Season of Change

It’s happened again.  It seems to happen every year about this time; change.  I can’t stand that.  I just get in the groove and get comfortable with a particular year, a certain stage my children are in and, before I know it, time has slipped through my fingers and we are already looking ahead and planning for the year to come.  Much like the little green buds poking through the ground, overnight my children seem to have sprouted and I am once again in disbelief that they have jumped to the next size.  One might think I’d be used to this by now.  Not a year has gone by in the past thirteen years of being a parent that I haven’t seen these changes.  Time doesn’t stand still.  They grow.  It is what it is.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love growth and appreciate all the new and exciting things that come with each stage.  It’s just that I’ve never been entirely comfortable with change. New beginnings mean new unknowns and unknowns mean I have little control and little control means mama ain’t happy.  I’ve always viewed the more quiet winter months like the slow ride up to the peak of a roller coaster.  I can sit back and enjoy the scenery and then spring is sprung and over the top we go; careening toward exactly what I don’t know.  It takes my breath away how each year seems to go faster than the last.

With the new buds on the trees and the return of our singing feathered friends, comes the need to review the progress our children have made throughout the year, set appropriate goals for the next few months and begin preparing them for the transition to a new grade. Many questions storm into my anxious heart and my fears quickly take over.  The upcoming year in our household means the last year of middle school for our oldest, the first year of middle school for our middle guy, and full day kindergarten for our youngest. In mother’s terms, that means it’s time to hold tight to the bar and scream all the way down.

Once again I find myself with two options; fight for control or hand it over.  If I try to fight, I’m well aware I’ll lose the battle.  But, if I hand it over, it’s possible things won’t go as I would have them.  Tricky thing this whole concept of trust it.  While society tells us to plan and take control, God asks us to live and hand it over.  As the popular quote so eloquently reads, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery and today is God’s gift.”  We can learn a lot from yesterday and we can certainly pray for blessings to be bestowed on us tomorrow, but today, now, is the gift we are meant to behold.

Finding the balance between planning and living is a constant challenge for me.  What it really boils down to is whether or not I truly place my trust in God.  While I don’t think I’m supposed to throw all caution to the wind and neglect my responsibilities to set appropriate plans in place, it is clear to me that there is so much I’ll miss today if I continue to worry about tomorrow.  I’m always so saddened by how quickly time passes, yet so often I let my worries about the future tarnish the gift I have in today.

There are many questions I have about next year.  Will my middle guy transition to the new school with the same ease as my eldest?  Will he get a few of his good friends in his group of classmates?  What teachers will he have and how will he handle the increased workload?  Will my daughter be able to make it through full day kindergarten?  How will she transition to a new classroom, new teacher and new classmates?  Who will her aid be and will she be able to bond with him/her?  In the end, I understand I can’t control all the details on my own so I’m called to put it all to prayer.  And if and when I can do that, I find great freedom in hanging on tight and enjoying the ride.

Can you find me?

Can you find me?

“They’re Bees!”

I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was about 8 years old, so that makes my sister around 11 at the time.  We were outside raking out the bushes that lined the side of our house.  All of a sudden, I noticed some bugs flying around and immediately commented about them to my sister.  It’s important to note here, that she was raking to the left of me, which means, in order to get to our front door, she had to first make her way around me and then proceed around the side of the house and to the front. And that is what she did. Without saying a word to me.  Not a peep.  Not the slightest warning about the fact that the “bugs” I saw swarming out of the bush I was raking were in fact bees.  Angry bees.  Bees that she had identified long before sharing her wisdom with me.  Her little sister.  While I innocently remained standing there, fascinated at the number of “bugs” making their way out of the bush, she snuck around me, made it to the front door and then peeked her head out and shouted, “They’re BEES!”

To my sister’s defense, she knew me well.  She was perfectly aware that if she told me the bugs coming toward me were bees, I would run straight to her for protection, with the bees following close behind.  Understandable?  Perhaps.  But, this is a story I will never let her forget.  You can imagine how the scene unfolded once I was informed of my imminent doom.  Off I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me, screaming all the way.  I met my mom inside who was already armed with a rolled up magazine, ready for battle.  She yelled for me and my sister to head into the bedroom, while she fended off the small enemies herself.  We ran into the bedroom at the end of the hall, slammed the door, and began pulling ourselves together.  Until, that is, I noticed I had a bee stuck in my ponytail. The screams erupted yet again and off we both ran to our hero to save us.

Truth be told, there isn’t another soul on this earth that knows how to push my buttons like my fellow bee-hater.  That being said, I’ve wondered all my life why it is simply impossible for me to stay mad at her.  We may be black and white on most things, but we are forever connected by the title (what I have come to recognize as an honor) of sister.  The laughs we have shared together are too many to count.  We are brought to tears over things most would feel barely merit a giggle.  As children, we spent countless hours together playing house and school, accompanied one another to the bathroom when it was time for showers (one to shower and one to sit on the toilet to protect the other from the threat of boogie men that could enter the bathroom at any moment) and I always felt special to be the one and only person she trusted to pull her band aids off with my swift expertise.

I am the youngest of three girls.  As I have grown and had children of my own, I have begun to unfold the priceless life lessons that I now understand were hidden in the relationships I had, and continue to have, with each of my siblings.  For the most part, the three of us closely followed the typical characteristics of our birth order.  The eldest was, and is, mature, independent, strong, a force to be reckoned with.  The middle insists on doing everything at the last minute, flies by the seat of her pants, can light up any room with her ability to tell a story and brings much-needed humor and lightheartedness into our lives.  And then there is me; the one that grew up studying the people my older sisters were and learning from their example (be it positive or negative).  I was the smoother-outer.  I hate conflict and disorder and always did all I could to keep our lives organized and everyone’s hearts protected.

Looking at my three children, and especially at the relationship between my two sons, I am left once again to marvel at the infinite wisdom of our Lord, as I realize how He prepared me to parent, appreciate and truly cherish what makes each of my children unique.  I first began to understand it all several years ago when my two sons were sitting at the kitchen table doing homework.  My eldest was trying his best to be responsible and dutifully get his work done.  The middle guy was doing everything in his power to get his older brother’s attention and distract him from the work at hand.  I listened to my eldest son’s patience dwindle with each request to his brother to be quiet and focus on his work.  He laughed a little now and then but his brother just kept on pushing his buttons and finally he couldn’t take it anymore.  He packed up his things and found somewhere else to do his work, while his brother sat dumbfounded at what could have possibly caused such a reaction.  This exact scene could have been me and my sister thirty years ago.  Black and white.  Several years later, my eldest has yet to find another person who can get to him like his younger brother. There is no one that can make him as angry, and, thanks be to God, no one that can make him laugh quite like this quirky little man who I know he loves and is genuinely thankful for.

While I often joke that I can’t believe these two guys came from the same two people, I now believe that God’s wisdom in creating their unique qualities goes deeper than Him just wanting to watch and see how we would handle it.  In reflecting on how much I’ve learned from my two sisters, I now know that the lessons my sons and daughter learn from one another will be invaluable and will be taught in ways that my husband and I couldn’t do on our own.

When we were blessed with our daughter almost five years ago, I have to admit my heart was gripped with fear over how she would “fit” into the family.  New siblings always require an adjustment on everyone’s part, and I worried that our boys would have a hard time accepting the attention she would need and the love they would see us giving to this little stranger among us.  As only God can do, He carefully crafted the perfect addition to our family and with this little woman came incredible lessons for our two sons.  Perhaps most unexpected was the way our middle guy’s heart just crumbled for his sister.  We suddenly found the one who would find no shame in taking the last Oreo out of the bag exploring the realm of selflessness and time and again putting his sister’s needs before his own.  It remains a beautiful thing to witness and I thank God several times a day for gifting our family with the one and only person who could have opened our son’s heart in this way.

I am thankful for my sisters for many reasons, not the least of which is the way they unknowingly prepared me to understand and appreciate the people my children are. Today, April 10th, is National Sibling Day. I dare you to call your siblings and tell them you love them.  I double-dog dare you to thank them for something they taught you that you never thought you’d be thankful for.

IMG_0266   DSC_0061DSC_0151

monique family pics and tay photo shoot 223 (2)

Our Father’s House

Dear Staff at My Father’s House,

She is now four and a half years old.  She has gorgeous long black hair and beautiful almond-shaped brown eyes.  She is tiny in stature and has just the right amount of pudge to provide the perfect “squish” when hugged.  She almost always wears her sweet smile, and emotes such joy through her expressions, it is nearly impossible to look at her without smiling yourself.  

She is healthy and she is strong.  She loves to run, jump, dance and sing.  She is ferociously independent and ingests the world around her without missing the smallest of details. She makes our heads spin and our hearts swell.  She spends her days being smothered in love and affection and generously returns the love she receives.  Her belly laugh is intoxicating, her wit continually surprising, her presence a never-ending gift.  She is all these things and so much more.  She is our daughter and we want to say, “thank you” to all of you who were a part of supporting her life.  

You never had the chance to meet our daughter, but you knew her birth mom.  You received her birth mother into your hearts and your home and you provided her with shelter, acceptance, support and security during a time in her life when she was in need of all these things. You didn’t judge her, discourage her, condemn her or question her. Rather, you welcomed her, you protected her, you affirmed her, you educated her.  Thank you.  

When the world around her said her problems weren’t deserving of attention, you showed her she was important and her problems were in fact opportunities.  When she arrived seeking your shelter, she had already survived the storm of voices that suggested abortion may be her best choice, especially when she was told her daughter would carry an extra chromosome.  She courageously chose life and cherished the child she carried.  While in your care, you helped to replace her moments of fear with peace, her questions with answers and honored her brave and selfless decision to give her child life. Thank you.

While she sheltered our daughter in her womb, you provided shelter for the woman to whom we will be eternally indebted to for trusting us with the precious life of our sweet girl . You valued the life and circumstance of the birth mother, so she could in turn value the life within her.  Thank you.

We prayed for our daughter before she was even conceived.  We prayed for her health and for strength, guidance and wisdom for her birth parents.  We didn’t know at the time that “My Father’s House” would be a part of answering our prayers.  We thank you for allowing God to work through the staff there and touch the hearts of so many mothers and children.

When your days become long, when there doesn’t seem to be answers to the challenges you face, when you feel as though you aren’t getting through to the women you serve, please remember the joy you see in the face of our daughter and accept our deepest gratitude for working the long hours, facing each challenge head on and staying the course. In a world that increasingly dismisses the miracle of life, we commend your work in upholding the dignity and beauty of each mother and child she carries.  We will continue to support you in prayer as you welcome each of your clients home.

Sincerely, The Johnson Family

IMG_1001

A few weeks ago,  my family watched what was a very eye-opening and awe-inspiring movie.  Titled, “Gimme Shelter”, the movie is based on the true story of a young woman who finds herself pregnant, alone and homeless.  The world has told her again and again, through unimaginable circumstances, that she is unlovable and unworthy. The only one who showed her the attention and affection she deserved was a complete stranger; a woman who ran a shelter for young and unwed pregnant women. Living in the company of other women who shared the same hopes and fears, she begins to slowly let down her defenses and allow herself to be loved and connect with others.

As we watched the story of this young woman unfold, we began to realized just how indebted we are to the staff at the shelter who opened their doors to the birth mother of our daughter.  Before watching the movie, we hadn’t given it much thought, but, if it wasn’t for the shelter of “My Father’s House”, the journey for our daughter’s birth mother may have been very different.

I don’t know the meaning behind the namesake of the shelter, but I can’t help but draw several connections between the kind of care the young women receive at the shelter and the kind of care God, our Father, shows each one of us.  It strikes me that, when the women in need of shelter show up at the door of “My Father’s House”, they are most likely at one of the toughest points of their lives.  Perhaps their journey to the front door of the shelter was wrought with poor decisions. Perhaps they had walked the straight and narrow all their life and were dumbfounded at their current circumstance.  Undoubtedly, they were afraid and out of options.  Regardless of the road they traveled to get there, the door was opened to them and they were accepted with unconditional love.

This is the very kind of love we will celebrate come Easter morning.  This is the kind of selfless love we are each gifted with from the one who died for us.  Every one of us occupies our own space in the heart of our Father.  His love is ours for the taking, and nothing we say or do on this earth will ever alter that.  We can deny it, take it for granted, abuse it and dishonor it.  But His love remains.

When we walk into our Father’s house, we are all broken in our humanness.  We each arrive having traveled different paths; some may arrive seeking shelter in the midst of a storm, some arrive confident in their independence from any divine intervention in their lives.  Others may arrive full of questions, or full of pain.  At the heart of the matter is the simple fact that, in Jesus’ suffering, we are wrapped in love.  In the weight of His cross, we are told we are cherished.  Worthy we are not, but accepted and loved we are.

The shelter where our daughter’s birth mother stayed has eight rooms available. However, it would remain open for just one.  Those that run the shelter know their work, and their love for those in need, is that important.  The same is true for each of us.  Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross all those years ago is big enough for every one of us; but He still would have died if we were the only one.

Wishing you all a joy-filled Easter celebration!

You can read more about “My Father’s  House” on their website at www.mfhouse.net