Lemons

This past month, Jackson received his monthly recipe box in the mail (thank you, Grandma) and instantly tore open the box. This specific package was filled with lemon-themed recipes in celebration of summer. I love all things summer, so I was in! Jackson was inspired by the box theme and came up with the idea to make fresh-squeezed lemonade.  We just so happened to have a bag of lemons laying around. It was meant-to-be.

  As we started the process of making lemonade, I, being the daughter of Mike Campbell (the king of positive sayings), excitedly proclaimed, “You know what they say about when life gives you lemons?”  My boys looked at me with blank stares and confusion. I explained how lemons are very sour, but with a little sugar (or a lot in our case), the juice can become something amazing. I took it a step further and tried to teach them the simple life lesson that it is the mix of the sour and the sweet experiences that makes life enjoyable. 


I tend to be an optimistic person, likely from my years raised by parents who were always trying to get us to see the “glass half full.” This outlook has shaped me and helped me in so many situations, specifically in having a child with special needs. I try to position myself to see the good and what is hopeful. 

OK, I want to be honest. This idea that we only see the positive and the good, well, it’s just not true. The same week that I taught my kids about making sweet lemonade out of sour lemons, I was struggling. Struggling with the brokenness that this world holds. The sourness of life was all I could taste. 

I was struggling with the fact that my child could not run and jump and enjoy a carefree summer. That our family is always thinking about how to do activities that others do without a second thought. I was struggling with the “whys” and I had bitterness in my mind and heart. It felt hard. Sometimes, it is hard.  

I was struggling with how this world has heavy things, hard things, broken things, and even death. I was wrestling with thoughts of dear friends who have lost pregnancies, babies, and children. Thoughts of friends who are currently fighting cancer and so many little friends who are battling bodies that aren’t whole. In life, there are lemons. Lemons you don’t even want to touch your lips, too sour to bear. Lemons you just want to squint your eyes and shake your head at.

There are lemons days, lemons season, and lemon years. They feel unsweet, bitter, unpleasant, hard to swallow. Here’s the deal. It is ok to feel and even to acknowledge that things aren’t right.  In a recent sermon, I was reminded that the Psalms, a book of the Bible, is filled with lamenting. Raw and honest cries to God. “The real problems of real people,” our friend Aarik preached. He went on to remind me that we don’t have to hide our lows from God (like we ever could..). We don’t have to bring the lemonade to God. We can just bring the lemons. 

Sometimes we have to dig deep to find joy. What’s the first step in making lemonade? You take a lemon then roll, cut, and then harshly squeeze the heck out of it.  Similarly, we have to deal and feel with the hard, the pain, and the brokenness. God wants us to come to Him. He wants us to bring those moments, days, seasons, thoughts, hurts, pains, questions to Him. To be real and raw and truly ourselves in His presence. We don’t have to sugarcoat our true deep pains and doubts. We can bring them and He can handle it. Slowly, very slowly, He shows us how to squeeze the pain and mix it with the sweet hope that only He can bring. Again, Aarik put it perfectly, “Our celebration is muted when we don’t feel the pain.”  We have to give ourselves permission to go there and feel it. Feel the pain, so we really feel the joy and victory too. 

Some days and seasons, I really feel the hardness of watching my child battle an incurable condition. Somedays, tears flow from the exhaustion or the anxious thoughts of the “unknowns”. Somedays, I feel sad for my son, who from day one has suffered like I have never experienced.  But somedays, I get to celebrate even bigger victories. Victories that other parents don’t celebrate. I get to feel the greatness of small steps that others take for granted. Somedays, I get a front row seat to miracles. Somedays, I get to taste the sweetness, and the sweetness is worth all the sour and all the squeezing and work to get there. 

So next time life gives you lemons, don’t just make lemonade. No - take those lemons and bite into them. Take in the sourness, the bitterness and the hard. Then give those lemons over to be made into something new. When the work is complete, you can sit back and really savor the sweetness of the lemonade that is produced. In other words, as the Psalmist says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8) 

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Independence

I have always been an independent or self-sufficient person, especially as a child. Though shy and timid on the surface, I held deep stubborn ways and a strong-will. I knew what I wanted and it was going to be that way.  My Dad tells a story about how I had to have my sock line perfectly straight across my toes. I would not “give-in” to the crazy-lined ways. My dear Grandpa Jack used to laugh telling a story of my stubborn attitude. He used to recall how I used to throw food I disliked behind my shoulder in my highchair, very determined to only eat my favorites. No one was going to tell me what to do or eat.  It was endearing and maybe even cute as a toddler or preschooler, but the desire to do my own thing kept growing. 

I was the girl that was not going to settle, I was going to be independent and find my way. I wanted to do it all on my own, not listening or asking for help. Through my teen years and early adulthood, when things were hard, I got harder. My mind was determined that weakness was failure and asking for help was not an option. This idea that self-sufficiency was the answer ruled my life.  In our world today, it is respected and even applauded to build a life on your own and the goal seems to be all about independence. I believed that idea and followed it hard.

Now, ten years into being a parent, I sit here pondering our society’s obsession over independence. Just this week, I witnessed both my sons tearfully struggle through situations where their need to be independent tried to win. The lie that needing help equals weakness (and weakness is not something to be encouraged) was screaming too loudly. The lie that only things done “all by myself,” are note-worthy and applauded were already, in their young minds, trying to win.  As their mama, it was heart-wrenching to watch. All I wanted to do was help them, but I was pushed away. It pierced my heart even more when Luke, with big salty tears screaming down his face, demanded he needed to put his pants on without help so I would be “proud.”  

Parenting a typically-developing child and parenting a child with physical limitations has caused me to ask the question: Why are we obsessed with independence? Why does needing help translate into inferior? I think about my Lukie, my child, who could have never taken a step without a team of people helping him. My child, who sometimes can’t make it up the hill and needs a push. My child, who is in kindergarten and still needs helps putting on his shoes. My child who can’t get on the swing on his own, but needs to be placed on the seat. Does that make him less? Does it make us less… if we need help? 

Maybe we need help. Maybe we need to ask for it. Maybe we need to stop believing the lies. Maybe we all need to let go of our “independent” masks. Maybe the help is just waiting to reach us with an open hand. Maybe …. just maybe, we need to know we are loved. Maybe in the freedom of knowing a deep love, the need to prove, the need for applause, the need for the pat on the back won’t drive our motives. Maybe when we rely on this great love, a love that is strong enough to move mountains and save souls from themselves, we will have the freedom to be weak. Maybe the weakness is made strong by love freely given. Maybe this freely given love is death to the notion that I/we must conquer. Maybe this Love already did. 

Someone loves bowties… and always needs a little help putting it on. I think everyone would agree, it is worth the help. :)

Someone loves bowties… and always needs a little help putting it on. I think everyone would agree, it is worth the help. :)

Dear Son,

Dear Son,

Did you know that you taught me how to love? Before you, it was your Dad and me for a short time. We thought we knew love, marrying young. We didn’t. No, you taught us love. I thought I knew how to put myself second, placing others before myself. I was wrong. I had no idea. You taught me love. I thought I knew how to look for the good in the world and in other people. I was way off. 


In your early years, it was just you and me. We were a pair. You were the center of my days and the apple of our eyes. You were the first of firsts.  We learned the ropes of parenting through you. We failed many times, but you kept teaching us.  You taught us about our own selfishness. How, in our ignorance, we thought we knew love, but it was a shallow love that we claimed. You taught us how to go beyond ourselves; stretching us through sleepless nights and melt-downs. You taught us. We were slow to learn, slow to engage in this love. You kept digging in. You kept teaching us real love. 

We had endless hours of parks, walks, and rock throwing. We had time to stop and look at a bug or pick up a stick. We had picnics where you would fill the time with all your chats and bedtime snuggles, where you would fill my lap with your love. You taught me to love the world again. To look at it with new eyes, full of wonder. You taught me love. 

Then everything changed for you and for me. It wasn’t just “us” anymore, we had your brother and he came with kissable perfect newborn skin. He came with a lot of medical “extras” and fragile care. Our endless hours of parks and walks were traded in for endless hours of doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions. We traded quiet, still time for rushing and going. Our picnics turned into snacks in waiting rooms and our bedtime snuggles morphed into strict medical routine. 

But you, my son, stood strong and you kept teaching us love. You took on your role as big brother as if you were born to do it. From the moment you saw your little brother, you pushed for his care and you felt it deep. The day we brought your brother home, your tears of love for him fell down your face as you hesitated to hold him, not wanting to harm him.  You kept teaching us love.  


To this very day, you are his fierce protector and biggest fan. You have sat with him when he could not crawl, crawled with him when he could not walk, and you have loved him like no one will ever love him. You push him when he needs pushed and you are still when he needs comfort.  


The way you love your brother is something I hope to love like. You keep teaching us. When the rest of the world sees a boy with special needs, you see your brother. When others see different, you see the same. When others stare with questions, you move in confident love.  It is simple love, of two brothers, but it is a gift. You will never know the gift you are to him and us. 


To you he is not weak, he is the brother you wrestle. To you he is not inferior, he is your competitor. To you, he is not “disabled,” he is fully-functioning. You see that. You see him for him and that is love. An untainted, unbiased, rare, real, and genuine love.  You keep teaching us love. 

Before your brother, it was good. We had such a sweet, precious time together. I am thankful for those simple years. I am thankful for the years that you taught me to love, preparing me for more love to come. 


But, since your brother, it has been incredible. Incredibly hard at times, but also so very incredibly good. You keep teaching us about love and we keep failing, stretching, and ultimately growing. So, as you turn ten, I want to say thank you. Thank you for loving us when we had little to give. Thank you for loving us when we didn’t deserve it. Thank you for loving us when we weren’t loving you the way you needed love. Thank you for loving us when we should have been focusing on you. Thank you for loving us in a way that points to an even bigger love. The love of the Son…. a Son that loved the world when the world didn’t love him back. A Son that was misunderstood and neglected, but kept loving. A Son that came to give his life for love. My little son, thank you for pointing to me the True Son, the one who is love. Thank you for teaching me about Love. 

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Be Still and Know

 In my husband’s first year of residency (aka never stop working), we discovered a surprise, we would be a family of four. My pregnancy started pretty normal, with morning sickness and tiredness. But at about 15 weeks, things started to take a shift. It started with bleeding that sent me to the ER and onto my knees praying for my unborn baby’s life. I remember feeling the strong need to pray for my baby’s life during this “almost” miscarriage.  Little did I know, how much this baby would bring me to my knees in prayer. 

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