Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Palm Sunday, Easter—and Beyond

Yesterday (Palm Sunday), the kids in our church came marching into the worship center carrying palm branches and shouting Hosannas: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” As I watched their adorable little faces—some delighted to be in the “big church,” some looking puzzled as to why they were there, and some maybe even a little scared—I was suddenly catapulted back across the years to a long-ago Palm Sunday.

As I drove home from church with all three kids in the back seat (Woody was on call that day), I asked them what their story had been in Sunday School. The two older boys had pretty reasonable accounts of Palm Sunday. But it was Erika’s story I remember best.

“Oh, Mommy,” she exclaimed. “It was a little sad because today we had the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a horse. And the horse fell down and broke his leg, and Jesus fell off. But it was OK—‘cause He didn’t get hurt.”

Pretty creative listening, wouldn’t you say? As I gazed at those fresh faces yesterday, I wondered what stories their parents would hear on the way home from church. And I wanted to tell those parents—and you—not to give up on the stories of Jesus. Tell them in parts, a little at a time, age-appropriately. And know that they will sink in, little by little.

Another year comes to mind as I write this: a Holy Week when one afternoon four-year-old Bjorn had a preschool friend –we’ll call him “Matt”—over to play. The two boys were playing out on the porch when suddenly I heard Bjorn’s voice booming across the kitchen: “No, no, Matt, you are the angel. You say, ‘He is not here. He is risen just as He said.’”

Nothing like acting out the Easter story to keep a couple of four-year-olds busy!

The next day I got a call from Matt’s mother. “Thanks so much for having Matt over to play yesterday,” she began. Then there was a short pause, ’til she continued: “There’s just one other thing I wanted to talk with you about.” My heart skipped a beat, wondering what might come next.

“I just wanted to thank you,” she said, “for the wonderful way that Bjorn taught Matt about the Easter story. You know, we haven’t really known how to tell him the real story. We just stuck with the Easter bunny and eggs and candy and all that. But Bjorn did a great job telling Matt the real story, so I wanted to thank you.”

Hmmm . . . maybe even four-year-olds can spread the Good News!

This morning I read Lars’ blog about Palm Sunday in Iraq. He was happy that he had been able to worship with a handful of other Marines and soldiers and sailors and their faithful chaplain in their little trailer-chapel, cement-block barricades surrounding them for protection, their weapons at their side.

He had also been able to fly yesterday afternoon over parts of Iraq that brought the Old Testament alive for him, he said. I thought how happy it would make my Old-Testament-scholar-Dad to hear that. (Don’t you think he knows this, up in heaven?)

And I thought back to an Easter season many years ago when Lars’ account of the Easter story in Sunday School was something like: “Today we had the story about the empty tomb and how the guys in the white things told the girls, ‘Jesus isn’t here. He rosed from the dead!’”

Indeed He did!! He is risen. He is risen indeed! I wish each one of you reading this a joyous Easter celebration. And I pray that each of you will have patience—and perseverance—as you share the great news of Jesus Alive with your kids. They will understand the story in time. And they will want—I pray—to worship this Risen Lord, even if some day they’re halfway ’round the world in a dusty little trailer in a far country with a handful of fellow believers. You’ll be glad you shared The Story!

Happy Easter!

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Marathons, Finish Lines, and March “Mommy Madness”

We at Mom To Mom have recently crossed a Finish Line. On February 27, all the materials for the third year of Mom To Mom curriculum, Inside Out Parenting: A Mom’s Mission “went to press.” A day worth celebrating! A finish line it feels good to cross. But one that could not have been reached without teamwork on the part of a lot of people both at LifeWay and in Mom to Mom.

Actually my own personal finish line was November 16, 2007, the day we completed the last taping for Inside Out Parenting, as I recorded the 4-minute devotionals that go in the back of each Member Book. It felt like I had finished a marathon. In early November we had taped all 16 teaching sessions of IOP in five days in Wisconsin. In early October we had filmed, three very hot days in Nashville, all the Intros and Outros that go with these 16 sessions. In the months prior, I had been writing and rewriting what has become my new personal-favorite curriculum. And in the two previous years I had done Heart Talk (2005) and Growing Together (2006). Yep! Both November 16 (for me) and February 27 (for my LifeWay editor, producer, and team) felt like crossing finish lines for a marathon. Finish lines we could not have crossed without a lot of people cheering—and praying—us on.

I’ve never actually run a marathon, but my kids have. Last fall, Bjorn and Abby ran in the Marine Marathon in Washington, D.C.—and the next day Erika ran in the Dublin Marathon. All three crossed the finish line—and lived to tell about it! Unfortunately, Woody and I could not be both places, so we did not get to see Erika cross that line. But we did get to see Bjorn and Abby, and we had the fun of hanging out with Soren while his mommy and daddy ran the race.

I’ve got to tell you how amazed I was at both of them—but especially Abby, who was still a nursing mom with a baby only 10 months old. Incredible, if you ask me! And when she finished, she looked as if she could run another few miles. Bjorn, on the other hand, looked as if he might not live long. Exhausted, “spent,” a little sick, he told us he wasn’t sure if he would ever have made it if he had not had people running alongside urging him on. Not only did Abby run the whole race with him, his brother Lars, who had run the Marine Marathon the year before, came and ran the last five miles with Bjorn and Abby, just to encourage them across the finish line.

Here’s what Bjorn told us when he finally could speak: “I don’t think I would ever have finished the last 5 miles if it hadn’t been for Abby and Lars encouraging me on. They kept reminding me—when I wanted to quit—that it would soon be over and I would be so glad I hadn’t given up, that I would feel better in a short while, that I had worked too hard and trained too long to give up now.”

These last words are why I’m writing about this today. Because being a mom is definitely a marathon. Especially in March. March seems to be “Mommy Madness” Month. Nothing official. Just my observation. And my mom-memory!

I was reminded of this yesterday when a young mom in one of our local groups told me how she was barely surviving March. “It seems as if winter will never end. That it will never stop snowing. That we will never be able to get these kids outside to burn off some of this energy. That my kids will never grow up. Never be toilet trained. Never stop fighting.”

Sound familiar? Wherever you are in your mothering, I bet you can identify (even if it doesn’t snow where you live—at least not in March)! And that, my dear mom-friends, is why we need each other. We need to run alongside. We need to encourage each other to hang in there. We need to share our survival stories. A winter that really did end—finally. A baby who actually slept through a whole night. A toddler who was truly toilet trained before Kindergarten. A teenager who actually became fun to have around—at least most of the time.

I hope you do that in Mom to Mom. Or if you’re not in a Mom To Mom group, find some other moms who can run alongside you—and you with them—not only in March, but throughout the year. Better yet, start a Mom To Mom in your church or community if you don’t have one.

And BTW, I’d love to hear from some of you. I’d love to get more feedback from this blog. I know you are super-busy, being a mom. But sometime, drop me a line. Tell me a story of someone who ran alongside you. Or some therapy which you have discovered for March Mommy Madness. Or of a topic you’d like to hear about here. And meanwhile, watch for the release of Inside Out Parenting from LifeWay on May 1. You’ll already find it on the LifeWay website. I’m sooo excited about this curriculum. But more about that in a future blog. For now, hang in there, girls—March is almost over!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Mother, Daughters, Dublin—and Banoffee Pie

I’ve discovered something recently: One of the best things you can do when you are desperately missing your mom is to spend time with your daughter. Not easily done for me, since my daughter, Erika, lives in Ireland. But for my birthday this year, Woody and I flew to Dublin, and I got just what I needed: time with my daughter.

We had a glorious week. The weather was amazing for February—not a drop of rain ’til the day we left, and temperatures in the 40s. A virtual heat wave, compared to this winter in Wisconsin! We did all kinds of fun things. There are a lot of new things in Erika and Richie’s lives, and we got to see some of them first-hand. We saw their cozy new apartment and the new school where Erika teaches. We visited their new church, which has a format (worship and teaching followed by a coffee break and then a Q&A time) and a pastor we love. (Great preaching does not happen only in mega-churches—which, by the way, are nonexistent in Ireland, believe me!) We got to visit Richie’s workplace and to hear lots about his current classes at the Irish Bible Institute.

We even took a road trip to Belfast in order to visit the vast world of Ikea. This is where Woody definitely earned the father-of-the-year award. Believe it or not, we spent six and a half hours in Ikea. Yes, you read that right: 6 and 1/2 hours! An astonishing feat by any standards. But absolutely incredible when you consider that this was with Erika, who does not like to shop! The same Erika who actually used to say to me when I wanted company going to the mall: “How long would we have to be there, Mom?” (Where did she get this? Definitely not from her mother!) However, she did have quite a spurt of shopping enthusiasm that day in the Belfast Ikea. It wasn’t really a matter of quantity shopping, but rather quality and caution: You see, she actually hates to spend money (even her father’s), and her choices are deliberate, but—I must say—wise. The result: we came home with some nice new touches for their apartment, and had a lot of fun doing it!

Best of all for me, though, was just simply spending time with my daughter. We had some great conversations over coffee—and a fabulous Irish dessert called banoffee pie (a heavenly concoction of bananas and toffee and chocolate—yum!). I realized that somehow I needed time with Erika more than ever in the midst of my grieving over my mom. Erika just understands in a way few other people do.

We did a lot of reminiscing. We looked at old pictures. We talked of tender memories. And we laughed a lot. One night when I was showing Erika and Richie some of the new Mom To Mom DVDs (from Inside Out Parenting: A Mom’s Mission, due to be released on May 1) she corrected a story I tell about her and my Mom in one of the sessions. It was about a time when she was a preschooler, and, upset about something “Nini” wouldn’t let her do, actually yelled “I hate you!” at her grandmother.

“Oh, Mom,” Erika said, “you were a little too kind in telling that. I actually said it three times! And I remember being horrified, ashamed, and scared to death as soon as it came out of my mouth.” Last week we had a really good laugh about it—though, believe me, it seemed no laughing matter at the time! I share this on behalf of all of you with strong-willed preschoolers. There is hope—even for your child!! I think of the wonderful relationship Erika had for so many years with her grandmother. I ponder the beautiful notes she wrote Mom in her last weeks. And I tell you: There is hope!

One of the things that helps amidst the grieving process, I’ve discovered, is to be with others who grieve with you. And I knew Erika understood that when she played for me, one day on our road trip, a few favorite Patty Griffin songs. One of them is called “Better Way To Say Goodbye.” As we listened together, tears flooded my eyes. But they were tears of healing, because all three of us in the car at the time (Erika, Woody, and me) shared them, I knew. And before we left Blackrock (the actual town south of Dublin where Erika and Richie live), Erika gave me as part of my birthday gift a Patty Griffin mix she entitled: “Music Therapy via Patty Griffin.” On the CD she had written this verse: “The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Now that I’m home (an 8-hour flight away from Erika), I play that CD a lot. Especially the song “Better Way To Say Goodbye.” Especially the lines that say “Today my heart is big and sore/Just trying to push right through my skin/Won’t see you anymore/I guess that’s finally sinking in.” And I read Erika’s note on the CD: “Mom, I hope this acts as a little balm for the days when your heart feels ‘big and sore.’ I love you—Eri.”

And as I listen, and as I re-read Erika’s words, I thank God for “music therapy.” And for mothers. For memories. For heaven. And for daughters. For direct flights between Chicago and Dublin. For low airfares in February. But especially for mothers and daughters. If you can hug your daughter—or your mother—sometime soon, do it! Hugging daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law works well, too. And if you don’t have any of these nearby, borrow one. I’ve had some pretty special “second moms” over the years. And I have a friend or two with far-away moms who consider me sort of their “Wisconsin mom.”

How blessed we are to have—and to be—mothers, and daughters.