Sometimes when I crawl in bed at night I can’t go to sleep because I mentally rehash every trouble or concern in my life until each muscle in my body it so rigid I can’t relax. Then I worry that I’m worrying too much. Before long, I’m checking the clock again noticing another hour has passed. Eventually I have to tell my mind, “Stop thinking! You can not solve one single solitary problem in your pajamas while you’re in bed in the middle of the night. Let the day go. Face tomorrow when you wake up.”
Sometimes this personal reprimand works and sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t I close my eyes and imagine I’m sitting alone at the beach on the Oregon coast watching the waves roll toward my bare toes wiggling in the sun warmed sand. Then I begin a relaxation game. First I become aware of each muscle in my body beginning at the top of my head and working down. I tighten each muscle then release. Next I imagine my arms and legs dissolving like sand into the sea. If I have another worry thought and tense up again, I have to start all over.
Once I’m relaxed I listen for my inner rhythms, the steady beating of my heart - the constant rise and fall of breathing. If I turn off my worry thoughts long enough and allow myself to simply experience the moment, my tension dissolves and I feel as though I’m floating. This gentle cadence of pre-sleep relaxation takes me back to when I was a child and had the simple faith to drift comfortably into slumber knowing God was watching over me.
Like the waves on the beach, like the beating of our heart, life is continual motion. We can not hold on to yesterday any better than we grasp a wave in the palm of our hand. Nothing is still; nothing is unchanging. There is no way to stop the constant pulse of the cosmos. Yet the Master of the Universe mercifully allows each day to end so we can regroup and refresh before the next wave.
There are times when unexpected challenges come at us like sudden storms at sea. When we feel most adrift or afraid, it helps to take a deep breath and go deep. Somewhere anchored inside each of us is stillness. Like the eye of the storm, this private quiet center allows us to be at peace even during the height of the tempest or against the stiffest wind. Hope and gratitude allow us to ride out the storm until the dark clouds part and sun shines through again.
So, when we’re lying in bed at night worried about the storms in our life, we have to tell ourselves, “Stop thinking and start listening. We can not solve one single solitary problem while we’re looking outside ourselves for the answer. Take a deep breath, go deep and feel the stillness.”
Storms come and storms go. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. If we are searching we’ll find hidden treasures in the quiet tide pools among the rocks when the tide is out and we never know what new gift the next tide will wash up on the shore. No matter what happens to us – life goes on. Sometimes we are on the beach watching the waves roll in and sometimes we have to get up and dance in the rain.


That Fat White Cat in the Windowsill

The other day my daughter boarded the school bus that stops in front of our house and sat down. The boy in the seat behind her tapped her on the shoulder.
“Hey, what’s with that big fat white cat in your windowsill every morning?”
At first my daughter was confused. She looked back at our house as the bus pulled away trying to see what the boy was talking about. Then she realized what the boy was looking at.
“That’s not a fat white cat,” Alisa answered. “That’s my mother.”
The couch in our living room is level with the windowsill and I usually slouch down so the kids on the bus can’t see my white bathrobe. I guess I didn’t slouch down quite enough.
John, Alisa and I do a lot of waving back and forth before they board the bus each morning. As a matter of fact - while they stand on the street in front of our home waiting for the bus to arrive - we wave, blow kisses and send hands signals back and forth about how much we love each other for minutes on end.
It won’t be long until John and Alisa are too self-conscious to show me so much affection in front of their peers. Junior high school has the well earned reputation for gobbling up free spirited affectionate elementary school children and turning them into don’t-embarrass-me-in-front-of-my-friends tweens (youngsters stuck self-consciously between childhood and adolescence).
I have learned that you have to savor children while you still have them. You can’t take anything for granted because childhood doesn’t last. Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years. One morning you wake up, look outside your living room window and nobody is there blowing you kisses any more. You have to appreciate unbridled affection while you still can.
One of the reasons I write is so I can savor life times three. Once just isn’t enough. I write so that I can savor my life first while I’m living it, second while I’m thinking and writing about it and third while I’m re-reading and remembering. I have learned that life goes by so much faster than I thought it would and if you don’t notice how blessed each day is and really relish the moment – your life becomes a blur. You have to throw open up your heart, wrap your arms around your loved ones and embrace each other with gusto every single day. There will be a last time my son and daughter blow me kisses at the bus stop.
John and Alisa are my last two elementary school age children. I am not in a hurry to see them grow up and leave. I have a feeling that fat white cat in the windowsill will still be waving when they leave for high school and college. And she will still be in the windowsill with her nose pressed against the glass when they come back home with their own little ones for me to hold.


Parent School

A few months ago I watched my daughter march into the stadium with hundreds of graduates. The wind was blowing, flags brilliant, music rousing and faces radiant. My daughter had spent many long years earning her degree. After all the pomp and circumstance of that commencement ceremony what touched my daughter most occurred before she entered the stadium. Faculty and alumni lined the streets leading to the stadium clapping and shouting their congratulations with comments like:
“You’re the hope of our future!”
“Way to hang in there, work hard and never give up!”
“We’re so proud of you!”
As I sat in the bleachers that chilly day in Philadelphia, I realized society doesn’t recognize or reward parents. We neglect to give the most necessary members of our society any kind of diploma after they’ve spent many long years taking care of the human race. Yet I also realized that even if we held graduation ceremonies I don’t think many parents would attend.
Parents don’t do what we do so someone will give us a diploma to hang on our wall or so we can earn more money. We don’t do what we do because others will admire or praise us. We do what we do because we love our children and eventually everybody’s children. Parents may be largely invisible to society - but not to God. Each scraped knee we tend and each night of sleep we sacrifice is a personal purification process. For parenthood is God’s school. The graduation ceremonies are unique for each man or woman.
Parents pass through educational ranks something like this: When we quit feeling sorry for ourselves we graduate with the Associate of Amateurism degree. When we stop being so hard on our self we graduate with the Bachelor of Blunders degree. When we finally learn to rely on God to clean up our messes we are awarded the Master of Muddling degree. When we understand we need to keep learning for the rest of our life we graduate with our Doctorate of Humility degree.
Graduates at universities add to their cap and gown costume as they get advanced degrees. They start out wearing simple black caps and gowns then progress to colored hoods placed over their shoulders and finally velvet stripes down their arms. Graduates from parent school start out wearing fashionable clothing, progress to maternity or work clothes then wear anything that allows them to get down on the floor and play.
After all we’ve learned, lived and loved we seasoned parents need to line the streets applauding new parents marching toward selflessness shouting things like:
“Way to hang in there, work hard and never give up!”
“You’re the hope of the future!”
“We’re so proud of you!”
Then we can all throw our tasseled caps into the air together, take pictures and keep on doing what we love forever. The most prestigious letters we can have printed after our name are M.O.T.H.E.R or F.A.T.H.E.R.


What Matters More?

Lots of people ask me how I find time to write when I have ten children.
I tell them, “I don’t find time to write. I make time to write. I’m afraid if I stop, I’ll forget all the good parts of my life.”
Writing about being a parent is also my personal attempt to give honor to vital work that is often unappreciated and unheralded. Ordinary activities like fixing a meal, sweeping the kitchen floor or changing a diaper are often overlooked when it comes time for recognition. In our society we give adulation and millions of dollars to individuals who can dunk a basketball, walk down a runway in a bikini or pretend they are someone else for a movie camera. Taking care of children seems to be too common, boring and ordinary to garner societal attention or remuneration. Yet it is in those vital relationships we form at home where all the qualities of human greatness are neglected or nourished - like love, compassion, forgiveness, patience, kindness and charity.
So, I write and write and I can’t stop writing because the events and relationships that are happening in my family and your family will only happen once in the history of the universe. If we don’t observe, contemplate and gain insight from the profound uniqueness of our own life and relationships we form, they will be lost forever.
I remember a day when my daughter Ashley called me to the west window to see a sunset. I was busy and told her I’d be there in a minute. By the time I walked into the dining room and looked west, the sunset was gone - the day ended. I was too late. I don’t want to feel that way at the end of my life – too busy doing anything less important at the price of what was truly significant.
Somewhere deep inside of me I have been given an absolute personal conviction that being a person who loves and cares for others is incredibly important. I also know that we become role models much more quickly than we think. Little eyes look to us to see how human beings behave in this world.
History teaches us that battlefield victories fade, leadership changes and the flames of fame are quickly snuffed out. At the end of the day there has to be someone to go home to. A man or woman who feels peace and joy at home has accomplished the greatest feat in life. Yes, family life has ups and downs, twists and turns, triumphs and failures. Yet learning to forgive, love and cherish those in your own home is the truest measure of a life well lived.
The most exciting journey we take in this life is the one that invites us to discover the capacity of our heart. That is a journey we best take at home. When we truly love someone, it changes the way we see ourselves, the world and each other. There is a deep sustaining sustenance that feeds those who serve. How we take care of those who can not care for themselves is the test of a nation, state, community and an individual.
What matters more - How many people know our name or how many people know we love them? How many possessions we have, or how many possessions we have given away? How much talent we have or how much we’re used our talents to bless the lives of others?