Do's and Don'ts when Caring for the Hurting

As a mom I’ve experienced quite a few emotional upheavals.  After Abbie was born and we moved back to the States I found myself thoroughly surprised to be in the midst of post-partum depression.  Within the year Abbie was diagnosed with a 40 db loss in one ear and would need a hearing aid.  I limped through the preschool years with as much joy as I could find and was eager to get to September of 2010 – the month that all three would finally be in school, Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd.  

It was a short-lived respite.  

On Friday, December 3rd 2010, Clara (our 1st grader) had a minor fall on the playground at school and by Friday evening we knew something was wrong.  I took her to a pediatrician Saturday morning where they determined she was bleeding internally and sent Clara via ambulance to Children’s Hospital.  The physicians all through she had a minor rupture in her spleen and with surgery and a short hospital stay she would be good as new.  

During her MRI to get a good look at the tear, Brian and I held her hands and chatted about the stickers and fun doctors.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see the radiologist calling more and more doctors in.  Each doctor looked increasingly serious.  They were pointing.  Talking in hushed tones.  I remember leaning in to Brian and whispering that I didn’t like the looks on their faces. 

My stomach started knotting.

Within 20 minutes of her MRI the ER doctor pulled us into a different ER room.  He pulled up the image of Clara’s abdomen and explained that her spleen was just fine.  He clarified that the large eggplant sized organ we could see on the MRI was a rapidly growing cancerous tumor that had completely overtaken her left kidney and was bleeding into her abdomen.  

I felt as if a wave had just crashed into me – pushing me down into undercurrents.  I was completely disoriented.  I sat in silence – barely able to hear the doctor telling us this was a treatable cancer and that she was in excellent care.  I started to sob quietly and didn’t stop for a good hour.  Brian cried with me for a while and then began making the awful phone calls to family.  He was a rock and I leaned heavily on him and his ability to make decisions and put on a calm demeanor for Clara.  He walked with Clara to her 2nd MRI and held her hand as they looked to see if the cancer had spread (it hadn’t).

It was a terrible new reality we had hardly any time to embrace.  Within 18 hours a fall on the playground, our beautiful 6 year old was diagnosed with a stage III Wilms Tumor.  Monday, three days later, she had a full nephrectomy to remove the tumor and kidney and, once recovered from the surgery, quickly began radiation and a 25-week chemotherapy regimen.

Today our Clara is doing well.  We have visits every six months to oncologists for complete scans and echo-cardiograms to see if the cancer has come back and to watch for those insidious long term side effects.  By the time she is done with elementary school we fully expect to hear the beautiful three letter acronym NED (no evidence of disease). 

At the hospital in MN there are little business cards at the check-in desk that say "I speak (insert foreign language).  Please find me a qualified interpreter." Then they say a bunch of stuff on the back in the native language that I can't read.  

I decided in the midst of Clara's chemo that I wanted to make my own little cards.  And then hand them to people who were SO sweet and well-meaning but would inadvertently say the wrong thing.  

Before I go any further, please don’t feel any shame if you’ve accidentally said the wrong thing or stuck your foot in your mouth.  I’ve done it even after going through Clara’s crisis!  Word-vomit happens, people.  If you need to apologize, please do.  But honestly, your comments were mostly likely swished in the emotion of the season.   Take a deep breath, pray for grace and forgiveness, and keep loving people the best you can.

Back to the interpretation cards.  Here are a few ideas I toyed with …

I have three amazing kids.  One of them has cancer.  Please be nice to me today.


Smile and be considerate

Pray for me and for my family
Remember my 2 other kids
Please Avoid:
Telling me I look tired.  
Asking me if she will survive.   
Remind me that God is sovereign.  I KNOW.
or …

I'm a mommy of Stephen, Clara, and Abbie.  Clara has cancer.  Please be kind to me.


Invite my kids to fun activities

Give me coffee in any form.  At any time.

Smile.  Pray.  Intentionally compliment us.

Steer Clear from:
Being alarmed if I cry or laugh or say something totally irrelevant to the conversation.
Asking me how God can let this happen.  
Commenting on the bags under the bags under my eyes.
Offering suggestion on ways to cure my daughter all naturally.

and then the more funny card …  

Tell me I remind you of someone. Favorite options: Claudia Schiffer, Jennifer Aniston, and Mother Teresa (character, not looks)

Offer your services if you know how to give professional pedicures or manicures. Massage also accepted.


Expect a thank-you card for gifts.

Tell me stories of your uncle who had cancer and who ended up with one eyeball, three toes, and a facial tic.
lastly …


Shovel the driveway, smile at us, love us

Listen to the Holy Spirit

It's difficult to:

Answer the question, “What can I do to help?”  
Help you answer “Why is this happening?”
Answer difficult long-term questions.

On the more serious side, there are a few helpful Do’s and Don'ts that I have found may serve as a guideline, beginning with the things to steer clear of:

1. Steer clear of expecting her to answer the question: “What can I do to help?”
One of the hardest things about helping people in crisis is that they are helpless to help you help them.    In big and small crisis's I have felt as if my brain is overloaded.  I became forgetful.  Simple things became very difficult.  Every thought and action I took was reactionary – there was no ability to plan beyond the moment.  

God has placed a wonderful way to react to crisis in us.  We become hyper-focused on the urgent, immediate concerns.  It works great for a few days.  After a few months, however, it gets REALLY old.  

I tell you this because it’s hard to be polite when you’re holding on for dear life.  It’s hard to answer the question “what can I do” because the answer is “you can fix Clara.”   The sole purpose for that time is to get through – everything else becomes secondary.  Please don’t be frustrated when someone you love simply can’t answer your questions, can’t return phone calls, can’t find a gracious way to say ‘no thank you.’  It’s not personal.  It’s stress.

So mentally put a “handle with care” label on your friends who are hurting.  You may even want to slick your back so that things will roll off a bit easier.  God’s grace will help you serve them as best you can.  

2. Avoid trying to answer the “why”
People love to have answers.  Pain and suffering naturally make us uncomfortable and cause us out own level of pain.  Answering the “why has this happened” question tends to make the comforter feel a little better, helps to ease their cognitive dissonance.  However,  the person in crisis is left worse than when nothing was said at all.

A close cousin to the “why” question is the theology 101 pat answers.  These are no-no’s.  The person in crisis is going through their own sacred and holy time with God – Psalm 34:18 says that “the Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Let Him be their answers, let Him help with the big questions.  Let Him be who He is.

3. Steer Clear of asking tough long term questions.  
Some well-meaning friends would start to think about how chemotherapy and radiation might impact her or how she would make it into the next grade at school.  Those are legit concerns, but it’s best to let others who have been assigned the task of dealing with those have the reigns.  It’s exhausting to constantly explain how the doctors are helping to alleviate side effects or how the teachers and tutors are managing her school work.  The better way to approach those concerns would be to find who is helping with a specific issue on your heart and offer help or ideas to that person.

One of the hardest long-terms questions dealt with Clara’s prognosis.  Once in Target an acquaintance asked me if I thought Clara would “make it.”  Clara had and still has an excellent chance at a long and fruitful life – but what if she didn’t?  I’m one of the lucky mommies that gets to say – they expect her to be fine.  I have held a mom who’s 6 year old was dying and in excruciating pain.  If she was asked that question it would have destroyed her.  If you are curious about a prognosis, ask a mutual friend.  Ask a doctor or even the internet.  But please don’t ask your friend.    

4.  Please don’t provide medical advice.
Every now and then a well intentioned friend would compare Clara’s cancer to their Uncle Fred’s – who lost his foot.  That’s just not helpful.  Along the same lines were the solutions that had not been FDA approved.  Again, not helpful.  

What does work is to drop off ideas with a small note.  We got Shaklee products, all-natural supplements, different kinds of water, calorie laden slushies, and many more things dropped at the door.  I was glad to have those and run them past Clara’s oncologist and nutritionist.  Anything that might work was great, we just needed it packaged up with instructions and no expectations.

Now lets move to the positive elements – the Do’s.  

1.  Pray

I remember calling my house for something after we had just discovered Clara’s cancer and already hearing 3 or 4 friends packing my clothes and meds, straightening up the clutter, crying and holding each other.

And they were praying.  

The praying was so incredibly important.  It was those prayers that kept our family afloat while we were all sea-sick from the storm.

2.  Start with the immediate needs.

I love the way my friends immediately set up ways for our meals, cleaning, and driveway to be cared for.  All those things would have been constantly weighing on me once I began to get my bearings.  

By the time Clara’s surgery came the word was pretty wide spread.  Her prayer and care team filled a third of the waiting area.  The women in our church began to divvy up what would need to be done from meals to cleaning to childcare.  

My mom had flown in from Texas and as she watched she gently told my friends that caring for my family would be a marathon – not a sprint.  

They quickly divided up leadership of 4 main categories -  food, cleaning, shoveling, and tutoring.

Tracie took over cleaning.  She was perfect for the role – her job is to manage volunteers at a Christian Camp.  She found church volunteers and set up schedules listing priority areas to keep clean.  The clean house was especially important during radiation and chemotherapy as Clara’s immune system was depleted.

Our friend and neighbor Jillian was our driveway watchdog.  She made sure we were clear for people dropping off meals and getting in and out of the house.  Jillian’s back door faces our back door and we basically share back yards.  One of the most beautiful pictures during Clara’s cancer was when her husband Marcus borrowed his in-laws snow blower and blew a path from his back door to ours.  

My friend Betsy took over meals and tutoring.  She asked me a few easy questions about what our family liked, allergies, etc.  Then she set up a website using lotsa helping hands.  The website made it easy for people to sign up to bring a meal and even had a place for people to write exactly what they were bringing so we didn’t end up with 3 lasagna’s in a week.  We put a thermos out on our front porch and since it was winter people could drop off meals any time during the day.  We asked people to please put the meal in the thermos and not ring the doorbell.  Our family was pretty raw and it was so hard to talk to people.  

Lotsa Helping Hands had a way to suggest different places to get us gift cards for restaurants or to purchase parking passes.  It was also possible to put childcare needs on the calendar but we chose not to because the list was going out to a wide audience and we were keeping the childcare under pretty specific guidelines.   

3.  Respond to those you recognize

God will put you in places and spaces to be arms and feet for those who have gone through things you can empathize with.  Who is it?  Does your heart quicken when you hear of a mom who has miscarried – again?  Or is it the mom who is desperately parenting that really strong willed kid?  Maybe it's the mom trudging through post-partum depression or the mom who is staying at home for the first time.  

Those are your people.  Those are the dear ones that God has given you a prompting that cannot be denied.  You are the front lines of support in their battle.  

Once when we were leaving Children's I saw a woman sobbing the parking garage.  I had never seen her – but I recognized her.  She was a mom with a child who was hurting.  My car was unable to leave the garage.  I pulled over, left the girls in the car, and held her.  

I need to tell you that she reached up and held onto me for dear life.  We talked and prayed and I have never seen her again.  But I am forever blessed to have had the opportunity to love on her.  

At our church one Sunday a woman gave her testimony.  She spoke of marrying her high school sweetheart and the children who quickly followed.  She sobbed and spoke about God's grace through her struggles.  And I recognized her.  I knew her.  And when all of her kids got the stomach flu that winter – I knew how to pray.  I knew what to take over and drop at the door.  And I am forever blessed for knowing them.  

Betsy was perfect as Clara’s tutor.  She is a stay at home mom who used to be a 2nd grade teacher in the school district we are in.  She also has been plagued by Lupus since she was 13 and has experiences chemo, surgeries, and has knocked on death's door.  Her level of understanding for what Clara was going through combined with her gift for teaching was one of the sweetest ways I have seen the body of Christ displayed.

4.  Listen to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit usually provides unique insights into what your hurting friends need.  I've found that He usually moves your heart in ways that the Lord has already provided conviction, talent, or supply.  

I'll never forget the day I opened the mail and found a check that had been anonymously donated through our church.  It was for the amount of $500 – and the amount we currently owed in medical bills was $487.  

A music artist who has a mutual friend heard about Clara and asked permission to write a song with Clara.  Her ability to make poetry out of sorrow has brought tremendous healing to Clara (and me).  

An electrician heard our bathroom was mid remodel when cancer hit and showed up on a Saturday to finish what we had left half-done.  

Friends who valued marriage offered to watch the kids for a date night once per week. 

Neighbors plowed across the back lawn from their back door to ours.

A friend rallied parents of Clara's peers to do spring yard work in our neglected yard.

Sweet friends who were praying sent texts and emails of verses or written out prayers for Clara, for me, for my other kids.  

I could go on and on.  

Here's what I want you to know:  

Entering into another persons' suffering is a sacred thing.  

It is beautiful, lovely, and heart wrenching.  

You will see God in ways you never dreamed.  

He wants you there.  

He has already planned out good works for you to do, ways for you to serve.  Be encouraged that God wants to draw us together and towards Him.  He will use all suffering for His glory – and to be a part of that transformation from pain to praise is an amazing privilege.  

Grab it!  Don't miss out! 

When I’m pained by the deep impacts of cancer, I have to decide to look at the beauty that has sprung from our own cancer rainstorm.  Seeds that we didn’t know were planted in our family have started to sprout beautifully.  We’ve seen courage, grace, strength, and endurance.  We’ve seen support, faith, powerful prayers.  

I didn’t know that winter in 2011 that the Lord had already planned for new things to be blooming in our lives this year.  That He had put beautiful seeds in our family and friends that would pop up in grace and beauty.  His faithfulness is inspiring, no?

Jesus is faithful.  He will sow seeds never dreamed of in fields of suffering, and He will see them through to the harvest. 



My baby was going to kindergarten. So sweet and precocious, kind and spunky. New backpack on and nervous smile flickering beneath enormous blue eyes.

Actually it was just kindergarten orientation. But she didn’t care. It counted as a first day of real school to her.

We hopped in the van and made our way to school. The teacher welcomed us with a hug and a smile. We knew her well. She had taught Abbie’s older siblings and Abbie already knew Mrs. Ireland’s favorite color and favorite animal. She had the inside track.

Abbie and I picked up our checklist and began making our way around the classroom.

Can you find your locker? Check
Find your tote tray and color the picture. Check 

Find the bathroom. Check
Did you wash your hands? Check

She proudly walked the room and made it her own. The teacher called the kids to the front and began to read them a story while the parents went to an orientation of their own. As the principal calmed the worried “first time” parents my mind wandered.

I remembered feeling so nervous two short years before watching my first baby, Stephen, get on the bus. I had been close to a panic wondering ... would he find his way? Would he make friends? Would he mind the teacher?

It was a different experience this year. I was confident. Excited for the opportunities and adventures awaiting her. I knew Abbie would be fine. She would find her way. She would make friends. She would probably mind the teacher.

That afternoon Abbie was playing in her room while I worked on a Bible study. She was carrying her favorite toy around (a small notebook with a pencil) and pretending her own version of kindergarten. She paced the room finding things and checking them off her list.

She approached me with a new sheet of paper.
Mom. I wanna do a checklist for you.
Not right now honey, I need to finish up.
Please mom. Just a few.
Ok. Just a few.

She looked down at her little pretend list and pretended to read.

Do you think God is a good guy or a bad guy?
I paused. Really? What is this about?
Good guy, I said.

She tightly gripped her pencil and drew a large backwards checkmark across the top of her list.


Does God do good things or bad things?

I now started to feel the Holy Spirit waking me up. He was whispering – what do you think, Rachel? What do you really think?

Tears were filling my eyes and I answered, Good things. 


Do you love God?



Do you love Jesus?


Do you trust the Holy Spirit? 

Thanks mom. That’s it.

Hey Abs? Can I have that paper? Sure Mom. Good job!
And she went on her way.

There’s something about a child looking you in the eye and asking you if you trust the Holy Spirit. It was one of those moments that seared into my heart. To proclaim that I love God, I love Jesus, I trust the Holy Spirit. Out loud. Face to face.

I slid the checklist in my Bible and it’s stayed there. Between Psalm 2-4, the verses I was studying.

That was Sept of 2010. I would soon find myself resting on those truths I had professed.


He gives hope

When Clara was in the middle of her chemo regimen I stopped on the way home to pick up a few groceries.  She walked the aisles with me gamely and had agreed that she could make the trip.  But after we checked out she looked up and me and told me she couldn’t walk anymore.  

By the carts at the door I put down my bags and picked her up.  I cradled her as she laid her head on my shoulder.  She was nearly bald.  Emaciated.  Pale and often tired.  Everything was a struggle.  

“I might throw up,” she whispered.  

The automatic doors in front of me opened and closed.  People came in and out with each blast of cold - every single one looked at me holding her.  

No one offered to help.

I couldn’t use a cart because the snow on the ground made pushing one with her in it impossible.  I couldn’t carry both the groceries and her.  

I began to pray.  Jesus.  You know I need help.  She needs help.  I can’t get her to the car with these groceries.  I can’t leave her alone.  I am desperate.  Send someone.  Anyone.  

No one came.  

After my arms started to wear out I asked her if she could walk to the car.  She walked.  She made it and she was fine.  

I was not fine.  

I was enraged.  

God had been merciful, kind, generous.  We were covered and surrounded by friends and family and a church that was the body of Christ in every sense.  Why withhold this?  

I got home and was surprised by my raw and intense anger.  If you had asked me 3 hours earlier I would have said that I was not angry - just weary.  But here I was and this emotion didn’t come out of thin air.  

Eventually, over the next year, I dealt with my anger.  God was sweet and merciful in letting me walk through a season of wrestling.  

And even though I came to terms with my anger, every time I remember that scene in Target, it hurts my feelings.  I experience that wound all over again when I close my eyes and watch those doors open and shut.  I really felt abandoned in that Target entry.  

What was that about, Lord?  

I’ve been studying the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the way they were subjected to cruel treatment.  The word used in Exodus is “anah.”  It means to be “bowed down or afflicted.”  

I’m fascinated by the timing of the “anah.”  It was an ordained time.  The Hebrews were slaves for 400 years.  When at last their cries were heard there wasn’t an immediate release.  There was a process God was walking them and Pharaoh through.  A process involving great pain and tragedy.  

It climaxed in the first Passover.  Blood over doorways announcing to the heavens that they would be saved.  Blood that protected and provided.  A smelly and vivid symbol of grace and forgiveness.  

I imagine sometimes what would have happened if the Israelites had run at the first whisper of freedom from Moses.  If instead of requesting their freedom by the power of Yahweh they had named and claimed it - stealing away at night.  But it was God's way and God's timing.  

And then I discovered this:  Sometimes, it’s even God who employs “anah.”  

In Deuteronomy 8:2-5 it says ...

2 “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has bled you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.  3 “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.  4 “Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.  5 “Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son.

God “anah-ed” (humbled) the Israelites.  He let them be hungry.  He let them walk and walk and walk.  
He let me stand in that cold entryway with my sick baby.

It hurts to stand there.  It hurts to stand in the emptiness and the hunger.  It’s hard to walk in the wilderness when you know that God can make the mountains into highways.  

Secreted inside the verse is the protection within the “anah” of God - because it is from a Father who loves His child.  God doesn’t persecute - He humbles.  God doesn’t treat us as enemies or with sibling rivalry - He reaches down as a loving parent.  

The Israelites were given manna every day.  They never were dehydrated and their clothes never wore out.  

I made it to the car with Clara and all my groceries.  

Psalm 119:75
75 I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are righteous, 
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. 

I’ve come to see that there is a hope within the anah.  Hidden though it is, there is a faithfulness within the affliction.  

Romans 8:18-20

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 

It’s how God works - He puts things under subjection to futility (emptiness).  We don’t want to go under futility because we want fulfillment.  He will show us emptiness so that we can have hope and seek true filling.  It is not subjection to emptiness without hope.  He always provides the hope.  

An Anah from God is a humbling with hope. 

I have lifted this old memory up to the Lord and asked - why?  Why let me stand in the cold when I asked in faith for help for my sweet sick girl?  

He showed me that I needed to feel the futility to push me to find the true hope.  

The love and help I received from our church, family, friends, and neighbors while Clara was sick had served to put a gauze over some pretty large and deep wounds in my heart.  As long as my family’s needs were met and the Lord was good during the trial I could go on.  But when the bandage wasn’t applied at that Target entryway - the deep mama bear wound was revealed.  

I didn’t even know it was there.  My rage surprised me, but it didn’t surprise God.  He let that moment serve as a flashlight to show me that there was something much bigger for us to deal with.  

God knew that there was a deep well of anger within me that needed to cry out to the deep of His mercy.  It was alleviated by the constant care and soothed into silence by the support of people, but my soul needed to cry out deeper.  I needed to wrestle.  I needed to address the futility of living in this world and as long as my physical needs were met I was loathe to poke the bear of my fierce anger.  

Not meeting that need, letting the “anah” fall, allowed the light to shine on the deeper issues.  

Only then does the hope come.  

Paul writes in Romans 5:

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Years ago I sat with a woman who had suffered much.  We were speaking about this Romans verse and wondering why hope is last.  It seems like those who are suffering need the hope first.  Not last.  After mulling it over we sat in the dissonance of unanswered questions.  Shrugging our shoulders we let the question be.  

Both of us have walked enough roads to know that some questions need time, not answers.  
Recently I have come to find a small glimpse of why the hope is last.  The infinitely wise Parent has let us struggle against our humanity, writhe and wrestle, to help us understand the futility we are under.  It’s the story we live. Slowly He lets us come to the realization that in our own selves we are lacking.  

He doesn’t just tell us, He shows us.  

Sweetly and gently, never once letting our shoes wear out on the journey.  

And then He delivers with a beautiful stroke over the doorway - Hope.  Letting us stand within our futility, having endured the anah of this life, understanding our desperate need for Him to heal our deep wounds - 

He says “look up, child.”  The covering of the blood of the lamb.  Hope eternal poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  

He gives hope.  


Period Party

It all started with a puberty video.  Actually, the announcement of the puberty video.  In the school district we live in the kids in 4th grade watch a clip with their own gender that details some of the changes their bodies go through during puberty.  I went to a screening of the movie and found it to be very well done, quite benign, clear and concise.

 But as I sat in the back of the elementary school library I had this feeling that I wanted more than a kind teacher guiding my girls in such a major discussion.  My memory stirred and I remembered a book I had read last summer that described a sort of ‘period party’ for girls and moms.  Right there in the paperback fiction section I decided to take the leap.  I decided to have a Period Party.

I sent out an email detailing my goals and the itinerary to hand-picked girls and their moms from our church.

Yeah, it was weird.  Thank heaven for grace.

Here were my goals:

  • Education - let’s get the facts out there and answer questions
  • Community - by broaching this topic publicly I wanted to create an open environment with the girls and with the girls moms.  If I’m not present (or even in favor that day) but another one of these moms is, I pray my girls will go to them with questions or needs.  
  • Set the tone - I know periods aren’t fun to talk about, but I was hoping that by introducing it with lots of fun and openness it could be seen something amazing that God put in place in our bodies.  Not an annoying monthly problem.  

And here was the itinerary:

5:30 - arrive and eat pizza/salad
6 - start baby videos
Video One  - a fun youtube clip of babies laughing
Video Two  - a youtube clip of a baby forming in the womb,(start from 2min 30 sec in to 5 min)
6:15 - handout and go over a list of facts - answer questions
6:30 - show all the gear, let girls make their own emergency packs
6:45 - movie and popcorn

Things went differently than I had planned.

My girls delivered a bit of a rocky start as they were less than pleased at my initiative.  In the weeks leading up the party I had explained to them that we were having a gathering of girls to talk about some of the changes that happen to girls bodies during puberty.  About 30 minutes before the party I walked through the schedule and gave them the details.  We had talked about periods before, but to talk about such things publicly?  They were appalled.  One of them refused to look at or talk to me, the other gave me a lot of feisty verbal feedback.

Que the doorbell.

My girls were soon chatting and playing and forgot about how crazy their mom was.  Over pizza, the moms and I brainstormed and walked through the evening together, divvying up the parts so one mom wasn’t doing all the talking.

I was in charge of starting things up.  I set up the funny video, but we decided to skip the video of the baby forming in the womb.  One mom was concerned it would totally freak out her daughter.  Truthfully, the animation is a bit freaky.

Now, I’ve spoken publicly before, but as I stood there in front of 8 pre-pubescent girls my tongue tied up into knots.  My words fell out on top of each other, I forgot what I wanted to say, in general:  I panicked.  This crowd was not my comfort zone.  What I wanted to say was this “God created women's bodies with a uterus that is designed to carry a baby.  Not all women can carry babies, but all women have special linings in their wombs that are perfect for a baby to grow in.  Once a month, if there is not a baby in the womb, the lining is released - it’s called a Period.”

What I really said was “wha, wha, wha, wha, wha ....”  (imagine Charlie Brown’s teacher).

Bless my friend’s hearts.  They saved me.  In particular my friends Betsy and Tracie.  Betsy has the wonderful experience as an elementary school teacher.  She quickly scooped in and re-stated what I was trying to get at.  And she did it with grace and so sweetly.

Then Betsy handed out a fact sheet to all the girls.  Together we went through the facts and let the girls ask questions as we came to them.  At first the room was pretty quiet, but soon enough they opened up.  Their questions were fantastic!

After the fact sheet we moved to the kitchen were I had a tray full of period paraphernalia.  Tracie was in charge of this section of the night.  My sweet friend Tracie who helps run a summer camp and can talk to kids about anything.  She pulled out different kinds of pads, tampons, underwear, and then cups of water, a baster, a spray gun to show how the water gets absorbed.  The first demonstration was a pad and how to put it on underwear.  We walked through disposal as well.

Then - tampons.

I was nervous about this part.  I mean, tampons?  These girls still play with their American Girl dolls.  In anticipation of the party I talked with different moms of teen girls about introducing this and got their pros and cons.  As a group we moms decided to go ahead and teach about tampons but stressed that using them was a personal decision that girls make with their moms.  And then with a deep breath we dove in.

Tracie tried to talk the girls through how a tampon is used but they were looking a bit confused.  Finally, Betsy reached across the table and put her hand in the shape of a circle and let Tracie push a tampon through.  Then they got it.

I was blushing like mad.  The girls were giggling.

And then we all started our own conversations with our daughters or the girl closest to us.  (One on one I did fine, thank goodness).  It was SO very dear to my heart to watch my little girls ask Betsy, Tracie, and other moms questions.  I loved talking to other girls and encouraging them with smiles and reassurances.

Then we let the girls play.  They took the water and squirt guns and laughed and chatted.   It was sweet and endearing.  And I was relieved.  Each mom had prepared  an emergency kit in a little bag for the girls to take with them in their backpacks.  Some moms went through the packs right then with their daughters, some waited to talk through the packs when they got home.

We didn’t end up having time for a movie.  The conversations went the entire two hours. When leaving the house one girl thanked me and said “I feel like I can handle this, now.”

The best part was after everyone left and my girls and I finished picking up.  They snuggled up with me and thanked me, asking for more times to talk about “this kind of stuff.”

If you have girls in the third or fourth grade I highly recommend the Period Party however you are comfortable.  I will attach the fact sheet we used and the invite I emailed to the other mom’s for your use.  We leaned heavily on the American Girl Body Book.  Its chapters on menstruation are very well done.

Many blessings to you as you tread into new territories as moms.  May God bless them as they grow into women who love and serve Him.


Dear friends,

I am writing to invite you and your daughter to a Period Party.  

I know.  It’s weird.  

I read about it in a book (can’t remember which one) and thought it was a fun idea.  The 196 school district is going to show the kids a puberty video this spring (4th grade and 5th grade) and so I feel like the time is now to get a jump on things.  

Here’s the general idea (see the rest of the email for the specifics):  

A group of girls roughly the same age get together for a fun evening to be introduced (some for the first time, some already have an idea) to menstruation as a way God designed women’s bodies. We will show a video of a baby forming in the womb and talk about the way the lining being released every month is a preparation.  We will give facts and answer questions, then there will be a basket of period paraphernalia for the girls to play with.  Pads, tampons, underwear to put in in, water to see the absorption ...  The girls can each make a Period Pack for emergencies to keep in their backpacks (probably for middle school).  Then we will totally change the subject and turn on a Christmas movie.  :)

The purpose is for our girls to start a community for each other.  They will all have the same info at the same time, hopefully developing a comfort level with each other so that they can talk openly and feel freedom during a somewhat awkward stage.  I am also praying that my girls will be comfortable with you as moms - that they will ask you questions if I’m not around (or because they think you’re cooler).  :)  We will NOT be talking about sex, birth and delivery, boys, dating, etc.  If someone wants to plan a Purity Party that sounds great to me.  But this night we will stick to menstruation and direct them to their parents for other issues.  


Smith’s House

A small bag (I’m using a cosmetic one)
Underwear liner
Tampons, if you wish
Some tylenol or other pain relief, in case she has some cramps
A change of underwear
A small plastic bag for soiled underwear

Here’s the agenda:

5:30 - arrive and eat pizza
6 - start baby videos
Video One (just for fun)
Video Two (start at 2 min 30 sec, cut off at 5 minutes)
6:15 - handout and go over a list of facts - answer questions
6:30 - show all the gear, let girls make their own emergency packs
(this part I was thinking we would leave them alone for, heading to the kitchen or something.  I am open to suggestions)
6:45 - movie and popcorn
(I’m thinking the movie ELF but really we can watch whatever)

PLEASE email me with comments, suggestions, or questions.  I’m a newbie and would love to hear your thoughts.  

RSVP by _______.  

Love doing this with all of you,


•  At first , the idea of getting menstrual periods may seem well sort of gross. But periods are a sign that your body is healthy and working properly. It’s preparing to do the grown-up work of having a baby someday. Every month your body practices for this by building a “nest,” a place for a baby to grow inside your uterus. The nest is a lining of blood and other fluid that builds up on the uterus walls. Because there is no baby, the lining is shed and you have a period.
•  While it may seem like a lot of blood is lost, the average cycle only produces between 10-85ml, which is around three tablespoons.
•  Day 1 of your menstrual cycle is the first day of bleeding. Each menstrual period will last anywhere from 2 to 8 days.
•  The average amount of time between menstrual cycles is 28 days, but may be longer or shorter depending on the individual (anywhere from 21-35 days is considered normal).
•  On average a girl will start menstruation at age 13 (called menarche) and will continue until she's around 51 (called menopause).  However, don’t worry if you don’t get your period when all your friends do. God has created each of us differently and His plan for your body is the best one.
•  The color of blood loss can vary from dark brown to bright red, depending on how old the blood is and how oxygen has affected it.
•  In years gone by, girls were told they could not swim, have a bath or wash their hair while they had their period. This is most certainly not true. It's important to have good hygiene at all times, especially when you have your period. And yes, you can swim, you will just need to use a tampon.
•  While many woman suffer from period pain, not all will. If your period is heavier you are more likely to have monthly pain.
•  Some nicknames for your period include: Aunty Flo, the monthly, on the rags, 'the time of the month', crimson tide, under repairs, the curse and a whole host of weird and silly things.
•  Some women who live together or spend a great deal of time together discover their cycles become in sync.
•  While a menstrual cycle may have hereditary factors, a daughter's cycle can be quite different to her mother's.
•  You can’t tell exactly when you’ll get your first period, but your body may give you clues that it’s on its way. Many girls start to menstruate about one to two years after their breasts have started developing.
•  Once you begin to menstruate regularly, you may notice some patterns in how you feel right before your period. Sometimes these physical and emotional changes are referred to as premenstrual syndrome, or PMS for short. It’s not a disease or an illness, just a natural part of your menstrual cycle.
•  PMS is caused by hormones-chemicals that are released in your body at this time. Up to two weeks before your period, your breasts may feel swollen or more tender than usual. You may also notice that your body feels heavier, even puffy and that your skin is more prone to breakouts. All of these symptoms will go away after your period begins. You may also feel cramps in your lower abdomen or back before and during your period. The cramps are because the muscles of the uterus are hard at work.
•  Your periods can also affect your moods. Some girls feel irritated, tired, grouchy and more emotional in the days leading up to your period. If you find that your feelings are more intense during this time, know that this is perfectly normal. But when you are feeling extra edgy, try not to unleash your frustration on family and friends. Instead, try talking to them about how you feel.
•  The best remedies for premenstrual aches and pains are fairly simple. A warm bath or a hot-water bottle laid over your tummy can help soothe cramps. If headaches, backaches or cramps make you feel crummy, there is medicine at the drugstore that you can take. Be sure to talk to your mom to see what she recommends first.  To help lift your spirits and lighten your mood it helps to stay active. Regular exercise has been proven to help people relieve stress and lighten moods.


Elementary school, the Internet, and safety (oh my!)

It didn’t take long for my kids to discover that there is a great big world wide web.  By first grade the words google, mine craft, and youtube were in their vocabulary.  By the third grade, they wanted access like I had wanted a cabbage patch doll.  And they wanted it now.  

As technology changes at lightning speed, it’s taken me a while to get my bearings.  How would we navigate this new territory?  It was way past monitoring screen time.  

As I prayed about it I felt God whisper to me “it’s an ocean.  Teach them to swim.”  

And our strategy formed.  I sat down my oldest at age 9 and told him that the internet is like an ocean - big, deep, and full of things that he couldn’t defend himself against.  As his parents, we wanted to teach him to swim and because we loved him there was no way we would drop him off in the middle of the atlantic without a boat, life vests, or knowing how to swim.  

So we would start in the shallows.  

Swimming lessons -
Basic lessons about internet usage are important.  Don’t assume that they know things because they use the vernacular.  We had to explain that Google is not a dictionary.  Or that just because you hit delete doesn’t mean it disappears.  

Learn about undertows -
Undertows are currents that pull you underwater.  We’ve all ended up pinning something on Pinterest and looked up two hours later.  For kids, lots of the games and social media are designed to hook them and some will even penalize them for leaving.  Talking about the mesmerizing nature before they get sucked in assists awareness and has helped my kids separate when their time is up.  

Have Fun! -
Remember how you used to run around the neighborhood playing Cops and Robbers?  Or set up a huge fort for a game of War that would never materialize?  Some online games and activities can serve a similar function for elementary schoolers.  Just as a game of King of the Mountain would be talked about amongst kids all day when you were a kid, now kids talk about what they built on Minecraft or what they saw on YouTube.  

Remember FOMO?  It's real, people.  Help your kids out and let them be a part of the community that will naturally take place.  Find safe ways to let them interact with friends online or to talk about their progress in a game.  

Check the weather and set a course -
Before sitting down at the computer teach them to think about (and even say aloud) why they are on it.  Is it to play a game?  Or perhaps things have been a little rocky and they are looking for an escape.  Are they curious about something and hoping to gain some information?  Homework?  Boredom?

Keeping a clear plan encourages thoughtfulness.  It’s not bad to get on the internet when you’re bored, but it may be easier to drift into some rocky seas.  Homework is a great reason to be on the computer, but if they find themselves off course somewhere it’s good to have that jolt “oh, I was supposed to be …”  

Time to move a little deeper? 
When my kids will thoughtfully explore ideas in multimedia and demonstrate that they can find an escape route, I am more comfortable letting them have freer access to the internet.  Messages in popular songs are great for this.  We don’t need a deep conversation - just a chuckle together about something silly in a lyric. For example, the words in Brave by Sara Borealis are “say what you wanna say, let the words fall out …” I asked my kids, “Is it really wise to say everything that does into your head?”  My 4th grade daughter replied, “no, but the song is saying that if you are being bullied it’s important to speak up.” It’s encouraging to know when they can recognize and discuss content.  Trust begins to build.

We started by allowing hardly any access to the web.  Literally 3 webpages (Webkinz, their elementary school page, spelling city).  As they started to show maturity in other things (discussing book, music, and television content) we began to allow more websites that they specifically requested (minecraft, chess.com, other tetris-y game sites).  YouTube will most likely be the very last site we give unrestricted access to, though we definitely show them fun videos.  Last night we all laughed ourselves silly watching Brodie Smith play ultimate frisbee.  

Be a lighthouse -
Seeing something offensive, following curiosity too far, being fooled by advertising - all these are common in the ocean of the internet and difficult to completely insulate your kids from.   When they run into these storms they will need a lighthouse to find their way home.  Be that lighthouse.  Be a safe harbor where conversations are open and forgiveness and grace are served.  

If they don’t seek out help and need to be pulled into safety, don’t overreact, don’t feel that all is lost or hopeless.  With Jesus there is no such thing as hopeless.  There is redemption and restoration.  King David declared God could make him white as snow after adultery and murder.  Take this opportunity to help them learn about the ways light always overcomes the darkness.  


Lock your front door
Put a filter on your internet.  You can establish it to block adult content easily and freely with opendns.com.  The filter can be as tight as you want and will work on any devise that uses your internet.

Set logins
You can customize each child's access to their needs with separate logins.  Don’t be afraid to use parental controls.

Restrict access at friends/neighbors
It’s not safe at friends houses for kids unless you have had detailed conversations with their parents.  Lots of families have no filters applied to their internet and are naive to what their kids are into - or perhaps their kids are already expert swimmers while yours are still learning.  

Be a snoop
Remember that they are kids and need you to help them if they are in a dangerous situation.  Occasionally check their web history.  Set up their chat/messaging and email so that a carbon copy is sent to your accounts.  

Watch the online chats
Kids like to chat online with each other during games.  Check the usernames and find out if they are people your kids know in real life if the conversation is anything more than basic communication.  Make sure that your child can access the "this is offensive" button that is on nearly every game.  Then snoop.  Get on their login and read the chats.  If nothing else you'll start to get comfortable with the new-fangled slang kids use these days.  


FOMO and parenting

Earlier this school year my kids came home complaining that they were the ONLY kids in their classrooms not allowed unfettered access to youtube videos.  From their perspective, EVERYONE but them has their own channel and watches all the funny viral videos.

First off - not so.  But that isn’t an effective argument for them for the same reason it wasn’t for me.  It’s about FOMO (fear of missing out), not about equality.  

So on to my second point - so what?  Lots of times there will be lots of people doing lots of things that you can’t.  I’m your mom and love you.  I will not helicopter parent you, but I also will not throw you in the deep in before you know how to swim.  

Turns out that is also not effective at treating FOMO.  

Once point 1 and 2 had been made, I moved to an action plan.  We love Jesus in this house and He tells us to be in the world and not of it (John 17:14-15).  The kids were citing a serious lack of “in the world-ness.”  Fair enough.  

I found a neat site run by Donald Miller called storylineblog.com.  On Saturday mornings a guy on his site loads up 3 or 4 of the best viral videos found during the week.  Lots of times they are silly, sometimes touching, occasionally quirky.  As they are largely on youtube I can log into an account I made and put all the videos in my cue for the kids to watch with me.  

It’s been a great solution here at the Smith house.  One morning I showed them a video about a cardboard arcade and they spent hours in the basement building games from boxes.  And they didn’t have the awful day where they were the ONLY one in the class who didn’t know what the fox says.  

Double win.    


Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)

In Exodus 3 Moses, shepherding his sheep, comes upon a curious site – a bush that burns but is not consumed.  His curiosity draws him in, closer, closer.

God, seeing He has Moses’ attention, calls.

“Moses, Moses!”

“Here I am,” Moses responds.  

“Take off your shoes, Moses, you are standing on Holy Ground.”

And Moses, in the presence of holiness, hides.  He must have felt as Adam did.  Exposed.  Naked.  The futility of hiding is obvious but he is unable to resist the instinctive response.  

The call on his life was one from long ago.  A call he had abandoned when he murdered an egyptian, perhaps feeling the call was murdered as well.  He was a tainted failure.  Living proof that the position of leader was too big for him.

He had started anew, abandoned all else as something ruined by his sin.  His family, his occupation, his wanderings.  Nothing about him would point to his miraculous adoption into royalty, the mother who rocked him and whispered the secrets of Elohim while his parents surrounded themselves with idols.  Those were shadows behind the new life he lead in his father-in-laws house.  

Now this Elohim was calling him again.  The God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the God of the living, had a plan for a nation and a plan for Moses. 

Who but God would whisper to a man who was broken? 

Is God whispering to this broken girl?  One who was once known for lies and deceit?  Am I one whom He would dare pour His gift of life and truth?  

I hear the whispers of God.  Sometimes calling me to new things.  Sometimes reminding me of who He is.  Often reminding me that His ground is Holy ground – that the seeds He has planted in my life will by His power be brought to harvest. 

Like Moses I am curious.  What are you doing, Lord?  How are you so bright and hot and intense – yet never destroying?  You declare yourself in my life and call me to things beyond what I can imagine.  Like Moses, I doubt His power can overcome my weaknesses.  I become myopic about my sins.  

Then I am in awe.  What a curious thing to feel God’s hand or to catch a glimpse of His love for His people.  His love for emancipation, willingness to work with even a silly girl like me to bring a bit of light into a dark world.  Like Moses I fall on my face.

Is God calling to you?  What is He whispering?  Will you let Him guide you into the plans He has for your family, your neighborhood, your nation?  Know that when He invites you into His plans you are standing on Holy Ground.  And when you are on Holy Ground, He will be faithful to complete what He’s started. 

He downright delights in it.