God is trustworthy!

My daughter regrets not getting my reaction on video….mostly because it’s rare when I’m shocked to speechlessness.  So many emotions flooded me last night that it took at least 30 minutes to go from stunned to crying with joy.

The beginning of high school rocked my daughter’s world.  It began with a confluence of other events that were out of her control yet affected her deeply among them her brother leaving for college, a number of confusing rejections and adults who were overly harsh.  Had those been spread out over time, she would have handled them with aplomb, but these were a tsunami and the after effects lingered for months.  Other sadnesses came and we wondered what God was doing.  Flabbergasted, my husband and I knew that our only options were to pray.

As time went on and things were only nominally better, we made attempts to get our village to help but it fell on deaf ears.  Other opportunities came, other people arrived, the healing began in a trickle.  Another year passed.  Though there were vestiges of the scar slowly healing, we started thinking of ways to make things even better in the two years she has left in high school.  One of those ways, in our minds, was for her to join choir again.  She refused.  We waited, asked again, cajoled, rationalized, appealed to her artistic senses and all were met with the same refusal.

So, I hatched a plan (with the blessing of my husband):  I would meet with the  choir director and ask him to go hear her at her musical.  Then, tell me if she would qualify to be in the choir and then help me convince her that this was the place for her!  Looking at the end, I was convinced this uncharacteristic manipulation was worth it.  She’s young!  She doesn’t always know what’s good for her!  She’ll thank me later!

On the morning of the day I was going to email the director with my plea, something came up.  And another thing and another thing.  For two weeks, God re-directed me.  Then, she casually mentioned that the auditions are past, the choir is set.  Okay….plan B.  Work on scheduling options….all met with sticky issues and lack of support.    Okay….go to (what should have been) plan A: pray.  Show us what you want, Lord.  You love her; do what’s best for her.  Life gets busier, I put the topic on the back burner.  I know His will is going to move forward.

Last night arrives and after company leaves and we’re headed for bed, “Oh yeah, I was asked to be in concert choir today and I said yes.”  WHAT?!?!  “Yeah, Mr. Director went to my musical, heard me, and someone had dropped out of choir so there was an opening.  He asked me.”

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-EyakxuyhnuU/T00RCfvDlfI/AAAAAAAACZA/A9kfVUrE_ic/s380/female-singer-silhouette.jpg

Okay, a kid is in choir.  Big deal.  Here’s why it is:  This was done in HIS timing, not mine.  We asked Him and He opened the exact way “we” dreamed up but orchestrated all the moving parts without our interference.  It affirmed His great love for all of us and His gentle reminder that He doesn’t need our ‘help’ to do anything.  This kid so desperately needed affirmation at school and we had thought it wouldn’t ever come.  Then, this lovely man tracks her down and offers the best compliment a singer can get.

And what does Mom learn?  I don’t have to manipulate anything.  Watch and wait is my only order.  If I’m praying and trusting – two specific commands from my Lord – then I get to also have the joy of laughing when the result is beautiful.  “Mom, why are you crying?”  Because He loves us SO MUCH!!!  He hears us; He cares; He redeems!    This really isn’t about a dear girl who sings but a God who loves and drops a bundle of joy in our laps.   All I was left to do was hug my daughter and praise His name.

Why I let my boys throw balls in the house

Yes, I let my boys throw balls in the house.  Seems like a bad idea, right?  But it’s true.  Over the years of our boys growing up, plenty of balls were thrown in the house (no baseballs – we’re not totally nuts). I distinctly remember how it began. It started when Son Two was in his crib and Son One and I crawled into his room on our hands and knees to see if he’d woken up.  As was typical, he was calmly sitting there blinking at us.  Looking way too mellow, we went to the pile of stuffed animals, picked out a pink-eared bunny and tossed it into his crib.  Always one to catch on quickly, even at 1, he tossed it right back.  “Launch a bunny” was born.  It had variations but it involved a happy three-some hucking bunnies and bears at each other.

Not long after, I would sit on one couch and they’d be on the other couch and we’d toss a soft Nerf ball back and forth.  They graduated to “pillow baseball” and then to Nerf basketball by the front door when they were bigger.  Any visiting boy was recruited to be a  player so as it rained outside, they got sweaty inside.  Did they break anything? I can hear you asking.  Well, yes.  Sometimes.  Actually they played baseball in the backyard so often that we had lanes literally dug into our lawn, including a deep, bald spot where home plate resided.  Only one small window ever broke but that’s another story.

But playing inside was so much fun.  Why did I allow it?  Why did I actually start them out and encourage it?  Well, none of it was calculated at the time but now I have a clearer idea of why I was okay with my walls getting beat up and having a few items fall from the walls, breaking into pieces on the floor.

Our friend Eric is just about to turn 21 and he was a chronic offender when it came to playing rambunctiously at our house.  He broke a few things and I have the scratches on my hardwood floor to prove it.  Recently he was telling his new girlfriend about us and he immediately told her the story of breaking the plates that my grandfather had collected and my mother gave to me.  Yes, they are smashed.  Sigh.  “And they don’t hate you?  You went back there?  They still love you?”   She was as surprised as he is that no, we don’t hate him, yes, he’s been back many, many times and yes, we still love him.  This is an important story to him.  It confirms to him that he can make a mistake and still be loved.  He doesn’t have to be afraid to come back.  In fact, he’s welcome anytime and he knows it.

My students learn the word ‘fastidious’ well because I tell them of how my parents kept my childhood home: immaculate.  For many reasons, I liked that because we never lost anything and there was never any dirt or dust on anything.  Ever.  The downside?  We couldn’t really live in that house, especially as children.  I remember being told we couldn’t go in the living room.  I can still see the plastic on the furniture, shiny slip covers so unappealing, they taunted us with a ‘you can’t sit here’ attitude.  The lamp shades all had the same plastic wrapped around them that were put on in the factory.  They were perfect for keeping off dust!  But for actually living? Not so much.  I remember when my brothers and I used simple logic: but the living room is for living!  Eventually we won out but my father sighed often as watched the wear and tear on carpets and couches.

Once in my own home, it didn’t take long to discover that the carpet will get stained, the walls will get dinged and the glass will break.  But, thankfully, there’s paint, spackle and glass shops that will replace that glass for a whopping one dollar.  Big deal.  Would I like to live in pristine surroundings?  Yes!  But at what cost?  What’s more important to me is that my kids made fun memories and they could be kids in their own house.  Now that they’re gone, I don’t regret one bit of it.  So what if I have a scratch on my floor?  All I see is that scratch means someone didn’t feel exiled; he felt accepted.  One picture frame is not like the other.  I could care less.  The picture shows a boy who was deeply loved and played with and could be free to enjoy activities he loved – even if his mom had to hunker down in her room so she wouldn’t get elbowed during their intense game.

So if you ever come over and notice a poorly patched wall, be happy for me.  For our house shows that we did some real living in these walls and no one needs to be afraid to enjoy themselves here.

My front row seat

I’m a big fan of school (especially ZLO!).  It’s no secret.  I love the heft of a textbook and all the backpacks, papers and pencils.  Better than that are the kids who are interesting, friendly and funny.   And even better — is watching them learn.  Usually, this happens in subtle increments but on precious days, I get to be witness to some huge leaps and then it’s awesome!!  Some, well most, people don’t get it but if you could see what I see, you might get just as jazzed about it as I do.

Most recently, I had the pleasure of listening to my freshman class give informational speeches.  Simply put, they were phenomenal.  My role is to listen, critique, give encouragement and feedback, but I found myself just being a comfortable audience member, taking in their knowledge and able to relax as they had the time well under control.  What a pleasure to not only hear their speeches but also to be assured that we have some fabulous adults on the way to our community.  They’re articulate, caring people who have a keen eye on the world.  Sharp and smart, these kids give me enormous confidence and I trust them completely – not only in my classroom but in their future roles.

In other classes we’re reading novels and I see their wheels actively turning.  My 8th graders thought they had a pretty good idea of what went on during WWII in Europe, but as we read, layers upon layers of stories are just waiting to be discovered.  They often begin with, “You mean they…?” when hearing about mistreatment of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust and learning about the lengths Hitler and his ilk went to dominate the world.  I can see their mental appetites whet and they eagerly go home to research other heroes who took a stand against evil.  In Sophomore English we just finished The Grapes of Wrath.  At the beginning of our reading I told them, “You might love this book; you might hate it, but you certainly won’t forget it.”  We found ourselves experiencing both emotions while reading it but oh, have we learned!  Beyond the story is always something more (and more and more) and with a little poking, I heard their insights just yesterday.  One student put his finger right on the pulse of the novel when he made connections that many adults wouldn’t have.  With delight, I praised him.  Yes!  For years I’ve been reading with these kids and slowly showing them how to read fiction with their Christian eyeballs and to hear their insights as we sifted through a truly sad story, was heart-warming.  (See what you’re missing?!?)

Then there are those moments when I get to learn from them. I had the pleasure to see kindness in action when a student was feeling overwhelmed with a new concept.  Before I could reach her, the girl sitting next to her gently said, “It’s okay, you’ll get it.  Here, let me show you.”  Some days, an astute student will ask me a question that makes me re-think how I’m presenting something and I’m so thankful.   I must teach for how they learn, not necessarily in the way that I think will be more effective, but in a way that will actually help them grasp the concept.  Thankfully, they’re patient with me.

Beyond that are invitations to games, goodbye waves before they leave for the day, a hearty laugh at one of my puns…life is good. So I gladly sit in the front row, facing them, but also taking in all the goodness that sits in front of me.  Kids who are capable learners in so many ways…but more than that, they’re really cool people!

A crown of righteousness

Many students have left an impression on me but recently I thought of Kathryn, a girl with weekly-changing hair color, piercings and a sullen look that challenged anyone from getting too close. Could I give her a ride? Sure! When she muttered something about how annoyed I must be with teens like her, I was quick to say that nothing could be farther from the truth. “I love teenagers!” Her look said she didn’t believe me. I assured her: it’s true. I think they’re the most fun, exciting and interesting people around.
“No one likes us,” she muttered.
“Ha! Not so. I do.” I hoped my sincerity came through. My young friend left my van a little perplexed but hopefully more affirmed than when she got in.
I feel blessed to see teenagers differently. I see their potential as future adults; as kids with caring hearts, desirous of being themselves but also wanting relationships with accepting adults (though they’re often loath to let adults know that). God has created my heart to be drawn to them. Most of the time, when people learn that I’ve spent my entire adult career working with teens and love it more with each year, they are completely befuddled. It’s usually because they remember their own teen years fraught with heartache and confusion; a time where one foot is in adulthood while the other still resides in childhood.

As a former teen, I remember what it’s like to have a teen’s energy and stamina but also what it feels like to be young and foolish. I’m not young anymore but I have a clear perspective of those incidences that showed me in a less than flattering light in my youth. I keenly remember feeling embarrassed or ashamed or confused after a flub; sometimes getting yelled at, sometimes just feeling the sting of silence. Mostly, I puzzled things out on my own because as a Christian young lady, I “should have known better”; however, I was still a kid and needed someone to put their arm around me and tell me how to correct myself, make things right and then to soak in forgiveness and restoration.
As a mom of three kids, I’ve witnessed their own navigation of their teen years and cherished those times when a trusted adult loves them in their awkwardness or embarrassment. If you’re working, ministering or living with teens, you will have myriad opportunities to love them after a mistake.
I recently had a front row seat to a situation that brought this all to mind. As you could guess, it involved a young person and foolishness. Teens are not yet adept at interacting with people and they’re bound to hurt others – usually unintentionally. And so this girl did. She hurt others by her actions and felt terrible about it. Eventually, by the grace of God, things smoothed out but what a lesson for her! In this case, she made a mistake, was forgiven and then restored. Throughout this experience, what was loud and clear is that we’re not princesses born wearing a crown.

Because of what Jesus did, we’ve earned a crown of righteousness, but in our humanity, we forget and behave otherwise. We make mistakes; we offend; we frustrate. That’s to be expected. But those of us who’ve lived through our years of doing the same have a huge responsibility: to remind the younger person that the crown is there, they just have to live up to it.
It’s not just teenagers. Sometimes we all just need someone to hold that crown aloft for us to want to stand up high enough for it to rest on our head. The best, most wise people hold it a few inches above us and when they do, almost everyone will rise up to it.
I’m not always going to get it right, but I want to be the one who holds the crown over a teen’s precious head. I want to inspire them to be better and to forgive them when they’re not. After having so many students through the years, the most special to me are the ones who tell me years later that I did that for them. They don’t use those words, but it’s more like, “I knew other adults were annoyed by me or saw me as trouble. You seemed to like me.” Hey kid – I did. You’re amazing, fun, spunky…and full of potential. And I can see that crown hovering over your head. It was a little askew sometimes, but that’s okay. In His mercy, God let me adjust it every once in awhile. Now, go do that for someone else.

7 reasons I love being a mom

It was my turn soon.  All the other mothers were saying such sweet things, exactly what you might expect.  What was I going to say?  Not what anyone expected – or even what I expected, but there it was.

When my youngest was 6 months old, I went to a new Bible study at a church other than my own.  It being my first one, I didn’t know exactly what to expect other than learning more about the Word and enjoying fellowship with other women.  After singing and prayer,  a smaller group of moms gathered in a large room ready to get to know each other.   Sitting in a big circle, we were asked to share why we loved being mothers.

What do I like about being a mother? A deep breath.  (Please don’t think this is weird…) 1 “I like to touch them.”  No one said a thing.  I explained.  “I love to comb their hair, give them hugs, tote them around on my hip, hoist them when they reach up their arms and say, “Up!”, rub their backs as they fall asleep on my shoulder…”  I didn’t need any other examples.  The women supplied them.  Suddenly everyone was nodding their heads and saying how they loved tucking them in bed at night, wiping their tears, putting on band-aids.  Touch is a beautiful gift and I’ve told my children often how important it is to be held and hugged and touched.  Not everyone is ‘touchy’, but children need it, and as a mom, it was a pleasure to hold them every chance I got.

2.  Watching them become who they are meant to be.  We can nurture and introduce but they find their niche and we parents get to revel in their exploration of sports or music or theater as was the case in our house.  Having a variety of interests is healthy and I’m doubly pleased when a good friend or mentor introduces them to a new passion and another layer of interest is added.  Sweet indeed.

3.  They make me laugh.  Their baby books are full of hilarious comments (one child at prayer time, “Dear Lord, I’m nervous about tomorrow but I guess I’ll serve you in the storm.”) but the laughs don’t end with their preschool years.  Two of my kids are feisty while funny and the other is so dry!  All sharp minds, it’s funny what they pick up on, how they twist it for a laugh and how light-hearted they make a home.

4.  I get to teach them.  Thankfully, I had two of my kids as students in class but I also teach them skills in the home and with people.  All began chores at the age of 6, they all do laundry and dishes and a few can cook a little bit.  They’ve learned to listen, to sympathize, to try to walk in another’s shoes.  They’ve helped their family with their time, sweat and sometimes money.  I’ll be oh so proud if they’re giving adults.

5.  They teach me.  I hate to admit it but I can sometimes feel sorry for myself.  Usually it’s when my extroverted self is thwarted from doing something that will stimulate me.  My extroverted oldest son once had a group of “friends” go out of their way to exclude him, make it obvious to him and then ditch him quite rudely.  All this on his 16th birthday – a Friday night no less.  If anyone could have felt sorry for himself, he could have, but he didn’t.  We didn’t know about the backdrop to his evening for many months but his attitude and behavior that night was astounding.  He was gracious, patient….everything I wouldn’t have been were I in his shoes at his age.  That example has stuck with me and I try to emulate him.

6.  They’re gracious with my limitations.  Everyone knows that no one is perfect but sometimes we moms would like to be for the sake our kids.  But, like everyone else, I have limitations.  I can’t tell you how many times my kids said, “It’s okay, mom,”  when I apologized for behavior that wasn’t up to par.  Each time, they hugged me, ‘let it go’ and moved on.  I wish I could be everything to them, but then I’d miss out on the grace they freely give me.

7.  It’s a supreme honor.  I look at these children and wonder, ‘how blessed am I that I get to be their mother?!?’  Growing up, I never expected to marry or have kids but I’m so thankful that God had something else in mind for me.  It’s a huge responsibility and one I haven’t taken lightly, ever.  But they make this life so much more joyful.  They encourage me and stimulate me and fill my heart with more goodness than I thought possible.  Thanks, guys.  You and your dad are life’s greatest gifts.

Are devices keeping our teens from reading?

A year ago I was happily plodding along on the treadmill at the gym.  I was doing what I always do – reading – while trudging along at level 4.  That’s grandma pace – don’t judge.  I switched the book back and forth while holding onto the rail but then had to lean it against the touch screen so it was straight ahead of me.  Before I knew it, I was running!!  I jumped off and saw that the touch screen had crept up to 14.  That’s full-sweat, sprinting-up-a-mountain fast.  If you know me, you know I don’t run, but I was — because the book was so good!! I was so completely engrossed that I didn’t even notice  how my legs became independent of my awareness.*

Is that kind of absorption an anomaly?  Would I have done that if I were a teenager?  Actually, I’d be more likely to be on my phone.  Anywhere you see a teen with time to kill, you’ll see them staring intently at their handheld devices.  If they’re not sending or receiving a text, they’re looking at apps, playing games or checking a status.  And it’s not just teens; adults are guilty here, too. Here’s a concern: teens have much to learn yet, like how to read body language and voice inflections, how to think and respond to a conversation, how to engage a real live human.  These are important skills, people!

A whopping 78% of teens have cellphones.  The Washington Post reports that teens spend an incredible 7 1/2 hours a day consuming media.  That’s mind-boggling!!!  After school and sleep and family time, when do kids read?  Additionally, articles have been written about the lost art of patience or how few of us allow ourselves to be still and have nothing to do for a moment without panicking (I’m at a stoplight….I can’t just sit here!! Where’s my phone?)  Following that lead, some adults bemoan that teens will know nothing of being quiet, reflective or patient.  Maybe….but does that define all teens?

While teaching at ZLO (Zacchaeus Learning Opportunities in Whatcom County) this year, I had reason to not worry too much about the demise of our kids at the hands of devices.  What you have to know is that I’m very passionate about books.  When I read a book I love,  I must tell someone about it!  Who better than my eager students?  So, knowing I had some real readers in one class in particular, I gushed about a novel I devoured in two nights.  I handed the book over to a girl who grabbed it before the jealous others and went on with class.  Two days later – two. days. – the book was returned.  She loved it as much as I had and read it just as fast.  This was great news to the other girls who had it on hold at the library and couldn’t get it fast enough.  Sure enough, two others read it in two nights as well.

This didn’t strike me as unusual because I knew the quality of these girls.  (For the record, the boys in this group are just as zealous about books) However, I sometimes forget that more and more kids choose a game or app over a book.  I understand the allure, but personally, I get bored with those.  I want to go away.  I want to meet new people.  I want to see how others react to situations I know little about.  Basically, I want to learn in the most pleasing way I know – through reading.

Thankfully,  I’m not alone.  Reading isn’t just for older people!  Teen fiction has been exploding and if you push aside the vampire and teen lust titles, you’re going to find some fine reading….books so good you’ll be completely engrossed.  Sure, there are books that leave me with a ‘meh’ but I ditch it and grab another.  There’s always another good one waiting to be discovered.  And if you find a great book – tell a teen!  They might be willing to put down their phone and tear through it in a night or two.

* the book was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

What? I can’t hear you!

I think my second son is absolutely hilarious.  On more than one occasion I’ve been in my kitchen chuckling at something I heard him say in another room.  This nugget not so long ago:  his little sister needed some clothes washed (that’s his job) and he’d been derelict thanks to his baseball schedule. So she shouted from her room, “Hey!  Do the laundry!  I’m dyin’ over here!”   Instead of getting mad, which is not his style, he throws out a “What?  I can’t hear you; it’s dark in here!”   How can you get mad at that?  It’s so funny!!!   Beside being great for his ego and my mood, it gives me food for thought.

 

I’ve written about listening before since it’s a favorite topic of my husband and me.  Recently we were at a meeting where, among other things, we were encouraged to do considerably more listening than talking.  Someone later said, “Did we really need that?  Shouldn’t we be doing that already?”  That amused me, too, because the very fact that we DON’T listen well warrants the need to have such presentations.

Because this hits my radar so frequently, I can tell you unequivocally that we humans are terrible listeners.     Not just poor or we-could-do- better, but terrible.  I’ll be at the whiteboard giving step by step instructions slowly when a student will look up and say, “What are we doing?”  When I tell them I JUST said what they needed to know, they’ll weakly say they were writing their name on their paper…and add somewhat defensively that they can’t do both at the same time.  To which I’ll counter, you can’t listen and write your name?  Nope.  Wow, so you won’t be having music on when you drive?  Of course they will.  But that’s two activities at once.

Think where we’d be if we couldn’t do two things at once.  I get the whole mulit-tasking isn’t really accomplishing two things, it’s one, but we CAN listen for cars when we’re jogging, CAN hear the baby crying in the back of church while we’re listening to the sermon, we CAN hear the timer go off when putting in laundry.

But beyond the annoyance of someone who isn’t listening to you when you’re literally standing 3 ft away from them, how about the sadness of those who don’t listen to the more important things in life?  At that presentation, we saw a demonstration of what it’s like to be a good listener.  The demonstrator drew out a story and asked very intuitive questions.  Not just the expected banalities that bore us all.  Glennon Melton recently said that “Questions are gifts.  It’s the thought behind them the receiver feels.”  And she’s exactly right.  When you’re blown off or you share something and a friend never asks about it again, it doesn’t feel good.  It’s more than being self-centered; it’s wanting others to care about you and to show it by listening.

Glennon also said, “If we really want to know people, we need to ask questions that convey ‘I’m not just checking the box here.  I really care what you have to say and how you feel.'”  I recently worked with someone who literally never asked me one question about myself.  Didn’t know I had kids, volunteer, went away for a week…never asked.  She’s motivated me, though.  Someone I’ll see soon just started a new job, I’m going to ask what her favorite part of it is so far.  Another woman is going to be a grandma again.  I’d like to see the ultrasounds and share her joy.

This is not hard work!  Make it your goal today to ask someone something deeper than ‘how was your day?’  Verbal grease works for many situations, but if you really want to show you care, don’t claim you can’t hear them just because it’s dark 🙂