Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pollen, Pets & the Promise of Easter

I adore the blooms of Springtime in Georgia--the warm sun, splashes of color on gentle petals and pops of new green growth--but the pollen is absolutely brutal. We are all sniffly with scratchy throats, but my R's allergy-induced asthma makes him especially miserable, which takes its toll on the rest of us. :)

Trying to learn something from every experience God allows on this Earth, I was thinking about pollen as yet another example of something that brings life--and misery--sometimes simultaneously. The very mechanism that brings beautiful blossoms means breathing treatments, headaches and sleepless nights.

You take the good with the bad--because while a world without breathing treatments would be nice, if it came at the expense of Spring even my stuffy, coughing boy wouldn't take that trade.

Similarly, we are dealing with the loss of our precious little orange kitten, Leo. He disappeared without a trace two weeks ago today.


We've scoured the neighborhood, posted flyers, prayed and hoped. One of the teachers at school shared with my K about a boy kitty she had, similarly aged, who also disappeared after being neutered only to return 13 days later. With that story of hope, my trio shelved their 'dealing with it' until today--day 14.

My animal loving P's heart is flat broken. Tonight he sobbed as he recounted every story he could remember of Leo's 6 month old life. We flipped through pictures and my little man honored his memories of our kitty. P lamented that he was planning to teach Leo to high five the next day (when he disappeared.) He recalled how his fur felt, how his purr sounded and a story about one time when Leo slept all night in his bed without our knowledge.
Through sniffles he earnestly asserted, "It was a looong night, but it was worth it."

As I knelt at the side of P's bed there was a part of me that wanted to rush my boy through the pain...make him some promise that it would all be OK. But that wasn't true. He's lost his beloved pet and his heart hurts. That is real life.

So I listened and loved and hugged. I sighed, gulped, prayed silently, and couldn't help but note that this was the first of many of heartbreaks I will have the agonizing privilege of walking through with my children.

Gut wrenching...but part of the deal.

The very tenderness and love we have prayed the Lord would cultivate in our childrens' hearts--leaves them vulnerable to the inevitable heartbreak of a broken world.

And I am pointed back to Easter. Christmas is a glorious celebration that Jesus came to this world to dwell among us. Easter is the brutal reason He had to leave.

Honestly, I don't enjoy Holy Week. As an optimist, walking through the darkness and hopelessness the witnesses of the events felt makes me squirmy. I don't want to linger in the dark parts, I want to fast forward to the celebration Resurrection Sunday...but doing so cheapens the very thing we celebrate.

And it is the same with the struggles, hardships and heartbreak of life.

Those who have struggled to catch their breath have a greater appreciation of breathing freely.
We embrace Spring because it's been a long, cold Winter.
And we hold tight to those we love because we know we aren't promised their presence tomorrow.

We fall on our faces in gratitude for the gift of life that cost Jesus His--and that we could never, ever achieve for ourselves.

Lord, I pray I won't rush through the uncomfortable--of Holy Week or of life. May I, instead, look for your Reedeming Hand in it all. You are worthy of my trust.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Apologetics of Parenting

The tension hung so thick in the air it could be cut with a knife. There was plenty of fiddling and jitters. Adults and children alike were visibly taking slow deep breaths and therapeutically exhaling. Thirty children sat in straight backed chairs awaiting their turn at the mike.

And even as the atmosphere was one of tremendous support and encouragement--cheers, applause, high fives--there was no escaping the pressure to perform the participants were feeling. It was the long awaited Spelling Bee.

Misspelled words were greeted with groans from their teammates--and occasional tears from the students who had worked so hard only to stumble on a word. As a student of people, I couldn't help but watch the reaction of the parents as much as their students. Simultaneously brutal and beautiful.

On the way in and on the way out parents bonded over their nerves/concerns for their kids.
"Well, I have a very anxiety-prone little person."
"His struggling self esteem could really use a victory."
"She is terrified of getting eliminated on the first word."
"Mine didn't study. We'll see how that works out for her."

And again at the end as we were leaving, we apologized some more.
"We are working on sportsmanship."
"He is learning to deal with disappointment."
"I am trying to teach her to manage expectations."
"This will be a good lesson in work ethic and how details matter."

We were equally tender co-laborers sharing our worries and concerns, venting some of the stress we were feeling and watching our children working through their developmental issues ON A STAGE.

But if I'm honest, I was also doing a bit of 'expectations management' on the front end and 'damage control' on the backend. My pride (a constant work in progress) wants other parents to know that I KNOW my kids aren't perfect.

I want it to be known that I am proud of them, yes, but I am also AWARE of what is going on with them. I can get all tangled up in fear that my kids will be labelled "the bossy one," "the crier," "the know-it-all." Out of my fear, I can become defensive--an apologist even.

Advocacy is a role of a parent--but not the only one. And as our children age they must learn to advocate for themselves. Sometimes I fear I sound more like an interpreter for my children or a Public Relations Rep than their loving mother who knows they are just working it out.

It happens at Spelling Bees, at athletic practices, on field trips, playdates and in recitals--really awesome parents discussing their children with a mix of pride, worry, fear and love. Our hearts are generally in the right place. It's the approach I am pondering.

I was recently having a conversation with a fellow mother about an issue her child was facing at school. As she realized that her child had indeed been at the center of a little controversy, I saw the dread in her face. I found myself saying, "Hey, I've been there. They are children and they are working some things out. They ALL are. This is what childhood is about."

Parents, we have to remember that we are in this together. We share a mutual goal of raising up these little people to be equipped for the work God has already planned for them. Let's cheer one another on, support each other and refuse to label anybody else just yet. The road is long and we are on this journey together.

May we remember these 'quirks' are their uniqueness. Their struggles may one day be their strengths. And those amazing inborn strengths? Our role is to help our kids discover them, hone them and apply them to the right things.

I don't need to run around apologizing for my children. Neither do you. That time is much better spent praying, honing, encouraging, training.

And the conversations with other parents? They are VITAL to our sanity--but I pray they will be marked by grace and camaraderie rather than defensiveness and apologetics.

We are all better when we work together in truth, in love and in grace.

Monday, April 07, 2014

I See You

I am not much of a runner, but I frequently find myself pulled to the beautiful analogies the sport offers. Recently, I have been thinking about the marathon aspect of life--and more specifically the way the length of this race lends itself to running partners/groups changing with the pace and the terrain.

Humans seem drawn to tribes/clubs/community. Throughout history, survival has often depended on the safety found in group settings--leaning on one another. I believe it is a part of the way God made us--to be His body, the sum of many parts. And yet, I can't help but ponder how my groups change over time--especially in this phase of life.

A 20 year history of my 'people' includes various inner circles:  my family, my high school clique, college besties, my post-college/young professional group and then the new 'couple friends' marriage brought and parenting cohorts soon after. Every few years it seems to change--not because of big conflicts, but as a result of the shifting demands/circumstances of life.

There are so many people I respect, love, appreciate and enjoy--and yet there are only so many 'close friends' one can really keep. And I resent that sometimes. I wish there was time and space for regularly connecting with all the cool, inspiring, smart people from my past and present. I feel like I can learn so much from them and their experience, pace and technique on this journey. It is just not realistic.

As our children age, even some of the friends I've had the longest become more difficult to connect with--will our husbands jive, are our kids similar ages, will distance/schedules allow for meaningful visits? Our visits are intentional and rich--but few and far between.

I have wonderful people in my life. Yet, I run into ladies out to lunch that I just know I'd like (but whose kids are all at another school), or pass women at church I respect who attend a different service/Sunday School class/small group. In my own school carline many mornings I look across at a parent I think I'd really enjoy knowing better. But life seems to have us in different places.

We are 'running the race set before us' and many days it leaves little room for all the meaningful connecting this extrovert would like to do. The reality of life is that everybody can't be our running partners. We are in various spots on the course. And that's normal and ok.

Yet, I want these women to know I am cheering for them--that I have mad respect for all the ways they are contributing at home, in the community and by using their gifts in the world. It meant the world to me a few months ago when a friend texted me a simple "I see you." I've tried to incorporate a lot more 'seeing' and 'cheering' into my daily life.

So, for what its worth, I'm declaring a new catch phrase to communicate the respect I have for so many of these women--"I see you."

It sounds so silly, but my heart wants it to be a way of life--encouraging others in the trenches.
I see you leading that women's ministry.
I see you and your years of devotion to Moms in Touch.
I see you hunkering down at home because your husband/kids need that in this season.
I see you going back to work, filled with both anxiety and excitement.
I see your devotion to foster families in this town.
I see you homeschooling.
I see your faithfulness.
I see you bearing the weight of being a special needs parent.
I see you worried over the health of your child.
I see you just trying to make ends meet.
I see your weariness.
I see your kindness to the least of these--even though you are not doing it to be seen.

And I am learning that life is so much richer when we just pause to see each other.

May we be the great cloud of witnesses that cheers for all the other runners in this race--whether they are before us or behind us--blowing us away with their speed and prowess or obviously struggling to catch their breath. In the few races I've actually run, it's the best part--the overwhelmingly supportive atmosphere that seems to convey: "Hey, way to go you just for being out here giving it your all."

I want to be a part of a community that operates with the same mentality.

Oh, Lord, I pray...teach us to SEE and to SAY "Keep running. Your goal is worth it. I see you."

Friday, April 04, 2014

Raising my Walter Mitty

My P is a day dreamer. He lives for reading, video games and drawing--things that take him into a fantasy world far more exciting than his daily life. He is bright, creative and funny--but it is sometimes difficult to connect with him. I borrowed a slogan from a friend who describes it as "living in a happy place that we have to dial long distance to reach."

I adore my son for many reasons, but honestly, the fact that he is a puzzle that takes time and patience to unlock is one of his finest qualities. As an extrovert who loves to communicate and longs to be understood, I am fascinated by the fact that knowing P is a right you have to earn. Few people get true glimpses into his heart and mind, but what a delightful gift he is when you get there!

A few weeks ago I watched "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." I understand the literary work is quite different than the movie, but what relished about the film was the chance to get a sneak peek into the mind of a person that escapes reality by delving into an imagined world where he is the hero--brave, strong, confident and capable. Meanwhile, people in his real life dismiss him as spacy and clueless.

I won't spoil the movie's plot, but ultimately, Walter Mitty is faced with the choice to continue living 'safe' while imagining his desired life or make 'daring' real life decisions in line with his fantasies. Although it was a work of fiction, it has weighed on me to connect these lessons to an application for my boy.

I read with interest an article explaining one of the reasons boys love video games so much is because they get to be the hero. They can accomplish things (new high scores, beating levels, unlocking characters) much faster in a pixelated world than they can in real life--and that feels good. This realization offered some perspective to the screens that are so often my parenting nemesis, but it also challenged me to look for ways that my boys can find those feelings of heroism and accomplishment in real life. (This is a work in progress.)


An extrovert raising an introvert is a unique challenge. I love my boy and all the gifts his life offers to the world. Helping him find a voice--especially in our family full of other (louder) ones--is a journey.

I am grateful for P as a living, breathing daily reminder to slow down and invest in getting to know people who don't always wear their heart on their sleeves. I'm learning that like my P, many of the quietest/fringe people are full of little known treasure. What joy to discover it!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Sweetest Gift

I vaguely remember receiving the plush musical toy as a shower gift 10 years ago. It was from my aunt and teenaged niece--attached to another gift I don't specifically recall. The sun/flower with an Eric Carle-type caterpillar attached was set aside with other toys.

Hospitalized bedrest came, tiny babies were ushered into the world quite dramatically and then tucked away in the NICU for several weeks. When our wee little ones came home, wrapped as burritos with monitors and wires, days and nights were a blur of joy, diapers, bottles and sleeplessness.

Somewhere in the Fall of 2004, the fog began to lift and my then 5-6 month old babes started to 'attach' to special toys. My tempermental R seemed to find soothing in the sweet melody from that sunshiny/flower (we still weren't quite sure which it was designed to be).

As our babies turned into toddlers, the bond between my R and "Sunny" was solidified. He didn't have a special blanket or pacifier. Sunny was it!

For the last 9 years, Sunny (AKA Sun-Sun) was a very good friend. A scary night-time awakening was frequently saved by locating him under the covers and pulling the caterpillar string that caused the music to play. I remember smiling as I heard the melody over the baby monitor when R grew a bit older and began to learn to soothe himself.

Even as my 'tough guy' has grown, Sunny has remained. Each morning when R makes his bed, Sunny assumes his place under the covers, at R's feet where he likes to sleep. (Oh the years I spent searching for him in the tangled sheets during particularly restless nights!)

A couple of months ago after a visit with our precious family friend/former sitter, Annie, and her new baby, R announced, "I think I want to give Sunny to baby Hudson."

We took a few weeks to ponder the idea. I put Sunny in a drawer to make sure we were ready. Occasionally I would find that he had made his way from my drawer back into R's bed. I wondered if the time had in fact come--or not.

And then today as we were preparing to go and meet Annie & Hudson for ice cream after school R cheerfully reminded me, "Don't forget Sunny!"

The handoff was adorable. My R is a man of purpose and he handled this like a champ.
 It seemed so sweet, so right.

And my heart was at peace, too. And then a couple of hours ago I got this from Annie. Sunny assuming the position in his new home, with a little boy the same age my R was when he fell in love with him.


New home 2014 (with Hudson)
Old home 2007 (with R)
A torch (or sun if you will) has been passed in the tenderest way.

Time marches on.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Church

As we sat in the worship service this morning my heart felt like it might burst and yet completely at home and secure all at the same time. I experienced a huge involuntary exhale followed by a wide grin. My husband was holding my hand, worship music surrounded us and I tried to freeze it all as a tiny glimpse of the peace of heaven.

The funny thing is, I don't even remember what song was playing. My children were in various stages of slouch and mumbling much more than singing. I realized it had nothing to do with the lyrics or the momentary circumstances. It was, instead, a celebration in my heart of place, time, community and priority.

There is a lot said and written about church--what makes a good one or a bad one, the different types, the reason for it. People 'like' or 'dislike' styles, preachers, atmospheres, musical genres, times and locations...but this morning as I felt so alive, free and refreshed just being there I tried to pinpoint why.

No church is perfect. It is, afterall, a group of sinful people gathered in a space. But by virtue of seeking to know Him more and taking a collective pause from the world to praise God, it becomes sacred.

A few weeks ago my husband & I attended a great marriage enrichment retreat. For us, the most meaningful part of the weekend was an exercise in family vision setting. The facilitator gave us a worksheet that walked us through a process of discovering what we valued individually--and when we thought we were at our best as a team.

It surprised even me when I got to a question asking us to describe specific times and places where I felt best as a couple and one of the first things that came to mind was sitting in church during worship music. As I sought to explain why, I realized it is because on Sunday mornings my priorities are in order. In a dark room, surrounded by community, singing the truth of who God is--we are sequestered from noise and distraction, focused on what is most important.

I love the picture of my eyes looking up (to the screens), my lips professing what I believe (through song), my ears hearing others with a unified voice (singing the same lyrics) while holding hands with my partner.

Truly, everything else falls into place in that moment--largely because there is no room for insignificant worry or thought when our focus is right.

God is the head and the body takes its proper place under Him.

Alas, at 9:55 we are released and walk down the corridor into the bright light of 'real world.' We will scatter to places with competing voices and crowded schedules. But I pray we take with us the peace and perspective those sacred moments bring.

I am so grateful for the church.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Charging

So much of the early years of parenting is about survival--our own sanity and the very lives of our fragile, innocent children. Our primary roles are feeding, sheltering, protecting. Of course these are vital functions of parents of minor children, but as our trio ages our role is shifting. They now understand most of the basic physical hazards of the world like hot stoves, parking lots, medicine bottles, guns, bodies of water, inappropriate touch, etc...

As we move into double digits I am realizing it's the intangible dangers they can finally start to understand. My children have an amazing relationship with each other considering the sheer amount of time they have to spend together between church, school and home. But at the end of the day, they are still siblings...with immature 9 year old emotions...and sinful natures.

It's interesting having same aged children because there isn't a true 'birth order' (or pecking order as it tends to be in sibling groups). And yet, personalities as they are and budding tween emotions have started to make tone, patience and 'picking' more of a topic.

This morning as an insignificant spat started to lead to tears I started thinking about how I really want the tone of our home to be peace, acceptance and rest. Searching for a way to make a meaningful connection for the kids, I had a metaphor (my second language).

I asked them to think about how important their chargers were for their handheld devices. After a long trip or at the end of the day, they rush to get their DSi, Wii U tablet, ipods plugged in. It's almost a desperate dash sometimes when the red lights start flashing.

I explained that our home is the charging mechanism for their hearts. Of course, the Lord is our power source--but home and family are the mechanism He uses.

This world can be draining. After a long day what we all want is to come home, to exhale in the safety of this place and to get our batteries recharged and our hearts and souls filled back up to 100% before we head back out to take on the next day.

And, my friends, my little tech loving 9 year olds seemed to get it!  I am looking forward to using this language as a reminder instead of having to always preach a lecture. :-) Are you charging or draining right now? And in fairness, it's a question I should get a little better about asking myself.

Charging is essential to keep a device functioning. The love and security of home and family are meant to serve in this way.

Of course they are still 9 and our hearts are still constantly growing and changing...but our conversation was a start. And that is worth celebrating!