So it is back to school time and little Johnny/Susie is a year older and that means a new grade... a scary grade. At least for you, the parent. Perhaps you were up last night, a bundle of nerves. Hoping for the right teacher(s) and the right friends. Praying for a good first day. (Not you home school parents, naturally - you know exactly what your kiddo has in store this year and it is all up to you! No pressure. I was once one of you.) Well, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give you some advice. I do have all of one child, mind you. And this one child did better in French last semester than any other class he had on his schedule. French is, mind you, the only subject his father and I know nothing about. So clearly, he is thriving at school because of our actions, and we are qualified to dispense advice.
So here you go, free of charge. The top three ways to deal with back to school parent jitters.
1. Emotionally. Be an emotional wreck. Just give in to it. Wail and moan. Freak out. Go from one extreme to the other in the span of 3 minutes. Take a million and one pictures, sit on their beds and lament that they are growing up too soon. Then eat your feelings. Then shift blame. "Wait a minute, I've done everything I could possibly do for this child. If he/she doesn't thrive in this new grade, it is pretty much his/her fault! That's right. I packed the bento box with just the right balance of carbs and protein. I provided hydration options. I went back to school clothing shopping at the mall with every other human being on the planet at the same time. What's wrong with this kid?" All of these emotions should be experienced and resolved prior to 3:00 p.m. when junior gets off the bus in the afternoon. This is a viable option. Not a good option, but a viable one.
2. Physically. Just go to school with them. You know you want to. Sit next to her. Point out when she could be doing better. Make sure the teacher notices how bright she is. Suggest appropriate friendships and then take the initiative to introduce her to them. Sit by her at lunch and continually stroke her hair. If she is in high school, she will be particularly pleased by this. This is a viable option. Not a good one, but a viable one.
3. Spiritually. Read this blog post I wrote last summer. Consider what the worst possible scenario really is and then let the God of the universe work in your heart to alleviate your fears and put a song of praise in your mouth. This is a viable option. A hard one, but a good one.
HAPPY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!!!
After church today, I found myself frustrated with our son and about to launch into a diatribe on all the reasons he better "shape up or this is going to be one long summer." I then detailed my frustration to him - namely, the constant need to remind. Reminders to take care of the dogs, reminders to eat breakfast, reminders to make sure he has clean laundry, reminders to mind his manners, reminders to keep his attitude in check, reminders to brush teeth or use deodorant, reminders to limit his screen time. I told him that I felt like we'd been reminding him about the exact same things for 13 years and that I was about to lose my mind that he still needed to be reminded. Then I took a deep breath and looked at his frustrated and defeated face and found the grace (thank you, God) to say, "What's driving you crazy? That's what is driving me crazy, but anytime three people live in a two-bedroom apartment together and call each other family they are going to drive each other crazy. So what makes you frustrated with Daddy and I lately?" Surprise, surprise - His father and I have some pretty annoying habits as well! Turns out as much as we hate reminding him about things every day - he hates BEING REMINDED constantly! He also doesn't like that we tell him to limit his screen time, but it seems to him that we are constantly staring at a screen ourselves. There were others, but there's no reason to over-share, right?
We ended up having an impromptu family meeting and coming up with a game plan to eliminate the annoying reminder cycle (we will not remind him about things unless he asks for assistance in being reminded and he will suffer natural consequences and/or loss of time with friends if he lets something important slide) and to limit our screen time as a family this summer (Technology-free Tuesdays for the whole family and a set time limit for internet usage the rest of the week.) We have also posted a family calendar for the summer on the refrigerator and we have committed to finding a family hobby to enjoy together during all those hours that will be freed up by the lack of nagging and internet surfing.
Living together as family is not always easy (sometimes it is down right exhausting and painful), but God is faithful to provide ways to help us live together in peace and even joy when we commit to sticking it out as a family and not giving up on each other. What are some ways that you have found to make family life better, especially during the summer months?
Ephesians 6:1-4 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
What does it mean to be filled with joy? A young mother of three with a new baby on the way just lost her husband in a car accident this past week in the small California town that our family calls home. Where is the joy in that? A friend is working through the process to adopt a child who has called her, "Mommy," for about a year now and the system is getting more convoluted, not less, as time goes by. Where is the joy in that? A beloved relative is in the hospital with bleeding in his brain. Where is the joy in that? I have a nephew who I have only seen in pictures who is celebrating his 2nd Christmas and a trip to visit and take in that moment with my own eyes isn't in the budget. Where is the joy in that?
This Sunday, our church will light the candle of JOY on the advent wreath. First was hope, then came peace, now JOY. I have been reflecting on the idea of JOY in preparation for this coming Sunday, and frankly, no revelations were happening in my heart, mind or soul. But I kept looking. This morning, I picked up the devotional book (Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young) and there it was. Staring me in the face on the page designated to read on December 10th of each year. Even so, I didn't recognize it right away. It was couched in a lesson on security. "Make Me the focal point of your search for security," it started. My mind started to wander. Clearly, this wasn't going to illuminate the Bible's teaching on JOY for me. Alas, I kept reading, albeit a little miffed and disappointed.
"Make Me the focal point of your search for security. In your private thoughts, you are still trying to order your world so that it is predictable and feels safe. Not only is this an impossible goal, but it is also counterproductive to spiritual growth. When your private world feels unsteady and you grip My hand for support, you are living in conscious dependence on Me. Instead of yearning for a problem-free life, REJOICE that trouble can highlight your awareness of My Presence. In the darkness of adversity, you are able to see more clearly the radiance of My Face. Accept the value of problems in this life, considering them pure JOY. Remember that you have an eternity of trouble-free living awaiting you in heaven." - taken from the inspiration Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 139:10; James 1:2.
Could it be that JOY and security are tightly bound together? The newly widowed mother whose life suddenly looks nothing like she planned, the friend called "Mommy" by a child born to another waiting on the legal system to make it so, the uncle in the hospital whose physical health is fragile and uncertain, the aunt who has no assurance of when she will see her nephew. We all have something in common. We all lack the security of knowing the future. This devotional reminded me that we can all have something else in common too, if we will choose it: a heightened awareness of the presence of God that others on more seemingly steady ground cannot know. These areas of our lives where security is stretched thin and it feels like we are walking on spider webs where they should be pavement, these are the moments, the days, the seasons where we can experience what it is truly like to be carried in the arms of God.
I remember as a little girl, as I was getting a bit too big to be carried places on a parent's hip or shoulders. I would take utter delight in the moments when I could "trick" my Daddy into believing that I had fallen asleep on the couch in the evenings. Without fail, he would scoop me up and carry me to bed. Tucking me in and kissing me on the forehead, while I pretended not to notice, as I faked sleep. Once he was out of the room, I would open my eyes and smile, relishing the moment. There was something so special about being physically carried by someone who loved me so tenderly.
We don't have to fake neediness on earth. We are needy. Sometimes our neediness is more obvious than others, and in those moments (as others feel sorry for us) we get to stop pretending that we have it all together. We get to stretch up our hands, with tears in our eyes and cry out, "Daddy, God, I NEED you!" And after He has carried us for a season, through things we couldn't handle on our own, we can open our eyes as we find ourselves resting in the evidence of His security and smile in a knowing way that others can't. We can remember the feel of His strong arms and the sound of His heartbeat and His kiss on our cheek, and His loving words, and we will know a deeper joy than we could ever feel without having been carried.
Consider it all joy, if your predictable, safe world is anything but predictable and safe this Christmas season. Your Daddy will carry you through it.
He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, yet die a sinner's death on your behalf and to be resurrected from death to eternal life just to make a way for you to run into the arms of His perfect Father and call Him your own at such a time as this. I pray that you will let Him.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. - Isaiah 41:10
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. - Psalm 139:7-12
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds - James 1:2
When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video." As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up. What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish. Many times God will orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
Jason and I recently celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a day in Washington D.C. together. While we were waiting on our bus, we took turns listing off some of our favorite memories from the past 15 years, one at a time. He would describe a memory; I would smile and nod. I would recall something; he would smile and nod. After this had gone on quite awhile and we both had unfading smiles on our faces and fond memories filling our minds, it dawned on me that none of the memories we listed as our favorites occurred on holidays. Huh. Interesting. We didn’t say, “Remember that Christmas when…,” or “I’ll never forget that Thanksgiving when…” It seemed that our best memories happened when we weren’t planning for them to happen!
This was a major revelation to me. It is something that I am still pondering now, a few days later. You see, I’m “the planner.” I’m the one who sees a holiday coming on the calendar and is prone to feel more PRESSURE than pleasure. The pressure of who to spend it with, where to spend it at, how much money to spend, how to make it the most memorable, how to make it meaningful (particularly if it is a faith-centered holiday), how to incorporate tradition and still try new things. It’s no wonder that my favorite memories don’t seem to happen on holidays! They happen on days when I’m not feeling pressured to MAKE memories. When I’m just living life and remembering to appreciate the people I’m with, the places I’m at, and the God who generously provided both. They happen, not when my mind is focused on the details of executing a plan, but when the overriding agenda is being 100% present in the given moment.
A great example of this is a vacation we took to Disney World when our son was 9. I planned my hiney off, folks. As we prepared to leave, I knew I was on the precipice of dangerous territory. I had spent so much time doing so much research that I was poised to spend our trip being so interested in doing things in “the right order” and in “the most efficient way” that I would frustrate my guys and suck the joy right out of the only family vacation we’d had in years. Thank God for self awareness! Somehow, I caught a glimpse of where my pressure-filled, over-planning tendency was heading and I was able to shut it off… that mental compulsion to execute the plan at all costs. Instead, I told myself I had prepared well and now it was time to hold all of that information in reserve and pull it out when it was needed, but not be enslaved to it or force others to conform to it. The result – we had a BLAST! Best. Family. Vacation. Ever. Most of the fun we had and the most lasting memories we made were completely unexpected, like the people we met while sitting in line for a ride in the Animal Kingdom waiting out a thunder storm and the instant bond we formed with them, spending the rest of the evening together going on the same two rides together as a big group over-and-over-and-over again until the park closed and they actually closed the ride down while we were on it; or the daily afternoon family nap we ended up taking at our hotel during the hottest part of the day (if I had planned that ahead of time, both the guys would have balked and it would have seemed like a drag… but it happened naturally and we all laugh about how hard we crashed each afternoon to this day).
So now we look forward to the next 15 years, and hopefully learn from the best memories of the first 15. Here’s to holding our plans loosely, and to waking up each day with the realization that we don’t have to MAKE memories happen. Our God is a good God and He gives good gifts to His children. We don’t have to cleverly conjure up gifts for ourselves – we just have to unwrap His gifts when He gives them! He has built joy into the equation of our lives and He is the one who knows how to bring it out at just the right time to create moments that leave a permanent smile in our souls. No amount of human planning can equal that!
In February, when it became clear that we would be moving out of rural America, where a monthly mortgage payment on a 2,400sf house was right at $1,000, into one of the most expensive urban areas in the country, where you can't even find a tiny, one bedroom apartment in a bad neighborhood with rent at that price, we had to adjust our thinking. What had been unacceptable to us for the previous 13 years (aka: the thought of apartment life), shifted to becoming highly desirable as we began to get an idea of what it would cost to live in the DC metro area. An hour long commute to and from work, would have been completely unthinkable in any other context and yet here, shockingly, it doesn't seem so bad because it would save thousands of dollars each year. Our perspective had to be altered to suit our new reality.
It was funny to me today to hear myself tell Jason how much I was loving apartment life. I love it because the apartment is small so it is easy to clean. I love that we have absolutely ZERO responsibility for keeping up a yard or maintaining the exterior of our dwelling. I love that we don't accumulate too much "stuff" because there is just no where to put it. I love that it is easy to heat and cool. I love that we have free access to a swimming pool (that we don't have to maintain) and a fitness center. I'm just altogether completely pleased with something I DID NOT WANT in the first place. Go figure.
When Jason and I got married almost 15 years ago, we lived in an apartment for two years. We hated it. We complained about it. We desperately wanted a house, where our neighbors weren't so close and where we would have more space. We then rented two different houses for 3 years total and we complained about each because, although each had their merits, neither was "our own place." We then bought our first house and the excitement quickly wore off and we complained about all the things that needed to be done to fix the place up and make it more modern and more "us." After three years, and a lot of home improvement projects, we moved across the country and bought a bigger, nicer house and thought we had arrived. Turns out, bigger, nicer houses take bigger wads of cash to maintain. They can also be harder to sell, and when it was time to move on from there, it took two and a half years to find someone who wanted to buy our bigger, nicer house. Boy did we complain about that! In the meantime we came to know the joy and heartache of renting OLDER homes (80-100+ years old). Everyone who visited us raved about "the character" and "the potential," while we put off saving for Tim's college education in order to pay the astronomical heating bills for those old houses and , you guessed it, we complained.
So here we are living in an apartment - back to square one - and paying more for it each month than we ever dreamed of paying for housing in our lifetime, and we are happy. It is up to us now, to catch a clue and stay that way, and stop complaining. Obviously, each living arrangement has its ups and downs - but at the end of the day, it is a roof over our heads and a place to sleep, prepare and eat meals, and be a family. It could be better and it could be worse.
Someone posted this quote on Facebook today: "That thing you are taking for granted is the very thing someone else is praying for." I'm taking two lessons from that today:
1. Habitual complaining is lame. It shows utter disrespect for those who are going without and a lack of trust in the One who directs our paths. May I learn contentment and joy in the here and now, whatever and wherever that may be.
2. I should always examine why I am praying for the things that I am praying for. Bigger, better, cheaper and easier aren't the goals of life. If I am praying for something that someone else is taking for granted... maybe it is because they are self-centered... but maybe it is because it isn't really worth praying for to begin with.
"This then is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one."
Amen. Have I told you how much I love our little apartment?
He walked in the door on Monday afternoon, fresh from a ride home on the school bus, dropped his things on the floor and started into his rant before he even had his jacket off... "They're on to me, Mom!" Well, that sure got my attention. He proceeded to tell us a story about a missing Agenda (aka: important middle school notebook that is a required tool for keeping track of assignments and info from teachers). The tale was lengthy and harrowing and passionately delivered and at its conclusion Tim stated emphatically that he was 99% certain it was not missing at all, but rather had been STOLEN. He then seemed perplexed that his father and I were not in a total state of outrage over this shocking revelation.
Meanwhile, Jason and I were trying to figure out what in the world he meant by the statement, "They're on to me." Jason was the first to sort through it. "Son, I think what you meant to say is that 'They have it out for you,' or 'They're out to get you.'" "Oh," he said. We went on to talk about how middle school is middle school and no one escapes unscathed, and how it also isn't wise to make accusations or get emotionally caught up in things that you can't control, but the real lesson that came out of that moment was, BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY TO MOM AND DAD - THEY WILL USE IT TO MOCK YOU MERCILESSLY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Ever since Monday, "They're on to me," has become Jason and I's mantra. We use it frequently and with great delight on any given occasion, much to Timmy's chagrin. Give it a try sometime, it's fun! :)
On a serious note: The comparison of the two phrases is a great lesson for all of us. Are we tempted to assume the world is out to get us when things go wrong? Are we hiding anything that would cause us to be devastated to find out if someone was, in fact, on to us? Neither of these is any way to live! Honesty, integrity and perspective! May we all have them in abundance and strive to keep them all the days of our lives.
P.S. The agenda was located the next morning. All is well.
"Are you parenting to survive the next 20 minutes or to enjoy the next 20 years?" - Julie Richard
I heard this quote during the "Leading & Loving It" webinar this afternoon and I thought it was worth pondering and passing on. I think every parent of a toddler or young child has been guilty of "parenting to survive the next 20 minutes" at some point, if not on a regular basis! Those are difficult years, to be sure. When our son was that age, Jason and I read a book that referred to the toddler years as the "first adolescence," and encouraged us to stand our ground and make sure that we established ourselves as the consistent leaders of our home during that time. The book suggested that if we did so, the second adolescence (the teen years) would go much more smoothly. Well, the second adolescence is just about upon us, so I'll have to let you know how that plays out.
So what does parenting to enjoy the next 20 years look like? I don't have all the answers, but here are the first few things that came to my mind as I reflected on this idea:
1. Avoid overreacting.
2. Parent out of faith, not fear.
3. Choose your battles wisely.
4. Focus on character development.
5. Extend grace.
What do you think? How do you avoid survival parenting?
Yesterday my son went with his youth group to volunteer with Target:Dayton. They served a meal to the people who came in need of one. Some were homeless, others barely getting by. Timmy was in charge of the coffee.
As we drove home, after the bus dropped him back off at our local church, I asked him about his experience. These are the 3 simple things he shared with me and the profound lessons I learned from him:
1. Tim's quote: "Not everyone there "looked" homeless." Mom's lesson: Not everyone I meet today who could use my help or encouragement will "look" like they need it. That doesn't mean I should withhold it. Target:Dayton provides their services indiscriminately and lets each individual decide whether or not they need them and want to receive them. I should be so generous with my time, resources and attention.
2. Tim's quote: "I didn't know there were so many people in Dayton that were homeless. There were so many of them." Mom's lesson: The need in the world is greater than I realize or have ever actually seen with my own eyes. If I saw it all at once, it would likely overwhelm me and paralyze me. The need is great. I would be wise not to forget that.
3. Tim's quote: "There was a lady who worked there who came up to me and told me I was doing a good job." Mom's lesson: It helps to know when we are on the right track. Serving others isn't easy and when I see someone doing it well, I should tell them so. We all secretly wonder whether what we are doing is making a difference and whether we are "doing it right." Words of encouragement are precious gifts that keep the givers giving.
One bonus lesson I learned: The first time our children (or any one else for that matter) experience something, we need to pay attention to their reactions and descriptions. When we have "been there and done that," we forget the power of a first experience and the unique perspective that comes with it.
Lance Armstrong: "Cancer taught me that pain has a reason and that sometimes the experience of losing things – whether health or a car or an old sense of self – has its own value in the scheme of life. Pain and loss are great enhancers. We have unrealized capacities that only emerge in crisis ... capacities for enduring, for living, for hoping, for caring, for enjoying. Each time we overcome pain, I believe we grow."
Now the pain is of his own making and cannot be overcome through perseverance, but only through repentance. I'm disappointed. Maybe I have no right to be. I don't know Lance Armstrong. I have never met him. Why should I feel I have any right to feelings of disappointment? Because I read his book (multiple times), and I ate it up. Because I followed his story and wanted to believe him. Because he wasn't just an athlete, he chose to be a public athlete. He chose to allow people to rally around him and use him as an example, an idol. He branded himself and his brand was built on hard work, an indomitable spirit, perseverance, and an attitude that refused to embrace the victim mentality or any hint of negativity. Talk about inspirational!
The only flaw = himself. When you make yourself out to be a god, when you tell people that you went through hell and not only survived it, but crushed it under your feet and you did it all on your own merit and effort, well you better be telling the truth.
Yes, I'm disappointed in Lance Armstrong. His life and story, however, has become infinitely more valuable to me now. You see, as a mother, I would never have pointed my son to Mr. Armstrong as a mentor or hero. As someone who puts my faith and trust in Christ alone, I never have and never will encourage my child to place others on a pedestal. I will however, use his journey as a powerful cautionary tale. Right now, my son has no idea who Lance Armstrong is, but in the days ahead I will make certain that he does. I will show him video clips of Lance insisting that he never doped and have him read articles about the financial and personal pain that others were forced to endure as Mr. Armstrong kept up his charade in order to protect his own brand and image. We will sit down together and we will have conversations about why someone would lie and keep on lying, and whether or not we are capable of the same sort of deception (sadly, we are). We will discuss the danger of elevating ourselves and our accomplishments for others to take note of. And we will pray for Mr. Armstrong and we will pray for ourselves.
Revelation 2:5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." (ESV)
2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." (ESV)
1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (ESV)