gravel road girl

Archive for the category “Parenting: God’s tools for changing me”

The Span of a Hand

I placed my hand on his tiny back,

My fingers spanned it–

Shoulder to shoulder.

No distance at all.

The weight of a life in the

 palm of my hand.

       I was–

Overwhelmingly aware of

            the weight

                     of a life

                            and of the span of my time.

I placed my hand

on the broadness of his back

as he leaned forward, listening.

My hand couldn’t cross

              the space

between his shoulder blades.

I was keenly aware of the


                  of his back.

The span

                 of my time.

In that moment,

I knew joy and grief,

anticipation and resignation,

trust and fear,

and comfort from the Comforter.

                The One

who speaks to his heart

 and to mine.

                The One

who knows perfectly

our paths as they part.

                The One

whose hand spans

the heavens.

                 The One

who knows the weight

of the mountains.

He knows the wait. . .

He comforts the span. . .

Isaiah 40:12  Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance, and the hills in a pair of scales?

Ethan commissioningEthan Gregory Subra

Infantry Lieutenant

Ft. Benning, GA

September 21, 2013

~the beginnng of  his adventure!




Open Hands

2013-03-21 14.43.11

We returned from our spring break trip to Santa Rosa Island, Florida, a week ago having passed through the gauntlet of snow from St. Louis on northward. No, I don’t expect any sighs of sympathy as I know what wretched weather all Midwesterners endured here that week. My prayers for snow this winter far exceeded my expectations–as in “I didn’t expect this much snow in March!” But my prayers for glorious weather in Florida and a no-glitches vacation were amply fulfilled. I’m really not gloating or selfishly praising my answered prayers. Because, as we planned for this vacation, I was acutely aware that this might be our last ‘family’ vacation.

Just this family.

Just us six.

Oh, yes, there will be many more vacations with kids but perhaps not all of them together. Ethan is on the cusp of flight as he prepares for an internship in Washington D.C. this summer and then on to a four-year Army commitment. He is my wild bird, and I don’t know where he will land. So I prayed purposefully for this week. I prayed that our little, yellow cottage would be all that we expected it to be.


It was. . .

. . . a perfect home-away-from-home. Just a sandlots walk across from the beach, we quickly adopted an ‘island time’ routine of lazy mornings (unless, of course, you’re Thad who often got up to run) of coffee and a walk in the surf seeking shells.

2013-03-18 15.09.17-1

Back to the cottage for lunch. And then return to the beach for sun and frisbee,  sandcastles and surf riding, bird feeding and, well, other weird stuff that my kids like to do.

2013-03-18 15.05.17-1That frisbee’s seen many states!
2013-03-19 12.51.56-1
Couldn’t keep him out of the surf.
2013-03-19 14.28.08They call it horse-manning. . .
2013-03-19 12.44.02-2Tess experienced her own version of Hitchcock’s The Birds!

And I treasured every moment. Every sweet piece of time. This momma’s thoughts trickled back to other vacations burdened with pack-n-plays and diaper bags. Juice stained onesies and Goldfish crackers crushed in the seats. Pleas to go into “just one more” junked filled souvenir shop. Cries for the bathroom. Cries for food. Cries for sibling intervention! Remembrances of holding onto small hands on narrow paths and crowded parks. I smiled at the visions of talking a child into going on a roller coaster and that look of gleeful fear (I think it was gleeful fear. . .) at the first drop. My heart beats faster when I think about growing boys climbing cliffs much too big for their britches and making leaps of heart-stopping (mine!) proportions into the water below. And always there was a gangly-legged girl determined not to let her brothers get the better of her in any way. . . I guess that hasn’t really changed, though. Moments upon hours upon times of laughter and frustration and long car rides.

I don’t want to go down that well-worn path of enjoy-them-while-you-can-it-goes-so-fast. It’s trite, and it’s really not fathomable until you’re at the end of the path. What I’m surprised by is the letting go. If you’re any sort of parent worth your salt, you’re constantly in the thick of it–teaching them to work hard, to always do the right thing, to be a person of integrity and  honesty, to have a sense of humor, to look for people to help. So many things to teach, so many life-lessons to interpret, so many mistakes–mine and theirs’–to forgive and to show mercy and grace. There are no check marks for their hearts. Did I cover that? Did we really teach him the importance of this? But suddenly,  it’s time. It’s time for the first child to go. To me, it’s like the ominous door of the dentist room opening; they’re beckoning, “Your turn.” To him, it’s a parachute jump, a treasure hunt, and a challenge course all rolled into one. And it’s dotted with friends he doesn’t know yet. It’s the beginning of his adventure, and I wouldn’t clip his wings for anything. So I’ve been opening my hands, getting ready. Turning my palms up to God. Asking Him to take and then to fill. To reassure me of His perfect purpose in my life and in Ethan’s.

I still have three kiddos at home, though one is taking longer and longer test flights. And my heart is full with their joys and concerns and dreams and frustrations. But as I approach the ‘jumping off point’ with one, I know the others will follow closely behind. And though I don’t expect the opening of my hands to get any easier, I do expect and anticipate that God’s filling them with His joy and grace and purposeful direction will be all the more bountiful each time. I just need open hands.


Battle Lines

Parenting sometimes calls for strategy.

Parenting sometimes calls for strategy.

All of my kids have a bit of a stubborn streak. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily. A little stubbornness gives a person backbone, helps one stand up for himself and his beliefs, for family and friend. But stubbornness can  easily slip over into pride. Stubbornness can carefully tiptoe into an unreasonable  resistance to change because it would mean changing one’s stance, even if it is for the better. And these are the battle lines that have been drawn at our house lately. The request for change is a minimal one, really. In fact, I’ve questioned whether it’s one of those mountain-out-of-a-molehill issues. But the principal that I’m trying to teach is much bigger, much broader than that. It’s even bigger than “being obedient.” It is the idea of ‘doing the hard things.’ Yes, the ‘hard things.’ Hard things in a child’s life vary dramatically, even within the same household. What was a ‘hard thing’ for my firstborn probably isn’t a ‘hard thing’ for my last born. ‘Hard things’ might mean speaking politely to adults or sacrificing free time for others or trying new things. See, I’m not talking about impossible things. I’m not even talking about awful things. These are very doable things, but they are out of the ‘want-to’ zone of the child. They may be verging on the difficult  or uncomfortable. But as a parent, I see these small–some would say insignificant–things as the very building blocks of courage and integrity. They begin the shift from self-focused childhood to other-focused young adulthood. Teaching my children that stepping out of their comfort zone is not about them; it’s about others. Even today, as I was talking to this child over our drawn battle lines, I said that this ‘hard thing’ was the beginning of doing even  harder things–standing up for yourself and what you believe, standing up for a friend, telling the truth when others might lie, saying a kind word when others are not. These are the trenches of parenting, and I wasn’t about to lose this battle. For this insignificant patch of ground, I felt, was worth planting my flag and standing my ground. If you’re wondering, I was calm (relatively) and patient, not nagging or manipulative, loving and communicative, but firm and consistent with the consequences. I will confess, this is my fourth child, and I have not ‘fought’ all battles so fairly or patiently; I’ve had much practice. In the end, here at the close of the day, this child did the ‘hard thing.’ He was pleased. I was pleased. I told him he had not only conquered a fear, but he had proved to himself that he could do ‘hard things.’ It won’t be the last, but he can do it. The battle was small but the victory was great.

~Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but a spirit of reverence.  ~Plato




The Teacher

O.k., I realize I’m not much of a blogger if I only blog once-a-month. But it’s not that I haven’t tried. Really. I’ve written the same blog TWICE, saved it, and have come back only to find that I can’t find it! I’ve come to the conclusion that the Lord doesn’t want me to write that one right now. So in my determination to get something written, I thought about the lessons of persistence, diligence, and hard work that I’ve tried to teach my kids. Case in point: Seth’s school on Monday. It consisted of Ag.101, Work Ethic 301, Nature Appreciation 105, and Time Management Skills 205.

Agriculture 101:In this class Seth was asked to help his mother clean up her pathetic garden and flower beds.This required much raking as well as loading leaves into the garden trailer, hauling them to the burn pile, and dumping them. In the garden he was to assist in picking up unharvested (mushy) tomatoes and throwing them in a bucket. Cutting and disposing of other dead plant material was also necessary. Skills learned: how to clean up the yard/garden before winter.

Work Ethic 301: This upper level class is a continuation of previous skills that have yet to be mastered. It is a refining of “working diligently at a job until it is completed.” It also repeats the lesson of “do your best work no matter what the job is.” New lectures included “You don’t know what hard work is until you’ve detasseled corn” and “The more you complain the longer this will take.” The student should not be discouraged in failing this class as all of his siblings had several refresher courses.

Nature Appreciation 105: This was the most delightful class of the day. Often the teacher pointed out to Seth the Canada geese gathering across the road to gorge themselves on the field corn. Or we were frequently interrupted by our three adopted kittens come to chase leaves in the garden. (It’s pretty much a law of nature that you have to stop to play with kittens cavorting at your feet.) Other sightings of fall birds, beautiful clouds, or lingering flowers were pleasant and allowable distractions for this class. Skills learned: our God is an amazing Creator.

Time Management 205: This can be a highly frustrating class for both pupil and teacher. The difficulty in teaching Seth (or any elementary age child) the proper and efficient use of time is the well-known Warped-Time Continuum. Let me explain: if the child is watching cartoons or playing a computer game, then he “has only been doing this for twenty minutes!” when in actuality it’s been an hour and a half. But if he is cleaning his room or working in the garden, then he’s “been working for an hour!”(actually fifteen minutes). The goal of this class is to teach the student that working persistently is important. Keep at it; finish it up; use your time well. Skills learned: much can be accomplished in a short time if you keep at it. Subskill: complaining doesn’t get you anywhere.

While Seth continued working in these life skills classes, the teacher (me) continued her graduate degree in parenting. Her classes included Patience 805, Prayer 1105, Life Perspectives and Priorities 901. The wisdom, knowledge, and abundant mercy and grace of her Teacher keeps her coming back to class daily. It is highly doubtful that she’ll every complete her degree, but she’s o.k. with that.

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