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.

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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.

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 🙂

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!

 

 

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.

The chocolate cake connection

One sunny morning about 15 years ago found me standing at my kitchen counter frosting a cake.  It was three layers of chocolate and silky frosting was going on smoothly.  What makes this cake different from the myriad I have made was that my mom was standing on the other side of the counter watching me.  As I worked my spatula back and forth, she noted nonchalantly, “You’re just like your grandma.”   My hand froze.  “What?”  This from a lady who hardly ever mentioned her mother, childhood, past…and oh how I wish she had!  I had so many questions about my ancestors but those questions were always just met with a shrug.

Again, “What?”  I had to contain myself from shaking her shoulders and pleading with her to open the floodgates of memory.  How am I like her? I knew some ways from my memory alone.  She could be quite mischievous and chuckled when she heard of something a little naughty, her eyes twinkling.  She loved to listen to the baseball game while sitting in her sunny living room and she kept the police scanner on, always interested in what local law enforcement was encountering that day.  I also clearly remembering her “peeling out” around the corner in her huge blue Buick.  For a 70-something year old lady, she knew how to floor it – and she enjoyed it, too.  Grandma loved music and having family over for coffee, always with a little sweet something served on the side.

This particular morning it came out that my grandmother was known for her cinnamon rolls and chocolate cake.  Hold the phone.  How did I learn of this some fifteen years after my grandmother passed away?  Here I was, becoming known for my cinnamon rolls and chocolate cake, completely oblivious that I was echoing my grandmother so many miles & years away, so distant from knowing the real her, yet behaving like her through a simple recipe. I don’t know how I landed on those two items in particular to craft repeatedly, but I was somehow drawn to them.  Mixing flour, butter and sugar is so relaxing, so natural…I feel very much like me when I’m at my counter making something sweet for someone I love.  Knowing that so many decades ago, she was doing the same thing, is so gratifying.

I know lots of people have lost loved ones; I also know women my age who still have their grandmothers and parents.  Losing them so long ago compounded by living away from my birth family for almost 30 years makes me a little more keen for moments like these, I guess.  Even though I’m so much like my mom and grandma in copious ways, that experience made me a little different in that while I’m making or baking or serving that cake or those gooey rolls, I make sure I remember to tell a story of what those two were like… or me.  I’ve raised my kids’ eyebrows with a few stories of my youth (like they can’t quite envision me as a spot welder), but I want to make sure they remember a few things about me and my ancestors from when we were younger.  Hopefully, when many years have gone by and my kids enjoy a piece of my cake made by their own hands in memory of me, the stories they hold will be sweeter than the frosting on the cake.