10 things I won’t do as our son leaves for college

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Lately I have been stuck on an emotional roller coaster. Life has been changing at warp speed and most of it is out of my control. What I do control is how I react respond to all of it.

I was involved in a high-speed chase today. While driving to the grocery store for a few simple dinner items, a tsunami of disjointed thoughts racing through my mind chased me down and caught up to me at a red light. Next thing I knew I couldn’t remember what I went to the store for and was inundated with a million fractured thoughts, snipets swirling around me like a tornado about our son leaving for college, employment, new schools for our other teens, and a thousand other things. I felt unglued.

That’s when it hit me. I had to get a hold of my heart and my head. I decided, for the sake of my sanity, I would set up boundaries for my thoughts and feelings during this changing season as I prepare for my firstborn to leave for college.

10 boundaries of what I won’t allow myself to do:

  • I won’t replay regrets of what I did wrong in the past as a parent. If forgiveness was necessary, I asked for it and we both let it go. It helps no one for me to hang on to something both of us already put behind us. If it was just my own unattainable bar of expectations that let me down, I will let myself off the hook and realize I am a super mother, not Superwoman. 😉
  • I won’t beat myself up for what I didn’t do as a mother. I didn’t try every art & craft project online. I couldn’t attend every single function in which my son was involved. I didn’t always know what was trending about the latest and greatest everything relating to parenthood. But, every single night as I laid my head on my pillow I knew I had given the day everything I had. Whether that everything was 10% or 105% I had to give that day, I gave it. Did I do it perfectly? Absolutely not. But I tried my best and that’s the best I can do.
  • I won’t let the busyness of this rapidly changing season rob me of stolen moments of what matters. If our son walks into my home office and spontaneously needs to tell me how much he’s going to miss his family (like he did yesterday), I will stop what I’m doing, look at him and listen (which I did). The little things are the big things, and a never-ending to-do list will not hold these precious moments hostage. I will put what who matters most first.
  • I won’t compare my family or my mothering to anyone else. At this stage of parenting, it’s easy to look around and judge myself by using others’ lives as a measuring stick. That only brings everyone down. We aren’t the same as any other family out there, nor should we be. It’s the uniqueness of family that makes life interesting. Instead of comparing, I will remember fondly all of the moments, days, weeks, months and years that write the story we call family.
  • I won’t stop the tears. It may happen in the canned vegetable aisle, while driving or walking by his darkened bedroom, but make no mistake I will burst into spontaneous tears. Part of my heart is being ripped out of me and moving to another state. To pretend that doesn’t hurt is not being authentic with myself or anyone else. No, I’m not fine right now, but I will be – and every tear shed out of love over missing my boy will help me get there.
  • I won’t stay in the pit too long. I’d love to say I won’t even go into the pit, but as our firstborn flies away, this mama needs to go down into the valley for a little bit. But, I will also be kind to myself and not stay there too long. I have a husband and two teens who need me to not stay there too long. And, I have a future that God has planned for me, so be patient with me. And if I’m having a hard time finding my footing climbing out of the pit, I will ask for a helping hand.
  • I won’t miss the beauty of this season. The fact is, our son graduated high school and is taking a giant step toward becoming an independent adult, a productive member of society. This is, after all, what the plan has been since he was born. As much as this transition of him sort of being on his own and sort of not is uncomfortable and painful for me as his mother, we are blessed to have made it this far and will celebrate that victory! I will look forward to watching him continue to grow and will continue to celebrate all the milestones we have ahead of us as a family.
  • I won’t try to do this alone. I am a lone ranger by nature, but this is too much to process by myself. I will allow myself to be vulnerable with those I feel safe and let my guard down about how I’m really doing. I will link arms with those who love me and we walk this journey together. After all, if they love me then they are probably grieving him going away in their own way as well. Together, we will be a strong team for each other.
  • I won’t stop laughing. Life needs laughter. Hearts need laughter. The body needs laughter. In the midst of grieving our beloved son’s new opportunity, through the tears and “new normals” of him not being at home, I will purpose in my heart to see joy in life. I will keep grieving in its place and welcome the moments in life that make me snicker, giggle, laugh and laugh some more. There is a healthy balance in allowing grieving and laughter to share the same soul.
  • I won’t be hard on myself if I fail everything listed above. I am a hormonal, middle-aged woman. I am a mother whose firstborn is leaving the nest. I am emotional. I have a lot on my plate, my mind and my heart. There will be days when I’ve got nothing. No words. No sense of humor. No logical thought. No feeling percolating in my soul. Life is like that when we miss someone so deeply. Sometimes there aren’t words or actions, thoughts or feelings that make it all better. And that’s okay. That’s why, Lord willing, there is always tomorrow. ❤

Sweet 16

Our only daughter is turning 16. A milestone birthday, it has been celebrated in our society with cars and keys, and in movies and books. For me, it is a bittersweet event because of what my special gift to my girl is…

Every birthday since I was born, my mom gave me birthday angels. They are very fragile, delicate figurines with a number and a symbolic item for each year; a small girl holding a teddy bear, a teenager holding a phone, etc.

I have an angel for every year from birth to 16. This is where they stop.

On my birthdays, I always knew there would be a small, square box, light as a feather. I always opened it last partially because I was anxious to see what else I got and partially because I knew it could easily break in the festivities.

My mom was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer one month before I turned 16, and died eleven months later.

On my 17th birthday, my grandparents, whom I lived with after she died, did what they could to wish me a happy birthday. However, they had just buried my mom, their daughter. None of us were in the mood to celebrate. A small, square box was missing.

I can count on one hand items I have from my mom, literally. That season of life was absolute chaos and sadness. My sister and I lost our home and our stuff. My cat ran away and I had to put my dog of 13 years, my very best friend who was my 4th birthday present, down. She couldn’t handle the stress of everything and stopped eating. There was nothing we could do to help. My house of cards came down with a crash within a couple of weeks of Mom’s death, including a car accident I was involved in that totaled her car the night before her funeral. It was all too much.

I remember sparse pieces of those days. I do remember sitting in my mom’s bedroom, emptying out drawers of photographs into black trash bags and hauling them to the curb thinking, That life is over now. How I wish I hadn’t done that. My stuffed animal collection, bedroom furniture, everything went. My life as I knew it was erased and I was left numb inside and out.

My precious grandmother saved my birthday angels, though I didn’t know it for years. When she gave them to me, it was like opening a time capsule. There they were, all in one piece sans one. They still had thick dust on them. For the eleven months my mom fiercely battled cancer, we lived between two homes – my grandparents and ours. Nothing in our home was maintained between long school days and hospital stays. To see and touch the dust was like touching a piece of my living history. Surreal.

As soon as I found out my husband and I were having a girl, I thought about those angels. I would have a daughter to pass them on to.

Each year commemorating our daughter’s birth, I quietly travel to a secret part of our home where they sit in silence. Like a museum, they rest in a box with a toothbrush and all that dust. Holding them in my hand, I feel the grit of the dust. My heart can only handle cleaning one angel per year. What seems like a mundane task reaches to the bottom of my heart. Touching the dust feels like my hand has slipped through time and space. I am touching a piece of my old life, literally. That was dust from my room – the room stripped and taken from me before I was grown. With the toothbrush and warm, soapy water, I carefully clean each angel year-by-year. It’s a symbolic ceremony of one as I say goodbye to the old and welcome the new, preparing to give them away to my daughter.

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For the past twenty-eight years (hoping since I was a child that I’d be a mom one day), I have wondered what would it feel like to give my daughter my last birthday angel.

The pain I feel rests in the decision I must make: Do I continue the tradition by scouring eBay (they aren’t sold in stores anymore) for years 17 to 21, and I even saw a marriage angel once, or do I let the tradition peacefully end with my daughter’s 16th birthday, however heart-wrenching it abruptly stopped with my mom?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

There’s no right or wrong, but I don’t know what is the best decision. For anyone reading, I would deeply appreciate your input.

On one hand, I would love to continue the tradition and search the world over to find the missing angels. On the other hand, I am passing down a tradition that my mom began and couldn’t finish, and a part of my heart feels guilty at the thought of leaving her behind for the renaming years.

Honestly, I’m not sure either decision will ever feel 100% right, but then again few things in life do. Decisions are often a leap of faith, and we don’t know how they’ll turn out until the dust settles.

After touching the settled dust on my birthday angels, either decision still hurts. A decision I don’t take lightly. The point of keeping these birthday angels has been to pass a piece of my mom onto our daughter, who never had the opportunity to know her. If I buy her ones from me, it seems like my mom (her grandmother) would be left out and that makes me sad.

I have a piece of stone art in my office that sums up many thoughts in one sentence…

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Anyone who had to finish growing up without a mom understands this. A grown daughter struggling to be her own person also understands this.

Hopefully, I have successfully retained and implemented much of my mother’s wisdom. It’s been so many years, and although I cannot remember specific conversations she and I must have had (or the sound of her voice), the fabric of who she was is woven into who I am. Leaving childhood and entering adulthood has offered the opportunity to see what that will look like for the rest of my life.

In most areas, I have found my own gardens. She tilled the soil through discipline and planted seeds of God, love, laughter and forgiveness deep out of reach from the evil things in this world that would dig them up and and harsh weather that would scorch and starve them.

Her beautiful life watered the gardens in my heart in ways she’ll never know.

I was at my grandparents one afternoon right before she died when my ex-stepdad came to visit her. She was very ill and unable to leave the hospital bed Hospice had brought her. We lived at my grandparents’ home full-time at that point so they could care for her. I still showered and dressed every morning back at our home. The best way to explain what that felt like was to be “in between addresses.” On high school forms, I didn’t know which house address to write.

I didn’t want to see my ex-stepdad. He was a very scary man who left many deep emotional scars on me. But I knew he was there and, even at 16, I knew why. It was that visit that helped shape my relationships ever since. She allowed him to come, despite the traumatizing wrecking ball with which he destroyed her life and my childhood, and she allowed herself to have closure.

It takes a woman who has made peace with God and with herself to do that. I knew then that’s the kind of woman I wanted to be.

Where do birthday angels 17 to 21, and the married one, fit in my gardens? Where do they fit in my daughter’s gardens as she approaches adulthood?

Lord willing I get to celebrate many, many, many more of her birthdays, I will have to make this decision. A decision twenty-eight years in the making.

On her 16th birthday, there will be a small, lightweight gift that she will open last – just like I did and just like she has done all these years. When the box opens, memories will flood my heart of the day Mom gave this birthday angel to me, and how I secretly worried (only two months into her cancer battle) if this would be the last. I remember where I was sitting, what the weather felt like, and the nervous smile she gave me as, I believe, she worried the same thing. I drew no attention to the tears that I saw well up in her eyes because I didn’t want to ruin the moment for her.

I am blessed that my daughter and I have made it to this milestone. With every milestone in our children’s lives be it walking, talking, starting school, losing a tooth, making the team, learning to drive, SATs, etc. I turn my face toward heaven and thank my Father for letting me be a part of each one – for myself and for our children.

This birthday, I will focus on celebrating the life my daughter has been blessed to live, and will continue to dream with her, laugh with her and love her as she graces each milestone one at a time. We will sing, and she will blow out candles, and we will eat something fabulous and filled with sugar. We will dine at her favorite restaurant and we will make the night all about her.

A party of five that we are, we are often seated at a table for six. The extra seat at the birthday table is a visual reminder to me that my mom is still a part of our lives as she lives on in memory and legacy.

These days, I often find myself asking, What would Mom do? as we duck and weave through teen waters times three. This time I am asking, What seeds were planted in her garden that were meant to take root in mine? 

 

 

Love is…

Our daughter is pet sitting an adorable, energetic lab this week. His favorite toy is an old beloved polar bear. He loves it to pieces. Literally. polar bearSo my girl has asked me to sew his broken arm because she felt sorry for him. We’re talking about the dog’s toy (and he’s not even our own dog). Well, of course I said yes because moms can be guilted into a lot of things. 🙂

Polar bear is all better… polar bear 2 It’s almost a tie as to who was more happier, my girl or the dog. polar bear 3 It was a grand reunion. He ran all over the place with his dirty, slobbery, sticky bear. And I thought to myself on a muggy Monday summer’s night, This is what it’s all about. Life’s sweetest blessings come in the most unexpected moments. A mom, her girl, a neighbor’s dog, a polar bear with a broken arm, and a needle and some thread. That’s all I need to make a good night.

Love is not only helping my girl make our neighbor’s lonely dog feel better, love is recognizing the moments in life that matter, savoring them and being thankful.

 

The secret to an awesome family vacation

 

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As teachers, students and parents breathe a collective exhale at the end of another school year, families begin planning, packing and preparing for vacation.

It took me years to learn the secret to an awesome family vacation, but I’m going to share it in two short words.

Transition Day.

Each year as we packed up the van with suitcases, the dog, a hedgehog, pillows (and for the beach – every known piece of beach paraphernalia) a few extra items got packed as well as got left home.

What got left behind:

* patience

* joy

* laughter

* camaraderie

* perseverance

What snuck into our luggage:

* a bad attitude

* everything that goes along with a bad attitude

I just couldn’t figure it out. All of us were so excited to take a break, spend family time together and have an adventure. Why oh why were we fighting before we crossed the city limit? I was all over my kids nagging them for “plugging in” too fast to their technology and how we weren’t bonding as a family (at least not in positive ways).

Like summer thunderstorms in Florida where I grew up that we could set our watch by, bickering and arguing were predicable accomplices in ruining our first day of vacation.

To be honest, I could feel the fight swelling up in me.  Why?

One vacation, we were truckin’ down the road and I was biting my tongue. Why was my husband so annoying to me? Why could no one do anything right around me? This quiet moment became surreal as I stared out the window on a lonely stretch of highway. Without warning, it seemed that the mystery completely unfolded before my very eyes.

It was grace. Grace invited itself along for the ride. I stopped what was on the tip of my tongue, and grace spoke into my heart. I saw that my anger towards my husband was not at him at all. It wasn’t even anger. It was frustration. Exhaustion. Missing him.

He can say the same about me.

What happened in the car at the start of every trip was a lot of pent up stuff. Months or weeks of topics we had not had any time to discuss typically flew out of my mouth like bullets. Frustration over not having any time to discuss them was the trigger. A lack of communication during our exhaustive days led to feeling distant (a woman does not like to feel distant from her man). Hurt feelings ensued and so on. It’s a giant house of cards that is built one busy day after the next, blurry month after blurry month, and by the time vacation comes I’ve got my panties in a wad, he’s tired, and neither one of us wants to deal with the kids.

On this particular vacation I blurted out with wide eyes and a smile, Hey! Let’s try something new. Let’s have a transition day!

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We’re all tired. We’re spent. With the energy left in our pinky toes we set off for an adventure. But, let’s be realistic –

Families need to time to adapt. We all need time and energy to mentally and emotionally leave our routines behind as much as we do physically. We need to have flexibility to do that in ways that are right for us. As much as it is uncomfortable for me, I need to let my kids unwind with their technology for the first leg of the trip if that’s what works. For my husband, it may be listening to tunes or simply not talking. For me, I adapt by catching up on all of the things I’ve wanted to share with my man that our routines rob us from communicating.

So, how does his not wanting to talk jive with my need to talk?  After 24 years of marriage, I found out that what I am really looking for is for him to listen. I decompress by exhaling my words, feelings, emotions, etc. I don’t regenerate by him wanting to solve or fix every issue I bring up. I just need to get it out. It’s beautiful, really. I talk and talk and talk. He listens. We both win because I am not asking for him to share equal words in the conversation. I’m not asking anything of him. Sometimes I am just venting or processing things out loud and would rather him not say a word. In order for me to embrace the vacation and be in the moment, there needs to be room in my heart and mind to hold the new memories we will make. I can’t do that if I’ve drug all of the muck from home with me. He feels no pressure to respond except for the occasional smile, glance, or head nod. It’s perfect for us! Meanwhile, the kids have tuned into their music and miss all of my introspective downloading.

Also, we’ve learned that the first day of vacation isn’t our best, so we need to extend intentional grace to each other. It’s likely my husband has just finished a conference call as we’re packing the van. Being it’s a time for a break, the kids have most often just come off of hard tests and papers and presentations. We all need grace to fill in the blanks when we are not enough for each other.

The vacation I mentioned above was a turning point in our family. We declared Transition Day (out loud) and all of the stress of regular life, the stress of travel, the stress of wanting to have a good time, and all of the other stress that keeps my shoulders and neck muscles rock hard began to melt away.

Now, we actually laugh about it. When someone’s attitude tanks on that first day, we just smile and say “Transition Day!” and give grace. This has helped to cut down how long the transition takes, because the pressure of performance is gone. We can show our weaknesses. We are not “on” like we have to be in so many venues of our lives. We don’t have to begin making scrapbooking memories the moment our tires leave the driveway.

Giving each other freedom to have a transition day has been very healing. I can stop being wife and mother and just be Kristi – whether Kristi is tired, emotional, happy or mad. Likewise, each member of our family can simply be who we are. The van is peaceful even if someone is bent out of shape. Odd, huh?

By the second day (or even that evening) we are all ready for fun! We have switched gears and truly let it all go – without unnecessary friction that is draining and spoils the fun.

I’ve now started doing a mini version of Transition Day on the weekends. It’s not a formula. It’s simply putting ourselves in each others’ shoes and remembering we are humans who are imperfect but are trying to be the best we can anyway.

Grace is now not only at the top of my packing list for vacations and weekends, but it’s becoming part of my daily to-do list. And as often as I need to give it, I realize I need to receive it.

Vacation Transition Day has become part of our family’s everyday moments and is a game-changer because in giving grace – love wins – and that’s the main goal no matter where we are.

 

 

 

Perhaps that’s the problem

The downpours and cold wind this morning reflect not only the weather, but the atmosphere inside our home today.  Between oversleeping, bad traffic, final exams, and PowerPoint presentations due, we all scurried around trying to get everything together and still be on time to everywhere we needed to be.

My daughter, in particular, was having a hard time.  We all have those days where nothing seems to go right – and feeling rushed adds insult in injury.

Finally, everyone was there they needed to be, even at the expense of me missing my commitment.  As I stood still, trying to figure out where the day goes from here, God whispered to me that my baby girl needed something.

Like what? I asked.

Love, He answered.

I immediately began to think up ways I could show her love this afternoon like going to Starbucks, replenishing her eye shadow that just ran out, having a nail painting session, etc.

But all of that would have to happen after school.  God pressed me that her need just couldn’t wait.

I literally looked at the shower stall in my bathroom and thought how badly I needed one.

Nonetheless, I replied, I’m on board, God.  Mission Love.  What do You want to do?

I want to give her flowers, He answered.

Can I tell you that just makes me cry?  God is our Good Father, Abba Father, Sovereign God, and Lover of our soul.  He wanted to give His child, His beloved daughter, flowers.

I swallowed the lump in my throat and looked at the clock.  I had less than 30 minutes to get out the door, buy the flowers and deliver them to the school before the window of calling students to the office closed until this afternoon.

I raced to the coat closet and grabbed my parka.  I threw on my faithful baseball cap that covers a multitude of mistakes with unwashed hair and put on my athletic pants and running shoes – not caring in the least what I looked like.

Jumping in the van, I took off for the grocery store.

Tick tock.

Standing in front of the flower selection, one beautiful bouquet stood out among the rest, and it just so happen to have her favorite colors flowers in it.  Got it!

Next, I passed by the Valentines Day candy selection and chose a small, 3 piece box of chocolate shaped like a heart with a picture of a rose on the front of it.

I already had a card set aside just for her.

Saying hello to one of my favorite cashiers who is like family to us, I paid for everything, and bolted.

Tick tock.

Arriving at school, I parked and began to sign the card.  I wrote that God wanted our girl to have these flowers.  His words went something like this,  Just like I designed and dressed these flowers beautifully, so  I designed and dressed you, my beloved daughter, even more beautifully!  

On Bruce’s and my behalf, I wrote, The chocolates are from your dad and me because we think you are really, really, really, really sweet!  Remember, no matter how dark the clouds are, and no matter how much they may rain on us, behind them, the “Son” still shines for you and through you.

Tick tock.

I brought a roll of tape along and taped the chocolates to the card and taped the card to the bouquet.

Daring the downpour, with no time left to spare, I raced across the parking lot into the dry building.  Breathless, I asked, Good morning!  Have they called the announcements yet?

The woman staffing the front desk said they just took the list to the office.

Off to the office I raced.

I threw open the door to the office and both women at their desks looked up at me and the bouquet of flowers in surprise.

May I add my daughter’s name to the list to be called?

We are new to this school, so I am still learning the ropes.  Their response was unexpected.

Um.  I’m not sure.  Let me check.  I think it’s against policy to allow these.

Whoa.  Really?  I never saw that coming.  But, they were from God, so how do I explain that???

Rather reluctantly, the woman went into an office to ask.  I was puzzled at her anti-climatic attitude.

Before she left the room, she left me with some thoughts.  She said, We usually don’t get flowers except for teachers.  Is this a birthday?  

No, it’s not, I replied.

She continued, At my old school, it was against school policy to carry flowers around all day.

Uh, okay, I said, hoping her old school policy didn’t apply here.

While she was gone, the other woman said to me, I have to ask, if they are not for a birthday, then why?

Trying to hold back my mamma’s tears, knowing what a hard time my daughter was having, I answered honestly, Because sometimes a girl just needs to get flowers.

She paused, took her glasses off, and stood up.

Great.  I’m probably in trouble now, I thought to myself.

She walked over to the counter where I stood and said, You’re absolutely right.  In that moment, her heart melted, as most women’s do over flowers.

She continued, If they won’t let you give these flowers to her, then she can keep them up here for the day and pick them up on her way home.

At that moment, MY heart melted at her kindness.

She sat back down at her desk and mouthed to me silently, Just know it’s an option.

The first lady came back out to me and said, I’m sorry, but they are just not allowed.

Why? I asked – genuinely confused.

She’s not allowed to take them to class because it will cause a disruption.

Okay, so can she keep them in her locker?

They will die.

I don’t think they will die in a matter of a few hours of a school day.

To know me is to know I hate conflict.  I just hate it and all the drama that goes with it. But, God wanted His daughter to have these flowers, and by golly I was going to fight for Him to give them to her…and asked for Him to fight for me as I stood there dripping wet, still holding the flowers.

It’s just not allowed.

I’m sorry, but why?

Because if we allow her to get flowers, then we’d have to allow that for all of the students.

And…what’s the problem with that?

Ha!  I stumped her.  She had no legitimate response and stood looking at me with frustration.

May I speak with who you asked? I asked calmly and with a smile.

Tick tock.

Sure, she said with displeasure.

The dean of students came out to greet me and told me the same thing I had just heard.  And by now, another woman (I have no idea who she was) was standing and watching this.

Oh, but they didn’t know I had a wild card.  Remembering the offer of letting the flowers stay in the office for the day (for everyone to enjoy on this gloomy day I might add) I played that card and proposed the office option.

The names of students to come to the office were literally being called as the dean and I spoke.

Tick tock tick tock!!!!!!

I held my breath, waiting for the okay from the dean.

She agreed, and just as she did, my daughter’s name was called over the intercom.

With not a second to spare.

I asked if I may wait and give them to her in person and explain the office procedure.

So there I stood in the hallway as a swarm of students passed by looking at a mom in a soaking wet parka and running shoes, holding a big, bright bouquet of flowers.

I turned around and saw my girl waiting in line with the other students that were called.

I held out the flowers and said smiling, These are for you.  The card will explain why.

We walked to the office together and put them in a pretty vase they set out just for us.  She and I turned to leave, but as I did I looked over my shoulder and mouthed to the compassionate woman at the desk who offered the wild card, Thank you, as a tear trickled down my cheek.

She smiled silently back at me and nodded.

As I left the school, something the first woman said to me wouldn’t let me go.  It’s why I am writing this post today.  She said, If we allow her to get flowers, then we’d have to allow that for all of the students.

Maybe that’s the problem?  Remember, God told me to do this so I take no credit, I was just the messenger.  But, perhaps if more parents would be willing to make their family second priority under God, then a ripple effect of love and confidence would be evident at school.  Statistics today show that children are more stressed out, are on more medications, and attempt suicide more often than in preceding decades.

Maybe they need a mom or dad to allow their day to be interrupted and do something out of the box for their child.  Kids are sending us signals all the time of what they need from us.  Are we listening?

God is sending us a word to speak over, or something special to do for our children, are we listening?

Are we willing to play the fool and be embarrassed over showing our children they are dearly loved?

I’m not advocating causing a scene or breaking rules, but as I found out today, there are often ways around an obstacle that offers a peaceful resolution.  Are we willing to advocate for our kids?

If not, why?

If not us, who will?

Now I know some would say that it wouldn’t be fair to the students who don’t have a dad or mom.  It would make them feel worse.

I get that because I lost my mom the summer before my senior year and didn’t have a dad. If anyone gets that point, I do.  But, think of how it could spill over to friends, mentors, and other relatives’ lives who could pick up the ball and run with it!

I would have given anything for someone to have brought me flowers in the middle of English class when every…single…day I struggled to find purpose for my life – feeling like I was a mistake and was left here to be nothing but a burden to my family and society.  I needed one person to show me I mattered.  That I was worth something of value.  I was loved. I would’ve been grateful no matter who the flowers, or note or chocolates, or whatever it was came from.

Our children today need to hear that they matter and they are worth it.  They need to hear God loves them.  We love them.  They have a future.  That they do fit in, even if we are their only safe place to feel accepted.

The easy thing would have been to wait and give the flowers to my girl at the end of the day when she came home.  But, God’s ways are not like ours.  We see only this moment in time. He sees time as one continuum, and if He took the time to urge me so in telling me it was as much about the timing as it was about the gift, then I’d better stop my agenda and listen.

If parents think their children are a-okay and are the exception and don’t need any extra effort from us to show how wonderfully they have been made, then parents aren’t listening. Their are no children who have it all figured out at 12, 14 or 17 – regardless of how many times their only response is, I’m fine.

Today, it was my daughter’s turn to feel special.  Wanted.  Loved.  Valued.  Important.  My boys will have their days, too, and I’m guessing God won’t ask me to bring them flowers to school, but I will be listening closely to the heartbeat of their lives to know when they need a boost, and I will be keeping an ear pointed to heaven waiting for instructions on how to show them they are so very loved.

Listen to your children.  Listen to the Lord.  Count it a privilege to get to be the secret agent acting as the messenger delivering God’s word of hope, love and a future.  Watch for the moment, and don’t let it slip by.  You may not get another chance.

The Great Sendoff

As I have fallen off the grid lately, intentionally, I have stolen a few moments here and there to just check in to see where the world is at.  A brief glance at Facebook, and I am reminded why this is my least favorite time of year.

Here they come.  Posts of friends and their sons and daughters headed to college.  Packed cars, unpacked dorm rooms and, in a few words or more, posts stream in about how proud and happy and sad parents are.

This takes my breath away.

I have endured such traumatic loss in my lifetime, I cannot bear the thought of my kids leaving home.  Naturally, I want the best for them.  God’s best for them.  But, I know the road of loss – and apart from not walking with God – it is the most lonely road in the entire world.

I read the posts and admire the photos, then the lump in my throat swells.  Eyes sting with salty tears.  My heart sinks as if it were my turn to kiss my babies’ heads one more time before closing the car door and leaving them on the green campus of their new home.

I just can’t take it.

It’s a selfish feeling, not wanting them to ever leave.  But, it gives me very small solace in understanding my issues.  Loss is extremely and especially hard for me.  Change is even harder.  I am well-acquainted with “new normals” and “survival” and “perspective.”  I get it, but it doesn’t guarantee relief in every situation.

This time of year, I typically reflect on the summer and all the memories it generously offers.  I prepare as best I can for the new school year.  Then, another wave of friends sends their precious not-so-little children to college and a tsunami of guilt and sorrow floods my heart.

I should have done more with them.  The science experiment.  The makeover.  The board games, I lament.  This is the only summer my kids will ever be this age.

The balance of my heart and head swings like a sail blown wildly in the wind.  I tell myself to give me break.  To be thankful for what we did do together.  To know that one person cannot be everything to everyone.

Then more photos and stories roll in via FB, text or conversation.

I, praise God, have a few more years before it’s our turn to post stories and photos, and on one hand it helps me prepare to hear others as they work through their grief.  On the other hand, however, knowing this is such a tender subject for me, I lose myself in unnecessary grief at the moment.  It’s not my turn, and this premature grief is stealing the joy from the moments I have with my children now.  My babies are still home.

Everyone has scars.  Everyone has a story.  The epicenter of my story is loss, and what is so frustrating is that it is something that I cannot get away from.

Loss will continue whether I want it to or not.  Change brings change.  I can only continue to try to adapt.  My kids tell me that I am one of the most optimistic people they know.  I reply, “My mom always said, ‘If you have a choice to laugh or cry…laugh.'”

I’m enjoying every laugh now, and pray it will give me strength when the inevitable tears come.

At the end of the day, I remind myself that this earth is not my home.  God is preparing a place for me, and in that place there is no sorrow, tears or guilt or goodbyes.  There is freedom and joy and peace.  That promise is what rocks me to sleep.

Hugging my kids a little tighter tonight.

Summer with teens and a tween

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Cool update!  A devotion of mine was posted today on the devotion website I write for.  Hope you can stop by and check it out! ~Kristi

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When my kids were younger, a good summer day involved any of the following:  digging up worms in the backyard, a dollar matinee, blowing bubbles, swimming in a small plastic pool with a layer of grass floating on the water’s surface, nap time, teddy bear picnics, playgroups, board games for hot days, pillow forts on rainy days, snuggling in bed with my little ones and watching Blues Clues or Dora; and mother’s morning out for me to run my errands and go to my appointments.  This sounds picturesque, and I am blessed to say it often was, but our younger years weren’t without the occasional tantrums over refusing a nap; the ever-stressful event of one of us needing to go to the bathroom while in Target with a cart full of sundries and three little ones in tow; continuous mopping of the kitchen floor over a new baby food rejected by said baby or a youngster convinced they can pour their own cup of milk; and the endless hours before my husband came home from work and the loneliness that accompanied those hours.  It was an era of teaching them to say please and thank you and the instruction to share.  I juggled being a wife and a stay-at-home mom while holding down a freelance job – all of which are a blessing.

When they got a little older, summer meant play dates with friends, bowling with gutter guards, teaching them how to mow the lawn, television limits, more board games, lemonade stands, and the ice cream truck.  They were a little more independent and toys like LEGOS and Barbies entered the scene.  Dress-up time was regular and my daughter wanted me to paint her nails in bright, glittery colors.  My boys wanted more road pieces for their Matchbox cars.  The basketball hoop got a little higher, and although they had outgrown naps, the also outgrew the fits that required them.  They learned how set a proper table, to hold the door for Mommy and others who needed help, and that sharing was a good idea after all as they learned the justice and injustices of right and wrong.  Life got a little busier, and I often fell into the trap of trying to provide too much fun for my kids.  I am certain it was some psychological righting of wrongs from my own dysfunctional childhood, and I became exhausted from trying to please everyone all the time.  But, I loved organizing birthday parties, baking cakes, and got used to our house guests growing in number as sleepovers became a normal thing – as did pancakes that accompanied them the next morning.

My kids are two teens and a tween now.  I am the one stealing an occasional afternoon nap.  My daughter has discovered stick-on fake nails (though she still likes me to paint hers) and her dress-up time has shifted to wanting to don stylish clothes and highlights in her hair.  My boys have all but forsaken tv and video games for Minecraft – though LEGOS are permanent family members.  All of them mow the grass in clean, straight lines; they sleep in a little later; they handle the laundry and dishes and other household work quite well; and reasonable bedtimes are antiquated as we stay up late – all 5 of us – watching movies as a family.  Social calendars are much busier, and for the first year my eldest went on his first job hunt and now drives me around town.  They water ski and whitewater raft and travel internationally on missions trips.  They get grounded until bedrooms are clean and have succumbed to their regular housework – though they’ve tried to pay each other to do their work (but they don’t have any money,  so that didn’t really work out!)

They have their own opinions about life and love the Lord and have their own faith.  Sharing one bathroom is a daily challenge for my kiddos, but they laugh together and love each other, so we try not to sweat the small stuff.  When sibling issues arise, I remind them one purpose of families are to prepare them for the real world of studying for hard college classes, enduring a boss they may not like, and how to manage their time and money and get along with their future spouses.  They are all great cooks, which will be a bonus when it’s time for marriage.  All of the years of cleaning up splatters from mixers gone crazy or measuring cups falling off the counters or bags of flour spilling onto the floor, practicing separating egg yolks from the whites and how to properly handle raw meat – were completely worth it as they maneuver their way well through the kitchen these days.

I want to miss the “old days” when they were little.  Everyone tells me I should.  They tell me that at this point in life I should be looking back on the days when the worst thing that happened all day to them was a skinned knee from a bike fall.  They tell me I should be lamenting about childhood naivety, simple schedules and unconditional, endless hugs.

Well, I do have those moments of mamma sadness when I see how much they have grown, but the excitement of watching them grow is awesome!  Just yesterday, I had one of the best hours with my oldest all summer.  He and I were alone for about an hour.  As he washed the dishes and I folded clothes, we talked about tough stuff.  He asked deeply spiritual questions and I silently prayed to the Lord for the right answers.  He and I talked about the world – what’s right and what’s wrong with it and how he feels about all of it.  It was priceless time with him.  He talked.  I talked.  We both listened as we did the housework.

This era of our lives is way too important to miss physically, mentally or emotionally…and most importantly, spiritually.  We stay busy, but I don’t want to be so busy that those special conversations never have an opportunity to blossom because we’re never in the same room at the same time.  I don’t want to be so wigged out about college financial aid or the car we need to buy as ours is quickly dying, daily woes, or anything else that I don’t hear the prompting from my kids when they want to talk to me – uninterrupted, about the tough stuff of life.  They are so much more independent now, I don’t want to take advantage of that and begin my “next chapter” too soon.  If I jump the gun of life with grown kids, I will miss being a part of them finishing growing up.

Parenting this age is exhausting and exhilarating.  Terrifying, trying  and terrific.  Sometimes all at once!

When I hear my youngest talk about what he wants to build as the cure for cancer, or my oldest discuss genetics, or my middle girl be loved on by so many small children who she sits for and volunteers with who adore her – my heart swells with gratitude.  It’s these summer days that I want to remember as much as the early ones.  Days when we take a long bike ride or indulge in our favorite frozen yogurt joint and the world’s problems take a backseat – if only for an hour, but preferably an afternoon.

Do politics and problems and worries roll around in the back of my mind?  Sure.  But, while my kids are still in my nest, I will tend it as best I can.  I love the fact that my daughter chooses me to go back-to-school shopping with.  I will absolutely go, and go with great joy, as I help her navigate her through the aisles and aisles of inappropriate clothes and find the hidden jewels – clothes that don’t compromise modesty for style – as I help her understand how far up the leg rips in the jeans should go, how low a neckline should be and why exposing bra straps is never an option.  We talk about how modesty is the most beautiful form of fashion, and it can be found in her favorite stores!

I like when my boys talk at length to me about a computer game or movie and I have the precious opportunity to talk about our family’s values and where God fits into video games and television and books.  No topic is taboo in our house, and my husband and I have found that oftentimes they want to talk when we are tired or distracted.  When I am tempted to sluff off an open door in the name of more sleep or a little mindless time on Facebook, the Holy Spirit prompts me that I should embrace those moments, moments that won’t always be here.  Like puppet shows behind the couch and wearing Halloween costumes to the grocery store just for fun, these are historical days that one day will be relieved only in our hearts and photographs.

Thankfully, some things never change.  We still flag down the ice cream truck, still like lazy Saturday mornings flipping pancakes, and I relish receiving endless hugs. The teen and tween years can be challenging as we all continue to grow individually and as a family, but they are priceless in their own right.

We will milk this summer for all its worth, and when the new school year begins, I will embrace that season with arms full of special memories, tender moments and kids that still want my hugs.