Otter moms

My family visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium over Spring Break. It is a beautiful facility right on the bay with a big emphasis on conservation and protecting waterways and wildlife. One of its biggest attractions is the sea otters, and for good reason! They are ridiculously cute!

 

While there, we listened to a talk about how the aquarium is involved in rescuing and rehabilitating sea otters. We learned that they have to clean their fur nearly all day long to keep it water-repellant and to make sure they stay warm and insulated in the chilly water. We also learned that they use rocks to crack open clams. Such smart little fur balls!

 

The presenter told us a story about a baby sea otter who was found in the bay without her mother. He said that she was squealing and calling for her, but no one came. He said this sometimes occurs after a storm when animals can be separated from their families.

 

They took the baby otter back to their facility to see if another otter, an adult female named Toola, would adopt this baby. They weren’t sure if it would work but hoped that since Toola had just given birth to a stillborn pup, she had the right hormones to make mothering this orphan pup an appealing idea. It worked and the baby—later named Luna for Half Moon Bay, the location of the beach where she was discovered—survived. Toola went on to be a surrogate mother to 13 pups over the years until her death in 2012.

 

Beyond the fact that otters are so adorable (please stop what you’re doing and watch a video of them right now), it was moving to hear how they care for their own babies or the babies they are given. As an adoptive mom with a son who is celebrating 3 years as a part of our family, I identified with Toola in a special way. Something as unbreakable and supernatural as a mother/child connection becomes even more miraculous when the mother is given a child to care for who she never carried inside her. But that connection is definitely there.

 

When we were called to be a family to our youngest son, we became more important to him than anyone else on earth, just as Toola was to all her pups. The aquarium employees and veterinary specialists who worked with Toola over the years gave her a lot of credit for the success of the aquarium’s sea otter program and even for the passing of legislation which protects sea otters in the wild. And all because she welcomed a vulnerable baby into her arms.

Sea Otter Cam!!

Bike-riding lessons

There are just some things that are hard to teach young children: how to hold a pencil correctly, how to tie their shoes, how to make their beds, adequate basic hygiene like teeth brushing that brushes all of the teeth and showering that cleans all of the parts. And then there’s teaching your kid how to ride a bike. It involves balance and concentration and patience from them and running alongside a bike from me, so the whole experience presents a variety of problems.

 

I’ve been working with our youngest to get him solo-ready for a couple of years. I’ll admit I haven’t always suggested it as often as I should have. Call it busy family or lazy mom or the usual predicament of the 4thkid, it just hasn’t been a priority. It hasn’t helped that he’s been reluctant to ride. Naturally athletic by nature, he’s used to being able to conquer physical activities pretty easily the first time, but this bike thing has been a different story.

 

So when we had that beautiful sunny Sunday last week, it occurred to me to pull out his bike and get him back in the saddle. After we filled up the low tires, he hopped on. Up and down the driveway we went—him pedaling erratically and swerving like a maniac and me jogging while grabbing a wadded-up bunch of the back of his shirt.

 

Not long into the lesson, he said, “Is it okay if I sing a song? It will help me focus.”

 

“Sure,” I panted.

 

“Keep on trying. Don’t give up,” he sang in a made-up tune. “Never give up. Just don’t give up.”

 

We continued until I felt he was correcting his balance issues—going a little to the left if he was too much to the right. Then I slowly let go of his shirt. He rode a few yards by himself until he veered off-road into some grass.

 

“I did it!” he cheered. He hopped off the bike and ran to me in joyful triumph. “I rode my bike!”

 

We hugged and walked back to his bike for him to mount and try again. “I just kept remembering something important that I hear a lot,” he told me, full of introspection and wisdom from his hard won victory.

 

“What was that?” I asked him, assuming he’d repeat some sage advice I’d given him.

 

“You never give up,” he said, proudly.

 

“That’s right,” I answered. “And where did you hear that?”

 

“Ricky says it to Lucy all of the time because she’s always trying to get in show business. And he’s right, she never gives up so she got her own TV show.”

 

I realized he was referring to I Love Lucy, not the careful parenting of his mom and dad. But if it helped him remember to keep trying, even when things seem impossible, then I’m okay with that, especially if it means I can stop running alongside his bike.

Ezra in action

Greatest Love

I love my 4 kids. I really do. I think they’re charming and delightful. I thoroughly enjoy their adorable personalities and unique quirks. They are precious gifts from the Lord. Seriously. I really mean it.

 

But sometimes when I see it’s minutes away from the appointed time for them to come home from school, I wish I could buy another hour and turn the clock back a bit.

 

It’s not that I don’t like having them around (see “I love my 4 kids” paragraph above). It’s just that I may be on a roll, getting things done and I see that the school day is nearly over and I realize I need to “Mom” again.

 

When my kids first arrive home after a long day at school—that witching hour when everyone is hungry and grouchy and tired and stressed out at the same time—I have to divide myself into pieces so that I can feel and suffer and care along with them and take on a little of their struggles.

 

If one kid is having trouble learning his sight words, then it becomes my trouble, too.

If another kid is having problems with friends, then it becomes my problem, too.

 

Now, there is a line to be drawn when it comes to involvement with your kids. It is possible for me to take on my kids’ problems to the extent that I impair their ability to problem-solve and strategize. But loving someone means sometimes setting aside our own interests and agenda to focus on another’s. At my house, it means caring about which team is going to win the European soccer championship title and who’s going to prom with whom and listening to highly detailed stories about lunchroom hijinks.

 

I’m reminded of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in John 15. He’s trying to explain to them how much he loves them. It’s a tall task because His love for them is so enormous. Then he turns this discussion of love distribution over to his followers. He says, “I demand that you love each other as much as I love you.”

 

Well, that sounds impossible! We know what Jesus does next in the story. He dies a gruesome death on the cross. How can we be expected to love in that way? Jesus goes on to say, “And here is how to measure it—the greatest love is shown when a person lays down his life for his friends.” (TLB)

 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t get a lot of opportunities to die for the people I love. So how do I obey this seemingly impossible command? Jesus tells his disciples to love each other in an extraordinary, life-giving, missional, selfless way. He asks that we show love in proportion to the degree He showed love to us, to pursue others with heaps of abundant grace and often undeserved kindness.

 

If given the opportunity, I would lay down my life for the 4 knuckle-heads who call me Mom. Assuming that situation doesn’t ever materialize, I will try to lay down the time and attention I’d rather devote to other pursuits and focus on them, so I can show them a great love.

Moms in Prayer

On Tuesday mornings, I meet with a few other moms at a church near my youngest son’s elementary school to pray. We start out praising God and thanking Him for what He’s done for us. Then we pray specifically for our own kids and generally for the students and teachers and staff at the school.

 

The whole thing takes less than an hour. We sit on the floor of a preschool classroom and speak softly to the Creator of the Universe, encouraging each other with our candor and empathy. It’s both commonplace and extraordinary.

 

Our group is a chapter of a much larger organization called “Moms in Prayer.” It’s a worldwide prayer task force that’s been committed to praying for kids and schools since 1984. The mission of “Moms in Prayer” is to cover every school in the world with prayer.

 

As we were meeting this week, I was conscious of something I’ve done a million times before but without really considering it. I noticed my posture while we prayed. It’s nothing unusual. I bowed my head and closed my eyes and sat very still. This is how I was taught to position my body during a prayer and how I’ve taught my own children. From a mother’s point of view, this was a necessary pose for children to remain quiet. Folded hands means those hands aren’t reaching for something else. Closed eyes means those eyes aren’t being distracted by objects in the room.

 

Why this was remarkable to me on this particular occasion remains to be seen, but what I understood a bit better about prayer was the humility of the act. Closing your eyes and bowing your head goes against the animal instinct of protecting yourself. You let down your guard. You admit—even for just a moment—that you’re not in control. Crying out to a God who others might claim can’t hear me is an act of faith and devotion. And it’s a sign of humble supplication.

 

Of course, this isn’t the only acceptable posture for praying. I can’t close my eyes while I’m driving, which is a pretty important time to pray, especially if you’re out doing in any Christmas shopping on the weekends. Sometimes we just can’t physically bow our heads.

 

These various postures remind me of Gideon, God’s appointed judge/general who was called to fight the Midianites. When He told Gideon there were too many soldiers in his army, God first whittled down the number by sending home the frightened men. Then God instructed Gideon to take the remaining men out to the river to drink. Those who put their mouths in the water—heads down and noses dripping—were sent home. The men who crouched by the river bank and scooped up the water in handfuls, watchful of their surroundings, stayed to fight.

 

When we pray we must somehow make ourselves both supplicant and soldier, petitioner and prayer warrior. We humble ourselves but with an intentionality and purpose fit for an important mission. Whether our heads are bowed or our eyes are surveying the heavens, we are blessed with the opportunity to speak to a God who listens.

Names

I like my name. It’s easy to pronounce and spell. When I was growing up, I didn’t know any other girls named “Abby,” so it felt unique without being weird. (Fast forward to 2018: There are plenty of little girls with my name now!) The name Abigailcame from a real-life Bible heroine, a woman whose first marriage was to a fool and second marriage was to a king (1 Samuel 25). She was smart and brave and beautiful and knew how to pack a picnic for 600 fighting men. That’s a high standard to live up to, but names can do that to a person.

 

When we named our four kids, I knew I wanted short names. I spent a few years helping kindergarteners learn how to write out their names, so I knew it could be a daunting task. (Just ask a few of the kids from my first class: Jacqueline, Christopher, and Alexander.) Naming our first three kids weighed heavily on me. I made lists and handed them over to my husband for veto. (Our youngest son’s name came to me in a dream, so no lists were generated and no veto power exercised.)

 

There are loads of times (like daily) when I get the very carefully chosen names of my very cherished children wrong. I regularly call one of my twin daughters by the name of my younger sister. I call my other daughter by her twin sister’s name. I call my older son by my husband’s name and my younger son by his brother’s name. I even call my husband by my older sister’s name. It’s not unusual for me to sound like an auctioneer just trying to summon a family member.

 

I read once that a mom mixes up the names of the people she loves the most, because her love for them is equal. I like that hypothesis. That explains why I never accidentally throw in a name of someone I don’t love unconditionally into the mix. For example, you won’t hear me running through the list this way when I’m calling one of my kids to come to the kitchen: “Come here, Ella…I mean, Lucy…No, Knox…Ugh, Jezebel…Ezra!” It just wouldn’t happen.

 

Names are important and naming a human being is no trivial assignment, but names are actually placeholders for what you really want to call them, but don’t always take the time to say. In place of his name, I really want to call my husband: “Man-I-love-and-rely-on-and-admire-most-of-all-people-ever-and-who-I-still-think-is-cute-after-20-plus-years-of-marriage” but that would take too long, and it definitely wouldn’t fit in my phone contacts.

 

Our names are more than what’s on our driver’s license and how we introduce ourselves to others. Our names are our reputations. They are a few steps in front of us before we enter a room. Rather than just a series of vowels and consonants, our name is what is generally known about us. Our names can be the revealing of our past and unmasking of our personality. As it says in Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”