It was a piece of pan-fried white fish, peas and some pasta covered in cheese on his plate, the kind of dinner he would normally inhale without complaint. Seafood and carbs are his favorite. Tonight though he pushed it around with his fork, his frown deepening. I asked him to eat it, but he snapped at me saying he would not.

You know the feeling when you put something down in front of your child, and you’re certain, This will be a hit. The usual thoughts cropped up in my head, “He’s disobedient and needs to be disciplined. I can’t believe I’m having to deal with this. I’m going to make him eat this or he will be in trouble.”

“I won’t eat it, Mommy,” he whined at me, his voice getting higher and angrier by the minute.

I don’t know what made me do it, but I reached across the table and broke off a piece of his food and tasted it.

The fish was cold and unsalted. I would not have eaten it.

Continue reading at The Better Mom (if you’re reading in your email, please click here).

fidget spinners

One of my sons had a birthday last week, and our neighbour brought him over a gift while he was sleeping. When he saw it the next morning, his brown eyes ignited, the smile stretched across his face as he excitedly talked about finally owning his very own fidget spinner.

For the uninitiated here’s my best fidget-spinner explanation: It’s a piece of metal somehow connected at the centre, and the blades spin fast. This is apparently a source of endless fascination for children, or at the very least, a good source of income for toymakers.

But for my son, this red, white and blue piece of metal is something else entirely. He leaned over to me and whispered in awe, I’ve been wishing for one of these, Mommy. 

Wanting to understand what he meant, I prodded. He had never asked us for one. This was my first time to hear of it. Fidget spinners, it turns out, are a popular commodity at school. Several of the boys in his class have them, he’s been watching them for weeks and the seed of desire grew in his heart. Even though he didn’t tell us, he wanted one.

See, I smiled at him, God knows – but the words stuck in my throat, silencing me. I started talking without thinking, and I could feel grown-up fear fighting the words back down.

You can’t tell him that God gives him what he wants, what if he grows up thinking he’s entitled to whatever he wishes for.

He can’t remember the days without end, and the answers were always, always, “No.”  You can’t tempt him to believe otherwise.

You can’t teach him to expect good things when you know bad things are always around the corner.

But I ran my fingers through his brown hair, looked in his eyes, and pressed into territory that feels dangerous and somehow wild and unknown.

God knows what you want before you even say it, I said, he loves giving you good things. 

 

A small postscript: I have not done much research into fidget spinners, but I appreciated the thoughts in this article, “What the fidget spinners fad reveals about disability discrimination.” It’s well worth the read, we all need to be more sensitive, knowledgeable and helpful toward adults and children in our lives whose minds are different from ours.
This post is day 31. New to the series? Start here. And if you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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Here we are at the end of October. A friend of mine told me I forgot to blog yesterday, and I didn’t even realize it. My sister, Husband and I were watching the season finale of Masterchef Australia, which is officially the best TV show in the whole entire world. Apparently I completely forgot to write for day 30, or maybe I’m running out of things to say about transition? I don’t think so, but life in yet another new country, one where we have to work on a visa, and look for a place to live and a car to drive, is proving to be a handful and a mind-full.

I’m going to keep this conclusion short and sweet. Thank you so much for reading along this month. October for the past few years has been all about blogging daily, and it’s been a space for me to work out my process. I always appreciate anyone who listens along and adds their own thoughts, and you’ve done that for me.

I have a feeling I’ll be writing about transition for many more days to come in the next months, so I’m sure you will see more Falling Forward posts in the future.

In the mean time, I want to leave you with two 31 Days series that have blessed my heart immensely.

Leslie of Scraping Raisins has been writing 31 Days of Re-entry, it is the perfect companion series to the one I’ve been writing on transition. Reading Leslie’s words has been like reading my own mind as I’ve gone through re-entry in the past (and now).

Shelly Miller has been writing 31 Letters from London, it’s her unfiltered thoughts about living as a foreigner in London and the ways God has met her there. Day after day I read her words, and it was like God’s words to me. This series has been the perfect devotional companion for me during my own transition.

Hopefully I’ll be able to keep writing in the weeks to come. My plan is to blog on Monday and Friday every week, so that’s when you can expect posts in your mailbox if you are a subscriber, and if you aren’t, check in here on those days.

Have a lovely weekend, my friends. Wherever you are and whatever you are facing, may you experience the deep peace of knowing you are in the presence of Jesus.

This post is day 28. New to the series? Start here. Thanks to all of you who have shared these posts and commented, I so appreciate it. Do say hello if you’ve been reading or are new. It would be lovely to meet you. If you want hundreds of other great 31 Days topics, you can find them here.

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play time

I was lamenting to my mother about some of the painful and difficult behavior we witnessed daily with our boys. Both Husband and I regularly felt drained and at a loss about what to do. My mother, who is a therapist, suggested play therapy for both of them, and just to clarify, she did not mean that we should take them to a therapist. She meant that we could apply basic play therapy techniques at home.

Once again, it is necessary for me to say here that I am not a qualified counselor or anything close to that, so these are the thoughts of a mom sharing with you what is and what is not working with my kids.

Husband and I structured our mornings so that after breakfast, teeth brushing and clothes-changing, we took one child each and spent an hour of focused play time with him. We set aside 8:30-9:30am for this. Most of the time, it is one-on-one, focused play time, but three times a week, I try to have more of a play therapy type approach to our time.

We stay in a confined space like the living room or a bedroom or outside, and there are a few toys that I have set up. Then I let my sons play with whatever they wanted, not intervening at all, just letting them direct their own play time. I only observed and made comments like, You put the axe in the fireman’s hand, the hook is pulling the police car, etc.

There are no quick fixes for any parenting issue, and certainly there is absolutely no quick fix for the slow, deep work of character development in our children, but the hour I spent with my sons individually produced incredible fruit in our relationship. Play time reveals something much deeper to me about my children, and it gives them a safe place to work out their own emotions.

It slows down the morning chaos. We found that the time between wake up and post-breakfast was often the most drama-and-tension-filled for the four of us, and it helped to separate our kids, it helped slow Husband and myself down. Play time with a child is slow, pure work. There isn’t an agenda, it is simply time spent with my child to give him my full, undivided attention as he does the work of a child: play, play, play.

They were immediately aware that they were getting quality one-on-one time with us, and they relished this. They felt seen, known and loved. In a time when we are focused on many, many other things (that we have to focus on), they are easily overlooked, but this hour was about them, their interests, their needs, their wants, they thrived in this place. 

There was no reason to tell them no in this hour. They were only playing, and so far I haven’t seen a way for them to defy or disobey us in this time. They loved being able to do whatever they want, I loved being able to say yes as much as I could. It helped me let go of control and let my boys just be.

They opened up and talked while they played about things they didn’t normally talk about. One morning while he was playing with the fire truck, Big Boy started talking about how he missed Stockholm, the yellow house and the rocks in our driveway. He climbed in my lap, I miss my toys, Mommy, the ones that are on the ship to Australia, he seemed genuinely sad about this but also happy to be able to share his feelings. It gave me valuable insight into his heart in this time, it deeply bothers him not to have his toys.  It explains frustrating moments of defiance related to sharing toys with other kids and his brother, and while it never justifies it, I need this insight into his heart. It helps me parent him better, it helps me pray, it helps me empathize.

It helped me to pay closer attention to the non-play times because let’s face it, what is going on in my kids’ heart isn’t necessarily number one on my priority list when I am trying to get things done. A few weeks after we left Sweden, Big Boy was playing and told me he was packing and to tell him when it’s Saturday because he would have to load the container then. Oh, I said, playing along, and where is the container going?

To Stockholm, he said, without missing a beat.

A tiny role play, but it said something about his heart. I want to go back to Stockholm, that’s what he was trying to tell me. Another evening, after a day of pretending to be a bird making a nest, he and I were going to his bedroom to make a nest for him to sleep in for the night. He was changing his clothes when he said, I miss my nest in Stockholm, so I pulled him into my arms, and we talked about his Thomas the Tank Engine duvet cover, his white bed, and all the things about his nest in Stockholm that he missed. We talked about Jesus, how he left his nest in heaven to live on earth, and how he must have felt sad, too. We talked about sadness, why it is good to feel sad. And we talked about how thankful we are that we have a nest in Germany.

Husband and I had the luxury of time because neither of us were working, but if you find that you don’t have the ability to divide up your kids because of time or because you have more kids, find creative ways to get alone time with your children. Swap kids with another parent in your community, take one of our kids out in the evening when your spouse is home, use one child’s naptime to have focused play time with another child, put a movie on for a few of your kids and take one outside to play, and if you have other creative ideas about how to spend one-on-one time with your kids, please do share it in the comments section.

I’m linking up with The Grove, part of the Velvet Ashes community today. 

transition

 Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

This post is day 24. New to the series? Start here. Today’s guest post is by my dear friend Ursula. I met her in the first two weeks of life in Sweden, and over time she became one of my most-treasured friends in Stockholm. I’ve learned to pay attention when I meet people who are full of wisdom and grace, and Ursula is all of those things and a whole lot more. I am so thankful for her friendship and for these wise, beautiful words she shares here about a different kind of transition. Ursula doesn’t have a blog, so comment and share your thanks with her and encourage her to start a blog of her own, we would all benefit from it.

Ursula Morell is a grateful child of God, living in Stockholm, Sweden with my amazing husband of 25 years. She’s a transitioning mother working through the kids in college stage, a coffee-addict, introvert and project-person. She is learning to trust God with her kids all over again.

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All photographs by Kylie Jacques

All text by Ursula Morell
I sit silent and still, attentively focused on the events unfolding. I could be watching the evening news or taking in a therapy session. But no, this is a joyous event: a wedding. And I, the mother of the groom, am nearly emotionless. Behind dry eyes and unsmiling face, I am perplexed.

I watch as my firstborn takes his long-­time girlfriend’s hand in his, and slips a white­-gold ring onto her finger. I look at their smiles, their 20-something fearlessness mixed with the excitement of fully leaving their families, and melding into a new family, one they have chosen. They ask God’s blessing. A song begins.

The box of Kleenex placed thoughtfully by my chair sits unused. I realize this is a repeat of all his other firsts in life. He, eager and excited, and me, paralyzed, fearful and anxious. It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting in a mini­van at a soccer game or on a flower-ensconced chair at a wedding. Instead of these being moments of joy for me, I am fearful, ruminating over my performance and worrying if he will be able to “do this thing.”

Like his other firsts, I have hovered over the details, and numbed my fears with planning and prepping. I’ve read books and sought advice. The wedding day is progressing smoothly—so smoothly that, as I sit and listen to the song, I find myself forced to deal with my emotions.

I have held my breath through his firsts: first steps, first days of school, first camps, and
first performances. I’ve spent his lifetime worrying if he will succeed, preemptively teaching and preparing him for anything he could face. I’ve laughed at the notion of helicopter moms, all the while playing the lead role in my own homegrown show.

ursula 4

Numb, I watch God’s greatest gift unfold before my eyes: my son leaving and cleaving, two vowing to become one. They light their unity candle, then hold hands throughout the song. I watch and suddenly a dark curtain in my mind is torn in two. The light shines in. My paralyzed feeling has a name: fearful insufficiency. I know I have not taught my 23-year-old everything he needs to know to love his wife well. I know he leaves his clothes on the floor and dishes in the sink. I know he is going to fail, and hurt, and disappoint. I imagine a future of slammed doors and piercing silence and confusion and difficulty in finding words to explain.

I am afraid.

In the mess in my heart, I know: Yes, yes, yes. My son is not enough. Just like me. I think, then, of the Israelites when they first saw the promised land. They faced those same paralyzing fears. In their “first look,” 12 men spied out the land, saw what lay ahead, and returned to camp to inform the people. It was a good land: bountiful harvests and plenty to go around. But 10 of the 12 spies focused on the bad news: giants inhabited the land. The Israelites considered this and thought, “Who are we? Insufficient. Small. Incapable.” Only two men believed God would go before them and give them grace and strength in the trials.

The song is done, the service almost over. I fidget with my dark blue dress, smoothing out the wrinkles. I realize that I have spent so much of my life hanging out with the 10 who focus on the fear and choose the safety of what they know, who see only their limitations, and not God’s character. Who tremble in fear and let it overshadow God’s plan.

ursula joe

Yet, all the years of my own marriage, hasn’t God been strong on my behalf? Didn’t he
take a couple of 20-­somethings some 25 years ago down that same aisle and say those same vows? Didn’t He give words to feelings I couldn’t explain, in dark nights as I cried out in insufficiency? Didn’t grace pour out in our feeble attempts at forgiveness? Yes, God has been faithful, even when I was full of doubt.

Tears well up in my eyes. I find myself not looking to my son for reassurance that he has
got this, but rather, to God. The God of my life is the God of my son’s life. The grace that
has led me through the past 25 years of marriage, will lead my son and new daughter-in-law through their days. God has this, has them. Always will. He is able.

My son and his wife take their first steps down the aisle together, into their promised land, and I whisper, “Go, it’s yours!” There will be walled cities and conflicts sleepless nights and cries for wisdom. There will be victories and joy. Lots of joy.

Numbness flees as joy fills my heart. Tears flood my eyes.

I see the new couple rejoicing, far ahead of me, already in the entry of the church. I stand up from my front-­row seat, and the usher motions me that it is time to move on.