MR. TOAD’S WILD RIDE

I imagined it like a mini vacation- a blissful dose of much needed freedom. I planned to do several, long delayed projects and enjoy some desperately needed solitude. This newfound time wasn’t a special trip. It wasn’t a fabulous, new job either. My triplets were starting Kindergarten and I was the single, dry-eyed mama exiting the school.

Since our boys were identical, we chose to separate them into different classrooms, affording them personal attention and a chance to be their own person. Never in a million years would I have anticipated the opening of Pandora’s box. Unbeknownst to me, my boys’ schooling would become “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.”

It began with notes home, then extra practice work, then on to the dreaded phone calls from teachers. I decided I held what would be the record in Guinness’ Book of World Records for teacher conferences. By second grade, I had 9 in one school year. This so called “break” became my new job: speech therapy, psychometry testing, additional homework, dealing with school discipline for talking, and inadvertently, my feeling like some kind of parental failure.

Embarrassed by all the attention they got for being talkers and highly energetic, I seemed to begin each year apologizing to the teacher before anything happened. I became so engrossed with “fixing” them to match (even perceived) expectations that I lost being their advocate. To this day I regret it. However, they weathered it much better than I would have in their shoes.

Finally, by 6th grade, we had a group of teachers that decided the Turner Triplets weren’t going to have a bad year as their last at the school. This special group of teachers banded together to create a supportive team approach to managing the entire grade’s testosterone and energetic demands. I thanked God profusely for that year of support, love and good-hearted teaching they received. I’m forever grateful for that last year in elementary school because middle school proved to be a beast of its own (but that’s another story).

The Highway

Picture this- You are driving down an unknown road and there aren’t any signs posted along the way. Potholes aren’t blocked, there’s barely highway lines and you can’t tell where you are. You have no idea if you’re driving to your destination because there aren’t any town markers. It’s pitch black because there is no light other than your dim headlights. You are creeping slowly along, wary of an animal potentially darting in front of you. There’s no indicated speed limit so you are constantly afraid of getting pulled over. There are no directions, no safety measures and you don’t know your way.

Finally, you spy a gas station ahead that has bright lights, and a stocked store. You feel relieved and a sense of normalcy. You are sure that you can get help finding your way. But when you ask the clerk about directions, they end up giving you directions to the wrong place and you end up even more lost than before.

Continuing on, you travel to another exit that has a run down old store, poor lighting and a dozen animals loitering around. You feel like there’s no way this place can help you but you stop anyway. The old gentleman is kind and scrawls down directions for you. You decide he can’t possibly be right because he seemed like he might not really have known what he was talking about (based on his surroundings and appearance). You toss the directions in the back seat and drive down a different winding road instead. This time you notice your gas gauge is low and realize you have the more immediate problem of fuel. Not finding a station, and getting very concerned, you let out a tiny desperation prayer to find a gas station because you are officially scared.

Finally! There’s a huge, well lit truck stop with everything a traveler could possibly need. You go in, take a break, get something to eat and ask someone where you are. They happily tell you your location and you are shocked because you never anticipated being there. You thought all along you were going somewhere else. But, you feel relieved to finally have fuel, rest and food. You have everything you truly need for your journey. You ask directions and the person gladly hands you a map and draws clear directions for you to follow.

This is what life can be like. The unmarked road is life. The first gas station is the attractive, seemingly good resource you look to in difficulty but get misdirected because they also don’t know the way. The second is the godly person you are too wary of to trust because you don’t identify with him. The gas gauge is your soul in a troubled situation. Your small prayer is your last resort. The mega gas station is the church where you found good people and refuge to help you and the map is the Bible. Jesus is the attendant at the mega gas station that welcomed you immediately and gave you clear directions.

IF MAMA AIN’T HAPPY

Recently I was in the middle of chaos- literally.  I looked around and my house was overrun by 5 indoor, rescue animals and 4, college-aged children (including extra friends) on holiday break. I couldn’t decide what drove me more crazy, the animals or the people. I finally decided it was the people because the animals didn’t argue and could be put outside.

Around the same time, our family attended our daughter’s college graduation out of town, completed an 11 hour family road trip in a van (mostly peaceful) and had Christmas (also mostly peaceful). Unfortunately, I also got really sick. This contributed to my bleak outlook.

I felt everything going awry and prayed, “Lord, this is too much. I just can’t do anymore.” Then I found out a friend’s child had a complicated surgery and a close, older friend fell and dislocated her shoulder. It seemed things were going from bad to worse. I kept doing my devotionals, however, and felt a message forming. It said to quit looking AROUND at circumstances and instead to LOOK UP to HIM for peace. I was accustomed to circumstances dictating my emotional state. I knew emotions were a terrible barometer, but was nonetheless bombarded by them. I kept telling myself, “It’s only a holiday break, I can do it.” But when week 3 of the holidays became week 5, I started begging God for relief.  Instead, a son decided to have oral surgery and another son invited guests over for a football party but wasn’t even home. That’s when my hinges came unglued.

The saying goes, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  Some sage was spot on with that statement. That night, I cried to my husband that being in my home made me miserable. I couldn’t clean up, pick up, or put up with one more minute of disrespect. It didn’t help that on New Year’s my sons and friends decided to light fireworks on our deck leaving scorched marks and burned holes into cushion seats. It was time for this holiday to end!

Clinging to fragile hope and force disciplining myself to read the Bible kept me from storming off.  I felt like God was saying, “Stop looking around at circumstances.  You know they will change.  You have to have HOPE in ME and not in how things appear.” The reason I felt the message so clearly was because it came at me from multiple sources. (When repetitious messages come, I have learned to listen.)

Our sons are all back to their respective schools and we got our daughter off to her first post college job. We are down one animal and I can keep the cat out. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s more tidy. I feel more sane. In this quiet moment I am still reminding myself to look up and not around.

TRIPLE THREAT

img_1170.jpg

The cordless phone lies in pieces on the floor. Another broken item, I thought silently. One more example of a lack of self control, an immature temper tantrum. I couldn’t get on to the perpetrator or lecture anyone, however. I couldn’t punish them either.  Why? Because it was me, the mom.

Reaching a boiling point was an ongoing issue for me rearing my brood. Somehow, it seemed the extreme would occur and I’d be past my limit and explode.  My triplet sons seemed to make a sport of it too.  The only proof I have is that a large smile would erupt on their faces when I’d charge like a mad bull or start “raging” as they like to call it. Because then I became the problem, not them.  It was an interesting tactic on their part and it took me years to adapt.

When the boys were 3 year old preschoolers, I was barely done feeding and dressing them and their sister when it happened. Three sopping wet, muddy bodies appeared when it was time to load up. I burst into tears, undressed them, and began the laborious process all over again.  I also called their dad to come get them because mommy was losing it (again).  Why did I not send them wet and muddy to preschool? Because I believed it would reflect poorly on my parenting.

Occasionally I’d take all 4 children shopping.  BIG mistake! I somehow repeatedly forgot they couldn’t be captive that long.  Wanting so desperately to lead a “normal” life, I’d set myself up for failure. Thinking I could handle it, I’d get two grocery carts and put two children in one and two in the other.  I’d push one while pulling the other.  I’d also restrain the child from standing in the lower part of the cart by using a belt from a life preserver or by adding piles of groceries on top of him. (One goes to extreme measures when determined.)  This tactic did not stop Houdini-like escapes or hair pulling, however.

Once a sitter had them during nap time.  I use the term “nap time” loosely because it was more for me.  However, we knew they needed a break from each other, so we had them go in their rooms to play or read quietly. Inevitably, they were like magnets being pulled towards one another. Their doors would open slowly and they’d creep towards another’s rooms. One afternoon, a sitter was unaware and found all three boys in one room with a mattress barricaded against the door.  The boys were 4 years old and incredulous at times.

I prayed for patience a lot back then which I found out was one of my biggest problems. I was gaining patience alright but it was because of the inevitable, “can’t make this stuff up” incidents which occurred on a daily basis. So maybe it’s true you have to be careful of what you pray for. They are adult children now (isn’t that an oxymoron?) and I pray for their safety instead since I don’t want anymore patience.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION REDO

New year’s resolutions have always perplexed me. I understand why we make them but don’t understand how they seemed doomed and poorly adopted by most (including myself). Hearing about them on the radio, social media and in ads on TV, I’ve come to regard them mostly as holiday rebound. Pondering over mine for a week, I’ve gathered a few good ideas worth sharing.

💡

Melinda Gates has an original idea- not adopting a resolution- but focusing on a special WORD to center her thoughts and behaviors towards throughout the year. That’s a reasonable, and possibly attainable goal. A recent devotional challenged me to ask GOD what my resolution should be, rather than choose myself. I think that’s an excellent place to start. I dare not ask my family for input as I’d likely end up with a long list.

Our church has adopted the book of Proverbs from the Bible for us to study as a congregation for the new year. This has aided in getting my mind oriented towards a better ATTITUDE. Attitudes are the center of where our actions form so it’s also an excellent place to start.

Attending an event recently, I met an interesting person who discussed her PASSION and that she “couldn’t NOT do it” referring to her horse hobby. It got me to think about my passions and if those might need to be included in my resolutions? One did, but two seem in line. When I refer to “in line” I’m referring to God given passions. How does one know when it’s a God-given passion? It’s when it benefits you and others. Therefore, I realized one passion I have needs to go. (I’m not going to bore you here with details.)

What about CIRCUMSTANCES? Those may be beyond our control and quite taxing. When someone’s struggling, it’s nearly impossible to adopt new behaviors or set higher standards. So, going back to the second idea, asking the Great Creator above for input seems prudent. Resolutions are great ideals but don’t need to make us feel worse about ourselves if we fall short (and we ALL come up short).

Finally, there’s that “F” word- FORGIVENESS. It keeps popping up randomly. I’m wondering if I need to do that and/or if I will need to when I try to avoid my prior passion…..

George Bailey & Me

3B0A67E0-7A70-4313-BD46-6921584C4623-e1545416577973.png

“Why the heck does it have to be SO HARD?!?!” I wailed to God that Christmas Eve.

Once again, wanting a loving, Christmas Eve family experience, I attempted to force the concrete square through the circular opening and failed. We were all dressed up and driving into town to attend Christmas Eve services. The children were in their early teens by now. I thought surely we can do this! However, my anxiety was at a fever pitch and my tolerance was shot. Five minutes on the way into town, loud arguing was beginning in the back seat and I just couldn’t handle anymore fighting. So, I did what any rational parent would do. I turned the car around, drove myself back home, got out and told my husband to take them to church by himself. How kind of me. And that saint of a man did.

Back inside the house, I poured myself a huge eggnog and put on “Its a Wonderful Life” to distract myself. I fussed at God, “Why would you allow it be so hard if you know I am trying?” All of a sudden a near audible thought ran through my head, “The journey is worth it. I sent my Son into the world knowing He’d be rejected and crucified by man, but sent Him anyway bc His life on Earth mattered. Your journey is worth it too.” I nearly fell off the couch. This jolted my mindset just like George Bailey’s in the movie I was watching.

Ever since that moment I’ve quit expecting things to be easier. I realize it’s not about comfort or lack of conflict. This life is a gift with all the good, bad and ugly. It’s a process. But if God loves me enough to send His Son even though He knew we’d reject and crucify Him, I suppose I can handle some conflict and difficult circumstances myself. Praise the Lord for His infinite goodness where a worn out mama can belly ache to Him and He will answer our prayers- just like He did for George Bailey in the movie “Its a Wonderful Life.”

BAH- HUMBUG!

Christmas Eve was always action packed with high expectations. Somehow, I’d blissfully forget each prior year and repeat the same, self defeating cycle. This ritual was like going to war but forgetting you’re going to lose. It involved dressing four children in holiday finery and attending Christmas Eve church services. It was our family tradition, mandatory, and we’d do it…NO MATTER WHAT.

Early in the afternoon I’d begin the bathing and dressing process with the beautiful, clean clothes, nice shoes and all. Of course, the boys didn’t care and proceeded with their obligatory wrestling (albeit inside the house). By 5:30pm I’d be ready for a nap but still had to forge ahead to get kids in car seats and unintentionally get my Scrooge on. I had no idea I was increasing my own blood pressure, stressing out my poor husband and forcing energetic children to do the near impossible.

Ever since I could remember I promised myself my family would be together, have traditions and celebrate Jesus. It was very important to me that my family be what I wanted so desperately for myself but didn’t have since childhood- a loving, stable, Christian home. That idealized dream met my rambunctious family and we’d be deadlocked year after year.

Nonetheless, one particular year, before the Fire Marshall determined we were cramming our church way over capacity, my family sardined in like everyone else. We stood in the back near the entry of our sanctuary and tried to hear the message and participate. I really wanted to feel peace and engaged in the worship, but HELLO!?! four youngsters standing through a long service isn’t conducive to meditation. Recognizing my young sons weren’t able to take much more, I decided we’d go into the adjacent alter servers’ room so they could move a bit but I could make out what was going on. Well, that idea was met with….”let’s try swinging these long candle snuffers around!” So, I exasperatedly said, “No matter what I do, I’m not going to be able to enjoy this service am I?” One son stopped, glanced my way and said, “Well, you put us in a losing environment.”

“Happy Advent!”

Recently, a woman greeted me with the statement, “Happy Advent!” I had never heard nor used that as a seasonal greeting before and therefore, decided to do some research.

Over two thousand years ago, our Roman counterparts observed Advent to celebrate the Second Coming of Christ. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages when Christians tied Advent to Jesus’ birth. It then involved the four Sundays leading up to Christmas in which all were to anticipate the birth of Christ culminating in the Nativity. In essence, we Christians were anticipating Christ’s birth and His Second Coming in the future via special services on each Sunday during the month of December.

Today, Advent seems practiced, but not completely understood. We light candles and recite scripture, but are we truly preparing our hearts for the reality of the birth of the Savior of mankind? I definitely need a staunch lesson in Advent. I hate to admit that I’ve missed the joy and reverence that reflect true belief.

While watching a Hallmark Christmas special recently with my husband (yes, he’s a patient man), I finally remarked, “Why is every one of these about some Christmas recital or pageant?” My husband said, “Because they can’t talk about Jesus so all they have are traditions.” It struck me that Christmas for many, like Hallmark, is just a tradition like the Fourth or July. How weird it seems to “go through the motions” when God’s Son’s birth is our entire reason!

I find myself in a flurry of activities this time of year with some invisible clock ticking away my inadequate abilities to perform. Yes, it’s December 7, and no, I don’t have a Christmas tree. I want one but just haven’t gotten to it yet. Does that mean anything in the grand scheme of what I claim I believe? Nope, it doesn’t. Keeping perspective during this season of Advent is an act of discipline that seems unnatural.

I love decorations, trees, Christmas music and baked desserts. Eggnog with some assistance from Evan isn’t horrible either, I might add. But what in the world am I doing all this for if it’s just a ritual and tradition without deeper meaning? I find I can become a green-bodied, yellow-eyed Grinch if I’m not careful. It’s like default mode to get caught up in the flurry of activities but miss the point entirely. If Christmas is truly the grandest birthday party, maybe I should change a tradition or two to include that belief?

OH, CHRISTMAS TREE

7B594AE6-29F6-4C2F-8B49-C1B857AEAEF9

I often wonder why we practice certain traditions.  For instance, why do we bring huge, live trees inside our home during the holidays?  It seems absurd to cut down a tree, drag it inside our homes, argue over who is going to water it, and then proceed to add lights and decorations just so we can remove it and complain about all the needles for the rest of the year.  To further add to our bizarre behavior, we have evolved to convenience ourselves with fake, plastic, “feel real,” $1,000 trees to simulate the same experience but avoid the mess and allergies.  You can even buy Frasier Fir room spray to emulate the fresh, woodsy scent of the real thing. Next, we will likely add fake bugs and a simulated squirrel like in the movie “Christmas Vacation.”

Growing up I couldn’t wait to get the Christmas tree up in our home.  Being a small child in the oh so stylish 1970’s meant a pathetic, fake, poor excuse of a tree with gaudy, colorful, blinking lights, homemade ornaments, and silvery, thrown tinsel from the dime store.  But, oh what a thrilling sight!  I recall us children pestering our mother to please get the tree down from the attic so we could begin.  Once retrieved, we still had to wait additional days before she would let us decorate it. It never dawned on me she was stalling by saying the metallic-limbed tree needed “to fall” first. I suppose all mothers have to preserve their sanity somehow.

IMG_0836

Once married, my husband and I were quite frugal but it was mostly my being dutiful that we got our tree from my husband’s Christmas Tree Farm.  Before you imagine rows of lush, evergreen, sky-reaching pines, picture this instead…. He had planted a hundred Virginia pines a few years prior but didn’t adequately space, trim, nor shape them.  Lo and behold, we took the “Charlie Brown Tree” to the next level.  The gaping holes, missing sides and contorted shapes ensured our tree was truly one of a kind.  They were also usually 9 feet wide- go figure.

When our children were little, my controlling nature was tested every Christmas.  They loved helping mama decorate the tree but having triplets meant all our ornaments went to the bottom of one side of the tree and I had to (gasp!) leave them that way until they went to bed.  Since our boys’ grabby little hands were always pulling on the ornaments, my husband would use fishing wire and tie the top of the tree to a hook in the ceiling.  We had way less downed trees after that.  Necessity is truly the mother (or father) of invention.

D3451286-ED4C-4B9A-9078-8C9E0016EBCF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THANKFUL? No Way!

Reflecting on our recent holiday of Thanksgiving, I felt challenged to thank God for things I wish I didn’t have to. The saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” makes me cringe because I know for a fact He will give me whatever it takes to draw me to Him. He will do the same to you.

The reason He gives those He loves more than we can handle is because He knows we need almost brokenness to get past our human selves to seek Him.

If everything were manageable why would we need God? I also believe He wants us to thank Him for the things that break us because it’s then that we are able to grow into His likeness. He has to stretch us beyond comfort. It’s a dichotomy, but it’s very real.

I had been very self sufficient and a hard worker since my youth because I believed that if I put forth 100% effort and gave my everything, good would come my way. I relied on that mentality and it served me well through high school and college. Sure, I had many positive accolades and awards, but it still didn’t prepare me for what was to come.

Once, when my husband and I were early married, we served as ministry staff at a retreat. We were prayed over and the lady praying was taken aback. I didn’t understand at the time but now I get it. She stood up and said, “Oh my, you have a powerful path in your future.” We had no clue what she meant and just went about the normal business of living. Little did we know, she was foreshadowing our future.

After praying for years that I would be able to have children, low and behold, I got WAY more than I ever could have hoped for. I had a beautiful, little girl and a year later came identical, natural triplet males. Sure, our cup runneth over and yes, we had a quiver full, but the pathway there was a frightening trial.

I found out I was having triplets while having an ultrasound at the local hospital. My husband was home on his lunch hour while our one year old daughter was napping. Another family was also in the waiting room but had many family present for their baby’s first, grainy photos. My mother, afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease couldn’t be there nor could my in laws who both were working. I sat all alone waiting my turn for the cold metal strobe to tell me all was well with my baby.

I was slightly afraid because I had experienced a complication. However, that wasn’t near the complications I would be having shortly! As I lie there having the ultrasound, my technician abruptly stopped and said, “Oh my! I see two- you are having twins! You can cry now.” I lay there thinking, “What? Twins?” And then she became startled and said, “Wait! I see another. Wait. Let me go get the radiologist. I’ll be right back.” I lay there dumbfounded. How in the world could this be happening? I’m barely a mother. My mother is dying of Alzheimer’s disease down the street and I don’t know enough on how to mother that many children. I began selling my too small car and home when she came back to the ultrasound room. My first comments were, “Are there any more?” Once she said no, I began the task of realigning the Earth on its axis.

After arriving home, I tried to tell my husband the news but no words came. Instead, I handed him three stuffed animals. In true, pied piper sense his response was only, “Cool!”

I haven’t been as cool. This journey has broken me many times over the past two decades. Remember, I’m a believer in hard work and effort overcomes all. But guess what? Nope, it doesn’t. You can’t work good to occur. You can’t hope people will change. You can’t pretend good is happening when it’s not. You also can’t ignore difficulty and pretend it doesn’t exist. All of it is very real. We all struggle. We all have something or someone that brings us to our breaking point.

I recently read the book “Prison to Praise” by Merlin Carothers that says we need to thank God for the very painful, difficult situations we have. He says it’s then that God can unleash His power to make change. Usually, it seems, that powerful change is in our attitude and therefore, our behaviors. I’m no Pollyanna and I am real in that I struggle mightily. I wrestle against circumstances and their perceived unfairness like anyone. However, I’ve grown weary trying to make things like I think “they should be.”

Letting go of results and expectations seem to be my struggle. I’ve wanted things to be just so and people to do this or that but have only met frustration over and over. I suppose God wants me to let Him be God and me be Katie? Maybe I’m supposed to leave results to Him and enjoy the process of raising children the good and the bad?

I’ve found the self restraint required to let things be almost impossible. I’ve wanted so much to “fix” things to how in my mind seem appropriate. But where has it gotten me? No where I’d like. So, in an effort to do the unthinkable, I am going to try thanking Him for things I don’t like and for those I want to change. I am going to ask Him to do His bidding rather than my all too faulty, presumptuous ideas. Maybe then, I can finally relax? Thankfully, it really doesn’t matter because I’m not in charge anyway. That much I DO know.