A Mother Is Born
There’s this great scripture passage in the bible that reads “Perhaps you were born for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) It’s one of those passages that reminds me that life happens for a purpose and a plan. In the words of another blogger … “it means that God has put you on this earth at this time and has placed you where you are and with the people you are with for a reason.”
It’s not a coincidence that this passage is on my heart. Just a few nights ago, my youngest daughter became a first-time mama as she welcomed a new little bundle of all things boy. While waiting for his sweet arrival, my mama heart experienced moments of anxiousness, excitement, nervousness, and of course, happiness for the new life that would soon be joining our family. In addition to all these normal emotions, I must admit, I also struggled with just a tiny bit of melancholy sadness as one life chapter closed while a new one began.
My melancholy heart flashes back to when she was a baby. Knowing she was going to be my last, I cherished all the “last baby” moments as I held her close. From midnight feedings to first school bus rides and all the moments since then, she has been (and will always be) my baby. While my other daughters grew up and began families of their own, I held on to my youngest with a fierce grip that comes from being a mother. Soaking in all the “last baby” moments I could, I continued to hold her close as sweet moments were cherished.
Watching her become a mother has been by far the most precious of moments. Following the birth of her son, she anxiously listened for that first cry. With tears streaming down her face, she asked, “Is he okay?” And finally, the sweetest answer came in the form of a newborn cry. She reached for him and cradled him to her heart with a mother's grip while whispering words of love. It was at that moment that I witnessed the birth of a new mom.
Her mama journey begins as my journey changes. And the grip that I held so tight slowly loosens as it slips from my grasp to hers. And then I realize, perhaps I was born for such a time as this.
Weighing In for 2020
When I was a child, the start of a new year always meant a time to see how much physical changes had been made over the previous year. Before the Rose Bowl Parade could be watched on TV, my sisters and I had to parade around in our pjs while the scale was dusted off and the yardstick was located. It was our annual time to be measured, both in height and weight, in order to see how much we had grown in a year. My mom would pull out her spiral notebook and with pen in hand, readied herself to record the new numbers while my dad lined us up against the wall. Thankfully it was in the privacy of our home with just our parents and each other, but oh how I hated it.
See, I was “blessed” with an overactive metabolism and therefore known as the “skinny girl”. No matter what or how much I ate (and I could eat a lot), weight did not stick to my thin frame. I had no problem growing vertically, however. In fact, it would not be uncommon for me to spurt up a couple of inches or more each year but gain only a pound or two, if that. By this point, my dad had to measure my height because I had outgrown my mom. My dad would jovially announce that it was “time to put a brick on her head” while I would cringe with disappointment in the lack of weight-gain. I dreamt of the year that my weight would catch up with my height and no more would I have to hear jokes and pokes regarding my slender build. I will never forget the moment when I finally topped off at 100 pounds. It was also the year that I was able to fit into a pair of jeans (junior size, nonetheless) without any safety-pin modifications or home-made length extensions. Best.Year.Ever.
Now, I know what you may be thinking … “tough problem to have” … and I know that having a super-power metabolism is not the worse thing in the world. But for a skinny-minny, young teenage girl, I gladly would have given up some of my metabolism for a few extra pounds just to avoid being the target of body-image jokes and comments. (Words hurt, no matter your body size.)
The annual measurement parade now takes place in my doctor’s office and my metabolism has slowed “weigh” down (oh, to have just a little bit of that back). As a new year begins, hopefully the gains and measurements that we record are ones that reflect positiveness and kindness. This year, may our cheers be louder than the jeers. And may we see and celebrate our differences with words of affirmation in order to build up instead of tear down. Let’s make this the Best.Year.Ever. And remember ....
Preparations of the Heart
Some time ago, I had a conversation with a friend who was sharing her frustrations with her soon-to-be high school graduate. I’ll never forget her comment as she said … “This must be God’s way of preparing my heart for when she leaves home for college!” We laughed because we got it. There comes a time for our darling children to leave the nest and it’s easier on our hearts to kick them out when they exhibit less than desirable attitudes and behaviors!
I’ve thought of that phrase over the years and often have wondered about other ways in which God prepares our hearts. Several years ago, my father-in-law was diagnosed with a terminal cancer. His last year was a bittersweet time of life filled with “last” celebrations. Last birthday, last Thanksgiving, last Christmas … again I remembered that phrase and felt like God was preparing our hearts so that when the time arrived, our hearts wouldn’t hurt as much. But they did.
So today I sit and contemplate another “last”. The reality of our sweet little mama’s situation is that this will be her last Mother’s Day celebration this side of heaven. My sisters and I have chatted with the medical team who is providing our mom with care. Plans are in place to make sure that her needs are being met accordingly and that her wishes are honored. Comfort care visits with a social worker and hospice staff are being scheduled. She comprehends and is ready and I would guess that she has already been mentally and spiritually preparing for this time.
I’ve seen her physical and mental health decline over the past few years and as difficult as it is to witness, I believe my heart is being prepared for the inevitable heartache that is soon to come. In the meantime, however, I am at peace knowing that preparations are happening in Heaven for her homecoming. Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” And this comforts my heart.
Kitchen Confessions & Dirty Dishes
While I blog this post, the dishwasher sits full of clean dishes just waiting to be unloaded. Unloading the dishwasher is not one of my favorite tasks. I will even go so far as to wash a few dirty dishes by hand in order to avoid unloading the dishwasher. Ridiculous, I know. And now that the children have grown and moved out, it’s either going to be me or my husband. (Heads or tails, anyone?) Alas, tomorrow is a new day.
My mom never owned a dishwasher. She WAS the dishwasher. And when my sisters and I were old enough, we became dishwashers as well. Not by choice, mind you, but because it was an expectation … a chore. Chore is defined as “a small job that is done regularly; a dull, unpleasant, or a difficult job or experience.” Hence washing dishes.
I do not remember how old we were when we began our kitchen chores with mom but I do remember our duties included setting the table, clearing the table, and doing the dishes. We would take turns with kitchen duties thus having one-on-one time with mom. My sisters would quickly escape the dinner table and would avoid coming close to the kitchen until the tea towel was hung and the dishes put away for fear of getting dragged into kitchen duty on a night that was not her turn. I miss those days.
I would watch the sunset from our west-facing kitchen window while hands would be deep in a sink full of sudsy water. Conversations would undoubtedly involve the latest teen gossip or spelling test review. Perhaps we talked about the recent school bus happenings or Christmas/birthday wishes and wants. I don't really remember the topics of discussion but just as I am sure we had many talks, there were certainly times when no talking was to be had - each of us quiet in our own thoughts and yet together side by side. And I know there were plenty of moments of laughter as my mom would frantically try to keep up with the dishes that were being piled up in the drainer. “Slow down!” she would say but that just caused me to go faster. “Staci Jo!” she would laugh, “Slow down!” And just as soon as we started, we finished. Tea towels would be hung to dry, counter tops wiped spotless, and dishes tucked away for the evening. She always ended chore time with the words ... "thank you for your help, honey." With just the glow of a small lamp, the kitchen was closed for the day. Chores done. Check. I would have two nights “off” before my turn rolled around again. Two nights of freedom from the “dull, unpleasant experience”. I miss those days.
Eventually, as in all families, we grew up and moved away. Kitchen duty memories became much like the clean dishes behind the cabinet doors. We married and moved into homes of our own … this time with modernized dishwashers that freed us from the dull, unpleasant job of cleaning dishes by hand. Occasional weekend visits still included kitchen duty, however. The older I got, the less I saw kitchen duty as a chore. Instead it became a cherished time of adult conversation and laughter, (“Slow down, Staci Jo!”) and always followed by "Thank you for your help, honey." I miss those days.
This year my sweet mother will be 85 years young. She lives in a care facility where her kitchen duty days are behind her. Someone else washes her dishes, undoubtedly in a commercially sized dishwasher. She is free of that “chore” however my mom never once complained about doing dishes. In fact, she would often say how much she enjoyed it. I'm sure she would love to have the opportunity to once again stand and soak her hands in the sudsy, warm water and what I would give to be able to stand beside her in quiet conversation and laughter. What I once considered a dull, unpleasant chore I now see as a precious moment of one-on-one time with my mom. Thank you for the moments and memories, mom! I miss those days.
Oh … and the dish detergent my mom would use? Joy. And it was.
What Moms Can Do
There’s a sweet children’s book called “What Moms Can’t Do”. It’s told from the perspective of a young dinosaur as he notices all the things that his mama dinosaur can’t do without him … like crossing a busy road (he must hold her hand to keep her safe), being tucked in at night (he must let her read her a book or two before she can leave him for the night), and experiencing first adventures like kindergarten (he must be with her to calm her fears when she meets his teacher for the first time). I remember reading it to a classroom full of little people and hearing their responses in acknowledgment of what moms can’t do all the while my mama heart knew differently.
In fact, moms can do a lot of things. Moms can calm a fussy baby with a soothing, quiet voice. They can make hurts all better with a kiss and a band-aid. Moms can read the same book over and over and over despite the fact there are other books that have yet to be read. Moms know that triangle sandwiches taste better than squares and they know the exact number of cheerios in a bowl so that everyone gets the same amount. Moms can brighten a boring school lunch with a personalized napkin note. Moms can quiet a room with just a look and can speak volumes without saying a word. Moms can do a lot of things but just like the book title suggests, there are some things that moms can’t do. While moms can mend broken toys, they cannot mend broken hearts. Moms can say nice words and shower a child with compliments, but they cannot control the words or actions of others that in turn break a child’s spirit. Moms can hold a child’s hand for a little while but they cannot hold it forever. At some point they have to let go.
But they never really let go.
Moms continue to calm situations with quiet, soothing voices. They make hurts better by giving Dr. Mom advice when needed. Moms can still read the same books over and over and over…this time to a new generation. They still know how to make sandwiches taste better and know exactly how to make each piece of cake, pie, or pizza evenly-sized, even if it means she goes without. Moms can brighten a boring lunch by treating a child to their favorite restaurant and they can still quiet a room with just a look. And moms know that unspoken words are often the best thing that can be said. While they still cannot mend broken hearts or erase hurtful words, moms can provide a safe place to land when things are falling apart.
And that’s “What Moms CAN Do”.
Sometimes when I am scrolling through the thousand cable channels in search of something decent to watch, I land on the show called “Hoarders, Buried Alive”. As I watch the show, I find myself shaking my head in disgust and in disbelief that a person could actually live in such horrible conditions. Then my common sense and compassion button turns on and I acknowledge that hoarding is a mental health issue that often stems around a loss of some sort and the hoarder is trying to fill the void with stuff. (Disclaimer ... this is my uneducated hypothesis. I’m sure there’s more to it and therefore I leave it to the professionals.)
While I do not consider myself a hoarder, I do like my stuff … particularly when it comes to closet stuff. (I may even have a slight obsession with boots but that’s another story for another blog). The truth is we ALL have stuff that we love and stuff that we want. And we definitely live in a country where stuff is readily available to us at any given moment. Thanks to the internet, obtaining stuff is as easy as it gets. But we are never quite satisfied with our stuff and so we continue with this craziness of buying and obtaining more.
You are probably thinking that Kangaroo Jane was written based on my obsession with boots and other stuff. Not so. You see, one of the things I love about children’s books is discovering something you wouldn’t normally expect … something that captures and sparks the imagination of the child. And such was the thought behind the kangaroo illustration as I wrote Hazel the Hippo. I want children to read my books and discover other characters through the illustrations. Adding a kangaroo with fun stuff in her pouch was sure to capture the attention and imagination of little readers.
I saw this quote one day while scrolling through social media … “the best things in life are not things to be had.” As soon as I read it, I knew that I had a story for Kangaroo Jane. This sweet kangaroo spends her days filling her pouch with objects but discovers while her pouch is full, her heart is not. I love her story and in some ways we can all relate to Kangaroo Jane’s plight. Stuff is stuff, this much is true. But at the end of the day, it’s just stuff. It's not what fills our heart.
There’s a great scripture passage located in the book of Matthew. It says “Do not gather for yourself riches on earth … instead gather for yourselves riches in heaven…your heart will be where your riches are.” Find what fills your heart and you will never be wanting for more. And that, my friends, is Kangaroo Jane's story.
Thank you for reading Kangaroo Jane to your little people - I hope you love her as much as I do ... and remember ... "the best things in life are not things to be had."
Merry Christmas in Heaven, Dad!
One of the best things about Christmas is finding the perfect, special gift for the special person in your life. I think I was about 9 years old when I recall having the opportunity to buy gifts for my family members. I can remember my mom picking us up after school and driving us to the variety store where we were given our allowance (and maybe a little financial assistance) and freedom to purchase whatever we wanted and could afford for our sisters and parents. I could always find something for mom and my sisters, but finding a gift for my dad was a different story. That is until the year of the pet rocks. I can’t remember who bought the first one, but I remember his reaction as he unwrapped the first pet rock. His laughter was contagious and because he apparently loved pet rocks, the poor guy ended up getting pet rocks for his birthday, father’s day, and probably even the following Christmas until the laughter stopped (kind of …) at his disgust upon receiving “another damn pet rock”. By that time, he had his own personal collection of pet rocks. Just what every dad needs or wants.
Looking back, this was probably what started my quest in finding gifts that made him laugh for his laughter was truly a gift to me. It is a gift that I miss to this date. He had the best laugh. It would start as a quiet chuckle as he remembered something that was said earlier in the day or in years gone by. Soon his quiet chuckle would lead to an infectious giggle as tears rolled from his eyes. Most of the time, we never knew (nor did we want to know) what it was that made him laugh. And it didn’t matter … his laughter along with his sense of humor was the best.
Our last earthly Christmas together was in 2011. By this time, my dad was 83 years old and like any other 83 year old dad, he had everything that he could possibly want or need so finding a gift for him was difficult. The gift ended up being a box of his favorite soft drink with an attached gift card. Not very creative but I knew he would enjoy it. And since the gift was not very creative or exciting, I decided that a creative wrapping job was in order. Armed with every plastic grocery sack that I could muster and a roll of rubber bands and duct tape, I set about wrapping his 12-pack of coke … giggling in anticipation at his soon-to-be reaction as he attempted to unwrap the gift. I could barely hold back my laughter as he started to unwrap the gift. Tears of laughter flowed from his eyes as he pulled out his trusty pocket-knife and called me a “dirty bird”. After mounds of plastic wrap and rubber bands, he eventually revealed his 12-pack of coke and pocketed the gift card. The perfect, special gift for a special person. I miss him.
I would imagine laughter in Heaven is just as contagious as sweet memories of pet rocks and plastic wrap are shared between Jesus and my dad. Merry Christmas, dad! You are missed and loved but I know that you are finally celebrating the most Perfect, Special Gift. And that makes me smile.
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
"Do you remember me? Last year you prayed for me when I was having a really rough time. Do you remember that?” I did remember. This beautiful, petite young woman who cried in my office as she revealed the circumstances behind the tears and as she exposed her broken heart...I held her hands as we prayed words of comfort and strength. Words of faith and love. Words of hope in a season of uncertainty. After praying with her, I held her in my arms and she cried on my shoulder. Yes, I remembered her.
Today, after the sermon message of an Unexpected King, she approached me … again with tears in her eyes. This beautiful, petite young woman who wanted to thank and to hug ME. She’s in a better place today but not because of me. God unexpectedly places people in our lives every day. People who need comfort and strength. People who need faith and love. People who need hope. People who need God. God knows and He loves. And because He is who He is ... He unexpectedly places us in situations and in the paths of others so that He may communicate His love through our actions and through our words. Every day.
Two thousand years ago, God unexpectedly revealed Himself in a most unexpected way. Because He knows. And He loves. Even today. Who has God unexpectedly placed in your path? Come thou long expected Jesus.
I’m convinced that red shoes make for joyfully, happy feet. Whether it is the person who is wearing the red shoes or the person witnessing the red shoe attire, happiness and joy are sure to follow. Years ago as a preschool teacher, I had the joy of knowing Daniel, a very energetic 3-yr old who often sported a sweet little pair of red KEDS. From the moment he entered the room, his feet were in constant motion with the happiest little feet I have ever seen. He would run, dance, hop, and skip as he explored all things new and exciting. It was pointless to even suggest he walk while in the hallways because one simply cannot just walk when wearing red shoes. So perhaps it’s because of Daniel that I felt the desire to purchase a pair of red boots a few years ago. The moment I slipped them on, my feet began their own little happy dance. They are simply the best at making my feet smile.
My sweet red boots are a ridiculous source of joy for me. I hope that when I wear them, my inner joy radiates through me so that others may experience a bit of joy as well. The world seems a little brighter and lighter when I wear my red boots and honestly, who doesn’t need a little more of that in life? Whether you are dancing while wearing a glitzy pair of red heels, puddle jumping in red shiny rain boots, or sporting some comfy red KEDS, red shoes are simply a source of joy no matter how you wear them. I dare you to kick it up with a little bit of red and experience joy unfold in front of your eyes and between your toes!
I read this quote today … “we’ve postponed joy until we can survive the present.” How sad is that? Joy is not meant to be postponed rather it is to be experienced every.single.day. No matter your joy source, make sure you wear it loud and proud and often. You never know who may be touched and influenced by the joy you wear.
Thank you, sweet Daniel. I hope you are still radiating joy and making people smile with your enthusiasm for life while wearing red KEDS.
“For the JOY of the Lord is my strength!” Nehemiah 8:10
There's a quote from one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies that really speaks to me as I have started this gray hair journey (extra points if you can name the movie!) “What’s more vulnerable than a peach?” Um … maybe a woman who has decided to go gray? I mean, seriously. Vulnerable is such a good word for this journey. Vulnerable because my true color is being revealed. Literally. Vulnerable because I’m uncertain but yet certain this is what I want to do. Or not. Vulnerable because of my own insecurities. You see I like it when I'm told that I don't look old enough to have children who are married, let alone old enough to be a "Mimi". Will that all change? And does it really matter? Life would be so much easier if I was a peach.
Ever since forever, products for women have been geared towards making us look younger, feel younger, act younger. Don't get me wrong ... there's nothing wrong with looking, feeling, and acting young. But do we have to cover up the grays and eliminate the wrinkles in order to achieve this feeling? I'm not convinced one way or the other. But just when I'm certain that I'm going to really rock this new look, I see others who have already taken this journey and sometimes the only rocking I see is from a chair. Or a walker. Vulnerable. (Can I just be a peach already?)
I’m beginning to realize that this experience is more than just a journey of hair color and to be honest, I'm not 100% convinced I'm ready to tackle this journey. Ready or not, however, that train has already left the station and I've decided to embrace this new adventure with excitement. It's a new chapter in a somewhat "older" book and I can't wait to read what's in store for this somewhat "older" me. But for now, I think I will slice up a bowl of peaches and watch a Christmas movie. Stay tuned.
Staci J. Allen has more than 15 years of experience teaching and working with preschoolers. She currently serves as the Director of Caring Ministries at The Summit Church. Staci and her husband Rick live in Lee's Summit, Missouri, and enjoy spending time with their adult children and grandchildren.