Jackson Five Friday: The Parenting Roller Coaster

We all have our ups and downs, our good and bad days.  But I am sometimes stunned, as a parent, how the pinnacle of happiness can abut the valley of discouragement.  Because sometimes there is no transition.  If parenting is an emotional roller coaster, and it is, then sometimes there is no slope to the descent, it’s like Demon Drop (Cedar Point) or  Tower of Terror (Disney World).  It can be a free-fall, and there’s something really disheartening about that.

I had one of these Demon Drop moments with Sam this week.  On Tuesday, we were at the pool after swim practice.  Will and Nate left to go home with friends, and so it was just Sam and me there to enjoy a beautiful afternoon.

I swam laps during adult swim and Sammy patiently watched, even though he could’ve played with the toys that we brought along.  When the whistle blew he jumped in with me and we swam some more laps.  He likes to “race” me, and even acts like he’s letting me win some of our races.  We were playing and just having a great time.  He can be such a sweet and affectionate child, plus he has a winsomely contagious laugh.

At one point I said, “Let’s go under water and I’ll say something, then you have to guess what it was.”

He wasn’t sure what I meant, but he complied.

Under water I said, “Francesco Bernoulli,” which is a character Sam loves from the movie, Cars 2.

Sam thought this was about the funniest thing in the world.  He could barely tread water he was laughing so hard.  And indeed it is incredibly difficult to laugh and swim at the same time.  Yet what better picture of a magical summer moment is there?

I said a few other things under water and each time Sam cracked up like I was the funniest person on the face of the earth.

Then he decided he would take a turn, and he made some sounds under water which I don’t think was intended to be an actual word.

Then I took a turn again.  Well, that was a mistake, a big mistake.  When we came up for air, Sam was livid.  He started yelling at me in the most viscous tone a five-year-old could possibly muster.

“I told you I was going to say something!  Why did you say something?  Don’t ever do that…”

It was such an unexpected fading of the magic that it was almost hurtful.  I got him out of the pool, wrapped him in a towel and made him go sit until he calmed down.  A few minutes later he apologized and we went home.

It was a stark reminder that disciplining isn’t really any fun.  I am all about playing with my boys, teaching them, and ensuring that we take advantage of the opportunities and  experiences around us.  But I pretty much dread disciplining them.  I don’t want to give consequences and follow through with them.  Honestly, what I want is to warn and warn and warn, and then warn some more.  But that’s not wise.

The Bible says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

May I be willing to discipline, and may I know that beautiful harvest of righteousness and peace.

A Tribute to Nora Ephron

This morning as I stumbled out of bed and said, “Good Morning,” to my husband, he looked at me through the mirror as he straightened his tie.

“I have some sad news for you,” he said.

“I know. I saw it last night. Nora Ephron died.”

I never met Nora Ephron, or even came close to meeting her. But she has had a huge impact on my life. If you’ve read my book, Sharp Sticks, you know that I was inspired by Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck in a big way. Before reading that book, I had been writing for years, but I had focused primarily on fiction (all unpublished). I had also published a few devotional pieces and a commentary published in The Washington Post, but I had not yet even considered writing a collection of essays. Nora Ephron was truly the sole inspiration for that.

And what a gift Ms. Ephron had for storytelling! About eighteen months ago, I painted our family room. I had DVR’d When Harry Met Sally and the boys were all at school. I played the movie and painted away. I probably should’ve worn a Life Alert because I could’ve fallen off the ladder from laughing. In high school, this was my very favorite movie, and twenty years later Ephron’s characters were as winsomely memorable as ever.

Last night I went with Will to a work reception. As we were walking in, we saw his boss. He told me he’s been reading my book, and then we laughed about some of the stories that he had recently read. I’ve met him on a number of occasions, but nothing connects you with other people like stories.

Do you tell enough stories? Are you willing to share experiences that are embarrassing, humiliating even? I’ve found that the more I share of myself, the more connected I feel to others. You can spend ten years with someone, but if you don’t hear their stories, you may not really know them at all. On the other hand, if you know someone’s most embarrassing moments, their funniest experiences, their heartaches and struggles, or most especially if you know how they came to know Jesus, you have a bond that transcends everyday, often inch-deep familiarity.

Ephron connected people. She was self-depricating and real. I’m sure she had many friends who loved her dearly. I wish I had been one of them. How great would it have been to have Ephron as a storytelling mentor?

The Bible says that we should “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12) and today I am mourning the loss of the ever-inspirational Nora Ephron.

Happy Father’s Day 2012

Good daddies are priceless, are they not?  I feel very blessed to have known many of them in my forty years.  From my Papa, to uncles, to my own daddy, to my brother and brother-in-laws, to friends, and of course, to my husband, who is truly an amazing dad.  I hope all daddies feel especially loved and appreciated today.

But what is it that makes a good daddy?  Will certainly adores our sons, and they are nuts about him.  They hold him in very high esteem.  He sets high expectations for them with regard to working hard, using good manners, and always showing respect.  Yet he is also a blast to be with.  He is interesting, inspiring and very funny.  Will constantly tells our boys how much he loves them, and he spends a ton of time just hanging out with them.  Playing in the yard, reading on the couch, or watching some sporting event on TV (right now with Euro 2012 going on that translates to a LOT of soccer, but thankfully the Olympics are coming).

All of these things are wonderful, but the most important thing that Will does as a daddy is to embrace, model and teach a biblical worldview to our boys.  He sits down and reads the children’s Bible pictured above with them regularly (Will had this Bible when he was a little boy and the index of stories has little check marks next to them — evidently he was born a list-making-checker-offer).

Will talks to the boys about why we would want to use the gifts that God has given us, why we want to be people of character, why we are called to be generous and prayerful and forgiving.  We have not arrived as parents; we do not have this thing down.  Mistakes are made every single day.  But today is a day to show appreciation.  And I so appreciate that my husband is a good daddy who lives by, models and teaches a biblical worldview.

Deuteronomy 6: 6-8 says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”

Happy Father’s Day, Will Jackson!  Thank you for being such a fantastic daddy!

Jackson Five Friday: Do You Believe in Angels?

We all know that life can change in an instant. Every day we drive in cars or cross streets or do any number of things in which there is the potential for disaster. Even sitting at home, we cannot be certain that we are safe. On Monday, I had a not-so-subtle reminder of this truth.

I had been watching the five-year-old and two-year-old of our friends, the Solomons. When their daddy came to pick them up, all was well. We were getting ready for swim practice, so I told Sammy to go upstairs and put on his swim suit. I said goodbye to the Solomons and went in the kitchen. A minute later there was a single, decisive, very, very loud thud, followed by crying and simultaneous panic by brother Will.

“Mom,” Will yelled, on the verge of losing his composure, “he didn’t fall down the stairs, he fell from upstairs!” We have a balcony with a railing that looks down to the foyer. So for a few seconds, as I made my way over to Sam who was in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, I was under the impression that he had fallen about fourteen feet. As Will, who had been sitting on the couch and could sort of see what happened, explained it further, we realized Sam had not fallen over the big balcony, but over the side railing. This meant he had dropped about seven feet instead of fourteen.

Since the daddy who had left only one minute before is a physician, and our own doctor daddy was at work, I said, “Will, go get Dr. Solomon,” and I hauled Sammy off the floor and carried him over to the front door. Why I did this I do not know exactly. He was clinging to me with all his strength and I could not get a look at him. I didn’t know what I was facing, but I was picturing multiple broken bones, and surely he was bleeding somewhere. Sweet and calm Dr. Solomon couldn’t look at him either because Sam was refusing to cooperate. He seemed almost more embarrassed than hurt. He was just burying his face in my shoulder.

After a few minutes, with no evidence of any injury whatsoever, Dr. Solomon reviewed with me a few “signs” that would be concerning and left.

I looked Sammy over again, and he started to laugh as his whole body was shaking in response to the adrenaline. He was absolutely cracking up over his trembling knees. So we got in the car and went to swim practice. I think we were five minutes late.

But how does someone fall over a railing seven feet high and not have a mark on them? One word: angels. Do you believe angels intervene in everyday life? Do you know and love the Amy Grant “Angels Watching Over Me” song from the 80’s?  I hope you do. Because the Bible says that angels deliver us, that they are real, that they are God’s agents, carrying out His plans (Psalm 34).

Sam was fine. We got in the car and went to swim practice. I’ve told a few people about what happened, but it seems inadequate. Angels protected my baby! God intervened for me! It wasn’t luck Sam landed just right. It wasn’t karma. It was God.

May we be grateful each day for the protection we are afforded.  As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians, may we “give thanks in all circumstances;(A) for this is God’s will for [us] in Christ Jesus” (5:18).

Jackson Five Friday: “Hey, Nate’s Brother”

Last weekend the five of us went to a party for Nate’s baseball team, the mighty, playoff-bound AA Royals!  It was a lovely afternoon and we enjoyed hanging out with the other Royals families, but the highlight for me was the repeated phrase, “Nate’s Brother.”  Not a single boy on Nate’s team appeared to know Will’s name.  And he didn’t seem to mind answering to “Nate’s Brother.”  Seems fair since it is almost always Nate who is the one recognized by association.  In fact, he is so resigned to it, I’ve heard Nate proudly introduce himself as “Will Jackson’s Brother.”

But I don’t think any of us — even Nate — want to live in another’s shadow.  We want our own identity, our own recognition.  We want to be valued for our uniqueness, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.  But on the other hand, it’s undeniable that relationships impact who we are.  Nate is fully Nate because he is a little brother and a big brother, and because he has all kinds of relationships that have shaped and molded him in varying degrees.  We are made for community, and there is a social component to our identity.  I am who I am, in part, because of those I’ve lived with and encountered in life.

Of course one encounter is more important than all the others.  Only this relationship is transformational, both now and eternally.  No person, no thing, no event could ever influence who I am like knowing Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I am imperfect.  I am a work in progress.  But I am His and He is mine.  He loves me perfectly all day, every day, and even though I could never earn His love, I can never lose it either.

1 Corinthians 1:30 says that Christ is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  I hope you recognize your own need for these three things, and that you know these are never acquired through striving nor effort.  Instead they are freely given to those who humbly admit they fall short (Romans 3:23).

We may all be known for our relationships: I’m a daughter, a little sister, a wife, a mother, a cousin, a grand-daughter, a niece, an aunt, and a friend.  But most of all my identity is wrapped up in Jesus Christ, who came to earth to show me how to live, and who died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins, so that I can live eternally with Him (John 3:16).

And I may know YOU as a friend, a family member, or just an occasional reader.  I may not even know you at all.  But I pray our relationship is eternal — that we are brothers and sisters in Christ!

Summer Blog Series: Isaiah

This past year in my Community Bible Study class we studied the books of Amos and Isaiah.  This means that each week we went over a few chapters as a group and then my friend, Leigh, and I studied those same chapters the next week with our small groups, which were made up of six to nine-year-olds.  Let me say that this was just slightly more challenging to apply than the previous year’s study, Matthew!  Small children totally get Jesus and His message.  Small children grasp a lot more of Isaiah than you might think too, but the subject is not the easiest.  In some ways, I feel like I didn’t put as much into Isaiah as I should have.  I think those sweet kids did walk away with the big picture: we need to hear what God says and obey Him.  On their certificates I wrote:

May you long remember and live by the words of the Lord delivered through Isaish, “Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say” (28:23).  We pray that the promises and prophecies from Amos and Isaiah will encourage you throughout your life – Jesus fulfilled many of these already and is coming back to complete the rest!  How wonderful to think that a time is coming when there will be no more tears, instead rejoicing forever!

This is true and wonderful indeed, but I want to review Isaiah again, to soak in all that God has for me there.  Undoubtedly, I’ve overlooked many great lessons.  Plus, we can study even the most familiar passages and gain brand new insights.  So as part of my personal summer Bible study I am going to read through and blog through Isaiah.  And as always, I’d love for you to join me!

Jackson Five Friday: Telling Our Stories

My son, Will, paid me a great, although somewhat indirect, compliment this week.  We were talking about swimming and how we hope Sammy will swim on the team this year.  This led of course to comparisons of when Will and Nate started swimming competitively.  Will said he didn’t really remember swimming on the loosely organized five-year-old “team” when we lived in Florida.  But Nate, who was then three, said, “You don’t remember that place?  Remember it was weird to get in there, and mom and I would always play ping pong and she’d get me a Snickers.”  Which of course was all true.

I told them about the fact that at Will’s first practice I bought Nate a Snickers out of a vending machine.  Maybe it was the first time he’d ever had one, but the next week he said, “Can we go get D4?”  It took me a minute to realize he was talking about the vending code.  And I wasn’t a bit surprised when his memory proved correct.  Snickers was the D4 option.

We laughed about this, and then Will said, “I don’t know if other families tell stories like our family does.”  He doesn’t really have room to compare.  After all, he’s only been part of one family, but it is a sweet sentiment nonetheless.

Obviously all families tell stories, but I do make remembering and telling stories a priority.  I have memorialized so many great things that my boys have done and said through this blog, through Facebook (which is irresistibly easy and available), and through journals.  I have one “Joshua” journal dedicated to the amazing ways that God has comforted, loved and provided for me and mine in difficult times.  It also records special and unexpected blessings.   For example, it was the only place that I wrote about the miscarriage that I had exactly one year before Sammy was born.  Yet this journal also has an entry about how just a couple months before my seemingly healthy dad died, I had the unusual opportunity to spend a few days with just him.  Because the flights were full and my parents fly space available, only my dad was able to make it back from Michigan to Florida.  In the journal I talk about how proud my dad was of me over my recent job offer.  I had a truly amazing job waiting for me after law school and boy did he think that was great!  I also recorded in this journal how he made me breakfast every day before I headed down to the beach.  You think you will remember these things, but let me tell you, you won’t.  I am blessed with a very good memory, but I still read about events I’ve recorded and they sound only vaguely familiar.  And to capture the true voice of child, which is invariably precious and unique, you absolutely need to do it on the spot.  Video alters personalities, and are practically useless in capturing candid, true-to-life people.  So I cannot encourage you enough to memorialize your life by journaling in one way or another.

Of course laughs and achievements are great, yet nothing is as important as remembering God’s faithfulness. On the first page of my Joshua Journal I have the passage from Joshua 4 which talks about the stones which were intended to serve as a memorial so that future generations would be told about God’s faithfulness.  I have recorded a number of events in a very detailed way, but I want to be more consistent.  I want to pass this along one day and have it be a testament to the peace, meaning and purpose that God has given me in days of sorrow and days of great joy.  I want my life to proclaim the faithfulness of God.  In.  All.  Things.  And to do that I need to record it.  May I be committed to acknowledging His faithfulness and to writing it down.