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Paris, Jordan & Capri

Some women dread the summer months and the unavoidable protests of boredom.  No such thing at the Lofaro home. We (the children and I) stay up late and sleep in late and watch cartoons and dress by noon. It’s “every man for himself” at breakfast and lunch. We read new books and rent old movies and finish puzzles. We take day trips and overnight trips and beach trips. We have sports camp and church camp and VBS. We’re regulars at the local pool and occasionally spend the day at a water park. When it’s really hot outside, we go bowling or stroll through the mall. When Frank walks in at 6:30, there’s not a homework assignment in sight. If we’re not there, he dials my cell phone and brings deli to the pool or tells me what to pick up for grilling. Most summer nights culminate with ice cream and “I Love Lucy” reruns. Summertime…and the livin’ is easy. I really love it.

  When the school year ends, it is never a moment too soon. Homework, quizzes, tests, science projects, book reports—they exhaust me! And there’s more: field trips, extra help, conferences, PTA meetings, fund raisers, lunches, cupcakes, elections, plays, choir, band, Teacher Appreciation Week, Secretary’s Day, Show N Tell.

Where does a mother go to resign? How about a leave of absence? A day off?

My husband and I share very different philosophies regarding homework and study habits. He is quite relentless about the subject of homework. Can you spell B-E-A-R? When the kids are sent home with notes or if their grades dropped, he would glare at me and invariably deliver the now infamous speech; “Ellie, we have arranged for you not to have to work outside of the home so that you could fully focus on the children. I’m not concerned when there is no dinner or the laundry is backed up but you MUST make their homework your top priority.” That speech always produces an array of emotional responses—some I am unable to mention here—suffice it to say the heart can be unlovely.

In Frank’s perfect world, he would stroll in at 6:30 and I would be gleefully rotating to each child to correct their spelling, review math formulas and assist with special projects. He had our second grader writing rough drafts for her book summary every night. Poor thing, I pray she doesn’t end up in therapy. Jordan is a sloppy, forgetful, perfectly normal boy but Frank warns him that his present work habits will ruin his entire future; personally and professionally and that he may be a candidate for welfare if he doesn’t shape up and step in line. Paris is completely self-motivated which is appropriate for the secondary school years. Nonetheless, Frank has decided she must read one additional novel a week during seventh grade to enhance her verbal skills for the college entrance exams which she would eventually take five years later. (gag me with a spoon!)

So, top management sends down orders and middle management is supposed to carry them out but now I understand why the workers sometimes revolt. I can’t blame them and I have often warned Frank of the backlash he may face twenty years down the road. (Our kids are afraid Frank will assign homework to the grandchildren.) It’s very tough being the middleman.  Paris was frustrated with her “extracurricular” reading load. She let off some steam.

“I can’t believe Daddy is making us do so much work!”

Experts say you should not contradict your spouse in front of the children or management in front of labour– but I’m only human. I slipped.

“Me neither! It’s getting out of hand. I’ve had enough!” I was putting finishing touches on Jordan’s volcano and the plaster was drying quickly on my eyelashes. Jordan chimed in.

“Mom, I can’t take it any more. After this, you have to help me with my math.”

“I don’t understand your math Jordan. It’s all different now.”

“But Mom, you were a teacher!”

“I taught English. I hated math—still do.”

“Well then, you have to help me write my book report.”

“Jordan, I already went to fifth grade. I passed fifth grade. I’m not doing fifth grade again. Do your own book report!” He had Frank’s look in his eyes.

“Dad said you have to help me. Priorities—remember?”

Capri joined the bandwagon.

“Mommy, I have too much weading! Can you please wead me this book? I love how you wead!” I felt that “Calgon, take me away,” sensation suddenly come over me.

I don’t recall getting help with anything school related during my childhood. My mother packed our lunches, laid out clean (and pressed) clothes and occasionally rubbed on Vic’s Vapo-Rub or Calamine lotion—depending on the season. Not once do I remember her sitting at the kitchen table to review math problems or research the Middle Ages. I called her on  Mother’s Day. My fears were confirmed.

“Hi Ma, it’s me. Happy Mother’s Day!”

“Thank you Lella. You’re one of my greatest gifts.”

“Thanks Ma… listen Ma…did you ever help me with my homework?”

“No, no. You were so smart, you never needed help.”

“Were the boys also smart? You never helped them either.”

“The boys turned out just fine.”

“Were you involved with the PTA?”

“Yes, of course, I paid the dues every year.”

“Did you come on any field trips?”

“No honey, only the pushy mothers went.”

“Did you ever help me with a special project? I don’t remember having any art materials in the house.

“Ellie, don’t be silly. You kids were in one of the best school districts on Long Island.”

“But Ma, we were never allowed to have glitter, Silly Putty or Magic Markers in the house. My projects were shoeboxes colored with crayons. We were deprived!”

“Everything you needed was at school. There was no reason to mess the house.”

“Why didn’t you read to me? You know—the Dick and Jane books.”

“Oh Lella—what’s the matter with you? I didn’t read out loud so you would not get confused.  Thirty five years ago, my accent was still very strong. Be thankful.”

“How come you never checked my homework?”

“You were perfect. What was there to check?  Happy Mother’s Day Booboolla. Except for moving my grandchildren 300 miles away, you’re still perfect.”

“Thank you Mother. So are you.”

Lofaro family at Capri’s graduation

Our culture encourages us to blame others for our pain. Parents, friends, old lovers. Science points to genetics—DNA—predisposition. You are what you are because that’s what your father was or that’s what your mother is. Even some Christians feel a certain amount of exoneration by pointing out the “sins of their forefathers.” The Living God has decreed that “the old things have passed away and all things (including us!) have been made new. In Christ I am a new creation. The Father I must emulate is perfect. That pretty much cancels out my list of excuses. I’ll try to do better with homework next year.

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I love my children. I think they’re wonderful and I’m pretty nuts about them. Please don’t mistake me for a misguided, misinformed, mushy mom. I am quite aware of their sin natures, I dislike some of their personality traits (some are too close for comfort), and I discipline them when it’s necessary. I have never subscribed to the philosophies of the “Feely School” which preaches: “Mommy feels bad when you do that,” or “How did hitting your sister make you feel?” or “Do you feel like taking a nap now?” Of course there’s a place for feelings in our home but we do not allow emotions to rule. Frank and I have gleaned a tremendous amount from the wisdom found in Christian books and tapes. We are eternally grateful for the assistance of people such as James Dobson, Susan Yates and Dennis Rainey and we can confidently declare the principles they present to be tried and true. So why this burst of maternal musings? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we give our kids and to what length we would go to demonstrate our love for them.

I recently went to see a foreign film titled “Life Is Beautiful.” It was initially released to a limited market in October 1998, but unprecedented accolades and seven American Academy Award nominations have brought widespread distribution and huge box office success. The two most striking aspects of this particular movie-going experience are that I saw it with my Italian Mother (the film is in Italian with English subtitles) and that I was deeply affected by the central theme of sacrificial love unto death—more specifically;  the love of a father for his son.

Allow me to expound upon the Italian component. The first half of the movie is pure romantic comedy. It is set in northern Italy in the 1940’s, and Roberto Begnini (director, script writer and main character) is masterful in portraying a clownish man who pursues his beautiful “Principessa” and wins her over with wit, perseverance and true love. Imagine how my enjoyment of this delightful segment was enhanced by my mother’s outbursts of hilarious laughter. I could not recall ever hearing her laugh like she did that day. Begnini’s script caused her to double over in side splitting heaves but I refrained from turning my eyes in her direction for fear of missing the subtitles! Begnini’s character—Guido, gets the woman of his dreams (and real life wife)—Dora and they have a son—Joshua.

Then, there is the component dealing with sacrificial love. As quickly as one can turn a page, the tone and setting of the film grow somber as Guido and Joshua are arrested for the crime of being Jewish and put on a long line of cattle-cars heading for a death camp in Germany. Dora races to the depot and insists she be allowed on the train. The Nazi officer tells her to mind her own business and go home. Dora wants to share in whatever awaits her husband and son and although she is not of Jewish ancestry, she demands a place on the train. The Nazi smirks and Dora boards a car full of Jewish women and girls. What follows in the next hour is some of the most tear jerking, heart warming, gut wrenching, life affirming cinema that I have ever seen. Tears and guts? Warmth and affirmation?                                                                                                                   How can these emotions mingle? How can a movie about the Holocaust be called “Life Is Beautiful?”

In the final moments of the story, there is an ultimate sacrificial act of love. Jesus declared that the greatest demonstration of love for another involves the laying down of one’s life. That is a very beautiful, yet very difficult concept for most of us to grasp. I could not stop thinking about that level of sacrificial love for days and days after seeing this film. The phone rang late one evening and it was my Mom. As usual, she was checking to make sure we made it home safely and to ask how the kids were and to tell me that the movie had caused her to remember something that had been suppressed into the recesses of her memory bank since 1945. What she told me was quite remarkable and I have received permission to repeat it.

My Mother entered the world as Alessandra Bermani. She was born in northern Italy in 1934 and moved with her parents to Tripoli in northern Africa during her early childhood. Mussolini had taken this region and my grandfather was “arm-banded” and “strongly encouraged” by the fascists to assist in the industrialization of Tripoli. In 1945, just before the end of W.W.II, my mother was 11 years old. There was much social/political unrest and Jewish persecution continued to take many forms. Angry factions were dragging Jews up to the balconies of apartment buildings and throwing them over the railings into the streets.

On one particular late afternoon, my Mother was left alone in her apartment for a short while. My Grandmother ran to the market with the babies and my Grandfather had not yet returned from the machine factory. Glancing out a window and down into the street, my Mother made eye contact with a woman who being chased by a violent mob of men. Within a minute, the woman was banging at my Mother’s door, begging entrance. Without hesitation, Mother let her in and slammed the door shut within inches of the mob’s deafening arrival. The Jewish woman collapsed to the floor and crawled down the long hallway and under my Grandparent’s bed. The 11 year old Alessandra bolted the three locks, put her small shoulder under the door knob and leaned her body against the solid wood, ten foot door for the most terrifying ten minutes of her life. She heard the threats. She heard the bargaining. She watched the thick metal hinges loosen. She felt her knees weaken as she watched the door begin to buckle. She cried out to God. My Mother never found out why the band of attackers suddenly dispersed that day. The sobbing woman crawled out from under the bed and stooped down attempting to kiss my mother’s feet. She finally stood up, hugged my Mother and fled when she saw that no danger was imminent. My Mother returned the embrace and with a combination of fear, shock and relief, my Mother bolted the locks once again and then something happened that was so painful, she chose not to remember it—that is—until almost 55 years later. A scene in “Life Is Beautiful” brought it back from the deepest recesses of her soul.

My Mother began to bleed. She bled from her nose. It was not a trickling nose bleed but a gushing one. The bleeding was profuse and when she finally stopped the flow, she began to bleed vaginally which horrified the 11 year old who had not yet experienced her     menstrual cycle. Once again, blood surged from her body and then my Nana returned from the market shocked by what she saw and terrified by the events she was told had taken place during her brief absence. She chastised my Mother for opening the door and held her closely.

Before we hung up the phone, my Mom told me that her childhood ended that day. I was speechless. My Mother saved a Jewish life during the Holocaust. What an incredible revelation. I have no idea what price she paid to do that. She certainly did not pause to assess the cost. I could never begin to articulate what I have felt in my heart concerning this personal and painful memory that had been buried for over half a century.

I’d like to think that I would risk my life for another human being—just like my Mother did. And I’d like to believe that I would have gotten on that train—just like Dora did. And I would definitely do everything in my power to shield my child from the horrors of a concentration camp—just like Guido did. But—I cannot fathom allowing—no—arranging for my child to die in someone else’s place—just like God did. I cannot comprehend why He would give up His only son. It is impossible for me to grasp why He sacrificed His precious baby. I am at a loss as to why a father would place his son where he would be destined for pain, ridicule and death. I will never understand how a child could be born for the sole purpose of dying. Why God? Why You? Why Him? Why on a cross? Oh God, help me to understand that level of love. I need a new heart…renew my mind, Lord.

In His infinite love, God sent His only Son into the world to die in order that you and I may share eternal life with Him. There is nothing we have done to deserve this gift. There is nothing we can add to what has been given. There is nothing we can do to repay His generosity. If you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins then you will live forever. Cancer, nuclear war, earthquakes, Y2K…none of these things can destroy your soul. Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say I am?”  Let us ask the question anew. Who do YOU say He is? The answer can save your life.

I love my children. I think they’re wonderful and I am so nuts about them that I have given them the most valuable gift in the entire universe. It’s not a house, nor a college fund nor a financial inheritance. It’s not Disney World, nor electronic wizardry, nor the best school in town. A T-shirt at a well known kids’ clothing store says “Give Kids The World.” I think not. Frank and I will continue to give our kids the Lord. Our children are rich because they know who Jesus is. Indeed, life is beautiful.

 

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December 25, 1999

Dear Children,

Just wanted to write and let you know that Dad and I are about half way through our “parenting years.”  Don’t get alarmed–we’ll always be your parents. This doesn’t mean we’re quitting in 2009. It just means that our toting, tickling, training, teaching time with you is half done. People told us it would fly by much too quickly but we didn’t believe them. When you were babies, it felt as though some nights lasted forever. When you became toddlers, we hoped time would slow down a bit but it didn’t. Your baby teeth are all gone, none of you talk like Tweety Bird, and you never play dress-up anymore. Thank God for memories.

We dedicated each of you at the altar of the church, amongst many witnesses. When you turned 2, you were enrolled in Sunday school and you’ve been there ever since. We sent you to Christian day camps, sports camps and overnight camps. We carpooled you to lock-ins, youth groups, choir rehearsals, drama nights, community clean-ups, outreaches, overnights, and pizza parties. We have explained what the Pastors do and how you can pray for them and we’ve talked about practical ways you could be helpful to others. We watched with a million emotions when the three of you decided to be baptized at the same time. Thank God for the church.

When we sponsored a child through World Vision, we watched as you took such a genuine interest in Tapiwa and rejoiced in the fact that she would  receive the things she needed to live a productive life in Zimbabwe. When we sent bibles to Christians in the underground church in China, you were upset to hear some of the stories we shared with you about the suffering of  Christians around the world whose only crime was believing in Jesus. You guys wanted to fly to Sudan immediately to “buy freedom” for 100 Christians slaves. You have become acquainted with the Angel Tree program of Prison Fellowship and have clearly understood how sad Christmas can be for a kid whose mom or dad is in prison. Your hearts have been enlarged. Thank God for effective ministries.

You have met many wonderful people who love the Lord and serve Him well. Some have sat at our dinner table and some have stood in the pulpit, and some have spoken from microphones 300 yards away. You have gleaned much from their preaching, their teaching, their music, their mission, their passion. Some of the people you have benefited from are well known and some are only known by those whom they quietly, faithfully serve. Thank God for real heroes.

The bittersweet reality is that the years of Big Bird, Barney, and bubblebaths are over. You don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Great Pumpkin or the fat guy in red, (although we have gone to great lengths to teach you the true story of the remarkable Christian man named Nicholas of Lycea.) Your formal education is also at a halfway mark. You’ve observed how easily kids are swayed by friends, music, and clothing ads. Words such as genocide, homicide, and suicide are no longer foreign. You’ve begun to  believe school shootings are a regular occurrence in America. You have learned what “the system” has to say about aids, safe sex, alcohol, and drugs. You have heard what other kids think about dating, lying, MTV, and Pokemon. Sadly, some of the famous people you look up to have failed in their “personal” life. Nobody seems to refer to any of this as “sin.” Thank God for absolute truth.

We have checked off a lot of boxes on that ever growing list titled: “How To Raise Christian Kids.”  We bought you “all the right stuff”: Christian books, videos, CDs, games, jewelry, and shirts. We keep replacing your bibles with age appropriate ones and Dad does a terrific job holding your attention during family devotions. However, we will never be able to convey all the things we think you’ll need to know in order to be prepared for life. We had no way of knowing what current events would be hurled in front of your young eyes and ears and we can’t predict what issues will come about as a result of natural disasters, advanced technology, and a culture that’s becoming morally numb. Sometimes, we feel discouraged because we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what we want you to know. Thank God for grace.

In addition to doing a lot of things right–we’ve also managed to “blow it” on countless occasions. We are embarrassed about the times you have seen Daddy and I display selfish attitudes and speak harsh words. At times we have used poor judgment and often shown you our own inadequacies. We never wanted to pass down our smelly baggage but we have managed to do just that. When we don’t like some of the things you say or do–guess who it reminds us of? We will continue to ask for guidance and forgiveness. Thank God for mercy.

The dawn of the new millennium happens to mark the half-time of your childhood. Dad and I want to be absolutely sure you fully understand these few things….. Jesus sees you and knows you and loves you with an everlasting love that cannot be defined or measured. You were created to know Him and to make Him known. Whether you live on a mountain in Timbuktu–or in the White House–or in suburbia –your life will be mediocre, at best,  if you are not intimate with God. You will never have true success if you do not have true faith. You will never become a fine leader until you become a fine servant. You will never know deep joy without knowing the meaning of the very first Christmas. A Savior was born. A King was given. He is the best gift you will ever receive. His name is Jesus.

Merry Christmas, dear children.

I love you.

Mom

Popular worship leader and single mom Kim Hill offers insight into the chaotic single-parent life. Kim is a Grammy-nominated, multiple-Dove award winning singer/songwriter. She is also the frazzled, joyful single mother of two boys.

Last Monday morning I was cajoling my boys, Graham and Benjamin (15 and 11), to hurry up and come downstairs. Suddenly it occurred to me that I’d forgotten to work out the carpool schedule. Then I accidentally dropped a bowl of oatmeal on my freshly mopped floors. I can promise you, a worship song wasn’t the first thing that popped into my head! What came to mind was How in the world do other single moms run an efficient household without saying bad words before breakfast?

It’s all too much

Maybe you aren’t frazzled from trying to raise two kids by yourself, but nearly every woman I’ve connected with at Christian conferences talks of being overwhelmed. They’re exhausted from staying up all night with a new baby or stretching too little money over too many bills. Most of the women I rub shoulders with are worn out from trying to juggle too much.

This juggling-mama-mania is why I think it’s so important to recognize our absolute dependency on God. We have to admit we can’t possibly manage all the details of our families without divine help.

Personally, I also suffer from spiritual amnesia—a point Graham recently brought to my attention. He had committed a minor infraction, and I had responded with a major tongue-lashing. I quickly realized I should apologize for my grumpy overreaction, so I said, “Honey, I’m sorry for getting mad at you. What you did wasn’t a big deal. I’m just stressed out because it’s been a really hard season.”

Graham paused for a few seconds then replied cautiously, “Mom, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but you’ve been saying that for a long time.” Yikes, talk about hitting the bull’s-eye!

The Lord has provided for the boys and me in tangible, miraculous ways the past seven years that I’ve been a single mom, yet I still struggle with anxiety. As a Christian, I know better than to worry about tomorrow’s troubles, but I still do. I often look past the compassionate gaze of my Redeemer and get distracted by mortgage payments and the craziness of my calendar. I lose sleep over how to provide for our little family and how to protect their tender hearts from the ugly wounds that accompany divorce.

Leaning into faith

Thankfully, in spite of my tenuous trust, every time I pick up my Bible, God turns my face toward Him with themes like: “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal” (Isaiah 26:4); “Under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4); “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3); and “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Through the Bible, prayer, music and gorgeous Tennessee sunsets, God reminds me that He will never abandon us to stumble through life on our own. He gently comforts me with the fact that my love for Graham and Benjamin pales next to His perfect love for them. God assures me that His affection will never fade or fail, whether I keep all my balls in the air or I drop one or two or 12 in moments of weakness. And my heavenly Father sweetly sings mercy over me on those nights when I’m too tired to sing my own precious children to sleep.

Rest in Him

The realities and responsibilities of life can definitely knock the wind – and the worship – right out of us. So I encourage you to carve out a few minutes today and marinate in this wonderful, paraphrased promise of Jesus from The Message:

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

(This article first appeared in Focus on the Family magazine, November 2008.)

A Hole In It!

April 10, 2010

The following is a devotional birthed out of recording artist Kim Hill’s personal story, written to help single parents guide their children through the fallout of divorce.

When children experience their parents’ divorce, no matter how old they are, it’s a devastating event. When asked how the divorce made them feel, some kids say it felt like the world fell apart. Some say it felt like a tsunami hit their home and smashed it to smithereens. Some say it felt like winter came inside and made everything and everybody cold. Regardless of how they describe the aftermath of divorce, everyone who has had to deal with their parents splitting up will tell you it hurts. (That is, if they’re being honest.)

I have friends who were grown-ups when their parents divorced, and they said it still felt like the world was splitting in two. They say it broke their hearts and made them cry and wish things could be different. Even though they’re adults, they’ll still tell you they feel like they’re trying to straddle an emotional canyon — standing with one foot on the side with Mom and the other foot on the side with Dad.

I guess in a lot of ways, divorce is like a death in the family. It’s the death of a marriage, and everyone in the family feels the loss. It’s the death of what God meant for a family to be. Our dreams of living happily ever after basically get piled into a casket and buried, and it’s just plain awful for a while. And while God can heal the pain of divorce, it still changes things forever in our life. That’s why it’s important to allow yourself to express the pain, to be sad about it rather than pretending you’re OK when you really feel like your heart has a giant hole in it.

It’s also important to know your children will probably express other emotions besides the sad ones. One day they might be tearful and clingy because your family isn’t what it used to be, but the very next day you might find them venting their frustration by punching holes in their bedroom wall. I have a friend who goes outside and throws eggs against a tree when she feels upset about her parents’ divorce — which I think can be a great emotional release for adults and children, unless your family happens to reside in a zero-lot-line neighborhood!

Ultimately, whether our kids express grief by hanging onto a teddy bear or by hurling groceries, our primary goal as a parent must be to remind them of how very much their heavenly Father loves them. Then we must reassure them they never have to hide emotion — sad or mad — from God or from us.

“God, you see trouble and sadness. You take note of it. You
do something about it.” (Psalm 10:14, NIRV)

Article adapted by Kim Hill from Hope No Matter What, Helping Your Children Heal After Divorce, by Kim Hill with Lisa Harper (Regal, 2008).