Tuesday, December 30, 2014

That word

A few days ago I realized that the hands of Father Time were ticking along and that soon we would be closing the books on 2014. I don't know what tipped me off first, the fact that New Years always arrives a week after Christmas, or my multiple calendars all faithfully counting down the last days of December, but at some point I finally clued in that 2015 is just around the corner. I'm quick that way. 

For me, the arrival of a new year means the arrival of a new Word. As in, a One Word resolution. Or, a Word of the Year, if you will. Call it what you like but for the past two years this has been my approach to heralding in the New Year in lieu of a more traditional list of resolutions. 

Essentially, the goal is to choose a word that will help you to grow or change or improve in a certain area and make that your focus. It's more about big picture thinking than a list of narrowly defined goals you are likely to abandon by Jan 10th anyway. I also choose a scripture verse that complements my one word and commit that to memory as well. My verses from the past two years continue to be of enormous benefit to me and I repeat them to myself often. 

You can read more about my previous words and verses here but suffice to say the past two years have had a similar flavor. While different in some respects, both 2013 and 2014 carried an intention to combat my somewhat complacent nature and encourage more productivity. And I have to say, I was encouraged by the improvement I saw in 2014. I'm still a work in progress, and Jack's room still isn't painted (ahem), but there has definitely been growth. 

(And I have come to the firm conclusion that until Jack can keep his room clean for more than five minutes when he's home, I think he deserves a room with spring green walls.) 

For 2015, I knew I wanted to go in a new direction. As much as I continue to wish I had a more task-oriented, Energizer Bunny personality, at some point I also have to acknowledge that just isn't who I was created to be. I get all the important things in my life done. My family is well cared for, my home is relatively neat and tidy (ignore Jack's room), I exercise regularly, I am a reliable and conscientious employee, and I make time for family and friends. I continue to strive for growth but certainly there are other areas I could devote my energy to. 

So, a couple of days ago I opened up my mind and heart and started asking myself some pertinent questions. There is no magic formula to arriving at your One Word, but these are the sort of questions I ask myself: What do I like about myself? Where do I struggle? What makes me feel happy? When do I feel lost? At the end of 2015 what would I like to be able to say was different this year? How do I want to be and feel different? What do I want more of in my life?

Many words popped into my head in the course of answering these questions. They were all useful, interesting words but there was one in particular that kept elbowing all of the other perfectly good words out of the way. And, in response, I kept shoving it back down. 

It wasn't that I didn't like the word, I just didn't know what I would do with that word. It didn't make sense to me. Or, deep down it did but it wasn't a word I wanted to have to spend much time with. Certainly not a whole year. 

So, I kept thinking and made lists of other words. Better words. Words that made sense. 

But it was still there. Quietly knocking on the door of my heart. That word. 

I decided to ask Superdad what he thought. Part of me felt silly asking for help in arriving at my One Word but who knows me better than the man who shares my life every single day, year in and year out? Plus, I knew he wouldn't just make something up to placate me. He would only give me an answer if he had one to give. He's annoyingly honest like that. 

I told him what I needed. I stammered out a bunch of rambling thoughts about my answers to my questions. How I want to feel more comfortable in my own skin. That I want to feel less burdened by the feelings and reactions of others. I want to own my feelings but let other people have theirs without feeling responsible for them. I want to feel less guilty all the time, as though anything that ever goes wrong in the world is somehow my fault. I want to stop thinking, and analyzing, and pondering, and worrying so dang much and just BE. 

I want to be free. 

Superdad nodded along to my painfully long stream of consciousness and when I finished he looked at me steadily for several looong seconds. Then he turned back to his iPad and said, "Okay. I'll think about it."

I went upstairs with Annie and we both got in our pjs. We settled in on my big bed so she could watch a show and I could read. She burrowed into my side and I opened my book. I didn't expect to get a verdict from Superdad quickly (if he would have one at all). I fully expected him to take a day or two to mull things over and then let me know whether inspiration struck. I figured by the time I heard back from him I would have figured it out on my own. I would have found my One Word. A word that made sense. A good, solid, sensible word. Certainly not that word. 

But then I heard my text chime on my phone. Superdad.

There was only this:




And there it was. That word. 

I stared at it and felt this odd mix of shock and relief. Shock that he had so quickly arrived at the exact word I'd been avoiding, and relief that maybe it wasn't so crazy after all. Superdad is many things but among his varied gifts and qualities he is most decidedly sane, sometimes maddeningly so. And yet, somehow, in whatever way it came to him, he was nudged by the same word that had been pestering me for days, refusing to go away. 

I wish I could say that was all it took, but even after what most people would consider a pretty crazy, clear sign, I still fought it. I decided it was best to seek counsel from two more people, what with three being such an ancient spiritual number and all. So I texted two dear friends who know me well and I knew wouldn't call the loony bin when I gave them the condensed version of my story. But even as I typed the words, even knowing they would never judge me, I still felt hesitant to tell them the word that kept popping up. That word. 

Their responses?

Wow. That's awesome. That's a good one. Yes. I get exactly what that means. 

Really? You do? Alrighty then...

And it was at about that point that I swear I felt the Spirit smack me on the forehead and say, "Look. I can't really make this any more clear without doing something that will completely freak you out like writing the word in steam on your mirror so could you just trust me on this one?!"

Yes. Gotcha.

So that's it then....my word for 2015 is Loved.

Gulp.

I still don't know exactly what I'm going to do with that word for an entire year, but I have a feeling it will come to me in ways I least expect. 

Maybe, for now, I will just try to take the focus off of always trying to do better and be better and instead live out of the knowledge that I am loved. Right now. Today. Just as I am. Unfinished painting projects and all.

Loved.


That's my 2015 One Word. Whether I like it or not. :)

My 2015 verse.
I like to create a graphic of my Verse of the Year for
the wallpaper on my phone, hence the strange shape.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Come darkness, Come light

I think it's safe to say that my biggest weakness is my sweet tooth.

Actually, it's probably even safer to say that my biggest weaknesses are pride, impatience, slothfulness, selfishness....but let's just start with my sweet tooth. That's a bit more manageable. Baby steps.

Oh my, do I love sweets.

In the interest of good health, moderation and all things holy, I do manage to keep my sweet tooth in check most of the time. I am very aware of the dangers of sugar and the importance of eating real, whole foods. And that is what I do eat, most of the time. My meals do not consist of old fashioned donuts topped off with a sprinkle of M & M's. (But...yum, right?) I'm not Buddy the Elf pouring maple syrup on spaghetti. But truth be told, when I finish off my healthy meal of mostly high fiber, vitamin-rich, minimally processed, heavy-to-the-vegetables foods...I kinda want a little something sweet.

Maybe just a small handful of Christmas colored mint M & M's?

So, you can see why the holidays pose a particular challenge for someone like myself. When we enter into the season where every meeting, gathering, classroom function, or social event comes with a plate of Christmas cookies laid out front and center, it's time to pull out all the stops for sweet tooth dysfunction management.

It's not that I'm not capable of forgoing sweets. I once gave up sugar for a full two months. I like to refer to that period of my life as The Dark Ages.

I mean, really. What is life without a little sweetness?

So, given that any full ban on sweets is ultimately doomed to failure, my strategy for the past month or so has been to eliminate sweets on weekdays, only allowing myself a moderate amount of sweet treats on weekends. The only exception to this restriction are bonafide holidays that fall on a weekday. I mean, like, Thanksgiving and Christmas, not National Potato Chip Day (although who needs sweets if you can celebrate with potato chips?)

I realize that for some people my personal Operation-Cut-The-Sweets plan is probably an eating regimen that is second nature for you. I don't want to hear it. I'll warn you that every time someone primly say, 'I don't really care for sweets...' I am pretty sure an angel loses its wings. So, just keep it to yourselves you salad-loving-health-nuts.

I was walking the dog yesterday (distracting myself from Annie's candy bar she had left half-eaten on the counter), listening to Christmas music, when a song came on that literally had me almost skipping down the sidewalk. I was overcome with such merriness that it was almost silly. The only thing that kept it from being more-than-almost silly was that I did not actually skip down the sidewalk (my children are thanking their lucky stars right now).  But I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said that one little Christmas song turned my day, and my mood, right on its heels. I went from melancholy to joyful in about twenty seconds flat.

And it occurred to me that one of the reasons I embrace the Christmas season so enthusiastically is because it is my little something sweet.

For those of the Christian faith, we are really in the season of Advent. The Christmas season does not truly begin until Christmas Eve. And Advent is traditionally a time of reflection and repentance, not unlike the season of Lent. It's an introspective time in which we travel through the stories of our faith, reminding ourselves of why the Christmas story is indeed good news and something to be celebrated.

I'm good at that part. In truth, my heart and mind are all too often inclined more to the heavier stuff of life. Things weigh on my heart easily. I am too willing to carry burdens that aren't mine to hold. I lean into Advent with all the pondering and praying and repenting and sometimes get so far into the darkness that I forget that the light is coming. And, in fact, that the Light is here.

I think that is why I encourage an atmosphere of festivity and jolliness in my home by decorating early, playing Christmas tunes 24/7, and moving that blasted Elf around the house every night to the delight of one nine year old girl. It is because I need to be reminded of the light that is coming, the Light that is here- even as I acknowledge the darkness that is also the truth and reality of this life.

Being honest about the darkness awakens us to be compassionate with ourselves and others. But remembering the light, keeps us hopeful. And hope is the source of joy.

Wherever your heart is this Advent season, I hope Christmas will be your little something sweet.

"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life." John 8:12

P.S. And if you see me on a weekend, be sure to offer me a cookie...or candy...or brownie...I'm not picky. Just watch out for your fingers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Common losses

Years ago, I was attending the bridal shower of a young woman who had grown up in our church. It was hard to believe that this funny, smart girl who babysat our boys when she was a teenager was old enough to be getting married. I was honored to be included in the event but I also carried into it my own feelings of awkwardness because at that time I had been away from our church home for a few years.

I needn't have worried. The people who had drawn us to that small church family (and would ultimately draw us back again) were still the same. They offered nothing but warmth and happiness in seeing me after so much time apart. They wanted nothing more than to know that I was well, what my family had been up to and to thank me for joining them in this special day. They were grace personified.

One of things that had set us adrift during that time was the loss of our infant twins. Many people find comfort in familiar places in the aftermath of loss but for me my comfort was in solitude. Going back to what had been was all too often a reminder to me of what would never be. So, there were people at this gathering whom I had not spoken to in the time since our loss.

I found myself seated next to one of our elderly matriarchs of the church. A stately, dignified woman not given to showy displays of emotion. She was typical of her generation. She had known and weathered hard things in her life but never wavered in her faithfulness to family, church and community. I admired her but even more so, I liked her.

We talked, catching up on our families and laughing over shared memories in the church choir. Still, in the small talk I felt something deeper, something much heavier than our light, breezy words. She seemed to want to share something. I sensed a story that needed to be told. The words started to bubble up, then she hesitated and I wondered if she would lose her nerve. Eventually, she pressed forward in short, hurried sentences. She told me of her grandson who had been born into this world medically fragile and clinging to life. He died within a few months of his birth. He had been able to go home. He was nursed by his mother, and loved deeply by his family. His was a blessedly full and yet painfully short little life.

I sat close and leaned in wanting to convey my profound sorrow and sympathy without causing undue attention from the rest of the party. I knew this woman would not want to feel as though she had disrupted a festive, happy occasion.

She stiffened then, sniffed and tried to shift back to the moment at hand with some brusque words about how "these things happen" and then looked right at me saying apologetically, "well, you know." She fell silent, stared at her hands in her lap and mumbled, "It happens to so many people."

I sat quietly for a moment. Wondering what words I could offer to this woman who had seen so much more of life than I had. This woman who had known so much more loss in her lifetime than I had.

But I also knew I didn't believe her dismissive words for a minute. I knew she had told me this story for a reason. I knew she carried it with her everyday and that it was a relief to be able to say his name out loud. To tell at least one person that he had been here. That he mattered. That she missed him.

I put my hand on her knee and said gently, "Yes, it does. These things do happen. But that doesn't make it any less sad and it doesn't mean we don't miss those babies."

She didn't look up or meet my eyes. She just squeezed my hand, nodded quickly and said in a whisper, "That's true. That is very, very true."

And then we both turned back to the celebration of life and love in front of us.


We are each of us angels with only one wing. 
And we can only fly embracing each other.
~Luciano De Creschenzo

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What comes next

What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time, I was making lists, circling important dates on the calendar, stressing over meal plans (how many times a day will he need to eat?!) while also purchasing bedding and towels and toiletries and text books and boatloads of pens and pencils (because he couldn't go buy more?) and paper and everything I could possibly think of that my baby bird might need as he flew from the nest to go land all of two miles away from home where I could have easily brought him anything that we might have forgotten. There is a good chance he would have been able to ascend Mt. Everest with all of the provisions I sent him off with.

We were prepared.

Yesterday, Jack and I had the following conversation when we crossed paths in the kitchen:

Me: Are you still here? 

Jack: It seems like it. 

Me: Do you actually know when you are supposed to be at school? Because I haven't looked at the school calendar.

Jack: Yeah, I'm pretty sure.

Me: Like, do you know your actual move-in date?

Jack: Yeah, the 26th. 

Me: Oh, okay good. So....do you need anything? Stuff for your room? Does anything from last year need to be replaced? Should we go shopping for... anything?

Jack: Nah... I'm good.

Can you tell we are headed for a highly warm, fuzzy and tearful goodbye?

Since this whole writing exercise started as a way for me to process how best to prepare my children (and really, let's face it, me) for their inevitable departure from our loving home, I feel like it is only fair to warn those of you who are just now launching your firstborn, or anticipating launching your firstborn in the near future, that the first flight out of the nest is only the beginning.

Because, you see, in most cases, they may fly away for a little while...but they aren't really gone gone yet. For most of us mama and papa birds, these are still just test flights for our baby birds. They are spreading their wings, going farther and staying away longer than they ever have before but...for most of us...at semi-regular intervals...our baby birds come flying back.

Vacations. Holidays. Maybe weekends. Summer. Right about the time you finally start getting used to the change in dynamics that comes with having one less member of the household that giant, messy, food-eating, leaves-his-Starbucks-cups-everywhere man-child will come strolling back in again.

And in some ways it's the same as it always was, which is great and fun and happyand in some ways it is totally different now.

See, this baby bird is not the same baby bird you booted out of the nest a year ago. This baby bird has been living life more or less on his own terms for the past nine+ months. This baby bird hasn't heard the word "curfew" in what feels like a lifetime, or had to "check-in", or been asked to leave a note as to where he might be going and when he might be back. This baby bird has been flying solo, People, and there's no clipping his wings now.

A year ago Jack and his friends wanted to take a road trip to California. We said, 'no.' It was too far. They had never done anything like that before. We told our son that he needed to start smaller, build trust, and then we will see. So, they didn't go. The trip was limited to the Washington/Oregon coast and all was well.

This summer....


He flew.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

It isn't that having them come home isn't wonderful. It is. We miss Jack when he's gone and we all love the energy and stories and laughter he brings when he returns. We love his presence. But we have also grown more and more accustomed to his absence. We have established a "new normal" when he is gone. So when he comes bursting back in (And I swear trumpets sound when he comes through the door. Seriously, the fanfare of that kid...) everyone has to find their bearings again. And none more so than the parents who are having to learn how to live with a child who still has one foot in childhood while the other foot is inching closer and closer to adulthood.

We discovered that the first summer home is when you negotiate new boundaries. You have discussions about the kinds of things you do simply out of courtesy to the people who care about you, not because you have to. You figure out where to give some latitude and where to draw new lines. And, hopefully, everyone can do this peacefully knowing we are all on the same side.

You end up having text conversations like this:


And you learn not to wait up anymore because we are not all 19 and actually do require normal amounts of sleep.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

None of this is bad. It really isn't. 

It's just another transition.

And like the first initial launch, it can be both thrilling and sad.

But this is what all of those years of mothering and parenting and loving and scolding and training and hoping and worrying and wishing have been about. They have been about raising a child, your child, to become an adult. Eventually. Step by step.

Mine is not there yet, and that's okay. There is still time. In fact, I'm glad we still have some time.

But this summer I have seen glimpses of the adult he is becoming and while I fear he is destined to live in squalor surrounded by his empty glasses and soda cans, I am also very proud of the man he is becoming (for other reasons unrelated to his housekeeping skills). 

So, this is my message of encouragement to all of the moms and dads watching their baby birds take their first flight out of the nest this fall. I see you as you wipe the tears from your eyes and wonder how the house suddenly got so quiet. I feel your anxiety. I hear your hopes and dreams even as they are mixed with worry and concern. I am with you completely.

I know it's hard.

But try to remember, they will fly back again.

And that will be even harder. :-)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

On the inside

I know I can't be the only adult who feels like an impostor. I mean, how old do you really feel like you are? On the inside? 16? 18? 21? Maybe you are lightyears more mature than I am and you feel like you are even pushing 25?

Or, perhaps you are 25 in which case I'm not sure how old you feel...10?

I have no problem saying I am 44. Heck, I'm proud of that number because it means that somehow I have managed to go to college, go to graduate school, become employed, get married, and raise three kids all while camouflaging my actual existence as a barely 20-something. It means that somehow I have been fooling everyone for over 20 years into believing I am an actual adult.

Shhh...don't tell anyone.

But lately I have been having a hard time even feeling comfortable as my inner 20 year old because I keep seeing all of these 18...19...20...year old girls who look so freakin' effortlessly pulled together and cool! What is up with that? On my best day I have never looked as put together as today's average 18 year old girl. I was a bonafide ragamuffin as a child and never really outgrew it (you'll remember my issues with irregular showers and an inappropriate reliance on yoga pants).

The other day I ran into a 19 year old girl who went to grade school with my oldest son. I hadn't seen her in years but she remembered me and immediately gave me a hug and launched into the most poised, mature, friendly conversation I had had in days. As my head was spinning from the shock of that I noticed than in addition to her brilliant conversational skills (I had a hard time keeping up because I was so wowed by her girl-woman adorableness) she was also in just the cutest summer outfit and her hair was perfection and she managed to pull all of this off while making it look as though she had hardly given any of it a minute of thought.

Did I know anyone at 19 who was that together? Was I?

The short answer is, no. For sure I was not but maybe some of my friends were. Forgive me if any of my childhood friends are reading this thinking, 'Thanks a lot, Friend! I was totally all that and a bag of chips at 19!' but my memory fails me at times (which is how I know I really am 44).

Later though...after the wooziness passed and I texted my son to tell him he should really get in touch with this girl again because she is so stinkin' cute (he loved that)...my head cleared and I remembered that no one has it all together at 19. No one. Even the most adorable, smart, personable girl in the world. I'm sure on any given day, including that day, this darling girl battles hidden insecurities and hurts and wounds that can't be seen when you are only looking at hair, clothes and a smile. It made me want to go back and find her and give her another great big hug and tell you her, "YOU ARE SO AWESOME JUST THE WAY YOU ARE!!!" Which might have scared her a little so it's probably best that only happened in my head.

And then I look at my own little ragamuffin.

My daughter has inherited my less-than-put-together style. She is starting to care about her clothes but thankfully leans more toward athletic, modest styles then attempts to look "grown-up". She likes her hair long but would never brush it if I didn't tell her to. She prefers it down but mainly because she doesn't want it fussed with. In fact, 9 times out of 10, it's hanging in her face, something she scarcely seems to notice.

She never looks in a mirror.

She doesn't worry about getting her hair wet while swimming.

She doesn't mind getting dirty or sweaty.

She will sleep in the same clothes she wore that day and get up the next day and wear them again (until I tell her to change).

She is far more interested in figuring out what she wants to do each day and who she want to be then how she wants to look.

The other day I was grumbling about the chronic problem of her hair hanging in her face and she said to me quietly, "I don't think my hair should matter so much. You always tell me what matters is what is on the inside. My hair is on the outside." 

And in that moment I decided I was going to practice biting my tongue a lot more and fussing over hair a lot less.

How many more years do we have of her being so blissfully accepting of herself and utterly lacking in self-consciousness? How many more years will she spend all day playing in the lake without the slightest concern that her hair looks like a mound of seaweed on top of her head? How many more years do we have of her wanting the sporty swimsuit so she can play hard without a care in the world? (Hopefully forever).

Every mother and father hopes that somehow with conscientious parenting and unconditional love and positive affirmations our kids can escape the angst and insecurities of adolescence. But anyone who has any accurate recollection of those years at all knows the chances of that are one in a million. Because most of us realize that even though you hopefully leave a lot of that behind the older you get, that awkward teen lives on in all of us making herself known more often than we would like.

So, for now, I will try as much as I can to just let her be. Let her be messy. Let her hair fall in her face. Let her clothes be mismatched. Let her play hard and dream big.

I will let her be....Annie.

Our beautiful girl.








Thursday, June 19, 2014

Say nothing

Say what you need to say... ~ John Mayer

Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out... ~ Sara Bareilles

Say something... ~ A Great Big World

I'm going to offer a thought here and I want to acknowledge right up front that there is more than a little irony in blogging about this...but...I'm going to say it anyway.

I think we are losing the art of saying nothing. Being still. Listening without comment. Hearing perspectives that contradict our own and opting not to voice our dissent.

The number of ways in which we are able, in fact encouraged, to share our opinions these days is staggering. We can review products we have purchased. Restaurants at which we have dined. Hotels where we have rested our weary heads. Books we have read...the plumber who fixed our pipes...the carpet cleaner...our dog groomer... There is virtually no service, product or business which we cannot publicly shame or applaud should we so choose.

It's true...those reviews can be helpful when searching for the perfect landscape artist to clip, prune and shape your ordinary shrubbery into a menagerie of circus animals, but the commentary doesn't stop there.

We can comment on news events. Editorials. Articles. We can offer our opinion in response to someone else's Opinion Piece. And we can do all of this regardless of whether or not we actually have even a smidgen of expertise in the migration patterns of the monarch butterfly. 

A few days ago, I read about a local news event that was in my mind nothing short of inspiring and heartwarming. I clicked on the link because I wanted to read more about it but in doing so left my vulnerable eyes open to the string of comments next to the piece. I tried not to look, believe me. I made it my own personal policy a long time ago not to read the comments section for any news story or article once I discovered it was the fastest way to send yourself tumbling down the rabbit hole into Crazyland. But the way these comments were positioned next to the news story, it was unavoidable that a few caught my eye. And sure enough, there they were.... The Opinionators. The people who simply must express their contrary viewpoint no matter how ridiculous or how much in opposition to the majority viewpoint. 

I get it. I know there are those "trolls" who do this just for the fun of it. But the one that really grabbed me was the comment of a "girl" (I say "girl" because her name sounded like a girl and her profile pic looked like a young woman in her early 20's, but for all I know "she" could have been a 70 year old man from Iceland), who wrote, "I don't care. That's my opinion and I'm entitled to it."

Oh, sweet mother of pearl. 

Yes, Princess, you are. But I pray that someday you might learn there is a richness and a peace to be found in stepping back from your own perspective and deciding to hold it quietly. Perhaps even holding it loosely, staying open to the possibility that over time it might change. Life has a way of changing a lot of our "opinions" that we once thought unchangeable.

Recently, I had an opportunity to practice silence. I had every reason to want to have the last word. I felt I had been unjustly maligned and had been dragged into a messy situation against my will, and worst of all there were kids involved who should have never been put in that position. Many, many people would have thought me completely justified if I had taken to whatever megaphone was available to me to pronounce my innocence and trumpet the truth.

But when faced with the choice, everything in me told me to do and say nothing. I did not respond. I thanked the people who reached out to me and let them know that I appreciated their support but I said nothing more. And I felt complete peace about it.

It's the peace part that is shocking. I don't enjoy conflict so it isn't unusual for me to back away from it but generally I am left feeling unsettled and as though I should have been braver in standing up for myself. 

Not this time. 

This time the decision to let my silence be the last word felt like.... grace.

It was a way to let it end for myself and everyone else involved. 

I was choosing peace.

And it was a lesson to me that perhaps I need to start looking for other opportunities to be quiet. How many other times would I be better off to listen more and pontificate less? 

And then, just as I was pondering all of this, I read something that literally leaped off the page and grabbed me by the ears (okay, not literally....that would be super weird...but it was still so jaw droppingly awesome).

Being right is actually a very hard burden to be able to carry gracefully and humbly. That's why nobody likes to sit next to the kid in class who's right all the time. One of the hardest things in the world is to be right and not hurt other people with it. 
~ Dallas Willard 
Wow.

Amen.

I do not deny for a minute that there are principles and people worth defending boldly and loudly. There is a time to SPEAK!

But let's give silence it's due.

And if I have my way, that silence will spread to every comment section on every news source on the Internet.

That would be so awesome.

(Cue LEGO movie 'Everything is Awesome' music).

Monday, April 21, 2014

Stating the obvious


Look at Jack's poor, sad little Easter basket still sitting untouched and unappreciated. It's actually sad on two counts. Sad, that no one has dug into its contents and declared them wonderful. But perhaps even more sad is that out of all the Easter baskets my kids have had over the years, these tacky little nylon ones that I bought one year at a drugstore in Maui are the ones that have stuck. They are Annie's favorites and WOE to the Easter bunny that tries to put out the beautiful Longaberger basket my sister gave her when she was a baby. Nope, these bug-eyed, oddly sports-themed, why-didn't-they-fall-apart-years-ago little treasures are the ones that get pulled out every year. Their only saving grace is that they do, in fact, squash down flat which is certainly handy for storage purposes. And given that I refuse to employ more than one storage box for Easter decorations, that is actually a pretty big plus.

But back to Jack's sad little bunny....and his notable absence on Easter Sunday.

I knew he had to work in the afternoon and that he had worked late the night before Easter so that made the likelihood of seeing him sometime Easter morning, or at church, pretty slim. But, I didn't want him to think he'd been forgotten so when we hadn't seen him by 2pm I sent him a friendly text saying: THE EASTER BUNNY PUT A 48 HOUR HOLD ON YOUR BASKET BUT AFTER THAT ALL CONTENTS ARE UP FOR GRABS!

Wasn't that sweet?

This is the second year in a row that Jack has not been home on Easter. Last year, he was in Jamaica on a mission trip and this year he was....well, living like a college student. Turns out, when your child moves away from home, even just to live on campus, even a campus a mere five minutes from the threshold of his childhood home, he just isn't around as much. Huh. Who knew?

The truth is that we have been spoiled. Our firstborn chose to go to school close to home and we have gotten to see him a lot over his first year in college. But I've noticed that as the year has gone on we have seen him less and less. And this decrease in visits and laundry runs interestingly enough directly corresponds with his growing happiness and comfort level with his new home away from home. We see him less because he is happy. And as Mary Poppins would say, "That's as it should be." (which isn't particularly profound but when you hear it in that perfect Julie Andrews accent, it sounds really wise with just a touch of melancholy).

Although, in spite of his thriving independence, I'd be willing to bet that he will turn up at some point today to claim his goods. He has no idea what is in that bug-eyed-baseball-bunny basket but he for darn sure doesn't want to see it go to his brother.

I'm kind of thinking that maybe I will throw in few quick supplements to his basket. Not that the Easter bunny didn't do well, but clearly we aren't doing enough to entice this kid home on Easter morning. Maybe if he gets a plastic egg with a tempting wad of cash in it he will think twice about sleeping in and skipping the festivities next year. I mean, nothing says Easter like bribery and emotional manipulation, right?

Alright...maybe not.

Maybe I'll just let him go ahead and grow up. A little bit.

And I'll start strategizing with the Easter bunny for next year....

Easter Past...and before the ugly baskets
The key to his heart it seems...
Weep, weep...sob, sob....

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

We also call him Coach

I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station,
who did not do better work and put forth greater effort
under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.
~Charles Schwab

We call him Superdad because he's, well, pretty super. He's a super hard worker, he's super patient, he's super positive, and he can make a super duper grilled cheese sandwich. But what you might not know is that among all of those other super qualities, he is also a super coach.

I don't think I always knew to appreciate the fact that my kids grew up having their dad coach the majority of their sports teams. Ben has coached 14 years of soccer (some of those were spent coaching two teams at the same time) and somewhere around 12 years of baseball. He has coached little kids and big kids, boys and girls, winning teams and not-so-winning teams. But there are still players to this day who, when bumping into him at the grocery store, or down at our neighborhood village, will see him and call out, "Hey, Coach!" 


You don't know to be grateful for all of the great coaches out there until you encounter the not-so-great coaches. Sometimes it would be the coach of our opposing team who would leave me wishing I could gather up all those other little players and bring them onto our side. Coaches who scream, who belittle, who yell profanities and encourage their players not just to play hard, but to play with the intention to harm. And then there are the coaches whose offenses are more subtle. They are disinterested and unengaged. They don't really know the sport and they don't care to learn. They are the coaches who don't really care if the kids grow as players or as people. 

Sadly, these coaches exist. Thankfully, they are in the minority.

Soccer is really Superdad's sport, but he learned to be a good baseball coach, too. He learned by watching other good coaches and offering to be their assistant when our kids were young. He never minded being the co-pilot and enjoyed the camaraderie coaching with other like-minded men whose goal was as much to model good character as it was to build a winning team.



Superdad has won some championships in his time as Coach, but more importantly he has helped to raise champions. He never allowed foul language or poor sportsmanship on his teams. He made sure all his players played and felt valued. And he modeled an appropriate competitive spirit by ending every game with a smile, pats on the back and encouraging words regardless of the outcome.

The other day we heard about a coach who, while viewing the film of the previous game, called out a single player as being solely responsible for the goal that lost the game. Not only is it rare in soccer that one player can truly be identified as the lone weak link in the string of events that lead to a goal, but my mother's heart couldn't help but lurch in response to such an overt act of humiliation by a coach. But I'll admit that in my head I thought to myself, "I don't know...it's really competitive at this level now. Maybe that's what coaches do." It wasn't what I would do but, heck, I'm not a coach.

But my heart's response was vindicated when I saw Superdad shake his head and then heard him mutter,

You praise publicly, you correct privately.

And I was reminded yet again why parents loved having their kids on his team. Because he knows what it means to be a coach. He knows how you talk to kids. He knows what motivates a kid and what just tears him down. He knows that being a coach is really about being a leader and the basic principles of good leadership apply whether you are running a business or trying to get 8 year olds to kick a ball down a field. You communicate, you affirm, you inspire, you teach, and every once in awhile you get a rousing game of Sharks and Minnows going- because you gotta have some fun.


Superdad's coaching days may be winding down. He got to coach Tim longer than we anticipated when he was asked to assist on his club team last year, but this year Tim will be moving on to a higher level and we will turn him over to a new club, a new team, and a new coach. We feel good about what we have seen from this new coach, but it still feels like an act of faith. Because like teachers, pastors, music instructors, and so many other adult mentors we bring into our kid's lives, coaches can have a dramatic impact for better or worse on the development of these young minds and spirits.



Synonyms for coach: guide, counsel, lead, mentor, shepherd, show, instruct

The best coaches are those who truly understand the power they wield and they do so consciously and carefully. Sports will not always feel fair but it should never feel unjust. Players may not always get what they want but they should always be treated with respect. And my personal belief is that when you are coaching kids below the college level, the development of the person should be as much of a priority as the development of the player. Actually, I believe that should be true at any level of sports, but that's just me.

So, this is my little tribute to our Coach. A thank you for the countless hours he has given not only to our own kids, but to the dozens and dozens and dozens of other kids he has tried to encourage and motivate along the way. I know it hasn't always been easy. I know there have been kids and parents who pushed you to the limits of your patience. I know you reach the end of every season exhausted and spent but also sad to see it end. I see how much you give and it is so very appreciated.

We call him Coach, because that's what he is. Always.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Strong enough to bend

I've been reflecting a lot on where we were a year ago. The biggest thing I remember from a year ago is the complete uncertainty about where we would be now- a year later. Decisions were still being made, discussions were being attempted and thwarted by a teenage boy who needed to go through his own internal process, and the planner in me was staring at her calendar wishing desperately I could start filling it in but having to wait because well....decisions were still being made.

It. Was. Agonizing.

But like so many things (in fact, almost everything) this too did pass and now here we are...one quarter away from Jack having completed his first year in college. Successfully completed, I might add. It's mind boggling.

As we watched our first-born navigate his way through so many choices and options over the past year, we were doing some navigating of our own. I don't know about everyone else doing this parenting gig, but sometimes for Superdad and I the whole thing looks an awful lot like a big game of darts. We keep flinging out ideas and plans and rules and intentions and hope that every once in awhile one of them hits the bullseye.

In case you are wondering, they do not all hit the bullseye. I don't even want to know our ratio and I'm glad no one is keeping track.

One of the things we felt very sure about in our grand plan for launching our first child out of the nest was that he should not go to college with a car his first year. Our reasons were very sound and filled with an abundance of parental wisdom. Every time the topic would come up we would toss out our razor sharp explanations with fine-tuned accuracy.

You need to earn that privilege.

We want you to get involved on campus.


It will be a distraction.

Walking is good for you and will prevent you from gaining the Freshman 15. (We didn't actually use that one, but it's good, huh?)

You need to settle into college life first and then we will consider letting you have a car at school.

And to his credit, he never really argued any of these points. Instead, he just came home a lot that first quarter. To visit his car.

And we watched...and observed....and discussed...and slowly we noticed that all of our arrow-straight rationales seemed to be landing somewhere on the outside edges of the Parenting Dart Board. They weren't hitting the mark.

Over Christmas we had more discussions and in the meantime Jack got a job downtown that meant traveling to and from school late at night. Concessions started to be made. You can take the car on the days that you work....you can have the car for the whole weekend since you work both nights...okay, you work Monday and Wednesday so just take the car and bring it back on Thursday and then you can have it again on Friday....oh whatever, just take the car!!!

Now he has a car at school full time. And guess what? The world didn't come to an end. He is actually happier, more involved at school and spends more time on campus now that he has access to his own transportation. It helps that he has to pay for his own gas so he has gotten surprisingly thrifty about unnecessary driving, but he never complains.

Superdad and I just look at each other, shrug, and happily say, we were wrong.

We had the best intentions but in this instance, with this kid, in this moment in time, we were off the mark. We had to re-calibrate, take a deep breath and try again. Let's try something different. Show us how this could work. We are open to a new plan. We could be wrong.

Bullseye.

And it got me thinking....do you know how many things could be solved, how much pain could be avoided, how much less conflict there would be...if we would all entertain the possibility that we could be wrong?

I like to believe I am a pretty forgiving person and one of the reasons I try to be that way is because I am well aware that people need to be forgiving of me from time to time. I am not perfect. I do not always have the right answer. I do not always say the right thing. I have bad days and good days. I try to use that awareness when I encounter someone behaving in a way that I find difficult to understand. I try to extend a little grace and hope that someone else will do the same for me when I find myself adrift and not operating from my best self.

Even our most deeply held convictions do not have to be used as a bludgeon against those who disagree. Is it possible that this person has a history you don't understand and that history has shaped his or her beliefs? Is it possible that you both actually do want to arrive at the same place you just have different ideas as to how to get there? Is it possible that if you really understood the fullness of this person's life experience and could truly get inside his head you just might find some common ground?

Is it possible that you could be wrong??

I don't pretend to know much about what will come after this life. I am a person of faith who believes in a loving God so I do believe there is more....but I don't imagine for a minute that my simple mind can conceive of what that might be. But one thing I am sure of is that I will discover there were a whole lot of things I was wrong about in this life.

And knowing that makes it a heck of a lot easier for me to concede now and then, while I am still living this life, that I could be wrong.

I don't know...maybe that makes me spineless, or weak, or wishy-washy? Maybe it would be better if I put more things in the "non-negotiable" compartment of my mind and heart? Maybe my peacemaking tendencies are really just a cover-up for a fear of conflict? Maybe you really can tell everything you need to know about a person based on a label, a single moment or a point of view?

Maybe....

But I could be wrong.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Small packages

Annie had her birthday party last night which consisted of eight giggly, bouncy girls coming over and eating pizza, doing crafts, making sundaes, watching movies and then...going to sleep. In theory.

Yes, it was a sleepover. Believe me, I did everything I could to talk her out of it.

Nevertheless, they did indeed all finally fall asleep (mainly because once I called "lights out" I sat downstairs in the dark and read a book on my Kindle so they would have to be quiet and sleep- it worked).

Because the party was on a Saturday night, that meant I still had to get up the next day and be ready to head to church right about the time all of the girls were going to be picked up. I told Annie in advance that she didn't need to go to church and could just stay and hang out at home since I assumed she would be tired after her big celebration. Superdad had to head out of town, so we enlisted big brother Jack to come home and stay with Annie until I could get back (another advantage of having your child choose a college five minutes from home).

All was going as planned and I was at church practicing with the choir when I saw Jack and Annie enter the front doors of the church. I wasn't sure if there had been a misunderstanding or what was going on? I caught Jack's eye and he pointed at Annie and shrugged. It was obvious she had insisted on being brought to church. So, there she was.

Later, when I asked her why she didn't just stay home, her answer was simple.

Because I wanted to go to church.

If you are not a church-going sort of family, that might not mean much to you. But for those of you who are, you know that is music to your ears.

I was raised in a small church and attended a small church in college, so any sort of mega-church was never going to be where I settled down as an adult. Small churches can have their limitations and challenges but I would maintain so do large ones. What we can do well in a small church are sometimes the things a large church struggles to do. In my view, one of our greatest strengths as a small church is our ability to forge connections.

On any given Sunday, one of our Kindergarten-age church members seeks out one of our oldest church members. They adore one another. Little C will spot her elder friend and immediately whisper to her mother and point, asking permission to leave their pew and go join Miss Kay. Permission is granted and she dashes over to Miss Kay's pew where she is welcomed with a hug.

Not long ago Annie was going on and on to my cousin about a friend of hers at church. She was telling my cousin that she dances for him and he loves it. My cousin raised her eyebrows at me. I laughed and informed her, "This little church friend of hers is 8 months old." She cracked up.

But it's true. Some of Annie's best friends at church are a chubby baby, a 5th grade girl, and a 29 year old woman who Annie tells me is "like an aunt" to her. Where else does that happen?

In our church children are routinely included in all aspects of the life of the church by adults of all ages. It is not uncommon for a group of children to spontaneously begin helping whomever is setting up for coffee hour before the worship service. They entertain babies in the narthex. They help pass the Offering. They read the liturgy. They participate in Communion.

As the Children's Ministry Director I sometimes feel torn in my mission and goals. Of course I love to see new children enter our doors and they are always welcomed with open arms. I pray daily that any searching family might find their way to our little church on the hill and feel at home here. But I will also admit there is a part of me that doesn't relish the idea of our numbers growing too large. I love the fact that I know every child in our church not only by name, but what school they go to, what activities they love, their favorite sport, and what makes them laugh.

Each Sunday, as children begin to arrive prior to the worship service, I am often still bustling around getting things ready, making copies, and mentally rehearsing my Children's Message. But there is scarcely a week that goes by that some child does not spot me, run toward me and say excitedly, "Miss Lori! Guess what?!?"

And I can't wait to hear, "what".

Blessings to all on this cold, rainy Sunday.

"You know....my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work."
~Henri Nouwen

Monday, February 17, 2014

Conceding defeat

Today we all enjoyed the extra day tacked onto our weekend. While some schools are celebrating the beginning of a week-long winter break, all of our kiddos will be returning to class tomorrow. So today was a welcome respite knowing tomorrow it will be back to business.

Just before lunchtime, Tim headed off with a friend to roam around downtown. As I began to wonder how the rest of us might spend the middle part of our day off, I heard a key turn in the front door and in walked that increasingly occasional visitor known as our eldest child.

Hey! What are you doing here?

He strolled in, iced Starbucks drink in hand, and proceeded to chatter on about how work was that weekend, how empty the dorm is on this long weekend, the highlights of a business school mixer he recently attended, the upcoming meeting about studying abroad that he's going to attend, the reason he needed to grab his shorts for some dorm floor competition, the great car he got to drive at work, how bad the food is this weekend because they know everyone is gone....and on and on and on...

And Annie and I both just stood there hanging on his every word.

Annie kept sidling up to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and squeezing him. Normally Jack has a pretty rock solid personal space bubble but he was being tolerant of her irrepressible affection. At one point I caught his eye and mouthed to him, "She misses you." At that he smiled amiably and magnanimously offered her a few friendly pats on the back and a small squeeze of her shoulders. She beamed.

After a bit he sat down at the computer so he could give us a visual of the best cars he had recently gotten to drive at work (he's a valet). Annie stood at his elbow and was either truly fascinated by all of his car talk or she was doing a darn good job acting like she was, because she didn't budge as he detailed all of the technical aspects of each car and had her listen to the sound of the different exhausts. I mean, really? But she didn't move a muscle and Jack just kept engaging her.

Jack: Annie, which one of these cars would you like to have someday?

Annie: (timidly) I think I like that one but I would want it to be blue.

Jack: Blue it is! Let's find you a blue one.

And she smiled with wonder as her big brother searched the Internet to find her the perfect car in the perfect shade of blue.

I was the one who thought maybe he should go farther away to school. I was the one who worried he wouldn't have a "college experience" if he didn't leave the city he grew up in. I was the one who thought there was something inherently problematic about being able to come home and do laundry and get a good meal every now and then.

I was wrong.

I was wrong on all counts. He is happy. He is having terrific experiences independent of us and home. It took some time but he has settled into his new life and is thriving. He made a good choice, a smart choice.

And today I realized something else. For the first time I really saw that by staying close to home, his much younger sister gets to continue to have her big brother as a physical presence in her life. That is no small blessing.

This is me, waving the white flag of surrender admitting now and for all time that I WAS WRONG. For Jack's sake, for Annie's, for his longterm career goals, for the sake of his beloved car that he would have had to leave behind...I will admit that Jack's intuition was right and mine was wrong.

And maybe, just maybe...I get something out of this, too.

Because I'll admit it, when he suddenly shows up at our front door with his bag of laundry and his colorful tales to tell, I always hope he might have at least two loads of washing and drying to do.... just so he will have to stay a little bit longer.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Alliances

Years ago, when the boys were young, and I had just gone ten rounds with Timothy's superior circular reasoning as to why whatever it was I was mad at him about was completely justified/unjustified, I overheard the following conversation between my two sons:

Jack: I don't get it. Why don't you just apologize?

Tim: For what?

Jack: For whatever you did.

Tim: What did I do?

Jack: Whatever mom says you did that was wrong! 

Tim: I didn't do anything wrong.

Jack: But mom thinks you did and if you just apologize it will be OVER!

Tim: I'd be happy to apologize if I did anything wrong, but I didn't. So I won't.

Jack: Alright. But that is not the direction I would go.

I can't even remember anymore what it was that Timothy did that was wrong (he was probably being argumentative) but what I do remember is their conversation actually made me smile. It reminded me of two things; 1) My boys are SO different, and 2) They have a relationship that is separate from their shared role as our sons, they are brothers.

Over the years, I watched that brotherly friendship grow and change but it wasn't until they were in high school that I truly came to realize something. They were not only brothers, they were allies. And, every once in awhile, their common enemy was me.

Let me explain.

When Tim entered high school, Jack was a senior and thus drove them both to school. They had a 30 minute drive to and from school each day in which they sat side by side and presumably spoke words to each other occasionally. Their school is not gigantic and without a doubt they frequently saw one another in the hallways, at lunch and at school gatherings. During one term they even had an art class together and I came to find out later that most days they sat at the same large table together during said class. Jack would often give rides to Tim to and from his friend's houses and, again, I'm assuming that sometimes during those car rides they spoke to one another.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Are you getting that during that one year they had together in high school they actually spent quite a lot of time together? Yes?

Uh huh, but here is how conversations would go when every now and then I would try to innocently inquire about one brother to the other.

Me: Soooo....(casually) do you know if your brother is asking anyone to the dance?

Son: (without making eye contact) What? I don't know. Why would I know?

Me: Oh, I don't know I just thought maybe he would have said something to you?

Son: Me? Why me?

Me: Because you're his brother and you spend an hour together in the car everyday and you see him at school and I just thought that maybe you might know a little something about what goes on in his life?

Son: Nope.

LIES!!!! LIES!!!! LIES, I TELL YOU!!!

They know. They always know. They just won't tell me!!!

As infuriating as it was not to be able to get them to turn on one another and be the proper little spies I wanted them to be, I eventually had to admit (begrudgingly) that their loyalty was admirable. While I would have liked to have had a steady stream of information on their lives, and thought I might have been able to bribe at least one of them into being my informant, their tight-lipped, unyielding "know-nothing" schtick was commendable. I guess.

Not that they would ever admit there is a secret alliance between them. I mean, that's the whole point of a secret alliance, right? Nobody is supposed to know. And I've mentioned before that as amiable as my boys are with one another they would roll their eyes and immediately start punching each other if someone tried to suggest they are "friends". But as someone who has tried multiple interrogation tactics and hasn't been able to get one of them to break, there is no doubt some sort of unspoken non-aggression, mutual-defense treaty is in place.

But every now and then one of them lets something slip. Nothing that would qualify as top secret information or critical intelligence, but more of an unmistakable quiet admission that the alliance does in fact exist.

Jack was home doing laundry the other day and started to laugh about something he read on his phone. I inquired as to what was so funny and in an unguarded moment he just chuckled, shook his head and muttered,

Oh, it's just Tim....

And that was all I got. But it was enough. It was enough to know that even now that Jack lives out of the house and goes to college and has taken the concept of secret life to a whole new level, he is still in touch with his brother. And they are still making each other laugh.

That's all I got. But I'll take it.

Long live the alliance. (But I'm still hoping I can get one of them to crack...)


What?!?
(Can't you see how cagey they can be?)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Betrayal

I can't remember if I have ever gushed about my sister here?

No? Well, it's about time then. 

My sister is hands-down one of my favorite people in the whole entire Universe (the world is not big enough, I had to go with Universe just in case there really is life on other planets). 

It's not because she is perfect. Being perfect is not a requirement for being one of my favorite people. Thank goodness, since if it were no one living in this house could make the list, including me. 

It's not because she is smart, even though she is. 

It's not because she is beautiful, even though she is. 

And it's not because she can do actual, for-real, military-style pull-ups and therefore could snap me like a twig....even though she can....and it scares me a little. 

The #1 reason she is one of my favorite people in the whole entire Universe is because there are scarce few other people who know me like she does and, remarkably, she loves me anyway. 

I know...that's sweet. But I'm about to put that love to the test. 

You see, if there is one thing my sister and I agree on 100% of the time besides the irrefutable truth that eating raw cookie dough is worth a small case of salmonella poisoning, it is our dedication to Lazy Parenting. 

Let me explain, Lazy Parenting is not the same as neglectful parenting or love-less parenting. Don't judge us too quickly. It simply means that if there is a path of least resistance available, we are going to take it. 

Get out of bed to make the kids a hearty breakfast on a Saturday morning, OR, stay in bed and let them scrounge around for granola bars and string cheese? That one is too easy...

Offer to take the kids for a bike ride and picnic in the park, OR, make a big show of conceding to let them ride their scooters up and down the hallway (like you've done something really generous and cool) while you heat up some hot dogs and read your book? Uh huh. This is where we start to separate the over-achievers from...people like my sister and I.  

But even more important than the careful investments of time and energy you make within your own home are the ones you make outside your home. This is where it can get really dicey. 

Lazy Parents are very careful not to over-commit, over-promise, over-extend and over-volunteer lest they should pull a muscle or have to give up their favorite TV show. They are the Kings and Queens of the Sign-Up Sheet Shuffle. You keep moving around that table, pen poised, carefully reading every volunteer request and checking your calendar for dates, all with the hope that by the time you circle that table for the 35th time all of the jobs will have been filled. Oh, really? Shoot. 

It's an art form. My sister and I keep saying we are going to write a book titled The Lazy Parent's Handbook but, well, I think you know why that hasn't happened.

And given all of that...given our conscientious dedication to this important life philosophy...given that we perpetually refer to that fake book which we are never going to write...do you know what a Charter Member of the Lazy Parents Forever Club absolutely, positively, under no uncertain terms DOES NOT DO? 

She does NOT agree to be the Team Parent for the High School Soccer Team!!!!!

I'm so ashamed (and exhausted already and the season doesn't start for over 4 weeks). 

So, you can see why this is going to be a true test of my sister's loyalty and devotion. I'll understand if she can't see past this horrible lapse in judgment. Who could blame her? It's obviously indicative of some tragic, hidden character flaw. I can't even look at myself in the mirror. Sisterly love can only be pushed so far. 

I will understand if our daily texts and phone calls and accidental Facetimes dwindle to nothing in the wake of Soccergate 2014. Betrayal is a bitter pill to swallow. 

But I'll miss her. 

Just as soon as I have time to miss her....which will be sometime in May...maybe June. 

Did I mention this is a two year commitment? 


She shakes her head slowly in silent humiliation. 

We were so happy then...
Sigh...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Handle with care

My daughter Annie would be the first to tell you that she is a bit on the sensitive side.

And while it's true, I often try to help her reframe that idea of herself into more positive, affirming adjectives. I tell her she is compassionate, she is empathetic, she is thoughtful, and she has a tender, open heart. And I tell her that those are all good, good things. I tell her I wouldn't change a thing about her.

And, in theory, I wouldn't. Except that I kind of want to...for her sake.

I want to temper her compassion and empathy with just a dose of apathy (just a dose, mind you). I want to water down her thoughtfulness with just a drop of selfishness. And most of all, I want to build a wall around that tender, open heart of hers. Not a very tall wall, and not an indestructible wall, just a wall high enough and strong enough that maybe not everything can get through.

I want to do all of those things in spite of my great love for all that is Annie, because I know exactly how it feels to move through the world with paper-thin-skin and a gaping wide open heart.

It's interesting to me when I hear people talk about or write about "Facebook envy" or in its more general form, "social media envy." The idea being that some people find themselves feeling deflated by what appears to be the perfect lives of others. Perfect crafty birthday parties on Pinterest, perfect photos on Instagram, perfect family vacations on Facebook. And while I can't relate to it, if I step outside of myself enough I can understand how under different circumstances I could fall prey to the same phenomenon. I don't feel that envy but I also don't judge that envy because I know it is most likely coming from a place of hurt. Back in the day when I was struggling with infertility, Facebook might not have been the right place for me, and I'm kind of glad it didn't exist.

So, when I say I don't personally feel the social media envy some people struggle with, I am not saying I think it's crazy. It's just not my battle.

My battle is with social media fighting and labeling and political posturing and the feeding frenzy that can erupt when someone says something the slightest bit controversial. And the reason this is my battle is because at the end of the day I am NOT cut out for battle.

I feel wounded when someone else feels wounded. I feel attacked when someone else is attacked. I want to speak but fear keeps me silent. I am a great big baby who doesn't know how to unravel the knot in my stomach every time I witness conflict flare up, even when I am not personally involved.

Here is the thing, I just don't DO conflict. Even perfectly sensible, civilized debate leaves me rattled. I'm not proud of that, believe me. Part of me wishes I could stand up for my convictions and then walk away without another thought about it. But that's not what happens. I worry. I stew. I fear I've offended someone. And then I just start saying sorry even when I'm not entirely clear what it is I am apologizing for.

Honestly, I think it's too late for me. I've tried to figure out how to grow a thicker skin but I'm learning that at almost 44 years old, you either have it or you don't. However, I do hold out hope when I see elderly people who have that distinctive "I could give a crap" air about them. I wonder if they were always that way or is that the final gift of age? I kind of hope so. I could look forward to getting older if I thought it meant I would stop carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders and could finally unleash every controversial thought I ever had without fear of reprisal. That would be awesome.

Picture me, I'll probably be about 4' 10" by then, just going off in the nursing home on a rant that would make Richard Sherman look like he was just reading a bedtime story. And all this stupid exercise I've done my whole life is going to finally pay off then because I will still be strong and feisty and I'll single-handedly start a Senior Citizen Mock Trial group just so all of us oldies can argue and argue and argue to our heart's content. And at night, I'll sleep like a baby.

That's what I'm going to hope for.

But until then, please tread lightly. Be kind. And let's keep Facebook fun.

Peace out.

Be gentle, World. Handle with care, please.



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Goals, dreams and visions

I have a friend who has some big goals. I'm not going to call her out but she knows who she is. And as I made clear in my previous post, if you got goals, I got your back. I am cheering her on and trying to support her efforts in every way that I can.

And the truth is, I stand in awe of her goals. Because you know what I got going on in the way of big goals?

Nuthin'.

See, to me there is a difference between "goals" and a "to-do list". I got me a nice, long, daily to-do list, I promise you that. But those are the things we check off in order to meet our commitments. It shouldn't really be a "goal" to schedule your kid for a dentist appointment. That's a "to-do" for any mom who is concerned about oral hygiene.

(And as an aside, taking my kids to the dentist is one of my most dreaded "to-do's". It is an exercise in humiliation every single time. I swear I do make my kids brush their teeth and we even run some floss through those chompers fairly often, but it's always the same thing....Brush better, floss more, blah, blah, blah....me nodding and trying to ignore the judgment that lies behind that pearly white, plaque-free smile.)

Back on topic! Goals, as distinguished from to-do's, should be inspiring. They should require effort and aspiration. They should be a little bit scary and require sacrifice. They should propel your life forward in some big, exciting way.

My friend has GOALS! I got to-do's.

I'm also not a big fan of the term "bucket list" mainly because I don't have one. You know what's in my bucket? Cookies, maybe? Yes, I aspire to eat cookies, as many as I want, each and every day.

I wasn't kidding when I said I have no goals.

But in all seriousness, it's not that I am uninterested in improving my life, I think it just looks different for me. I tend to challenge myself interpersonally rather than in visible external ways.

I do not want to start my own business. I do not want to invent anything (unless it's a mouth rinse that tastes great, cleans teeth and removes all plaque with one simple swish). I don't want to write the Great American Novel. I don't want to run for office (I shudder just thinking about it). And as much as I love singing I don't even aspire to sing anywhere else but my little church choir. I have small goals for my Children's Ministry position but for the most part they all fall well within my natural skill set and don't really challenge me all that much; but that's okay because I love the job just as it is.

I believe I've mentioned before I have a tendency to be very, very content...right?

But as I thought more about this over the past day or so, I've come to realize something. There actually are things I hope for, dream about and aspire to. I do not for one minute think my life is perfect or that I have no need for change or growth, far from it. So, while walking the dog (another of my daily to-do's), I took some time to figure out just what are my "goals"?

Here is what I came up with:

I aspire to be friendly to every single person I interact with as I go about my day (and that includes Internet interactions). My kids have occasionally made fun of me for how cheerful I am to the grocery checker, drive thru cashier, or elementary crossing guards. But that is because my intention everyday is to have each person I speak with feel that I value their existence. It's as simple as that. Sometimes I could do better with the people who actually live in my own house, but that's why this is goal-worthy- because it's challenging at times.

I aspire to be a positive example of the Christian faith. This one I say with humility because I fall short in so many ways when it comes to living out my faith, but my prayer everyday is that God can shine through even me and that at the very least my life will never cause another to stumble in their journey. My prayer is that even those who do not share my faith would not have cause to look at me as another example of why they choose not to believe. I hope at least that.

I aspire to fulfill and exceed the expectations of my commitments. Yes, I know, I said this was more of a "to do", but I think there is a way to meet our commitments that rises beyond our minimum duties. I hope that when I agree to do something, lead something, or plan something...that people will feel confident that it will be done efficiently, effectively AND with a smile. :)

I aspire to take less, want less, acquire less and give more.

And of course there are always my aspirations to be a better, ever-improving, ever-striving mom, wife, sister, cousin, daughter, friend.... Those go without saying.

I don't know. Do any of those count as goals? Do you have to want to DO something or is it enough to just want to BE something?

It could all be a cop-out. Maybe this is more of my sloth peeking through. But I also think there is something to the old adage to "bloom where you're planted."

And this guy is pretty wise....so maybe he would think my goals are okay. I hope so.

But where was I to start?
The world is so vast.
I shall start with the country I know best, my own.
But my country is so very large. 
I had better start with my town. But my town, too, is large.
I had better start with my street.
No, my home,
No, my family.
Never mind.
I shall start with myself.
~Elie Wiesel


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Resolved

I could start this off with the intriguing news that I started off the New Year by waking up in a bed that was not my own...But I doubt any of you would believe that was indicative of anything truly scandalous or exciting, and you would be right.

I woke up in Annie's bottom bunk because Superdad was so wheezy and stuffy and coughy and gross last night that I wasn't sleeping anywhere near his germ-ridden face. The lower bunk down the hall was my best option, especially once I convinced Annie that it really was too tight for us to sleep in the single bed together and that this was a golden opportunity for her to have her inaugural overnight on the top bunk. We both fell asleep to the sound of pre-midnight fireworks and Annie didn't even stir when the big ones erupted at the strike of twelve. Upon waking this morning, Annie pronounced our New Year's Eve sleeping arrangement absolutely perfect and declared she and I should be permanent roommates. I don't think I am going to take her up on that offer but I love the sweetness behind it. I figure, how many more New Year's do I have left when she thinks a sleepover with Mom is the best way to ring in January 1? I'll take it while I can.

All in all, a nice beginning.

But, that's enough fluffy, cuddly stuff... it's time to get down to business. New Year's is the time for taking stock, reflecting and then pushing forward with new determination and focus. And even though it's easy to make fun of all the unfulfilled New Year's resolutions, I am of the mind that we should always support one another in our efforts to grow, learn and improve. So it might be more of a one step forward, ten steps back kind of thing...so what? At least you took that one step, and maybe next time it will be ten steps forward!

(Yes, I have been accused of being a bit of a Pollyanna. Whatever. Better than being called Debbie Downer, am I right?)

So, please know that if you are the resolution kind of person, I got your back. I am cheering for you and pulling for you and when you conquer that goal I will be the first one to say, "I knew you could do it!" Because anything less than that doesn't look much like friendship, does it?

Resolution People- I'm in your corner.

Goals People- You can count on me to give a standing ovation every time you check one off.

No-Resolution-No-Goals-I'm-Just-Trying-To-Be-Better People- Amen and amen. I'm right there with ya.
                   
This past year what I opted to do in lieu of any specific goals and resolutions was to go the One Word route along with a Verse of the Year.  My word this past year was "diligence" and my verse was Ephesians 6:10-11 (Nope, I'm not going to tell you what it is. You have to be diligent and look it up yourself if you want to know. Hee hee. Boy, I'm sassy this first day of the New Year!)        

Like resolutions, goals etc... that may sound pointless to some people but, honestly, it really worked for me. When I would feel myself floundering in some area, or procrastinating, or wishing magic fairies would come and solve some particular problem, I would ask myself, "What would diligence look like right now?" And usually it bore very little resemblance to what I was actually doing.

I have not yet chosen my One Word for this year but I have chosen my verse. I have to admit, it is a similar theme to last year but I think that is because my greatest weakness hasn't changed. My greatest weakness that is also one of my strengths (as they so often are) is contentment. That is, contentment run amok. Because while contentment can truly be a gift, taken too far it starts to look more like complacency. And complacency easily slips into laziness. And, for me at least, laziness oozes and morphs into sloth.

Good ol', one of the seven-deadly-sins...sloth.

Sloth is sometimes defined as: "Failure to do things that one should do." It can be both physical and spiritual. It has also been said that this particular sin is defined by its end result which is a failure to use one's gifts and talents. Ouch.

I mean, what better word is there to describe it? Sloth. I am a sloth. At least, I am sometimes...and more often than I should be.

So, that is why I need verses that remind me to GET UP and DO SOMETHING and more importantly, DO THE RIGHT THING. RIGHT NOW. TODAY. THIS VERY MINUTE. And quit acting like you are too tired, because you are not. You are just being slothful.

Do you hear what a tough inner voice I have? Well, she has to be. I can be very stubborn in my contentment/complacency/laziness/sloth.

So, in order to combat my slothful tendencies the words I am leaning toward right now are:

Energy (a little new-ageish for me...but maybe)
Give (as opposed to Take)
Hospitality (looking at it as service to others)
Discipline ('nuff said)
Honor (honoring my abilities, gifts and good health by doing the things I ought)
Persistence (too much like diligence, I know)

Anyway, it's a work in progress. I hope to have my One Word nailed down by the weekend.

But, in the meantime, I have my verse I can go to for motivation. And...here it is...

(No, I won't make you look this one up. The sloth in me is always sympathetic to the sloth in others.)

My 2014 VERSE OF THE YEAR is;

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
~Galatians 6:9               

And if I were going to rewrite that verse in my own words, I would say something like:

DO NOT get tired of doing the right thing, because the blessings that come from giving your best far outweigh your momentary fatigue. But you can't GIVE UP!!


I'm tempted to add "you lazy slug!" to that last sentence but that doesn't strike me as very biblical so I'll just let my inner voice add it.

For me this verse can apply to every aspect of my life, from the biggest things like Loving God and Your Neighbor, to the littler stuff like good health choices, parenting, home maintenance, and putting dinner on the table seven nights a week (ugh). 

So, there it is. That is the verse that will be ringing in my ears from now until New Years Day 2015. And, please, if there is a way I can encourage you or be of help to you in 2014, please don't hesitate to let me know. Like I said, I'm on your side.


Happy New Year, Friends!!