When Life Poops on Your Party


emotional control during crisis

Adorable guilty dog photo (my dog-nephew, Huckleberry) courtesy of my sister Alexandra, of A Loves J

 

The minivan smells like French fries.

Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome looks at me from the driver’s seat and pulls into our driveway. “Home sweet home! Are you ready to unpack?”

I grunt. (Translation: No. Eight hours of road-tripping have left me too exhausted to unpack. But seeing as our household servants only exist in my Downton Abbey dreams, I have no choice.)

Mr. Positive grins. “If we hurry, we can get them all in bed in an hour, and just… sit on the couch. Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

Yes. Yes it does sound amazing. Amazing and impossible, considering all the unpacking and laundry-ing and removing-of-gas-station-bathroom-grime-from-children’s-bodies that lies ahead. But we can fantasize. I take a deep breath and match his grin. “Let’s do it. You. Me. Vacant expressions on the couch. One hour.”

He punches the button that opens the minivan doors. Four children, eighteen suitcases, and thirty-seven empty Happy Meal containers explode onto our driveway.

A tornado of luggage and flip-flops, we stumble into the garage. The children are giddy: “Let’s go see Cole! He’s missed us so much!” Cole, our graying black Lab, has had fun with dog sitters in our absence, but even so, he hates it when we leave.

The kids sprint ahead of us into the house. Their supersonic shrieks make me smile as I wrestle with suitcases—Aw, they’re so happy to see Cole, how sweet—and Kevin goes in ahead of me. I hear more shrieking, but now it’s Kevin’s voice: “No no no no nooooooo!”

Kevin never shouts. Heart thumping, I drop my bags and race inside. Kevin heads me off in his office, boxing me out, blocking my view. “It’s bad—the dog—it’s so bad. You don’t even want to look.”

Horrible scenes flash though my mind on fast-forward: What’s so awful I can’t even look? Disemboweled couch cushions? Vomit? Gore? Has the dog chewed off his own paw in despair?

For a moment Kevin just stares at me, mouth working, eyes huge, trying to find the words. It’s Avery, the extremely loud and descriptive seven-year-old, who bursts in, shrieking: “Poop! Poooooooooooooooooop! There’s dog poop EVERYWHERE!”

I’ll spare you the details, because Avery has told you all you need (and want) to know. (I’ll just say this: Avery chose the word everywhere for good reason.)

Kevin and I have a longstanding deal: He handles pet poop and vomit; I handle human. I have never been more thankful for that arrangement than right here in this dark moment.

So poor Kevin quietly shuffles to the laundry room for a bucket and rags while I sprint past the Disaster Zone, shielding my eyes, trying not to see. (If I don’t see it, maybe it didn’t happen.) I start unpacking and de-gas-station-germing the children, while he sets about de-poop-ifying the carpet.

An hour later, as I’m in the bathroom scrubbing the youngest child, I hear him announce, “Well that was awful, but it’s done.” I shout an encouraging yay. I hear the door squeak open and the dog gallop back inside. Two point five seconds later—I am not exaggerating even a tiny bit—I hear Kevin shout again: “No no no no stoooooooooop! Coooooooole!”

I don’t ask.

I don’t want to know.

But Kevin calls the update through the house: “Cole just threw up on the carpet I JUST CLEANED! Aaaaaaahhhhhh!”

I shout something sympathetic back at him, close my eyes, and dream of Downton. Where oh where are Bates and Anna when we need them? I wait, expecting more shouting and moaning, but all is quiet from the Disaster Zone. Poor Kevin has shut his mouth and gone back to scrubbing.

Somehow, an hour later, all the kids are in bed and Kevin and I are sitting on the couch as planned. The carpet is hopelessly stained but semi-clean—as clean as carpet can get without professional help (which, by the way, we called the next morning).

As we prop up our feet, Kevin starts chuckling to himself. He is laughing—laughing!—about the absolute horror of the evening. At first I just sit there twitching and trying to breathe only through my mouth—my house’s new aroma, Eau de Bleach with Lingering Hints of Poop, has my head spinning—but then I sit there pondering what an amazing man this is, sitting beside me on the couch.

I learned something from Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome that night. A lesson he’s taught me a thousand times in our marriage, but I still never seem to master as beautifully as he does. What’s the lesson?

When life hands us a mess, we can choose how we respond. We can choose how we respond.

Me? My first response to mess is not pretty. It usually involves some kind of emotional mess of my own: frustration, anger, self-pity, catastrophizing (What’s catastrophizing, you ask? This poop on the carpet incident is the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone anywhere. No human has ever suffered like this. Moreover, this moment represents my entire life: all my life, every day of my life, people (and dogs) have been pooping on my party. But wait! It gets worse! It’s not just me! It’s everyone. Whenever any poor soul on this rotten planet tries to be happy, look out, here comes poop! Life stinks. LIFE IS POOP.)

I know. It’s sad, this brain. Probably the worst brain, ever, in the history of—wait, there I go again.

Kevin? Well, he pretty much thinks the opposite of the way I think. Kevin assures me that he feels most of what I feel in any given life crisis, but he chooses not to act or dwell on those feelings. Sure, some of our differences come down to personality, hard wiring, and—ahem—hormones, but most of it is a matter of perspective, attitude, and choice.

Perspective. Attitude. Choice.

Three things we can control, no matter how our brains are wired.

Kevin’s example shows me that when we face a mess, we face a choice. We can freak out, stomp around the house, wail, shout, and abandon our Christianity for a period of temporary insanity. Or we can choose a better way.

When life poops on our party, our initial emotions and thoughts will be all over the place, because we are normal human beings and we hate poop and we feel things. But with practice, we can learn to maintain control even in the middle of a crisis. We might not be able to tame our feelings at first, but even in the heat of the moment, we can tame what we say and what we do.

A simple strategy that helps me mid-crisis is to find one simple truth and repeat it to myself until I calm down. It could be a Bible verse, like Be slow to speak or Love is patient. Sometimes I need something more convicting: Don’t say something you’ll regret. Don’t say something you’ll regret. Or this humdinger: Your children are listening. Your children are listening. (That one always gets me.) Sometimes I choose something that gives me perspective, like, This will be funny later. THIS WILL BE FUNNY LATER.

When it’s all over, we get to choose how long we dwell in darkness, how quickly we start climbing toward light. What perspective will we hang on to? What attitudes will we allow to linger? What will we dwell on when the dust settles?

Maybe one day, if we practice long enough and gain enough big-picture perspective, we can find a happier viewpoint even before the crisis ends. Maybe we can learn to laugh our way through the mess: at the mess, in spite of the mess, in the middle of the mess—even kneeling there on the carpet, up to our elbows in filth.

I don’t think I’ll ever be as even-keeled in a crisis as Kevin is, but I’m working on it. So far, I am learning to shut my mouth when I want to say very un-Jesus-like things. To recognize those moments when I should not take my own roller-coaster feelings seriously. To give all the poor people in the potential blast zone fair warning: Hey, I’m having a MOMENT here. Let me go hide in a corner and get this thing under control.

Kevin makes me laugh when I want to cry. He makes me want to be better, and shows me the way. I’m not all the way there yet—I may never reach his level of self-control—but with his help and God’s help, I’m making progress.

P.S.

The next morning, our wakeup call went like this: four kids storming into our bedroom shrieking, “Cole threw up! AGAIN!”

Which just goes to show you: Do not leave your dog home when you go on vacation. The dog will get the last poop vomit laugh.

Want some scriptures on this topic? Try Philippians 4:4–8, James 3:1–12, and Proverbs 25:28.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

On Pinkeye, Lice, and Love

These Days of Small Things

When Life Is Uncertain

5 Bible Stories Boys Love

When You Want to Have Faith, But You Have Questions


Want to share this post? Thank you! Share here: 


When Life Is Uncertain


When life is uncertain

 

Some seasons, life is boring, predictable, uneventful: all the same things, all the same people. Same familiar road we’ve traveled a thousand times before, the view never changing.

We complain about monotony.

Dream of excitement and change.

no bends in the road

Photo credit: Marcelo Quinan, Unsplash.

And then…and then: A sudden bend in the road, a detour. The path unpaved, the future uncertain. We’re off-roading, exhilarated and terrified in equal measure. All in a rush, life takes us somewhere we’ve never been: New stages or roles, new places or people… Unfamiliar, intimidating territory. Situations and difficulties we’ve never faced before, in myriad forms.

curve in the road

Photo credit: Orlova Maria, Unsplash.

During times like this, I cling to Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Light to my path image

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Let us find comfort in this:

Where we are blind, God can see.

When our path is unmarked, He knows the way.

When the road is uneven, He can carve a smooth path.

When ankles turn, legs burn, and lungs cry out, He can grant strength.

Where shadows gather, our God—world-spinner, star-maker, light-giver—can shine sun.

And no matter how long the journey, no matter how winding or perilous the path, He never forsakes the ones He loves.

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).

Wishing you safe travels, friends, wherever He leads you, now and always. 

(Want more from the Bible on this? Read Psalm 121, Psalm 23, Psalm 18:36, Isaiah 40:28–31, Psalm 119:105, Psalm 18:28, Psalm 33.)

A lamp to our feet

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Firefly Nights

The Promise I Can’t Keep

When Being a Grown-up Means You’re Still Growing Up

These Days of Small Things

Outshine the Dark

13 Scriptures to Read with Your Daughter

Want to share this post? Thank you! Share here: 


The Promise I Can’t Keep


letting go of our children

This post originally appeared on Coffee + Crumbs

“Don’t let me fall, Mommy,” my two-year-old says, trying to muster the courage to let go and come down the slide. Her eyes are wide, her fists tense on the rails.

“I won’t,” I promise, holding my arms out with an encouraging smile. “I’ll never let you fall.”

Down she slides, nervous and squealing, my hands holding her steady and safe, all the way down. At the bottom she leaps up, cheeks pink with pride. “Again!”

Again and again she slides; again and again, I don’t let her fall.

Slide pic two slides

I think about it on the ride home, my promise: I’ll never let you fall.

Because even though I meant it, it’s not entirely true. It’s not a promise I can keep, not a promise I should make. As much as I fight it, the day is coming when I’m going to have to break that promise. Let her try, all by herself. Let her take a risk. Let her take a fall.

I think about it at bath time, as I scrub the sandbox sand out from between her ticklish toes.

One day she’ll want to learn to ride her bike without training wheels, and at some point I will have to let go. For a few glorious wind-in-her-hair seconds, she’ll ride—she’ll fly—and then she’ll fall.

One day she’ll procrastinate so long she doesn’t get her homework done, and I’ll have to let her face the consequences of getting a bad grade.

One day she’ll try out for something, give it her best, put herself out there. They’ll post the list of names, and her name won’t make the list.

One day she’ll give a piece of her heart to a boy, and come home with puffy eyes and a broken heart.

One day she’ll leave home for a life of her own, making her own choices—some right, some wrong.

I think about it that night, when I tiptoe in to watch her dream. I want to keep her here, safe in her bed, safe near my arms, safe from the world. I want to swaddle her body and heart in bubble-wrap, so she’ll never get hurt. But I know I can’t. I remember my husband the quarterback once telling me, “Great athletes know how to take a fall.”


Want more from LizzyLife? Click here to sign up for my quarterly newsletter, and you’ll receive a free download: seven two-minute devotions to do with kids!


Resting my hand on my daughter’s back, feeling the rhythmic rise and fall of her breathing, I rethink my promise. My role. The gifts I want to give her in our precious few years together.

The gift of knowing that everybody falls.

The gift of knowing it’s okay, maybe even good, to fall.

The gift of knowing she needs to fall, because falling is part of risking and growing, of living and loving.

The gift of knowing how to take a fall; how to fall in such a way that she’s hurt but not broken.

The gift of knowing how to get back up after a fall. How to wipe away the dirt and blood and tears. How to stand once more on shaky legs, take a deep breath, and give it another go.

The gift of not wasting her falls. Of letting them make her stronger and better, braver and wiser.

Maybe the best promise I can make my daughter is that if she falls—when she falls—for as long as I live and as long as she lets me, I’ll still be there at the bottom, waiting. Still loving her. Still liking her. Still believing in her. When she’s young, I’ll be there with bandages, with tissues and shoulders she can wet with her tears. When she’s older, I’ll be there with stories of my own falls, so she knows she’s not the only one. At every stage, I’ll be the one cheering loudest when she picks herself up and tries again.

I lean down and whisper a new promise in her dreaming ear, “When you fall, you won’t be alone.”

She sighs and blinks up at me, bleary-eyed. I sing lullabies until she falls asleep.

When you fall quote v1


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

You Can Go Now, Mommy

One Day, Somehow (A Promise for a Grieving Friend)

Keep Dancing

A Letter to My Children’s Teachers, from a Grateful Parent

On Losing a Generation, but Keeping Their Legacy


Want to share this post with a friend? Thank you! Share here:


On Losing a Generation, but Keeping Their Legacy


Remembering the Greatest Generation

“Almost there,” I tell my squirming toddler. “See? Playground.” We stumble through the door of Chick-Fil-A. She squeals, seeing only the indoor playground. I pause, seeing only the man beside it.

A wrinkled man sits in a corner, alone at the table beside the kiddie area. White tufts of hair peek out from beneath a blue cap embroidered with yellow words, in proud capitals: WW II VET. He looks small beneath the bulging cap; somehow it accentuates his age and the empty chair beside him. Spotting a wedding ring on his finger, I wonder who should be sitting in that chair. My heart gives a painful hiccup, thinking of my grandfather, alone in the world now these thirty days, since my grandmother passed. He, too, is eating lunch alone today.

In a painful rush, it hits me: We’re losing them.

We’re losing them all, one by one, the whole World War II generation—“the greatest generation,” Tom Brokaw has called them—and they’re taking their memories with them.

My daughter wiggles and grunts, trying to launch herself out of my arms. I hold her tight, speared by worry: How can I help her understand the ones who came before? She won’t even remember her own great-grandmother. Soon there will be none left who remember firsthand: none who grew up as children of the Depression; who experienced Pearl Harbor as a personal horror; who huddled around radios, hanging on every word of FDR’s Fireside Chats; who lost friend after friend to war. And soon their stories will fade into hearsay and legend, distorted by retelling and mis-memory, made distant by time and generational differences.

I brush against the man’s table on our way to the playground, and my daughter’s escape efforts grow frantic. Seeing us struggle, the man stands to open the door for me. His back is crooked, his steps awkward, but somehow he stands tall. Gallant.

“Thank you,” I breathe, releasing my daughter into the glass-walled playroom. She giggles her delight and beelines for another toddler, nearly strangling her with a let’s-be-friends hug.

“I remember the days,” he says with a knowing smile.

I smile back and let the door swing shut. “How many children do you have?” I ask, knowing full well what I’m getting myself into. And that is all he needs: He is off, regaling me with descriptions—where they live, what they do, how often they visit. I keep one eye on my daughter, happily playing with her new friend, and with the other eye, I study mine: His grin, sunny and crinkled, topped off by pale blue eyes snapping with humor; his timeworn hands, fiddling with a rectangular object on the table.

“My wife was British, a war bride,” he says, his chest puffing out, as if this is—was, I correct myself, he said was—one of his favorite things about her. “I brought her back here with me after the war.” He reaches for the rectangle in front of him and flips it over. A man in uniform and a woman in white beam up at me from stone church steps, radiant even in grainy black and white. The picture is so similar to my grandparents’ 1946 wedding photo that for a moment I cannot breathe. I give my friend a nod of admiration for his bride, wrestling down a wave of sadness.

Frank and Jane, wedding day

“They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest,” Mr. Brokaw wrote in his book The Greatest Generation. “At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting, often hand to hand, in the most primitive conditions possible.”

And somehow, in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty, many found love and clung to it. This man found love and made it last.

“I lost her two years ago,” he says. The blue eyes turn red-rimmed and glassy.

I want to reach out and squeeze his hand, but I don’t even know his name.

We’re losing them.

A thousand words clog my throat—My grandfather served, too. Flight engineer, US Army. Twenty-seven missions out of Saipan in B-29 bombers. Every time they flew, they almost ran out of fuel on the way back. His hearing was never the same. My grandmother and her sister shared the same wedding dress in the summer of 1946, war brides both. I spent the happiest summer nights of my teenage years in my grandparents’ house—they’d pull up a chair for me between their recliners, and we’d read for hours in companionable silence, eating peanuts and popcorn—but now my new friend is telling me where he met his wife, how she laughed, the way she burned his toast.

And I realize: Today is not my turn to tell stories. It’s his. And so I store my own history down inside, pull up a chair, and sit at his table. I pick up his picture, admire his bride, and let him take me back in time.

A muffled giggle escapes the play place. Taking my eyes off the man’s gnarled knuckles as they gesture mid-memory, I catch sight of my daughter’s happy curls bouncing. In my mind, I make her a promise: I will tell you the stories.

I will tell her about this man, the man from Chick-fil-A. I will tell her about his British bride, so adored, so missed, that her husband carried their wedding photo everywhere, years after her death, and showed it to strangers.

I will tell her about her great-grandfather—my grandfather, Frank: How when he was a boy the milkman rode a horse—a horse!—and delivered milk to back doors in glass bottles, and on icy mornings the tops would pop open. How when he grew up, he went to war, and although many of his friends didn’t make it home, he did. How one balmy spring night in 1946, when the whole world was just daring to live again, to love again, Frank fell in love with Jane, a spunky redhead with a laugh as big as New Jersey.

How they almost called off the wedding on account of that laugh, because one rain-soaked afternoon Frank got his finger trapped in an umbrella, and the madder he got, the harder Jane laughed, until finally he stalked away with the umbrella still clamped to his finger. How he eventually forgave her (it would make a great story for the grandkids, after all), and a few weeks later she walked down the aisle in Westfield, New Jersey, beaming over a bouquet of hydrangeas. How as newlyweds they were the first couple in their town to get a new car—no one had seen a new car for years—and everywhere they drove that car, a black Chevrolet Fleetline with silver trim, a crowd gathered.

Jane Guba 1946 bride

How they finally saved enough to move out of Frank’s parents’ home, and their neighbors helped them build their house, because that’s what neighbors did. How Frank shouted in his sleep for years, still haunted by nightmares of battle. How they moved to Florida and hoarded shoeboxes full of soap, because you never knew when a Florida hurricane, or another Depression, or wartime rations, might hit again.

How they had four daughters, twelve grandchildren, and friends beyond counting. How they grew old together and pulled up an extra chair and made space between them for their insecure granddaughter, and when she was with them she wasn’t lonely, she wasn’t insecure. How way back when, first they saved the world, and then they saved a girl.

My daughter won’t get it, I know—can we ever truly grasp the lives of those who came before? appreciate the extent of their sacrifices? fathom the depths of their losses, the heights of their joys?—but I hope when it’s my turn, she’ll pull up a chair and listen. I hope she’ll hang on every word of my stories. And not just my stories—her grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ stories, too.

Frank and Jane’s stories.

The Chick-fil-A man’s stories.

The stories of the great generation we lost when she was still learning words.

And maybe she’ll realize that their story is my story is her story, forever intertwined. And maybe we’ll help the greatest generation live on after all.

Frank and Jane with baby copy

IMG_2392

IMG_2680 IMG_2684


If you enjoyed this essay, you might also like: 

A Letter to My Children’s Teachers, from a Grateful Parent

Pomp and Circumstances

These Days of Small Things

You Can Go Now, Mommy

On Pinkeye, Lice, and Love


Want to share this post? Thank you! Share here: 


The One She Needed to Write


dealing with infertility

Today’s post comes from my I-love-her-too-much-for-words baby sister, Alexandra Ghoman. (Who is not a baby anymore, but still.) Alexandra blogs at A Loves J about life as a not-so-newlywed, touching on topics as varied as faith, fashion, family, an adorable dog named Huckleberry, and the occasional semi-sarcastic guide to cruises. When she was still just a teenager, wise-beyond-her-years Alexandra was a great comfort to me during the years when we couldn’t get pregnant. I’m sorry to say I am now returning the favor. If you, or friends you know, are experiencing infertility, know this: You are not alone. God hears; God sees; God cares.

The One She Needed to Write

by Alexandra Ghoman

she’s here

she’s a woman caught between stages. she’s fixed somewhere between just married and happily ever after. she’s not sure who she is. she’s not sure who she’s becoming. she’s unrecognizable. she’s ever-changing. she’s ever the same. she’s defined by this. she’s undefined. she’s all the things. she’s none of them. there’s a chance she’s crazy.

she hurts

she feels dramatic. she hates that. she wants to pray. she cries instead. when she cries, it’s not soft and sweet. it’s snotty, red-faced, and audible. she feels embarrassed. but she feels a little better when she stops.

she aches

she goes on living. breathing in, breathing out. she listens to friends. she congratulates good news. she smiles. she laughs. she aches and she aches. she answers “fine.” she means it sometimes. other times, fine is a fine line. but overall, she’s fine.

she longs

she doesn’t want the moon. she doesn’t crave the stars. she daydreams of normal. she dreams of no meds, no shots, no incessant blood tests. she dreams of pink lines and plus signs, nausea and swollen ankles, booties and sleep-deprivation. she vows to savor. she vows to never complain. she makes promises she knows she can’t keep. she does it anyway.

she waits

nothing is bad. it’s more the absence of good. she has seen what could be. she has felt what might be. she wishes it came easy. she wonders if it’s her fault. she wonders if God knows, if God cares. she wonders what he’s doing up there. she keeps going. she keeps praying. she keeps going.

she wonders

she meditates on His promises. she wonders what it all means. she holds on for dear life. she rides the waves of uncertainty. she fixes her eyes on the Father. she paints his or her face in her mind. wondering what kind of special human is being prepared in the heavens. she thinks it must be someone special. someone she can’t wait to meet. someone she’s always known.

this is me

infertility

A and J

You can find Alexandra at A Loves J, on Instagram, and on Twitter


If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also love:

The One with the Waiting

When Being a Grown-Up Means You’re Still Growing Up

“I’m a Big Kid, No Wait, I’m a Baby” Syndrome

On Pinkeye, Lice, and Love


Want to share this post with someone who needs to hear it? Thank you! Share here: