Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lessons from a Personal Legacy

Last week my dad’s cousin, Paul, passed away suddenly at the age of fifty-nine. On March 15, he collapsed in his home and spent a week in the hospital. He remained in a coma and never regained consciousness.  During that time, his kids posted regular updates in a blog where they kept family and friends informed about his condition and expressed their gratitude for the outpouring of love and prayers.

Although I never actually met Paul (or if I did I was young enough that I don’t remember), I was saddened to hear his story. I started following the blog the day after he entered the hospital and the words of his family moved and inspired me as they expressed their unwavering faith in God’s plan and celebrated their father’s entrance into the Lord’s kingdom. One recent blog entry includes a series of audio clips from a 2009 estate planning meeting in which Paul completed a personal legacy interview. Knowing that he was a faith-driven man, I was curious to hear his perspective on his greatest challenges, personal fulfillment, and life lessons. Not only was I inspired and encouraged to make greater strides in my own faith journey, but in just 25 short minutes I received a full snapshot of who this man was, what he valued, and what he wanted people to know about him as a person and as a follower of Jesus. Even after his death, his hopes, dreams, and legacy can live on because he took the time to ponder these questions and record his answers.

As I listened, I kept thinking about the beautiful gift this short interview now presents to Paul's children. I am fortunate enough to have my parents alive today, but when I inevitably find myself in the world without them, there is nothing I wouldn’t give to have access to such a recording. I sometimes find myself confronted with the realization that Reese will never remember me if I am torn from her life even in the next few years. Although I don’t like to think about it, the knowledge of that possibility gives me the encouragement to capture as many memories as possible and makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be sitting down across from a recording device every few years to answer questions that she might someday want to hear from my own mouth and my own heart.

In the last question of the interview Paul was asked, “If you knew you had only 30 days to live and health and money weren’t an obstacle, what would you do?” His answer included sharing his testimony of faith with as many people as possible. I’d like to help him do that, so the link to Paul’s interview is below.

I would also like to encourage everyone to ponder that question every day. Don’t think of it as a hypothetical because for some us, it may not be and for all of us, it won’t always be. If you find something in your heart’s desires that you’re not doing today, start doing it. If you’ve been putting off a dream, start chasing it. And if you’ve never made a recording of your personal legacy to leave behind for your children, start thinking about how they will remember you when you’re gone. Never forget that we are all here on borrowed time and tomorrow is not a guarantee. If today is your last day, how will you be remembered? Who will share your legacy? What do you want your kids to know? Write it. Record it. Videotape it. It will be the greatest gift you could give them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Here We Go Again

After Reese was born, I went through a short period of time where I didn’t know if I wanted any more children. That period started after a serious hemorrhage had me fearing for my life in the delivery room. It continued with a blistery, nightmarish introduction to breastfeeding, and it culminated in an episode of postpartum anxiety during which I spent several weeks trying to convince myself that diving out the window and running to Mexico in my pajamas was actually not a good idea. As I sat on my toilet fighting off another panic attack with my squirt bottle in one hand and a jar of Tucks pads in the other, I promised myself that I was never going to do this again.

Almost two years later, that time seems light years behind me. Eventually, the blisters healed, the anxiety faded, the stitches dissolved, and I finally started to look back and say, “I guess that wasn’t so bad.” Then Reese started to smile and coo and each milestone pushed the negative memories deeper into the recesses of my mind.

As I watched the most beautiful baby I had ever seen grow into the most beautiful toddler, I fell deeper in love each day. All of the “I’m never doing this again” moments like teething, whining, tantrums, and public embarrassment pale in comparison to kisses, cuddles, first words, and baby belly laughs. But I still experience plenty of both feelings, often in the same breath. As I make my third attempt to figure out why she’s crying while our dinner burns on the stove, I wonder, how could I possibly do this again? And then I sneeze and Reese says, “Bess you, Mommy” and I think, how could I not?

Last month, as I sat in our bathroom holding a positive pregnancy test, my excitement was interrupted by a brief resurgence of memories… the labor pains, the sleepless nights, the squirt bottle. Dear God, not the squirt bottle! Do I really want to do this all over again?

Suddenly, Reese emerged from our closet wearing my shoes and Matt's tie. “Bye-bye, Mommy. I go work,” she said as if she actually had somewhere to be. As I started to laugh and cry at the same time, she walked over to me and touched my cheek saying, “Mommy sad?”

“No, honey,” I answered. “Mommy’s happy. Mommy’s very happy.”

October 28, 2012… Here we go again!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Amazing Love

After a short hiatus surrounding our move, I finally joined back up with the Hearts at Home Third Thursday Blog Hop. The topic for March is, “if you could have one super power to help you in your role as a mother, what would it be?” Just one, huh? I can think of quite a few things that would make my life easier – like a couple extra hands to help me get everything to the car in one trip, or enough brain power to keep me from forgetting at least one essential item on every outing. Maybe I’d like an endless supply of energy so I never have to choose between late-night relaxation and early morning workouts. Or what about the ability to make things appear out of thin air? I always thought that would be pretty awesome. Oh, we’re out of cheese? No problem. Poof! Maybe I’d like to have a clone – someone to work out while I sleep or to cook while I clean or to sing Old McDonald’s farm (again!) while I scream into a pillow. 

As I went through the list of possibilities, I started to (in typical Lisa fashion) over-analyze each one as if I would actually walk away from this blog post with my chosen power. Like if I could make anything appear, would that be the same as stealing? Wouldn’t I inevitably become greedy? What if I actually had extra arms? That would be weird. Where would I buy shirts? And a clone? Let’s not even go there. Would Matt love us both? (I said, let’s not go there). Maybe all the super powers that seem so great in our imaginations would actually make our lives more complicated in the long run. Maybe it’s better to accept the occasional forgetfulness, to leave a dirty toilet here and there, and to just take stuff to the car in two trips. Better yet, maybe instead of wishing for unrealistic super powers I’ll never have, I should focus instead on the one I’ve already been granted.

The chorus of my all-time favorite Christian song goes, “Amazing love, how can it be / That you my king would die for me?” The song ponders the great mystery of Christ’s love and the difficulty we might sometimes face in wrapping our minds around the possibility that He would suffer and die to give life to each of us.

The Lord’s unending, unconditional, all-powerful love seems to be a super power beyond comprehension… unless you have children. Not all parents have it – rather, not all parents recognize and accept it as a gift they possess. Here’s how you know if you do: if you feel immeasurable pain when your children suffer; if you are enveloped by pure terror when they disappear from your sight for even a second; if your heart soars with joy every time they smile; if you can sleep in peace knowing they are happy, healthy, and safe; if you know that you would go to the ends of the earth to love, support, protect, and comfort them; and if you would not think twice about giving your life in exchange for theirs, then God has granted you this gift of amazing love. Of course, our human version of amazing love represents only a fraction of God’s true divine love, but it does help us understand on the tiniest level why Jesus might have been willing to die for His people.

I was reminded of the depths of a mother’s love just last week after an outbreak of tornadoes destroyed parts of the Midwest. A mother of two sat huddled in the basement of her Indiana home with her children wrapped in a blanket underneath her. Using her body as a shield to protect them, she listened as her home crumbled around her. Debris pummeled her body from every angle, and she prepared herself to die so her children could live.

Both children emerged from the rubble without a scratch, and thankfully, their mother survived as well although she lost parts of both legs. As I followed this story in the news, it always brought me to tears to think that this mother had the strength and courage to put herself in between her children and the forces of nature. Amazing love, how can it be? And yet, I have that love. I have that ability. I could, and would, do the exact same thing for my child without skipping a beat. If that isn’t a super power, I don’t know what is.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Doing Something Right

Sometimes I wonder how well I fit the “good mom” profile. I don’t even know who this mythical perfect mother is, but I compare myself to her a lot. I wonder if I’m giving Reese the right kinds of foods, letting her watch too much TV, or spending enough one-on-one time with her throughout the day. Am I patient enough? Consistent enough? Loving enough? Is she smart enough? Are her social, motor, and vocabulary skills up to par with other kids her age?

I question myself the most in the moments that make me feel like a “bad mom” – when I forget to turn on the baby monitor until I hear a faint cry from the other end of the house; when I realize that she’s been walking around with a poopie diaper for who-knows-how-long; or when I get bored during our play time. When she catches a cold, develops a diaper rash, or falls and gets hurt, I always feel at least a small sting of guilt. Even though the realistic side of me knows I can’t prevent everything, sometimes it’s still hard not to wonder if I wiped her well enough, washed her hands often enough, or watched her carefully enough. 

To a certain extent, I think all moms do this at least a little bit. We wonder if any of the decisions we make will someday affect our kids’ health, intelligence, or social skills. We want to do what’s best for them, and we equate that desire with the need to be perfect. Because of this need, we tend to judge ourselves for what we do wrong way more often than we take pride in what we do right.

Reese recently reminded me that the most important parts of being a good mom are often the little things that I don’t notice becuase I’m too busy worrying about whether I’ve taken the right approach to potty training. We were playing in her room when she walked over to me, put her little arms around my neck, and said, “love you, honey.” Actually, it sounded more like, “Zuh-vee, Honey” but I knew what she meant, and my heart soared.

In that moment, I remembered that it doesn’t matter how many words she can say or whether her diet is perfectly balanced. All of my little day-to-day decisions don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that everything I do comes from a place of pure, unconditional love for my daughter and more importantly, she knows it. She hugs me and says, “love you, honey” because she hears Matt and I say that to her and to each other so often. Whether she is consciously aware of it or not, she knows that she comes from a house full of love.

I may not make the right decisions 100% of the time and I don’t always measure up to the mythical perfect mother, but every time Reese hugs me and says, “Zuh-vee, honey,” I remember that the small things I do wrong don’t matter nearly as much a big thing done right. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Living in a Fish Bowl

I used to work for University Housing Services at ISU, and many of us lived in the same building in which we worked. Our supervisors often reminded us that we lived in a fish bowl, meaning that the students were always watching us so we had to constantly work to set a positive example whether we were officially “on duty” or not. I suppose the same concept can be applied to any professional who lives among those they serve including teachers, police officers, church leaders. I used to think of this concept only on a professional level, and I never thought to include parents. Having a toddler is a quick way to learn just how deeply that concept applies to parenting. Here's how I realized it:

Reese and I were in the bathroom getting ready for her bath. The tub filled with water as I removed her clothes. When I pulled her sweatshirt over head, it got stuck and she started to cry. We got it off after just a few seconds and I said in a silly voice, “Whoops! Sorry, baby. Your big head got stuck.”

She turned her innocent face toward me and repeated, “Big head.”

I could almost hear my former supervisors reminding our whole staff, “You live in a fish bowl now so choose your words and actions wisely.”

That incident happened weeks ago and since that day, every time I pull her shirt on or off she says, “Big head.”

I always respond apologetically, “Honey, mommy is sorry for saying that you have a big head. You have a very beautiful head.”  Now she says, “Beau-ful, big head,” which is at least an improvement.

As silly as it sounds, I feel really guilty about this. With just one spur of the moment comment, I made my daughter believe that she has a big head. I wish I could just brush it off and say that she doesn’t really understand what she’s saying anyway, but (as I’m learning more and more lately) it’s never safe to assume that a baby doesn’t understand a concept.

I’ve always known that kids absorb information like sponges absorb water, but I never really stopped to think about the responsibility that puts on us as parents. Our kids are listening to everything we say and watching everything we do. It’s easy to assume that babies aren’t tuned into our conversations or TV shows, but they are taking in more than they let on. I have learned to never underestimate Reese's ability to pick up on what I say, remember my words and actions, and apply them at a later point in time. Whether I’m watching the news, arguing with Matt, talking on the phone, or getting her ready for a bath, she is listening and watching and learning. She will repeat my words and pick up my habits. She will follow my lead and be affected by my choices.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all live in a fish bowl. The bowl is tiny and the audience is impressionable. Choose your words wisely. Choose your actions carefully. And never tell your 20-month-old daughter that she has a big head.