’s redemptive work it comes to be viewed in a new way. The injustice is to be remembered, but it is not allowed to poison the present and dictate the future.

My older daughter is 6, almost 7. We’re similarly wired—she, too, has a sharp memory. Unfortunately, this means that she, too, has trouble letting go of her own mistakes. A month or so ago, she said what I’m sure is the ultimate of bad words in her blissfully unexposed mind—“Shut up!”—to an adult in our family. She was frustrated enough to shout, and that’s rare for her. But the moment those words came out and her eyes darted around the room to find mine, I saw her crumble under the weight of her mistake, and my heart broke for her and the feelings I knew she was feeling, because they are all too familiar to me. I didn’t have to say a word of correction, because she was already sobbing and apologizing. It took several minutes to calm her down, to assure her repeatedly that it was just a mistake, that we all make mistakes, and that the person she had offended had already accepted her plea for forgiveness. It was forgotten.

She did not forget it, though. She is her mama’s daughter, and I know that if I were to bring up the story today, she would cry all over again. I imagine it might someday be her version of my “yelling at the bad neighbor kids” story. I hate that for her. I don’t want her to log it away and carry it with her. I want her to log it away but let it go, and let it change her. Thank God for His grace and for the knowledge that He’s already made our wrongs right. I’m thankful that I can share this truth with her. My little girl and I, we will be on this journey together. I hope that He uses her memories to teach her, as He has used mine to teach me. And I pray that she grows up to be a woman full of grace who is able to move past her own mistakes, forgive others, and forgive herself.