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.

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.

A Buddhist and a Christian walk into a room….

I met a new friend a few years ago who I liked instantly.  I hoped that we would be able to know each other for a long time.   Then she shared that she was a Buddhist.  Oh.  I have no problem with that; it’s just that I’ve never known a Buddhist before.  This was new and it was a good new. We talked openly about things and what was most appealing were these words: “I’m not going to judge you.”   How refreshing!

I know all about judging because I feel like an expert some days.  It’s so hard for us NOT to judge and we do it so sub-consciously that it becomes our default setting.  Granted, some are better at this than others, but I’ve also heard from some amazingly honest people lately about how opinionated they are, how they find it easier to gripe about people than listen to them and they seem to have more fun with friends with they’re criticizing others. Hhmmm….

After thinking about these comments, I prayed about trying a different approach with people:  to assume the best more often, and to not judge but ask about what else might be going on so I can have a more complete picture than the one I knee-jerk guess.  Or, just praying for them. As a Christian, I have prayed for forgiveness many times for my critical spirit and my lack of grace with others.  There’s no excuse when Jesus has been generous to the point of giving His life for me.  But I also know I’m a sinful woman who can look Him full in the face and His mercy covers me anew each day.

And to that end, this morning my Buddhist friend called and left me crying when I hung up.  Not tears of sadness but from a weight of compassion.  She asked the right questions, listened compassionately and understood my vulnerability generously and accepted my honesty graciously.   That kind of love brought me to tears.  I don’t claim to understand a thing about Buddhism; and I have a long way to understanding the complex mysteries of my God and Father, but I know for certain when He brings two women together to bless each other.

So here I am, a committed Christian, wanting to be a little more like my Buddhist friend in her acceptance and openness of people.  It makes me think of others who aren’t Christians but have something about their natures that I want to emulate.  Speaking only for myself and not for Christians at large, I know that I live in a bubble of my own making.  To my shame, I can’t rattle off a list of non-Christian friends.  It’s not because I’ve intentionally avoided them, but because my orbit is a little too small.  I’m working on that – and excited about it.

When we first met, my friend asked me if it would be a problem for me to befriend her and I said No immediately.  For one, I rarely think of her religion and, I also believe God can use anyone and He clearly is using her to bless me.  As we approach Easter, I’m reminded of the new life that He gives us and I’m thankful that sometimes a new turn of heart comes from unlikely places and people.

Can you sum up your life in 6 words?

i can’t help it, I’m always on the prowl.  Magazines, flyers, books, sites, the backs of cereal boxes, for pity’s sakes… you name it, if it has words on it, I want to read it.   I scour, wander, search and I find.  Besides my own edification, I want to find an interesting writing assignments for my students, and to that end,  I stumbled across a book on six-word memoirs.  I tore through it, wishing I could know some of these people who so succinctly summed up and shared their lives in this form.

 

How do you even begin to start when asked to state your life in a mere six words?  Were it me, I could go in a number of different directions.  My health? How about Need replacement body; this one’s broken.  My family? Married kind, gentle, guy; never fight.  Or, Won kid lottery, have three winners.  My career: Best job: teens plus writing, reading.  My hobbies: Chocolate: bake, frost, share, slice, savor.

Here are my favorites:

Optimistic:

Curly haired sad kid chose fun.

Tragic childhood can lead to wisdom.

I live the perfect imperfect life.

Working with what God gave me.

 

Sweet:

Sweet wife, good sons; I’m rich.

Polio gave me a happy life.

We were each other’s favorite person.
There’s an interesting story behind these:

Almost a victim of my family.

Thought I would have more impact.

I fell far from the tree.

It was embarrassing so don’t ask.

 

Funny:

Without me, it is just aweso.

It’s pretty high, you go first.

Overjoyed I’m not like my sister.

Well, I thought it was funny.

Now it’s your turn.  I know I have readers who don’t post a comment but I’d love to see your six-word memoir. If you can sum up your life in six words, please do!

 

 

Does this blind spot make my butt look big?

Watching “What not to wear” can be a cringe-inducing.  Some of these poor women look so terrible and most of the time, they just don’t see it.  My daughter and I watch and mutter, “Oh, honey….”  We feel for them.  They step into the 360 mirror and sometimes see what we see; other times, they think they’re rockin’ their look.  I always tell my daughter, “If I ever look that bad – tell me!!”   This show reveals the literal and figurative blind spots we can all have.  We wear something and think we look great, only to look at ourselves years later and delete the picture.  We say or do or think something and believe we’ve got it goin’ on, only to realize later, that we weren’t as sharp as we’d hoped.

Harper Lee noted the blind spots of some white folks in her community who were quick to assume that all blacks were guilty…even if they hadn’t done anything.  To Kill a Mockingbird also includes a teacher who railed on Hitler’s atrocities while turning a blind eye to those in her town who were treated just as judgmentally and unfairly.  Further underscoring her point, a group of powdered white ladies worked to raise money for “those poor African children who only have one white missionary” telling them the way to live rightly when they themselves live a few miles away from a Negro settlement that could greatly benefit from a group of caring white women who want to be generous with their resources.

It’s so easy to read and teach that book and say, “Look at these people!  Don’t they see?!?”  and not so easy to see my own blind spot I heft around day after day.  We all get in patterns of responding and behaving and as the years tick by,  the pattern continues.  So I wonder, where am I blind and how many others see it clearly?  Many times I’ve prayed, “Lord, let me see this rightly,”  because the frustrating aspect of a blind spot is not realizing when you have one, but wondering how often you operate from one and don’t realize it!

This idea has been percolating for a bit so it’s no coincidence that a recent conversation stirred the mental brew.  A friend shared with me that she’s giving up being judgmental for Lent. This is an area that perhaps she was blind to, maybe not, but she acknowledges (bravely) that it’s probably more obvious to others and she wants to work on it.  I admire that!   And then, while we were talking, I felt gentle nudging. ‘Yes, God I hear you talking to me.’   Maybe instead of giving up coffee or chocolate or soda for Lent, I should give up an intangible…something that God will reveal to me as a blind spot.

I KNOW I have stuff to work on.  The questions are: How obvious is it? And, are my friends and family too kind to point it out?  To the first – I hope not too much! and to the second, probably!  Simply put, it’s easier not to see some things about ourselves and I admire those who take a hard look and say, ‘that needs to change.’  So that’s my goal: seeking an improvement in something about which I am totally unaware.   Sounds almost impossible, but when we walk with God and He makes us more like Him every day, we can trust we’re in good hands.

Temporary idiocy

Since I spend the majority of my time with teenagers, I sometimes get the honor of being a friend, too.  And when they get hurt, I offer my love through a listening ear.  Recently, a few of these dear people have unburdened their hearts with stories that leave me sad but thankfully, not confused.  Here’s how it goes:

As adults, we know that it doesn’t take long on this planet before someone’s going to hurt us.  Well, these friends of mine were hurt so badly and couldn’t understand why the people who they previously thought were friends were behaving so, well, unfriendly!  In one case, they were unrepentantly snubbed with merely a shrug and in another, were the scapegoat for someone else’s sins.  People on the periphery did nothing to help, just left them stranded in cold water.

In talking to them, one observation made us mildly cheered and that is that most people are just temporary idiots.  The periphery people, especially teenagers, are basically good, solid kids.  Their hearts are in the right place and they want to do the right thing, but when friends’ relationships sour, the folks on the fringe don’t know what to do.  So, they end up doing nothing, which can hurt in its covertness as much as the original hurt in its overtness. Saying nothing is sometimes the wisest route, but other times, saying nothing hurts terribly. This is where temporary idiocy comes in. Their silence or hurtful actions are hopefully temporary.  Usually when the dust settles, they can see they were in error in stranding their friend.  The true friend will tell them that later.

I know this because I had a friend do something similar to me.  She had distanced herself with giant bounds because she guessed I wouldn’t like a decision she made.  I had no idea why she was so cool, but I gave her space and didn’t freak out.  Almost a year later, she called me and shared that she had changed course and now wanted to talk.  It was one of the best talks ever because I could honestly tell her that ignoring me didn’t help either of us.  She had assumed incorrectly.  I was completely indifferent about her decision so her fears were ungrounded but just having her say she was a temporary idiot made me admire and love her more.

In a recent movie, I heard this wonderful line: The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.  Isn’t that true?  Our hearts and minds get entangled so easily, but our heads have hope!  When we give each other some time, and talk openly, we can confess that we all mess up.  With time, we come around.  May we all have the grace to give to each other generously through warm hearts and listening ears.