It Is Well

The Emergency Broadcasting System alarm message is the absolute last thing you want to hear when you’re on a long drive with two children, and one of them has just asked to stop somewhere because she has to go to the bathroom.

Tornado warning.

Tornado immediately takes my mind down a path of images of an F5 that tears up towns all around Helen Hunt. Warning tells me conditions aren’t just conducive, but that something has been spotted.

I knew the weather report called for rain, but that rain was scheduled for at least a couple hours later. It was dusk and not raining, but the sky did look a little odd. I found myself in the position of wanting not to alarm the girls while also wanting more info so I could make the best decision about what to do. Should I stop somewhere and hope that our luck was a little better than that of Cary Elwes, or keep moving to hopefully put distance between us and the storms?

I asked Ella to Google the area and see what she could find out. The answer: three funnels, although pretty far away. That made the decision to keep driving very easy – we could add some distance between us and those storms and keep making progress toward home. And I had about 10 minutes of pleasant driving, feeling good about my decision, before the sky became dark and the rain began to pound onto the windshield.

And when I say dark with pounding rain, I mean I and the other drivers around me turned on hazard lights and moved slowly over to the far right of I64. The rain hitting the car was intense and visibility was bad, and Audrey became frightened. I’m not sure what I said, but I found my “everything’s fine” Mommy voice and produced words to encourage her and assure her we were fine. The special lights the triangle button makes tell people where we are, and we’re all together, and the other cars are in it with us, and this is part of our adventure, and even though the rain is noisy the really bad part of the storms is far away, and this rain is going to make sure great flowers grow soon, and we’re fine.

I had no idea if she really believed my complete load of crap. I didn’t have the luxury of turning around to make eye contact. I had to be mindful that my body language was in line with my voice and did not show unease, I had to focus my external attention on the road, and I had to focus my internal attention on prayer.

And when I say prayer, I don’t mean Dear God It’s me Beth and it would be nice if this storm calmed down a bit. I was praying hard. More like, This is awful. Get us out of this. Please. Quickly. How did Jesus sleep through storms? And calm me down, too. I need help to stay calm because this is awful and the girls don’t need to know how awful it is. How could this happen at the end of our awesome spring break? Please. Please. Please. Keep us safe. Keep us calm. Are you there?! This is so bad.

The noise from the rain on the car seemed angry, and was adding to our tension. So I hit the button to switch from radio to ipod to try to put a soothing sound in the car. A recent addition to our song library came on, It Is Well – a worship song that samples the old hymn It Is Well With My Soul. The song’s beginning is quiet, with little instrumentation, and the singer almost seems like she’s praying quietly to herself, so you have to kind-of focus on her soft voice to hear the words.

And at the exact same moment, a couple minutes into the song, Ella and I started singing: “Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you. Through it all, through it all, it is well…the waves and wind still know His name.”

Click here, and at about 1:45 is the moment.

Just a few weeks ago, I learned the story of the man who penned It Is Well With My Soul, Horatio Spafford. He wrote the words during a time of personal tragedy, just after the loss of his children. I cried when I heard my friend Anne tell the story, and again later when relating it to Ella. It really is *that* moving. How can someone, anyone, have so much faith during a time of such profound darkness and despair?

Click Here for the It Is Well With My Soul history

As Ella and I were singing the song, peace filled me. In part because I needed something besides the storm to focus my brain on. In part because the song itself is quiet and calming. And in part because I had this sudden realization about a needed shift in my life, specifically as it relates to faith and prayer.

I talk to my girls about God and faith and prayer, and I take them to church and we say prayers before bed and we sometimes even pray that we’ll find the missing book we need before we leave in the morning. But there’s a big part of me that I have not shared with them yet, and that’s how I pray and how often I pray. And a dark truth – that sometimes I don’t have total faith in my prayers.

I have always been alone with my prayers. In my own head. In my own space. I typically don’t share them or talk about them, out of habit more than anything else. At home I didn’t talk about my prayers because I wasn’t surrounded by people who take faith seriously or because it seemed like the girls were too little for that big stuff, and at work it’s not always appropriate to share that kind of thing.

I talk to God all the time, all throughout the day. It’s more like an ongoing conversation where I sometimes get louder if I think God isn’t listening. It’s what you might call cerebral prayer – a mixture of my nature to rely on facts and data, with faith in a God that doesn’t always need my facts and data, with my impatience in a God that doesn’t always move as quickly as I’d like. If you charted my faith, it hasn’t grown in the nice upward lines we like to see in financial documents. It’s up and down, sometimes all in one day.

My faith isn’t perfect. I don’t always believe everything will work out the way we want and pray for. Sometimes when I hear about a horrible diagnosis, my initial reaction is not for a miracle but that some people get their healing in heaven instead of here. I wish I could say that I have the kind of faith that moves mountains, but I don’t. But what I’ve realized is that my girls don’t need to see my faith or prayer perfection, which is not real. I don’t want them to think that perfection is the standard and that if they don’t have 100% faith they are a failure, or there’s no reason to have any faith if they can’t have full faith. They need to see my work in progress faith, because that’s real. And seeing what’s real is in part what will enable them to embrace work in progress faith in their own lives.

It’s OK to pray when I don’t know what to say or how to say it or have doubts. It’s OK to pray without the formalities of intros like Dear Heavenly Father and for me to speak like I’m talking to my friend in Colorado. It’s OK to pray and admit to God and everyone that I am afraid even though I’m praying. It’s OK to offer a song as a prayer, showing my daughter that sometimes – many times – I don’t have words, and other peoples words are the best words.

Within just a few minutes, the rain seemed less ominous around the car. The sky was a little lighter. Cars were spreading back out across all the lanes of the highway, and started moving more quickly. Our storm had actually passed pretty quickly. Ella and I talked a little about the scary few minutes and the song and our singing the waves and wind verse at the same time – one of the most memorable moments from the trip. And then I turned around to check on Audrey, wondering at how quiet she had been, and found that she was fast asleep. While I had been fearful during the worst part of the storm, struggling in my cerebral prayer, Audrey had fallen asleep…childlike faith at 100%.

Purses and Thoughts

My purse is out of control.

My beautiful blue crocodile Kate Spade is so full of stuff and so heavy that once I sat my bag down in the passenger seat, my car flashed the seatbelt sign.

I knew it was getting heavy – a couple of times recently I’d caught myself rubbing my shoulder and thinking I needed to clean a few things out. But my car thinking my purse needed a seatbelt? Come on, now.

I really only carry a purse to keep up with 5 things – wallet, keys, phone, iPad, and lip balm. I came home and dumped everything out, and I found that my usual suspects had become surrounded by things that didn’t need to be in there and that I didn’t realize were in there. Additionally I found an alarming number of things I have no recollection of whatsoever, and I’m not entirely sure they are all my possessions.

Two things became clear to me:

(1) The hair ties we are constantly looking for at the very last minute on school mornings are all in the bottom of my purse.

(2) It’s time to make some changes. Specifically, to set some boundaries for what I am willing to carry around.

I’m carrying around everything from a blue stone I received as part of a sermon to remind us of our baptism to the official name-change papers I received 6 months ago now. My folder with the tax stuff. A couple of Audrey’s LOL Surprise dolls. Tootsie Rolls. An old device I need to drop at Best Buy for recycling. A Time’s Up lapel pin. A Virginia Beach Rocks rock. A small container of slime.

I think in part what happens is I have good intentions of getting some things done – so I put the dry cleaning receipt in a pocket in my purse but I don’t actually get by there for weeks. (Zoots may actually be out of business by now and I need to probably check on that.) And in part as I am cleaning up after others when we exit the car, I put things in my giant bag thinking I’ll put them in the trash or put them away when we get inside. In part I’m carrying around things I might need, like Advil or my iPad in case I want to write. And in part I’m carrying around sentimental things that I may not see every day but are there to make me smile occasionally.

Why am I carrying around so much stuff? The first thing I decided is that everything I carry around from now on is going to be because it is something I need or that brings me joy. I think of myself as not a Marie Kondo fan because at no point will folding laundry ever bring me joy. The first time I watched her fold clothes and talk about communicating her affection through her palms, it reminded me of the scene in The Silence of the Lambs where the serial killer rubs his palm over the back of the kidnapped girl. WEIRD. CREEPY. CRAZY.

Watch Marie Kondo fold:

But as I’ve read a little more about her and watched her a bit, I’ve realized that like her or not I have been employing her “does it bring me joy” method all around my house for the last few months. I’ve donated clothes that fit but that I rarely wear because I don’t love them. I’ve gotten rid of house stuff I like but maybe just isn’t right in that space anymore. I’ve dug up lilies around my yard because I want flowers only planted with love, and I’ve been trying to fill our living space with things that all have positivity associated with them. I may have even made this little KonMari step-hop when throwing a few things in the trash.

So what do I do about my giant purse? I’m not switching to a smaller purse. One, I don’t like small purses. And two, I feel like I should be capable of controlling what goes in my giant purse. Just because I have an oversized bag doesn’t mean I have to fill it with stuff. But more importantly, I need to constantly filter for junk and stop carrying around things that don’t bring me joy.

I started to wonder if my purse is a metaphor for my thought life. Maybe I’ve been wasting time entertaining thoughts that aren’t productive. Maybe I need to literally toss out thoughts just like I tossed out lilies. That’s why my current developmental sprint is to actively think about my thoughts and replace any negative thought I recognize with a specific positive affirmation, adapted from 2 Timothy 1:7.

The old King James reads: For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

But I like the Berean version better: For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power and of love and of calm and of self-control.

I decide what I think about. Just like I decide what goes in my Kate Spade. In addition to the usual suspects it’ll carry my gratitude journal, a gift from one of my besties, a small/medium-ish supply of Tootsie Rolls, and a star from an American flag that my Dad loved and carried in his pocket for quite some time. It’ll carry a photo of one of my favorite places, a hillside in Ohio where the earthly bodies of some of my great cloud of witnesses are buried, and it’ll carry the statement of faith Ella made last year about choosing to remember God loves us (and that reminds me she said “darn” in front of the whole church and I was so proud of her anyway).

For God did not give me a spirit of timidity, but of power and of love and of calm and of self-control.

God did not give us timidity. He gave us the opposite of timidity, and that’s bravery.

April Fool’s Birthday Girl

Fourteen years ago, in the middle of the night, I was doing the exact same thing as I am right at this moment: laying in bed with my daughter just a few feet away, marveling about her.

Ella was born not long after midnight, on April 1. After all the post-delivery chaos of Apgar scores and examinations and congratulations, everyone went home and I was alone in a dimly lit hospital room with Ella. I had a daughter, a little swaddled baby making faint sighing noises in her sleep. I was a mother, and it was really just remarkable and unbelievable that a life had come from me. We were a team now, me and this little being with giant blue eyes that had seemed to look all around my face when I whispered to her. We were a team and that little girl should have been terrified because the Mom on her team had absolutely no idea how to care for a baby or what she was doing.

I wasn’t a child who’d dreamed of being a Mommy. I wasn’t a teenager who’d babysat to make extra money. I wasn’t a person who held other people’s babies. In the more than three decades of my life prior to Ella’s birth, I’m not sure if I held any baby other than my nephew – and that was always supervised by people who knew what they were doing. My poor kid had a Mom with a very short resume. I’d gone to a class to learn how to breathe consistently during her birth process, I’d learned in that class that I had to always always always hold and support her neck and head, I’d read a couple of books about babies and I’d even read ahead in the infamous What to Expect the First Year manual, and a nurse maybe 30 minutes prior showed me how to give her a bath. At any Mom company on the planet, I would not get the job.

Ella is 14 years old today. So the good news is that despite my lack of qualifications and preparedness, I did manage to keep her alive. Although I’m not sure that’s really much of an accomplishment. What you learn as your child ages and as you have multiple children is that they’re built pretty tough and I could have probably better utilized my countless hours fretting about things like possible milk or nut or bee allergies, could she get botulism if honey was simply nearby, when to switch from car seats to booster seats, and even if french fries with pointed ends could be too stabby in her mouth.

The real fretting settles in later, and seems especially heightened at this stage. The real question to fret over is am I guiding her toward being a good person? Or maybe it’s could her life be better if I did something differently? Or maybe it’s have I laid a solid moral foundation? Or maybe it’s am I properly protecting her from bad stuff and bad people? Or maybe it’s am I properly preparing her to inevitably face bad stuff and bad people? Or maybe it’s am I setting a proper example? Or maybe it’s have I prepared her to say no and yes at the proper times?

There is no end to the things I can fret about, and sometimes I just get exasperated with all the fretting I cannot seem to relinquish and I think I should have stuck to raising cats – I am certain I can do that! And yet I must explore all these questions and constantly assess and reassess what’s missing and what’s off and what’s right and what’s wrong. I have to do that because I’m a Mom, and because my greatest responsibility and privilege is to be her Mom. No other responsibility or people or thoughts or desires or work are more important than her and Audrey, or than what I need to do as a Mom.

I’ve never been one of those people that wanted to throw their kids giant birthday celebrations every year. It’s exhausting to plan and host those events and it’s exhausting to take your kids to them throughout the school year. Last year we had a party because Ella was finally a teenager and because I wanted to bring her joy in a time of confusion and sadness and anger. And so until about a week ago I’d expected to have a quiet birthday with her this year. She started talking about having a friend or two over and then another friend and then another, and then it was going to need to be different people on different nights and I found myself panicking at the thought of having very little time to prepare. And just as all the panic was at its peak, I realized that Ella has only four birthdays left in her official childhood. Four. Four is nothing. A tiny number. How could there possibly be only four childhood birthdays remaining?

So we celebrated. We had two sleepovers, two cakes and a set of cupcakes, stacks of facial scrubs and masks, trampoline jumping way after bed time, shopping with gal pals at the mall, singing at Olive Garden, and countless pieces of candy. I’m exhausted and my house is even messier than the mess it was last week. I have a recycle bin full of empty pizza boxes, a basket full of laundry, a trash can full of makeup wipes and KitKat wrappers, and a Momma heart full of gratitude.

I am grateful for Ella, a young lady who’s lovely inside and out. A kind and thoughtful friend. A super smart math whiz. A talented singer and actor and gymnast. A child of God who prays about everything, from the need for guidance about big issues to finding her phone charger. A young lady full of empathy and the desire to care for people who struggle. She may not keep her room clean, but she will take money out of her own wallet for CHKD or to feed the homeless or to buy a treat for a friend who’s feeling down.

I am grateful for the village of people in her life. I am grateful for the choices she’s now making about what kind of people to add to her village – I may have made the initial choices about who surrounded her, but she’s old enough to make her own choices about those things now, and she’s choosing well. And I am grateful that she’s such a wonderful young person despite all my flaws and mess ups.

In the stillness of night tonight, in a dimly lit room just like on our first night, I laid quietly by myself and prayed for sweet Ella. No matter what she may encounter in her life I want her to know deep inside and beyond a shadow of a doubt – or as my Dad would say “that she knows that she knows that she knows” – that she is loved beyond measure and that it is a privilege to be her Mom. I pray that she would love life and be filled with joy. I pray that she would get into the college she wants and have the career that she wants and get the life partner that’s just right for her and that she will keep her priorities straight. I pray that when she’s happy or sad or mad or has messed up or done something great, she will always want to call her Mom. And I pray that I will always have discernment about how to pray for her and how to guide her and how to be a blessing to her.

Happy Birthday, Brave Girl. I love that you are 14 and still call me Mommy, even when your friends are around. In exchange, I will no longer publicly chase you to smother those perfect cheeks with kisses.

Picture submitted by and approved by Ella.