Blue Eyes and a Smile

Today is my fourth-born child’s birthday. I don’t highlight all of My People’s birthdays each year because if I did I wouldn’t have enough weeks to blog about anything else. But last night I was unable to fall asleep and found my thoughts turning to my Joey.

Always smiling

Always smiling

Sandwiched between three siblings on each side, Joey was the consummate middle-child peacemaker. Well, except for the day at age three when ruckus in his and 4-year-old Jesse’s room found me calling Benny on the phone to tell him his sons were in a fist fight…with Joey on top pounding on his much bigger brother.

Joey’s peacemaking made him the natural choice for his siblings designating him as the “ask Mom” delegate…especially when the other kids thought I would say no to them but not to the adorable little guy with big blue eyes who did have me pretty tightly wrapped around his finger. It was one of those things I didn’t realize was going on — and didn’t find out until they were grown. (Those of you with adult kids know those “Ummm…we didn’t tell you that?” conversations around the dinner table when confessions are flowing so conveniently late.)

Everyone loved Joey’s smile. Sometimes I would catch him smiling pretty much for no reason. Life just seemed to be fun for him, no matter what was going on.Until he was 8 years old he smiled all the time, but then he started

Joey (bottom right) loved playing with the other boys, especially big brother Jesse (middle, second to right).

Joey (bottom right) loved playing with the older boys, especially big brother Jesse (middle, second from right).

playing basketball. Nope, no smiles there. Who tells little boys not to smile while they’re playing sports? Actually, all my sons suddenly developed a “game face” when they got a basketball in their hands. They learned to love and proudly display that face. And to this day, years after the only games they play are followed by complaints about how old and slow they are, I almost always have to tell them to smile in pictures. I don’t get it.

They insisted on a game face pic even at Jake's wedding!

They insisted on a game face pic even at Jake’s wedding last month.

After our move from Virginia to Florida when Joey was fifteen this mother and son became closer than ever. We were both homesick and would check in on how each other were doing. Just before the 3-year mark we were in the car during one of our many treks back and forth to the community college and I asked Joey how things were going.

“Mom, this is starting to feel like home,” he said. I agreed. God had moved in both our hearts. I didn’t mind that Joey wasn’t too interested in getting his license until he graduated high school because it gave me lots of time to chat with a budding young man who I increasingly respected and who was okay about sharing his heart with his mom.

Post Wales :-)

Those eyes and smile captured Lauren’s heart, too.

Then came the day when his heart was turning toward a cute brunette in our church. I won’t forget the night he made a customary stop into our bedroom to kiss me goodnight and sometimes chat with his dad and me about his day. That chat turned into a lengthy talk about Lauren. It seems an upcoming missions trip to Wales had him looking forward to spending some leisurely time with her to see if the stirrings in his heart would find their home in hers. They did. My son’s wise choice of a delightful, godly and fun wife resulted in Amelia Grace Phillips who may have Daddy’s coloring but certainly has Mommy’s love for dancing anywhere and everywhere, especially at Disney.

Several years ago Joey surprised us all with a new “gift.” It came seemingly out of nowhere and we don’t really know what to call it; a sense of humor is too weak so maybe the “gift of wit” as one guy called it will suffice. During his years of coaching high school basketball at our former church Joey started writing kinda true but humorously embellished recaps of the year to read at the annual sports banquets. While the room crescendoed with laughter as he read, Joey’s deadpan face remained unchanged. Those banquets produced requests to do his “thing” at birthday and engagement parties and for wedding toasts — and I’ve already told him his funeral debut will be for me. If you ever want a really good laugh that usually ends with heartfelt warmth let me know.  I promise you don’t even have to know the people.

Amelia's 3rd Birthday last week

Amelia’s 3rd Birthday last week

My favorite memory of Joey so far is one that made me realize my boy had become a man. Benny and I had just learned some painful news about someone we love and needed to confide in someone trustworthy. I reached out to a couple of my kids, including Joey. Looking back, it was the first time Mom went to the kid for help and advice rather than it being the other way around. Sitting in McDonald’s that night I was wisely and compassionately cared for by someone whose tender blue eyes searched my own to see how I was processing the news. Those same eyes had looked into mine hundreds of times over the years when he sat on my lap. Ran to greet me with outstretched arms when Benny and I returned from a trip. Silently begged me not to leave him in Sunday School before he compliantly turned to join his friends. Twinkled with joy when he made the select basketball team and later fell in love. And brimmed with tears the day we packed up his room (including a bunch of basketball memorabilia) to move into the first home he was about to share with his bride.

That night the peacemaker reminded me that I could trust the One who promised a suffering, hurting mom-turned-counselee peace that passes understanding. And since then I have found timely hope in those tender eyes again and again even when no words are exchanged.

Happy Birthday, Joey. Twenty-nine years ago today God gave me a baby son who is now I man I deeply respect. Your eyes and your smile still melt my heart. I love you — even though you lied to me about never leaving me and promised to live next door when you got big.

(But Lauren and Amelia — and maybe little Wiley someday? — are more than worth it.)

Last fall celebrating their 5th Anniversary…at Disney, of course.

Last fall celebrating their 5th Anniversary…at Disney, of course.

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30 Years Ago Yesterday

Aside

Not everyone likes a gushing mom so I know some of my readers will probably skip today’s post. But I just can’t help but introduce you to my son, Jesse.

Yesterday was his 30th birthday.

Jesse and his wife, Rebekah

Jesse and his wife, Rebekah

I won’t go into the details that only Mom, maybe a couple of patient sisters or a wife would actually care about. But I want you to know that whenever I’m discouraged and wondering if the future will be brighter than the present I often think of Jesse.

You see, Jesse came into our lives after two “easy” kids. We never said it out loud but Benny and I thought we were pretty good parents with Josh and Jaime. They were compliant, pleasant and did what they were asked without much fuss. Other than Josh giving his little sister a bath with toilet water (it was clean, thankfully), the two of them “cleaning” the living room furniture with baby powder and then “cleaning” the fireplace by making sure all the soot got onto themselves we had a pretty easy time parenting them.

Jesse's firstborn, Sam, recently showing off his missing tooth

Jesse’s firstborn, Sam, recently showing off his missing tooth

Then came Jesse. Before he turned two he was throwing violent temper tantrums that left us crying (literally!) out to God for wisdom to help him. God was good to give us this little guy who fell onto the floor screaming in public to deal with any vestiges of good-parent- thinking and left us full of compassion for parents whose kids acted out in public.

One day I was in tears on the side of the road, feeling desperate and alone as a mother. I had no more solutions. No more strength. No more hope. The tantrums had been continuing for nearly two years and I was exhausted. Plus, we already had another son and had just found out I was pregnant again. Five kids in 11 years was about to become the end of me.

But hope came. WIth tears streaming down my face in the van that day I sensed the still, small voice of God’s comfort in my head assuring me that He was at work in my son’s heart and that someday I would see the fruit of all He was doing.

And I have and do.

Issac (yes, it's spelled right) is Jesse's second and is Daddy's mini-me

Issac (yes, it’s spelled right) is Jesse’s second and is Daddy’s mini-me

By God’s grace, Jesse is a trophy of His faithfulness. He is a faithful husband and loving father to three adorable boys. Through family trials and wrestlings with the Lord, God grew him; protected him; gifted him; and saved him. He grew in self-control and learned to depend on God to change his heart from one of anger to gentleness. God gave him a heart to honor his parents after years of kicking, biting and resisting us. He has brought this mom joy by filling our home with music and embracing a call to preach. He works hard to support his family as an IT guy and I can depend on a warm hug whenever he sees me.

If you have children about whom you are concerned, pour out your heart to God. He hears. He answers. He is faithful. He takes the wandering heart and turns it toward Himself. He transforms anger and disrespect into tenderness and honor. He brings joy following sadness, replaces fear with faith and fulfills His promises even when it takes longer than we hoped.

Jesse's youngest, Josiah

Jesse’s youngest, Josiah

Happy Birthday, son. I loved you when you bit and fought me. When you’d come into our room at night and talk about your struggles and temptations and accomplishments. When you came home and played “My Cheeseburger” on the piano at midnight. When you hit that last second shot and made Cindy and I jump up and down for joy on the bleachers. When you told me you were in love and when we shared the dance at your wedding. When you cried at The Columbia when we told you about the PC and when God brought you back to Orlando to live closeby. I love you for giving me three grandsons and for working hard to train them in godliness.

But I mostly love you for teaching me that while good parenting is important, the One who is most responsible for growing a kids heart and character is God. You’ve taught me humility both when you threw a fit in the floor at Toys R Us as a toddler and when you shared your heart with me as a teen.

I love to watch you love your wife and sons. I learn from your preaching. I value your counsel. And I’m grateful that you’re not nearly as impressed with yourself as I thought you might be. Thirty years from now I will most likely be gone. But every year I get to watch you grow, admit your flaws and failures, love your family and serve God’s people will be a joy.

I’m glad God gave you to me, son. And I pray that your life will continue to be an example to me and others that the story is still being written. God completes what He begins…always.

My son and his sons

My son and his sons

The Ultimate Blog Challenge: Day Nine

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Looking Up Soon

It was a cold winter day in early 1989 when I surprised Benny with a question. We were on a couples retreat with the pastors and wives we served alongside at our church in Virginia. Our dinner interaction to begin the retreat involved picking marriage and family-related questions out of a basket to read aloud and answer: some funny, others serious. I made sure the basket was passed to insure Benny went last. I secretly removed the remaining question in the basket and replaced it with one I had prepared especially for him.

Jake at 1 year. Love those blue eyes!

Jake at 1 year. Love those blue eyes!

He opened the folded paper and read, “How do you feel about being the father of six?” Puzzled, he glanced at me. “Six? Huh?” I saw the wheels turning. My girlfriends got it before he did but they waited….

“Yes, six,” I responded. “I’m pregnant.”

Eight months later another little blonde, blue-eyed baby was born — our sixth in eleven years. His five siblings were waiting in a nearby room at the hospital, eager to meet their baby brother. An already full house was now fuller. More laundry; delayed sleep; no-longer-hot food; pacing with a fussy baby. And more teary conversations with Benny about being tired and overwhelmed.

Keep reading. This post isn’t just about me. If you’re a mom or plan to be a mom, it’s about you, too.

Yesterday number six turned 23 and I didn’t see him because he’s away at law school. After 22 birthday cakes and singing “Happy Birthday” with his sibs and clapping when he blew out his candles and watching his eyes light up with each gift, I had to settle for a phone exchange.

I really don’t know where the years went. Even the nights that crawled by when every tick of the clock reminded me that he and I were the only ones still awake now seem so short.

Age 2…and recently he told his dad he’s still trying to fill his shoes.

On Thursday I said “you’re gonna miss this” and today I want to encourage you to get ready — sooner than you think you’ll be looking up to them.

Right now they fit in your lap. Tug on your pants. Stain your clothes with their spit up or sticky faces. Interrupt your phone calls and mess up your folded laundry. Miss the toilet. And maybe refuse to respond to other’s outstretched arms because they want to be with you. But soon — very soon — they’ll be too big to carry or hold in your lap and will want to spend time with others more often than you’ll probably desire.

it happens so gradually that it actually sneaks up on you. But one day you’ll notice it…and it will seem like it happened overnight. His voice starts to deepen and dad says it’s time to show the same kid you use to quickly grab the razor from how to use it. Her little stick legs take shape and you notice she’s being unusually giggly around a two-inches-shorter-than-her boy. You find yourself holding your hand up against your shoulder to show friends how tall they’re getting and just as you get used to looking eye to eye they walk away and…wait… did you just have to tilt your eyes upward?

What happened?

Age 17 (long after he passed Mom AND Dad up in height).

Your baby became a toddler became a teen. Days that crawled along suddenly seem like they whizzed by. Remember the six-week appointment when you were relieved to hear he had gained weight? What about that first Christmas she didn’t ask for a baby doll — but you bought one anyway just to prove she was still your little girl? Suddenly they start adding opposite sex names to birthday invite lists when just yesterday they adhered to the unspoken, universal rule in Sunday School that girls and boys don’t even sit at the same table!

Please live today for tomorrow. You are building a relationship with your little ones. Don’t be so consumed in mothering tasks (which are many!) that you miss enjoying and getting to know your child. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that patterns of anger and frustration with them won’t affect whether they’ll want to be around when they’re 16. When my kids were little I regularly reminded myself that I was building a foundation on which much would be carried during their adolescent and young adult years. With God’s strength, I could build something frail and selfish that could be easily destroyed — or something solid and lasting that could endure the common parent/teen challenges to come. I made mistakes I now regret and am enjoying the fruit of God-energized sacrifice. Yes, the regrets sometimes haunt me but the fruit is sweeter than I anticipated.

Your baby will soon lose the tooth you just celebrated. Before you know what hit you, the child who just learned to read will be studying a driver’s manual for an upcoming test. And without much warning the kid who willingly held your hand in public stiffens slightly or pulls away — and you know you won’t be walking hand in hand again.

Age 23 — I’m looking up to him in more ways than I can count. Happy Birthday, Son.

So enjoy every hug when people are around and when they’re not. When they interrupt after you’ve tried to train them not to, make sure they don’t feel like an inconvenience in your otherwise important life as you gently remind them…again. Stoop down or pick them up to get as much eye to eye contact as possible. And even when punishment is warranted, work hard to make it easy for them to confess their wrongs so when their temptations become more serious they’ll know it’s okay to tell Mom anything because of how often she reminded them that she, too, messes up.

With each inch they grow, be there. Be there to read a story when you’re having a hard time keeping your eyes open. To listen when you desperately need someone to talk to. To cheer and rejoice and congratulate their little accomplishments when you long for someone to look you straight in the eyes  to say you’re doing a good job.

I’m looking up to seven now. Yesterday Jake posted kind and humbling words on my Facebook that reminded me of why young, tired, distracted moms keep giving and loving and serving year after year.

I’m looking forward to Friday afternoon when a tall young man will walk into the house (probably singing). Yesterday he told me he’s looking forward to his double chocolate birthday cake. We’ll sing “Happy Birthday” and clap when he blows out the candles.  We may even be able to “do something” on Saturday — just the two of us. And that was his idea.

Yes, I tilt my head up to him now. No longer a baby, toddler or teen. He’s a man. Our relationship is different and there’s another woman in his life who made the trip to celebrate his birthday. She’s delightful — and if she’s the woman Benny and I have been preparing him for all these years I will gladly step aside and make sure she becomes his go-to lady.

But he’s still and will always be my son.

Keep building that relationship with your little ones. And get ready to look up.