Posted in Childhood, Family, joy, love, Parenthood

Ending Well (and a surprise beginning)

“I’m so tired, I’ve forgotten how to spell the word tried.”  (Google search of “parenting” + “tired” + “quote”)

I am tired.  I am counting down the hours to ending my active parenting.  It’s been 25++ years.  I am sitting on the floor, covered in empty boxes, and about to sleep on a futon that has been through three other college students.

When I think back to active parenting, I have:

  • used q-tips covered in alcohol carefully for 10 days on each of four babies’ umbilical cords until that gross thing turned black and fell off
  • grocery shopped with four children under seven (it was like taking four goats to the store…I “kid” you not…get it?  get it?  I “kid” you not)
  • sorted legos into bags by color, size and type at least 52 times (to be exact)
  • played Ms. PacMan on Nintendo 64 surrounded by eight excited eyes until I beat all the levels and killed the witch
  • kept Pokemon cards carefully in plastic sleeves inside of books and monitored whose cards were whose
  • filled out back-to-school forms until my eyes twitched and my hands curled up in agony (can’t this be computerized people?)
  • packed 180 (# of days in a school year) X 4 (# of kids in this house) X 13 (# of school years in the life of an average child) lunches (for you math heads, that’s 9,360)
  • created chore charts, memory verse charts, learn-to-pee-and-poop-on-the-potty charts, and behavior charts, all complete with stickers and prizes
  • watched (or at least heard from the kitchen) ad nauseum reruns from the Disney Channel, Nick Jr., PBS, Cartoon Network and now Netflix
  • coached and watched basketball, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, wrestling, field hockey, swimming, track, volleyball, and softball (I’m pretty sure our records for all of those sports combined was .500 exactly)
  • listened to piano, clarinet, bassoon, guitar, and recorders (some of it, shall I say, “more pleasing to the ear” than others)
  • gone to the doctor, dentist, oral surgeon, voice therapist, orthodontist, counselor, ENT, orthopedic surgeon and emergency room enough that I felt like I should have “frequent shopper cards” (buy 10 visits, get one free)
  • planned themed birthday parties each year complete with specialized decorations and games (Pin the Tail on Pikachu anyone?)
  • endured graduations from preschool to middle school to high school to college (best memory is Josh and I rolling our eyes across the gym at Rachel during her 8th grade graduation…don’t judge me)
  • driven at least 5 or 6 times the distance of the globe to practices, lessons, youth groups, parties, play dates, school, and girl/boyfriend’s houses (you parents out there feel my pain as you read this)
  • broken up 3,247 fights over paper-cup lids, halloween candy, bathroom etiquette (or lack thereof), and on and on and on
  • taught (or I should say freaked out in the passenger’s seat) four teens how to drive
  • moved four kids in and out of college dorms and college apartments (one night I actually slept on bath mats…it was the softest thing I could find in Jared’s apartment)

You can see why I’m tired.  25++ active years of this.

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2017

 

About six months ago, I felt done.  Yes.  Done.  After all, Rachel was independent, easy, and didn’t really need me anymore.  Could I get out of this parenting thing early?  Loved that thought for a moment.  Relished it.  And then some force within me rose up and put a stop to that thinking (it had to because it was running amok).  

I made this promise to myself (and made the same one for Allen, whether he liked it or not): “I am going to end my parenting well.  Rachel deserves the same parent the other kids got until the day they skipped out the door to their dorm rooms.”   I can’t say that it was perfectly executed by any means after that or that I just had all the exact amount of love and energy I needed to do this every moment of every day.  But you know what, I did do it.  And it was good.

Good.  That is all that was needed.  Not perfect, but good.  I have no idea and I am super grateful for whatever rose up inside of me to keep fighting the good fight until the very last picture was hung, Walmart kitchen table built (complete with chairs) and Bed Bath and Beyond order picked up.  And I do have the proof:  I am sitting on the floor, covered in boxes, about to sleep on a very well-worn futon.  I have ended well.

But (SURPRISE!!! you thought this blog post was over) it does not really end.  Love does not end.  It changes, but does not end.  My hands may be less busy (I am seriously praying this is true), but my heart will never be.  My heart is bigger and wider and busier than ever before.  Love does not end.  It multiplies.

And guess what.  Big news.

On or about the beginning of November, a new baby boy will be born to our Sarah and her husband Cody.  And the cycle of love will begin again, and actually, it already has.

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(an aside for those of you still in the thick of it:  you are doing great!  you will make it!  it will be okay! and yes, it is very hard and very worth it!  you are a super hero!)

 

Posted in Childhood, Family, God, joy, love, Parenthood, Pennies, sacred, thanks

Pennies

“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?”  (Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Allen hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago.  He had been reading the above book (worth the read) and was captivated by an anecdote about a game Dillard used to play in her childhood. She tells the story of how she used to hide her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up.  Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.

Allen’s favorite thought, just like Annie Dillard, was that there are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  Thus came Allen’s mission for our family:  find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.

What started as a game ended up changing our lives.  Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them.  We had things like flowers, actual pennies (those were super fun to find), frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, scoring an unexpected goal on the soccer or field hockey field, etc.  Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.

Maybe I’m the only one here, but I have a confession to make.  My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that  consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  And really, truth be told, it causes me to doubt whether or not there is a God who is alive and who actually loves us people down here on this beautiful, but hurting planet.

As the events of the past week unfolded, my mind traced back (and thankfully did so) to the game we played for a whole year at our dinner table, the one that changed my life and maybe can change it again.  Are there terrible things?  Yes.  Are there sad things?  Yes.  Are there things that are just downright wrong?  Yes.  But are they the only things? NO!

I don’t want to stick my head in the sand, but I also don’t want to be swallowed up either.  I want to wisely navigate that tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.

One does not negate the other.  They both matter.  They both have their place in my day. I would venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter.  I am bombarded from sun up until sun down.  And that’s why I want to open my eyes, like Annie Dillard implores me, to search for the sweet, find it, and name it.  Those “pennies” might be just what I need.  And they just might quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, pennies just for me.  This is a soothing and healing balm for my soul.

Will you play this game with me, even if it’s just for today?  Pennies from heaven.  Mine today was a beautiful view of the James River from outside our train window on the way to Florida taking Rachel to college.  What was yours?

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Posted in Childhood, Ethiopia, Family, Missionary, Third Culture Kid

Ethiopia Tikdem!

“Narnia taught me we must all grow up and leave our childhood behind, but must never forget it.”  (Some place on Pinterest)

In my young years, I heard this shouted and chanted: “Ethiopia Tikdem!  Ethiopia Tikdem!  “Ethiopia First!  Ethiopia First!”  Sitting at one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants earlier this week, it came to mind as I ate injera ba wat and savored every bite.

The year is 1966, the month is February and a little girl is born. Not in a hospital, but in a back-woods clinic in a tiny town called Deder, Ethiopia. I, Esther Joy Maret, was born the fourth child of missionary parents who wanted to serve God.  Having three older brothers, I was the answer to my mother’s prayer for a girl.  Much to say, I did not have your typical American childhood (I guess that has to be left to author Annie Dillard and many of you to describe).  Here is a peak at my Ethiopian childhood…

  • I had a Somali nanny who didn’t speak much English during my preschool years (see picture above).
  • I went to a local French kindergarten because I was wide-eyed, early reader at four years old.
  • I was in boarding school at just five.
  • We memorized Bible verses each morning at 6:45 am. Our end-of-the-year prize was going to the airport for a luncheon if we memorized all of the verses.
  • I knew “O Canada,” “God Save the Queen” and the “Pledge of Allegiance” because our school was filled with people from all different countries.
  • We learned the local language of Amharic.
  • I saw my brothers in passing as they were much older.  I never saw my oldest brother because he was away in Kenya for his boarding school.  We spent vacations and holidays together.
  • I played outside unsupervised after school with my dorm mates (it was like being a college student when you were seven).
  • We had field day, sporting events, Halloween parades, chapel, piano lessons, school plays and homework. Sometimes, parents showed up to these.
  • I stood in endless lines waiting for vaccinations. Gamma Globulin was the worst. It was hard to sit for a week.
  • We listened to the Chronicles of Narnia being read by our dorm mother each night after we were fed and washed up.  (And here’s a little secret: I loved Aslan, the kind, loving and gracious lion in the stories more than I loved Jesus. He seemed like the kind of Savior and friend that I wanted and so desperately needed, very different from the one I had learned about or conjured up in my head, the angry one who might just send me to hell if I didn’t behave or believe the right thing.  I still love Aslan.)
  • I saw my parents on random weekends and vacations or if I was sick (which was super fun because I got to listen to The Wizard of Oz on reel-to-reel and drink tea).
  • I lived in guarded and walled compounds when with my parents, being frequently robbed for our clothes and plastic, even our Kerplunk game.  (We got a kick out of that because when the thief got home, he or she would find that the plastic was filled with holes and useless for whatever his purposes were.)  So much for the guard and the wall.

A communist coup came in 1974 that brought the death of King Haile Selassie, many of his children and grandchildren.  War ensued.  There were communist marches and guns fired in the streets.  Famine came.  After two long years of brewing hatred for foreigners, my parents decided that they would leave all their belongings behind and take their four children back to the United States.  Not your typical childhood.

But like each and every one of our childhoods, it was filled with good and bad, happy and sad, ups and downs, boring and interesting.  These are the things that make our childhoods sacred and unique and form us into who we are today, the beautiful and broken and complicated and messy and wonderful us.  And probably like you, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Would love to hear what things made your childhood typical or completely unique?  Is any childhood typical?  Who are you because of yours?

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