Friday, June 21, 2013

Remember the good stuff

Well, we made it.

One week ago today, our oldest child graduated from high school. Honestly, it's a milestone that I never doubted each of our children would achieve. I think we have always been prepared to do pretty much whatever was necessary to get our kids at least this far. And believe me, there were a few moments along the way when getting Jack to hang in there, go to school everyday, do his homework, and apply himself and reach his potential (as encouraged on more than one report card over the years) felt a little like dragging a squealing lamb to the slaughter.

But he made it.

WE made it.

And once the moment was here, it really did feel like a very big deal.

As I have reflected on that moment over the past week, it has occurred to me that maybe I should have gained some wisdom of my own over the past 12 years. Maybe there is something I can impart after having successfully guided (prodded/cajoled/dragged) one child through Kindergarten-12th grade.

Maybe. I'm not promising a lot.

Here goes...I'm not even going to put a number on my pearls of wisdom. Too much pressure. I'd like to give this a catchy title like, "Lori's Top 10 Hints and Tricks for Getting Your Child to Graduate" but I have serious doubts I can come up with 10 witty and wise tips for surviving your child's school years. I'm hoping I can come up with two.

Right now you might be asking why I didn't think of these in advance and then I would know exactly how much advice I actually possess to pass along? That's sweet of you to think I give these posts that much time and thought. Yeah, sorry, I don't work that way. I'm more of a stream of consciousness, let the words fly off the keyboard sort of writer. Which is all part of why I could never actually be a writer. Planning, forethought, editing, proper punctuation...not so much.

Here we go!

Lori's Unknown Number of Things I Learned Getting My Child Through School

1. Your Child Does Not Need to be an Academic Superstar to go to College. 

I'm putting this at number one because I have a lot of friends with kids entering into high school, or in the early years of high school and I know the whole college thing is looming. Here is the thing, there are a lot of schools out there. Unless your child has his/her heart set on Stanford, Pepperdine or even some of the more competitive state schools, there are a ton of options. We were freaking out going into the college application process having heard so much about how competitive it is now. We had a child with a mediocre GPA, minimal extracurriculars and marginal test scores (He knows all this and owns it. I'm not saying anything he wouldn't tell you himself). He was accepted to 4/6 schools and the two he wasn't accepted to we knew were a stretch. 

Seriously, try not to stress out if your child doesn't have a 3.5 and isn't editor of the yearbook while starring in the school play after coming home from football practice. There aren't enough valedictorians to go around so colleges are more than happy to take some average kids, too. I promise.

If you and your child want college to be an option- it probably is.

2. I Have Yet to See Diorama Construction on the List of Required College Courses

Over the course of your child's many years in school, you will have to suffer through many, many projects. These projects include, but are not limited to: dioramas, TRIoramas, coat hanger mobiles, three dimensional solar systems (and you are not allowed to go get the kit from Michael's), posters (literally, dozens and dozens of posters), various model clay creations, the Rube Goldberg project (I'm so sorry if this one comes home to you), and if you had the pleasure of having my son's 7th grade math teacher, a bizarre sewing project that is supposed to teach something about geometry but mostly ends up in having children with fingers so pinpricked and sore they have to eat like dogs because they can't hold utensils any longer. 

What you need to know is this: None of these projects really matter. If your child is still young enough that he/she doesn't even receive actual grades yet then multiply that statement by a thousand. 

Oh, I know. You can't just blow these things off and you don't want to send your child to school reporting to his teacher that, Mom says this project is silly and she said there was no way she was going to miss the Project Runway finale to find me a shoebox, puffy paint and glitter glue so that I could make something that's going to end up in the recycling. 

I get it. That ain't happening.

But I beg of you, keep it simple. Don't let these projects dissolve into tears and missed bedtimes. Whether or not your little one gets an "S" or an "S+" or an "O" or a "?" won't matter in the long run. Tell them to do their best, applaud their effort and make sure everyone gets to bed on time.

My son answered a lot of questions on his college applications but not one of them asked if he could whip out a killer diorama.

3. Take Lots of Pictures Because You Will Never Remember it All

I hesitate to throw this one out there because I know for some people, this is pressure. I'm the sort of person who likes to take pictures and likes to put together photo books, so I'm grateful for the treasure trove of memories we have in the form of photographs, scrapbooks and now digital photo books. If you aren't that sort of person, and you think you won't care someday if you don't have your child's years in school documented, then don't sweat it. This is totally your call.

But for me, I spent a lot of time looking back on photos of Jack leading up to his graduation and I was thankful for every single one. To see how our boy went from that chubby cheeked angel to the handsome young man he is now was more than a little sentimental.

Even if you only take pictures for the big events, or the first and last day of school, just do it. You'll be so glad someday.

4. Take the Best, Leave the Rest

One of the most beautiful things about the passing of time is it inevitably creates a memory filter. Details get fuzzy, people and places get hazy, and anything that isn't carefully documented with photographic evidence becomes victim to the whims of our long term memories.

I say embrace the filter.

My cousin and I, with whom we took several Disneyland trips when our kids were small, always like to look back on the photos and videos of those trips and say, "Look at that! What a perfect trip! The kids were always smiling. No one got sick. Not a single tantrum, whine or complaint. Best trip ever!!"

It's a big fat lie but we don't care.

The truth is, most of it was great. The kids did have a fabulous time. We do have wonderful memories of those shared trips and raising our kids together. 

So that's what we choose to remember.

The same goes for school, or holidays, or sporting events, or anything!

Embrace the filter. 

Remember the good stuff.

5. That's It

Well, I've sat here for a good five minutes wracking my brain trying to think of one more thing I learned from my son's school years and I got nothin'. I guess next time one of my kids complains after staring at the computer for three minutes that they cannot possibly think of one single thing to write for the essay that is due tomorrow, I'll be a teeny bit more sympathetic.

It's possible they get their lack of persistence from me.

But I'm not being graded on this and truth be told there is a stack of laundry that isn't going to fold itself, so...I quit.

Another of the many blessings that comes with growing up is I get to throw in the towel on this one and nobody is going to ground me or give me an "Incomplete". 

Seriously, being a kid can be hard. There are all these people telling you what to do all the time and expecting you to be good at every single subject under the sun (including diorama building) while also putting in volunteer hours, building a "resume" and being an all-around super great guy or gal about whom teachers will write glowing recommendations.

Whenever you can, make sure they have some fun. Make sure they know it isn't all so desperate or scary or life threatening. Make sure they see their future as something filled with hope and potential and worthy of big dreams.

We all know life isn't easy and that being an adult is filled with a lot of hard work. It's okay to tell them that. They need to know that, too.

But a hopeless person is a stagnant person. To be hopeless is to be stuck. Don't let them get stuck.

Feed them on faith and the belief in a plan that is bigger than them. Teach them they are part of a grand story and everyone has a part to play-no exceptions. They are here for a reason.

Let them experience the realities and consequences of life.

But never stop giving them hope.

And love.

Always love.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." ~Jeremiah 29:11

Saturday, June 8, 2013

We are

There is a wild story in the Gospel of Mark that begins with Jesus walking along, traveling from town to town as he was known to do, and ends with a couple thousand pigs hurtling to their deaths.

Like I said, wild.

In the middle of those two seemingly disconnected bookends is a man so wracked and tortured by demons that not only has he been rejected by family, friends and his community but in their fear they frequently attempt to chain him up. The strength of the demons is so all-consuming though that he cannot be bound or contained. The man appears to be destined to live out his days in as sorry an existence as one could imagine while his community can do nothing but stand by and watch.

Then along comes Jesus.

Somewhere in the depth of this shell of a being there must have been something left. There must have been a shred of the divine child he was created to be. A smoldering ember of the holy spark we are all gifted with at the moment the Father dreams us into being.

There must have been something left of the man he once was, because at the sight of the Healer that mustard seed of faith manages to move mountains. Somehow he is able to overcome the power of the demons and propel his body to the feet of Jesus.

Jesus is neither alarmed or surprised. Maybe he knows we will all end up at his feet one way or another.

He does not address the man. He knows the demons are still in control.

And the demons know they are about to lose.

They begin to beg. Asking not to be swept into oblivion but for an opportunity to take up residence in a herd of swine grazing nearby.

Before Jesus sends them on their way though, he asks the demon's name.

The cryptic, bone-chilling answer is, "My name is Legion, for we are many."

The man is healed. And for reasons that aren't clear, Jesus grants the demon's request and sends the evil spirits into the unsuspecting pigs who promptly run down the hill and drown themselves.

I'll say it again, it's a wild, wild story.

But it's the story I often go to when I feel desperate to understand why awful, awful, awful things happen in this world.

My name is Legion, for we are many.

The thing is, Jesus never seems surprised that there is evil in the world. He is confronted with it right and left during his time on earth, never more so than in his own violent death, and he is never surprised.

He just continues to move in and amongst the people- healing, touching, forgiving, teaching, blessing and loving.

He moved through the world as the ultimate antidote to evil with his Resurrection putting the final nail in death's coffin. So that even now, even as evil continues to try to wrack and torment and torture, it flails about knowing it really, in the end, can't win.

We see evil and we wonder where is God?

The Bible makes it clear that God was not the hand tormenting that demon-possessed man in the Gospel of Mark. But He was the hand that set him free.

Unlike some people, I'm pretty content with the Mystery. And by mystery I mean the capital "M" sacred Mystery. I don't expect to know all the answers this side of Heaven. This doesn't mean that I don't struggle, don't wonder, don't doubt, don't question... But when I find myself wrestling with angels I try to go back to what I know for sure.

I know God is love.

I know we were created in love.

I know that we are called to love one another and that when we do, we participate in God's healing work in the world.

It's not often I read stories in the Bible and wish there were a different ending. Thank goodness because if I did I'm pretty sure I'd eventually hear God whisper,

Simmer down there, Child. I got this.

But when I see overwhelming goodness rising up to do battle with the dark forces of the world...

When I see entire communities pouring out love and compassion on the suffering...

When I sit in a sanctuary, or a classroom, or a gymnasium and hear both strangers and friends raise their hopeful, determined voices up together in prayer and song...

I always imagine Jesus staring that demon down, looking straight into the depths of that poor man's true soul and shaking his head when the demon declares,

I am Legion, for we are many.

And with a voice fierce with love, and truth, and light he would say...

No...WE are.