Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Ill-fitting skin

A few months ago I noticed my restlessness. I have a hard time describing the emotion exactly, but it felt like a mixture of boredom, annoyance, fear and exhaustion. I am a positive person. I am truly grateful for a circumstantially terrific life. I have strong feelings of purpose and hope for my eternal future. And yet, my skin just felt like it wasn't fitting just right.

Ahh, the beginnings of the proverbial mid-life crisis, I thought.  But there was no crisis. The more I examined my feelings, the more frustrated I became. On paper, it did not make any sense.

I don't want to run away from my life, but in some ways, I felt like it was running away from me. Our little one, who was here via foster care, went home to her biological family. My teenage children are moving rapidly toward independence--which is the goal, my husband reminds me. My husband has taken a passionate interest in his new hobby of flying...and I am just here holding down the fort--which I am truly so grateful to be able to do.

I have important and fulfilling roles and relationships outside of my family. My to-do list is never complete. And, yet, I could not find my mojo.

One afternoon, exhausted by wrestling with my thoughts on the matter, I called a friend of mine (who is also a counselor) and described my feelings. I explained that as I tried to pin down what I was lacking and express it to my family, I would be inexplicably annoyed by their attempts to meet the need. I imagined myself as a person trying to identify their craving--only to find they still felt empty after eating.

When I finished, my counselor friend said, "what you are describing sounds like grief. It doesn't always feel like you would expect and it operates on its own timeline."

As she spoke the words, I wept. She touched my soul with revelation and permission to stop trying to solve and instead just feel for a bit.

I am being forced into retirement from my favorite job I have ever had. Being a hands-on Mama to birdies in my nest has been incredibly stretching, humbling and satisfying. I don't want it to change! And while I know motherhood continues for decades, it shifts in ways that feel unfamiliar and uncertain to me.

In four short months, they will be driving themselves to and from school. Car conversations are my favorite and I am NOT ready to give those up. And yet, spreading their wings and learning to fly has always been my hope.

So forgive my silence in writing (and maybe my grumpiness in person), I am going through a thing over here.

Trusting the Lord. Asking Him to nip and tuck this old skin to fit the way my role is changing--and trying to savor all the car rides in between.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Notes from the Field: Freshman Fall

Our family survived the first 9 weeks of high school and I confess it is so much more fun than I imagined! Each of my freshmen dived in head first in different ways.

Parker is thrilled to have robotics on his class schedule and Mario Smash Brothers as a club. His inaugural year as the school mascot has proven to be a great fit for him, even though prolonged Summer-into-Fall heat made the job a sweaty one. An introvert with a penchant for silliness is quite happy letting loose behind the anonymity of a mask!

Ryland is thriving as the JV football kicker (with occasional Varsity showings), a soccer club and stagecraft/set design as his arts elective. Last month he located his long-desired pickup truck and loves being an enthusiastic inviter to Young Life functions.

Kate just wrapped up a cross country season which entailed running 6-7 miles a day (often before the sun comes up), setting new personal records as a result of that hard work and making it to the state meet! As Winter approaches she will dip back into music a bit more with guitar lessons and performing with the upper school's female a capella singing group.

All three have now had the sometimes bumpy experiences of asking and being asked to the Homecoming dance, learning to organize/make social plans, figuring out how to maintain their studies and keep their personal faith/church involvement a priority amidst this active social life!

AND we've still been driving, driving, driving.

It has been a whirlwind--but I only get to ride this train once so I am here for it!

Lest this sound too much like a bragging Christmas letter, I offer the reminder that we live real lives with challenges and struggles. While not wanting to "air the dirty laundry," of my growing young adults, the metaphor of laundry has been in the front of my mind the last few weeks.

Because we live only three miles from our school, I frequently pick my children up in stages as they finish up their afternoon activities.  While some would argue it teaches them character to sit and wait for me to make one trip, I am grateful for the private, distraction-free conversation time with each of my people. (In-town car rides are phone-free for passengers in our family.)

The way they toss their backpack in the car and settle into their seats is often a barometer for the type of day my teens have experienced. I brace myself for whatever may come as our car becomes a confessional for 15-year-olds in their rawest, exhausted state.

Some days my questions about their day are met with shrugs and indifference, but other days my passengers start shedding their emotional baggage even before they've taken off their backpacks. I have read countless books and articles. I know to listen more than I speak. I (mostly) don't freak out. I strive to be their safe place.

There is something intimate about the car, so we often linger in the driveway to complete a story before they go inside.

Once they leave the car it is time for food, relaxation, and homework...and I am left to sort through the dirty laundry of emotions, stories, and worries they seem to have deposited in my passenger seat.

Most days I head back out for the next pick up in short order, so the metaphorical laundry gets shelved to make room for the next teen's dropoff. By the end of the afternoon my heart has quite a pile to pray over: Hurt feelings, misconceptions, mean comments, unrequited crushes, rumors, academic stress, perceived slights.

And here's what the first nine weeks of high school drama have taught me: I am frequently spending more time evaluating, studying and ruminating in this stuff than my kids are. They drop it off with me, a safe place, and move on. I realized I was sometimes still rolling around in the mound of stinky teenage feelings a day or two later. They had long since moved on.

Ninety-eight percent of the afterschool verbal dumps aren't terrible stains requiring treatment. They are merely the equivalent of clothing that had been through a normal day and just needed a good wash and dry to be ready for their next wear. This is the point where I really appreciate the dirty laundry metaphor. Why was I rolling around in piles of stinky clothes that simply needed to be put through a good wash cycle?

This realization has really helped me recognize my place in this teen process. I am to listen, to love, to pray, to coach (wash, rinse) and then repeat. Our home is the emotional structure built over the last 16 years--safe, loving, peaceful, restorative--and now we do the daily work.

Dr. Lisa D'Amour, an author I enjoy, calls it dumping their emotional trash. I love her reminder that "even the sturdiest of adolescents would sag under the weight of their feelings if they couldn’t toss some of them into handy and dependable receptacles. .. the gift that so many parents give their teenagers all year round: the willingness to accept, and find a way to dispose of, the inevitable debris that comes with growing up." 

All of this is not to say the much bigger issues will not come. This is real life. But for now, I am learning not to major in the minors and to keep that emotional laundry cycle moving.

Monday, August 19, 2019

And Then They Were Freshmen

This morning my trio started their first day of high school. They set their own alarms, chose their own dress down day clothing, packed their own bags, and one of them even drove us to school. (It was her week in our rotation.)

I feel like I should have something poignant and emotional to say about this milestone, but the truth is I have peace. They are ready. My husband and I are excited for them.

There is certainly much to learn and experience in the years ahead. 
Mistakes to be made. 
Tears to be shed. 
Apologies to offer and seek.
Victories to be celebrated. 
Losses to mourn. 
Accomplishments to be achieved. 
Gifts to discover. 
Friendships to be built. 
Laughter to be had. 
Love to give and receive.  
Memories to be made. 

I loved my own high school experience and hope my people can look back upon theirs with fondness. But it is theirs, not mine...so I plan to find my place in this new world. Their prayer warrior, cheerleader, coach, soft place to land, chauffeur, chef, and biggest fan. 

In some ways, the first day of freshman year feels like the beginning of the end--but mostly it seems we have finally begun. 

My husband and I attempted our own send-off ceremony of sorts last night--which included a steak dinner and conversations about identity, goals, safety, and expectations. (This article was a huge help and conversation catalyst.) 

I had an agenda that was occasionally interrupted by laughter and some teasing by my funny teenagers. We capped it off with a chocolate molten lava cake, prayer and Mario Kart on the Wii. 

It seemed a fitting way to start this chapter--with intentionality, allowing space for laughter and the randomness of real life to interrupt.

I keep thinking about the terrified younger versions of me...
the 2002 version who wondered if her infertility would keep her from ever being called Mama, 
the 2003 version reeling from news that she was pregnant with not one, but three babies, 
the 2004 version worried that she would never be able to carve out one-on-one time with her children, unsure how on Earth she would make it through tearful infant afternoons, muchless toddler tantrums, 
and all the other versions in between that occasionally allowed herself to fall into fearful what ifs instead of hope-filled trust and wonder.

And here we are...teenaged, driver's permit bearing, high school students. 

It seemed important to stop and plant a flag today--marking my emotions. The words that come to mind are peace, excitement, hope and above all gratitude

Here we go. 

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Driving Lessons

A decade and a half into my parenting journey, I have seen many milestones. The timeline is dotted with big ones everyone talks about like first steps, potty training, lost teeth and starting school. We've seen countless other moments, typically considered unworthy of celebration, but acknowledged as a necessary part of growing up--dealing with a bully, not making a team, friendship struggles, unrequited romance and the like.

Along the way I have read articles and sought wisdom for all sorts of seasons--sleep schedules, staying home alone, social media usage, dating, etc.  No one, however, prepared me for the defining moment(s) of teaching teenagers to drive.

Sure, there are countless personal stories about arguing, the fake brake pedals all parents seem to pantomime and the curbs, mailboxes and other common objects that suddenly seem to be out for you. But the last 9 weeks of driving instruction with my trio have become a glaring metaphor for the transition to adulthood happening under my roof.

Our situation is exacerbated by teaching three 15-year-olds simultaneously as they start high school. Additionally, the Georgia state requirement of 30 educational hours and 40 hours in-the-seat practical driving hours (multiplied times three) have truly made this the Summer of driving. I cannot avoid the flashing lights telling me they are growing up and are far closer to launching into the world than seems possible.

We are steadily checking the boxes for the practical requirements, but no one warned me about the shift handing keys to a powerful machine represents. The decisions these partially developed brains are making in a split second can take them places, but they can also cause serious harm.

Each time one of my kids takes the keys (and my spot in the driver's seat), I follow by entering the passenger's side. I hold my breath for a second and struggle through an internal dialogue of mental preparation:

Here we go. I have required that they complete the 30 hour class. They have studied and passed the state designed tests for learners' permits. This is the next phase. They have to DO it. After all these years of driving, my role now is to coach.

This is the sucker punch: I am there with the knowledge, maturity, experience and concern for caution--but their feet are on the pedals and their hands control the steering wheel. I have my voice, but the power and control is essentially in their hands.

Sure, I can demand they pull over. I can take away the keys. (In terms of full disclosure, I have had to do both.) But if they are to learn, I have to eventually hand them back. There is risk all along the way to learning.

I am also finding that the intensity of teaching a teenager to drive amplifies the nature of your relationship--especially to challenging parts. The overconfident adolescent becomes even moreso. The independent challenger has a harder time heeding instruction. The anxious one with some attention deficit issues can be terrifying.

The approval that most teenagers long for from their parents becomes as challenging as it is necessary. In times of high stress, words can become terse and cautionary correction overrides positive affirmation.  Keeping us all safe in the car and preserving our relationship in the process reminds me why all the early days of pouring into these relationships matter.

My fear exposes my sinful tendencies. I am a word girl who rarely depends on a curse word to convey my point--but there have been a few moments of pure terror that have caused what lies beneath to be shouted aloud. 

As I struggle with letting go of control and surrendering my fear to a trustworthy God, I have been reminded that I need Jesus as much as ever.

Riding shotgun is a powerful metaphor for my emotional position as we enter the last stage of parenting kids under our roof.

They don't own the car yet.
Their licenses are merely provisional.
They increasingly have lots of power for good or harm.
My control is diminishing. 
My trust must increase. 
They still need my voice.

Pardon my ill-timed pun, but this is where the rubber meets the road.

The thrill of independence is breathing down our necks. It is amazing to watch these young adults rise to the occasion. Perhaps no one warned me because nothing can truly prepare you for the experience.

Next Summer, they are scheduled to receive their solo licenses and I won't be in the passenger seat anymore--but for the next 9 1/2 months I am. So I pray for the patience, wisdom and endurance to steward the time well.

To everything there is a season. 
Lessons to be taught and learned. 
And a Father to be trusted.
Here we go!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Life Skills List for Young Adults

Last week over lunch my husband and I realized we were almost exactly 200 weeks from our triplets' high school graduation. To cope with the panic we felt at all the life skills they needed to know before we launched them into the world we started making a list. 

Because social media at its best is a quick way to crowdsource ideas, I posted on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook asking for suggestions. 

The list that follows is by no means exhaustive--and absolutely will need to be tailored according to life circumstances--but in case it helps, I am sharing the list we developed. 

In the last week, I realized that simply being intentional about inviting my kids into the work I was already doing crossed many things off the list. (Other things are going to require me to develop some proficiency before I attempt to teach ;-)

I received excellent comments that covered the spiritual, emotional and character traits we also hope to develop but didn't feel they fit within the framework of practical checklist type skills/conversation topics I was considering for this particular list.

Hope this inspires your own thoughts, conversations and lessons!

Note: The formatting of this was a challenge for me so I used screen shots to capture all in one place. Maybe I should add this as a life skill ;-) The link to to the google doc is a better option for a clean, formatted and up-to-date list. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Parenting with Faith Over Fear

Yesterday the courts made official what we had been anticipating. After a year, our 4-year-old foster daughter was reunified with her biological parents. There will be another post about that...but as I was having coffee in a quiet early morning house today I read a post by Preston Yancey and felt a sweet reminder of how God is working so many things together for good in my heart and family right now. 

Preston's post has a different point than mine, but in the beginning, he shares a story about times in his life when fear and shame have been attempted as motivators, but what won out was encouragement and faith. Specifically, God powerfully used an obscure verse in Habakkuk to plant a future hope in him when he was 13 years old.

"Look at the nations and watch-- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." Habakkuk 1:5 NIV

I have been tempted to worry about the child who has left our home. Her safety and overall development have been my concern for the last year--and now I will hopefully get an occasional visit. I pray hard against recurrences of the issues that led to her removal. I field questions from well-intentioned friends about what the 'what ifs.'

Meanwhile, I am sending three young teenagers into the world at warp speed. My Summer is a mixture of camp drop-offs--where they are out of my sights for 1-3 weeks at a time, preparing for the brand new world of high school, and teaching them the immense responsibility of driving on real roads with other human beings. 

Last week I started compiling a list of life survival/adulting skills my husband and I have yet to cover and I am almost at 200--the same number of weeks we have left with them before high school graduation. In all of these things, there are true safety considerations. They are still minors and my job is to teach them to live outside the nest...but as they become increasingly independent I find myself fighting daily fears of what could happen if things don't go well.

I want them to fly, not flop. While I know that scars and hard knocks are powerfully used to sanctify and develop us into adults who are used by the Lord, I adore these people and frankly, would prefer they arrive at adulthood as innocent and intact as possible.

So, the temptation is to desperately warn them about ALL THE THINGS. Be on guard!  The verse from Habakkuk this morning, however, took me back to being their age. I am reminded that I was never attracted to the fear-mongerers. I wanted to hear from the people who believed in me and spoke to me about the bright hope of the future. I think even of our most recent foster, at least once a week at prayer time she would point to the large painting of Jeremiah 29:11 over her bed and say, "Just pray that tonight, Mama." We all want to reassurance that there is a plan, maintained by someone stronger and wiser than us, for future hope.

Perhaps the most powerful lesson God has impressed upon me in our 4 years of foster parenting is that even our biological children are entrusted to us but for a little while. We stood before our congregation and proclaimed many years ago our belief that they are His. We build all sorts of safety nets, invest in future dreams and give them everything we have--but ultimately, we are not in control of their future. We can either be terrified by this or exhilarated.

May we never let our parental fears drown out our overwhelming hope we have for the life God has planned for the people we love. This is challenging. It requires us to loosen our white-knuckled grip and release them to their loving Creator. It is a daily laying down of our will for His. We must put this phrase on repeat: Faith triumphs fear. 

We want the people we love to be safe and dare I even say wildly successful, but at some point we have to ask ourselves how success will be measured. As for me, I choose God's utterly amazing story. 

"Look at the nations and watch-- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." 

Friday, June 07, 2019

The Baton

I have been heavy and jumpy this week--a tightness in my chest and an inability to fully catch my breath.

It has been a season where the hurt of this world has been very apparent in the lives of intimate friends. The death of a beloved mother in our small community (and church family) has been a conduit for tender, tearful conversations everywhere I go--poolside, parking lots after kid drop-offs, over chicken salad sandwiches in delis at midday.

As I was talking to the Lord about it this morning I realized in addition to a funeral today, two of my closest friends are having divorce papers signed, my foster baby has only 1 more week in my home (after a year) and this big house is eerily quiet as all three of my teenagers are off at camps throughout the Southeast.

Yet in the last 24 hours I have had two powerful reminders of how much God is at work--even when it isn't on our time schedule or pretty and pain-free like we'd prefer.

My relationship with the bio parents of our foster daughter has been a huge focus over the past year. God has made my heart truly for them, even when frustratingly navigating the difficulties of co-parenting with people you didn't choose. We've celebrated life events together for the sake of their daughter. In recent weeks, I have started to see a true trust develop that I hope will continue to bear fruit.

The most powerful moment, however, came earlier today after breakfast. Each morning we look at our foster daughter's refrigerator "cal-den-der" to see the day's activities (represented by symbols), the number of sleeps until her next family visit and how much longer until court. As she realized today how close we are to the end, I saw her face twist.

I knelt down to her face and said, "You know, that last day isn't a forever goodbye. Your Mommy says we can still see each other and talk sometimes."

She paused as if to imagine this reverse scenario, where perhaps her home is there and her visits are here. Then she used her hands to make a gap twice as wide as her shoulders. "You know I have a lot of love in my heart? It's big 'cuz so many people love me."

It almost took my breath away.

"Yes, I know," I replied.

"And you know who loves me most of all?" she chirped.

I nodded affirmatively as she pronounced, "Je-sus!"

In an instant, I felt God's peace. It is time to pass the baton.

It can be so tempting to think her earthly safety, development, and growth is my forever job. But that is not what the relay of her life looks like. THIS was the job. Being present, God-with-skin-on, as she learned about her Creator and Savior, was our role in this leg. Our season is winding down, but our loving, sovereign God is worthy of my trust as we pass the baton back to her parents for this next leg.

"Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."

As I consider the wider implications for all the other hard things in my opening paragraphs, and the seasons I have yet to face with my teenagers, my marriage, and challenging relationships in my life one thing is certain...There is a divine story being written.

We can make ourselves soul weary trying to be all and do all or we can lean into the Holy Spirit and rely on His leadership for what batons are ours and for how long.

He sees the big picture. I do not.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith..." Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV

So, may we run the race the Lord has set before us--not the offroad, overachiever (or perhaps shortcuts) we choose, but what He has chosen. He will equip us, accompany us and lead us through those seasons.

"Consider him... so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." Hebrews 12: 3 ESV