Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The question

It was somewhere around 1989 and I was sitting in the class of my favorite religious studies professor. I took so many of his classes that I can't even remember the name of this particular class but I think it's safe to say it was about religion. And on that day, in the last minutes of class, Dr. P proposed a rather interesting question to his group of raggedy 19 year old scholars.

Imagine you will be asked one question at the gates of Heaven, what do you think that question will be?

The responses came slowly at first and then gained traction. Some were funny, some were personal, and some were deeply theological. I remember Dr. P leaning back against the table he had been lecturing from with a big smile on his face. He was clearly reveling in hearing kids with scarcely two decades of life experience to their names distill the meaning of life down to a single question. I don't remember giving an answer myself, even then I was pretty content living with the unknown and not trying to have all the answers. But I enjoyed the banter and I remember waiting to hear how Dr. P would draw the discussion to a close.

He started to gather his papers which was always the signal that class was wrapping up. You could hear papers shuffling and books closing as students began to follow suit. But before everyone could disperse one brave teenage soldier dared to ask, "But, Dr. P.... what do you think the question will be?"

He stopped. Looked around for a moment. Looked up. Seemed to take a deep breath and then simply said,

Did you know you were loved?

I've thought about that question many, many times over the years. Knowing Dr. P as I did, I always knew the question wasn't about salvation. It wasn't a test. Having been a pastor and university chaplain for decades he was well acquainted with the kinds of life stories that might lead a person to answer that question with a bitter, "no". It wasn't a question designed to wound, but to heal.

Which is why in time I began to hear the question as a redemptive one. I came to hear it as, Did you know you were loved? And then, gently, the next question would be, Do you know it now? 

And that's how I heard it for a long time. But lately I've been hearing that question in a different way.

In the past few weeks as I have left one child (who is not so child-like anymore) two states away, and have been helping another one make decisions about his future and where he might land as he takes off a year from now, that question has taken on a new tone. Suddenly, the question I have carried in my soul for over 20 years has a new voice.

It is the voice of a parent. A father. A mother. It is the voice of the one who has loved you most of all, who has always wanted the best for you, but has sometimes had to stand silently by while you stumbled through heartache, missteps and failure.

Did you know you were loved? 

All those years... When we took turns eating dinner for the first three months of your life because someone had to be bouncing you from 5-8pm every evening to keep you from screaming your little head off...When we made you give up your beloved binky....When we didn't bat an eye about you wearing your pirate costume to the grocery store in the middle of June... When you wore a coat and tie to PreK for three months straight.... When Dad ran around like a crazy person on Saturday mornings trying to coach two soccer teams at the same time... When we drove you to the skatepark hundreds of times... When we went ten rounds over cell phone privileges and responsibility... When we taught you to drive... When we asked you to clear your dishes five thousand times... When you did great things and stupid things and funny things and brave things.... All those years...

Did you know you were loved? 

Do you know how much you still are?

In the end, isn't that the only question that matters?



Friday, July 31, 2015

Detours

There are so many things you can't really prepare for when launching your first child from the nest. You cannot truly prepare for how tedious and stressful the college application process can be. You cannot understand how perplexing it will be to decide on a meal plan package when all you know is that at home they seem to eat constantly. You cannot begin to fathom how much money you will spend on what feels like nothing- hangers, laundry detergent, shampoo, extra sheets...poof! You just spent five...million...dollars... (Okay, not five million. But, you know, a lot).

And you can't prepare for how quiet it feels when they are gone.

But then you get used to things. And, in our case, as I've said before, maybe you get eased into things because they go to school close to home and you continue to see them on a semi-weekly basis for laundry, food, money, and just because. And even though you wonder at times if staying so close to home was such a good idea you finally admit that maybe you were, gulp, wrong because it seems to be going so well. 

Yeah, maybe all that.

What a great story.

The End. Right?

WRONG!

Because do you know what "they" do then?! "They" decide to throw you a curveball in the eleventh hour of summer and tell you that "they" are thinking of transferring schools!! And then "they" actually go through with the application process and get transcripts sent and ask for recommendations and talk on the phone with admissions counselors! (I ask you, where was all this self-motivation and industriousness the FIRST time around?!) And after all that, "they" do in fact get into a new school and decide that, yes, "they" do want to transfer, and so now "they" are leaving in three short weeks for Southern California!

Have you figured out who "they" is yet? Have you picked up on the fact that this may not just be an exercise in fun hypothetical stories?

Uh huh. Because "they" is determined to finally see us lose our ever-lovin minds.

BUT, let's keep our eye on the prize here. Because as head spinning as all of that is- do you know what is really most important?

Do you know the one thing we should not lose sight of in all of this?

With all of the packing and prepping and planning that the next three weeks will entail, do you know what we should all remember above all else.

THAT I WAS RIGHT!!!

Okay, maybe we were both a little bit right. He was right that what he needed was here, for awhile. But I was right that at some point he'd need to stretch his wings a little bit more.

He's always had it in him. Always marched to the beat of his own drummer with a style all his own. Always done things in his own time, in his own way.


So, now, just when we got comfortable. He's shaking things up again.

Gotta love him.

And we do.

So long, Seattle.
Jack has left the building.






Sunday, July 12, 2015

Preparing to Launch v. 2.0

I started writing this blog the summer before Jack's senior year in high school. Our firstborn was poised to leave the nest and suddenly I felt woefully unprepared for such a momentous occasion. Was he ready? Had we taught him enough? Would he remember any of it? Would he get into college? Which college? Will he succeed? Will he ever stop leaving half-full glasses of days-old-nasty-looking-liquids everywhere?

Turns out the answers were: yes, hopefully, most of it, YES, more than one, so far, and...no.

And, let's be honest. His launching wasn't nearly so traumatic as it might have been considering he took a great big running start, leaped into the unknown, aaand landed 2 miles from home. He is currently living at home again as we speak.

So...perhaps I should have dialed it down a notch with all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth three years ago?

But now...here we are again. And for reasons I cannot explain I feel I am even less prepared for this next child's first flight than I was the first one.

 I ask you, does this look like the face of a child who should leave home?!?

I keep catching myself staring at him and thinking, W-w-w-wait a minute. You mean you're leaving too?!

And then I imagine him looking back at me like this:


We have a lot of these imaginary conversations because in real life he's kind of a man of few words. (Except when he's singing and then he has a lot of words. LOUD words. Musical, but loud.)

And most of the time I'm super chill about the whole thing. I'm all it's all gooood, man and hakuna matata and whatevs...

But every once in awhile (okay, every day...at least once...or a dozen times) I go full blown Carrie Underwood and start running around with my hands in the air belting out, JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL because I. cannot. even.


And beyond the odd quiet we will be left with when our Sinatra-singing Mad Man leaves the house, there is also the sense that maybe we are moving toward other changes that I can't yet see.

I'm not a big fan of change. 

Have you noticed?

But for so many years there were ideas and plans and dreams that we tossed out there and the conversation always ended with, Maybe...but not until the boys are out of high school. For sure not until then. Maybe once they've both graduated...

These two? Out of high school? That's a million years away...

And now here we are, one year away from venturing into that mythical land of hypotheticals and possibilities known as Both Boys Are Out of High School. 

What does that land look like? I honestly have no idea.

Of course, we still have this showstopper.



Thank goodness. I think we are all glad I still have 8 years to prepare for her departure. Pray that Carrie Underwood comes up with a new theme song for me by then. 

Until then, welcome to Preparing to Launch v. 2.0.

Because when I wasn't looking, this one grew up, too.

My Mad Man.
Fly to the moon, Son. Play among the stars.
In other words, I love you.





Thursday, April 2, 2015

Broken for you

When I was a teenager, Maundy Thursday was one of the most memorable nights of the church year for me.

As a kid, there was something about those few services during the year when we attended church at night. In other churches and traditions attending at night might be completely commonplace. But in my childhood church home, evening services were quite exotic. As I recall, they only happened three times a year; Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Christmas Eve.

Now, no adult who saw me at those Maundy Thursday services would have had a clue what an impact they had on me. Keep that in mind when you think all of your efforts to impart tradition and wisdom and memories to your teenagers is having about as much effect as shouting into a hurricane.

No, I did not appear all holy and contemplative in my corduroy skirt and peasant blouse. I'm sure if I bowed my freshly permed head it was mostly to hide the fit of giggles my best friend Karen and I erupted into at least half a dozen times during the somber service.

(Okay, but seriously, we had this male soloist who, I'm sorry, was just a recipe for making immature youth dissolve into shoulder shaking, tears streaming, mom-giving-you-the-evil-eye church giggles. What was the worship committee thinking? The vibrato on that man! And the volume! The volume plus vibrato was positively more than two girls already prone to hysterical laughter could take. It's no wonder our parents didn't care if we sat in the back by ourselves. I'm sure they wanted to disown us and feign utter ignorance to our shenanigans.)

But in between the giggles and the eye rolls and the whispers and all of that other stuff that teenage girls do, seeds of faith were being planted.

Nothing could have told you that something was stirring in me every time I walked into that quiet sanctuary. You wouldn't have known that when the bread was broken and the wine was poured, my heart swelled just a little. All you would have seen was an awkward teenage girl sitting in a dark sanctuary looking for all the world as though she had better places to be.

And maybe it was the darkness that made it all make more sense? Because even as a teenager I seemed to understand that there is both darkness and light in this world. What teenager doesn't? What other time in our lives is more punctuated with the highest highs and the lowest lows?

Sharing a meal with friends. Telling our stories. Saying good bye. The pain of betrayal. The fear of what lies ahead. Left alone. Soul crushing despair. The family and friends who stand by you and the ones who run away. Forgiving. Loving. Faith. And ultimately, hope.

Even as a teenager I could see and hear and understand that this is the story. This is our story.

Nobody wants to be broken.

But we will be. A thousand times over.

The question is, will you reach out and grab hold of that which will make you whole again?


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

February lessons

I'm sick.

It was really only a matter of time since I have been subbing almost daily the past few weeks. That much subbing only means one thing, sick teachers. Sick teachers means sick kids. Sick kids means the classrooms are all thriving petri dishes teeming with all manner of bacteria and viruses. It's like an episode of Magic School Bus where all of the teachers and students become germs and have to do battle against bottles of hand sanitizer (Spoiler alert: The germs win).

Sidenote: How great was Magic School Bus? How awesome was Ms. Frizzle? How unrealistic was it that she had a class of eight kids? Do you know how awesome I would be if I had a class of eight kids? I could surely take my class on some magical adventures full of education and fun, too, with EIGHT kids. 

I digress.

Did I mention I am sick? I feel like I should clarify that again in case this little missive of mine wanders even more than usual. I am quite possibly feverish and hallucinating.

Subbing and the Bacteria Festival I've been cavorting in aside, I'm not surprised February has decided to kick me in the teeth. It's possible I might have ended up here anyway, even without the burning sore throat and aching head. I have a lot to gear up for this month and it's enough to make me tired by 8am even on my best day.

February is always a big month in our little household. Exactly 3 out of 5 birthdays in our family occur this month. Three birthdays in the shortest month of the year, and one of them is mine. That makes February a non-stop party on any given year but this year the birthdays are feeling particularly big. This year we are rolling in some new numbers that I am having a hard time getting my head around.

I almost can't even say it.

Actually, I can't say it.

Let's just say I have one leaving single digits (let me pause to mop off the keyboard from the waterfall of tears), one leaving his teens (I'm glad you can't hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth), and then there's me...officially hitting the middle of my 40's which means after this it's all just one big, not-so-long countdown to 50.

I cannot even.

Obviously my resolve to get out of yoga pants is going to hit some really big snags this month. I'm sure you understand.

These two...my February babies...killin' me.







You get it, right? I mean, you'll understand when I spontaneously start weeping in the produce aisle, right? Please just look away. It's best for both of us.

But in spite of the fact that I'm inclined to be annoyed at February for kicking me when I'm down with this little illness that mimics the Bubonic Plague; I actually think February was trying to teach me something.

Because when our kids get older and we get all sentimental, we start to have memory lapses of what the "little years" were really like. 

Don't get me wrong. I loved the little years. I love little ones, period. That's why I say "yes" every time I'm asked to sub in Kindergarten even though I know I will come home limping and exhausted and won't be able to speak full sentences to my own family, let alone cook them dinner. I just love those little guys. 

But when you reach this point in parenting it is so tempting to look back on those years with nostalgia and start saying grandmotherly things like, "Enjoy it dearie" to poor, sleep-deprived mothers who are trying to run their debit card as fast as possible in the checkout aisle while their toddler is grabbing at candy bars and packs of gum and their newborn is wailing for all she's worth in the Baby Bjorn and you just know that poor mama's milk just letdown as the beads of sweat start pouring down her face in the direction of her clenched teeth.

The little years are not easy. 

And they are especially not easy when Mama is sick. Remember Moms of Older Kids? Remember what it was like to be sick as a dog and still have to nurse a baby or entertain a toddler or cut up grapes or make mac n cheese while praying that he will keep watching Nick Jr. all. day. long? 

Oh, do I remember. 

And I thought of that this morning as my two who are still at home got themselves up, dressed, fed and out the door with almost zero input from me. I thought to myself what a marvel that would be to a young mother; the idea that her children would one day be capable of making their own breakfast, dressing themselves, packing up and getting out the door on time all while she STAYED IN BED.

Being sick is not fun regardless. But it is a heck of a lot more manageable when you only have to take care of yourself. You can take that to the bank and cross-stitch it on a pillow, I'd say.

So, thank you, February. Thank you for reminding me of the many wonderful things that come from having your kids grow up. Truly, the many, many wonderful things. I am going to keep this little lesson close to my heart as we hit each of these milestone birthdays. I will sing their ages loud and proud and, I promise, I will celebrate with a smile.

So....can we nix the whole flu bug thing now? 

Lesson learned. 

Please?

Alrighty then...naptime. 

And I'll be taking this one all by myself. Hallelujah.

P.S. Big, mighty prayers for any moms of little ones who are sick right now. May God send Mary Poppins down from the sky to tend to the children, Alice to cook dinner, and Rosario (Will and Grace) to hang out and watch TV with you. My heart is with you.

P.P.S. This is still killin' me...



Thursday, January 29, 2015

Teach them well

Yesterday was Grandparent's Day at my daughter's school. If you teach in an elementary school you know that any day out of the ordinary is a recipe for craziness. Combine the change in routine with beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles and various other "special friends" coming to visit at the end of the day and you can count on the first four hours of the day being unbridled insanity.

But everyone survived. The program went off beautifully (all credit to our amazingly patient and unflappable music teacher) and the students happily reunited with their precious family members and friends to escort them to their classrooms to show off their best work.

I stood in the hallway and waited for my daughter to finish reading her Oma the short novel she had written. I knew it would take a little while and the classroom was crowded and hovering somewhere right around one thousand degrees so I positioned myself outside the door where it was a mere one hundred degrees. A friend joined me, also waiting for her kids to finish up in their classrooms. As her son raced by, recorder in hand, she shook her head and confessed to me, "I'm the worst Love and Logic mom. He actually forgot his recorder today and I brought it to him." She went on, "I mean...if it had just been an assignment or even his lunch, I wouldn't have come to his rescue. But, it's Grandparent's Day! And he would have had to sit out the performance!" She was obviously struggling over this decision and probably figured the Parenting Police were going to swoop in at any moment and tattoo "Helicopter Mom" on her forehead.

I couldn't help but laugh a little at her distress because she is truly one of the best moms I know and the farthest thing from a Helicopter Parent. Her children are all bright, self-reliant, incredibly sweet and unfailingly polite. The idea that she had violated some indefensible Mom Law and now needed to plead Guilty and send herself off to Mom Jail would mean there was little hope for the rest of us.

But I could see she really felt conflicted over her decision and so I made my own confession, which is that I don't always subscribe to the hardline Love and Logic, "natural consequences" school of parenting. (I'll pause for shocked gasps). I know, I know. The heresy. I get it.  I know it puts me at risk for the Parenting Police knocking on my door, too, but I'll take my chances.

I told her, "I think you absolutely did the right thing. We have to teach our kids consequences and responsibility, but we also have to teach them grace. Where else will they learn about grace and forgiveness and mercy, if not in their family?"

Where else will they learn about grace and forgiveness and mercy, if not in their family?

I mean, here's the thing.

(I love to say that. And it's one of those phrases that is so comical in its meaninglessness. Here's the thing? What thing? And is there only one thing? I digress...)

Seriously, here's the thing. Let's imagine you locked your keys in your car. I know, I know...today's cars make that a lot harder to do but it can be done so let's imagine it. Got it?  Have you conjured up your mental picture? You are stranded in a grocery store parking lot having locked your keys in your car. You know your husband is not far away, is available, and has in his possession a spare set of keys to your car. You call him on the phone and explain your dilemma, and he says this (Cheerfully but sympathetically, I might add, which is another pet peeve of mine of the whole L & L philosophy, the false cheery/sympathy you are advised to adopt.):

Oh, wow, honey. I am so sorry. That is such a bummer. I am so sad for you that this happened. What do you think you are going to do? Would you like to hear some ideas of what other people have done in your situation? I can't wait to find out how you solve this problem. I'm rooting for you!

Can. You. IMAGINE?!?!

Better yet, can you imagine what your response would be?

I am going to advise something completely revolutionary which will mean, again,  I am going to have to be looking over my shoulder for the PP.

I am not an expert on anything. Truth be told, I probably won't even shower today which doesn't really mean anything except to say that I do not think I am the be all and end all of anything. Zilch. In fact, I will be the first to tell you that you should take or leave my advice according to your own inner wisdom.

Disclaimers aside, I'm going to offer some advice.

When your normal, mostly responsible, decently polite, generally even-keeled kid leaves his lunch sitting on the kitchen counter for the first time, or even the second time, or even the third time-but-the-last-time-was-four-months-ago-and-he's-remembered-it-like-sixty-times-since-then....and you are able and willing...take it to him.

When your daughter, who has been struggling and striving and working so hard to master long division comes to you with tears in her eyes because she left her math assignment at school...help her find a solution. Call a friend and see if they can email it to you. Figure out if she could go in early and get it done. LOOK HER IN THE EYES AND TELL HER, "I LOVE YOU. THIS IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD AND WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER."

Because we are a family. And in families we help each other.

I'm not talking about entitlement. If you see your kid slipping into a pattern of irresponsibility and an attitude of 'what can the world do for me' then by all means, nip that nonsense in the bud, swiftly and efficiently.

But the idea that if you don't let your kids suffer small consequences now means they will automatically be facing BIG consequences later is silly. Taking your 2nd grader their lunch, or their recorder, or their math assignment a couple of times over the course of a school year does not mean they are on a direct route to prison.

Consequences are a reality. We all come to face to face with them all the time. Yes, kids need to feel the weight of them now and then. But I think we are playing with fire if we don't realize how many consequences kids face on a daily basis that we don't even see. The missed recesses for assignments that weren't finished, or talking in class. The friend who won't play with him now because he didn't play fair yesterday. The coach who made them all run extra laps for goofing off. The class who all got assigned extra homework because of the actions of a few. And any parent who takes their job seriously (which most parents do), knows there are plenty of consequences that happen at home, too.

Don't be afraid to teach them grace.

And when they offer you that sheepish, "thank you", or a hug, or even just a grateful smile, tell them,

We are a family. This is what we do. 

We love.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Dream Medium

Am I the only one getting a little overwhelmed by all of the inspirational New Years posts, quotes, goal lists and otherwise Rah-Rah messages?

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!

MAKE THIS YOUR BEST YEAR YET!

LIFE IS NOT A DRESS REHEARSAL! (I particularly love the ones that throw in a dig about my mortality. That's uplifting.)

DREAM BIG!!!!

I am all for living with intention and purpose. I fully support anyone striving for and reaching their goals. I absolutely believe it is always best to set your mind on all that is good, excellent, lovely and wonderful (Philippians 4:8). I would much rather see people go into the New Year with energy and enthusiasm than with dread and dismay.

But...

What if I don't want to dream big?

What if I really just kinda want to dream medium? Or even small? Or even teeny tiny?

Is that so terrible?

First, let's just get out of the way that ANYTHING is not possible. No matter how badly I might want to (and I so badly do NOT want to) I cannot get up out of this chair and go run a marathon. I cannot. No amount of wishing or determination can make it so. I have not trained, prepared or planned to keep these legs moving at an above-walking pace for anywhere close to 26.2 miles. It will not happen. At least not today (or ever, just so we are clear).

I am not going to go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow and find that Jack's room has been painted. (Yeah, I'm going to keep beating that dead horse until someone shows up here demanding to paint his bedroom just so I will stop talking about it. Sherwin Williams "Mindful Gray" looks nice. Just in case you were wondering.)

We are not children. We all know that in reality ANYTHING is not possible without adequate planning, preparation, skill, talent, opportunity and good luck. Certainly faith plays a critical role in the realization of any dream, but God gave us each unique gifts for a reason. He doesn't expect a duck to go out and try and be a wolf (thank goodness, because the duck would be eaten immediately). We gotta do the best with what we've been given. We have to be the best gosh darn duck we can be.

I admire the people today and throughout history who have dreamed really big dreams. People who shake up and transform the world. Truly, thank God for the big dreamers.

But I keep hoping that God didn't mean for every single one of us to shake up the world. I mean, if you have too many world shakers wouldn't we all start feeling like we are a bunch of kernels of corn in a bag of Jiffy Pop? Everybody exploding and bouncing into one another with no rhyme or reason until we are just a big pile of ideas and plans and programs with nobody left to simply cook dinner, or teach a Sunday school class, or meet a hurting friend for coffee?

Life is in the small stuff, too.

In fact, I would say most of life is in the small stuff.

I dream that this year my children will continue to succeed and be happy in school.

I dream that the children I teach at church will know that I love them and, more importantly, that God loves them.

I dream that my husband will reap a bountiful harvest from all the seeds of diligence, steadfastness and devotion he has sown.

I dream that we will all laugh a lot this year.

I dream the Seahawks will win the Super Bowl. (C'mon...I had to put that in there!)

I dream that both myself and others will be blessed by my One Word.

I dream that Ben will let me get another dog (what is wrong with me?!)

I dream that through my words and actions I will help to make my corner of the world kinder, safer and more abundantly joyful for everyone.

Those are my medium dreams.

I have this idea that maybe if enough of us dream and pursue and attain a whole bunch of medium dreams, those medium dreams will join together to create one big mega-dream! Don't you think?

I do.

I think that's how we medium dreamers make our own mark on the world. We each tend to our little corners of the world and pretty soon you add 'em all up and we circle the globe. One corner at a time.

Dream medium. I believe in you.