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 27. 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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This is the thing about our transition, I lose my perspective so easily.

Just this past weekend I felt discouraged. Why are we in Melbourne? When is our life going to get started? How much longer can I survive with two pairs of jeans? What’s the deal with all my first-world problems? These are the questions of  the In Between, the space when there are no real answers, only lots and lots of questions. This is the bridge between the past and the future, it is shaky, rickety and narrow, and I am crossing over a ravine with rocks and raging rapids.

It feels like any decision made too quickly or incorrectly is going to send me hurtling off the edge.

A bit dramatic, no? I suppose these are the delusional feelings of a mother who traveled half-way around the world on Wednesday and Thursday only to have her kids wake up to party from midnight to 4am on Friday night, only to then have gastro hit an entire household on Saturday evening. I suppose no one is thinking rationally after they’ve cared for a puking child only to then be sick herself half a day later. But it’s true. This is what I felt on Sunday. Why are we here? Nothing is getting done. We have so much to do. 

But then it was Monday, and I photocopied official documents, went to the Police Department for certification and then to Medicare, and in a few hours my kids and I have healthcare again. Just like that. And then I heard my sister say that we had been in the country for four days.

Four days. Really? I wondered because it felt like an eternity or nothingness and discouragement and illness.

But it wasn’t.

When you see life through the wrong perspective, everything, absolutely everything, will seem like it is against you. 

Because here is the truth. In four days we opened a bank account, struggled with jet lag, nursed a sick child and our own sick selves and sorted out health care for our entire family. Nevermind the cooking, cleaning, clothing, laundry and the everyday care for adults and children. We didn’t do any of this alone, we have help because we have family here, amazing family and friends. And underneath all of this are the everlasting arms that carry us home, the hands of God who doesn’t always take away the problem (even when I begged every hour from midnight to 4am), but somehow gives grace to get through and promises and delivers his presence. This grace looks like my sister who cooks and cares for my boys, and this grace also looks like a virus running its course and leaving. Sometimes grace is just surviving a night and knowing that now it is day. Only 12 more hours before bedtime.

Life is moving forward, and life is good even when it is hard. This is the truth. And it is encouragement, it is joy, it is hope.

Now it’s your turn: Whatever stage of transition you are in right now, if you are discouraged, please take a moment and write down what it is that is true. What have you missed in your own story? How is grace holding you up even when it seems like there is pain or when things are not going the way you want it to?

transition

This post is day 26. 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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firetruck 2
We stayed in Frankfurt, Germany, which is Husband’s home town, after we left Sweden. Our boys slept in his old room, played with his more-than-30-year-old firetruck, and we went to his home church. One Sunday there was a youth pastor from Australia preaching, and he talked about how Jacob wrestled with God. He said, We want God to snap his fingers and make our problems go away, but sometimes God wants to draw us into a wrestle.

And I could see God holding out his hands and asking me, Can we fight this one out?

I’m tired, friends. It’s been almost eight weeks since we drove away from Sweden, I miss my friends, my home, the swaying birches, the place and people who meant so much. Grief wears me out, and this is normal, but I want a break. Our to-do lists are still long as we navigate these first days in Melbourne, and we wrestle with our kids as we work through these things. They are hurting, too. And jet lagged. And then we went down with gastro 48 hours after arriving. Staying up with a puking child is not what I had in mind for my second night in Australia (Husband did most of the staying up though, in fairness).

There is this place in the transition when time slows down, and it will seem like nothing is happening. The movers took all your things away, there is nothing left to do in the house, you move to your in-laws, you’re in the new city, but you haven’t found a house or a job, and there is this space when you and the ones you love are waiting, waiting, waiting. It is full of questions: What will our lives look like? What will we do if it takes longer than expected to find work? What are we expecting? Where should we live? But there are rarely any answers.

You’ve left one thing behind but have not yet arrived at the next thing. I call it The In Between.

And I can tell you that for me, it is the hardest place of all. It is where my anger bubbles up. This is the time when I am most dissatisfied with my life. I meet my fears about the future here, and they knock me out. The In Between is where I cannot see clearly, I can’t remember why I left the safety of the past, I have yet to lay hold of the promise of the future.

It’s in this place where I sit on the floor of a church in Frankfurt, Husband next to me, our Little Bear between us as he tries to cuddle his way to sleep on both our laps, and an Australian pastor says, Sometimes God wants to draw us into a wrestle. He wants us closer. He wants to change the way we walk. He wants us to leave a better legacy.

firetruck

The timing feels terrible even though the truth is real. Now, in the time when I most want a vacation or time off or a rest of some sort. Now, in this time that seems laden with grief, frought with anger, and pregnant with uncertainty. Now, his question to me, his question to you may just be, Can we fight this one out?

Can I come closer? Can I change you? Can I grow you? Can I make you stronger through this fight? Can I assure you that I am trustworthy and that your life is in kind hands?

Because this is the truth: While I may be waiting for a visa, a job, a home and countless other things, I am not waiting for God.

He is with me. Always. I can step closer and engage instead of run away. I can wrestle with God instead of hide from him. Expecting him to give me the strength I need to fight a good fight, needing faith to rise up when doubts darken my horizon, choosing to speak promises of life instead of declarations of death.

Believing that change may involve pain, but in his hands, the pain will always have a purpose. The In Between is my springboard into the future, and I don’t want to spend it hiding in fear.

Now it’s your turn: Are you in an in between time? How’s your wrestle going? 

I’m linking up with Jennifer and Holley today. 

transition

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.