About lauramckillipwood

Mom, wife, writer...in other words, pretty busy and juggling a lot, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

As We Are One

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The time was coming for Jesus to be arrested. He knew it. His disciples did not. They still lived in a confused haze somewhere between offering to crown him king and jockeying to become the best friend of such a man. It was in this state that Jesus began teaching the disciples the last things he would teach them. He knew his time with them was short, and he began packing in as much as he could.

Last Words Are Important

Last words are important. During this last week or so of Jesus’ life, what did he say to his disciples? I reread John 13-17 tonight, looking for what Jesus told his friends during that period. He taught them the importance of knowing him and acknowledging him (John 12:44), of following his commandments (John 12:47 and 14:23-24, among others), and of servanthood (John 13:1-17). Not only that, but he gave them a new command: to love one another as he had loved them. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-45).

Not only did he tell them to follow his commands and then turn around and give them an identity-defining command to love one another, but he went on to pray for them and for you and me. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me…that they may be one as we are one…that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:20-23). And he goes on to say why he prayed this: “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 7:23).

Unity Over Division

Most of the time, I don’t want unity. I prefer to debate, to argue, and to prove my point. I like to be right, sometimes even at the expense of someone I love or should love. But when I practice that divisive spirit, I am dead wrong. I am disregarding Jesus’ last messages to his followers, to me. I am selling Jesus for the thrill of superiority over others, often others who are just as beloved by and as passionate about their love for him as I claim to be.

Tonight I write this on the eve of the election. I still don’t know how it will turn out, but I do know this: I will work to obey Jesus’ wish for unity in his prayer for me. A political party, any political party, cannot bring about the thing that Jesus said will show the world his face. People at each end of the political spectrum think their ideals are correct, and both parties participate in slinging insults and anger back at the other. Any person can fall right into that quagmire with very little effort. It takes superhuman, Spirit-focused strength to remain in the tension in the middle, in the tension between grace and truth, with love and humility.

I haven’t been good at that. I have tried, only to fall into the quagmire more times than I can count, but I resolve to strive for that unity without compromise.

Living in the Tension

When my husband was four years old, his mother gave birth to triplet daughters. All three of the babies died within two weeks of their birth. This sent his parents on a grief-filled tailspin that still affects them, their relationships with others, and their relationship with him and his sister to this day. One painful part of that experience included facing the attitudes of their fellow believers, who all had different theories about why God had “taken” those babies from them. One woman told his mother that they must have done something wrong that made God punish them by taking their triplets. The preacher must have agreed because he re-baptized them to absolve them from whatever sins they had committed that brought God’s wrath on them in this way. I wonder how their story would have been different if someone had allowed them to feel sad and grieve instead of blaming them for the deaths.

Suffering, pain, and grief have been part of the human experience since the beginning of time, and modern people are no more exempt from it than our ancient ancestors. Human suffering takes many shapes, but no matter its form, it creates anxiety in our lives, often forcing us to question its meaning and purpose, the goodness of God, and our ability to survive it. The presence of suffering causes us to live in the tension between believing that God loves us and wondering why he does not intervene to prevent difficulty in our lives.

The burning questions in the mind of the sufferer revolve around why suffering happens. Why do babies die and children experience chronic illnesses? Why would a believer in Christ live through a painful injury or broken relationship? Behind the question of why suffering happens stands the even more critical question: why would a loving God allow it to happen? Does God bring suffering upon people to teach them a lesson or to prove something? If he does not create suffering but is all-powerful, why would he allow it to exist and allow it to plague both the righteous and unrighteous? These difficult questions do not have any immediate answers.

Suffering is a universal experience. No human being, no matter upbringing, gender, socioeconomic status, or ethnicity, is exempt from suffering’s tax. Even those who lead relatively comfortable lives and escape physical difficulty encounter suffering in the spiritual and emotional realm. Despite the fact that verses sprinkled throughout the Bible allude to the idea that the righteous will be spared pain and turmoil, we often see the opposite play out. People reading the promises of blessings upon God’s people sometimes teach that we will be blessed, and life will go well for us if we joyfully follow God. When they experience pain, they wonder what they have done wrong to bring this punishment from God on themselves. If he blesses those he loves, does their suffering mean God does not love them or that he has turned his back on them?

 In working with people whose children have died at the children’s hospital where I am a chaplain, I have been questioned many times about God’s involvement and possible orchestration of the deaths of children. As I told one grieving grandfather, “These types of events don’t line up with who I believe God is. I don’t know why he allows it, but I do know he’s here with you during it.” I can tell him that God knows more than we do, which I do believe, but that does not help him resolve the questions he has. I can tell him that God has healed his grandchild and made him perfect and whole but that we have to wait to witness that ourselves when we meet again in Heaven, which I also do believe. However, to him those answers feel hollow in a moment of fresh grief. All I can say is that God still loves him, he will always be with him, and none of us really understands the reason behind his grandson’s death.

I do not believe that God brings death and pain into our lives. To believe that makes God cruel and heartless, and I do not think God is either of those. I do believe he can and will use those circumstances to teach us about himself and to draw us closer to him and to one another. As for the misguided belief that the righteous are given blessings and that blessings indicate God’s favor, I point to the words of Jesus who said we would have trials of many kinds in this world, but we must remain hopeful for he has overcome the world (John 16:33). I remember the experiences of Paul and the other apostles, whose lives were full of trials because of their choices to follow Jesus, and yet they remained faithful because they knew that God was with them throughout.

The Easter season always casts light on the tension between suffering and restoration. We remember the suffering of Jesus as he died, the panic of his disciples during the days following, and the joy they experienced when they discovered that he had conquered death. As believers, we hang somewhere in the tension between knowing God is all-powerful and waiting faithfully for his power to be displayed. For the parents in the hospital whose babies are ill, for my own in-laws who have suffered unnamed pain for decades, and for my own painful life experiences, I pray that God works in the midst of our suffering, that none of our tears go unnoticed as we join the legions of those before us who have suffered and persevered.

Shepherds and Great Joy

I’ve always liked the book of Luke most of all the Gospels. Somehow Jesus seems more relatable to me in Luke and not as distant as he can in some of the accounts. In particular, Luke tells the story of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth in a poignant way. As a Gentile and a physician, he saw the world through a different lens from that of the Jewish Gospel writers. He described Jesus’ birth plainly, with details noticed and collected by a scientific mind, apparently appealing to other non-Jewish people like me. He starts by telling about John the Baptist’s unusual conception and birth, the angel’s visit to Mary and her reaction, and Joseph and Mary’s trip to Bethlehem for the census. 

A Flair for the Dramatic

Among all of those details, we find a particularly dramatic scene: a group of shepherds sleeping  and watching their sheep on a hill outside town wake to a terrifying sight. A sky full of angels make an announcement. Of course, the angels’ first words are, “Don’t be afraid.” A blinding light on a dark night would frighten anyone, especially if it were accompanied by supernatural beings. The angels continue by telling the men that they bring good news. Specifically, they describe this good news as bringing “great joy for all the people.” The shepherds hurry into town to see this baby born to bring them great joy.

Old News but Good News

A lot has been written and sung and painted about these shepherds. None of the details from the paragraphs above are new to us. The story has been told for two thousand years, and shepherds are included in the telling nearly every time. We’ve probably all heard that the shepherds were smelly people, some of the lowest of society. They weren’t welcome in town, and they weren’t wealthy by any means. Shepherds were known as troublemakers, rough transients, undesirables. Think gang members, teenage guys hanging out in the park after dark laughing and playing loud music, homeless people on the street corner asking for donations to their food fund. 

Or maybe they were like today’s former third world slaves who escape from bondage to try and make their way in the world. Maybe today’s “shepherds” owe more money they can ever pay back and wonder where their next meal will come from. Maybe they’re single moms with too many mouths to feed or a small family trying to put two kids through school. Maybe they’re refugees at a border or immigrants sharing a cramped apartment with two other families. Maybe they’re exhausted suburbanites working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Who would God would choose to announce his good news to first now?

Everyone is Included

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story in Luke is how it seems tailored to highlight the inclusion of the less-than-remarkable person. The shepherds are the lowest in society. Mary and Joseph are regular people. There’s no real evidence that they were more special than any other Jewish couple of their time before their designation as the parents of Jesus. Later, at the presentation of the new baby Jesus at the temple, Anna and Simeon, two elderly people who apparently spent most of their time just hanging out there, affirm the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. All of these were unlikely characters included in the greatest story of all time.

If we’re not careful, we see the Christmas story bathed in holy light, but when we read carefully, we see that the participants, including the shepherds, were ordinary people chosen to be part of an extraordinary story. Not only that, but the very one they went to worship later identified himself as one of them. He didn’t call himself a king, although he could have legitimately claimed that title. Instead, he called himself the “Good Shepherd,” associating himself with the low levels of the social structure. That inclusion of all is something I want to be part of this Christmas and throughout the year.

Perspective

Twenty years today!

Today Andrew and I are celebrating our twentieth anniversary. Our plan: taking our youngest and her friend to see the live-action version of the movie Aladdin. While that doesn’t sound too romantic, it is a bit sweet since watching the cartoon version was one of our first real dates twenty-six years ago. Not only have I been married a really long time now, I’ve recently begun to realize that at forty-seven years old, I am smack dab in the middle of mid-life. If I live as long as my grandparents, I’ve got anywhere from thirty-two to fifty-four more years left. I am at the unique point of having enough time behind me to have a little perspective but enough time ahead to implement some of that perspective and see how it plays out.

The Past Perspective

I grew up in a conservative Christian church. I went to a Christian college. When I graduated, I moved to Ukraine to be a missionary/teacher. As I got to know Ukrainians, I began to hear their perspectives on things like how American politics affected their country. I learned that many people there did not like Ronald Reagan, who was a hero in the part of the US I came from and in my own family. I had hardly met anyone who did not like Reagan at that point in my life, but when I moved to Ukraine, I learned that many of people there blamed his policies for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the political chaos and extreme inflation that hit Ukraine as a result. I learned that the public sentiment toward Mikhael Gorbachev was also negative for the same reason, although people here in the US had favorable attitudes toward him.

Living in a different culture did not just lead me to question what I believed about my country, though. I attended church every week in aUkrainian church similar to my own in America, but as time went by, I noticed some differences. They took communion from one cup, which they passed from one person to the next. I often tried to sit near the front during a service when communion was served in an effort to get the cup when it was still fresh! Not only that, but they used wine in that cup, so I had my first taste of alcohol in church. This differed greatly from my church at home, which taught abstinence from alcohol so thoroughly that they used grape juice in communion. Many of the Ukrainian churches we worked with believed that women should cover their heads in worship, taking that cue from I Corinthians 11. (Look it up and ask yourself why we don’t practice this.)

Luba, my Ukrainian roommate and me. This photo was taken in 2011, so, no, I did not have that much gray hair in my 20’s…although I had quite a bit. And, of course, Luba never changes.

Change of Perspective

Experiences like these pushed me to question things I had always blindly accepted, both politically and spiritually. If these beautiful Christian people I loved believed it was acceptable to drink wine in church and expected women to cover their heads in worship, were they right? What exactly did the Bible teach about these things? More importantly, what was necessary for me to hold fast, and which of my beliefs could I loosen up on? What was cultural and what was essential? My beliefs had not been tested much until that point since I had surrounded myself with people who thought a lot like I did.

When I returned to the US, the same process happened in reverse. Suddenly, I was bombarded by teachings and opinions that seemed mired in American culture. I saw my own people slavishly following cultural norms instead of true Christian principles. To this day, I continue to hear vitriol disguised as piety, and I live perpetually amazed at how this can happen in Christian circles. I see politics mixed so intricately with faith that it becomes almost impossible to tell them apart. I hear independence and freedom preached to the extent that we forget the value of community and interdependence.

Essential Perspective

I have spent much of my adult life trying to discern what is cultural and what is Christian, whether in my own country or another. I have struggled to apply what I do think is essential. Most of all, I have struggled a great deal to love people who do not question their beliefs, people who do not see that their culturally-defined religion often is used to bludgeon those who differ.

What is essential? The very core of my answer I take from the mouth of Jesus himself, when an expert in the Jewish law asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:35-40).

I fear even typing this because I know there are some who will chalk me up as one of those mamby-pamby Christians who preaches all love and no truth. However, love is not mamby-pamby. It’s not weak. Love is not a cop-out. Love is fierce. Ask a mother who spends every day, all day sitting at the bedside of a chronically ill baby. Ask a dad whose girl is late for her curfew. Ask a husband whose wife struggles with debilitating depression or a wife whose husband dies unexpectedly. Love is strong; it fights; it holds on forever. Most importantly, it wants the very best for its beloved. That’s the love we need to have for Jesus and for others. That love drives the gospel. That love empowered Jesus to sacrifice everything, and that love can push us to examine our dearly held beliefs.

So on our twentieth anniversary, Andrew and I will take our thirteen-year-old “baby” to a movie and sit in comfy theater seats eating too-buttery popcorn. We will remember two much younger versions of ourselves who had much less defined perspectives on life and faith and the world and realize how we’ve grown since then and how far we still have to go. Maybe we will remember to let other people mature as well, to let them experience the love of God, the space to grow, the freedom to question, and the power that comes from the knowledge that they are loved.

Make It Through May

People who have children or work in education know that May rushes by with the excitement level of unmotivated children working on their last school projects of the year. Yep, it’s the end of the school year, and the long, languid days of summer sit just beyond our grasp, waiting for us to shed our sweaters and bake in the sun. However, in May we’re still half-sweatered, trying to keep our minds in the groove of school while the weather teases us with warm days interspersed between cold; thunderstorms shocking us back into the reality that spring isn’t always as sweet as we think it is.

Somehow Andrew and I both managed to get ourselves jobs that culminate in a flood of papers to grade and grades to check and transcripts to send out and graduations to plan while at the same time we parent three children who have the same types of things happening in their lives. We have quintupled the effects of May!

Spring is Still Here

Strangely enough, this May has been pretty easy compared to some of our past Mays. The first graduation I planned in my job at the college felt like I was planning a royal wedding. So much stress! I could barely keep track of all of the details. By the time those students walked across the stage, I was so exhausted and so happy for them and for myself that I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Whew! That was done. Every graduation since then has gotten easier, and this year’s graduation felt smooth and comfortable.

The professor and the registrar at graduation this year.

Not only that, but my kids are older and manage their own lives pretty well. The two oldest both drive, so there’s no more rushing to get them to school, dropping everything at work to go and pick them up, or waiting in the parking lot for late-night practices to end. Nowadays I just wait at work for the text from Alex saying he’s there to pick me up and take me home. They have busier lives, but they keep their own calendars and keep track of their responsibilities and study for their finals without me reminding them to, and THANK GOODNESS they do all of that!

Summer’s Coming!

While it’s nice to have an easier time of it now that I know my job and my kids are older, I don’t think I’m quite at that summer time of life where I can throw my sweaters in a drawer and run into the warmth to have unlimited fun. My kids are teenagers, but they still need me. My job is more familiar, but I still have to do it. I’m not free, but I can see some freedom peeking around the corner at me.

Hannah graduates in a year and Alex the year after that. Emma won’t be too far behind them. I can see how moms might panic, feeling the approaching change of responsibility and not sure what it will mean. It might be tempting to feel like grasping some of their childhoods and pulling them back in or adding responsibilities somewhere in life, just to maintain homeostasis and avoid the stress of change.

Then I think no way! What am I thinking?! That would be like a mom whose baby starts sleeping through the night thinking, Maybe I should wake him up once in a while so my life is really hard. This sleep thing seems wrong. Nope, no one says that. I’m at the time when I can sometimes relax, read a book, write in a blog, and do some things I enjoy instead of rushing around like crazy every May. Once in a while, I see a break in the responsibility and the sun shines through to me.

In the meantime, I have a band parent meeting to attend tonight. Better make supper!

Two Years is Too Long

Two years ago, I stopped writing.

I didn’t stop writing altogether. I just stopped blogging. I had a few reasons. The most obvious was that I started working on a master’s in counseling. Because of the amount of writing I do for class, I don’t do as much recreational writing.

About the same time, I started working part-time as an on-call chaplain at a hospital. I love it, and the amount of exciting interaction with new people has made my other, desk job more attractive.

Those two reasons aren’t really at the core of why I stopped, though. Two years ago, our country had just undergone a divisive presidential election. I had a lot of thoughts about that election, and it took so much of my mental energy to process it that I did not feel I had much to offer otherwise. I debated whether to write about politics or social issues. The world had so many bloggers pouring out their opinions that I didn’t think I should add my own, but that’s all I could think about when I sat down to write. I stopped blogging for a while to process it all.

This weekend, Rachel Held Evans passed away, though. She was an important voice for Christian women, and her loss has made it evident to me that we cannot be quiet. I don’t have to blast everyone with my opinions, but I can make a thoughtful blog post once in a while. This is my thoughtful blog post.

In the Last Two Years

In two years, a lot happened. My children grew up! Hannah got her license and recently became drum major of the high school band. She’s finishing her junior year now, took a college course or two, and she has a job. She teaches little kids to do computer coding. She’s probably smarter than me. I need to admit that now.

About two weeks ago, Alex grew up in one week’s time. One weekend he got invited to the prom, the next Monday he got a job, and that Friday he turned 16 and got his license. One very eventful week!

Emma is in seventh grade, was part of the high school novice winter guard team (think: twirling flags) and is in drama club. She plays the flute in band, and her teacher says she is “teeming with potential.” I think that’s a compliment, although in a way it sounds like something involving a swarm of mosquitoes.

I cannot believe we’re just about in the home stretch now. In a year, Hannah will graduate and leave for college. Soon after, Alex will follow. At least we’ll have three more years after that with Emma. Of the three kids she’s had the most time alone with us…she’s probably been the most bored of the three. At this very moment, while the two older ones are out galavanting around somewhere with friends, Andrew is lying on a recliner, wrapped in multiple blankets, watching a movie on his laptop with ear buds in, I am writing this, and Emma is silently playing her Nintendo Switch. She seems happy, but maybe she’s just resigned to spending her evenings with the geriatrics.

Anyway, I hope this is the beginning of blogging again. Two years has been too long!

Wind Beneath My Wings

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I’ve been in storms, but tonight…this storm beats them all. The two oldest kids had a band performance scheduled for 7:30, so we made our way over to the stadium where we were supposed to watch it. By the time we got there, it was raining a little, and they had cancelled the performance. Andrew and I decided to wait in the car until the kids finished practice. We had books, as all good nerds do, so we were completely satisfied just to sit there and read.

We’d been sitting in the car about 20-30 minutes when the sky got really dark. The rain started pouring, and the wind picked up. I called Hannah to tell her not to come outside, and at about the same moment she picked up the phone, the wind got so bad that I basically yelled “Stay inside! Don’t come outside!” and hung up. Andrew told me to get out and run inside. Forgetting all about the running car, he got out. I reached over and turned it off and we started running into the building.

The tornado sirens were so loud! I’ve never heard them up close like that. I guess their close proximity combined with the extreme wind made me think the sirens were instead a tornado (you know how they always say tornadoes sound like a train?! I guess tornado sirens do, too!). I kept yelling, “That’s an actual tornado!” a fact that probably freaked out my southern-born husband.

About halfway into the building, the wind blew me so hard from behind that I actually felt my feet start to leave the ground a little! Before I knew it, I was lying on the wet grass! I looked over, and Andrew was, too! We managed to get to our feet, despite the extreme wind pushing us from behind, and scramble the rest of the way into the building, holding onto each other the whole way, just in case.

I looked at Andrew when we got into the high school. He had no glasses on his face! I thought to myself, Whew! I’m glad I still have my glasses…wait a minute…why can’t I see anything? I lost mine too! The wind blew us down AND blew the glasses off our faces!!

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Andrew and me, alive but still lacking spectacles!

We hurried down the hall to the band room to find our kids. We managed to find them, found a safe hall to sit in, and waited out the storm with all of their bandmates. I was afraid we’d have to get Hannah to drive us home because neither Andrew nor I had our glasses, but we actually managed to find both pairs on our way out. In the grass, not far from where we fell. Along with the keys to my office, which, hey, I didn’t even know I’d lost!

 

I could spend some paragraphs comparing storms to problems in our lives and how God works it all out and yada yada yada. I’m not doing that. I’m sure you can figure it out yourselves. What I will say is in a moment like that what I wanted most of all was to find our two kids. Once we found them and saw them safe, I just felt extreme relief that kid #3 was in Hawaii with my mom and sister and not home alone or something! Oh my! At least she was safe! And when it was all said and done, when we drove home, we saw the downed trees and branches and neighbors spilling out onto the street and I suddenly felt such an appreciation for the people in our life. We’re safe and dry, and we even saw a nice rainbow on the way home!

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Mother’s Day

Seven years ago, these three were pretty cute on Easter morning.

A few weeks ago, a local organization, Papillion Parent, asked me to write an essay to read at a fundraiser they were hosting. The instructions simply said, ” to write [a] hilarious or heartfelt 3-5 min essay about motherhood and read it out loud at the event.” Last Sunday night was the night. Since Andrew and the kids went to Hannah’s final band concert/awards ceremony, I asked a couple of friends to go with me. We enjoyed an evening outside at a local hangout listening to moms writing about their different perspectives on parenting. I loved spending time with them and meeting other writers and moms from the area.

In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s the essay I wrote:

A Normal Mess

Before the birth of my first child, I showed a coworker an ultrasound picture and told her I’d decided to quit my job to stay home with the baby. She asked if I’d be doing any freelance work. I answered that I’d need to see how I felt about freelancing when things went back to normal. She laughed and said, “Honey, things are never going back to normal.”

Fifteen years and three kids later, I’m not even sure what “normal” is!

What did I expect motherhood to be? I’m pretty sure that whatever I may have thought it was going to be, it hasn’t really been that. When my husband kissed me goodbye and drove away the first day he went back to work after our daughter’s birth, I sat in a silent house holding a tiny stranger and listened to the sound of nothing. I felt overwhelmed. Somehow I adjusted, but it wasn’t without a struggle.

My daughter was born on New Year’s Eve, and I spent that entire first winter in the house, seeing few people, and crying at 6:30 am because I hadn’t slept and knew I had 12 more hours to care for her before I could put her to bed again. I stood in the living room, holding her and peering out the picture window in hopes of seeing the mailman’s footprints in the snow because that would mean I could check the mail. Maybe there’d be news from the outside world for me!  A hunting magazine or Field and Stream or ANYTHING would do! Or maybe even I’d get to talk to the actual mailman. Imagine that!

My second child, a boy, really didn’t talk until he was about two years old. I worried constantly that I wasn’t giving him enough opportunities to talk or wasn’t talking to him enough to teach him properly. Of course, when he started talking, he spoke in complete sentences. The first words I remember hearing from him were “I want to pinch your neck”. Guess we know what he was thinking all those months. Maybe he wanted to perfect his language skills in his head before trying them out!

After the birth of my third baby, I was so tired that I fell asleep sitting up in bed while holding her. I woke to the sound of her crying and the sight of her lying on the hardwood floor next to my bed. I had dropped my sweet newborn!  After a trip to Children’s Hospital, wandering around in the dark forever trying to find it while she slept, I felt reassured that she was fine, but I’ve never truly been the same since.

My understanding of “normal” has changed many times over the last decade and a half. I hear people tell moms to cherish those baby and toddler days and hold onto every moment, but I’m going to tell you that I have mostly been relieved when one stage passed and we could speed on to the next.  Now that they’re older, though, I love seeing my kids become interesting, funny and articulate people. I look forward to seeing them as adults. I can hardly keep up with their almost-adult schedules, but I love watching them live them.

This year they were still sweet on Easter morning!

As a mom of teenagers who is just about in the final stages of parenting children, I will say that these years are without a doubt my favorite so far. I can look at my son when I hear something funny and know he heard it, too, and we can laugh together at things that really are humorous. Not some I’m-laughing-because-I-don’t-want-him-to-know-his-knock-knock-joke-wasn’t-really-funny kind of funny, but a truly hilarious kind of humor. I can listen to my oldest daughter talk about her boyfriend and say “Oh yeah! Can you believe guys do that?” and really relate. And I can watch my youngest girl primp in front of a mirror and offer some outdated and unsolicited fashion advice. These are humans! And they’re interesting and fun, and finally I can start to see that putting them in time out twenty times one afternoon when they were three was worth the effort.

When they were very little, I worried all the time that something I was doing would ruin them forever. I wondered if I’d measure up as a mom, if my parenting would somehow scar them for life.

I have a confession about how much I needed reassurance when my kids were babies. I haven’t told anyone this. I don’t even think my husband knows it. I sometimes used to call the pharmacist in the 24-hour-pharmacy near our house in the middle of the night. I didn’t do it to chat, although at times that might have been nice. I often didn’t really have a medical question. I called for reassurance that how I was treating my children’s illnesses or what I was doing for them was good enough.  I only called a few times, but when I called he actually did give me reassuring advice. I wondered if he had a wife and kids at home and knew the uncertainty that parents of babies sometimes experience.  Or maybe he was really bored because hey—24-hour pharmacy in the middle of the night.

Somehow in the midst of all of the pressure and uncertainty of parenting young children, I began to come to peace with the fact that I was indeed messing them up. I also learned, though, that we’re all messed up and all parents do make pretty big mistakes of one kind or another. Maybe the real key isn’t raising kids without scars but teaching them how to heal.

I’m still figuring that one out, and my kids are still young enough that I haven’t seen how they’ll turn out yet. I know this, though: I do not know what normal is anymore, but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got!

Lonely People

 

A few weeks ago, a friend started a blog/website “to encourage young people who are still waiting for their life partner, or people who are just content being single, and the difficulties that entails.” She asked if I’d like to contribute as a person who’s been there and knows what it’s like. Of course, I said yes! I love stuff like that.

I think loneliness is something we all struggle with at some point. Most people I know, whether married or single, feel a sense of loneliness at some time in their lives. You can read what I wrote here, but I think it’s also worth visiting her site because it’s pretty interesting and already full of stories and advice. Click here to go to her website (Letters to Lonely Humans) or keep reading for my letter to the lonely.

Dressed up

I heard someone once say that you can’t expect to find someone to take away your loneliness but may hope to find someone to be lonely with. Here’s my lonely companion 🙂

Lonely Hearts Club

April 17, 2017

Laura McKillip Wood

I got married in my 28th year, which is late for a girl who went to Bible college. I graduated, moved halfway across the world, and lived on my own for four years. When I moved overseas, I came to terms with the idea that I probably wouldn’t ever get married. I didn’t really want to marry someone from another culture. I thought relationships had enough challenges without adding cross-cultural ones to the list, so I thought I had pretty much eliminated my chances of marrying. I really was ok with that. I had a lot of friends and a lot of support, and I decided I didn’t need a husband.

During those years, I sometimes did get lonely. I taught elementary school, so my weeks were full of kids and lesson preparations. On the weekends, though, I had many hours alone. During school breaks, I had more than enough time to long for human companionship. I found ways to fill those needs with good friends and activities, but somewhere lurking in there I still felt a little lonely.

In my fourth year, all of a sudden, an old boyfriend moved to the same country where I lived. Before I knew it, we were engaged! I didn’t realize it then, but looking back I see a part of me believed that after I married him I wouldn’t be lonely anymore. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to go? Find your soul mate! Your life will be full of companionship after you marry him. He will understand everything about you and love it all.

After our wedding, Andrew and I moved to a new city where neither of us knew anyone. Suddenly loneliness hit me like a ton of bricks. Andrew was quiet. Very quiet. Much quieter than I was. Too much interaction overloaded him. I needed other people, but I knew no one in my new place. I think most of the people I knew from before assumed we were in that honeymoon stage where everything is so wonderful that you don’t want anyone outside to bother you.  My mom and grandma told me how relieved they were that now I had someone to be with me so I wouldn’t be alone so far away from home, but I felt more alone then than I ever had before the wedding.

My expectation of someone else filling that lonely place in my heart didn’t hold up, and I felt afraid and even more alone because of it.

I’ve been married nearly 18 years now, and I can say without a doubt that this has been a struggle nearly every one of those 18 years. I have begun to learn to expect less from my husband and to rely more on friends. I have started to learn that his need for solitude is a God-given personality trait that allows him to think deeply and understand things I will never understand. I have tried to learn that his quietness doesn’t mean he doesn’t love me and, in fact, has nothing to do with how he feels about me. I haven’t mastered those things, but I’m working on them.

Most of all, though, I have learned that loneliness is a human condition that is not resolved by other humans. Friends can dull the ache. A spouse can mask the effects. Children can keep you so tired you sometimes forget about it. Deep down inside, though, it’s still there. Loneliness is just part of being human and can remind me that my life isn’t complete here on earth. There’s something missing that other people won’t really ever completely fill.

So for anyone reading this who feels lonely sometimes, I tell you the same thing I try to tell myself: don’t blame your loneliness on your situation. Don’t be angry at the ones you love for not perfectly filling your need for companionship. Let your loneliness point you to God, remind you that you’re never completely whole this side of heaven, and drive you to him for fulfillment. Easier said than done; it’s probably a lifelong project!

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My most adamant loneliness-busters. Look at those cuties!

Boys and Men

Today I was in a gas station with my 13-year-old son, Alex. I heard an older lady talking to herself while struggling to use the ATM. She couldn’t figure it out and was getting really frustrated and anxious. I hesitated to help because I thought she might feel like I was going to take advantage of her, but then it became more and more apparent that she wasn’t getting it. I asked if she needed help and she said yes, she did, that since her stroke she’s had a hard time understanding things. She was appreciative of my help, very sweet and friendly. 

As we worked on it together, Alex came down the aisle on the other side of her. I saw her look at him and felt her pull back, fearful. I looked at him from her point of view: a tall young man, hovering nearby, trying unsuccessfully to look inconspicuous. Suddenly I realized the inconvenience of being a male in that situation. We talk about women feeling afraid, but what about men, even helpful men, who want to do something nice for an older lady but are seen as threatening? I saw Alex and remembered my little guy who liked to cuddle and hug and play drums on the pots and pans, but she saw Alex as a man taller than she was, sidling up beside her to steal her cash. 

If only she knew that he looked at her slyly from the corner of his eye because he is shy and embarrassed and doesn’t quite know whether to talk to her or not. If only she knew that not long ago he stood in the living room hugging his big sister as she cried about the death of her guinea pig. If only she knew he has shaved fewer times than he can count on one hand and still feels nervous about going to the high school for band practice with the big kids since he is just in middle school himself. 

“Oh, that’s my son. Hey, Alex!” I said, and she visibly relaxed.

I won’t always be there to help the older ladies see him for who he is. I hope he can do that for himself. I don’t think he’ll have a problem. He’s pretty sweet. But I had just told him a moment earlier that if he heard someone struggling like that he had to think through whether to help her or not because she might feel scared that he was trying to hurt her. 

I know that because it’s happened before to his dad. Andrew has a particular appeal to older ladies. I don’t think he’s ever met a woman over the age of 50 who didn’t love him within minutes of meeting him. But once he was in a grocery store where an older woman was having a very hard time with the ATM. He watched, thinking about offering to help, when her friend appeared out of nowhere and started yelling at him. Accusing him of trying to steal the woman’s pin over her shoulder, she wouldn’t listen to reason. She called a security guard over. Finally, they worked it out, but I had to warn Alex of the potential for misunderstanding.  

How sad that we live in a world where a vulnerable person has to be suspicious of a 13-year-old! In a society where a kind man tries to be a gentleman and is punished for it or treated with suspicion, how can we teach our boys to make a difference to those in vulnerable positions? We instruct our children the best that we can, but in a fallen world we must face the fact that even people who are trying to help others can be hurt or can hurt them inadvertently. The man who wants to help a woman, the friend who tries to protect her, the boy watching innocently as his mom assists someone. I’m not sure a lot can be done about this, besides leading our children to care for others and be wise in the way they approach that caring, but I hope a consistently kind and loving, godly presence in society will somehow make a difference. I have to believe it will.