Your 24th birthday is next Thursday and it is still an outlandish thought that you are in Heaven and not here with us. Time marches on and even the movie Legally Blonde turned twenty this year! Speaking of which, Elle Woods Henson was particularly excited by her prominent placement in this year’s T-shirt graphic. She’s so extra, just like her mommy.
It is always so amazing to see the kindness people perform in your name by many who knew you and even more who never did. I cannot wait to see you again and watch you watch the video roll of all of the good deeds your spirit inspired in people. Who knows but that the box of groceries in Detroit or the simple hand-written note in Phoenix was just the touch God used to restore someone’s broken soul. As you know, kindness is not wimpy and sentimental but rather a force both fierce and transformative.
What began as a simple seed to carry on your legacy of love has grown and next Thursday photos will pour in from different parts of the country where your spirit has spread. Four West Point Grads are having a golf scramble in Las Vegas to raise money for Wounded Warriors, crossing guards in Frisco are being assaulted with showers of Little Debbie’s and children in Jackson, MS are being treated at Batson Hospital because of donations someone made in your name. How wonderful is that?
Amid the celebration, however, there will always be an empty seat at our table. Time forever demarcated before 2009 and after. I suppose this is the frightening risk of loving a soul; the possibility that one day it will be gone. Our insides swell at the thought of love, enlarged by the fulfilled presence of another, but desperately deflated should it be taken away. How miraculous to feel the flat disappointment of grief eventually give way to the infilling of God’s grace? Life can almost kill us and then we least expect, catch it being beautiful once more.
I treasure what we had in you, Maggie Lee. Your sparkle remains like glitter found in the baseboards of an old house years after the craft project has wrapped. Your essence is both impossible to remove and ever present. You will always be the undercurrent in my soul when I react out of love and patience when I have the choice to be selfish. You will always be my inspiration to pull up a chair at the lunch table to make room for one more. You will always be one-half of the best things I ever did in my life on Earth and I cannot waitto celebrate you next week!!!
To join the world wide wave of kindness on October 29, simply go to fb group
It was Disney World, so what could possibly go wrong? I had visions of our youth group at the resort hotel with kids from all over the country uniting for a weekend of challenging speakers and park fun. What’s not to love? Since John went to New York with Maggie Lee on her school’s trip in October, I got to be a youth sponsor on the Faith in 3D Conference that MLK weekend.
Because our destination was sunny Florida, I only packed light jackets for us. Despite the fact that it was winter, ShreveVegas was a balmy 80 with 1300% humidity. The flight from Dallas to Orlando was routine enough but as I deplaned I could not help but feel like something was going down. That would be the temperature. Turns out it was not only a small world but a cold world after all. With suitcases collected, the actual adults reached into their bags for heavier jackets, while my mother guilt reached an all new high. It rose in my spirit quicker than Tinkerbell’s concluding firework shot across the Midnight Magic Kingdom sky.
We arrived at the Disney Resort and thankfully they had a gift shop full of Jackets and hats. I reached into my wallet for my debit card and to my horror realized that it was gone! What? Was it stolen? Left at the DFW Airport Cinnabon? Then it dawned on me: I organized my purse. The ticker tape receipt parade had gotten terrifically out of control so I organized then downsized to a smaller purse for travel. Alas, amid receipts of Hobby Lobby, Kroger, Starbucks and Target (the big four) my debit card must have been left. (passive voice) Except for the $100.00 cash that John gave me for incidentals, I had no access to money.
This was such a victoriously brilliant Mom moment for me. I explained to ML that I was a moron and that we had the $100.00 to live on for the next few days. Which is easy because food at Disney is so totally cheap. She did have her allowance saved but as the Mother I was supposed to be ready for any catastrophe not the source of the catastrophe. Even if it was a First-World one. I did bite the bullet and spend a third of our sustenance on a brown track jacket for my mini-me.
The Conference was great. There were engaging speakers, lots of emphasis on being the hands and feet of Christ in the world and fun break-out sessions. Maggie Lee met a new friend, Jessie, from North Carolina and exchanged email addresses. The weekend struck a great balance between spiritual challenge and time with The Mouse. My guilt was beginning to simmah down when I committed the fairy god mother of all blunders in my hasty attempt to help.
With only three hours left in the park, our small group gathered to discuss which rides we did not want to miss. The group determined that we would do one of the biggies: Space Mountain. But we would need our conference park tickets to get fast passes. Eager to help, I offered to run to get the passes for all of us while everyone made the most of their time left. I collected the passes and ran like the wind, Bullseye. Like Cinderella at 11:59 I was hauling.
Breathlessly I arrived at the fast-pass machine, fed all twelve of our passes and collected the golden tickets. I sprinted back to the pre-appointed spot and handed back the park tickets and fast passes. All eleven? What? I searched frantically in my micro-purse, sweeping the pockets both inside and out. Nothing. I checked my pockets repeatedly with the vigor of a Viking rowing. Nothing. I began hyperventilating, so ashamed that I had caused trouble when all I wanted to do was help.
The youth whose ticket I lost was sweet and her mom took their credentials to the info booth to get a replacement which I offered to do. Not sure why they didn’t take me up on that one. So the we all dispersed and I followed Sarah and Maggie Lee to be the purse holder. They boarded the ride and I called John. The tears flowed as I explained how badly I felt for my failure. I will never forget his his advice comprised of just two little words: “Grace yourself.”
“It is really ok honey, it is not that big a deal.” He soothed.
I protested, “But they all trusted ME with their Disney Tickets and now Kelley has to spend her time replacing a ticket that I lost. It’s nowhere. It must be on the ground, near the turkey leg stand or blowing around the parade. I’m so ashamed.”
Sensing my slight overreaction, he once more admonished me, “Grace yourself. It will all work out.” And it did. It was not the end of the world that I so meladramatically assumed it would be. I had not ruined anyone’s weekend like I was fearful I had done. Even now as I consider my shortcomings as a Mom, I relive the Fast Pass Debaucle of 2009.
I could have been more organized. When the kids started forging permission slips rather than taking the chance on my losing it, this was obvious. I could have valued the beauty of a completed load of laundry. I could have assembled the $3,000 worth of scrapbook supplies into actual scrapbooks rather than cramming the photos into random containers. I could have taken that Khan Academy trigonomatry course to help more with the kids’ 5th grade Math.
I mean why be The Pinterest Mom when you can be the Pinterest fail Mom? Way more of you reading this know the smell of Febreeze is no match for Taco Bell nacho cheese and know the panic of seeing four teenage boys bounding toward your home before you’ve showered. The struggle is real. And so are we. And in real life with the real constrains of time, energy and mental bandwidth something will occasionally fall through the cracks. At those moments, it behooves you to grace yourself.
It will surprise precisely no one who knows us that the heat went out of the truck en route to Mimi’s in Houston for Christmas. Luckily we had the three dogs with us so it was literally a three-dog-night. On wheels. Christmas Day. We stopped in Nacogdoches for coffee and further orchestrated the Fed Ex charade (sha-rrodd) we were playing on Mimi with our surprise early arrival.
None of the gifts I sent my Mom via Fed Ex actually made it to Mullins. NO doubt this woman was kicking her restless leg in the air on the sofa by 6:57 the Saturday our delivery man supposedly rang the doorbell. (Personally, I envision the guy who drops the TV over the 5 foot fence and scurries off) Subsequently my Mother had NOTHING to open from me on Christmas Day. Jesus’ Birthday, no less and the woman who bore ME was gift less. As a daughter the thought of your widow Mother not opening a gift from you on December 25th is anathema. So after our Shreveport Christmas gift openings and dinner we packed up Ramstein and hatched our plan.
Because I never learned how to let upended plans, knocked-over wedding cake or undelivered gifts to the woman who plans for months what the 16 of her offspring will receive get the last word, something radically fabulous was in order. And oh yea, Jack delivered a grand slam performance. If the highest form of flattery is imitation, there is a heroically awkward Fed Ex guy with scruffy goatee and a speech impediment whose buttons should be busting. Jack nailed you awkward Fed Ex guy.
Since there is no costume shop open on December 25th, (go figure) I improvised. Poverty teaches you to be resourceful and you don’t have two babies on a missionaries’ salary and not learn a thing or two. I scoured the house for Halloween wigs but they were long since donated and probably hanging in some third-world market I had seen on 60 minutes by now. After cranking out the Christmas ham, the faux fur of a Christmas stocking caught my peripheral vision. I knew instantly in my soul depths that this trim married with a healthy wad of double-sided tape was just the eyebrow/ sideburn/ goatee of my dreams and of my 16-year-old’s nightmares.
He went full boar on it. Armed with the actual Fed Ex receipt from the defunct delivery attempt, clip board and BIZARRE questions we arrived at Mimi’s with nothing to lose. John, God love this man, parked a block away as not to give away our true identity. I left a message at 9:30 that the new delivery had been delayed but they promised to be there by 10 p.m. with something from me but she would have to sign. I roped Brother Brink into my ruse and he told her she needed to sign for the gift.
I was hidden around the corner with phone at the perfect angle to video Mimi in her post-bath, disoriented glory. Jack rang the doorbell and I let out a muffled laugh of absurdity as often pops out right before a hysterical plan unfolds. Mimi hesitantly opened the door and immediately was taken aback by the hunched-over appearance of the “Fed Ex Employee.” After teaching non-verbal communication on an adjunct basis for DBU, i knew how important the props were. I ironed-on FED EX letters on an old ski cap and sweatshirt and knew that those would temporarily trick Mimi into buying the weirdo’s story.
Jack secured Mimi’s signature for the poinsettia and proceeded to ask a battery of questions, each one more bizarre than the next. He began with your son “Jimmy Henson” who sent a package from Albuquerque and addressed the package to “Mim” Richardson. Which she corrected to Mimi then finally for safety sake let it go with the wave of the hand. He proceeded to butcher my name, calling me Jimmy and Janie before snickering. Mimi reacted by inching backward and drawing the front door to more of a closed position. Then she asked him if he was ok after he snickered. He responded with some story about his buddy “Joe,” being in a “predicament.” Oh my… the improv! Eventually Mimi through furrowed brow asked, “Jack. Is that you?” and the gig was up.
But the gig of punking my poor Mother was enough to be watched 18.7K times on Facebook. How crazy is that? If only we would’ve foisted the unedited version out there in cyber space! So, frozen or not, we arrived to surprise my poor, unsuspecting Mother on Christmas Night, It was a BLAST. So even an epic Fed Ex fail does not have to mean an epic Christmas fail. It may just be the perfect set up for a hilarious stunt. And clearly we do all our own.
Before I delivered my first child, I had maternal guilt. I was certain that eating Flintstone Vitamins in lieu of the prenatal ones (which I could not keep down) per my physician’s suggestion would lead to some horrific defect. And (all together now:) It will be ALL my fault. According to Erma Bombeck, guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. And how right she was.
A twinge or a flood, justified or absurd, guilt is a common emotion. Added to the obvious mistakes we make are the endless choices we as parents could have made which should have resulted in a better outcome and Bingo! Guilt. The brain seeks to make sense of our circumstances, no matter how good or bad. One way in which it does that is to take responsibility. For everything. And everyone. So what, if any, positive purpose does legitimate guilt serve and how can we fight the illegitimate guilty feelings to which we are prone?
According to John M. Grohol, PSYD, “guilt is an emotional warning sign that most people learn through their normal childhood social development. “Healthy” or “appropriate” guilt serves a purpose in trying to help redirect our moral compass.” If you let your child marinade in a wet diaper for 3 hours, chances are you earned your guilt twinge. If you have twins and one is a brilliant mathematician while the other barely scrapes by, feeling guilty for this is inappropraite. If there is no moral issue to correct, there is nothing over which to feel guilty.
Legitimate guilt is an internal signal that we need to admit our mistake, apologize and move on. As Augustine said, “Repentant tears wash out the stain of guilt.” Relief only comes when we face our mistake and seek to make things better. This means humbling yourself to apologize, when it is warranted, even to your children. Family is where we learn what it takes to make good choices in the world. It is key to instill in your kids the need to take responsibility for their actions.
Forbes Magazine published a Stanford Business School study which reported that people who feel guilt when doing something wrong actually made great leaders. Partly, perhaps, because they feel responsible for their actions and aware when those actions negatively affect others. Additionally when prompted by guilty feelings, good leaders seek to make amends with those they have caused harm.
“Unhealthy guilt’s purpose, on the other hand, is only to make us feel bad for little legitimate reason” says Grohol. This unhealthy guilt, encouraged by its equally wicked twin, anxiety, seems inherent in parenthood, right? Whether pesky or downright immobilizing, unhealthy guilt is a huge waste of emotional energy. Living under the burden of illegitimate guilt can lead to impairment in one’s ability to make future decisions, fearful of making a wrong move.
If you feel completely overwrought this time of year, perhaps you are burdened by guilt. How can you get to a freer place?
Quiet your mind to dig down to the root of your guilt. Take a walk, write in a journal, be quiet and uncover what is really going on. If it is legitimate guilt over something you did or failed to do, make amends. Ask God’s forgiveness, write that letter, make a call, admit your part in whatever went wrong. Whatever it takes to own your actions, do it. Then let it go. Once you have admitted your mistake, whether or not someone forgives you is not your responsibility. If it is something like working mom guilt or stay at home mom guilt, examine that. If you made the best decision for your family be at peace with that and determine to once and for all let the illegitimate guilt go.
Honestly there are a thousand better ways to do things as a parent which will all become clear about the time our offspring are 25 or so. When parental guilt rears its ugly head, take a a moment and identify whether it is justified or not. Dig past the surface emotion to identify the true origin and if it is valid, change your behavior. If unjustified, cut the senseless guilt out like the cancer it is. A world of wasted energy could be saved if we would but take a quiet moment to inspect our emotions rather than being helplessly sunk by them.
If not already, pretty soon the sun screen-shined SUV seats will be covered in permission slips, after-school snacks and random articles of clothing shucked en route to after school activities. The Road-Pro 12-Volt Slow Cooker you plug into your cigarette lighter will start looking good as nano seconds count in the carpool relay.
So as we prepare for the year, before we get lost in a Sharpie high, let’s get real for two minutes. I give you a few sanity-savers in shorthand:
1. Expect that your child will fail gloriously at least once this year and guess what, so will you.
After selling a kidney to pay for her private tumbling lessons, your daughter may try out and not make the cheerleading squad when 8 of her BFF’s do.
Your son could run for student body President and despite a $75.00 Sam’s Club vat of beef jerky adorned with the slogan, “Don’t be a JERK, Vote Ben for Prez!” he may lose. Using a speech you convinced him to let you tweak no less. Yes, that will leave a mark.
Your little guy will perhaps by God’s grace squeak out a C in Chemistry which you know full well means that he will most likely not get into the college of his choosing.
You may have a toddler who is invited to leave preschool because of biting or a 19-year-old son invited to leave the university for the same reason.
The great news? You probably will lay an egg of your own this school year.
You will go MIA; Missing the awards ceremony where your child is named student of the year. You will only remember this when your friends text you pictures after the fact. These pictures may or may not include your child with furrowed brow feverishly searching the crowd for your face.
The passion with which you volunteer to be snack mom in August outstrips your memory in November. If you do somehow miraculously remember, your snack will contain trace amounts of tree nuts sending at least one child searching for an epi pen (don’t ask me how scary this is or how I know. Snack Moms everywhere: please use caution.)
Or, the Mother of all sins: You forget to submit pictures for the year-end slide show. Of course the Mom who assembles the whole shebang is certain that the 14th and 39th picture contain a forearm, pony tail or t-shirt most likely belonging to your child. Which makes everything way better.
Parents, even bringing your A game most of the time: You. Will. Seriously. Blow. It. Embrace this reality now and prepare in advance to grace yourself and your child.
2. Expect that your child will not be included in every single social event which occurs and do not have a panic attack about it. Your child smells your social anxiety, don’t stink-bomb your issues on the innocent.
Barring the mean girl phenomenon, most of the time it is an oversight rather than a personal attack when your child is excluded. Mercifully, as kids age their birthday parties shrink in number present (or else none of us would survive to grandparenthood.) With fewer children being invited, often it is a numbers game rather than an intentional affront.
Nothing ruins a weekend like seeing 4 of your child’s buddies piling into a car with overnight bags after school on Friday. Or even more hurtful, them seeing the fun they are missing on Instagram. Just remember how fluid relationship dynamics are when you are 12, choose a fun activity of your own to do and take away the phone for the night if need be. As a parent you cannot make up for the hurt of peers but you can model how to shoulder disappointment gracefully. And get a dog.
Unfortunately we parents can suffer from “PKSD,” or Post Kickball Stress Disorder from childhood: being excluded, chosen last, being called fat, skinny, stupid, or brainy. One in every 10 parent actually ate the paste in Kindergarden. We all have our stuff, right? Too often we see our kids as people kits we try to perfectly construct as better versions of ourselves. If we are honest, at times the drive to ensure our kids are included stems from our own need for acceptance.
For every child there will come a time when they are the odd person out, such is the rhythm of life on Earth. Perhaps without that vital lesson they would not know empathy for others as they desperately need to. When this hurtful yet normal part of childhood occurs, train yourself to look for things in your life which are going right to thank God for. Disappointment is inevitable but what we do with it is up to us.
3. Remember that if you do this parenting gig right you work yourself out of a job
I was floored this past weekend as I saw a Dad coaching his daughter through the process of making a waffle at the breakfast bar. She looked to be a bright 11-year old, engaged in conversation about the bike race they would participate in the next day.
So the Father read the laminated waffle directions like he is Annie Sullivan pressing the letters W-A-T-E-R into the hand of Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.” She waited impishly on his every directive, insecurely followed orders and appeared afraid to fail. Chances are this young lady was more than capable of cranking out a waffle but she was simply not trusted with the task. We cannot expect a switch to flip at 18 and our children suddenly have great judgement when they have had limited experience using theirs. Let them burn a waffle at 11
Envision your life in 20 years. Now envision your couch. Now envision your grown child eating your Ben & Jerry’s, watching your TV on that couch. None of us truly see this as a beautiful outcome, do we? The thought perhaps is radical but when we prepare the way for the child rather than the child for the way, we provide a false sense of the reality they will face.
Trust your children to handle their business as much as you possibly can. Sure some children require more supervision than others to reach their full potential but start small this year and curtail the hovering. It will liberate you and train your child to be more self-sufficient. To be fair, in a calm conversation let the kids know that you expect them to be responsible for their “job:” schoolwork and extracurriculars. Then the hard part: let them struggle. The S word, I know, but it is really, really important part of their growth as a person.
As Oswald Chambers said, “It is not so much that prayer changes things but prayer changes me and I change things.” When we pray, we release the death grip we have on something when really we have no control upon it whatsoever. Prayer transforms our vision.
Prayer is a tool for me to reach out and focus on God who lasts forever rather than my problems which thankfully will not. Just silently contemplating the hugeness of God brings a breath of perspective I desperately need. When the desire to helicopter is strong, as is my desire for action, prayer is the action I need to take. It slows me down, tempers my emotion and gives me fresh eyes for the challenge at hand.
So as the Summer fades from view and school hits like a monsoon, pace yourself, grace yourself, ditch the helicoptering and pray.
I have a 12-year-old son. He is beyond St. Nick, fairies, bunnies and monsters. And, now it would seem, the angelic patina surrounding his mother.
He hops in LaFonda the Honda Odyssey of ours and I ask about his day. As he turns my direction and opens his mouth to speak, he recoils. With eyes squinted in veritable disdain, he stares at me and judgmentally says, “Mom…you’ve got some….thing. Just, aughhhh, just look in the mirror!” And with that, he averts his eyes in disgust.
Now feeling like something featured on whatever special The Discovery Channel puts up against The Superbowl, I look in the mirror. Granted my cave wasn’t completely bat-free but it wasn’t as if I had an Egg Mc Muffin tucked in my nostril. “What’s the BIG deal?” I wonder.
“Just use a napkin! Get a Kleenex! SOMETHING! Aw, sick!” he exclaims as if he were Louis Pasteur instead of the middle school boy who could easily recycle his lunch napkin a good 9 weeks if so inclined. I think they call that irony.
Then, it hit me. I remembered the time I remarked about my mother’s brown age spots on her hand and wondered why she got upset. Or the time, bothered by her moustache, I waxed her upper lip and accidentally scalded her, leaving a Hitler-esque scab the day before an important dinner. Or the Lee press-on debacle of ’93 where a reaction to the nail glue had her convinced that she had carpal-tunnel syndrome.
Maybe Karma is real. Too soon we forget that our mothers whose noses at times have a little something extra in them wiped ours, and other things as well.
So, I won’t take it too personally. It is always disorienting to find flaws in the women who gave us life. I just hope when all is said and done that the goodness will outshine the goatee in my son’s memories of me.