I knew that my first blog would be about Scout. I just never imagined it would be like this. It’s so hard to say out loud and even harder to see the words on paper… our Scout is gone.
Scout was my person. He was not a pet. He was not a dog. He was “Mama’s baby”. Scout was the truest picture of God’s unconditional love I have ever experienced. He showed our family the heart of God. Scout deeply loved us and longed to be with us, always. He was our “Velcro” dog stuck to our side, helper, comforter, guide, and protector. Scout never judged or condemned us when we fell short, never betrayed our trust, was slow to anger, and quick to forgive. Scout saw the best in us.
Five years ago, I remember sharing with Cade that we were not going to choose the puppy, we would wait and allow the puppy to choose us. And along came a little Vizsla with a blue ribbon who bounced happily in Cade’s lap, licked his face, and fell asleep beside him. Blue boy, Scout chose us. He was just what our family wanted, but more so what we needed.
Since then, Scout was a part of our family. He sat in a chair next to us at the table as we ate. He studied at the desk (sometimes on top of the desk!) while we homeschooled. He followed us to the bathroom. Swam laps with us in the pool. Stole golf balls. Chased birds. Rode in the ATV at the farm. Stared at lizards. Barked at the mail lady and garbage man. Ate the basil from the garden. Waited patiently for me to “accidentally” drop food as I cooked. Napped on his bench. Played hide and seek. Watched hallmark movies in bed and sports on the big screen. Prayed with me. Stole socks from the laundry. Warmed my feet as I read. Sat in my lap as I wrote. Wrapped himself across the back of our necks like a scarf. Guarded us. Made us laugh …and never left our side.
Scout was faithful. He was adventurous. He was brave. He was loving. He was kind. But what we didn’t know is that Scout was sick. We were not prepared to lose Scout. It was sudden and tragic and our family is trying our best to move through the “What if’s”, sorrow, loneliness, and deafening quiet. Losing Scout has come at such a bittersweet time as we publish the book, Lily Bell: Worthy of Love. His pictures on the pages bring tears to my eyes. Yet, just like the silver lining found in Lily Bell’s wings, I am so thankful that his legacy of friendship and courage will live on through her story. Scout was a gift to our family and I hope his life will be a gift to you also. We are so thankful he chose us to love.
What I miss….
His nose prints on the glass windows
His copper colored hair on the pillows
His hazel eyes looking at me… just knowing
Stealing the socks and washcloths out of the laundry basket. Hiding under the dining room table. Waiting for me to trade him a sock for an apple or piece of celery.
Sitting and waiting for me outside the shower
Barking at the bubbles in the bathtub. Licking the bubbles from my toes.
Warming my feet while I read
Stroking his velvety ears
His excitement and joy to see us every time we walked through the door. Every day was Christmas morning to Scout!
Knowing what we needed- a nose nudge, a sloppy lick, a mischievous laugh
His bark at the sound of the gravel road approaching the farm
Who would have thought that I would have three boys? I came from a family of three girls, and no boys. My world was filled with strawberry shortcake pillows and fairy wallpaper, synchronized swimming routines, hand stand competitions with my sister George, ice skating in a pink and white ruffled leotard, ballet hair buns, pink sponge rollers, disco dancing lessons in leg warmers and crimped hair, horse-back riding, and Oma’s matching dresses. I had the most wonderful childhood with my parents in England and grandparents in Holland. I loved being a girl.
Neither my cultured childhood nor Ph.D. in Child Development prepared me to raise three boys. Motherhood came naturally to me when they were younger. Boys need their mamas. But as they become men, it has become increasingly harder to stay connected and find our common denominator. I often ask, “How can I stay close with my boys as they get older?” Their needs change. Their interests change. They don’t depend on their mamas like they used to. It has been an adjustment. I have learned to do less for them and allow them to take the lead. They ask tough questions and want to check your sources and find their own answers. They are searching to find a faith of their own and want a tangible encounter with God. They are less trusting and more questioning. All of it is healthy, but none of it is easy.
The debate stage of development is normal, but the argument stage is exhausting. There’s a fine line between disrespect and debate, it’s all in the tone. It seems that my older boys always want to talk right before bed…unwind their minds and unload their burdens. Although tired, I savor every minute of that precious time with them. Especially with my oldest son, Houston, who is leaving for college in the fall. I will miss him beyond words.
So I have found that during this season of life, our connection is food. I love to cook and they love to eat. It brings me so much joy to see their faces as they walk through the door after a long day of school and practice and say, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” It’s not so much about the food, but it’s about the fellowship that comes with it. Jesus always fed the people first before he shared truth with them. The same is true for my boys. They cannot hear on an empty stomach. So my connection is to feed them food for their growing bodies, and more importantly food for their searching souls. They hunger for validation and respect.
In our home, I have adapted to being the only girl in a boy’s world. I have learned to wear camouflage (albeit pink), cheer for their sports, buy beef jerky and hot sauce, ride roller coasters, scrub the clay out of white baseball pants, and listen to what they are not saying. Sometimes, it’s in the quiet that I can hear their hearts. I also know that my soon to be men, still need their mama – just in a different way. They need less cuddling and more affirming. They need consistent encouragement, continuous support, and when they look in my eyes… they need to see their reflection as God sees them; how He loves them for who they are right now and who they will become.
I used to be afraid of the “suddenlies”. I think the door to fear was blown wide open at the age of eight when my father committed suicide. I remember it like yesterday. It was a cold morning in England, so my older sister Georgina (“George”) and I were cozied up under our electric blankets in our bunk beds, St. Martin’s scratchy grey wool uniforms and thick tights warming over the radiators, and waiting for our daddy to come upstairs and bring us our cup of tea with milk and extra sugar. But he never came.
Something was wrong. My beautiful mom looked like she had not slept and was unsettled, waiting nervously for the phone to ring or a knock at the door. I remember the strange feeling that came over me as I ate my frosted flakes with warm milk…it was a knowing… knowing he was gone. I began to cry.
The knock at the door did come, and my Uncle Wimmie and police confirmed our worst fear. His body was found, but his spirit was lost. Our lives were suddenly changed forever. Just a week before my mom’s birthday, she was faced with raising two girls, alone. Well intentioned people flooded our home wanting to help and make sense of the senselessness. They offered to “take the girls for a while” so she could have some time. My mom didn’t need time, she needed us drawn close to her, hidden under the shadows of her wings like a protective bird.
What I didn’t know then was that losing my earthly father would later in life lead me to finding my heavenly father. A father that would never leave me or forsake me, never abandon my mother and sister, and hold us when our world fell apart. My heavenly father did not cause our loss, but He did allow my daddy to choose between life and death. I hope and want to believe that God was with Him as he wrote his good bye letters, picked out a yellow rose for his girls, agonized over his decision, and took his last shallow breath. All the while lovingly whispering to him, “Peter, I love you, there is a better way, and let me help you”. But perhaps, the relentless screams of depression, shame, and despair swallowed up the gentle whisper. I imagine God weeping as He held his lifeless body and grieving what could have been.
It has been a gradual process, but God has redeemed the “suddenlies” throughout my walk with him. “Suddenlies” can be the “sudden lies” of the enemy; however, God’s “suddenlies” can be swift and unexpected turnarounds. He suddenly rescued my marriage, suddenly protected my children from accidents, suddenly healed my mom of cancer, suddenly restored forgotten relationships, and suddenly caused all things to work together for good. Now, God’s “suddenlies” hold more power than the enemy’s “sudden lies”. It doesn’t mean that hard things do not happen, sometimes all at once… but rather that it is not the end of our story.
My oldest baby turned eighteen this week. He embarked on a plane to Boston as my adorable little boy and returned days later as a handsome young man. It’s hard to believe that in a few short months, Houston will graduate high school and venture to college. I find myself submerged in the depths of an emotional paradox. On one hand, I am proud beyond measure and excited for him to start a life of his own; yet on the other hand, I am concerned and pensive. As parents, we spend most of our lives preparing our children for the moment they finally learn to spread their wings and fly away from the nest. So why does my heart ache so much?
I suppose I need to know in my knower that my son is really ready to leave home. It is more than knowing that Houston will remember to turn off the stove, take his clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer, pay his bills on time, eat healthy meals, set his alarm, and lock the doors. I need to know he will be safe. More so, I need to know that we will stay connected.
From the moment I discovered I was expecting, my life became interwoven with his. Daily, I would pray scriptures over him as he grew in my womb. We were womb-mates, both physically and spiritually knitted together. Houston entered this world with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck three times, a triple cord. Nevertheless, what the enemy meant for bad, God spared and made good. Time and time again over the past eighteen years, God has cut unhealthy cords and protected him from harm. As his mama, I have learned to trust God with Houston’s life and support his decisions even when I feel unsure. Now it seems that I need to let go even more and trust him at a higher level than I am comfortable. In the book of Ecclesiastes 4:12, Solomon writes, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” This cord of three strands braids Houston, God, and me together. It is a strong and powerful connection that cannot be unraveled, torn apart, or forgotten. God is the center strand of our cord weaving our lives lovingly with His. Our triple-stranded cord will strengthen Houston and bind him with grace and wisdom. It will go ahead of him and make a way, provide clarity when confusion tries to blind him, fill him with courage when afraid, and guide him as he continues to search for his purpose. Our cord is not a shackle of domination or control. It is designed to strengthen, stabilize, and support Houston as he becomes the man who he is created to be.
So when I see my little Mensan leave a metal spoon in his oatmeal bowl in the microwave …I will not fear. When he cleans the grout and tile in his shower with a plastic hairbrush… I will not fret. When he turns on all the lights inside the house to walk the dog outside at night …I will not question. When he forgets to put his contacts in his eyes, loose his keys, or leave his brother Cade at the homecoming dance… I will not secretly roll my eyes; because… I choose to trust in the promise of the cord of three strands that connects and protects us all.
When I was fifteen years old, I lost my sister. Not unto death, but unto decision. We were only fourteen months apart in age, very different but close. She was the vivacious brunette, bronzed-skinned, tiger-eyed swan and I was the tiny, timid blonde that felt like the ugly duckling. She was the sun and I was her moon. It was safe being in her shadow. My sister wanted to live life to the fullest, while I would rather curl up in bed and read about life in a book.
At sixteen, my sister left home and never returned. Her reasons were more than she could endure and more than my young mind could understand. For twenty-six years, we were apart. I waited, hoped, believed, and prayed for restoration, but our worlds remained divided. Every birthday, Christmas, graduation, wedding, birth of a child - there were no cards or phone calls, not a glimpse of remembrance, simply forgotten. Frail attempts were made to reach out throughout the years, but reconciliation was wrestled down by rejection. We were strangers who happened to look alike, who had a past but did not have a future. The constant loneliness took its toll. No matter how much my own family loved me, there was a hole in my heart that belonged to my sister. We shared the same blood, childhood, and memories. She was my touchstone.
I remember seeing the movie “Frozen” and watching Anna begging Elsa to open the door as she sang, “Do you want to build a snowman?” It was too much to bear, and I walked out of the theatre. Later that night, I sobbed quietly in the bath, desperately needing to soak in God’s love until it softened my sadness and washed away the heavy film of rejection. Yet, in the background, I heard the lyrics of another song, “Say something, I’m giving up on you”. That was my heart’s cry. I was at the end of myself, and I could not hope against hope anymore. I knew I had to let her go as well as the impossible dream of reuniting with my sister again. I had to hand her over to God. No more striving to try and make her love me or pretending that we did not exist.
God gathered up all of my tears and collected them in His alabaster jar. He comforted and assured me, “You are worthy, worthy of love. Let her go … let me love her for you.” And I believe He did. He poured out my tears upon her, breathing life into dry bones. Years of tears softened her heart of stone and revived it into a heart of love. Not one tear was wasted. A few weeks later, I received a photograph on my phone of two precious little girls and a message that read, “I remembered I had a sister.” My sister had given birth to a little blonde-haired baby girl who was pictured cradled in her brunette-haired, big sister’s arms. So unexpectedly, her little girls, sisters, led us back to each other.
Six years ago, my sister did “say something” at last, but not before I had to give up on her first. I had to stop trusting in my own understanding and hand my sister over to the one who could love her more. We never know how God is making all things work together for our good, healing our memories, and giving us beauty for our ashes. All those years, what I thought was lost was only hidden. I did not see my sister in pain as she secretly stood in the back row of my gradation, camouflaged in the crowd at my wedding, or my picture tucked away at the bottom of her drawer. God did. Nothing was lost, but just set aside for a season. What I did not understand then I understand now. My sister did not reject me. She rejected the reminder of a past that she longed to forget. Although twenty-six years seemed like a lifetime without each other, God has redeemed our time together now as we create beautiful memories with our own children. He is making all things new, exceedingly and abundantly more than we could have ever hoped. Now, we can build a snowman.
“Is this the end?” were my Oma’s last words. I was not there with her when she passed. No one was. In the early morning hours in a hospital room in Holland, she quietly slipped away in her sleep. The night before, my aunt and uncle said Oma ate a huge meal which was unusual for her. She was happy and surrounded with those she loved, but later complained of stomachache and began vomiting. What could have been a routine surgical procedure to remove her gall bladder, instead became the end. The call to America came in the middle of the night. It was my mom. My cousin had driven to her house to give her the news in person that Oma had died. We were all in shock. It felt as if someone had yanked out my heart and stolen my breath. If only I could just go back to bed and pretend that it was all a very bad dream, but the unbearable truth was that my Oma was gone and I never got to say good-bye.
Family flew to Holland for the funeral. I attempted to a book flight a dozen times, but I could not make myself click the confirmation button. I was tormented. In my head, I needed to be there for my family, but in my heart, I could not face seeing Oma’s lifeless body in a casket. More so, I was wrecked with guilt that I did not see her before it was too late. The grief of losing my Oma was greater than losing my daddy and sister combined.
Throughout the years and despite the thousands of miles apart, we remained sewn together. We shared an unbreakable bond. The love I found in her eyes still moves me to tears. I just adored being with her and holding her soft hands. Each summer in Oma’s attic, she would have us lie down on old newspapers, trace our bodies, and make dress patterns to sew. The aroma of Indonesian spices takes me back to cooking nasi and satay with peanut sauce with my mom and Oma in the kitchen. For breakfast, Oma would slowly eat with a knife and fork, a cinnamon twist donut or toast with strawberry jam and cheese. She always saved the last bite for the dogs sitting at her feet under the table. She would cover her knees with her purse thinking they would get sunburned through the car window. At bedtime, I would sneak into her room and steal her false teeth soaking in a glass by her bedside, just so I could hear her try to talk without them in the morning. I loved how Oma would smile with her eyes and say my name every time I burped loudly. So often I would get carried away telling her stories as I styled her hair. I would use my hands to talk and forget to balance the curling iron, burning her forehead and neck. Yet she never got angry, only sigh, “O yay, Amanda”. After school, we would talk while eating Danish butter cookies in the blue tin. I miss the smell of those cookies. I miss her double-dutch expressions and the dents her glasses made on the sides of her nose. I laugh now as I remember having chicken pox in Holland, and Oma made me sleep sitting up in a chair with my head resting against the wall so that I would not scar. She also thought we would get worms if we sat on a cold floor or ate raw cookie dough. She had some strange qualms, but always rooted in loving intention.
Oma was a quiet soul who hid an even quieter strength. To some, she may have appeared meek and fearful, but behind those eyes was evidence of years of suffering and survival. Oma never confided about the torture and appalling abuse she endured and witnessed as a child in the Japanese war camps in Indonesia during World War II. She rarely shared about the many babies she lost, daughter she watched die during childbirth, or the infant granddaughter she had to prepare for burial in her own home. These tragedies left Oma without words. Her only solace was found alone, hidden in her room for months at a time. Each loss cycled the recovery process again.
As a child, Oma lost both parents and someone attempted to drown her in a pool. She never went close to water after that. During the war in Indonesia, she lost her first love as well as a stable, loving home. She was treated as an outcast because of her brown-sugared skin and would shrink back hearing loud noises that reminded her of bombs. In her early twenties, she lost all of her teeth due to severe malnutrition and starvation in the war camp. Later, she moved to Holland and Spain where she lost children, grandchild, businesses, restaurants, husband, and part of her breasts due to repeated tumors. Oma never learned to drive a car, yet at age seventy, she finally learned to ride a three-wheeled bicycle and pedaled around the cul-de-sac with the dog in the basket.
Was my Oma weak and fearful, or was she strong and resilient? I don’t think anyone should judge or try to imagine what she endured in her eighty-seven years of life. Oma suffered in silence and did her best to just keep going. Some years God had to carry her. So when Oma asked that final question, “Is this the end?” I believe it was. It was the end of a life of suffering but the beginning of a new eternal life. In exchange, she would receive an everlasting life where Jesus would wipe every tear from her eyes and there would be no more death, sorrow, mourning, or pain. All those things would be gone forever. I may not have been able to say good-bye to my Oma on this side of heaven, but I hold tightly to the promise that I will get to say,
“Ik hou van jou” (I love you) to her again as she waits for me on the other side.
“It feels good to help” is a message found in Lily Bell: Worthy of Love. But what happens when it doesn’t feel good to help, when it requires sacrifice and it hurts? I began writing the story of Lily Bell in 2014. It took Maija and me almost a year to complete the designs for the illustrations, photograph, and convert the artwork graphically to print. It took another three years to find the right publisher. Waiting on God’s leading, I did not want to get ahead of Him and make my own way, but also not hesitate when the timing was right. I was afraid of “giving my pearl to a swine”, handing over what was precious and priceless to the wrong person. Above all, I could not surrender our much guarded privacy.
The book was not only inspired by my love for Lily but also love for my three children and beloved Scout. Although they believed in my dream and supported my purpose, they did not ask for me to write this story about them, nor did they desire attention brought to their lives. It was imperative that I demonstrated my love for them in writing and also protected them from what the writing may bring forth when released.
I have always longed for the quiet and stillness of life and preferred to work behind the scenes, rather than in the spotlight. I knew that publishing the book meant I could no longer hide behind my words penned within the shelter of our cozy nest where we could remain protected and invisible. Instead, I would have to put myself out there, trust God and others, and become incredibly uncomfortable.
It’s comfortable helping. It’s not comfortable trying to help the Lucindas of the world. They are the people you can never please, who always have to voice their opinion, doubt your intentions, assume and accuse, burst your bubble, rain on your parade, point out your mistakes, and believe you have no worth. Lucindas have a subtle way of making you feel that no matter how hard you try, you will always fall short and never be enough. I understand that people have a voice, and it should be heard. But only if those words build up and encourage, not tear down and destroy. Words heal, and words hurt. The power of life or death is found in the tongue. Sometimes it’s not the written or spoken words but the tone and the timing in which they are received. It’s not the truth of the message that hurts but the bite of the messenger. Truth, coupled with love and grace, foster growth and strengthen relationships whereas facts, poisoned with spite and pride, only lead to insecurity and resentment.
We all have to deal with Lucindas, the people that can help but choose not to help. They could be uncompromising teachers, belittling coaches, ungrateful children, demanding clients, judgmental family members, condescending bosses, entitled employees, or oppressive critics. You know the ones…. You make them homemade chocolate chip cookies, but they complain that it’s the wrong kind of chocolate. They can’t wait to point out your spelling mistakes or the hair growing out of your chin, roll their eyes at your children as they are having a nuclear meltdown at the restaurant, talk behind your back while saying they’re praying for you, and send hateful emails in the middle of the night. All of it hurts. None of it helps.
For almost five years I tried my best to shelter our book, knowing that one day, some would see the beauty and hope in our story, while others would find the flaws. The book was never intended to be public or perfect but merely an expression of love. So, will I please every reader? Probably not… But, I will please God because I listened when He asked me to help even when it hurt. God has never expected me or anyone to be perfect, just willing to move out of our comfort zones and allow him to fulfill His purpose through us so that we can help others. God uses our brokenness and mistakes to reach the often overlooked and underestimated. He gives us the wisdom to know when to chew up the meat of truth and learn from it, and when to spit out the fat of lies and ignore. Truth spoken by the right person at the right time with the right heart is like warm honey to the soul. Those words speak life and freedom allowing us to feel worthy… worthy of love.
Lily Bell: Worthy of Love was my love letter written to Lily and my children. I wanted them to know that their lives matter and that they have a profound purpose. The title, Lily Bell: Worthy of Love, was inspired by Lily Isabella, joined with my name, “Amanda”, which means “worthy of love”. Together, we share our story.
I am at the crossroads between gradation and kindergarten, closing the first chapter of Houston’s book of life and opening a new chapter of a different book with another baby boy. I was not quite ready to open a new book just yet, but somehow knew it was time. It is Scout’s Creed.
We lost our beloved Scout in March, just one day before his fifth birthday. Our hearts were broken and our family seemed incomplete without him. My husband Jason believed it was vital for our boys to experience joyful memories to heal the awful memory of Scout suffering as he died in our arms in the back seat of our car. My mind was open to the idea, but my heart was closed. Scout was a “person” not a dog and could never be replaced or replicated. The risk of loving and losing like that again was too much.
I thought I needed more time; yet when people say that time heals all wounds, it is not true. Over time, the pain, trauma, and sorrow may lessen, but the root of it remains. In order to get over it, we have to walk through it. We can’t walk around or skip over it, instead we must face it, all of it. This experience with Scout showed me that my grief was not only about losing our family dog but dealing with the root of fear of losing the people I loved. I have loved deeply and lost deeply, and all of those losses were beyond my control. I wish I could rewrite those stories, but they were not mine to write.
New loss seems to trigger past loss. A sentimental song, taste of food, smell of perfume, familiar street, or town transports us back to a time and place that meant something or changed us. Some places we avoid, some people we ignore, and some memories we try so hard to forget in a failed attempt to prevent further pain. Avoidance is not freedom, it is just a temporary fix. Believing that we can somehow protect ourselves and our children from suffering is a costly lie. It causes us to build walls to block anyone or anything from hurting us, but it also shuts the door to anyone or anything that could be used for our good. Boundaries are healthy, walls are not.
The walls of my heart were starting to go up until we received a call from Scout’s Grandma Sue. She found a puppy in Michigan who was from Scout’s bloodline. Their mothers were sisters, and he was Scout’s cousin. The puppy was promised to another family, but after hearing our story, the Vizsla breeder/vet believed that this puppy was meant to be with us. In less than a couple months, this puppy could be ours if we were willing. My husband and boys longed to have a little piece of Scout back and see a glimpse of his face. For our family to find closure and healing, I was going to have to move forward with them whether I was ready or not.
After Scout died, I could not get back into our car or look in the rear view mirror without seeing his face in the back seat. I detoured around roads where he died and the vet office to avoid flashbacks of his fixed hazel eyes, black tongue, and blood-stained, copper coat. So to start all over and love again was a risk. Yet somehow, if we could feel those soft velvety ears, be smothered by sloppy pink-tongued kisses, and laugh again, it would be worth the risk. We needed to show our boys that although life is hard and real love can hurt, our faith would sustain us.
As we drove to the airport on that same road, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Hot tears dripped down my face as we waited to board the plane. It was too real. No more pretending that Scout was “just at the farm”. Instead, he was in a wooden box by our bedside and never coming back, no matter how many times I asked myself “what if”. As we landed in Detroit, my husband’s countenance changed from one of sadness to hope. I realized then that he needed this as much as our boys. He had lost a friend too.
So there we were, almost a thousand miles away to meet our new boy, “Scout Creedmore Thackeray”, “Creed”- a clumsy, ten-pound boy wrapped in a copper fur coat that was two sizes too big. He pranced like a deer as he plowed his way into Jason’s lap almost knocking him over. I didn’t want to, but I felt myself holding back. I thought I would feel better seeing him, but it just reminded me of Scout even more. As I finally held him, Creed bit my chin, chewed my braid, scratched my face, and climbed his way out of my arms. I thought, “What in the world have we done?” Scout was also full of energy but an extreme cuddler who loved being by our side. This little terrorist wanted to either bite me or have nothing to do with me. I named him “Crisis” (Creed + Isis).
Thankfully, I did not trust my first impression. My resistance melted on the flight home when that baby boy curled up into my lap and buried his wet nose into my neck. He sighed deeply like an old man and looked at me with those sweet and mischievous hazel eyes as if saying, “I know you’re my mama”. It was in that moment happy tears began to wash away some of the sadness and flood my heart with hope. I did love him. Somehow, my love was not divided, only multiplied.
There will only be one Scout, chosen to love our family during a special season of our lives. As we now enter a new season, our family is changing. Our nest will be become quieter with our oldest boy headed to college, but now we have an ankle-biting, Molly-chasing, toilet paper- stealing, twig-eating, laundry-wrestling, table-climbing little button that we have to raise up right. So just when I thought I was done with schooling one boy, I was given another. Scout’s Creed, like his namesake, represents our family’s profession of faith that we believe we can love again. Same song, second verse… off to puppy kindergarten we go!
Team Thackeray had a tough week. It seemed like we were in a never ending game of ‘whack-a-mole”. A new problem kept popping up every time we whacked another problem down. It was a week full of hindrances, calls that solved nothing, and meetings that went nowhere. I thought that if I could just check off the boxes of my ever-growing to-do list, then maybe I could jump off this exhausting hamster wheel and not feel so tired.
Graduation set me back, Creed pushed me forward, and I felt stuck in the middle. It seemed that no matter how early I got up or finally went to bed, I could not catch up. With only two lessons away from finishing our homeschool year with Silas, I looked forward to reaching the finish line. It was time for me to be just a mama for a while instead of a teacher. But that’s not reality; mamas never really get a day off from teaching in any season.
A few days ago at high school, both my older sons grew in integrity. They discovered that speaking the truth in love was hard. Honoring someone who dishonored them was even harder. Forgiving someone who refused to do what was right was the hardest. Forgiveness was not deserved, but it was required for them to move on. It was their choice to either hold on to the hurt or to decide to let it go. Forgiveness would not excuse the inexcusable behavior, but it would free them from the grip of anger and hurt. I was so proud of Houston and Cade as they responded respectfully, honestly, and with maturity well beyond their years. They were virtuous young men who earned the respect of those in the room; yet the meeting left me disappointed and the boys skeptical. The double standard between adults and children was evident, and as their mother I needed to somehow find the silver lining of truth to restore honor back to them.
My dear friend Bink reminded me of a dream I shared with her over ten years ago when I first began homeschooling. I remember standing outside our home, waiting as if in a carpool line at school. A white minivan pulled up, and God was the driver. He was crowned with shimmering, silver hair and a long silky beard. His strong hands gripped around the steering wheel and He wore a white robe. His eyes were kind, and He smiled at me as He opened the minivan door. Seated inside were my three children. He introduced them by name and said they were His children who He had chosen for me, above all others, to teach and care for. My house would be their school, and I would be their teacher. I asked, “Why me?”, and He said it was because He trusted me with His children.
That dream changed me and the way I saw my children. They were not really mine, just entrusted to me. If I saw them as God’s children… how would I treat them? Discipline them? Speak to them? Love and honor them? If they were God’s children… how would they respect their teacher? Listen to their teacher and treat one another?
When we see our children through God’s eyes, they are valued as a gift to be treasured. They are not a nuisance or disappointment and need to be controlled but rather a voice to be heard and a person to be respected. It grieves me as I remember the times I have lost sight of who they belong to and who they are. Conviction is mirrored in their eyes each time I have raised my voice, been quick to speak, slow to listen, judged sharply, disciplined unfairly, expected too much, believed too little, and lost my patience.
I have made countless mistakes as a mother of three, but through God’s merciful love, He has gently shown me where I have fallen short, missed the mark, and led me to a better way. His forgiveness overflows and pours out onto my children. Many times, I have felt led to go find them, wake them if needed, and ask for their forgiveness. I could not rest until I confessed that what I said or did was wrong, thoughts based on my feelings that did not reflect the truth or heart of God. The most precious thing about my boys is that what I thought could be so hurtful and lasting, they did not remember. They were quick to wrap their arms around me, forgive me, and did not hold my mistakes against me. Just like God, they showed me the heart of their Father.
On this Father’s Day, I am thankful that we have a Father that loves us and forgives us despite ourselves. He is a good, good, father and driver! Every time we see a white minivan…let us be reminded that He has chosen us, because He trusts us, to love His children. Let us choose to love them well and remind them every day who they belong to and who they are. Then, when the enemy spits out accusations, they will know the truth and their worth. No truth can be found in lies, and the seeds of hatred and doubt will be trampled on the ground. Instead, our children will take pity on those who rise up against them, and through their Father’s love, show them a better way.
Being married to an orthopaedic surgeon for twenty-two years, I know that broken bones, especially when called into the emergency room in the middle of the night are never good. Broken pipes flood, broken printers lag, broken bridges detour, and broken air conditioners just cause irritability, especially when you are having a hot flash. Yes, all of these delays and inconveniences can be damaging or at least bothersome, but they are external, temporary, and fixable. But what do we do with the presumed non-fixable, in-curable, never-changing, internal brokenness? How do we reconcile and overcome that?
It seems that something breaks all the time. Brokenness surrounds us. Today, my heart broke as my homeschooling friend of twins shared that her husband was near the end of his year-long battle with stomach cancer. Last month, our neighbor had to carry home the remains of her beloved mother who died while they were traveling together on a mother-daughter trip to Ireland. Last week, my aunt’s breast cancer returned to the other breast after years of remission. This year, a friend’s marriage was torn apart when vows were broken and temptation deceived. Another friend was forced to resign from a job that she loved where she was making a real difference. And now, my heroic special-forces father-in-law has to surrender his independence to a wheelchair. This kind of brokenness crushes the heart and silences the soul. It takes you to a place where the dreams of what could have been, have been snatched away by what has become. If only we could unhear a diagnosis, unsee a MRI scan, unread a letter, sweep away a betrayal, make a different decision, cancel the plan, and turn back time.
Nevertheless, reality is not truth. Reality is based on facts that report we are damaged, imperfect, no longer in one piece or working order, beyond repair, and finished. Facts offer the worst case scenario, shorten time, and rush us to the end. On the other hand, truth does not dismiss the diagnosis or ignore the facts, it just allows us to see everything from a different perspective. Truth reminds us that although we are altered, and our character and composition may have been made different in some way, we do not have to give up or live without hope. Newfound purpose and beauty can be found in our brokenness.
I have not always trusted God with my brokenness. There have been times that I questioned, “why?” I did not understand why He chose not to warn me that the storm was coming, change the results, open closed doors, spare those I loved, and move the mountain in front of us. I have screamed and cried, complained and bargained, and accused and blamed until no anger was left within me, no tears were left to cry, and only the silence of surrender survived. I could not hear God’s voice in the brokenness, but I could feel the warmth and gentleness of His presence. It was a peace that poured over me like warm honey, dripping down from the crown of my head to the souls of my feet and reaching every hidden crack in between. It did not change my circumstances or remove the brokenness, but it did strengthen me to walk through it. The brokenness that was meant to destroy me and my family, God used to strengthen us. The old ways and harmful thoughts had to be broken off to make room for the new and lasting. This kind of brokenness brought healing and restoration. This brokenness was helpful and had a purpose.
Our diagnosis does not have to become our prognosis. Our resume is not our life story, and divorce, disability, and death do not have the final word. God never says, “There is nothing more I can do for you”. We may be broken, but we are still worthy. Through our weakness He is made strong. Our timing may not be His, His plan may not be ours, but His wholeness can be ours if we hand over our disappointment and heartbreak. He has the power to breathe life into dry bones and give us beauty for ashes.
Just as Lily Bell believed, we can also, “By overcoming her own struggles and fears, she could help others overcome. Through love and kindness, the weak-hearted could be made strong, and the lost could be found.” God can use our brokenness to reach the forgotten and to walk alongside others who are suffering. Sometimes no words are needed, only our presence. God did not have to say a word for me to know He was there and He loved me. He did not preach to me, placate me, judge me, pity me, or agree with me… He just stayed with me until I was ready to get up again. Only then, did He show me the big picture of what He saw. With clearer eyes and a more open heart, I could begin to see how all of the broken pieces of the puzzle would work together to create a masterpiece.
God’s higher perspective is grounded in truth, not logic. I have learned through His word to cancel out the plans of the enemy, fast forward time to see the hope of the future, develop a strategy for battle, and partner with those that are for me and not against me.
Just as my husband examines a fracture, fixates the bone, and covers the wound in a protective cast, so does God as he looks at our shattered lives, sets our minds straight, and covers us with protective layers of love from others. Internal fractures have to be first set right from the inside, then the bone can externally heal around them. The healing in both our bodies and souls have to begin within. Sometimes, brokenness leaves a bruise or a scar; other times we hardly remember it was ever there. Even so, it changes us. The truth is that we are not broken, just not complete… yet.
It seems like just the other day when I was pregnant with Baby Thack, driving across town to find Chug chocolate milk and Chester’s hot fries. The combination makes me cringe now thinking about it, but eighteen years ago…wow, it was delish! Fast forward almost two decades and three baby boys later, my cravings thankfully have changed, but the drive remains.
This week we attended college orientation. We drove to that same town with that same baby now a young man, and found that same Chug chocolate milk. The Chug seemed to wink at me as I caught sight of it on the student union shelf. “Remember me?” it teased. I do remember. I remember chugging away while “nesting” when Jason went to work. I tried to wheel a treadmill into the other room and got my big belly stuck in the doorway. Imagine my stat page asking my husband to leave the hospital to come home and get me out. I remember trying to shave my knees, washing baby clothes in Dreft, and cramming our freezer with homemade baby food in ice cube trays.
Most poignantly, I remember waking up, and the bed was wet. My water must have broken three weeks early. I panicked. Jason was out of town, so he asked a friend to rush me to the hospital while he raced down the interstate trying not to miss the birth of our first child. You can picture my embarrassment when the doctor on call was the dad of one of my students. How was I going to keep my privates private and give birth? This was going to be awkward. But awkward would have been easy compared to being mortified with what he discovered from the exam. Apparently, my water did not break, the baby must have kicked my bladder while I was asleep, and I just wet the bed!
I wish I did not remember that. Although each time we pass the hospital, it does make us laugh. That laughter has helped us through some tough times. Together, we have chosen to remember the good and learn from the not-so-good. Plenty of our mistakes have become life-changing lessons for our children. Some lessons took longer to learn and required some extra help, and others became easier when we finally let go and gave them to God.
Our children will have their own tests to pass and lessons to learn. I cannot take their tests for them, but I can teach them where to find the answers and show them which steps to follow. They may pass or even fail, not complete their assignments, or finish late. However, all of it will be used for their good. Failing forward is a good thing. It causes us to look back without being held back. Mistakes show us where we went wrong and lessons demonstrate how to make it right.
I have made plenty of mistakes, but one mistake made in this same town changed me. Jason was a surgical resident working 120 hours a week and I was teaching during the day and attending graduate school at night. We did not have much time or even less money to spare. Going out to eat was a rarity, and Subway was our date night. One of those nights, I saw what appeared to be a homeless man sitting in front of Subway. He called out to me, “Ma’am…Ma’am…Ma’am”. I looked away assuming he was pandering. Again he tried to get my attention, “Ma’am… Ma’am… you left your lights on.” I thanked him and felt wrong for judging him.
Waiting in line, I heard a whisper, “Buy that man a sandwich.” I knew that still, small voice but reasoned that I could not afford a third sandwich, only two. Another nudge, “Buy that man a sandwich.” This time, I chose to ignore the prompting and left Subway with two sandwiches in my hand and my head hanging low as I walked passed the man sitting outside.
“Have a good night, Ma’am” were his last words, and they haunted me. Guilt joined me in the car, and shame followed me home. I might not have been able to afford three sandwiches, but I was able to offer him mine. Self-preservation had deceived me and I had listened to the wrong voice. I needed to make it right. So, quickly I drove back to Subway to find him, but he was no longer there. I walked around looking for him and went inside asking the manager if he had seen where the man who was sitting outside had gone. He said that there had never been a man outside and he had never seen him. I asked others nearby and they replied the same way. No one, other than me, had seen the man. A lump grew in my throat as I realized that this was not about the man or the sandwich… it was about the condition of my heart. It had been a test … and I had failed. I believe that man was an angel sent to examine my heart. Did I trust God to be enough? Did I trust Him to take care of me? Sadly, I did not.
Thankfully, God did not assume the worst about me, ignore me, and look the other way. Instead, He allowed me to see where I failed without seeing me as a failure, and gave me an opportunity to re-take the test. The failed test became part of my testimony. God promises that He will supply all of our needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). He knows what we need before we ever ask. I hope that my children will ask for help, learn from failures, and not repeat the same mistakes twice. Nevertheless if they choose otherwise, I know a great teacher whose class meets any time outside Subway.
Life finds a way of confusing our comfortable plans. Our strength is tested and flexibility stretched. Limberness has never been my gift. I’ve never been able to touch my nose to my knees or do the Russian splits. I can barely lean forward and reach my toes when I trim my fingernails. So are my hamstrings too tight, my spine too curved, or is my body not meant to bend that way? After Silas was born, I remember asking my friend Susan (aka: Susalates) if it was normal for my whole body to shake and feel like I could throw up while pulling straps on the Pilates reformer. She got the giggles and then tried to save face by saying that it was totally normal…for someone who was out of shape! So… I was totally normal.
The thing about flexibility is that in order to become more flexible, we have to stretch and move in ways that hurt. We are supposed to confuse the muscles, change predictable patterns, and create new memories. I don’t like any of this. I already feel confused, and my muscles already have a memory, albeit short and sometimes forgetful. My memory reminds me that when I lean that way, I may fall; when I stretch that far, I could lose control; and when I feel pushed on, I pull back. I would like to be flexible, but only if it means lightly bending without tearing or breaking. I rather remain still, mentally stretch, and ask: How far will I have to bend until I break or find release? Will the effort and pain be worth it? Will this make me feel better or worse? My memory also reminds me that the answers to these questions seem to never come until after I choose to move. Movement brings movement.
This weekend, I will be stretched beyond myself as we load the U-Haul and move Houston to his own apartment at college. In my spirit, I know it is time for Houston to take flight. I am so proud of him, confident that he will thrive, and look forward to seeing the man he will become. I have peace about where he is going and know he will be covered by people that will both challenge and love him. Yet, my spirit and flesh are in conflict. My head pounds, my stomach gripes, and my heart just aches. Keeping it together has been tough. I find myself crying in the laundry room (the only place my boys never want to go!), overthinking everything, and talking to the dog. Maybe these ways settle me for a moment, but they are not the cure. The only medicine that can heal this mother’s heart-sickness and disarm the conflict raging in my heart and gut is found spending quiet time with The One who knows me; the whole yet incomplete, strong yet scared… me.
My loss of words don’t change the circumstances, but His Words change my perspective. God reminds me again and again that Houston will not go alone and that I will not be left alone. Like a protective father dove, He will shield my children with His wings, shelter them with His feathers, and hide them in the clefts of the rocks. His angels are encamped around them on the highways and by-ways of life. For eighteen years, I have prayed Psalm 91 over Houston, Cade, and Silas. God’s Word has never returned void. He has been faithful to keep His promises, and I have seen with my own eyes the work of His hands. God’s Word is not confused or flexible, and it does not change. His trustworthiness moves me through the tension and confusion, and helps me find release and peace.
Our nest may feel empty at first, but this is what we as parents are called to do. We are not to hide our children away in our nest or clip their wings to try and keep them home, instead we must release them to fly. I was reminded of this just a few days ago while my husband was outside pressure-washing. Tucked away behind a speaker, I discovered a perfectly mastered nest. It was exquisite yet empty. As I gently carried this precious home in my hands, a warmth like honey washed over me. It was a knowing. I felt God’s eyes on me, His hands on our family, and knew we were right where we were supposed to be. He brought back to my remembrance that after doves incubate their eggs, nurture their nestlings, and teach them to fly, the life-long partners finish brooding and leave their nest. Other birds may come and use the old nest, but they move on and build something new. Each season, the doves somehow know its time, and begin gathering and building again one twig at a time.
So like the mourning dove, my song may sound sad for this season; yet not for long... because God is putting a new song in my mouth, a hymn of thankfulness. It is time for the mourning to turn to joy and to release my hatchling to fly; so that he can begin to gather his own twigs, feed himself, clean his nest, and learn to soar.
“Mom, want to hear something that will make you laugh?” I sure do Bug. I need a laugh. “You will be so proud of me. I did my own laundry. I put my dirty clothes with a Tide pod in the machine just like you showed me and turned it on. Only one problem. It seems that I put them in the dryer instead of the washer, so now my clothes have a blue streak all over them … And by the way, I went to class today. But I showed up, and no one was there, wrong time.” Oh Houston, we have a problem!
It has been quite an amusing first month at college. Love the calls home wondering “how do I … and what should I”, laughing at the quirky quotes from professors, and me always asking him what he ate for lunch and dinner. The campus offers students every vice and philosophical reason to question their beliefs and values, but despite all that he has made some mature decisions and learned to respectfully say, “No, thanks” in the swamp of yeses. Last weekend Houston drove home for Cade’s 16th birthday and was able to spend a few extra days with us while evacuating from Dorian. There’s nothing better than to see your child pull into the driveway with a smile on his face, empty belly, and a basket full of laundry. Within minutes, the left-overs in the fridge were devoured and the smell of sweat from basketball followed him up the stairs. It was so good to have him home. The sound of my three boys laughing and joking around together was music to my ears.
It’s funny the things that would have driven me crazy before, now I miss. Like finding his popcorn bowl and half-licked, un-popped kernels in the cracks of the sofa, his un-made bed, scrambled egg pan in the sink, and plastic bottles NOT in the recycling. Now, I am just thankful to know he is safe at home, fed, clean, and staying true to himself. It seems that my expectations are becoming more realistic and life simpler. Hopefully, by the time Cade leaves for college in two years, I will have myself and my hormones sorted out. Maybe not cry so much, and maybe get better at good-byes.
I loved college. It was one of the best experiences of my life. It was there I found my closest friends, life-long partner, and purpose. There was one class that spoke to me more than any other, “Death and Dying”. We had to plan our funeral, tour a crematorium, and write our epitaph. It sounds morose, but the purpose was to teach us how to live with purpose and to not waste time. The professor told a story of a woman who came home to find her husband’s shoes under their coffee table. Night after night she asked him to please put away his shoes. Night after night he left them there. Her resentment grew into bitterness and anger consumed her every time she saw his shoes. Until one night, she came home and discovered that his shoes were gone. Finally, she thought, he listened. She looked for her husband to thank him, but he was not there. She called him, but no answer. A knock came at the door and it was a police officer reporting that her husband had died. Never again would she find his shoes under their coffee table. In the end, she got what she needed, but not at all what she wanted. The shoes were a “minor episode”. The death of her husband was a “major event”. The lesson was to know the difference. Don’t make a minor episode into a major event.
I can imagine that woman wanting nothing more than to see her husband walk through the door one more time and leave his shoes next to hers under their coffee table. If only she could take back her last words, rethink her thoughts, and not waste time focusing on the things that did not matter. Fingerprints on the glass, crumbs in the car, baskets of laundry waiting to be put away, shoes left abandoned all over the floor are all minor episodes. Not being able to share a meal, hold our loved ones, or talk with them again are major events.
My dear friend reminded me of this when Houston left for college. Just a few years ago, she lost her youngest son to addiction which altered his mind and took his life. No longer can she hear the honk of his horn as he pulls his car into the driveway or see his sweet face as he walks into their kitchen with hugs. He is not able to call, facetime, or come home to visit because he has moved ahead of her from this world to the next. This is a major event. A child moving to college is a minor episode. That cruel truth heartened me to hug my sons a little tighter, listen a lot deeper, and linger a while longer so that we will never be left with regret.
Truth grounded me. Time has become more intentional and conversations more meaningful. There is no more time to waste, no more energy to argue, no more interest in doing things that don’t matter, and no more room for regret. The little foxes will no longer spoil the vine and rob us of our gift of time. I pray that before it is too late, we can all stop worrying about the shoes under the table and start loving the one who’s walking in them.
When my boys were little, they created a language of their own. “Plicans” were pelicans. A “Compooticker” was the computer. “Futter-fleas” were butterflies. And “Snamiches” were, of course, sandwiches. No matter the age, we all seem to try to find the right word. But is there a word that adequately describes when the roles reverse when the child becomes the parent, and the parent the child? Is there a word for a person who has the responsibility for caring for their children as well as their parents? Caregiver, daughter, son, guardian… none of those seem to fit.
Snamich fits. The snamich, “Sandwich Generation” finds themselves pressed between two slices, caring for two generations. Add in work, school, marriage, pets, and other commitments, and we have a triple-decker club snamich. That is a lot to swallow in one bite! As caregivers, we are called to be the filling, the binding ingredient that emulsifies generations and adds layers of balance, nourishment, and delight.
This past month, I have had the privilege of caring for my mother, Coco, as she recovers from surgery. The healing has been slow, and the pain tougher than the Dutch girl overcoming it. The past effects of chemo and radiation over-coming breast cancer, as well as other surgeries, have enfeebled her body and tormented her nerves. Every day presents a new challenge. Finding the balance has been difficult, and experiencing the delight even more so. Although her muscles are weak, her spirit flows of iron and is always willing to try.
What an honor it has been to care for my mother as she did for me. Her love will not return void. After my father died, she had to be both our mother and father. The burden of raising two daughters and immigrating to a new country fell solely on her. But I look back now and realize that it was during those harrowing years of learning to drive on the other side of the road that she found her strength. She never allowed us to carry the weight of our burden. We only felt the weight of her love and determination.
Caring for a child, parent, or spouse is undoubtedly tiring and leaves little time for self. Coordinating schedules, juggling appointments, preparing meals, and making hard lifestyle decisions can feel burdensome, but the one we care for is never a burden. They are the foundation of what holds our snamich together. Without them, we would fall apart. Isn’t it funny how life circles back around? Now I notice my mom, rather than my children trying to find the right words and figure things out. More often, I wonder if I should be concerned that Coco couldn’t remember the word for toothpaste and asked for shampoo for her teeth or picked up a calculator and said, “Hello” thinking it was her cell phone. How about walking out of Walmart without her groceries, leaving her purse in the cart or keys in the car, and forgetting if she fed the dog. Is it just “chemo brain” or “senioritis” or is it more? Most of the time we just laugh. I tell her that she better shape up, or I will send her to Shady Pines with Sophia from the Golden Girls. But sometimes it’s more serious than forgetting to turn on her phone ringer, tripping over sprinkler heads in her garden, and forgetting the salami sandwich she tucked away in her purse. It’s calling the cable man to fix the TV because half the screen was blank to only find out she was blinded in one eye due to another mini-stroke. Sometimes it’s finding good-bye letters taped to the mirror, written on toilet paper rolls, or inside her fanny pack.
We are learning to adapt during this twilight season. Our common goal is to honor her desires, promote her independence, and ensure her safety. But a few things had to change to preserve our relationship and sanity. First, we had to ration how many road signs and billboards she could read on long car rides with us - not necessary to read every single one! Second, we must write down appointments in her calendar to make sure she stops showing up on the wrong day or wrong time or at the wrong doctor’s office. Third, we use the code word “repeat Alice” if she has already told us the story, especially the stories where we were there with her, but she forgot! And lastly, but most importantly, all bodily sounds need to be held until people leave the room or exit the aisle at Home Goods.
Through this recovery, I hope my children have witnessed the value of sacrifice and the importance of caring for family. And that during my silver years, the circle of honor will continue, and they will desire to care for past generations and pay it forward to future ones. In dry seasons, we may need to be someone’s brain, their hands or feet, and even their heart as they walk through the wilderness. We are called to help. And when we find ourselves in need, we must be encouraged to call for help too. Every generation, slices from the past and the future, and the filling in between is needed. Our snamiches may be messy and even fall apart at times. But when made with love, they could be the most memorable and delightful flavor of our lives.