Monday, May 21, 2018

Wrapping Up Seventh Grade x3 (whew!)

For almost a decade my husband and I had a plan to pull our trio off the track they were on in 7th grade and homeschool them for the year. We truly love our school, so we were not leaving because of problems or issues. The thought process was that we would have more time for travel on our own schedule and that we could have an intensive year of pouring into Kate, Ryland & Parker before they crossed the threshold into the rapid independence of adolescence.

Last Spring, as time came closer to pull the trigger, multiple factors made it clear they should stay put. I was disappointed and relieved. Glad to remain part of a strong team of caring educators and anxious to see what the year would hold. As I type this afternoon, only 2.5 days remain until 7th grade is in our rearview mirror. This led me to consider why God had us stay.

Middle school is legendary for all the awkwardness and mean things that happen. The most cringe-worthy moments of my life happened between 1986 and 1988 as I traversed my own middle school chapter. My two "best" friends stole my journal and read it aloud to the boys I had secret crushes on, my training bra was accidentally exposed to my whole class during a PE exercise and I became known as "blue bow," and I had an unfortunate moment of flatulence combined with a sneeze in an otherwise silent math class that became known as "Achoo Boom."
Thankfully, my offspring seem to have avoided such juvenile fiction and motion picture worthy embarrassments, but this season has still been full of its own memorable lessons.

Dealing with middle school simultaneously experienced by three distinct individuals has been mostly OK, but I have earned some parenting stripes. To protect the stories that are not fully mine to tell, I will speak in broad terms:
An adolescent with ADHD, Anxiety & Sensory Processing plus hormone surges is its own kind of roller coaster, but my kid has made tremendous strides and knows there is a TEAM of caring adults backing him/her.
There have been successes marked by certificates and public fanfare as well as private feelings of failure from not making a cut.
We've experienced unreciprocated first crushes both as the crusher and the crushee and been involved in a love triangle where child A's best friend had a crush on child B's best friend, who had a crush on child C. Whew.
There have been multiple long conversations about truthtelling, sneakiness, temptation and living in the light.
Great experiences have been gained in performing before an audience, receiving feedback and sharing credit.
We've learned lessons about gossip, friendship, bullying, and forgiveness.
They have grown a combined 13 inches in height and a multitude in maturity and responsibility.
What felt like giving up on adventure, was actually just an entry point into the adventure of real life in the weeds of middle school. :-)

And I am truly happy to be a Mom right smack in the thick of it. Because THIS STUFF, this really is it. Parenting them in the world with all its heartache, frustrations, temptations, beauty, and discovery--this is the training ground, the rich fertile soil in which God grows men and women.

I am so grateful for a chapter that reminds me that even (especially?) when it doesn't look like we planned, the process is what God is using to sanctify us all!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


Our commute to school only takes 6-7 minutes. We meander through 10-12 blocks of a neighborhood before popping out onto the main thoroughfare at the intersection adjacent to an elementary school. Because the traffic light is triggered only by our arrival at the intersection, we stop every day and wait for a minute or so.

Posted at this particular corner is an elderly crossing guard. We smile and wave to him each morning. Without conversation, we have an affectionate friendship of sorts.

Several weeks ago, we arrived at the light to find his post unmanned. We missed our crossing guard's smile, but didn't grow that concerned until a whole week had passed without him. It was during this year's particularly virulent flu season, so I assumed he was ill and we started praying for him. After two weeks, I found myself reading the obituaries--fearful our friend had passed away.

I didn't know his name, but would read for any clue that it might be the man we affectionately dubbed "Harold." In retrospect, there was no real reason this is the moniker we chose to identify our silver-haired friend. It just seemed to fit and was the name that came to mind as we would pray for him (and less of a mouthful than "our sweet crossing guard friend.")

Monday morning as we approached the light he was there! After a couple of months of fearing the worst and praying for him with concerned hearts, we were all overjoyed! I rolled down the passenger window and welcomed him back to his post. He explained he had experienced a heart attack, but was feeling much better. We told him we had been praying in his absence. Then I confessed my embarrassment that we had not known his name. I introduced myself and he responded with a smile, "My name is Harold."

The middle schoolers in my car all audibly gasped. Of course, it was!

As we drove away with silly grins on our face it felt like God had given us all the sweetest lesson in His care and concern for the details--and that as we pray, He will meet us there and fill in the blanks.

This is a difficult season for one of my people in particular. As this young person that I adore walks through challenges, I know prayer is my greatest weapon--and yet I am so flustered with how and what to pray. I needed this reminder as much as my children that GOD KNOWS THE DETAILS. He wants us to trust Him--to come as we are, with what we know (or think or fear) and let Him handle the details.

I am grateful God has posted this daily reminder on our way to school in the form of Harold and his warm smile.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Half Baked Turkeys // A Middle School Mom Manifesto

Several years ago we were facing a big decision regarding schools. Our three children were at a wonderful Montessori school, but one of them was in great need of more structure. Because I didn't want to be on two separate calendars with three same-aged children, we decided to enroll the entire trio in a new school for Kindergarten.

A beloved, talented (sometimes serious and stern) teacher called me in to discuss our decision. She implored me to consider leaving them at the school for one more year, as Montessori follows a three year cycle and our children were only finishing primary year two. I explained my reasoning to her in great detail. She shook her head disapprovingly and lobbed a metaphor at me that keeps reappearing in my parenting journey.

"Imagine you invited me over for Thanksgiving lunch, but I arrived an hour early and demanded to eat the turkey right then. How would you feel? You would insist it wasn't ready yet. A half-baked turkey isn't ready to be served and is not a fair indicator of the final product had the recipe been followed."

The metaphor was powerful, but almost a decade later I giggle at her insinuation that a 5 year old would be remotely close to "finished."

My heart is currently in a trying season with three middle school students. As their 14th birthday approaches, I hear the clock ticking toward the time when we will launch them into the world. I am tempted to panic at how some current weaknesses might play out in adulthood. I honestly have never sought to produce perfect children, but I can fall into a worry cycle about temptations and challenges that may lead to particularly painful consequences later in life.

There is real tension between how often/to what severity I allow them to fail and how frequently/to what degree I intervene with corrective coaching and protectiveness. It is further complicated by the fact that each child, while the same age, is so different. There is no blanket answer.

And, oh the temptation to look around at other parents' turkeys-in-progress and compare!

I read a great post earlier this week that reminded me our children are MEANT to be unfinished--it is the very nature of childhood. Furthermore, as a Christian, I am reminded through my own daily journey that I am still quite unfinished at 43. This life is a refining process.

So, parents, how shall we cope as we mind the kitchens where all these young turkeys are roasting?

1. Pray.  Pray that fear will not be your motivator.  Ask God to give you peace, clarity, and wisdom to sift through the small stuff and focus on their hearts. I am really enjoying this resource from Jodi Berndt, chock full of Bible verses written as fill-in-the-blank prayers for specific issues my kids are facing. By seeking to look at all through the lens of Scripture, my heart is being refocused on what surface issues to let go.

2. Seek wisdom. In this information age, there is an abundance of excellent child and adolescent development information in the form of podcasts and books. I am particularly fond of these two recent reads: Are My Kids on Track?  and Untangled. Both offer needed and informed perspective on the growth going on in our kids and why each phase is necessary. Next on my list: Boys Adrift and Like Dew Your Youth.

In addition to the topical resources, it is important to stay rooted in the Word. God's promises are timeless, full of hope and also serve as reminders that imperfect, half-baked people have always been used by the Lord to accomplish His Will.

3. Encourage. Being a Mom of adolescents can be so lonely. Our image-conscious society makes it difficult (and often inappropriate) to broadcast the challenges our growing children are really facing. Growing up is messy. No one's kids are as perfect as they may appear. Everyone is fighting some sort of battle. The least we can do as parents is treat each other with kindness. Look for opportunities to chat with other parents--let down your guard a little. Offer encouragement. Let's stop judging each other's kitchen while meal prep is still in progress and definitely stop comparing each other's half-baked turkeys.

4. Breathe.  This is a journey. Take a long view and pace yourself. Riding the waves of every high and low is exhausting and non-productive. You aren't perfect and your kids won't be either--but there is a purpose in their lives and yours...not just 'one day' but NOW. Cling to faith and trust God to guide you and your children.

Don't get so 'project focused' you lose personhood--theirs or yours.

And, importantly, don't forget to laugh and enjoy this crazy ride. (Oh, the stories I will one day be able to tell...)

PS. I wrote this as not as one who claims to have it all figured out, but rather as a mini-sermon to myself because I have to refocus constantly!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Tips for Digital Kids

Our church recently hosted Walt Mueller from the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding to talk about parenting in a digital age. As an expert on youth culture, parent and grandparent he had many helpful insights and tips. I couldn't keep up with all the nuggets of truth he was dropping, but here are a few quick bits and pieces I jotted down:
  • Immersion in technology makes us oblivious to the world (because we become accustomed to only seeing it through a screen), to each other (by being physically present but detached), to ourselves (because we are always reworking & remaking ourselves to gain likes instead of Christlikeness) and to God (culture is catechizing us instead of God). 
  • Our habits & practices form us. The things we spend time with shape us. Are we growing in our faith or being misshapened by our consumption of tech?
  • Be careful posting pride in your kids' appearance, athletics and academics--this can inadvertently communicate to our children that our love for them is performance based. Affirm them for who they are not how they look or what they do. Let their grades and accomplishments speak for themselves. 
  • Fabricating, curating and promoting self becomes a counterfeiter/falsifier of people. 
  • Before posting always take a purposeful pause to ask: Does this matter? Is it true? Why am I posting this God?
  • Have a family covenant/code of conduct for tech use. (His website has a great example.)
1 Corinthians 10:31 "Whatever you do, do it to the glory of the Lord"
Proverbs 22:30 "The prudent see danger and turn from it, but the foolish keep going and suffer for it."

There were so many excellent points in his talk, I encourage you to check out the Digital Kids Initiative website for a plethora of resources.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

When God Has Other Plans

 January 17-22

A couple of months ago I received an unexpected call from my friend Michelle. She and I met last March when our family toured the Holy Land during Spring Break. Michelle works for Young Life organizing trips for people of all ages and stages to serve on cultural expeditions with the ministry. She invited me to join a group of women traveling to Haiti this month.

Something flipped in my chest immediately as we spoke and I knew this sounded like an adventure I would love to join. As a middle-aged homemaker, the idea of going with a small group of people I had never met to see this place so often in the news for its spirit of overcoming amidst devastation lit a fire in me.

Trip preparation included shots and preventative medications. It also involved reading about this nation's difficult history and the hope the people possess despite their circumstances. I was intimidated but inspired. I was praying and preparing for my heart to be broken into a million pieces and buoyed by the great hope of the Haitian people. The preparation made me feel challenged in a new way and more courageous than I have felt in some time. I realized that I wanted my kids to see me as brave.

My bags were packed a full week in advance of my departure--including the extra bag I was responsible for carrying over 50 pounds of supplies which had been donated for the various ministries we were planning to visit.

My instructions for kids, husband and in-laws were typed. Laundry was caught up.

And then, real life happened.

At 4am the night before I was scheduled to depart my RyGuy woke up with a 102 fever. I took him in for flu and strep swabs once the sun came up--and he was positive for Flu A. Several considerations flooded my brain to be factored into my decision.
In no particular order:
A sick kid (no matter the age needs their parent).
My husband has to work with already ill people all day, he can't get sick nor can he stay home for a week.
What if all the other kids contract it too?
Who will keep a flu positive kid (or 3) while I flee town?
What if I start showing symptoms after I have flown in a confined space with dozens of unwitting passengers? Or been holding babies in an orphanage and interacting with our Haitian hosts?

It seemed pretty clear that the wise thing to do was stay...but my plans had been made, my bags were packed and I felt like a quitter... So much for being brave.

Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. 
Proverbs 19:21 NIV

I resisted the urge to rush to a lesson too quickly. I wanted to start writing about all of this immediately but decided to talk to God about it instead. I realized that disappointment was rooted in the fact that my heart was longing for the adventure of somewhere else and my God was asking me to serve right here. It was not as sexy or exciting, but it was needed. 

As I kept asking God for a big revelation of why he left me here instead of sending me there I found myself looking at the moments of my life with renewed expectancy. My calendar was literally blank. Each day felt like an uncommitted, free gift. I found myself asking, "Show me why I am here, God. I wasn't planning this, but apparently, You were--so show me why. Use me today."

After a couple of days of praying that, it hit me. This prayer, this PERSPECTIVE was why God left me here. After my near-death experience when the triplets were born, I felt this way a lot. I had a renewed lens for looking at the world where every day felt like a bonus round. As that has become a distant memory, I have been taking my days for granted. It turns out the not going to Haiti was a chance to wipe my lenses clean--clear off the smudges of busy-ness and look for God and His Purposes in my everyday life again.

I was going on an exposure trip--to take supplies, prayer and encouragement to the Haitian nationals already serving. They didn't need me. My family did.

I thought I was going to come back with a message of hope to share from a third world nation and instead I got an important chance to reprioritize some things-- right here in my first world life. Dare I say, I found a renewed message of hope to share right smack in the middle of the ordinary life I live.

 “When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.
“Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” God’s Decree. 
Jeremiah 29:13-14a
I am a big fan or going, serving and getting out of our first world bubbles--but I was reminded this week that I serve a God who can be heard, felt and experienced in powerful ways wherever we are.

I am grateful for that.

Lord, I am yours--and so are my days. Help me to remember each one is a gift from you and for you.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Goodbye to Haley

January 16

This morning I watched everyone in my family tell our 14 year old chocolate lab, Haley, goodbye. She completely lost use of her back legs the day before. She had to be carried for food, water and to urinate and defecate. Her tail was between her legs and her eyes begged for relief.

My husband spoiled her with delicious duck meat for breakfast. The kids hugged her and rubbed her ears. They knew I was taking her to the vet while they were at school and that the outlook was grim, but the hopefulness of youth still ruled their hearts.

I carried her to the car at 9:30 and drove with all the courage I could muster to the Vet. I called my husband (who was at work) for a last minute pep talk. As I carried her in from the car, our vet and one of his tech's was waiting to open the door and take her from me. We carried her back to an exam room and after placing her on the table, we all made the decision that it was her time.

My last mental picture of her is her sweet grey face with splotches of pink from my lipstick kisses.

The children knew I was taking her to the vet while they were at school--and that she might not come home. The reality still hit them hard.

As Parker mourned he said, "I knew her my whole life. I have known Haley as long as I have known you, Mom. She was always there for me when I was sad and now I have to go through this without her."

Lots of conversations about how there is no easy way to do a hard thing and love is worth it.

But, ugh.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January 9-15, 2018

"Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." 
Psalm 90:12

I am continuing my life snapshots and weekly wrap-ups with observations and lessons learned from the first two weeks of 2018. This exercise is taking some of the pressure off my rusty writing legs and prompting me to seek God the lessons of my days. Don't expect fully formed thoughts...

January 9
On these cold Winter days, I have taken to sitting in my car in the driveway or a bit longer once I arrive home (especially during the day when I am alone.) The heated seats in my Suburban are so toasty, it is hard to leave. I refer to it as my home office. This afternoon I paid particular attention to the hydrangea bushes along my front drive. They are lush and productive and stunning when in bloom--but right now they look like dead sticks. If I didn't know how glorious they are in Spring and Summer, I would did them up and throw them out...but I have seen their potential and know they are just dormant now. A powerful metaphor for me...dormant does not equal dead. Things and people have seasons. Don't judge them by a snapshot from only one.

January 10 
"Expose and dismantle the faithless, graceless ways we parent, Father. Free us from our overbearing and under-believing ways. Forgive us for being more anxious than loving--more likely to nag or brag without ceasing than pray and trust without ceasing." -Scotty Ward Smith

Just loved this quote today.

January 11 
Parker participated in (and took 2nd place) at the school-wide Spelling Bee. For a child that struggles with anxiety, it is a big deal to put himself out there in such a high stakes, visible way in front of his peers. Next stop, Round One of State!

January 12 
Participated in TBRI training for the third time in three years. This trauma-informed training on how to love kids from hard places well is excellent. The first year I attended we had just gone through our first failed foster placement and I felt sick and ashamed through many of the lectures. I wished desperately I had known better how to handle LuLu.

The second year, some of my guilt and shame were gone and I was able to hear more from the standpoint of "when we know better we do better." I was also able to learn tips and tricks that could improve my parenting of my own children who have some sensory issues as a result of a traumatic pregnancy and NICU stay.

This third time, I couldn't help praying constantly for the next child or children in our home as we have tentatively set a date to re-open our home April 1.

January 13 
Area wrestling tournament. Parker was sick and could not compete and Ryland wasn't able to drop pounds to make weight--fine by the Mama! Today I appreciated what an encourager and team player Ryland is. He stayed at the tourney for 8 hours and cheered his teammates on with so much enthusiasm he was hoarse. I delighted in his back patting and genuine support of his teammates. He's the guy you want in your corner.

January 14 
Driving lessons at the farm. How can it be that my kiddos will have learners' permits in 16 months??!!

January 15 
Haley, our 14 year old chocolate lab, lost use of her back legs. She now has to be carried to go to the bathroom or get food and water. I am not ready to write all about this yet except that the conversations with my children were meaningful and important. There is no easy way to do hard things because hard things are hard.