Monday, April 25, 2016

10 Things I've Learned in 45 Years

This past week was indeed my birthday. Which always has me in a state of reflection about my years on the planet. And last Saturday, that anniversary hit 45. 

 
Now, when I was a teenager, 45 seemed old. I know, I know. How cruel of me. The ignorance of youth. But now, here I am. Hitting 45, although mentally, I sorta got stuck seeing myself as the 20-something that I used to be. Until it gets to be about 8:30 and I find myself yawning because I'm ready for bed. Or when I have to reach for my either my readers or my iPhone flashlight app in a restaurant to read the menu.

Yep. I own it. I'm the big 4-5, and dadgumit, I've earned every day of it so no need to lie about it.

One the most wonderful things (absolutely no sarcasm, I promise) about aging is that life lessons hit home and it's absolutely true that with age, comes wisdom. I've learned a thing or two along the way, and I'm still working hard to put these lessons into practice as I embrace who God made me and how I'm bent and other wonders of the universe.

1. I'm really an introvert at heart. This may seem rudimentary to some of you, or if you know me, maybe you're not surprised by this? Or maybe you are? Anyhow, it's been a very windy road to learn my natural tendency. I was painfully shy as a child, or at least how I remember it. A speech impediment brought bullying and life on an Army base brought no lasting friendships. So, I threw myself into creative pursuits like drawing and sewing to pass my time. 

As I grew older, I threw off this shy demeanor like it was bad fashion. I banished it and worked very, very hard to become more outgoing. I joined about every club there was in high school (not a major feat, trust me, in a little town like Lampasas, Texas). I even danced on drill team, out there in the middle of the field for all the world to see. Then, I went off to college where I knew no one and started all over again. Next, I became an adoption social worker, requiring lots of being an extrovert. Although it was hard work, I thought I was winning at it. I could stand in front of a large room of prospective adoptive parents and absolutely love the chance to educate them about adoption. It felt natural to be a public speaker. I spent all my days on the phone or interviewing and visiting clients.

I thought I conquered it. I thought I had proven that I was the coveted extrovert that I had so highly valued.

But here's the truth I'm finally just embracing with complete acceptance. Or attempting to, anyway.

I hate talking on the phone. I do. I hate calling people I don't know. I recently took a temp job where I had to cold call prospective customers. And it made my palms sweat and I was filled with dread. 

Oh, I still love public speaking and teaching, and I do love to hold the attention of a group of friends regaling them with tales that I hope are humorous. 

But, I realize that I'm actually an introvert. And that's okay. It's okay to be recharged by time alone. Shut out in my master bedroom, banishing all of my beloveds so that I can be by my own little lonesome self.

It's okay to admit that when I get in a crowded room, I feel a sense of anxiety when the people press in. I can stomach it for a while. But then I want to rock in fetal position in the corner because it stresses me out.

Taking my kids to the State Fair of Texas? Or attending a sporting event in a crowded venue?

Sacrificial acts of love.

Totally drains me after a while.

And that's okay.

2. You can't please all of the people all of the time. While this may also seem rudimentary, I am a natural born people pleaser. I want to be approved and accepted and I want everyone to be having a good time. I feel sweat dripping down my armpits when a guest in my home for whatever occasion is obviously wishing they were somewhere else. 

Let's all be happy! Let's all be peaceful and get along and sing Kumbaya.

The slightest indication of displeasure in a social setting? QUICK. Figure out how to right that before something awful happens like unhappiness or heaven forbid, a conflict or confrontation.

Look, there is no such thing as world peace at all times. I STILL have to talk myself off this ledge on a regular basis. Oh, yes, lots of positive self-talk. Or preaching the truth to myself.

Here's the deal.

I tell myself, "no one is happy or peaceful all of the time." And, "Just look at celebrities! They are all adored and applauded until they are shamed and booed. People are fickle." And I remind myself, "work heartily as for the Lord, NOT MEN, knowing that from the Lord you will receive an inheritance" (Colossians 3:23).

Old habits here die hard. But I'm stretching myself to be released and healed from people pleasing and to instead fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

It helps that at my age, I can look back to how tied up in knots I was about how people perceived my clothes, hair and abilities when I was younger. Because of experience, I can gain perspective that clearly reveals that I gave my joy away and allowed others to define me. 

Instead of allowing the One who made me be the only definition that guides me. 

3. The gospel ain't the Sinner's Prayer. I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. In fact, I still attend one. And when I was four, I vividly remember saying the "Sinner's Prayer" to ask Jesus into my heart. My parents were skeptics, given my young age. So they asked our pastor, Billy Graham, to come have a chat with me. (Oh, not THAT Billy Graham). But yet, I somehow think my pastor's name gives even more validity to that decision at a young age.

Recent revelations have brought me to an incredible epiphany.

Mind blowing stuff, folks,that I'm about to reveal.

The Bible does not one time refer to anything remotely referencing asking Jesus into our hearts. Now, Revelations talks about how he stands at the door and knocks, and "if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me," (Revelations 3:20).

The reality is that I've been a bit off base here my whole stinking entire life. So, if you are ahead of me, don't laugh. And if you think I'm talking jibberish right now, read on.

The gospel is not some one time prayer that you say just right and then it changes everything. Now, it can be that dramatic. It might look like that. A one time, profound experience where a definite decision to turn and follow Jesus is made. And nothing is ever the same after those little words of surrender are spoken.

OR...

...it might look more like a journey. Like reading about and exploring and checking into who this Jesus is and what this whole thing is all about, gradually. Slowly. And at some hard-to-distinguish moment, the tables subtly turned and the person begins to surrender themselves to the saving grace of Jesus.

You see, the gospel isn't a one time event. It's a day-by-day, lifelong pursuit to know God. To trust him. To take him at his word. To learn more and more and more about him. To remind yourself continually that it was actually nothing you could ever do that saved you. That none of it depended on you--including how eloquently or perfectly you recited some prayer. But the gospel means grace, that over and over and over again covers our missteps because of the blood of Christ. 

The gospel is continually reshaping our identity by realizing more fully who we have been made through Christ. It's a process of constant renewal. Involving reflection and reminders of the story of God's goodness and holiness and supremacy. And continually being humbled by the fact that I bring nothing to table and he brings everything. It's telling yourself more and more until you have the firmest grasp of this truth... Jesus, God's Son, came to earth to become an enemy of God so that we, who are enemies of God, might be made sons.

It's all him. And all glory and all honor and all praise and all worship and all that we have and all that we are simply are due to Him.

That's the gospel.

Learning exponentially more about who God is and who we actually are. And rejoicing with absolute surrender of ourselves to throw all we are at bringing more glory to his name.

4. Me time is not selfish and rest time is necessary. I'm routinely tying myself up in the ropes of expectations, either expectations for myself or the ones I perceive from others. Then, mix in motherhood, and it brings a recipe for disaster. At least when it comes to carving out me time.

I tend to seek worth in what I accomplish.

So, sitting around and resting or doing nothing is not comfortable or natural to me.

Which is why, in my teens and twenties, I almost never watched television or a movie without doing some needlework or some other busy work so that I was at least "being productive" while I sat around.

I grew up in a family where guilt trips were an refined art form. So I offer them to myself now with great gusto.

My type B husband has always encouraged me with such startling realizations like, "but resting IS being productive! It's self-care," and "recharge so that you can keep going."

And multiple times, we see in Scripture that Jesus himself "went away to a lonely place to pray."

Jesus. The sinless one. Needed some time alone. To refocus. Be filled. Focus on the Father. Recharge and renew. So that he could pour himself out again and again.

I think I'm not alone here in the mentality that "me time" comes when the kids all leave the nest and while the husband is busy doing other things. Because learning to set aside time for ourselves as a priority is not something we tend to do well in our busy world. The concept of Sabbath and rest as a regular rhythm to life is so foreign that even within the church, we have all but lost this ritual.

Who's in for reclaiming rhythms of rest? Rituals of Sabbath? Making them part of our routine? 

If you need desperate help in this area, then you can find out more from the author whose emails I receive weekly. Shelly Miller is the real deal, and she has created a community called the Sabbath Society to help us all learn to incorporate the Biblical teaching of Sabbath into our regular lives. You can find out more about the Sabbath Society community on Pinterest @Surrendering to Sabbath, and with the hashtag #SabbathSociety and #RhythmsOfRest on Instagram and Twitter.

5. Buy the fresh flowers. Life is short. Seriously. And people never lay on their death bed saying they wish they had been busier or had spent more of their time on possessions and things. People in nursing homes rarely mention how much they wish they'd chased bigger cars or prettier houses or better wardrobes. If you've spent any time with an aging grandparent or parent, then you know they have learned the value of cherishing the simple things and embracing the important moments in life.

This is how I'm translating this in my own life.

I love fresh flowers. But, they seem impractical and expensive to me, when living on a budget. It feels like a luxury to have them, so I rarely buy them, unless I'm hosting an occasion or such.

But no more.

Having fresh flowers on my dining table makes me happy. It reminds me of God's incredible creativity and I love how they look and smell.

So, whether it feels pragmatic or not, I'm buying the fresh flowers. I, in fact, have begun to keep fresh flowers in my home all the time.

Yep. All the time. 24/7. And it makes me super happy. It's just a tiny little splurge that greatly impacts me.

And, I love dark chocolate. So, I keep a bag of those little squares, and I eat a couple of them a day, savoring the moment. 

Two years ago, I began making a "vision board" at the beginning of each year by creating a secret board on Pinterest, where I pin places I want to visit, books I want to read, things I want to accomplish, creative pursuits I want to begin, and Bible verses I want to really meditate on during the next year. This sets my mind on the valuable and important things, and I look at it throughout the year to see if I'm staying true to goals or getting lost in the busy things.

I'm learning to put my phone down more and be more present with my children and my husband. While I don't love cooking during the busy week, I try to make the effort for even just simple meals so that our family can sit around the table for family dinners. And even when I don't feel like it, I try to encourage us to linger. And talk. And let our time together evolve into laughter, which it usually does. 

While I usually feel brain dead by the time the sun sets, I'm trying to live in the moment by lying down to read Anne of Green Gables with my daughter. 

Because some day, she may not want to snuggle close and giggle at the escapades of chatty Anne with an "e."

In other words, I'm working harder to stop and smell the roses. Or daisies or whatever flowers I've bought this week. And putting more effort into pausing for the moments. Despite fatigue or inconvenience or any of my feelings. I'm trying to make my motto that if my children ask for my presence, then YES. Yes. Yes, please. If they want to talk or have me host their friends or their massive life group for a youth weekend...yes. Yes. I will choose making memories every time. 

7. Be intentional about what you rehearse. What stories do you retell to others and to yourself? Over and over. What are the events and thoughts and things upon which your mind dwells? This is a very recent epiphany that I am putting new focus to learn. 

Wherever our mind dwells and lingers and repeats and rehearses sets the course of our thoughts, our feelings, our beliefs and ultimately, our actions.

When I repeat times that I was offended or wounded or wronged, whether letting myself think about them continually or retelling those instances to others, I am preaching those injustices to myself. This leads to feeling how right it is that I should feel wronged. This leads to a selfish and prideful mentality that I deserved more. This actually leaves me imprisoned in the chains of these situations.

But, if I refuse to rehearse them and continually give them life by reliving them, then I am learning to free myself. If I choose, instead, to preach the gospel to myself, then I am learning and practicing freedom.

I'm soaking in the book A Gospel Primer, which speaks simply and eloquently to the practice of daily rehearsing who God is and who we are in him. In reading Scripture daily, we can let it inform and instruct our thoughts on God's character and how we are transformed and changed through the cross and resurrection. In praying back these Scriptures, we preach to our minds the truths of the gospel. In listening to praise music and hymns while we go about our tasks of laundry or cooking or cleaning, then we are further preaching the gospel to ourselves.

What we "rehearse" in our minds and in our interactions and in our conversations sets the tone of our lives. It becomes the script and the soundtrack of our lives. 

And it matters. A great deal.

8. Bring back entertaining like nobody's business. My girlfriends and I have noted that we, as a culture, have changed. There's no porches on which to gather. There's not Supper Clubs like past generations. There's not bridge nights with the same groups of friends or bowling nights. In our quest to be the perfectly pinteresting Martha Stewart host, we've just tossed out the idea of entertaining altogether. 

We've simply made things just too complicated.

We don't have to have a perfectly executed and complicated menu with matching place cards and lovely place settings.

For the love, invite the friends over. Into your messy houses and imperfectly messy lives. Truth is, theirs is messy too, so they'll feel right at home. Ask them to grab something for a potluck. Throw out some paper plates and plastic forks and sit around in the living room. Play a game and laugh a lot and don't sweat it if someone spills something.

Because we do not need perfectly executed events.

We need community that embraces the imperfections in us all.

And while we are on this subject, let your kids' friends come over. Host them regularly. Don't worry about planning things out. No need to plot out food or decor or activity. Let them figure it out. Heck, let them cook the food themselves. Let them paint and get messy and get your house messy.

Think back to your own childhood. 

What were the funnest times you had with your friends? Was it themed based parties with matching party favors? Was it a fancy Pinterest planned event? Was it plotted out activities because your mom served her position as Event Planner well?

For me, it was making forts with blankets, making up games, running around the neighborhood playing hide and seek, and other moments that were born out of boredom. Because there was room for our imaginations to be unleashed when we didn't have anything else to do.

9. Let your kids practice grown up things. For the millionth time I shall mention that my oldest launches for college in just over a year. And suddenly, I feel this panic about realizing that the kid I've been raising will, indeed, be a grown-up. He will be independent. Well, mostly. That was always the goal. That has always been the point. To work myself out of a job by letting my kids be the adults I've trained them to be.

Which means I need to actually train them. Toward adult things. Instead of helicoptering and hovering and doing for them.

Let my kids cook dinner. 

Let my kids mow the yard as soon as they are old enough to push the mower.

Let my kids drive the minute they are old enough. 

Force my kids to do chores. And learn to do laundry. All by their little lonesome. Helping out and cleaning house and learning all the things.

Making them work. I mean, at home from an early age. Yes. And for other people as soon as they can. Fill out job applications and learn to advocate for themselves at school. 

Practice, practice, practice for all the grown-up things because they will need to do them when I'm not there to watch and coach carefully.

I don't always do this very well. I admit. But, I'm working harder these days to be the mean mom and force the issue. Gulp and say yes when the newest driver asks if he can drive me. Even though this is hard for me. (why, no, I'm not a control freak....) Tell the high schoolers that they will have a J-O-B and their own bank accounts and will pay for their own gas and their own things like movies and eating out with friends. 

10. Be brave. My words this year are "dream big." While I primarily am seeking to grasp in a deeper way just how limitless my God is, I'm finding that he is calling me to bigger things. Because when I realize that I serve a God who is bigger than I have thus far believed, then I am equipped to do bigger things for him. And this requires me to be brave. 

Timid, conservative, play-it-safe me.

Brave. 

GULP.

Brave. Daring. Going for it. Learning to quit letting the fear of failure stop me and consider instead the regret of never trying. So what if it fails? WHAT IF it doesn't? What if I never give room for God to do new things because I refuse to step out in faith?

OH, that we could all be more brave. Have more courage. More boldness. This actually goes back to #7. If we rehearse the truest things about God, then we begin to thing the truest things about him. And it heals our unbelief. Quiets our doubt. And lets us dare to do that which we think is hard or difficult. It feeds the ability to be brave.

So brave I shall be. 

What do I have to lose? I accomplish no big thing and see no big dream come true when I only attempt small things.

Stay tuned... there's some things coming in this category. And I can't wait to share them.

All in all, I'd have to say that I love being 45. Or, at least, I think I will. I wouldn't go back for all the money in the world. I've loved all the amazing ways that God has been faithful. I've loved the joys and the highlights and the fun times. I've learned from the tough times and I embrace them as part of what has refined my faith and informed my life lessons. 

And to all of you, I say consider the above listed wisdom that has come with my age. Let's live brave lives filled with times with friends and fresh flowers and pausing to laugh and rehearsing the gospel over and over and over again.

And then, let's remember this.

The best is yet to be. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dear Sixth Grade Girl: It's All True. All this Jesus Stuff is True

Dear Sixth Grade Girl,

I want you all to know something. Everyone of you who is reading this blog post. Every person engaged here, who honors me with their precious time to pause and read the words that I feel led to share.

It's all true.

Every bit of it.

It's all true. All of this Jesus stuff that you hear. Every bit of truth from the Bible that you are taught in church. Or at home. Or that you read on your social media feed.

In fact, not only is it all true, but it is more true than anything else in life. More true than popularity. More true than passing recognition and awards. More true than cheerleading medals or soccer trophies. More true than being elected class president. More true than a stellar report card. More true than any winning season in even the most elite club or select sport.

More true than your mother's love.

More true than your friends' devotion.

More true than the attention from a boy.

More true than your cutest outfit, best hair day, and fanciest new electronic gadget.

More true than Kendra Scott. Or Vera Bradley.

Every word that God spoke through the Bible is the truest thing that you could ever find. It stands the test of time. And not just time, but all of eternity. It will outlast all of the things listed above. It will provide more strength than the most rigorous fitness program. It will provide more hope than your very best efforts could earn you. It will be the only light on the very darkest day.

That is why my heart beats for you. That is why I feel a growing passion to reach you, to teach you, to encourage you.

Everyone of you sixth grade girls. Including my own.

And everyone who is not a sixth grade girl. 

Because I want to save you some heartache and tell you what I've come to know.

I want to say it with the strongest and boldest conviction that I can muster and speak through the loudest megaphone.

It is all true.

If you ask me how I know this, then I will tell you my story.

I grew up learning facts about God, the Bible and Jesus. I grew up in the home of two parents who believed in it all and sought to follow Jesus. They lived out such faith in their own lives. I grew up storing away knowledge about a kind looking Jesus who had a cartoon face in my children's Bible. I grew up listening to stories taught on flannel boards about such heroes as David and Daniel and Noah.

And I accepted it all. I just took it all in as the gospel truth.

The gospel.

The good news.

That I was covered by the blood of Jesus shed on the cross and offered the power of the Holy Spirit because death couldn't hold Jesus in a grave.

And just like I relished a good fairy tale and mythology, I soaked in the stories from the Bible with that type of mentality. Like a beautiful piece of jewelry handed down from generation to the next, I just received the faith of my parents. 

Because I had no reason to ever doubt it.

Until I did.

When all that I knew was stripped away just three weeks after my 19th birthday. I know that sounds melodramatic. But, suffice it to say-- it's what happened. The bubble of my little happy home and intact family and security under my parent's authority and protection and provision was stripped away.

And then what?

Well, I will tell you what. 

I wrestled hard against all the facts. I questioned the God of the Bible. I doubted that Jesus loved me. I wondered how a good God could allow my heartache. I blamed him for the cruelty of my happy little life that now only mocked me for being naive enough to trust an unseen God.

Because life was bad. Life was hard. My heart was broken. And I felt all alone.

The story of the cross and the Son and the empty tomb? I just didn't know about it all anymore. I wasn't sure of anything because the most real thing to me was my pain.

Lean in now. And listen to me.

I fought through the muck of my doubts, my bitterness, my deep wounds, my depression. And maybe out of habit or curiosity or just desperation, I kept going to church and to Bible study. I sat and listened to Godly teaching. I sat with my Bible and read with a skeptical faith. I wrote long letters to God, pouring out my harshest criticisms of him. Like Jacob wrestled all night with God, I wrestled hard.

Until one day, I sat alone on the floor of my bedroom. Crying uncontrollably. Wanting to go to sleep and never ever wake up. And I told God off. I let it all rip. No holds barred. Nothing held back.

And no lightening bolt came for me.

No audible voice spoke.

No bright rainbow filled the sky.

But a quiet and overwhelming peace came over me. And I knew that God heard me. I knew that God saw me. And I began in that moment to claim my faith as my very own.

Not the facts of what my parents and my church had taught me. 

But the truest thing I've come to know. So I want you to know. Because maybe it will save you some of my struggles.

God will never leave you nor forsake you.

God's grace is sufficient in our weakness.

When you hit rock bottom, it is indeed the solid Rock of the Ages when you simply choose to keep running toward God instead of away from him.

So hear me well, sixth grade girl. 

Your troubles might seem big right now. And I don't diminish them. Middle school is hard. Trust me--it feels just as hard watching you walk through it as it did when it was me. And you are struggling in a technology and information age such as I could never have fathomed at age 12.

But, someday, your life might hit a very hard brick wall. Someday, trials and tribulations might come. In fact, God promised us that in this world, we will have tribulation. In this broken sinful world, we will face disease and grief and loss and hardships.

And when those moments come over you like a tsunami wave, take my word for it. Because I am shooting straight with you.

Tie every bit of yourself to this hope that we have as an anchor. This God of the Bible, this Jesus that is his only Son, and this mysterious and powerful Holy Spirit.

It is the truest thing that exists. When your world crumbles, dive into the Word. Test it. Read it. Memorize it. Explore it. Remember it.

Because it is all God breathed. It is all your Heavenly Father's love letter to you. It is all his promise that he will never break. 

He is more faithful than you can fathom. He is more satisfying than any other pursuit. He is stronger than anything else. He is more loving than you can imagine. His mercies are indeed new, every single day. Moment by moment. As you wrestle or grieve forward through your own muck and mire.

I'm telling you the truth.

All that you think about God right now... all that you've come to believe... it doesn't even begin to compare to the depths of his grace. He is more real than even your most "goosebump inspiring" moment at church camp.

I'm here to tell you. Because I have walked through it myself. I have learned facts and I have tested my faith. I have doubted and I have questioned and then I chose to believe even when I didn't feel it.

But now, I know.

Now, with hindsight that only God can offer, I know with the deepest conviction of my soul.

And I want you to know. I want you to tuck this away for safe keeping.

It is all true. Every word of the Bible is true. They aren't just words on a page. But they are indeed anchors to hold you steady. They are the light in the darkness. They are the thing that will sustain you when all else falls away.

So invest yourself and your time in the Word. Dare to ask questions and pray honestly. Have the most authentic and genuine conversations with the One who made you. The One who knows you better than anyone else on this planet. The One who created all that exists with one word from his mouth. The One who orchestrates the complexities of the universe and knit our complicated bodies together. The One who knows each star by name. 

The One who knows the very number of hairs on your head.

And the One who says that all those who trust in Him will never be put to shame.

Oh, dear sixth grade girl, listen now. Turn down the noise in your life and listen carefully. Ask for ears to hear. 

And you will hear indeed.

His love sings over you. For he delights in you. He quiets you with his love and he rejoices over you with song (Zephaniah 3:17).

For every bird's chirps and every gentle breeze rustling through the leaves are his love songs over us.


I'm telling you the very truest thing I've ever come to know in my nearly 45 years on this earth. 

God is immeasurably more than we can ever ask. Than we can ever imagine. 

And every effort to know him is so very worth it.

You can bank on it.

For he said it is so.

And I'm here to tell you. You can take him at his word.

Amen and amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Good-Bye Elementary School Years

It's SO cliche, I know, but there's no better way to say it. So, I just have to say it again. The years fly by. Like in a flash. I mean, I've blogged about it upteen times, but somehow my teeny tiny babies are doing insane things like driving cars and taking SAT's and looking at colleges. All three of my little darlings are taller than I am, and the fact that I can breeze right by the children's section in the department store makes me feel all nostalgic and sad and misty eyed.

Turns out that white haired lady in Target was right. The day she told me to just enjoy every minute because it goes by so quickly. And I wanted to deck her because my little monkeys were hiding in the middle of the clothes rack and running around the aisles and the baby in the grocery cart was sucking on the germ-filled nasty cart handle like it was a teething toy. 

(Back in my day, we didn't have cute little cloth grocery cart covers to protect our babies from germs whilst shopping like all you young trendy moms of today).  

While she meant to be encouraging and kind, I was simply pulling my hair out. And I wanted to offer her my children for the day so SHE could enjoy them and I could shop for the three things I needed in no time flat instead of the painful ordeal that shopping with three children had become.

Deep sighs. 

All these years later, she was right. I should have smiled more graciously instead of with gritted teeth at her. 

Be still my heart that baby bird #1 flies the nest next year. 

While I sit over here ready to burst into tears and cry through the rendition of Wayne Watson's Watercolor Ponies that is playing in my head. I can't help but reminisce. And think back through the years.

And then, I realize it. I realize that all this growing up stuff is actually as SWEET as it is BITTER.

This year, for the first time, I drive by the elementary school, and I have no children there. None. In fact, when my son drove us by the old school yesterday, we saw the ridiculously long line waiting to go through the pick-up line. He said, "UGH. Glad we aren't there any more!"

Oh, yes. Mothers of Littles, let me paint you a little picture. Let me forewarn you of the greatness to come. Mothers of teens, let me remind you anew of the incredible mountains we have climbed and conquered.

So, here, I present to you, the things I do not miss about the Elementary School Years. 

1. Reading Logs-- What kind of evil invention is this? I tell you, there are Mother Haters out there who came up with this sadistic idea. Somewhere, in a dark room filled with smoke, THEY sat around and contrived this idea of asking small children who are not even taught to write cursive to fill out reading logs. 

Who are we kidding here, school admin? Moms fill this out. Moms are responsible for this. You may SAY its homework for the kids, but it's really homework for the MOMS. Because nothing says "Welcome Home from School," in a nurturing way like requiring that children be conned into filling out some little form EVERY. DADGUM. NIGHT. While their mothers breathe down their neck. 

And those same mothers are throwing some stack of board books toward the aforementioned child and saying, "LOOK. Just read these to your little sister. And count it toward that book challenge. Then fill out the dang form." 

Listen, for the record, all reading logs become enjoyable and delightful when compared with the READING REFLECTION LOG that one of my children was required to fill out nightly one year. An entire paragraph. Every night. Answering certain reflective questions. In other words, pure torture. For the child. And her mother. And, likely for the poor teacher, too, who had to look at twenty of those paragraphs every day because someone told her this was to happen.

2. Take-Home Folder. A close cousin to the reading log, or perhaps the all encompassing container for the reading logs, is the dreaded take-home folder. Where every single night, you get to try to discern the behavior chart and code that your child's teacher this year uses. It takes the better part of the year to get the color scheme down and you realize that green is good, yellow is not-so-much, and red is, "Heaven help us, mother of this child! Get your kid in line!" There was even a year where children in this beloved teacher's class could earn UP from green. An entire rainbow of possibilities existed. My kid could go up and down all the live long day and it was anyone's guess on which color the day would end. 

You finally learn the system, and then-- not so fast, Mama -- the next year brings a new teacher with a new system and you start all over again. Remembering to sign the folder every night sounds easy. But it's not. Especially when you have multiple children in the same school. And then you get that little abbreviation system when your kid doesn't earn a sticker for the day and you have to determine what ET means for the violation and what the heck to do about it. Because you suddenly want to just say, "ET! Phone home!" But you realize that the teacher is too young to have even seen that great movie of your childhood. So you look frantically through the folder to find the decoder chart. Ugh. ET means Excessive Talking. 

The only thing worse than these abbreviations is when your kid does something that escapes category. And the teacher offers a vague three word phrase about the offense your child committed. So you have to decide if you want to:

a. Call the teacher for clarification
b. Believe your child's version of it
c. Initial the thing and then figure out what to cook for dinner

3. Book Parade-- I actually always had a love/hate relationship with the Book Parade at our kids' school. It fell on Halloween. So in other words, it was an attempt to put an educational spin on the idea of allowing small children to dress up in costume, minus the idea of handing out candy. The idealistic sales pitch went something like this:

Dear Parents,
 To further encourage our children toward the love of reading, we will celebrate their progress on their reading logs and the 25 Book Challenge by allowing the children to choose their favorite character from a book. On Friday, October 31, your child can bring their favorite book and dress like the main character as they parade through the school holding their book. You are cordially invited at 8:00 on that day to come and participate in the festivities.

Here's the reality. Your kid decides what they want to wear to dress up for Trick or Treating. Once they have chosen their most desired costume, you scour the book shelves at home or the library or your friend's home to find a matching book. Your child may have never even read that book. But it doesn't matter. You painstakingly help the child put the costume together, all the while celebrating your frugal multitasking skills that you managed ONE costume for a school event AND Halloween. On said morning, you walk in with your child and enjoy all the ooh's and ahh's of admiration for their costume as they sprint off to class. Then, it's a bloodbath to jockey for position to watch the parade. You stand and push and smile ever-so-sweetly as you attempt to make your way to the front. So you can then stand for approximately 15 minutes waiting for the parade, readying your camera. You see your child's teacher with her class following behind like little ducks. You get ready. And then, in 5 seconds, your kid blows by you and you manage only a blur for photographic evidence of this big event.

Here's the trick, Elementary School Moms. It's actually one my middle child taught me. VIDEO the darn thing. Yes, that's right. VIDEO the parade. And then later, you can go back and snatch a still photo from the video that more accurately captures that brief second of glory that was your kid awkwardly blowing by you with their book held upside down and a big smile on their face because they beat the system, man. They got to dress up for Halloween AT school.

4. Lunch with a Loved One. Okay, really? I fell for that bait and switch the first year. I embraced the idea that my little sweet heart would be oh-so-happy to have her mother come eat lunch with her in the very middle of her school day. How lovely! To encourage parental involvement and to embrace my kids being small enough that they wanted Mom around and proudly showed me off to all their friends.

Whatever.

Here's the real deal, for you rookie Elementary School Moms. The day should really be called, "Come Eat With Your Kid and Spend All Your Money at our Book Fair that Conveniently Occurs DURING THIS SPECIAL LUNCH." 

I caved. I did. I did it a couple of times. Alright. So it's really like some Ponzi Scheme to get parents to spend money. But it's all for a good cause. Books. Love of reading. Reading logs. Book challenges. Future Book Parade costume ideas.

N-O. The reality was my little darling wanted me to come spend my money to buy her massive posters of little kitty cats that totally don't match my decorating scheme AND she wanted scented pencils. 

I'm on to you, so called "Lunch with Loved Ones." I dug my heels in and refused to cave to the system. Peaceful silent protest of non-participation.

Until her last year of elementary. And then, all bets are off. Because, it's my last ever Lunch with Loved Ones. Here's $45 to purchase some stickers, a poster, and some craft kit that will be lost within 24 hours.

5. School Assemblies. Again, a rather love/hate relationship. It is marvelous and moving and adorable to watch these little elementary kids dance a Mexican folk dance and sing patriotic songs that make me cry little silent tears for Grandparent Day. 

And, yes, don't they all look lovely on Award Day when they get their reading certificates that finally celebrate all those hours of reading logs. Their name is announced and they walk up to the stage with their gawky pre-teen body and clumsily hug their teacher on stage. And you attempt to capture THE moment with your phone. Your heart swells with pride, as does theirs, and you just feel such a thrill that you've survived another year.

Except there's a dark side. A sinister side. One every parent and grandparent feels as the cloud hangs over you all and yet everyone ignores it with a painted on smile.

Because these school assemblies remind me of something else. Something not quite so pleasant.

Oh, yes.

The Hunger Games. 

Listen, it's a savage dog-eat-dog world in that school cafeteria to somehow manage a good seat with a perfectly unobstructed view and an excellent camera angle. You politely elbow and press and move into position, half-expecting Effie Trinket herself to come take the microphone and announce to you all-- "May the odds be ever in your favor!" You smile sweetly at the woman in the front row, while you ask, "Are you saving those seats?" And inside you are thinking, "Lady, are you a Duggar? Because surely you don't need the whole entire row." Once the initial rounds of play are complete and hopefully no blood is drawn, you settle in for the show. Completely oblivious to the fact that like the Third Quarter Quell is coming at you.

Oh, yes. Panem has announced the next phase to the brutal position for power.

In other words, getting the picture of your kid on the stage with her entire grade while not taking a picture of the 30 other iPhones that are blocking your view. Somehow, you try to hold the camera up, although you know it is blocking the camera behind you. You maneuver to the right and then to the left, hoping that you can later crop out all those other iPhones in the photo between your vantage point and your little love's face.

And there's always one. You know, that ONE mom. With a boldness like Johanna Mason, who thinks herself to be the victor above all. Yep. That ONE mom who just stands up and walks in front of all the cameras, blocking everyone's shot, so that she can approach the stage within three feet to get the best picture of all.

You despise her and you envy her all at the same time. You want the picture she got. And yet you hate her lack of regard for the politely unspoken rules of the games.

Oh, yes. Elementary School. When we, as mothers, walk on wobbly new legs into the school arena. Where we learn to share our children with other adults who will invest in them and guide them and teach them. Where we learn that superheroes don't wear capes, but they wear cute little blingy shirts announcing their school pride for the place where they teach. Where you want to bow at their feet and aptly thank them for all they do for "their kids" because they call your child their very own. Where you forge new relationships with other moms and learn the lingo of Elementary School, and someday you vow to teach it to the next class of Rookie Moms. Where you look up to Middle School Moms and beg of them to show you the way to precious new ideas like registering for electives. 

Elementary School. It held such pitfalls and victories. Such defeats and challenges and hard fought battles. Teacher conferences and phone calls and learning how to best advocate for your child and how to partner with their teachers. Playground politics and learning how to help your child navigate the tricky world of joining in with a Four Square Game because their BFF suddenly ran off with another girl to go swing and talk privately. Field Days and class parties. Teacher Appreciation and Fifth Grade Graduation.

I lived in this world for 11 years. For eleven years, I had a child in elementary school. And it was a gloriously tricky time. Yet, it was familiar. It felt like home because I had come to know the lingo. I had come to speak the language. And now, just like that... it's over.

So, I drive by the elementary school and see the itty bitty kids who look way to small to be walking home alone. Of course, that is compared to my children who now tower over me. And I feel a pang of nostalgia.

But then, I remind myself. No more reading logs. No more book parades. No more take-home folders.

I utter a silent prayer of thanksgiving. 

Thank you, Lord, for getting us through all that. Thank you for bringing us this far. Thank you for walking me through all the next chapters. All the next adventures. All the new challenges and the launching of children into their futures.

Bring it.

Because you've got this.

And give me the boldness to become the Johanna Mason. So focused on my own race that I don't even look around me.

Monday, March 28, 2016

You Is Important



Y’all may or may not know that my husband injured his wrist whilst snow skiing a couple of months ago. I MAY have mentioned it. A time or two…or more. Because I have been moaning and whining about it like a big old baby. And it has been utterly ridiculous how it has unraveled me. Look, there’s just no reason to try to sugar coat it, even if I could. In fact, I told my beloved on the way to his surgeon today that I have not been stewarding this season well. I mean, for the love of all things sane, I have just about loss my mess over things like my husband’s inability to drive.

So, basically, I’m the biggest wimp there ever was. His injury is not life threatening. This is not all encompassing. This is a tiny temporary shift that has rocked my world like an earthquake.

Lesson learned.

I’m far more like my very inflexible Granny than I’d ever care to admit. Yet I am admitting it. Here. On the world wide web. Which, as I tell my kids, means like FOREVER. As in on my permanent record.

Lest you think I’m just ridiculously selfish (although I am), I do feel the need to set the record straight a bit. Not in my defense (because there is none). But just for context.

You see, when my husband called from the New Mexico ER during on his annual “cheap” guys trip, and he told me he broke his wrist.

Bummer. I thought.

Except he didn’t just break his wrist. He did some tedious and complex damage to some super important bones and he did a bang up job (pun intended) on damaging a vital ligament.

Never in my life did I think I’d become so well acquainted with the scavoid bone. And the lunate. And that ligament in between them. Or the fact that there’s very little blood flow in this area, which makes healing very slow. And did you know that all these pieces and parts are important to the function and mobility to the wrist? A wrist which is also important for the entire body.

Never did I think I’d also become so familiar with how restrictive life becomes when your one little wrist becomes a liability rather than an asset.

Let’s just say that ziplock bags have become my darling’s nemesis. Along with childproof medicine bottles. Containing necessary pain pills. 

Other restrictions in life right now include the aforementioned inability to drive. And other things that fall into the category of "mine for now" that used to be "his to do": folding laundry, helping with trash, taking out recycling, taking the clothes to the dry cleaners, going to the bank. And so on and so forth. Over our 21 years of marriage, we’ve quite nicely dividing the work load, and I’ve benefited immensely from being married to a man who insists on being very hands-on with all things.

Hands-on.

Which requires two hands, optimally.

Lest you think I'm just vying for attention and sympathy, there’s a point to my sob story. Besides playing the martyr and revealing how very petty I can be.

All of this. Every bit of this two month (and counting) adventure of recovery has highlighted one all-important TRUTH that we are oh-so-prone to forget.

You is important.

YOU.

Yes, YOU.

YOU is important.

You may not think that you have much to contribute. You may not see your gifts or talents or time as valuable. You may doubt your worth. You may question what you have to offer. Perhaps others have beaten you down into this place of doubting. Maybe life has worn you out. Maybe you’ve been injured by betrayal. Or rejection. The circumstances of life may have stretched you to your limits, like my husband’s stretched out ligament. Pain and loneliness and trials may have broken you like a shattered bone.

But, I’m here to tell you. If there’s anything I’m learning on this path of life, it’s that YOU IS IMPORTANT.

The way a tiny little scavoid bone works in tandem with the lunate bone. And the never-before-known ligament betwixt them has a very important role to play to play, too.

Maybe you think no one even knows your name or has ever heard of you.

But the body still needs you. 

In fact, you are vital to the healthy and full function to the entire body.

As I looked at that X-ray this morning in the surgeon’s office, deciphering the gray and white film with alien looking shapes, I thought of you.

And I realized that you needed to know. You needed to be reminded. I just had to come home and tell you.

YOU IS IMPORTANT.

The Word of God uses the term “the Body of Christ” for very good reason. It paints a beautiful picture of how we are to function together. All of us, interdependently. Every last one who declares the name of Jesus and seeks to follow him.

We are one Body.

And every teeny tiny part of the body is necessary. It’s needed and valuable. The function and health and overall well-being of the entire body depends on every last body part to do its job and to fulfill its purpose.

You see, you is important.

And when you are not well, or not functioning, it impacts others. As it should. As it is designed to do. We are called to mourn with those who mourn and to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). We are commanded to carry one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2).

If you are not well, then your Biblical mandate is to rely on the Body of Christ to help you. Do not deny your local church body or the entire Body of Christ an opportunity to do its job and fulfill God’s commandments. Don’t go limping along, unable to fulfill your role, without crying out for the help of the Body.

And other body parts…when some part is hurting and broken…pay attention. Be there. Show up. Help out. Be part of the healing process. Asking Christ, who is head of the body, to pour out healing and return full function to the broken, fractured parts. While that healing occurs, you may just need to compensate. You may need to jump in and do some things for the part that’s not functioning.

So, just fill in the gap. For now.

Let me add, while this may not be popular to say, I feel I must also add this disclaimer. By all means, let us not exploit the other Body parts. Let us not refuse to fulfill our own role and purpose, being dependent on some other body part to do our job. Let us not use our own healing time as an excuse, deciding we will just never function in the body again because of that one wound. 

And other body parts, don’t enable a broken member of the body to continue to drag along, letting it be limp when it really can work toward full functionality.

You see, it’s a fine line. The healing time can be tricky. As the surgeon said today. Chris’ wrist must be immobilized long enough to heal, but not so long that it cannot restore its function. None of this process is fun. To sustain an injury and then be unable to do what you’re designed to do.

Broken body parts need to be healed by the One whose stripes made us whole. That process can include a time of being still and immobile. Relying on other body parts to step in. But there is also a time to go through a painful rehabilitation. Stretching tight muscles. Straining through scar tissue. Exercising repeatedly the functions that the body part was created to perform in the first place. Over and over and over again, and not without pain and strain and frustration.

All of it—every aspect of the recovery process—is necessary.  

Because God said it himself.

We are all members of ONE BODY.

We ALL have an important part to play. A function to contribute. A calling to fulfill. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Whether you are the obvious mouthpiece to the body who garners attention as you speak to large groups.

Or the feet of the body who goes to exotic locations to spread the good news.

Or the hand of the body who writes books to encourage the body and inform the world about Christ.

Even if you feel insignificant because you are some tiny little bone that no one has ever heard of until it is so fractured it cannot do its job.

Yep. Even if you are a scavoid bone, you matter just as much.



May my whining and complaining be used for better purposes. May I use my failures in this season to highlight to every last one of you the very, very important lesson that we are learning over here at our house.

Every member of the body is important. Every member was designed to bring glory to God. Every member was gifted uniquely. And, every member is vulnerable to injury. Seasons of healing may be required, when the other members of the body step in and take over.

There—in those dark and frustrating days of restraint and soreness and pain—may we remember that God is the Healer. He is the One who restores what is broken. He has a plan and a purpose and he can redeem even our broken seasons to point to his glory.

As surely as the bright white bones on an X-ray point me to a Marvelous Creator who has intricate and complex plans for how we are to all fit together.  How we are to all work together. How we are to all rely on one another and carry each others' burdens and ask for help when needed.

And continue on in this lifelong journey of realizing our role in the Body and using all of the talents, time and resources that God gave us to further His kingdom.

That one day, when we see him face-to-face, he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Way to be the Scavoid bone!” Or, “Job well done as the Lunate bone! You took full advantage of what I made you to be, and you worked so well with the other body parts around you!"

Indeed.

Lord, please bring good from my failures here. Let every last member of the body reading this blog feel a surge of hope and joy in the truth that you made them for a purpose and you desire to use them within the body to glorify your Precious Name! Amen!