Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Notes From the Trenches: The Summer of Seventeen

A quick note today from a grateful heart.

The early parenting years were largely about survival. The middle full of adventure, humility, and revelation. These last couple of at-home years remain to be seen...but this Summer has been providing glimpses that fill me with joy and wonder. 

I don't want to speak too soon. I am well aware that life takes twists and turns. Undoubtedly, we still face chapters of tragedy and triumph, joy and pain. But I don't want my fear of those future chapters to prevent a pause to savor the sweetness of right now. So, today I am writing this for myself. 

I am finally (mostly) finding peace and joy in my role as the Pit Crew. As these young people are dashing in and out from sports, jobs, camps, and social outings I am here. My role is feeding, clothing, reminding, listening, and otherwise providing rest from the last adventure and equipping for the next. I still have plenty of my own responsibilities and interests, but the ministry of availability is beginning to feel as rewarding as my prior obsession with productivity. 

And by the grace of God, the Cinderella feeling that once tinged these roles has dissipated and I am relishing the chance to show love to my people in practical ways. Their independence is still my goal, but being a soft place to land--a spot they want to come home to--is a gift. 

What fun to watch the young adults emerge from these children! They need space and grace. I am truly thankful for the opportunity to provide both.

Seventeen, I like you so. 

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Breezy

My heart and mind are still coming to grips with the fact that our trio turned 17 last month. 

Perhaps it is true of all parents, or maybe enhanced because we are typically celebrating a new age during the last week of school, but we tend to make significant adjustments to rules and responsibilities each May. 

Although they are only a year away from the 18th birthday milestone associated with adulthood, redshirting them in Kindergarten gave us the gift of an extra year with them in our home. Because I am a person driven by responsibility, the heat is on to make the most of EVERY OPPORTUNITY. (All caps are to emphasize the pressure I feel from myself in this regard.)

So now, the countdown is 24 months--the first three of which are during the loose days of Summer combined with the freedom of driving. I want to do well with what I have been entrusted with, but could someone please give me a handbook for each one? 

I read somewhere that the posture of a teen parent's heart should be "breezy" and haven't stopped giggling about it since. Many adjectives could be used to describe me, but this word wouldn't be at the top of anyone's list. I am, however, committed to trying. 

I know these are the days when our teens should be learning independence. I would much rather them take some risks while they are under our daily influence and have a soft place to land--but after 17 years of schedules and structure, it is a hard habit to break.

So, daily I wrestle (and often in the darkness of late night/early morning too) with how and when to lighten up, while still coaching and teaching specifically to where each teen is developmentally. (Are you exhausted yet just reading this?)

My kitchen nook is covered in sticky notes bearing quotes about surrendering control to my Sovereign Father--but the struggle is real in my heart. 

Kate, a wonderful young lady who happens to be quite messy, was the recipient of one of my first attempts at fewer rules and more responsibility. I breezily announced that I was no longer going to police the cleanliness of her room, but that meant I wouldn't be picking up the dirty clothes either. I braced for impact.

"Oh, thank goodness!" she replied, "you do that for yourself, Mom. It doesn't bother me." 

Yikes. Ouch. Wow. And also? She's right.

With teens coming and going all Summer to various overnight camps and retreats, this is the time to let some things go--but it isn't my nature and is taking a renewed faith that God is growing them up and into the people He has always planned. It is time for me to lay down the self-imposed nitpicky pressure and lean into the few heart-focused issues God has impressed upon my heart.

When it comes to the role I play, I love this reminder from Jeannie Cunnion: 

"I am significant, but God is Sovereign."

Now pardon me while I return to structuring my life to be more breezy. ;-)

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Dormancy

While my Northwest Georgia home has escaped the icy deep freeze wreaking havoc on other Southern states, it is still a cool 21 degrees this morning. My schedule is quite light due to the Pandemic. My adolescents are all at school after a 4 day weekend. Our two dogs are sleeping soundly at my feet and I am in my quiet house with only a soundtrack of a softly swishing dishwasher.

My task list today includes lots of laborious tax preparation, so I am procrastinating by thinking about the changes the last 11 months have brought to my life. 

I am curious how we will define this chapter in retrospect. 

As I stare out my kitchen window at the barren branches of Winter trees, the word that seems to be rattling around in my brain this morning is dormancy. (Of course, this led me down a rabbit trail of researching middle school science facts I had long forgotten about what really happens during a period that mostly feels like a pause.)

I will spare you the whole lesson, but what struck me was the two types of dormancy: Predictive, which happens in anticipation of adverse conditions and consequential, which results from adverse conditions. As a parent of triplet teenagers during this last crazy year, I think I have experienced a double dose of dormancy caused by both the anticipation of challenges (driving, dating, college readiness, etc.) and the actual circumstances of living through 2020-21 (Covid, politics, culture wars, etc.) 

I have always heard that parenting teenagers is the loneliest stage of motherhood, but doing so when usual outlets for meaningful face-to-face connection are missing adds a whole different layer. Additionally, my ability to process our challenges out loud through writing has been stifled by my desire to protect my people's stories. The last thing an adolescent needs in their tenuous growth phase is hyper analysis and play-by-play reports or veiled references on the Internet.

Add to this mix that I have a few political takes that don't fit neatly in any box and the result is feeling quite alien and increasingly unknown. The reality is that I am a communicator. I don't know how to 'be' in relationships when I can't be totally authentic. I despise the illusion of connection that happens when people cannot talk about what is really on their minds--so I have been in retreat mode. The upshot to this has been a deepening of trust with my teens, more partnership with my spouse, and increased reliance on and intimacy with the Lord. 

As I reflected on all this today, I was drawn to the words of poet David Whyte:

"Withdrawal can be the very best way of stepping forward and done well, a beautiful freeing act of mercy and as an art form, underestimated in this time of constant action and engagement... Withdrawal is often not what it looks like - a disappearance - no, to withdraw from entanglement can be to appear again in the world in a very real way and begin the process of renewing the primary, essential invitation again...

...We withdraw not to disappear, but to find another ground from which to see; a solid ground from which to step, and from which to speak again, in a different way, a clear, rested, embodied voice, our life as a sudden, emphatic statement, one we can recognize as our own and one from which now, we have absolutely no wish to withdraw."

-‘WITHDRAWAL’ From CONSOLATIONS:
The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. © David Whyte

It seems appropriate that I am writing this on Ash Wednesday, as Lent represents the 40 days of fasting and prayer during which Jesus prepared for the next season of his ministry. 

And this is why dormancy is such a hopeful word for me today--because it isn't permanent. Dormancy is a necessary phase in a healthy growth cycle. Even more exciting is the reminder of what follows dormancy--explosive growth and blooms of new life. 

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19 NIV

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 us...it 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!