Friday, January 08, 2021

Where do we go from here?

In 2021 I am a white, middle-aged, doctor’s wife living an hour outside Atlanta, but I spent the first part of my life in rural Alabama. I had many colorful experiences growing up, including serving beer at a cockfight during an elementary school slumber party in a doublewide trailer.

I’ve walked through extended family struggles with domestic violence, suicide attempts, death from AIDS, drunk driving, adultery, addiction, abortion, transgenderism, and teen pregnancy (Half of that before I was old enough to drive a car).

I am a politically Independent, cradle-to-grave pro-life voter in a deeply red part of the country.

I am a Jesus follower who does not believe God needs a politician to save anything.

I am a member of (and live adjacent to) a Country Club and spend hours each week advocating for my undereducated and economically disadvantaged neighbors who live less than a block away.

My inner circle includes black people, white people, doctors, business owners, and struggling single mothers.

I have simultaneously served as a foster parent, deeply entrenched in lives of addiction and poverty, and a private school parent-teacher organization president. 

You may have followed me on social media for years and not know these things. I share all this as a reminder that most human beings are far more multi-dimensional than your initial assessment or their online persona.

I also offer this backstory today as a context for the deep concern I have, in my everyday life, for all kinds of people. And while most of us are still processing the many lessons of this period in history, I realized something today that the last 10 months have solidified for me.

My friends from all walks of life do not feel heard. This is frustrating and exhausting. You don’t have to look much further than the toddler having a tantrum to see where that leads. 

When my children were younger I frequently had to remind them what a difference their tone made in my ability to really hear what they had to say. Now that they are teenagers, we still sometimes have these talks. Whininess, entitlement, blind spots, hard truths, hunger, exhaustion, hypocrisy--real or perceived--all impact our ability to listen with understanding, as opposed to wanting to teach each other a lesson. 

As adults that share a society, we cannot continue to just step over the people having tantrums and go about our business.  We have to pause and help each other find our words. 

Adults know they cannot win every time--and I don’t think most people expect to, as long as they feel there are people in leadership listening and working towards a common good. Unfortunately, it is no longer clear what COMMON good looks like. 

When everything becomes win or lose, all of life feels like war. Conversation shuts down because it doesn’t feel productive. So, frustrated people march, yell, protest and then retreat to their echo chambers where they are fired up and refueled for the next big fight--but nothing happens, except increased divisiveness. 

We cannot move forward in this cycle of fearing what is different. We have to humble ourselves and start trying to listen to each other again...not through shouts, but through honest sharing of our fear and need. Less they and more we. 

I am praying and processing what this looks like in my own sphere of influence. How do we enter into mutually respectful conversations (during a Pandemic) with friends, family, and neighbors where defensiveness is soothed by loving and productive curiosity? How do we start to trust each other again? 

I believe we are seeing the fruit of a lot of things that don’t work: depersonalizing people, swiftly judging and putting labels on others, and making everything a fight. 

We must get our conversations off of screens and back in real life, where humanity is more recognizable and the tone can be heard in the context of relationships. 

It will be painful, slow, and cost all of us something...but the profit will be progress, peace, and a true living out of our faith as we love one another in sacrificial and meaningful ways.

Thursday, January 07, 2021

My 2020 Recap

I had planned to take the first week of 2020 to reflect and write some sort of wrap up to the year...but 2021 has been off to such a start that it didn't happen. 

I post our major milestones on Instagram, but this post is an effort to quickly put some sort of bow on the happenings in our family this past year for posterity. (Basically, a Christmas letter I am putting here instead of sending out.)

In January, we wrapped up a trip to Costa Rica a few days short because my husband was very ill with high fevers and hallucinations. He spent 24 hours in isolation in Costa Rica before we masked him up (assuming he had the flu) and returned to the US. He spent another couple of days ill in bed here. Now we wonder if perhaps he was an early unrecorded case. Thankfully, I am a bit of a germaphobe and a believer in isolation when sick--so the treatment would have been unlikely to look any different regardless of diagnosis.

In February, I spent a lot of sweet time with our last foster child due to some upheaval in her birth family. It was sweet and good for both of our hearts. I had no idea our time together would end abruptly and unceremoniously as the virus caused quarantining and her birth family decided that didn't need my support anymore. We also enjoyed Parker's musical, Shrek, and our church's annual DNOW youth weekend.

March started normally with lots of lacrosse and soccer then Spring Break in Patagonia/South America. We left one version of the United States and returned 10 days later to an entirely different one due to Covid. The kids were introduced to online school & we adopted our Goldendoodle, Boomer.

April brought many sweet, sunny days spent outdoors, as we adjusted to life in lockdown. Church at home for Easter and beyond--and lots of home cooking.

In May, we rented a place at Watersound Beach for a change of scenery and spent a lot more time outdoors! Kate, Ryland 7 Parker celebrated their 16th birthday with a driveby, front yard celebration as opposed to the super fun DJ party I had planned--but they still felt loved. Their freshman year officially fizzled to a close and Kate & Ryland took their drivers' tests.

In June, we attempted to use my husband's newly minted pilot's license to take our first college tour at Clemson. Our failure to plan ahead for guaranteed on the ground transportation during a Pandemic led to a crazy adventure that concluded with our entire family hitchhiking. All three of our teens started their first real jobs (K & R lifeguarding and P at a local deli). R had his wisdom teeth extracted. K finally had her braces removed (after a frustrating Covid-induced delay.)

In July, Ryland & I were able to sneak away for a couple of days to Palmetto Bluff, SC while our teens went on a small group Young Life lake retreat. The break after so much togetherness was good for us all. This was our first foray into Covid testing, but not our last. At the end of the month, Ryland passed his instrument rating exam for flying. I helped coordinate a virtual Vacation Bible School. 

August started with a family trip back to Palmetto Bluff. Fresh air, social distance and new experiences were great for all of our spirits/mental health. K had her wisdom teeth extracted. The trio started their sophomore years in person at school. My small group reconvened after our long break, meeting outdoors in all kinds of weather!

September brought the beginning of soccer season for Ryland, Cross Country season for Kate, and mascot representation for Parker. The guys went on a multi-generational men's fishing trip to Homosassa, Florida with Grandaddy Scott. Life started to feel a bit more like our old normal. To cap it off, Parker got his driver's license--although he has only driven independently once in the 4 months since! (His choice.) Having two built-in chauffer's has its benefits. 

October included a long weekend school break that allowed us to sneak away to Bald Head Island for to celebrate my birthday with more social distancing and an ocean view. More soccer, more running, more mascot appearances. 

November brought a lot more Covid cautiousness, so as sports seasons wrapped up we hunkered down. One more quick escape for Thanksgiving since we were not planning to mix with anyone outside our home anyway. This one involved two Covid tests each and so many complications with mechanical issues that our planned 6 hour trip turned into 28 hours and an unintended stay in Ocala, FL as we awaited repairs. (When Ryland started pursuing his pilot's license, we had no clue how much freedom it would allow us during a pandemic, but it certainly requires more flexibility than I realized.)

December brought non-traditional Christmas celebrations--quiet, cozy, and almost exclusively in our spirits. Every tradition outside our home was nixed, but after an at home online candlelight Christmas Eve observance, we were able to get Waffle House takeout as some sense of our normal tradition. We unwrapped gifts with grandparents on separate days when it was mild enough to sit outdoors around the fire pit. Sweet new memories were made. 

In the final week of the year, Ryland received his first dose of the Covid vaccine with no complications.

I remain committed to a few ministries in our community in addition to our church: Young Life, South Rome Alliance (community development and early childhood education for lower-income students), and Restoration Rome (foster care advocacy).

Much has been written about what a strange time it is to be in healthcare. That would fill another post, but suffice it to say having Ryland in the hospital daily added another level to our Covid understanding, precautions, and concerns. 

Reflecting on the experience of living through 2020, the word I want to remember is resiliency. People have continued to find ways to preserve what is important. I have been so proud of the extraordinary efforts I have seen in almost every facet of life to adapt and keep moving forward. There is a lot less pomp and a whole lot more meaning (and circumstances, haha).

My faith feels stronger because it is more simplistic. The extra fluff has been stripped away and what remains feels increasingly authentic! I truly believe we will be better off for the lessons learned this year

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Readers over Roses : Middle Aged Love

Last year, much to his dismay, my husband had to start wearing reading glasses. Like many middle-aged people, he has several inexpensive pairs scattered about our home. His favorites, however, are a tortoise-shell clicker set with a magnetic nose bridge and a band around his neck. 

After dinner most evenings, Ryland assumes his place behind his laptop, catching up on work. I buzz in and out as I recall topics in need of discussion. 

Right around this time, we both started to notice our nightly discussions frequently took a sharper tone. I was more defensive and found myself feeling unfairly questioned or judged over the slightest things. One night we confronted this head-on. What is going on? Why are relatively simple conversations feeling sharp and frustrating? Neither of us could pinpoint any significant marital issue. Then it hit was the readers!

When I would walk into the room to ask a question, seated Ryland would lower his chin and gaze at me over his glasses. This position caused his forehead to wrinkle and his brow to furrow--and as ashamed as I am to admit it publicly, this Enneagram 8 received it immediately as being 'parented' or judged by my spouse. I would become unnecessarily defensive simply because of the signals this body language sent. (I am sure this sounds ridiculous to people who aren't wired like me, but I am just being honest. I wish I weren't this way, but it's one of my issues.)

For the next several nights we tried an experiment, as we started talking, instead of peering at me over his readers he would remove them--and suddenly openness and good attitudes were restored. With the sound of the magnetic click of removal, I exhaled. 

And then one night after dinner, I walked in to find him signing off on charts in his work safety goggles. I started giggling and asked,  "What are you doing in those?"

"Well," he replied with a grin, "they have magnifying lenses built-in and they look so ridiculous I thought it would be hard for you to feel judged while I was wearing them."

He was right. Those goggles have had the exact opposite effect. They make me feel known, accepted, and loved. When he looks up from his work, even if it is a harder conversation, I am softened by the immediate reminder that if he's willing to look silly on account of my insecurities, I can rest assured we are on the same team. Such a simple, humble adjustment in response to my idiosyncrasy is a nightly reminder of his care for me.

This isn't exactly the kind of love story we tell young people...that after a couple of decades very unsexy safety goggles will mean more than chocolates or flowers, but this is the beauty of old love.  I don't need flashy or expensive, just a man whose actions reflect his sacrificial love for the real, quirky me. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

From Terror to Trust

My husband started pursuing his private pilot's license two years ago. I didn't share his interest. I had safety concerns. But, he is a very detail-oriented person and was so passionate about this pursuit, my love for him compelled me to lean in despite my fear.

As time went on and he poured himself into the preparation, I trusted his research and conscientiousness. I also decided supporting his interest was a more loving approach than being ruled by my anxiety. This is not to say I don't still have my occasional reservations, but ultimately there was a decision to be made: terror or trust?

I am finding this same thing to be true as I parent growing teens. Much like flying, it is stretching and growing my faith. Letting your children take on their own choices and consequences is a true test. Do I really trust the Lord with these, His children?

I am in a constant tug of war. My mind can go into overdrive (especially at 3am), terrified at all the things that can go wrong. I believe God can redeem anything, but I also know certain choices carry weightier consequences than others--and there is a whole wide world out there vying for my children's hearts. I want to spare them learning too many lessons the hard way. 

One thing our new normal has allowed is a lot more space to think and pray. As my gaze has been reoriented toward the Lord's plans rather than my own, I have been reminded that my role in these last few years at home is to literally switch seats--from driver to passenger (with permits) and ultimately to exit the vehicle and let them drive away on their own. (Available by phone, of course! ;-)  

This is the phase where we must trust the training, the process, and the skill that comes from actual practice. We put in the prep work, and now it's time for the literal rubber to meet the road. 

Releasing the reigns of the illusion of control forces me to face the facts of this life. Growth won't be without scrapes and crashes. There will be heartache, disappointment, hard lessons, and consequences--but I am finding that there is also true joy in watching the growth and a sigh of peace as the pieces do start to coalesce. There is increased confidence and relationship as we step out in risk and trust.

Parenting from a posture of fear is where I make a lot of mistakes. I recently heard Katherine Wolf say "anything that is not transformed is transferred." I want the Lord to transform my anxiety into trust of Him, lest I transfer it onto my children. 

As I lean into Him in faith, He is proving himself faithful. As we are trusting our teens with more they are also (mostly) rising to the occasion. Moving from terror to trust, with a long-range view and an eternal perspective, certainly makes for a smoother ride than reacting to every bump and twist along the way. This is proving to be a more joyful experience for us all!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Parenting Teens in a Pandemic

Since my teens returned to school I have been rapidly consuming adolescent development, Christian parenting, and positive mental health resources through books, podcasts, articles, and conversations with trusted people.

Here are a few that have spoken the most to me this week: 

Love Her Well by Kari Kampakis

Java with Judi podcast (a ministry of Authentic Intimacy)

All About Boys podcast by David Thomas (based on his book, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys)

The 2020 Back-to-School List for Teens' Emotional Well-Being by Dr. Lisa D'Amour

As a result, I have a few reflections: 

1. One of the things teenagers value most is honesty and authenticity. Being able to honestly say to my people, "I have never done this before...I am learning right along with you," seems like a great place to start in maintaining my credibility with them. It invites grace with integrity. 

"Whereas you cannot provide certainty, you must provide clarity. Parents, leaders, influencers, mayors, senators, you can be uncertain! You can be uncertain but you cannot afford to be unclear. Our mandate, as leaders, is to be clear even when things are not certain. Clarity is honest and clarity, as we're gonna discover, is enough. And here's why I say that; clarity is actually perceived as leadership. Clarity is actually experienced as leadership. Clarity, in the midst of uncertainty, creates its own influence, its own momentum." - Andy Stanley, sermon "Leading with Clarity"

2. While much is written about the challenges of those virtually/hands-on homeschooling little ones-- and the parents doing this have my deepest empathy-- sending my adolescents back out into the world after a cozy bonus few months in the nest has its own unique set of considerations. 

I have been hovering over them trying to make this COVID season special and safe for five months. Developmentally, this is the time when my teens really should be individuating--learning important and lasting lessons socially--and finding their footing with budding independence. COVID precautions stunted that growth. 

“The work of mothering a son is mostly about stepping aside with precise timing. I want my sons, both of them, to learn from me that they are free to be rooted in home and still be abroad in the world as men." Gina Bria, The Art of Family

My introvert is thrilled to have excuses to retreat to online games and forums, my extrovert has to negotiate with us over the risks and precautions for every planned outing, and my teen that hasn't found their social footing is struggling with how to do so in these unusual times. How do you make new friends and form an intimate group when groups aren't allowed? 

In normal 16-year-old circumstances, youth leaders would be present as healthy and trusted voices to navigate these decisions. A typical sophomore year of high school would present many social opportunities to develop these skills. Alas, this is 2020 where developmental and mental health concerns must be weighed against community health risks and mandates. It is exhausting!

3. After a 3am wrestling match with the Lord and my worries this morning, I feel like I left with a mantra:

  • Parent with the LONG VIEW in mind...character, faith, foundational truth...not just behavior management.  
  • LISTEN and LOVE more than lecturing. Now more than ever, home should be a safe place.
  • Let the Lord have His way in His time with the hearts of these His children. He loves them more than I do. He sees the big picture and the deepest places in their hearts. I can trust Him. 

I still have so much to learn, but I am grateful for what the Lord is revealing to me and how He is growing me in this process. I hope some of these lessons are encouraging to you as well. 

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." Matthew 6:34 MSG

One day at a time. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

August 2020: Another New Normal

According to my calendar, tomorrow morning ends our crazy Covid induced 5-month break from school. The last time my children wore a backpack was in March. We had no idea when they left school on a Friday afternoon for Spring break it would extend through Summer. And now, as quickly as it all came to be, we are entering yet another phase. 

So many aspects of life have changed since my people were last on campus, it is hard to keep track. For posterity, I wanted to record a few:

There is now a small bottle of hand sanitizer stashed in every car and bag. 

There is a designated spot in my home for clean face masks. 

We choose restaurants based on their outdoor dining options. 

I finally quit Facebook for good.

Having enough toilet paper in our pantry is an actual consideration.

Online church is our norm.

My teens are driving, dating, and employed. 

There is no 'next adventure trip' being planned.

The phrase, "I have no idea," now rolls easily off my tongue.

My world has gotten infinitely smaller and quieter. 

I have watched the many societal fires of the last several months draw out anger, greed, and anxiety in many people (myself included.) Frankly, I have lost a bit of faith and trust in people in my extended circles and I really hate it.

I am praying for healing of these fractures--for patience, understanding, and grace.

Although I have truly tried to relish this season with my people--to thrive, not just survive-- we are all looking forward to a re-emergence of sorts tomorrow. I pray it is marked by faith, hope, wisdom, and health.

I plan to still stick close to home. (I can't believe I am not even driving them to school!) I hope to maintain some of the quietness, pondering, slower pace, and prayer which have become so vital to my mental and spiritual well being.

And as much as I don't want to admit it, I am afraid--not in a paralyzing way--but in a sober way that reminds me of my deep need for TRUST. 

I was looking back through posts on this blog from years ago and almost didn't recognize that author. Her thoughts were clear and confident. She had a plan. She was so busy! 

I struggled to recall if Covid alone has changed this, or if it has also been the slow sanctification of years of life combined with adolescent parenting. And even though there is much about this new normal to resent, I am beginning to realize this humbled, stripped-down posture of reliance is perhaps the greatest gift. 

Thursday, June 04, 2020

May 2020: 16 Year old Milestones

Kate, Ryland & Parker:

I am writing this to you, lest we forget what a historic month May 2020 turned out to be--for you personally and in our nation.

At the first of the month, pandemic restrictions were lifted in Georgia and we took a 36 hour trip to the beach. It turns out sand in our toes was grounding. The sun on our skin was therapeutic. A change of scenery was a glorious gift to our mental health.

We returned home for a final week of online school. Ninth grade is officially complete!

A week later you all became gainfully employed with your first jobs--K & R lifeguarding and P at a favorite local deli. You filled out your first tax forms and rose to the occasion of adult activities like drug screens, orientations, and negotiating work schedules.

On the 26th we celebrated your 16th birthday in a back-to-basics driveby/stop by front yard gathering with friends. Watching all of you interact was a reminder of how important social interaction is--never forget the gift of community and friendship!

Kate and Ryland each passed their driver's test--another non-traditional affair as Covid regulations prohibited the examiner from riding in the car. Instead, she watched with her clipboard as your Dad and I rode in silence (under threat of penalty) if we spoke. This proved harder for one of us than the other. ;-)

Parker, you wisely chose to let the first wave of new drivers pass as you take your time with your training and grow in your confidence. Having your own fleet of chauffeurs seems to be just fine by you! You also colored your hair in an evolving attempt to find your style. Your unapologetic individuality is a joy to behold.

I didn't mention the first date and new crush that emerged from this month for two of you...and what an absolute handful our pandemic pup has been. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of milestones to note in this house!

It is now the first week of June and even without camp, this Summer is proving to be one of tremendous growth. Physically,  all three of you are over 5 feet. (5 ft K, 5'4" P, and 5'9" R) Spiritually, you each are investing in your personal relationships with the Lord and your church family. Civically, you are learning how to work hard and contribute at home and in the world.

The racial unrest in our country has led to deep and important conversations about the multi-layered complexities of race in this country and how we can serve as allies. There are no easy answers--but I am so proud of your willingness to consider the questions.

We have spoken of the importance of lament, leadership, compassion, and authentic love of neighbor.

And that was May.

This has been a month I've wondered about since I knew I was carrying triplets--three 16 years olds!! But I can honestly say, as with most things, the anticipation was far more emotional than the actual season. Perhaps it is because there have been SO MANY firsts, I haven't been riding the waves.  Instead, I feel buoyant with hope and joy.

While I know the Covid crisis has been devastating for countless people, the time at home before you emerged into the world this Summer was truly formative.

I know this is just the beginning of all that comes with budding independence and adolescence, but I am truly more joyful than sad and clinging to the hope of Phillippians1:6 "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it..."

"So, be truly glad, there is wonderful joy ahead..." I Peter1:6