Last night I sat in choir rehearsal, just as I have done for about a hundred years now. I sat in the back row of the altos, listening to people of God singing in four part harmony, happy that they all had conquered their Covid fear and chose to come out into public on a Wednesday night and sing. But beyond the joy of sitting among God’s people preparing for Sunday worship, I felt a warm joy swooshing around my heart because sitting next to me, making a joyful noise, were two of my daughters. Adult daughters. Married daughters with their own little families. Choosing to be there. Singing like angels. In another area of our church, two of my grands were in their own little classes learning scripture at their age level….preschool! As I sit here now, I feel tears stinging my eyes. Tears of joy. Because I know how hard I tried, how much I prayed, how many times I cried and even how endlessly I fretted over raising them in a way that they personally would experience the love and presence of Jesus and choose to live their lives in Him and for Him. I messed up…..a lot. I insisted they be at church every Sunday and Wednesday (unless you are Southern Baptist, you won’t understand this second day of worship!). How I made them try to see the importance of being a part of student ministry, service projects, student camp, student choir and Bible study. When they were little, I took advantage of every car ride to tell them the stories of Jonah, of David and the feeding of the five thousand. We often had family meetings that involved big decisions and prayer. As teenagers I constantly asked questions and listened as they told me of good days, relationship issues and even painful experiences. I would ask them what they think Jesus would have them do or say….or I would tell them what God had to say about things. Sometimes I would stop the car and pray…..and sometimes I even prayed with my eyes wide open while I drove. I am sure they can still hear me saying “Make wise choices” as they flew out the door. I encouraged them to journal their thoughts, their struggles and their questions to God. I shared scripture with them. We talked about hard subjects and hard decisions. Worship music was the genre of music that played in our car and our home. I am sure they thought we were the meanest parents ever because of the boundaries we set for them, and the things we said no to. I know I drove them crazy telling them to honor their commitments, to use their gifts for Him, to do the right thing even when it was hard. I prayed with them, for them and over them, and still do. I taught them the importance of church, gathering together as believers to worship and study God’s Word. I realize that trying so hard is never a guarantee that they will choose to live for Jesus. My three girls are strong, beautiful, loud, funny, loving, opinionated, young women. Yes, they are still young in their faith journey, they are beginning families of their own and I see them making their faith the center of their families. Not just their faith, but teaching their little ones (and little ones to come) that Jesus loves them and died for them and cares for them like no other. So sitting next to them in choir rehearsal last night as they chatted and sang made this Mama’s heart swell and melt all at the same time. I didn’t do everything right, I messed up so much, but somewhere along the way God’s grace and mercy covered my mistakes and they experienced His presence on their own and fell in love with the Savior. Now I am crying as I sit here, because that is all I ever wanted for them, for them to know Him, choose Him and live for Him.
My Mom came to visit me last night. I know you might be thinking “Awww, that’s sweet.” But you have to understand this, she died 18 years ago. She has only appeared in my dreams three times since she died.
It’s not like a scene from my childhood, or a specific memory of her. Not at all. I will be dreaming about something random and I will turn and she’s there, smiling, just as I remember her. No words. She always steps slowly forward and pulls me into a hug. I close my eyes and I feel the softness of her skin, the comfort of her arms around me, I breathe in deep, and even though I know I haven’t been able to smell anything for years, I breathe in her familiar perfume. My arms wrap tight around her waist as I bury my face in her neck and I am crying. That deep, painful kind of cry deep in your chest that makes it hard to breathe. I feel her kiss my hair as she rubs my back and smooths back my hair. I finally stop crying, but my chest aches and I know the tears will come again. She smiles at me and touches my face. No words. Just love. And then….I’m awake. My cheeks are wet from my tears. It had been so long since she came to visit me in my dreams. I needed one of her hugs. I needed to see her face, and there she was. So real. I hope she comes again soon. I miss her so much and want to sit next to her and be the daughter again and talk and laugh while she files my nails.
I am certain God sends these visits to me just when I need them most. He knows so well what we need and when we need it. I imagine (and this is just my imagination, because there is no theological or biblical support for this) that Jesus saw my heart, He knew what I needed before I did. He looked over at Mom and said, go on down there for just a moment, no words, just hug her and comfort her. Isn’t that just a sweet thought.
I stayed home from work today. I felt somewhat achy, was it headache? Was it a tummy ache? I wasn’t quite sure, but I stayed home. The thought of sitting at my desk pushing papers to and fro, and answering the endless phone calls was all too much to face. I gave into the aches and pains that usually disappear within moments of my fifty-three year old feet hitting the floor.
After the hustle and bustle of one daughter off to college and work for the day, another daughter starting her second week of her sophomore year and my sweet hubby heading off to work, the house was at last quiet. I sat on the couch still in my nightgown and looked around my “lived in” house. “Lived in” is my daughters favorite line to use when I am on a rampage about the house being messy. “Mom, it doesn’t matter, it just looks lived in?”, they will say. They don’t understand the inner pressure I struggle with to make my home look like a Better Homes & Garden magazine, or worse, Pinterest! “It matters to me” I will tell them and then I set off on a mission to clean every nook and cranny.
I sat there on that couch for an hour, in the quiet, just thinking. I thought about my life and the road I have been travelling for the last fifty-three years. It isn’t playing out exactly as I had planned. That sounds like I am unhappy, but I am not, though I am finding myself at a crossroads. Many parts of my perfect plan have come to fruition. I am happily married to a wonderful man who loves me more than I ever imagined being loved. He makes me laugh, he understands me to the best of his ability as a man to understand a woman, and he supports me. I have three amazing daughters. The oldest is newly married, the middle daughter is in college and the youngest is in high school. They are strong in their faith and they are living it out. Nothing could make me more proud. I attend a wonderful church with many longtime friends. I have been on mission trips and I have taught Sunday School for high school girls long enough that I am now teaching the teenagers of the students I taught years ago. Frightening!
We have experienced hardships just like everyone else. God has blessed us time and time again. He has met our needs even when we probably didn’t deserve to have those needs met. We have learned so much as a married couple and as a family about God’s grace and mercy. All this matters.
Five years ago I went to work full time after working five years part time. Our daughters were getting older and more expensive. My husband had experienced a lay-off from a job he had been at for nearly ten years and had started over at a new company. Financially it seemed the right thing to do. Up to that point I had only worked twenty hours a week to help out our finances. The full time employment came at a time we were really struggling. Now five years later I am still working full time, mostly because we have become accustomed to the extra money.
This full time employment had never been part of the plan. I was supposed to have finished my first book, become published and obtained a lucrative book deal for additional sequels. The plan also consisted of me becoming a women’s speaker and ministering to women through conferences and retreats. This kind of work mattered.
I got up from my place of contemplation on the couch and decided to do something that matters. I got to work cleaning up the house. I made beds, I washed some clothes, I organized a cabinet and I even straightened up the girl’s bathroom. I had forgotten what it was like to be home in the middle of the day. The house was peaceful and I was getting so much done. The last time I had been home during the day on a regular basis was when my youngest was four years old.
At 3:00pm my fifteen year old came in from school. We sat and talked for an hour about school, friends, homework and anything else that came to her mind. Things got quiet for a moment and she suddenly said, “I like you being home when I get home from school.” Then she was off to her room to take a short nap.
I sat there a while longer thinking about that moment. It won’t be long till she is graduating and then off to college. This is what matters. It matters that I am there for her when she comes home. It doesn’t matter if we have lots of extra money to spend. Being there for her is what matters. Preparing my home is what matters. Serving others is what matters. Seeking God above all else is what matters. This is not what the world preaches through every social and public media. It is subtle. It is constant. But it ways in heavy on what really matters. We become confused about what is important. We strive to have it all and do it all. We push our children to be involved in everything and to maintain great grades while forgetting that they sometimes just need to be kids. We feel like failures when we haven’t achieved some kind of recognized symbol of an extraordinary woman who is perfect at parenting, leading and achieving, all while providing healthy meals, a spotless, well designed home and meaningful moments all chronicled on social media for all to admire.
I cannot compete with the ideal that floats around in my head of how I should be doing everything. It’s too exhausting. I will never live up to my expectations. The realty of life is that my house is not always clean, I do not have a particular set of skills that allows me to have every room decorated and looking magazine worthy. I am not a great cook! There I said it. I have go to meals that are no longer considered healthy or “Keto friendly” or any other kind of healthy friendly. I don’t have a deep desire to be a chef. I probably won’t be the granny cooking up amazing treats and creating lasting memories. I will probably never be a published writer. As of this writing, I have yet to have the children’s book I wrote achieve even one request for further chapters.
Loving, talking, laughing, hugging are things that matter. Nurturing is what matters. Encouraging faith in a God who loves unconditionally and who sacrificed His Son just so we could spend eternity with Him matters. Cheering each other on matters. Calling a friend matters. Writing a note matters. Listening matters. Spending time with our sweet Savior matters. Not measuring ourselves against the world’s standards matters.
Our family is FAR from perfect. We are loud. We laugh inappropriately sometimes. We may be a little judgmental at times. No one is brilliant. No one is incredibly talented. Not one of us will be famous. We are not rich. But what matters is we love each other. We talk about everything. Our girl’s poor fellas probably find the constant conversation overwhelming sometimes, but we all know what everyone else thinks about everything! We share meals, we share vacations, we share last minute road trips. We support their activities, we beam with pride at their accolades. We go to church together. I love how my youngest daughter once told us, “Not all families are like ours! We are freakishly close.” If freaky means we love each other and we are in constant communication with each other, that we talk a lot, we laugh, we cry, we fight. We hug and make-up. Then yes we are freakishly close.
There is one thing that matters. Love.
So the Armstrong saga continues. Today I sit here in our recliner, right leg propped up and iced down while watching Alabama beat Ole Miss. Yes, I am recovering from partial knee replacement…..and just so you know, it’s no joke. I had unrealistic expectations of walking unassisted and already returning to my regular routine. No. The bandage is off, I can see the approximate four inch incision with pieces of tape on each end mocking me. The knee is still pretty stiff and I haven’t achieved a 90 degree knee bend yet. My right hip is complaining, so while I ice down the knee, I heating pad the hip😳😭.
I have discovered a few things about myself: I am not a patient patient. Not necessarily with others, but with my own progress. I really expected to be moving more freely at this point (9 days in). I do not handle pain meds very well. I tend to get weepy and depressed. Not a good combo with my lack of patience with myself. And I have an amazing family who takes care of me and puts up with my issues (I hope), and great friends who sacrifice in their own lives to help us out! Shout out to Keith Bradley and his mad a/c skills and servant heart. And a special shout out to my dear friend of 37 years, Dottie Hartley, who stayed with me the night before surgery and got up at 3:45am to get ready to get me to surgery by 5:00am because Lynn was already in Springhill taking chemo. Speaking of Lynn, I love this man. Even though he’s in the first week after chemo, he’s been taking care of me, amazing. I do so much better when he’s babying me and holding my hand.Our lives are crazy, but the love of our family and friends is stronger!! I’ve said this repeatedly over the last few months, and I still shout it loudly, God is sovereign, God is faithful and He will walk us through this season.
I cried yesterday. If you know me, you know I don’t do that a lot. It came out of nowhere. Completely unexpected. I have fought back the tears for a month….trying to be positive, encouraging and strong. Strong for Lynn, strong for my girls and strong for me. One word from my friend, which I can’t even recall what that word was right now, and the tears welled up and spilled down my cheeks. She quickly closed the door to her office and pulled a chair up next to me and took my hand in hers. She let me cry and try to get out the words that I had been pushing back for some time. She listened and held my hand tightly in hers, then gently rubbing it between her hands, it was comforting and personal and needed. Then she began to softly speak truth to me. I felt the flood of emotion begin to relax and recede. I felt my spirit fill with peace and my heart stopped aching. I knew everything she said was truth and was whispered to me in love. I felt myself breathing normally and I knew I was going to be okay. I trust God, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have to deal with fear. I don’t have to be strong all the time. I believe in His sovereignty and I know that He walks with us through whatever is part of His plan for our lives. We are not alone. We might not “see” Him, but He is with us in the hug of a friend, He is in the sweet whispers of encouragement, He is in the contagious laughter of my girls when they are together, He is in the warm meal brought to my door, He is in the beautiful sunset that takes away your breath, He is in the smile of my precious man-cub, He is in the quiet as I sit with my sweet husband finally sleeping quietly in His recliner, He is in the kindness of a friend riding by to see if our grass needs cutting, He is in the warm laughter of dear friends as we share breakfast, He is in the words of a song at the right moment, He is in the profound words of Psalm 46 as it reminds me that He has already won the battle and He is with me.
Today, NOW, I was reminded of something that Paul so profoundly plopped down in the middle of Ephesians. Paul. He is so cool. Not very spiritual, but cool represents so many thoughts and directions. This man of God who started his adult life out on the wrong foot, his passions misdirected. His zeal was no less mind blowing as a “Christian bounty hunter” than it was as a bond servant to the Messiah! Salvation wrecked his life and the path he was pursuing with focused intensity.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” Ephesians 3:20-21.
For someone who has been praying over situation in my life for awhile, this verse came at the perfect moment. At 1:52pm to be exact. While I have been committed to pray daily for this particular situation, I still fretted and worried….and even feared. Would resolution come too late? Would those involved choose their own way and not God’s? I doubted. I did not trust God’s capable hand. I did not believe that He is able! It’s not that I don’t know this verse. It’s not that I don’t believe God is able. It’s not that I think I know better than He does. It is, however, possible that deep down, I didn’t believe He would act. I struggle with the fear that He is too busy or that my particular request is not that important to Him. Then, today, NOW, God just illuminates these strong words for my eyes, as if His Holy Spirit sat in the passenger’s seat of my car while I picked up a book I had been reading last week and said “Here, read this.” Peace filled every nook and cranny of my car like air fills a deflated balloon. I stared intently at the verse printed on the page. I read it again. Then once more. The words penetrated my soul as if a warm blanket had been wrapped around me. I believe. I believe God is at work. I believe He is able. I believe He hears me. I believe He cares. I believe NOW He is able to do far more abundantly then what I ask or think is even possible, according to His glory.
That’s how I feel this week….I feel tired, I feel unmotivated, I feel overwhelmed, I feel hung over (which incriminates myself of a life long ago in that I actually knowing how that feels!). My eyes actually feel like I’ve been up all night. My activity of choice is to crawl into the sheets on my unmade bed and snooze for a couple of days. I make it through a work day, barely, and when I open my front door, I try to avert my eyes to the chaos that is in every direction I look! In 25 years of marriage, even when the girls were little, has my house every been this totally turned upside down! I want to tackle it….but I don’t! I toyed with the idea of hiring someone to do it for me, but realized I couldn’t actually afford for someone to do it!! It’s that bad, folks!
Then there’s the mental, or do I say emotional, state I find myself mulling through. I’m the mother of the bride. I am not familiar with this roll. I am a mother-in-law. I’m REALLY not familiar with this roll, or all the negative vibes that go with it. I have struggled this week with wanting to know about what my oldest baby girl is doing this week and realizing it’s now none of my business! When do I call, when is it okay to call and when do I not call? I feel suddenly shut out of her world! I’ve spent the last 9 months planning, making lists, and writing checks so that the wedding would be just as my daughter dreamed, and suddenly, I’m done. Task completed. Lists all checked. The event is now history.
I’m sure I’ll come out on the other side, wiser and definitely older. But for now, I’m not sure what I’m doing next. I’m still parenting two other daughters. One who is figuring out who she is as a college sophomore. The other who is 15 and finding social life waaaayyyy more important than school, both of which I seem to be sucking the joy out of!
I think….no I believe….that the gift to the mother of the bride….from the bride and groom….should be a week getaway (well, at least 3 days) to the beach or mountains to relax and do nothing….and then for her to get to come home to a perfectly cleaned and organized house.
This photo I am posting, is of the 3 girls God is using to mold me into the woman He wants me to be….it hurts too!
These 3 beautiful girls surrounding me are mine, well mine and their Daddy’s, but they’re my baby girls. Yes, they all tower over me. But I’m still the Mama! I have struggled as if riding some winding, hill climbing, free falling roller coaster with the overwhelming responsibility of raising godly, stable, grounded, loving, kind, strong, unwavering, God loving daughters that can change the world. You see why I am often overwhelmed….the bar has been set high! And not having conquered all of these desirable traits myself, I am not sure I am equipped to raise them in a way that they are set apart for the Lord. I wrestle with the expectations that our home should be a place of peace and tranquility, and because of our love for each other and the Lord, there is no fussing, no disregard, no lack of respect, no inconsideration, and NO YELLING. Yes, I know, what alternative universe am I thinking we live in!! The reality is the dynamics of 2 teenage and 1 young adult (+ the mama) hormonal females living in close quarters, sharing 1 bathroom, going to school, work, social functions and knowingly and unknowingly sharing clothes causes a constant state of, well, friction! There is lots of loving, yelling, laughing, crying, dramatics, and even some times physical battles that occur on a minute by minute basis in our home. These beautiful girls are all strong….you just have no idea! All fighting for their own way, their own will while still trying to figure out this faith walk. This week has been filled with extreme moments that I am quite sure are contributing to graying hair I see in the mirror every morning.
Our youngest was in a week long try out for volleyball with daily cuts. She lasted till the second cut. The word devastated doesn’t even begin to describe the atmosphere that permeated her bedroom and demeanor. The world had ended. Life was over. I tried to encourage and make things better, only to be sliced into little pieces for my effort. That happens sometimes when you’re a Mom… A day and a half later, all is better and she is recovering and moving on. I have put my pieces back together again and have also moved on!
But the point of this blog “Just when I think I’m a loser Mom…”, and there is a point if you were beginning to wonder, is this. My oldest just applied to nursing school, for the 2nd time. She has worked so diligently the last 2 semesters, harder than I’ve ever seen her work. She has juggled A&P 1 and A&PII at the same time, along with working at a clinic and dating all at the same time. To get in to the program you have to achieve points thru a standardized test, then high grades in the pre-req classes. In the end we were confident that she would have “B’s” in both A&P courses, as well as the “B” she got in Microbiology. (As a side note, the names and idea of these courses both impress and terrify me! I don’t know how she does and likes it!). Anyway. It’s finals week. She studied a ridiculous amount of hours. She looked online on Tuesday and she saw a posted grade for A&P1….it was a “C”. She was heartbroken. I was heartbroken. Her Dad was heartbroken. This child has pushed harder, worked harded and perservered harder than I would have. She has been determined to be a nurse. She called me, and I could hear the quiver in her voice. She began talking about a Plan B. My heart sunk. I told her to email the professor and ask how she got a “C” when she had an 83/B the week before. She just had to know. No answer on Wednesday. The application had been submitted a week ago. The decision whether she gets in or not will be in June. On Wednesday, she called me again, this time she was in her car and she was crying. “Mom, I just heard this song on KLOVE, the words Mom, the words, I think they were from God for me. “I will trust in you, you’ve never let me down before”. Mom, I just have to trust.” She was still crying, but she had had one of those moments we all know about….that moment when you are struggling so deeply with something, and at the perfect moment God steps in and orchestrates a message, verbally, whether thru music or someone else, that changes you somehow. It allows you breathe and cry in wonder that the omnipotent God above heard you, saw you, and cared to let you know He’s got this. She was at peace, not matter what happens. So yesterday, she calls me, not crying this time, but shaky and joyful and ecstatic. The teacher had responded with an apology for making a mistake on her grade. My baby had made a 91 on her final (I’m impressed because I cannot even pronounce most of what she has me call out to her from her index cards!). Her posted grade for the semester in A&PI should have been a “B”. She called the school to let the nursing advisor know that the grade change was coming. When the advisor pulled her application, someone had already put down the “C”. She made notes and changed it to a “B”. So now we wait. But we wait knowning that no matter which way it goes, we experienced God’s intervention and that He has a plan for her life and she will trust Him in it.
My middle daughter is transferring colleges…again. There has also been some struggles between us over her current relationship. It’s been one of the most difficult things we have had to deal with. But, we are all growing from it. She is learning that she has to deal with our honest opinion and we are learning that she is growing up and may not always listen to us. Finding a place we can all live in peace over this has it’s challenges.
Last night I found myself sitting on my middle daughters bed having a long talk over the situation, then the oldest and the baby were there and we sat in a little “sharing circle” as the baby called it and we talked about a plethora of things, laughing and chatting. But I listened to them say things that made my heart swell with pride, for they are strong young women, trying to figure out this faith walk, speaking confidently, desiring to be in God’s will while trying to figure how to know that will.
I share this to say, I, at 52, am learning that no stinking family is perfect, there are no guarantees and loud chatter, dramatic hormonal episodes and such is normal in a family (with 3 girls anyway!). I can look in their faces, forget about the clothes scatter all over their rooms, the wet towels left on the bathroom floor, the make-up & hair paraphanalia that covers the counters, cups and glasses left in the living room, the dirty clothes piled in the laundry room, the late nights, the disagreements about relationships and expectations and see that they are amazing young women who are becoming beautiful, godly young women who will change the world!