How to fight like a girl, and nine other things my wife taught me about parenting.

I want to tell you about this one mother, this gorgeous, wonderful, picture of strength and all that is good in the world mother.

She already sounds too good to be true right?  Like a work of fiction more than a reality. That is the funny thing about life, the truth is often far more exciting and incredible than any work of fiction could be.

Let me assure you, this girl is as real as life itself.

This morning I woke up in this dirty, hard as a rock bed covered with a shiny yellow blanket and I find myself sitting here missing her a few hours before my alarm is supposed to wake me. I could have slept longer but a particularly aggressive mosquito would not stop buzzing in my ears and diving in for a bite on every bit of skin that was exposed to the air. For a while I tried to sleep with my head under the blanket but the person who slept in this bed before me had not showered in what smells a very long time, and so I decided that the risk of being bitten was less painful than the smell. At one point in the night I tried to use the mosquito net that hung from the ceiling above, but as always happens to me I woke up in the middle of the night with the dusty net wrapped around my neck, instead it now lies on the ground covered in red African dust.

This hotel that I am in is easily one of the places on earth that I remember with more emotion than anywhere else. It’s like a trigger being here, flooding me with feelings and memories. When I close my eyes I can almost hear the voices of our kids crying in the middle of the night asking Jessie and I why we had to leave our lives behind in America and move here. I can remember the menu in the little hotel restaurant with the orange chairs, the one which lists fancy items like “Cheese on Plate” and “Special Oomlet” that when ordered will only be met with a simple “no have. Only fried egg” from the wait staff.  This is Jinka Resort, the small hotel in the small town that my crazy adventurous wife and I drove 18 hours outside of the capital city in Ethiopia to with our kids to live in for the first three weeks of the six years that we lived in Ethiopia to help provide homes for orphans.

This city is the place where I found the end of all the fight I had in me. I gave up here, literally laid down and cried in the bathroom on the dirty floor of the hotel room while my wife tried to keep the kids happy building little structures out of the rocks outside.

The 18 months earlier had been tough, our marriage was hardly a marriage any more from all that we had been through.  My brother killed himself, my best friend who worked with me died of liver failure shortly after I had to lay him off.  Both, I would have told you during that time were my fault.  My business had failed in the real estate crash of 2008 along with it I lost millions of dollars of money from investors. “Trust me” I had said while explaining to them how incredible the projects I was building were going to be. Now they were gone, the banks had taken everything. Landing here in this hotel in those first weeks only brought questions of why we had decided to do something that now looked so stupid. In that hotel it was feeling more like we were digging ourselves deeper into a hole rather than finding a new way on a new road in our lives.

I was a mess.  Our lives were a mess.

But today life is different and good in so many ways, and being back here and waking up in this room just a few doors down from the room that we lived in with our family, I can’t help but think back to that season and how we got through it all. The answer to why we made it in the end is simple.

Jessie

She rose up and showed me how to find strength in the middle of the hardest struggle in my life, and then she held my hand and painted a picture together with me of what we wanted to live for, and how we could come out of that dark place and have a huge impact in the world together with our four kids. She fought with all she had for something that I could not yet see, showing me through words and feelings how to find my way through the dark.

The water is not working in the bathroom and I am pretty sure there are bedbugs in the mattress and so my grimy jeans are still hugging my legs from the 11 hour long dusty drive yesterday, but my fingers are dancing across these keys, yearning to tell you the story of the woman that I love so much, to share with you all that I have learned from her in the years that we have been married. Without any further build up here, I give you the ten most important things I have learned about the being a parent from my wife the most amazing mother in the world.

  1. Showing your kids how to live to have positive impact on the world around them is like painting a picture in the middle of a storm. The canvas keeps blowing away, dust gets in your eyes and you can never find the right color that you want to use. Instead you need to learn to paint by feeling, using your heart not your head. Eventually the picture starts to take shape, and becomes the most beautiful work of art you have ever created.  I love the calm moments, the kind that come when we get away to some beach somewhere with our family and we can sit back and look at what we have created together and see just how beautiful it is.  Jessie more than anyone I know has a talent for creating with her heart instead of her head and our kids are beautiful wonderful people because of it.
  1. Being a mother at times means being willing to get dirty and scrappy when life demands it of you. You don’t always get to make plans for what life will throw at you, but you do get to choose how you respond. Jessie takes off the gloves and fights like a girl, like a force of nature when something threatens her kids, our marriage or what she is working to build in our family.
  1. Put your relationship with your spouse first. Jessie seems to have a radar for where we are at in our marriage. Intuitively she knows when we begin to drift off and she always seems to know how to get us back. A few days before I came on this trip she booked a day by the pool at a hotel near our house while the kids were at school.  I can’t describe how nice it was to shut off from the world for a bit and get a chance to get back on the same page again
  1. Our ceiling is our kids floor. One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to stand with your children on your shoulders rather than placing them on the floor next to you. The act of choosing to stand with your feet planted on the ground creating a solid foundation for your kids takes force and determination. Too often parents think that what they were given is all they have to give their children. That is simply not true, we can do so much more for them, we can learn new skills, and build in them a passion and skill set for taking on life that we could not even dream of ourselves.  The key is learning how to get out of the way.
  1. Know yourself and talk about it. This is something that Jessie learned later in our marriage. She started to find her voice, and found that things work so much better when she talks about where she is at and what capacity she has to take things on.  The truth is being a mom is tough work, and sometimes you need to be honest with yourself that you need a break from things to catch your breath. As a husband I would much rather know where she is and how she is doing than have her push on for months past the breaking point and then have to watch her work to get back above water. I love her for this honesty.
  1. Who you are matters more than where you work or how much money you make in your life. Jessie has a way of bringing this up throughout our lives with our kids, asking them about what the choices they are making say about them, helping them see the value of character without cramming it down their throats. It’s an art, one that I can appreciate and almost grasp, but I must admit that I don’t fully understand how she does it in a way that works so well.  I am proud of the kids we have, proud of the hearts they have and the choices they make. They aren’t perfect, and I am sure we have many tough seasons ahead as they will surely stumble and fall, but I also know without a doubt that the deep heart lessons they have learned, have built in them something that will last the test of time. I just can’t wait to see what all four of them grow up and do with their lives.
  1. Don’t get yourself in a knot worrying about the small stuff. Enough said.
  1. When something is wrong, fix it. This is perhaps the most important of all the lessons I have learned from Jessie. I think that much of the world gets this one wrong, they think that the situation they are in is something that cannot change, instead Jessie has a knack for busting our world apart and putting it back together again how they should be.  Take a look at your life, then make a list of what you want to accomplish before you die, does it all line up?  Are you able to see where you want to be tomorrow in where you are at today?  If not then today is the day to do something about that.
  1. Workouts are like therapy only cheaper and more effective. J
  1. Life is only an adventure if you decide to see it that way. We have traveled the world together, ate all sorts of crazy foods, met people who didn’t speak our language in sweltering hot mud huts, and sat on the side of many dusty roads in the middle of nowhere with broken down cars. Jessie has taught our kids that it is all about your perspective, if you look at it like an inconvenience then things will only get worse from there, instead if you see it all as an adventure it begins to become just that, a life worth living with stories and glimpses of beauty all around you.

Jessie, thank you for who you are.  Please don’t change a thing, just keep doing what you are doing and everything is going to turn out amazing.