Lessons in Motherhood {From a Duck}

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She sits, day in and day out, barely moving an inch.  She settles down deep into her nest made of straw and feathers from her very own chest. She takes the brunt of the cold, harsh winter, so the young ones beneath her are shielded.  The ducklings, they are not fully developed yet.  They have yet to break forth into this wide world.  This mother…she waits. Patient, determined, self-sacrificing, she gives up her life in order that they would have life.  The other ducks are waddling about and flapping their wings with excitement in the lush, green field.  They are thrilled with the abundance of bugs to eat and the refreshing pond that awaits them.  The gate is open, she could join them.  However, this mother chooses to stay planted atop her eggs until they are ready.  She resolves to put off the wonderful things that beckon her.  The grass, the bugs, the pond…they will still be there when her sitting is over.  She sits content as she embraces her current task…to develop, to protect, to nurture her young.  All the while, knowing her time will come. Her time will come.  As I watch her, I feel a strange correlation. I can relate.

Fourteen years ago, as I walked down the aisle toward the man of my dreams, I had ambitions, goals, and at the very least, a year of college left. Three months after we said “I do,” I found myself gripping a little white stick with a pink plus sign in fear and trembling.  My husband, three years older than me and settled in a career, rejoiced.  I cried.  I wasn’t ready to be a mother.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.  I was supposed to finish college, then enter a thrilling career as a woman in a white lab coat who studied behavior, compiled data, and wrote books about her findings.  I eventually warmed up to the idea and pushed through my last year of college with an itty bitty learner growing inside me.  I walked across that graduation platform, great with child under that black tent of a gown.  Just one month later, I became a mother

Nothing could’ve prepared me for how quickly and deeply I’d fall in love with my first born.  I plunged into motherhood with great ease.  That’s not to say it was all easy, or that I didn’t still dream of what may be out there for me beyond these tender years.  Your time will come, the Spirit would admonish, through long nights of little cries.  I would race to remedy the empty bellies, soaked through jammies, and swollen, hurting gums. I would swaddle, rock and caress as they drifted back to a state of all is right in the world.  This is the time you were designed for right now.  This moment…soak it in, find joy in it, lose yourself in it, for it will be over before you want it to be… the Great Counselor would advise.  So I did just that, I absorbed motherhood.  It became who I was, the very essence of the blood running through my veins.  I embraced my calling to develop, protect and nurture my little human beings.  I put my yearnings for green pastures of a career aside, and sat still on my nest.   I agree, it’s over all too quickly.

This past fall, I watched my youngest bounce eagerly toward the giant double doors of elementary school.  The last of my ducklings has waddled away from the protection of my bosom, my heart, my core.  I feel as if a part of me is dying. At times, I feel like our duck when she steps away from her nest briefly to eat or drink, my feathers get ruffled and I’m a bit out of sorts!  What now? I seek direction, look for answers in His word, listen in the quiet for His voice. I am reminded that while there will always be death, there will also be new life. New creation. New perspective. New opportunity. Your time has come, whispers The Lord.  It’s time to acknowledge the giftings and passions I’ve so carefully placed in you. Don’t worry, you will not be leaving motherhood, for it is your highest calling. They are still a part of you, growing with you. They can walk, and they will follow.  So, follow me on this new path. Your time is here.  What has just happened? All from watching a mother duck? An epiphany of sorts, here in this sweet little cottage. I love when The Lord speaks! He has spoken here greatly. The green pasture feels good beneath my feet. I have waited and I am ready.

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A Daughter’s Eyes: The Mirror That Doesn’t Lie

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A daughter’s eyes are like mirrors.  A daughter’s eyes…they can be reflections of your very soul.  She takes you in, then gives forth what she sees.  Those moments you catch a glimpse of yourself in her…they can make you smile, and they can be downright sobering.  She is, perhaps, the one mirror that doesn’t lie.  Several mirrors strategically placed throughout the house, and the one that is the truest representation of me?  Surely not any that are bolted tight to a wall.  The one that is the most accurate is the one that moves, and by moving I don’t mean swaying crooked on the hanger.  She moves with me, as I enter different rooms, different moods, different stages, capturing my best…and my worst.

Someone asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  She proudly replies, “A Mom.”  She believes being a mother is the most wonderful, most fulfilling career.  I smile, because she’s right.  I beam with delight, knowing she is able to see this truth in me.  I giggle as she puts on her mini, matching apron and prepares to make chocolate chip cookies.  She wants to do it all by herself, “like Mom does.”  I smile, as I’ve prayed that she’d one day emulate my love of cooking for my family.

She’s laying out a new outfit to wear back to school, after Christmas break.  Preparedness. Zeal.  That’s my girl, I’m convinced.  As I round the corner into the other room, I hear five little words that stop me in my tracks.  “Now I can beat her.”  (‘her’ had a name, but I’ll leave it out here)  My feet screech to a halt and I back up until I can see her big hazel eyes looking up at me.  “What did you say?” I ask.  She repeats what I thought I heard, in a very sure tone.  “Beat her in what, sweetie?”  I investigate, hoping to find that she was describing some sort of game or P.E. activity at least.  My dread is confirmed as she answers, “With my pretty, new outfit.”

Wait a minute.  This is coming from the lips of a six year old child who judges no one.  She is a fervent lover of all, this child.  She walks around with the doors of her heart flung wide open, ready and willing to accept any and all.  This is coming from a child who left the comfort of her good friends on the playground, to go and offer to play with a lonely ‘mean’ girl because she felt compassion for her.  Once, during a game of pick up sticks, this sweet child began putting her most valuable sticks on my pile, so that I’d out score her!  This child…she has compassion for bugs even!  If there is an animal or creature of any kind that is suffering, she instantly, tearfully insists we do something to help it.

I can’t understand where a comment like this is coming from.  My heart is crushed, in a single moment.  I turn inward, searching for answers.  Why?  Where have I gone wrong?  Does she get this from meDo I do that?  I defend myself to me, and think, “Surely, I’ve always had gorgeous, amazing girlfriends in my life, whom I’ve been proud to accompany in spite of being in my frumpy sweatpants!”  Then, the truth hits me in the chest like a ton of bricks.  Sadly, I have been guilty of this in my life.  If we are truly honest with ourselves, we’ve all been guilty of this.  We’ve pulled out our measuring sticks and compared our lives, our homes, our cooking, our kids, our pant size, our glittery shirts…to that of others.  I begin to feel the weight of this moment, and the magnitude of damage it could cause if allowed to slip away into the whirlwind of the evening.

My heart hangs low so I kneel down to scoop it up, to scoop her up.  Oh, tender heart…don’t you know God considers YOU the most beautiful of all His creations, no matter what clothes you are wearing?  Whether they are from that glamorous store in the mall, or that second hand store we visit down the road, is insignificant.  God looks at the heart.  God sees YOU on the inside.  He looks at HER heart, too. He considers her the most beautiful of all His creations as well.   Don’t you know, dear heart, that two are better than one?  Two of you girls, shirts adorned with sparkles or not, are better when banded together.  For, if one falls down, the other is there to lift up, build up, help walk.  We are not meant to whack each other with hurtful rods of comparison, no!

The only thing of any value that we clothe ourselves with is Christ.  As His beloved ones, we have the luxury of being able to wear heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and love.  In clothing ourselves with Christ, we are able to bear with one another, forgive one another and give thanks for one another.  In clothing ourselves with Christ, we become oneOh daughter, please get this:  clothe yourself with Christ, and you will radiate beauty!  Clothe yourself with Christ, and when you walk into a room you’ll turn heads…toward Him!  Clothe yourself with Christ, and win souls for His kingdom!  Please, grasp this truth!  Her blooming soul seems to understand as she listens to my words but sees my heart.  She softly responds, “Okay, Mama.”

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Moments… some shameful, some glorious…where you’re standing before the one and only mirror that doesn’t lie.  I walk away from the mirror, knowing that I have a monumental task before me as a mother in bringing up a daughter.  My desire is to put on Christ daily, so that my precious girl will learn to do the same.  I want her to reach for Christ, the only garment that will shine forth true beauty, in a world size closet of fancy imitation items.  Lord, help me to dress my best in YOU, so that I can shine your beauty into the only mirror that matters…my daughter.

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(To all my email subscribers:  my apologies that you received my ‘rough draft’ first!  I was so excited to be writing again, that I sent it out before it was ready!)

When God Shows Up {and near tragedy becomes blessing}

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I had gone for a brisk walk that stunning fall afternoon.  It was a Sunday.  We had arrived home from church, with nothing more on our agenda than soaking up the sun’s enchanting rays.  We were all outside; Avery on the swing set and the boys in the secret garden with Daddy, building our tree fort.  Usually Avery would want to come along for a walk, but she’d decided to stay.  I’d be gone only 30 minutes, one time around the neighborhood loop.  Kisses and smiles were abundant as I left.  I returned refreshed, but surprised to find things were not as peaceful as I’d left them.  There was worry, pacing, and tears as I approached my kids, still outside.  They were watching our duck, Puddles, intently while spewing out details of what had just unfolded.  Almost immediately after I left, Puddles had started losing his balance, turning in circles, falling all over himself, and going limp in the neck.  It was laughable at first.  That is, until they discerned that he was suffering.  Laughter quickly turned to fright and helplessness as they watched, unable to appease him.  These intermittent bouts of dizziness had gone on the entire time I was gone, and continued well into the night.  What does one do when their duck is going bonkers?  We turned to Google, of course.  Immediately, several consistent blurbs of information appeared.  Most likely, Puddles had come down with botulism.  Thankfully, this type of botulism does not effect humans (whew, I was about to demand everyone scrub up in the shower instantly!).  We read on, to find that 1 lb. of Epsom salt with 5 lb. of water could flush our duck’s system of the fatal bacteria.  Also suggested, a mixture of water with molasses.  This has a laxative effect.  Get the duck some protein as well! 

Four of us hopeful, we set out for the local Walmart.  The fifth and most realistic one, my husband, the one who’d read everything…he whispers to me in the car that even with these remedies, other people’s ducks…they still died within 3 days.  We returned home, anxious to check on Puddles and ready to perform our duties as animal rescuers.  I stayed in and mixed the solutions, while the rest of the crew went down to see the ducks.  One returned quickly, completely in tears again, distraught.  “His neck was paralyzed again, mom!  He couldn’t move.”   “Well, let’s try and see if this works, son,” I reply.  It took all 5 of us, it seemed…one to hold the duck tight, one to plunge the syringe into the solution and down his throat, one to wash the water dish, one to give fresh food, and one to hold the flashlight (as now it was 9:00pm and pitch dark outside).  We did all we could do, tucked them in and returned inside for the night.  Well, there was one more thing to do: PRAY.

We huddled together tight, hand in hand, minds focused.  We prayed for a miracle.  We prayed that Puddles would wake feeling better, and that he got enough of the salt solution to help flush his system, despite most of it somehow ending up all over our clothes and the ground.  We prayed that the dizziness would subside and that the bacteria would leave his body.  We know, God, you hear our prayers, for your word tells us so in Psalm 34:17: “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.  He rescues them from all their troubles.”  No matter how small the details, Lord, you care deeply…even if it’s just a measly pet duck…we know it.  “The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord.  He delights in every detail of their lives.” (Psalm 37:23)

Avery had been waiting all week for this night.  Not because she knew she’d need to lift the spirits of her heartbroken brother over a duck, but because it was her devotion night.  We each have a night during the week.  She’d been planning what she’d bring to the table, and she was excited about it.  Nobody (not even a sick duck) can take away this girl’s joy in the Lord.  So, we proceeded with family devotions, even though it was late…and a school night.  When tragedy strikes, we find ourselves not wanting to part, desiring to linger in one another’s presence.  A despairing boy curls himself up on the couch between the edge and my leg…and begins to weep.  As I rub his back, the show begins.  Behind a stack of pillows on the floor, probably every single pillow in the house, Avery and her Daddy act out a familiar scene from the Bible.  In charade like fashion, they hammer and build, then motion for something to come toward them.  They are calling forth animals, I think.  Then, they sway back and forth, as if in a storm, behind this heaping pile of pillows and we all laugh…even the sobbing one!  It feels good to laugh.  Back to the show, Avery and Daddy come out from behind the wall of pillows.  They are on land.  They bow down and look up, giving thanks, blowing kisses to the sky.  We all exclaim while giggling, “Noah’s Ark!”  Then we clap…even the one whose tears have left a puddle on the throw pillow!  Okay, time for bed.  We pray one more time, thanking the Lord for laughter amidst a night filled with uncertainty. 

We tuck the kids in bed, and stay up a while devising a plan in case we find a dead duck in the morning.  Daddy goes to check on the kids before shutting his eyes, and discovers the sweetest thing: our three kids sacked out, snuggled up together in the oldest one’s top bunk.  This, because the middle one was crying his eyes out all night.  This, because the girl couldn’t fall asleep for fear creeping in of what might become of Puddles.  This young man, still our baby, even though he was just as sad as the others, swallowed hard and manned up for his siblings.  He offered his bed, a place to lament together, band together, have hope together.  This 6th grader, who can antagonize for laughs, put others before himself.  He’s always been a great encourager, but the other two are the lovers, the affectionate ones.  My husband climbs into bed with a smile and fullness of heart.  It’s in these hard moments that the opportunity to shine bright presents itself.  “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

The next thing shining brightly was the sun coming through the windows the following morning.  “How is it morning already?” I ask.  Kerry hurries out the door with the anticipation of finding a dead duck before one of the kids does.  Sure enough, before Kerry gets back, Owen, up earlier than normal, is racing past me on his way to see Puddles.  They open up the door to the pen.  Puddles, still looking as if he were tossed back and forth on Noah’s Ark in a storm,  waddles out.  He’s alive, at least!  All day I update my husband, via phone, that the duck hasn’t had any dizzy spells!  He calmly reminds me though, that it took a couple days for others’ ducks to die.  “Well, I suppose you have a point since he won’t eat or drink a thing,” I admit.  The kids return home from school ecstatic that Puddles is still alive!  Dad forewarns them though, of what still may come.  He desires to protect their little hearts from being broken once again. 

Another night of meds that flush.  Another morning of hopeful hearts…he’s still hanging in there!  In fact, I text Kerry as he’s right in the middle of an important pastor’s meeting…”Puddles is eating bugs!” I exclaim.  He quickly replies, “woohoo!”  The kids are delighted, once again, as they race down the driveway after school to see Puddles swimming, eating and quacking as normal.  My heart is overflowing with gratitude, not really because we still own a white farm duck, but because of how God showed up in the mundane and delivered upon His promises.  He heard the cries (literal wails) of His kids and cared enough to act.  Sure, it could have been the measly 2 oz. of fluid we flushed down the duck.  However, the advice on the internet said we needed to make sure ALL of it got down.  We weren’t even close.  It didn’t look good.  But God is good. 

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Not only did He show up, He allowed a heartbreaking experience to bond siblings even closer, as they drew closer to Him in their pleading.  I can’t explain the breadth of fulfillment I felt the night we witnessed our three children shine bright, each in their own little ways.  Owen, with his love and compassion for all living creatures, moved to tears by a struggling duck, checking, feeding, offering to stay.  Avery, with her unstoppable joy, putting her sadness aside to lift the spirits of others by bringing about laughter.  Keinan, becoming strong for the younger two, encouraging and laying down himself as he offered up his bed.  Although I’ve seen it over and over, I never tire of watching God show up.  That night, His word came alive once again, as he gave beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair; that we may be called great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory! (Isaiah 61:3)  What more could I ask for?  Feeling so blessed and thankful…