Archive | April 2012

I’d like to thank the Academy

Ok, ok…maybe it isn’t the Academy, but it is the little (or big) blog world that I have recently joined. 

Just a few weeks after deciding I really wanted to get serious about my blog, I have been nominated by a fellow blogger for the Versatile Blogger Award. How cool is that?  This award has some rules, and I have listed them below. 

  • Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  •  Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
  •  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. ( I would add, pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent!)
  •  Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — you might include a link to this site.
  •  Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

First things first,  a great big thank you to Emerald Pie  for the nomination.  This blogger found me all the way from Ireland.  She has delightful posts about motherhood on the other side of the ocean.  Her finding me and finding her back is truly one of the most wonderfully surprising things that have happened  with this blog. It just isn’t every day that Iget a new virtual friend in a countryI have never even visited.

I have to admit, that I am not yet into the bloggosphere enough to have 15 nominations, but the nominations that I haver are near and dear to my heart.  Some blog often, some just every so often, but they all have wonderful things to say.

Confessions of a Working Housewife : This is a blog from a new friend in my hometown.  She has a career that kind of leaves me awestruck (neonatal nurse) and a heart for all moms. 

Pa5tord : This is the blog of my dear friend and pastor.  His heart for all kinds of justice are featured here and in his new venture. “Just Christian” which you can (and should!) find on Facebook.

Love and Stories: This is another local friend who is (IMO) the ultimate stay at home mom.  She posts such wonderful things about her time, her faith and her adventures in crafting, studying, cooking and mothering.  She is the kind of stay at home mom I would want to be if I could do it for more than a week without losing my mind. 

Simple Life and Home: This is a site and blog created by my beautiful cousin.  Here you will find practical household tips, yummy recipes and ideas that will just make your life simpler and sweeter. 

Elastamom:  This is another new blog friend.  She writes beautiful posts about mothering two boys and a daughter with special needs.  You can feel the love through her words, and best of all, she keeps it real, which makes her even more worth following.

I Miss You When I Blink : This is a blog that I recently discovered from a Facebook share.  I love this blog because it is irreverent and oh so funny.  My favorite blog so far is the one about the rules of cursing, so as you can see, it is a little different than the rest of the list…which makes it even more fun.  If I was going to let it all hang out, I would want to be just like this blogger. 🙂

Marvelous Magnificence of Malcolm: This is a blog by my dear friend.  It is mostly about her amazingly smart and funny son, but also  the things she is passionate about. 

These are my favorite blogs so far.  I’m sure there are others that I have enjoyed, but these are the ones I have decided to follow because I really want to read all the posts that they put out there.  I hereby nominate them all for the Versatile Blogger Award.  For more information on the award, go to: The Versatile Blog Award Blog  (go figure!)

No I need to tell my new Irish friend a little something about me, and I suppose those things ought to be different than she could have already figured out by reading my blog.

1) I am shy.  Most people don’t know this about me, but it is true. I am very comfortable in small groups and with people I trust.  Sometimes that comes fast, sometimes slow.  In all other circumstances, I am much more comfortable watching other people from the sidelines than being front and center.

2) I love to cook.  I started baking with my mom when I was young, and still bake, but mostly I have learned to enjoy creating things in the kitchen.  Recipes are guides rather than plans.  If I won the lottery, I might go to culinary school to learn among other things, mad knife skills.

3) I have the attention span of a gnat.  It is really quite annoying sometimes.  In church, in meetings, and even when I am TRYING to concentrate, I often find myself 100 miles away.  It is a good thing I can get the gist of things quickly!

4) I really don’t like bosses.  It isn’t that I don’t like the people who have been my bosses.  It is just that I really don’t like to be bossed.  Never have, never will.  Fortunately, I know it is a necessary evil since I’m also not ambitious enough to try to be the top boss.  I enjoy the balance of life too much to want to work that hard.

5) This blog is really a way to see how I do with writing.  Ultimately, I would love to write a book.  It has always been on my bucket list.  One of my book ideas is the “Advice to My Beautiful Daughters”.  I would pick the ones with the best stories (there is almost always a story behind my daily advice) and make chapters out of them.  Maybe someday.  Until then, I’m testing the waters with this blog.

6) I am a terrible procrastinator.  Interestingly enough, I’m using this blog post to procrastinate right now.  I really need to be packing and preparing for a business trip tomorrow morning.  Packing always gives me an opportunity to hone my procrastination skills.

7) I love to travel.  If I really took the time to write out my bucket list, I suspect that 90% of the things on it would be the places I want to see.  Iwant to fill my passport with stamps with my wonderful traveling companion husband.

The seven things list was harder than I thought it would be.  I wish it was more interesting, but it is me (or at least shows glimpses at part of me).  If you read my blog, please feel free to share and tell others about it.  Although asking for that seems like shameless self-promotion, I really do have a teensy little dream of developing a huge following.  Of course all of us bloggers probably have secret dreams of turning this into a profession, right?

4/30/12 Today’s Advice to My Beautiful Daughters – Say no to the status quo.

(Inspired by Steve North of Lifeline Ministries)

The status quo is a bully.  Say no to bullies.

I’ve really had to sit with this one for a while.  How can an intangible thing like the status quo be a bully?  Then I started to substitute words and it became a little bit clearer to me.  Conformity is a bully.  Mediocrity is a bully.  “Good enough” is a bully.  Average is a bully.

All of these things tend to convince us that we don’t need to aspire to any more.  We don’t need to stand out.  We need to fit in, blend in, and look, behave and think like everyone else.  The status quo stifles our greatness.  It dampens our spirit for adventure.  It makes us think, “I can’t” or “I shouldn’t, instead “I can” or “I will”.

So my beautiful beautiful girls.  Please know that there is greatness inside you.  There are talents and a spirit that will make you shine.  You are light and salt and the status quo will be there all your life trying to convince you that you aren’t.  It will bully you into submission if you let it.  It will bully others into submission.  Stand up to bullies.  Be more than the status quo.

For more information about the great work of Lifeline Ministries, go to: http://www.lifelinetoledo.com

The Things They Didn’t Tell Me

When you have children, there is a wide range of wonderment and fear that you have at each stage of life. I remember bringing my oldest daughter home from the hospital and the abject FEAR that we were going to mess her up. We thought the nice nurses and doctors had lost their minds in allowing the absolutely clueless parents to take this little baby home….without any help…or any idea what to do. Neither of us had ever been around a newborn before. None of my friends had babies before me and our parents lived 600 miles away. What were we thinking??

Then, as we got the hang of things and even managed to occasionally eat at the same time (which was a milestone past remembering to eat at all), we started to relax a little bit. And even though she was not a happy baby, our cluelessness served us well because we had nothing to compare it to. Mobility was the next fear to be overcome, then talking, and then at some point we decided we were skilled enough to add another child to the mix.

Our second daughter was born and by this time we had parent swagger. The nurses weren’t telling us anything we didn’t already know and we just wanted to get home to start life with her sister. Our second baby slept all the time instead of screaming all the time like her older sister, so of course, we panicked a little bit and thought maybe something was wrong with her. By this time, we had a little experience observing other newborn behavior so the fear was short-lived and we breathed a sigh of relief that with this baby, things would be so much easier.

Enter the blissful period. Of course that is how I remember it NOW and it might not have any actual correlation to how I felt at the time. But the way I see it, the next 13-15 years were just the easy years that were preparing us for the all dreaded teenage years…with girls! And puberty! And the boys that would inevitably come sniffing around our little beauties! Those years included a divorce, moves, job changes, death and various other emotional hurdles that seem like a piece of cake compared to navigating parenthood through the minefield that comes with raising teenage girls.

But here is the thing. The challenges are totally different than I expected. And I prepared! I read books. I threatened to WRITE books, such an expert was I. I had all the answers…for all things… from the sex talk, to drugs and alcohol talk, to the oft expected teenage deception, lying, screaming, disrespect that I had been warned about. I had my books and I was armed for battle. So how is it that in all the reading and expertness that I had under my belt, I missed the fact that parenting had the potential to break my heart and bring me to my knees? And most disconcerting, that the heartbreak would be for reasons I wasn’t prepared for at all? Me…not prepared!?!

I’m actually one of the lucky ones. My kids have always been very respectful. We have ingrained in them a belief in the merits of kindness and respectful discourse. That doesn’t mean that they don’t disagree and sometimes express that disagreement enthusiastically but I can’t ever remember a time when they were downright rude or course with any adult, me included, at least not in the way I have seen in other teens. My kids generally like to be in our company. They enjoy family vacations and family activities and just hanging out. In other words, I have it pretty good.

None of these things make my kids immune to being teens, and to making the mistakes that teens are prone to make. The problem is that I have gotten the idea somewhere along the line that I can somehow protect my kids from doing the dumb things that I did, prevent them from learning lessons the hard way and experiencing the pain that I felt from those hard lessons. And even as I reflect back on my own mistakes and see the value in the lessons that I took away from those mistakes and their consequences, still I have to resist the urge to be a helicopter parent who swoops in and performs the rescue. At the end of the day, seeing my kids experience that pain makes me relive it a hundredfold. The helplessness and heartbreak sometimes feels like it will be my undoing and none of the books prepared me for that. In all the warnings about “just wait till they are teenagers” not once was I given ample preparation for this feeling that my heart would be living outside my body in the form of my daughters and every fracture in them would break me wide open.

There are times that the pain of the consequences, some natural, some imposed by me, is too much for them. When I see them experiencing that pain, I want so badly for it to go away that I have to tell myself over and over that I am doing the right thing. I have to remember that parental perseverance is rewarded in the long-term, but often not in the short-term. I have to accept the consequences of my decisions, which often include disharmony, sullenness and the chill of the “ice out” when one of my little girls stops talking to me. (When there is disharmony, I always long for the little girl years when they loved me no matter what, and would crawl in my lap, and when my hugs and kisses were enough to heal their hurts.)

But even today, as I struggled for reconciliation, in the midst of one of the biggest ice outs I have had the displeasure to live through, I learned something from my daughter. After two days of crying and longing, we talked, and she taught me something really important. So pay attention…this is something you will want to remember.

She taught me that teenagers aren’t so different from the rest of us. Sometimes they don’t say what they mean…just like us. And just like us, they expect us to know what they really meant and not just what they said. Let me give you an example of our behavior to compare this to: When a woman goes on a long rant to her husband and he repsonds with “I see” he really means, “I have no flipping idea what your problem is or why you are mad at me.” When a husband asks his wife what is wrong and she responds with “Nothing. I’m fine” she really means that he is in the doghouse and better know why without her telling him. Similarly, when a teenager tells us, through word or action that they want us to go away or leave them alone or give them space, what they really might mean is, “Come after me. Love me. Don’t give up. I’m confused about all these crazy emotions and I need your help.” And I can tell you that when the dialog makes that truth come to light, it is the kind of thing that takes the shattered pieces of a mother’s heart and stitches it back together.

I do NOT have all the answers (despite my book collection of expertness), but I do know this: My kids need me, even when they don’t know it and especially when they say they don’t. And as much as it breaks my heart, it is not my job to protect them from mistakes. It IS my job to pursue them until reconciliation is reached, no matter how long it takes. The reward for my pursuit may be that my broken heart will be healed by the power of a girl’s smile, hug and “I love you.”

So all you parents who are following this, I will try to continue to blaze the trail with a string of mistakes, and I will share them with you in the hopes that the sharing might help you avoid some of them (which will leave you plenty to make on your own). Assuming my heart can withstand all the shattering and stitching, I know that my reward will be demonstrated by the love of two little girls who will one day grow into the incredible young women that I know they can be.

Maybe it is time for me to accept that even though I feel like they may just kill me sometimes, the best things are the things that the books didn’t tell me.

Today’s Advice to ME

In honor of my Facebook advice “column” to my girls, I am feeling the need to turn things around a bit.  So here goes…

Today’s advice to beautiful me:

You are not responsible for everyone’s happiness.  It is hard enough to control your own emotions without taking on the added burden of everyone else’s.

Yet here I sit with  my neck and back holding so much tension that they are tender to the touch and the ceaseless thoughts about how to make everyone happy.  I know it isn’t logical and I know that I can’t possibly succeed.  But the more I know this, the more tightly I hold the thoughts, so tightly in fact that my muscles from the top of my head to my lower back are all knotted up from the effort.

I often feel like a phony in this virtual world.  I present mostly cheerful thoughts and declarations about my wonderful family.  And they are wonderful.  Those who know me best know that I hit the jackpot with my kids, my husband, my mom and extended family.  We have suffered no major traumas and for the most part, I have managed by some miracle to avoid the typical teenage disdain felt by most parents.  Life really is pretty good.

What I don’t tell the world in my Facebook statuses is that life can get messy at my house.  I scream at my kids sometimes, sometimes with cuss words.  I pout.  I stew.  I resent.  I get fed up.  I lose what little semblance of patience I have.  My kids seem to hate me sometimes.  They think I “don’t understand” and tell me so.  They reject my advice and nagging and do things their own way, to varying degrees of success.  And sometimes my perfectly blended family frays at the edges, and I am the thread being pulled tight between the edges that are my daughters and my husband.  The stretching and pulling can be so painful at times that I don’t know how to stitch it back together.

I worry. I fret.  I obsess.  I negotiate…with them, with myself and with God.

This may be the hardest time I have ever faced as a parent.  My oldest is preparing to leave for college in the fall and less than two months from her 18th birthday, she is yearning for the independence that comes with her adulthood status.  And I cling and grab at the little control I have left and wonder desperately if I have done enough to prepare her, if there is still time to teach the things I haven’t gotten to and whether she will be ok without me.  I have been preparing for this for 17 years, 10 months and two weeks.  I knew that her leaving the nest would be hard and I have prepared for how I would feel when I dropped her off at college.  But nobody told me about the ripping away that has to happen in preparation for that.  I wasn’t prepared for it to start so soon and I WANT MORE TIME

My youngest is now in high school.  She is at that stage where she is seeking independence and trying to find the balance between her need for direction and her desire to figure it out on her own.  I recognize the pattern now and am determined to right all the mistakes I made the first time around. I wrestle for more control and she senses a double standard and resists.  Tension.  Conflict.  A test of wills.

Each day seems to bring a new challenge, a new hurt, a new emotion to navigate.  And because I am feeling so unsettled, I do the logical thing…I dig in..  I hold tight.  I obsess.  I worry.

It seems that all I know about my ability (or lack thereof) to control everyone’s happiness is in conflict with the deep longing I feel for the little girls who hung on my words and smile and who thought I was the best thing in the world.  I feel that life slipping further away and my fear and longing resist the logic in the  natural order of things.  Mark reminds me that this is the way it supposed to go.   My mind knows he is right but my heart isn’t ready to accept it.

So friends, know that the advice I give my daughters is just as much my advice to me.  And beneath the put togetherness that I project to the world is someone who is figuring it out minute by minute sometimes.  I second guess myself more often than not and every day I long for the “do over” button.

Despite all that, I know that I am blessed with a husband who supports me in my neurotic need for control and with daughters who have made being a mom the greatest joy of my life, even when it doesn’t feel like a joy at all.  At the end of the day, I need to remind myself that I am enough, and I can only be responsible for what is mine…my emotions, my reactions, my example.  The rest I will have to give back to its rightful owner, and maybe then, my faith can take over where my trust has left off.

Discernment

For some time now, I have been struggling with this thing called discernment. It makes me cringe a little every time I hear it. And despite my unease, I have used it to describe myself. “I have the gift of discernment.”

Discernment – discrimination, acuteness of judgement and understanding (synonyms: judgment, perspicacity, penetration, insight) (dictionary.com)

Based on the definition, it seems like a pretty good trait to have. So why does it make me so uncomfortable? I think the answer is that it assumes too much and since as human beings, we often inflate our perception of our own gifts, it can often go too far. I do believe that some people have been blessed with the gift of insight. I even believe that I am one of those people. Because that belief and this post may end up being in opposition, it is only fair that I start by using myself as an example before I talk about others.

In the last few years, I have just started to see how my gifts have been developed and how I am (hopefully) using them to help people. I tend to be able to talk to a person, hear a story and quickly see what might be driving their behavior, what might be going on with the other people involved and offer an observation that allows them to think about the situation in a new way. When this happens, solutions seem crystal clear to me and when I choose to share my observation, I am often told that I hit the nail on the head. So far, so good right? The problem occurs when I am wrong or when I might be right but the person isn’t ready to hear it, or when I haven’t listened enough, or when I project my own junk onto the situation. ALL of those things can and probably do happen with the same frequency that the alternative occurs (just ask my daughters), yet I still have a tendency to pat myself on the back for knowing so much about people.

I think true discernment is SO much more than being able to see into a situation quickly. It also means knowing when to shut up. It means knowing when it is time to look in the mirror instead of telling someone what is going on with THEM. It means listening. To truly understand a situation, I first have to know the person, or at least enough about what might be making that person tick, that I can factor in their history, their fear, their heart.

One of the biggest mistakes that I have made is in assuming that I know more that I do. It has taken some bumpy relationships and bruised feelings for me to see that I can only see what my personal lenses allow me to see. And like any gift, in order for it to be truly realized, this gift requires work and practice. Great athletes may have been given a gift of natural athleticism, but it is only through extremely hard work and dedication, that those gifts are turned into something marketable (worth something to others). The same is true of musicians, artists, scientists or ANY other success story. The gift is just the start that God gave us. And when I presume that the gift of discernment is any different, I risk so much, I know that I talk when I should be quiet. I know that I project my history onto other people’s stories. I know that I am often too sure of my opinion. Like anything else, I need to practice.

Now I’ll talk about discernment in a broader context.

How many times have you heard a right wing “news” anchor tell you what the motivation is of the person on the left? How about the reverse? How many times have you heard a straight person tell you what motivates a gay person? How many times have you heard a non-Christian tell you what Christians believe? How about Muslims? How much does the collective “we” presume to know about what motivates Muslims in this country, or what is in their hearts? I know that some of these opinions may be shaped by our collective experience in the last decade, and those experiences are valid data points for judgment. But they aren’t the only data points. When we assume the rest based on our gut….or discernment, what happens? When does discernment turn into hate?

And what about the things I know because God told me? How can anyone argue with that? Believe me, I am the first one to tell you that God has touched my life, and has used some pretty powerful ways to get me to see the direction that in hindsight seems blessed by His hand. I do believe that God speaks to us, sometimes very directly. But how is it possible that I can be so certain that God is telling me one thing, and another Christian can just as confidently tell me that God has told them the exact opposite? How is it possible that I believe that loving a homosexual means accepting who they are, accepting that God made them and believing that their worth as a Christ follower is not defined by who they chose to spend their life with. And another Christian feels equal passion for his belief that the only way to love a homosexual is to save them from their “sin”? What if we both claim a gift for discernment? If one of us has to be wrong, what does that say about the other things we believe God has told us?

In the last year, I have heard people tell me with conviction that the earthquake in Haiti was God’s punishment for voodooism, and that more importantly, they believe this because the Holy Spirit made it known to them. I have heard people say that the east coast earthquakes were because of the fight for marriage equality and/or rampant homosexuality. These people believe as strongly as I do that they have the ability to discern what God wants. Discernment? In this case, I think that discernment becomes a club and “God told me” is the ultimate conversation ender. Is that really God? Does He really speak softly to only a few people so they can use their newfound discernment to beat people down and judge them? And how about all the casualties in those natural disasters who are Christians? As someone aptly asked me, “Does God have bad aim?”

It is funny how most of the time when I hear, “God told me” it is in the context of something that could easily be seen as unkind or is a judgment of someone else’s sin. Whether I call it discernment or disbelief, I just don’t see it. And I don’t know what to do with it, because I know that the people who are saying it believe it with their whole hearts, and I believe that they are also trying to follow God’s direction. So are my signals crossed? Are theirs? And even worse, as I type this, I realize that I am guilty of the very thing I accuse them of, because I have decided they must be wrong because God has spoken a different message into my heart.

I have been struggling with this post for some time because it feels incomplete. There isn’t a conclusion. I don’t have the answer. I do know, however, that when I am the most sure of what is right, I am most at risk for missing the quiet voice of God. When I am busy telling people what their problem is, telling them what they should do, and bestowing on them the wonderful benefit of my discernment, I need to tread softly. I need to wait. I need to pray that the right words be brought to my lips. If I am to claim the gift of discernment, I also have to claim the responsibility that goes with it. I have responsiblity for the words that leave my lips, for the hearts that those words are spoken to, and for knowing when it is best not to speak.