It's football season, which for us - like so many families - means our schedule is packed now through October, and the vast majority of the dates blocked out have something to do with the gridiron. No need to guess where we'll be on Friday nights, either. We'll don our black and red to sit on metal seats where we'll stomp and clap and cheer ourselves hoarse. Well, I will. My sons will spend quit a bit of that time walking around with their respective herd of teenagers.
I've watched many of these boys play since their 7th grade year. I've watched them mature, as young men and as players. We've been the underdogs in these parts for a long time. The glory days are something I hear whisperings of but, having only lived here for 5 years, I wasn't around to witness. And while I acknowledge that the surrounding towns might not think much of us, our football team has heart. They have a spunk, a grit, that I admire.
If you talk to any of the players or go to many games, you'll hear the rumblings that the refs don't like us much. Calls seldom seem fair and the opposing teams often blatantly cheat and aren't called on it. (For reals - my son was bitten once on the field. I've seen kids kicked while down, after the play had stopped. It's not cool.)
But, from the relative comfort of the stands, I can also see that point when our boys give up. They come so close to victory and then you can see them decide the odds are stacked too much against them, and they stop giving it their all. Sure, some of them hang on until the bitter end, but enough of them check out that the crowd starts to check out, and the inevitable end comes.
And, in all of my bleacher wisdom, I know that until they decide they have a chance to win, they have no chance to win.
My oldest son only played football with this team for two years. A broken arm ended his second season and he opted to homeschool after that because he was eager to finish early and find his great adventure. Number two son couldn't play football because of his head injury. And, in truth, I think he doesn't mind so much. He only would have played because it was the thing to do, not because he loved the sport.
My number three son, though. That boy lives and breathes football and now that he's in 7th grade, his time has come. He graduates from Mighty Mites to being part of the football team. I watch him on the field with the other boys and I know they're beginning a journey together, just as his brother began a journey before him.
Last night, after the game was done, I listened as Number Three told me every bad or unfair call he'd seen. As I replied, I realized that I needed to heed my own words.
You see, the last time I was a football mom, I didn't feel as keenly how alone I was because my other two children were still young enough to always sit with me. Now they're off and gone with their friends and I can't hide from my solitude. For me, only part of my mind was on the game last night.
I have to admit that I spent most of it feeling very much isolated - from the moms whose sons stayed on the team to play all six years together; from the moms who are married; from the younger, single crowd; from the people who've lived here all their lives... you get the picture. I sat there, painfully aware of how alone I was and the weight of every terrible thing from the past week just kept getting heavier and heavier until I slunk home, drank two glasses of wine, and watched an episode of Outlander while wishing I'd get sucked back in time. Only--let's be real--I wouldn't end up in Sam Heughan's lap, no matter how much I wish I would.
But anyway, back to my reply. I told him, "Life never fights fair and there will be many times when it seems like the ref isn't calling the game like he should. But you keep fighting until it's over. As long as you're fighting, there's a chance you'll win. Stop fighting and your chances go to zero. If you want to be a football player, then wrap your head around it now: The refs will not call fair games, the other teams won't like you, and it will be hard. But you still gotta fight."
So enough moping. I am alone and it is not the end of the world. There is a lot of scary/awful stuff happening in my world right now, but it won't last forever. Because I choose to fight.
One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to watch your child struggle, knowing they must fight their way through the obstacle their facing so they can come out stronger on the other side. When Blake has his accident, I could walk beside him, but the battle was his to fight. I couldn’t do it for him, no matter how badly I wanted to.
Last fall, Blake joined the local archery club and has since set his cap on competing in the Olympics someday. It was smooth sailing at first—archery seemed to come naturally to him and he excelled effortlessly. The kid could shoot a bow for hours and not wear out. (Which is saying something, considering it’s 28 pounds of force he’s pulling against with each shot.)
Then he hit a wall. Scores started falling and no matter how much he practiced or tried, he couldn’t seem to improve. As his mom, I could encourage and cheer him on, but the fight was his to win.
Blake’s doctors would say that for him to be in archery at all after a brain injury like that is a medical miracle, to excel in archery—to the highest ranks of archers—is asking too much. But Blake has never been one to let the accident hold him back, and this was no exception. He refuses to let it be his excuse to settle.
The first weekend in January brought with it a practice tournament to prepare everyone for State. Blake, despite his efforts, got the lowest score there. He left incredibly discouraged and down on himself. I told him that everyone had those days, everyone had failures. It was what you did with them that mattered. I encouraged him to make the week leading up to the state competition his “training montage” so the victory at State would be even sweeter. All week long, the entire family would periodically hum the theme from Rocky at him, a joking reminder of what he was working for.
He worked hard, listening intently to everything the coach said and practicing every day. When I couldn’t take him to the range, he practiced outside in the bitter cold.
Friday, I took off work early so we could head to the tournament. I wanted to give the boys a night in a hotel and I didn’t want the impending snow to keep Blake from his tournament. Of course, nothing went as planned—from work emergencies that had me stopping at McDonald’s for Wi-Fi to put out proverbial fires, to bickering kids, to ending the night with a lapful of lemonade. We couldn’t sleep, and somebody (not us) set the alarm in our room for 5:21 am. The entire experience had me feeling pretty flustered. And then we got there, and the whole thing seemed so big that I was a nervous wreck, and I wasn’t even the one shooting. Per Blake, he was partly excited, partly terrified.
But then he started to shoot, and I could tell he was remembering and doing everything he worked on with his instructor. I couldn’t keep track of his score because I’d forgotten my binoculars, but I could tell he was doing well, that whatever the scores for the day, he’d be able to walk away with his head held high.
Most importantly, I could tell he was having fun and making friends. Blake thrives on social interaction, and he was completely in his element here, doing two of his favorite things: shooting his bow and making people smile.
When he told me his score, he’d scored 44 points higher than the “Please Lord, let him at least score this” amount I had in my head. As the awards ceremony began, I quickly realized that he’d scored well enough to at least place in his division, which was, of course, just about the last division to receive their awards. (Talk about suspense...)
And in true Rocky fashion, Blake’s training montage paid off with a gold medal! (There might have been tears from mom... it's a possibility.) As difficult as it was to watch Blake fight a battle I couldn't help with, but there is no greater feeling than watching your child succeed when they've worked so hard for something. Even better, watching him make good friends and develop into the kind of young men you can be proud of.
I'm in a terrible mood. It's been the kind of week that has me debating between breathing fire and curling up somewhere by myself to have a good cry. Or maybe both. When the big and small things of life, work, stuff start to pile up, it's easy for me to forget what God's done in my life.
I'm one of several authors contributing to a compilation of essays and devotionals that will be released by Vox Dei Publishing in 2016. One of the stories I wrote for that keeps coming to mind. I'm sharing it today because I need the reminder. Some of you know the story, some of my newer readers may not. Either way, I hope it serves as a reminder that God still moves mountains. He's still around and He cares, whatever you're facing, big or small.
Most moments in life melt quietly into the next. Some change everything—you can clearly see the line between life before and life after.
At 6:45 p.m. on March 31, 2011, I was happily showing my husband how responsive my mare, Sassy, had become. Questions about next steps in life had been set aside and the entire family was looking forward to dinner at the new Culvers in town.
At 7 p.m. I was kneeling over the lifeless body of my middle son, begging, “Lord Jesus, bring him back to me.”
The moments in between replayed through my mind every time I closed my eyes for months after. My middle son, who was just seven years old at the time, asked if he could cool Sassy down for me. More like he begged. He’d been bullied that day at school and told me that a horseback ride was the only thing that would make it better. Sassy was in a great mood and had just given me the best ride of her life, so I agreed. Blake had ridden her a hundred times before, so he knew the ropes. The smile on his face as he shimmied through the gate will be forever etched into my memory.
For reasons I will never know, our beloved horse was placid and responsive until, without warning, she spun to the right and bolted. Being bred a working cow horse, she pivoted so quickly and with such a large stride, it knocked Blake loose in the saddle. He held on for a stride before tumbling backwards down the side of the horse.
It happened so quickly he didn’t have time to react or push himself away. He landed in the sand with a thud. About the time I breathed a sigh of relief that he was okay, her rear hoof grazed his forehead. He wasn’t breathing when I fell beside him in the sand. I rolled him over and cleaned the sand out of his mouth. He had no pulse, he was completely lifeless, and CPR got me no response.
I stopped what I was doing, placed a hand on him, and wailed, “Jesus bring my baby back to me.” He sucked in a sharp breath, but his eyes didn’t open. My husband was already on the phone with 9-1-1. My other two sons snapped out of their shock and asked what they could do. I told the oldest to put the horse in her stall and take her tack off so she’d be out of the paramedics’ way when they arrived. I told the youngest to pray.
God bless those boys, they’d just seen the most horrific thing of their lives, but they sprang into action. Sassy had stopped dead in her tracks the instant she’d felt her hoof connect with Blake. She watched from the corner, head hung. Dylan retrieved her and made sure she was okay and out of the way while Christopher fell to his brother’s side, taking his limp hand into his own and praying with all of his six-year-old might.
As I knelt over my son, praying harder than I ever had before, I distinctly remember the moment where I acknowledged, He’s yours God. I’m asking you to give him back to me, but I trust that he’s yours.
The paramedics came and took him to a nearby hospital, and still Blake slept. At the hospital, they told us he would have to be airlifted to the children’s hospital in the city. They gave my youngest son a stuffed puppy to “take care of for them,” and then they let us in to say our goodbyes. Blake’s little jeans and flannel shirt had been cut away. His face was horribly disfigured. And still he slept.
Once Blake was loaded into the helicopter, we followed in our car, praying and crying the entire way. Blake’s smile was seared into my brain and I grieved I’d seen it for the last time. When we arrived, they ushered us past the waiting lines and back to a waiting room. There, the in-flight paramedics sought me out with tears in their eyes to tell me they were sorry; they’d done all they could. Blake was still breathing, but initial scans showed no brain activity. The doctors gave us no hope. Again, we were let in to say goodbye.
But everything in me railed, NO! God did not give him breath again to take it away now. He will be healed. Our pastor was there, our parents were there, my sisters were there, and my best friend showed up to take my other two boys to eat before going home with her. The next few days were, to say the least, surreal.
Once I got it in my head that God was going to heal Blake, I began to fast and pray. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t eat until Blake was awake again. Each time the medical profession told me there was no hope, God gave me a glimmer of hope. Each dire pronouncement was met with improvement on Blake’s part. His brain “woke up” on pictures. He moved a finger on command. He squeezed my hand. All spread out over days and nights of prayer. If I slept, it was sitting straight up beside him, his hand in mine.
And then came the day when they said they were worried about swelling on the brain, that they’d have to operate if he didn’t wake up by the next morning. Unbeknownst to me, one of my sisters called the local Christian radio station to ask for prayer. I found out when the first stranger popped their head in to say they were praying for us. As it turns out, the whole city was praying for us. And that evening, a pair of blue eyes made their appearance.
I can’t imagine how scary that must have been, waking up in the ICU, in pain, with a giant tube down your throat and needles in your arms. By the next morning, though, the tube was taken out and Blake was even able to ask me for vegetables. It was my mother’s birthday, April 5. I remember my mama and I both weeping for joy at the sound of his voice.
Time and again, Blake and God defied all logic. We were told he’d be in the hospital indefinitely. He was released in 10 days. We were told he’d need in-patient rehab, he wound up qualifying for day treatment, so he could come home with us each night. They said it would take years before he healed. Six months later, the doctors admitted he’d been healed for over a month, they’d just had a hard time believing it.
Don’t get me wrong—it was a hard road. Blake worked hard each and every day, fighting and clawing his way back to the child he’d once been. The entire family made sacrifices as things shifted and rearranged to accommodate our new normal. I left my cozy corporate job to be with Blake through rehab, which meant we had to leave our expensive home in the suburbs. We went from middle class to poor with a mountain of medical debt overnight, but none of that really mattered in the face of the miracle God was working right before our eyes.
And, in a way that only God could orchestrate, all of those changes put us on a path we were always meant to be on, one we’d been stumbling around trying to find before the accident. The obvious miracle came the moment God put breath back in my son’s body, but it was followed by countless subtle miracles that will forever shape my life and faith.
Since then, Blake has gone back to being the life of the party. He lives to make others smile, and he’s really good at it. We’ve since moved, and people in his new world don’t know about the accident unless we tell them; there are no outward signs it ever happened. Sure, Blake has challenges to face he didn’t have before, but I think those aren’t so much about an incomplete miracle as reminders lest we forget, as we humans are prone to do.
About a year after the accident, a woman I didn’t know approached me to tell me that she’ds been one of the countless people praying for Blake. She’d just come back from a trip to Jerusalem, where she’d given a Sunday devotional at the tomb of Jesus Christ. The story she told was Blake’s.
Sometimes, we act like God stopped working miracles after the book of Acts. But Jesus told us that if we had even a bit of faith when we asked a mountain to move into the sea, it would be given to us.
What mountains do you need moved today?
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Your Aunt Angie knew when she was six that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. I could never pick just one thing I wanted to do, but I always knew I wanted to be a mom. I wanted to raise amazing kids who would change the world. I kid you not, I remember writing a paper about that at 17.
I told your dad when we got married I wanted at least four kids. He told me he wasn't having more than two. (God ultimately made us compromise with three.) When we lost our first baby towards the end of the first trimester, I was devastated. I felt like there was this big, gaping hole in the middle of my soul. And then, I remember God comforting me with this: It's going to be okay. You're going to have a son, and things will never be the same.
Shortly after, I found out I was pregnant. And God was right, things were never the same. From the moment you were born, you made this world a better place. You brought joy and peace with your presence. There's always been something special about you. Others see it too, so it's not just mom biased. I can't even begin to say how many pastors have told me "God's hand is on that child."
You're an amazing brother, and a role model to your two younger brothers. You dispel the myth that a teenager has to be disrespectful. Even as you formulate who you are independent of your father and I, you always honor us. There are times I can see you reigning in your temper when we do clash. But you do. You're not perfect, no one is. But you humble me with how diligently you seek to do what's right, with how you humble yourself before God when you do misstep. You've taught me as much as I've taught you over the years.
I've been a little weepy today because it's hitting me that you really have transformed from a boy into a man over this past year. (It doesn't help that you look 26, not 16. Sheesh.) I'm treasuring these moments with you because I know that my time with you is nearing its end. In another year, you'll be finished with high school and I can see how ready you are to start your own life's adventure.
It's a great big world out there, and I know you're going to make it a better one. It's what you were always meant to do. And I was always meant to prepare you for that.
But for now, I'm just going to soak up your presence. I'm going to enjoy that you're still my boy. And today, I'm going to celebrate you. You're one of the greatest miracles God's ever worked in my life.
Happy birthday Dylan Sean.
It's been way too long since I've checked in. I feel like my books and my readers are long lost friends I haven't seen in a while because this entire year has gone by in such a blur.
You might recall that at the beginning of the year, I accepted the role of Managing Director for Booktrope's Christian imprint, Vox Dei. I love it so much, helping others bring their books into the world. In fact, this past summer I accepted the role of Managing Director for two more of Booktrope's imprints, UPrush and UPdrift. The simplest way to explain those is this: Books parents want to read and the books they want their children to read. They are our parenting and children's/middle grade imprints. That's brought with it a whole new set of challenges, but I love it. I know it's a blessing to have a job that you enjoy as much as I do mine - although sometimes I have to remind myself of that when I start to feel overwhelmed!
Life on the farm has had its usual ebb and flow - things get crazy, then they settle down, only to get crazy again in the blink of an eye. We've added a puppy to our canine numbers. Ralph was dumped on our dirt road, and he's quickly become a part of the family we can't imagine life without. Big sister Holly loves him a lot. Except when she has to share toys - even his - she thinks they all belong to her.
My boys are growing like weeds. Even in all of the chaos, I'm trying really hard to take time each day to simply drink in being their mom. As Dylan gets serious about deciding what to do in life after high school, I'm realizing how quickly they'll all be gone.
A part of me feels guilty for not wrapping up poor Vance's stories yet. But I think my brain needed the break. The stories won't let me not tell them; they just needed to simmer a bit longer.
Oh, and I'm working on a charity event that will be in St. Louis in November. Stay tuned for updates on that, and the organization it's for. They're amazing, and I'm super excited to be some small part of their story.
I hope this summer has been a good one for all of you. Here's to a lovely fall, as well!
I've had trouble sleeping for the past couple of years. I've always had quirky sleeping habits - the pendulum swings widely between night owl and early bird. But for the past couple of years, I struggle to fall asleep before midnight and have a terrible habit of waking up somewhere between 2:30 and 4. The rare 8 hours of sleep is a treasured gift, fiercely guarded. I usually spend this extra time praying, working, mulling over whatever challenge I'm facing, or fretting in general - though our house is tiny enough it limits how much work I can do without waking everyone up.
Last night, I was in desperate need of a good night's sleep. Since we have a reprieve from the oppressive heat, I had high hopes that once I dozed, I'd stay out. It was about midnight when sleep won.
It was about 1:30 when a buzz and a chirp woke me up.
The next four hours were filled with fitful bursts of sleep, odd dreams, and lots of buzzing and chirping. It seemed the sound was coming from the living room, but my befuddle brain couldn't quite make sense of the noise or its origins. The closer it got to morning, the more frantic I got.
Finally, at 5:30, the noise woke up my middle son, who recognized the sound and made a beeline for his older brother's phone. I learned two things: 1) Some kid named Justin had texted "Hey man it's Justin. Wat up?" At 1:34 am and 2) My teenager has his phone set to notify him EVERY TWO MINUTES if he misses a text.
While I'm sure the texts he normally receives are much more earth shattering that "Wat up" - I mean, they must be if we're that concerned we might miss one - but surely there's a happy middle ground. Perhaps every hour? Or, I don't know, just once and we acknowledge that the little "1" displaying on our screen next to messages means we have one?
I apologize now to the world if I'm a miserable beast all day. I blame Justin. "Wat up?" Dak's mom, and she is not happy with you Justin.
Update: My son is now awake and assures me he doesn't know anyone named Justin.
I've realized the thing I miss most about having the boys here: the ability to turn to them and ask them to pray for someone. Three times this week, I've been hit with a whammy that could only be met with prayer. While I know I'm perfectly capable of making the request, and I do, there's something reassuring about my boys coming in agreement with me in prayer. They're serious about their prayer, too. Probably because they've seen the power of it. When I tell them a need, they stop what they're doing and talk to God, right then and there.
On a lighter note, I'm finding some irony in the fact that when the boys are here, I'm the task master making everyone clean. Today is our day to deep clean the house. I looked around and realized I had no desire to do so. Instead, after wrapping up my work day, I sat on the couch and watched When Calls the Heart on Netflix. It's a cute show and I think I needed a couple of hours to make like a vegetable. Or maybe I need my boys to keep me on my toes as much as they need me.
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