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.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Snapshots of a Life: Week One-ish 2018

Last Thursday's chore was a general organization and clean up of my attic. This led to the rediscovery of a large storage box full of keepsakes from my life. When my Grandmama passed away last year I received a box of mementos she had kept for me--from my birth announcement to my children's. There were few photos, but she too was a word girl and had all the documents of the key moments. I promised myself the treat of exploring that box once the less exciting work was complete.

Friday, a last minute cancellation of plans created space for me to sort through the box, which included not only my Grandmama's contributions but my own keepsakes as well. It was a bizarre, roller coaster walk through 43 years of a life to flip from random college party pictures to wedding shower invitations and high school snapshots. I found my first resume and tons of memorabilia from my stint working for the 1996 Olympic Open & Closing Ceremonies. There were also letters Ryland & I had exchanged and journals from the transformative years of my post-college early twenties. I also found two time capsules--one from 1994 and one from 1/1/2000 where I had written letters to my future self. (I confess I chose not to read those just yet.) 

As I read through the journals, I remembered that pre-blogging I used a calendar to jot down key events and lessons from most days. They were not well-formed thoughts so much as scrapbooks of words--pieces of the day and my corresponding feelings. There seemed to be freedom from pressure to draw any conclusions. Perhaps it was the freshness of my journalism education--report the facts without the need to teach a lesson. 

I wondered what it would be like to return to that method of recording the world. In a social media age laden with people's (mostly dire) conclusions, what if I went back to more observation than conclusion? I think this is why I transitioned from blogging to Instagramming. 

So, nine days into this New Year, I decided to try something new here, which is actually revisiting the old--a brief reflection on each day and something I learned, appreciated, observed or simply want to remember. 

January 1
Watched the most gorgeous sunrise that turned the inside of my house a warm orangey-pink. A bitter cold day where the kids and I stayed in pajamas until almost 3pm. Big football evening--UGA's historic overtime win versus Oklahoma and watching my son, Ryland's sheer joy as a lifelong UGA fan. Alabama beat Clemson in the Sugar Bowl later that night, but we were honestly exhausted by that time. 

January 2
A trip to Chattanooga for a doctor's appointment for one of my trio. Good news. 

January 3
A trip to Atlanta for another specialist for one of my trio--who decided to take a very interesting approach regarding a health issue facing one of my people. Dr, C. challenged this child to step up as a young adult and take more charge of their own health choices. Honestly, not what I was expecting, but remarkably effective at this point (a week in) and inspired me as a parent to consider this approach more often. Our relationship is already much better. We will return in a week to see if the health issue is positively impacted as well.

January 4
Met for coffee with a woman I've been mentoring for two years as we tie up a few final loose ends in preparation for the return of her two children from DFACS custody. She spoke about how the practice of Gratitude has changed her life. She's a single working Mama with a life history most reading this cannot fathom, a recovering addict whose children are in foster care and she is overflowing with thanksgiving for the gifts of her life.  One day, with her permission I hope to write a lot more about this...

January 5 
The day spent exploring my life box in the attic (mentioned above). A was reminded that handwritten notes are a gift that keeps giving--and that photos really should be printed occasionally. Also, that as we document our kids lives we ought not to forget to record what God is doing to keep growing us up as well--hence this post. Also, enjoyed a two hour 'family business meeting' with my husband that reminded me why I love being his partner--may or may not have included going over spreadsheets in a bar across the street from the youth group event my kids were attending ;-)

January 6
Wrestling tournament out of town with my sons. Sitting on the sidelines waiting between matches I had time to read a book about Haiti (On that Day Everybody Ate)
in preparation for a women's trip later this month. My heart already aches for the level of poverty I will see there--and how God wants to use that exposure in my life.

January 7
Church and then very low key day with kids and husband scattered at various activities. I was able to spend some sweet one-on-one time with Parker as he created an escape room in his bedroom. What fun to search for locks and supplies with him and remember that he is his very best self when he is creative.

January 8
Unexpected day off from school with kids because of the threat of ice. The CFP National Championship game in a fiercely divided house. I hated watching young Ryland's heartbreak but great opportunities for conversations about sportsmanship. 

There is nothing fancy about these hastily typed paragraphs, but I think I will treasure these snapshots of our real life one day. 

"How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one is what we are doing."-Annie Dillard

Friday, January 05, 2018

Muscle Building

I hate working out.

I love outdoor adventures. I enjoy family bike rides, hikes and swimming--but something about going to the gym turns me off. I don't enjoy it--and I am not particularly good at delayed gratification. I like to see return for my work that gives me a boost to keep going.

As you might imagine, there is rarely a dull moment in a house full of 13 year olds. I actually asked one of my children if for my birthday I could have one week without a call or e-mail from a teacher or school representative. Most of this particular child's adventures are harmless, but it would be dishonest to say I haven't struggled with WHAT IN THE WORLD we can do with this kid.

While I have been involved in various aspects of youth ministry for two decades, parenting teens is a different role than being their Young Life leader, their Sunday School teacher or their Bible Study facilitator or mentor.

I am gobbling up wise words like a starving person--and as I read, pray, listen and reflect on experiences the word that comes to mind over and over again is PROCESS. This is a process. 

In no other stage of life have we expected our children to learn immediately and without errors. When our babies were learning to walk, falling was a part of the deal. We laughed, clapped and comforted. We didn't lecture and act ashamed.  

When they were trying solid foods we took copious photos of their messy faces and trays. Our potty training toddlers were expected to have accidents. We rejoiced when they didn't and understood bladder control was a new skill and it would take time to perfect.  

Why then, do we wring our hands and fret endlessly over the stumbles, accidents and messiness of the growing adolescent?

Adolescence is a stage in life where the stakes seem higher because we are starting to see the launch date on the horizon. The sound of the ticking clock gets louder and the expectations and fears ring in our ears. 

Last week as I was walking through a painful life lesson with a child I was reminded that he has to grow his muscles--and that means working them out...having them stretched, reaching his limits. And as his muscles are growing, so are mine...

We can choose to walk in fear or in faith. One is non-productive and sinful...and the other one is difficult, but the command God has given us.

FAITH not fear.

I recently read a rephrasing of 2 Corinthians 9 for parenting that I found very encouraging.
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human mind has conceived--the things God has planned for those who love Him--including the good planned for your kiddos. TRUST."