Sunday, September 28, 2014

Somebody's Got To Inflate the Kick Balls

It has been five years since my children entered school full time and my "stay at home" status allowed for 35 hours a week of flexible scheduling. In the first few years I dove into philanthropy/ministry head first. I was highly motivated to not only be a good steward of my 'free' time, but also anxious to have a solid answer to the question: "What do you DO all day?" (On bad days, I can still hear this question in the accusatory tone in which I was first asked by a childless male.) 

My prideful response was to have a full agenda of 'important' work--multiple Bible studies, ministerial boards, community service, exercise. All good things. There were some amazing gifts from that season--but there was also a recognition that I was giving other people all the best of me and my family was returning home at the end of their day to an exhausted, stressed out Mama who still had hours of work to do in the evenings. I called my profession 'homemaker,' but I was frazzled, impatient and a far cry from the loving, peaceful lady of the house I had envisioned. And I had volunteered for all the extra!

My response to this overwhelm was to swing back the opposite direction...I pulled an effective control+alt+delete of my schedule. I became a bit of a hermit. I redecorated, organized and learned to be quiet, still and much more of a homebody. There were blessings in that season too--but I couldn't help but feel like there was more to give outside of the walls of my home--and that somewhere between these two extremes there must be some sort of balance.

Here in the chapter of 'seeking the right balance' I have found many other Mamas with the same struggle--especially those of us who have more flexible schedules due to not working outside the home. Even when I define 'how much' time to give there is the quandary of where to invest it. After all, shouldn't it be life changing, big important work full of purpose and perfectly in line with our gifts?  

The older I get and the busier I become, the more I'm tempted to narrowly define my focus of what I will and won't do with my time. I have noticed this tendency in many of my peers as well. Some call that wisdom--or perhaps a certain obstinance that comes with middle age. 

As someone who spent several years in the professional training arena, I have done more than my share of personality assessments. I have completed both secular and spiritual gift inventories.  I am fairly aware of my strengths and weaknesses. 

And, yet, of all things, it has been my current term as president of our school's parent association that has challenged my perspective on all this a bit. Despite my inventories that say I am gifted and equipped for wisdom, communication and leadership--being a servant leader has left me doing a whole lot of things that no one else will sign up to do. I am learning there are MANY tasks that aren't significant enough for a busy parent to devote their limited free time to--but yet, are necessary to pull off the bigger picture people want to see accomplished. 

I could cite many examples just from the first month of school, but it was last Thursday when one planned hour of set up turned into five that the message became clear. Sprawled out in the hallway with muscles burning from manually inflating close to a dozen balls for the school wide kick ball tournament, a simple statement rang loud in my mind & heart: "Somebody has to blow up the kick balls."

It's not glamorous or important. 
I am certain there are few people who would list that as a talent or unique ability.
No spiritual gifts assessment or Myers-Briggs will highlight that strength.
It doesn't appear to have any significant spiritual impact.
And, yet, over 100 children were excitedly anticipating this school wide activity.

My own children were beside themselves with anticipation. 
I'd seen leadership traits exhibited as they formed teams...
Confidence as they named their teams and chose their colors.
Sportsmanship was developing on the field. 
Opportunities for fellowship were being created.
Simple, wholesome memories were being made within our school community.

But somebody had to inflate the kick balls
And set up the tables
And pick up the trash
And make the signs marking the fields
And draw the brackets
And serve the snacks and drinks
Not because they 'love that kind of thing' or because 'it is a gift,' but because in this world there are simply tasks that need to be done as members of the broader community.

I am sure in whatever realm you work and serve currently, you can identify. 
Someone has to do the laundry.
Take out the trash.
Wipe the noses.
Volunteer in the nursery.
Man the crosswalk.
Make the phone call.
File the paperwork.
Go to the meeting.

I was talking to a friend recently about the struggle local churches have getting willing volunteers from their congregation amidst this tendency to play up "purpose" and play down "meaningless tasks." I believe it stems from a good place, but when taken too far, leads to self centeredness and self importance, instead of service for the good of the group. I am ALL FOR passionate ministry and seeking your life's work.  But, honestly, even in the best of circumstances real life only sees most of us with about 10% of our time spent in our 'sweet spot' and the vast majority working hard at the other 'stuff' that simply must be done.

The answer here, like so much of life, is in the tension of the both/and. It's not a choice between meaningful or menial. It's the beautiful balance of both.
It is doing small things with great love through simple & humble service.
So much of even Jesus' ministry was with people He encountered 'along the way.'

Increasingly, I find there is a lot of meaning in the menial if we slow down to look. 
Taking out the trash gives me a chance to breathe in the Fall air and notice the changing trees.
Manning the crosswalk at church allows me to see many people I don't usually get a chance to encounter on Wednesday nights.
A morning full of laundry is great quiet time to listen to books I've felt too guilty to sit and take the time to read.
And inflating those kick balls? Well, it didn't seem too menial to my son who walked by me working in the hall on his way to lunch, puffed up his chest and said proudly to a friend, "MY Mom is getting the kick balls ready for today's big tournament." 

My service certainly meant something to my boy and left me with a meaningful lesson I hope I won't soon forget.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

List Making & Turkey Baking

It started last night with this sight...piles of kid stuff discarded in the middle of the hallway at home, just outside the mudroom.

Behind those cabinet doors are spacious lockers with hooks for backpacks. Directly below them are big bottom drawers to keep shoes handy. And yet, all the Pinterest, planning and provision in the world can't force obedience. When I designed that room, I had such plans for how organized it would make us. And then, I left my fantasy and entered real life.

Before summoning the people who made the mess to clean it up, I took a quick shot. I posted it to Instagram with a quip about all the Pinterest photos of modern mudrooms failing to mention that kids would still be kids. I couldn't help but giggle at the thought of women standing on top of piles of kids' stuff just outside the room to take a 'perfect' photo to pin. 

This morning there were many issues with preparation and organization for school. I received not one, but TWO calls from children who left their school-issued Ipads at home. I cringed...because, ya'll, we have been working on this. 

A couple of weeks ago after a harried morning I drove straight to my local UPS store. Sitting in the parking lot I made (and subsequently had laminated) morning and evening lists for my children--reminders of things to do before bed to make the morning go more smoothly and another set of things I consider their morning routine. The hope was to increase the independence of my ten year olds, while decreasing my nagging

I am striving to be an equipper not an enabler. I have expectations. They have been communicated clearly, explained thoroughly and reiterated regularly. There are even consequences. Many days they work fairly well, yet, because these things are a process not an instant product, our mornings still often include maddening searches for shoes and belts, frantic dashes back in from the driveway for snacks, and calls from school over forgotten items like Ipads and shorts for running club.

As I was pondering it all this afternoon, I realized there was a fine line in striving for orderliness and expecting perfection. K, P & R are real people, not robots. I certainly have an end goal of raising self sufficient adults, but they are 10, not 20. The process, not the product is the point right now.

A wise teacher once gave me the metaphor of training children like roasting a Thanksgiving turkey...even the most glorious centerpiece of a golden brown, succulent bird would make everybody sick if served two hours early. You can't rush it...nor can you be too quick to judge it.

Honestly, I can't follow the lists I make for myself most days. I was convicted to the core a couple of hours ago when I skipped right over the necessary household chores I need to accomplish today to spontaneously pop in a store to do some Christmas September. I'm not even kidding. Retail therapy or ridiculously hypocritical?  It certainly knocked me off my war path. 

I have systems to organize my days, much like what I am training my children to use, but the system is not enough. Just as a terrific, custom designed mudroom is of no use if people don't walk across the threshold and USE it, my laminated lists that were intended to keep me from nagging might as well be thrown in the garbage if no one reads them.

I think most adults can identify with coaching, advice, feedback we have received....Bible studies we've done, sermons we've heard, Truth we have felt in our soul. It is a start, but it is not the end game.

Building buildings doesn't make us a church.
Hearing sermons doesn't make us holy. 
Reading the Bible doesn't make us righteous.
Lists of do's and don'ts aren't heart changers.

No, it's so much more. It's a relationship with Him. It's doing real life with community. It's trying, failing, forgiving and getting back up again. It is a process (with a big church word, sanctification). 

I don't want to be a dog that chases my tail, raising other busy little puppies that chase theirs. I want perspective. So I sat down. I exhaled. I processed as I wrote this...and now I plan to pray for patience as I continue the process.

I don't just want a mudroom that looks organized, I want it to be used for the purpose for which it was created. Likewise, I want my children's faith, character and responsible living to be real, not just for show.  Apparently, that takes a little time. 

So, today we are going to practice crossing the threshold. :-)
And I'm going to let these turkeys keep cooking. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thoughts from a Bike

Yesterday afternoon our family joined close friends for a 5 mile bike ride along our city's river. It was a gorgeous day and all seven combined children are fairly proficient on their bikes---but still--it was a bit of an adventure.

Our young biker gang was full of energy and enthusiasm, but with an age range of 4-10 there were various degrees of stamina, proficiency and courage. One adult took the lead with the 'big kids' and another got at the end of that pack in case of overzealous wipe outs. The remaining two adults stayed in the back of the group with the youngest riders.

We zipped along the riverside path with yahoos, giggles and the occasional wobble. I was in Drill Sargent mode, shouting commands to STOP, MOVE TO THE RIGHT or GO with no time for fanfare or even much encouragement. I care for all these little people. I wanted them to have fun, but most importantly I wanted to insure they were safe.

As a 'responsible party' I enjoyed myself, but I would not describe it as a relaxing ride. I was ever on guard for potential hazards--pedestrians, dogs, large rocks, sandy places along the path... I was constantly surveying the landscape, but also assessing the children--who was getting too aggressive, who was straggling.

We made it--with a sense of accomplishment and stories to tell.

The return trip, however, was completely different. I needed a head start at home to prepare for a few dozen Young Life leaders so, P and I left the pack and returned early.

The trip back, with just one child, was amazing.

Rather than the straight line formation, there were many places along the trail where P & I could ride side by side.

I let him determine our pace...sometimes it was slow and steady...other times it was fast and free.

When we encountered tough climbs I could focus on encouragement.

When he wanted to get off and walk a minute, that was fine too.

And even though it was the exact same trail in reverse, the experience was vastly different because it wasn't about the group anymore, it was personal.

I know it makes me weird that I have thoughts like this during Sunday afternoon bike rides...but I had a real aha moment with the Lord.

Not only was this excursion a reminder of how critical one-on-one time is with our children, spouses and other meaningful relationships in our life---it resonated in my soul as the reason daily quiet time with my God is so important.

In a group setting, my tendency is to compare myself (especially my inadequacies) to the proficiency of the rest of the group...where do I rank in speed, agility, service, godliness, maturity... I feel like the straggler, wobbling around on my bike--just trying to make it through this life without too many wipe outs and bloody knees.

But when I find myself on the path with just the Lover of my Soul? I am free to fly around corners, or confess my desire to slow down and just breathe. He is no longer just a Drill Sargent voice in the crowd of my life...He is my loving Savior, my heavenly parent with whom I can talk about the landscape or simply enjoy travelling with in quiet spaces.

“We never grow closer to God when we just live life. It takes deliberate pursuit and attentiveness.” ― Francis ChanCrazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

Intimacy is a product of intentional time and space. It is true with our spouses, our children, our friends and our Lord.

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." James 4:8

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Decisions, Decisions

I had all sorts of random fears when I first learned I was carrying three babies. 
Would I ever sleep again?
Would people ever be able to tell them apart?
Would they speak in their own language & plot an uprising without my knowledge?
How on Earth would I manage alone time with each child?
Would this "trio" be able to find themselves as individuals outside of the group? 

So many of these fears weighed into early decisions like: 
Sharing a room or not (and for how long)
If/When to split them up at school
and even whether it was detrimental to dress them as a unit

There were so many opinions and a healthy amount of discussion surrounding each of these topics.

And like so much of parenting, my husband & I ultimately made decisions as they came and then we exhaled a prayer or 25 and went with it. Often we had to tweak and adjust, because life works that way. An important lesson in parenting was reinforced: There is no formula but to love hard, pray hard and be willing to recognize and follow through with necessary adjustments along the way.

As we enter these tween years, I do a lot more coaching that instructing--and that requires observation. I am loving the opportunity to watch and see how God is bringing things together in these young lives.

After a decade of investment, shoots of growth & fruit pop up at random times, like last night during our school's Open House. Each 4th grader made an "About Me" wheel that was displayed on the classroom walls with a visual representation of 8 things they enjoy. I marveled at 24 examples of my children's stories unfolding.
At 10 years old, she aspires to be a Veterinary Surgeon or a National Geographic Photographer "that hangs off cliffs." 

At 10 years old, his career goal is to be a video game maker or a dog trainer.

At 10 years old, he aspires to be a professional sports player.
I am documenting these for posterity's sake, because I know time will change the specifics, but the message to my heart is the same.

Take the role as parent seriously, but remember their story is ultimately being written by One far greater than you. 

Love. Pray. Breathe. Pay Attention. Marvel.

Because even though mine have shared a womb and a life they are each growing and bending and blooming in different ways under the direction of the master Gardener who continues to provide, nurture, and prune.

And so am I.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pictures and Perspective

This weekend my boys went on a special fishing trip with my husband and his Dad. Three generations of Scott fishermen meant sweet memories for all.

While they were piling up red fish, I had a chance to plan a special adventure with my K. Her number one request was "a bike adventure around town where you teach me more about photography." Well, twist my arm...on Saturday afternoon we took off.

As I handed over my Nikon with just a few basic tips, I marveled at my girl.

From her stance, to her zoom I realized by observing her that she has certainly been watching me. She had picked up so many nuances that I never mentioned, nor realized I was modeling.

And the implications were clear. She had her own style, but it was heavily influenced by what she has seen through the years.

She reveled in her chance to be in control, behind the camera, independently choosing the subjects. She didn't have many questions. She just wanted to experiment. We talked briefly about composition and light--and then I kept my mouth shut and let her click away.

Today when I finally pulled the photos off my memory card and onto my computer I was blown away. Here are just a few of the images she took.

It was both astounding and humbling to realize my little bit took every one of these images without any intervention from me--a true picture of her budding independence. As I flipped through the dozens of images she captured I couldn't help but grin at the surprises that often come when we back up and let our kids explore.

And I marveled at the gift of really being able to see things from her perspective.

I felt like the photos were little glimpses into the types of things she notices and cares about.

We talk a lot, but this was if I had gotten to be her eyes for an afternoon. If only it were always so easy to see what they are seeing, to have a way to capture what they value! 

I am grateful for this glimpse--and the reminders that:
 She is watching what I model. 
She's going to learn a lot more from experience than lectures. 
There is so much I've yet to learn and know of her.
Her point of view/perspective is not the same as mine.
We can have a lot of fun on this journey to adulthood. 

I really love this phase of parenthood!

Monday, September 08, 2014

K, P & R,
A lot is said in the wake of the deaths of celebrities, much of it by people who never really knew the person who passed. We feel like we knew them because of the image we had from our television/movie screens and magazine covers. I think we often relate to or feel affection for the characters they play as much as anything else.

Because I am not really inclined to be a fan-girl I don't always get it. However, the death of Truett Cathy has had me thinking all day. Most know him because of chicken sandwiches and a refusal to have his stores open on Sundays--but our community has the blessing of seeing the generosity that resulted from his business success. As I have thought about him and other famous people we've recently lost I can't help but hang on this: He didn't just  play a character, he was a man marked by character.

Even though I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cathy, he truly impacted my life. By virtue of Berry College, our town hosts campuses for Winshape Summer camps, stellar marriage retreats, amazing foster homes and leadership programming. We are surrounded by people whose lives have been directly impacted by his life of generosity.

I didn't need to meet Mr. Cathy to know without a doubt that he was the real deal.
The people I know who work for Mr. Cathy's organizations--from the offices to the stores and within countless ministries in between-- are focused on excellence, service and the Lord.
The chicken sandwiches are awesome, but the eternal investment of those profits is the real story.
I have friends whose marriages have literally been resurrected through the work of the intensive marriage retreats.
I have watched real lives changed as foster kids have been brought into families with full time parents who are fully funded by the foundation Mr. Cathy's chicken sandwich business funds. They sit next to you in Sunday School, you've met at equestrian camp and in dance class--kids who have endless opportunities despite rough starts because of the vision and investment of Mr. Cathy.
Your Dad & I have been blessed by Winshape Marriage adventure programming and sailing trips.
Kids who might not have ever had the opportunity to attend Summer camp have been granted the experience.
College scholarships have changed the course of lives of people I know.
Leadership paradigms have been changed...

The tagline from Winshape Foundation's website really sums it up. "This is about life on purpose."

It started with a little restaurant in a small town in Georgia. A reminder that no job is too small or unimportant to be used for great purposes. Its proprietor was a faithful man who honored the Lord and chose generosity over greed and purpose over prosperity.

His life verse? "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches." Proverbs 22:1

I hope each time you pass the statue of Mr. Cathy outside our local Chick-Fil-A you'll forgive me for pausing just a moment. I pray it will serve as a reminder of a life well lived. Work hard. Honor the Lord. Live a life of love and generosity.

A true gentleman, full of principle, work ethic and devotion to community. This is a legacy to be esteemed, an example to follow, a life to celebrate. A true hero--not just a work of fiction manufactured to sell movies.

I am grateful for your life, Mr. Cathy.
Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Parenting Ten-agers

I am having a hard time blogging lately. I am still thinking, noticing, conversing with friends, praying--and even writing. I just can't bring myself to click the publish button. Three times in three days I have written multiple paragraphs only to delete the whole thing with a click.

There are a lot of voices proclaiming their truth with passion and certainty. If I am going to enter the fray, I hope it is with hope, encouragement or insight that adds value. Honestly, many times I read over what I have written and its none of the above.

I am in a season of tween-dom that is tricky. One minute K, R, P & I are discussing procreation and the next we are planning a lemonade stand. We go from silly karaoke of Frozen songs to deeper discussions about racism. The same child that won't let me post anything about him on social media for fear it might embarrass him asked me a few minutes later to buy him a t-shirt with an applique dinosaur.

This season is known for its awkwardness--and I think I am feeling it as much as the children. Having a home full of ten-agers gives me whiplash. Their growth spurts make me gangly too. And, somehow, strangely, I kinda love it.

As my people are sorting out who they are, I am working through how to love them in ways that celebrate their uniqueness. I am trying to honor the advice of wise Mamas who have gone before me to not ride the wave of my children's roller coaster emotions--but I want to stay in tune to them. We are navigating new waters.

I hesitate to write much out of respect for my children's growing up process, but also out of fear that it somehow communicates that I think I 'know' how to do this all the right way. I don't! But, for better or for worse, I have a (loose) plan:

Unplug as much as possible when my children (and husband!) are around. While we don't have plans for phones yet, my children are increasingly wired. They just received school issued ipads and email accounts. Not only is it a reminder that I am modeling the right way to use technology, I'm already jealous of how much they love their gadgets. It feels different being on this side of things. Wanting to connect and seeing the top of a head is frustrating at best and even hurtful sometimes.

Increasingly, when my people are home, my phone is on the charger. When we go out to dinner, I leave my phone in the car. If all my birdies are in the nest, there's nothing that urgent to stay wired for.

These two small changes made me twitch at first--which was all the confirmation I needed that it was overdue.

Much to my dismay, 2/3 of my people are now very concerned with how I portray them on social media. I confess that selfishly it is robbing my news feeds of some cute stories and fun pictures...but I must respect their boundaries. If I want them to trust me, I need to prove that I am safe. The last thing awkward tween emotions need is a fear that their confessions or struggles will be blasted across facebook and twitter.

I am a little bummed that they've robbed me of some great material (wink) but I appreciate that they recognize the permanency of the Internet. Here's hoping this lesson carries over when they are old enough for their own accounts!

Hunker down at home. Between tennis, tumbling, soccer and community theater our week nights are busy--I am making it a priority to eat together around a table as often as possible..even if that is at 5pm. We need face time and the predictability of that space.

I am also making more of an effort to sit with my children on the sofa at night to watch something together. Modern Marvels, American Ninja Warrior and Dirty Jobs are our current favorites--and of course college football. It is a small way to be physically close, to hold hands, to have them lean on me, to touch feet. It sounds so silly as I type it. I know I could be 'doing' something like cleaning the kitchen or another load of laundry, but when we are in a sofa pile--my heart knows it is the best use of my time.

Create space to listen. When my children were younger, I never really thought about what the ritual of 'tucking them in" would come to mean. I am now learning that wrapping the day up with quiet conversation in the dark is priceless. No matter what, each child knows they have my private, undivided attention. This has become my favorite time of day because I get real glimpses into their hearts.

And the last part is probably the most important...

Be honest about where I'm failing. Be open to correction. Be willing to laugh, learn and adjust my sails.

Gulp. This is hard for prideful, self-sufficient me. My children are the ones growing up...but, boy, I am growing too.

I am learning to love the humility of parenthood because it gives me compassion for the minefield our children are facing as they learn to navigate this life.

One step at a time--marked by lots of prayer, deep breaths, laughter and apologies.

What a journey!