Shooting Stars and Passing Cars (A Panting Dog and the Occasional Meow)

I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.   

Galileo, astronomer

A “cool” Mom would have packed the kiddos in the van (snacks and blankets in tow) and strategically driven into the darkest part of the night to view this summer’s Perseid Meteor Showers.  But I never said I was a “cool” Mom.  So instead, I mandated the offspring turn off their devices, shuffle out into the backyard, and plant themselves on carefully arranged patio furniture (all under threat of a grounding if they took ONE look at their tablets or phones.)  “Your eyes,” I said, “need several minutes to adjust.”  Fifteen minutes, to be exact.  It was shortly after midnight…and just two days before the first day of school.

Perseid Shower Star Guide from Sky & Telescope

Perseid Shower Star Guide from Sky & Telescope

We should have already been a week into school night “practice,” but we weren’t.  So putting respectable bedtimes on hold (yet again,)  we looked to the sky.  We were on a mission to see a shooting star…or at least I was.  Prior to that summer evening, we had spent several nights staring at the heavens.  I had studied a constellation app and was armed with lots of information–some I learned as a kid, some I learned in a college course, and some other info I had just recently found on the internet.  It was still super warm outside and oh so humid!  Aside from the crickets, the only sounds at that late (early?) hour included two passing cars, our dog’s crazy panting (not sure what her deal was that night), and the occasional meow of the neighborhood cats. So on this particular night, star watching was an exercise in patience.   I’m not sure what you know about the Perseid Meteor Shower, but I heard upwards of 30 shooting stars per hour!  WOW!  That, however, did not happen.

Within the first five minutes, the complaining began.  I decided to impress the kiddos with my knowledge of constellations.  We picked out the standards…The Big Dipper and Little Dipper.  I taught them how to find the North Star.  We saw several planes fly through the night sky.  And finally, we moved on to Cassiopeia and the story of Perseus himself.  I should be happy that the children politely listened to my little lesson, but it wasn’t very long before they shifted back to their “we’re bored” posture.  Convinced they were outside for no reason at all–we finally saw a shooting star!  And what a shooting star it was…  Just when I thought all my efforts to secure one final summer memory were lost…we saw the “big one.”

It’s not like we had never seen a shooting star before.  We had.  But despite all the time we had spent stargazing this summer, the kids hadn’t had much luck.  But right then and there we had finally witnessed one…and it was spectacular!  Very dramatic, very bright, and especially long-lasting—given the fleeting nature of shooting stars.  It streaked across the night sky right above our heads!  It was a spectacle to behold and an experience we will never forget…for several reasons:

1) because all of us saw it together

2) because everyone made a wish

3) no one told what they wished for (not even a hint)

The last part was sort of a surprise.  We had never talked about wishing on a star and yet, it was the first thing we all instinctively did.

As we looked to the sky I couldn’t help but wonder what everyone had wished, especially the kiddos.  As a child, I can remember wishing for lots of things…everything from new shoes to a “good” hair day to getting to go someplace special.  As I got older, my star wishes moved on to passing a tough test, getting a certain boy to notice me, and making it through college.  Nowadays, my wishes are typically for others…and especially for my kids.  But I wouldn’t necessarily call them wishes…because they’re really more like prayers.  That night as that star streaked across the sky…the wish on my heart was really a silent petition, a prayer to God.

We saw two more meteors streak across the sky that night.  Later, after everyone else had gone back inside, my daughter asked if I thought wishes came true.  She said she was pretty sure that she had wished hard for a flat-screen TV one Christmas, but she didn’t get one.  She detailed a list of many other wishes that had gone unfulfilled.  It was the start of a long conversation about magical versus miracle, God versus “genie,” and the incredible power of prayer.  Wishes, I explained were desires of the heart, but prayers are always answered…sometimes with yes, sometimes with no, sometimes with wait and sometimes with go.  It’s a conversation that we’ve revisited several times since.  Thank you, Perseid Meteor Shower…for one last summer hurrah!  Under that night sky, when we should have been fast asleep, the heavens opened the door to something truly amazing…a blessed conversation that served in many ways as its own answered prayer.  I honestly could have stayed out all night!

I’m already looking forward to more sky watching..and especially more conversations about life, faith, and the majesty of our Great Creator.  And I hope that someday the kids will share their wishes. and especially their prayers with me—because if (when) mine come true…you know I’ll be the first one to tell.

The only difference between a wish and a prayer is that you’re at the mercy of the universe for the first, and you’ve got some help with the second. 

Jodi Picoult, author

 

 

 

 

My Least Favorite Question (A Mini-Rant)

A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.  –Bruce Lee

People ask questions.  Some appropriate, some inappropriate.  Some thoughtful, some downright stupid.  I have to admit that as I’ve aged I’ve noticed that I’m often on the receiving end of very polite queries (because being 40-something has its perks?)  Gone are the days of fielding ridiculous questions from peers.  Adios, unseemly questions from guys.  It seems like the only people with a license to ask me anything personal has been narrowed down to family and a few close friends.  It’s not that I’m anti-question…I just think for the most part my matronly disposition wins out–“respect your elders” and all that.  I wouldn’t even be entertaining the topic of questions if it hadn’t come up recently.  And when I went to file it away in my little brain I realized that I put it in a folder that I’ve labeled “My Least Favorite Question,” and let me tell you…this file is getting thick.

Spencer FamilyThe funny thing about this file is that My Least Favorite Question has nothing to do with me and everything to do with my kids.  I’m trying to decide if I’m overreacting…and if nothing else, just get to the root of why it bothers me so much.  So here it is.  My heart absolutely sinks when people ask my kids, “Are you going to be a Pastor like your Dad when you grow up?”  It probably doesn’t sound like much but it’s bothered me for years and now that my kiddos are getting older (tween & teen,) it actually bothers me more.  I mean, if your mom’s a teacher does that mean you’re going into education?  If your dad sells insurance is that your child’s assumed destiny?  Not necessarily, right?  So hear me out.  I would love for my children to go into the ministry!  What an amazing blessing it would be to see my children choose to serve the church full-time.  I would be so incredibly proud if they opted to attended seminary/Bible college and become ordained clergy.  I can think of nothing better.  Still I cringe when people ask…mostly because I think it is unfair.  Unfair…and maybe even detrimental to their faith development.

If you have a minute just google “pastors kids” or “PKs.”  There’s a lot more out there than I expected…and most of it negative.  Despite the stereotypes, I’ve tried really hard to raise “regular” kids.  “Regular” kids who go to church.  I remind them that they are loved by God, created for a purpose, and gifted with talents and abilities.  These are things that I think all parents should say to their children.  They are not more special than anyone else, set aside or placed on any sort of pedestal.  They are works in progress (as we all are) and yet in a recent conversation I’ve discovered (again) that they have been placed in uncomfortable positions and asked faith questions that no youth should have to answer to.  One child responds politely (perhaps because this child hasn’t been asked particularly difficult questions yet) while the other child has been asked about homosexuality, evolution vs. creation, validity of the Bible, and more.  I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t answer these questions as a kid…I’m not sure I want to debate these questions as an adult…let alone with someone older or in a more authoritative position than myself.  It’s not right…and it never takes place while my husband and I are around.

In this latest exchange, my child was so put off by the questioning that the only way to move the conversation forward was to change the subject altogether.  And for the first time, I sensed a weariness in the retelling…almost like this might not be worth it.  God.  Faith.  Church.  Often times, Christians are characterized as being judgemental, but I’m pretty sure it works both ways.  I hate that this happened (again.)  I can only imagine how uncomfortable this must be…to have what was a fun evening with friends, suddenly interrupted by an adult who puts you on the spot about what your Dad does for a living.  So now I’m scrambling…for coping mechanisms and tools, for words and remedies.  How can I make this better?  How can I better prepare them?  Being a Pastor is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is being a Christian or going to church.  In a world where anything goes, why does this put my kiddos on the hot seat?

Here’s a newsflash…these kids didn’t choose their parent’s profession.  These kids didn’t go to Bible college alongside their parents.  And I’m pretty sure these kids aren’t giving sermons on Sunday morning.  Today, I know of a handful of PKs who have left their faith…and statistics point to so many more like them.  Each story varies but a couple of comments stick out like “glass house,” never feeling like a “regular kid,” and “negative experiences.”  Countless blogs and articles have been written about these types of hurts.  Intense feelings that lead them to walk away from God altogether.  My heart sinks more.  I’m not asking that you handle my children with kid-gloves.  I’m asking that you not single them out, understand that they’re not Biblical scholars, and please stop asking them if they’re going into the ministry (because if they do, I’ll let you know.  In fact, I’ll probably throw a party!)  In the meantime, just let them be “regular” kids…”regular” kids who go to church.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”  Matthew 7:12

 

 

Why I STILL Make My Kids’ Beds

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.  –Admiral William H. McRaven

I am the mother of two kiddos…a tween girl and a teen boy and I STILL make their beds. Not every day (as if that makes the whole thing better,) but practically every day.  This revelation is something that I rarely talk about and a topic that makes me a little uncomfortable sharing.  At first glance, it probably sounds like I’m some sort of Martha Stewart control freak or worse yet–a mother who coddles her kids too much.  I can hear it now, “She STILL makes their beds?  Really?  Wow.  How old are they?”  On more than one occasion I’ve been accused of not letting them grow up, trying to make them permanent dependents, permitting/encouraging laziness and impeding their emotional development.  Ouch!  An unmade bed is a pet peeve for a lot of people.  I get it.  Honestly, I know it’s a little (or a lot) quirky, but I really don’t plan on stopping anytime soon…and I have my reasons.

I’m a creature of habit.  When the children were little, I would use the time that I spent in their bedrooms as an opportunity to pray for them.  Nothing fancy or formal…just a few quick words.  Praises for the good days and prayers for strength on the tough ones.  And while we have prayed with the kiddos at bedtime ever since they were teeny tiny, I quickly discovered how much I think about my children when they’re away from home.  When my son went off to school I missed him terribly.  It was just preschool and just a few hours a day, but I wondered how he was doing?  What he was doing?  If he was okay? And on and on.  Instead of spinning in this cycle of worry, I decided to get pro-active and purposefully pray for his day while I made his bed.  And I never stopped.  When my daughter came along, I added her to the daily ritual.  In the five minutes it takes to make a bed I would pray for his/her well-being, his/her character, his/her faith development, those in their classrooms, their teachers, their circle of friends, etc.  I prayed offensively and defensively.  Some days I give thanks and other times I find myself on my knees (things sure get complicated as they grow up!)  But most importantly, I pray regularly.

After so many years, this daily practice hasn’t changed much.  Some days I sing hymns as I go about straightening up their rooms.  I mostly pray silently, but occasionally I pray out loud.  The family dog even gets in on the action.  She frequently comes into the room and guards the door…she knows the routine and has become something of a prayer partner.  This past week I have been in earnest prayer for one of my kiddos and decided to write about my prayer pattern.  What’s been reinforced to me lately is that praying includes a lot of listening, too.  And I am grateful for that.  What started out as a personal antidote to worry and stress has proven itself time and time again as a recipe for peace and assurance…and I thought it was worth sharing with my fellow parents in the trenches.

Someday my kids will make their own beds (and in case you’re wondering, YES, they know how.)  But for the time being, I’m happy to straighten sheets, tidy up pillows and simply pray.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16

 

Christmas Trilogy, Part 3: The Sticky Nativity

The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence.  –Unknown

I’m just CRAZY about Christmas!  I always have been.  And somehow, I have managed to let both the secular and the sacred share space in my heart (with the tie going to the sacred, of course!) during this magical time of year.  As a kid, I remember Christmas Eve worship and how I especially loved the nativity at my Mom’s house.  I can recall that it was tucked away each year in its original box, every piece finding its place in the foam packaging.  When my mother set it out…baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the gang all hung out in a miniature stable that my grandpa made.  Examining each piece, I can still see the beautiful face of Mary and the baby Jesus…surrounded by hay…looking so heavenly and angelic.  Both a baby and a Savior.  The little set symbolizing an extraordinary and miraculous moment in time.  Joseph looking so noble…the epitome of honor and faithfulness.  There were farm animals, an angel, a shepherd boy, and the three wise men, of course.   It was pretty wonderful.

So, it sort of surprises me that I never had a nativity of my own.  Not when I went away to college, not when I took my first job in Arkansas, not when I moved to California, and not when I got married.  In fact, I didn’t have a nativity until after my son, Sean, was a year old.  It all happened in another magical moment at Hobby Lobby (seems that this store is the scene for many Spencer Family Christmas memories!)

After moving halfway across the country from California to Kansas, my mother-in-law, Sean and I found ourselves in the Hobby Lobby in Salina…for what I remember was a brief and snack-filled trip to do a little Christmas shopping (by the way, Cheez-Its make for great toddler payola…just saying!)  Strolling through a craft warehouse with a 1 year old BOY is no easy task!  So when it looked like Sean was going to leap out of the cart at any moment, Karen suggested that Sean help us pick out a nativity for our home.  This was a genius idea because it gave my toddler a sense of purpose and I was just thrilled with the thought of having a nativity of my own.  In record time, my excitement turned to worry as I remembered that something as fragile as a porcelain nativity probably wouldn’t last but a second in our house.  Sean was just so hands-on about everything!  In the back of my mind I had planned to buy him a Fisher Price Little People nativity set for Christmas.  It was important to me that he understand the Christmas story…and at an age appropriate level.  He already had a few Little People collections…the train set and the airport.  Still, it couldn’t hurt to look at the nativities on display at the store.

FullSizeRender (5)It was pretty amazing…an entire aisle with nativities in every shape and size imaginable.  My thoughts were racing…where would we put such a fragile item?  Karen must have heard the wheels grinding in my head.  After explaining my thoughts, she said, “Sean will pick out the one that he likes best…and we will teach him to care for it and look after it.”  My heart was touched as I watched her talk with Sean about picking out a baby Jesus to take to his house.  She reminded him that he would have to take extra special care of it!  And asked him if he was ready to choose one.  Sean beamed!  From an early age, Sean could tell a story with his eyebrows (a talent he inherited from Grandma Karen.)  One second the eyebrows would be arched high as he caught a glimpse of something intriguing.  The next minute the eyebrows would be furrowed as he inspected his options.  Sometimes just one eyebrow would lift as if he was thinking really hard.  It was a wonderful little dance.  When he finally picked one, all three of us knew this was the nativity for us.  It was perfect.  A chunky little wooden nativity…not too big and not too small.  Sean touched each piece and seemed very delighted with the farm animals in this set.  Since all the nativities were technically “on display” we found a store worker who immediately set out to find us a boxed set from the storage room.  However, when she came back, she wasn’t carrying a box.  Uh-oh.  She explained that they hadn’t ordered many of this set and that they were sold out.  She had also checked to see if getting one before Christmas was a possibility.  It was not.

IMG_3354Karen is always cool as a cucumber in these sorts of situations.  Clearly, THIS was the set that Sean wanted.  She didn’t want to disappoint her grandson so she did what ANY grandmother would do.  She asked if we could buy this very set.  The store worker said that in any other situation she would love to sell it to us, except that this set had been GLUED to the foam board it rested upon.  She pulled off one of the wise men to demonstrate.  Stuck to his base was loads of navy blue paper and foam.  Both Karen and the worker tried to pull it off.  It was no easy task.  Even if we pulled each piece from the board we would then have to pull off loads of paper scraps.  The lady said that the pieces might not even stand correctly given the amount of glue left on the base.  She obviously didn’t know who she was dealing with…Karen said she would work all that out later if we could just buy this nativity set.  And so, it was settled.

Sean held the wise man in his hot little hands as we arranged the foam board and the glued down pieces across the shopping cart basket.  There were quite a few stares, but we managed to check out and make it to the car.  From the moment we got home Karen worked on releasing each character from the foam…carefully pulling off paper and glue.  Her beautifully manicured nails probably got the raw end of the deal that day as she scraped and scraped.  Each time she finished a piece she handed it to Sean.  His eyebrows went to work again…doing their little dance as he checked out each one.  He would show it to me and then go and show his Dad and then show me again.  I think Sean had already had a bath and was tucked into bed before Karen had finished them all.  It was truly a labor of love.

IMG_2682Sean played with the nativity all December long.  Each day he would rearrange them and make sure the animals were “fed.”  Since our set didn’t come in a box, we lovingly packed them away in an oversized shoe box after the holidays, unpacking them with great delight the next year and the year after that.  Sean never seemed to tire of “playing” with the set.  When Casey came along (and was old enough to follow her brother everywhere,) he explained the cast of characters to her.  “This is baby Jesus…His mom’s name is Mary and His dad’s name is Joseph…,” and on down the line.  These are the moments that live in a mother’s heart for eternity.

Today, the nativity makes its home in front of the fireplace each Christmas and it serves as the centerpiece of our Christmas Eve dinner table.  I still love taking it out of the shoe box each and every year…a flood of memories spilling out with each “sticky” piece.

Love came down at Christmas,

Love all lovely, Love Divine,

Love was born at Christmas,

Star and Angels gave the sign.

–Christina Rossetti

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Trilogy, Part 2: Deck the Halls with Christmas Spew, Falalalala Lalalala

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go….  –Meredith Willson

You know the Christmas trees you see at the store?  The pretty ones that they put in the windows and on display for everyone to gawk at and fawn over.  The perfect ones that force you to stop in your tracks and make your mind ponder (just for a moment) if perhaps you’re really ready for a “grown-up” tree.  The kind of tree that screams I have style AND taste.  Yeah, I’ve seen those trees, too….

Mom's Christmas tree 2015

My Mom’s Christmas tree display 2015.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of them.  Not just at the stores, but on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (the social media list goes on and on) and even in the homes of family members and friends.  It seems to me that everyone has one of these beautifully accessorized trees.  And this sort of thing stands out to me, not because I’m envious or jealous but more from a place of sheer admiration.  You see, I LOVE Christmas trees…all kinds (and especially the Charlie Brown one,) but in my heart of hearts I always imagined that I, too, would have one of these special Christmas trees…a “magazine ready,” picture perfect tree.

My Mom has that kind of Christmas tree.  I can remember the red apple tree, the blue and silver bulb tree, and the crystal snowflake tree, among others.  I always assumed that would be my destiny–like mother, like daughter.  In fact, I tried really hard to have one many moons ago.  When I met my husband he had a Christmas tree in his living room…in May.  Granted it was a mini TV top tree, but he had it on display for Memorial Day, I guess (oh, and a plush Thanksgiving turkey was placed next to it, too, probably to welcome the summer season.)  I took this as a sign that he wasn’t much into decorating and eventually I filed it away as proof that I would be in charge of all holiday décor.  So when we graduated from tiny, dorm apartment living and moved to a home in  Salina, I figured this was my big break.  I was going to do Christmas my way.  I remember telling my Mom that I was going for a blue/white/silver snowman theme.  She purchased ornaments to get me started and I began to gather all the “right” accessories as well.  Our son, Sean, was just over a year old, and after photos with Santa one night, we came home to decorate the tree.  And while I was strategizing and putting a final game plan together, Steve and Sean were already placing ornaments on the tree.  What?

IMG_3328Turns out these ornaments were from Steve’s childhood along with a few others that his mother had passed down to us.  (I’m still not sure where this box came from.)  Sean looked thrilled as several of these ornaments were football related.  And I remember stopping in my tracks and thinking that 49er red really didn’t go with my snowman theme…at all.  Obviously, a “discussion” ensued.  That Christmas the tree was properly adorned with blue/white/silver snowman themed items and EVERY ornament my husband had ever owned in his life.  I figured I had lost the battle, but certainly not the war.  There was always next year, and the year after that, and the one after that.  The odds, however, were not in my favor.

Please don’t feel bad for me.  It really wasn’t a make or break deal.  I love Christmas and pretty much all things Christmas related.  So we moved on and it wasn’t until Sean was in preschool that I finally got on board with the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree.  When that sweet-faced little boy brought me his first homemade ornament from school and proceeded to put it on the tree…well, my heart melted.  He was so proud of himself.  A little man contributing to a holiday that I loved so much.  Sean would tell me in his tiny voice, “I made it for you.”  So naturally every scribbled on, wadded up, half-glued, misshapen ornament made its way onto the tree–as it should.  And when Casey came along, well her “contributions” went up right along side his.

ornamentsAs you can imagine, after more than a decade of “contributions” amassed from school AND church, we now have quite a collection going.  Add to it EVERY ornament we have ever received from relatives, friends, plus our church family, and it amounts to 7 boxes of Christmas knickknack goodies.  Every year the tree is quite full (this may be an important factor when you consider the number of times the tree has fallen over the years,) but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  The Spencer Family Christmas tree is full of as many stories and memories as it is ornaments.  This year the kids asked me if we really had to hang every last trinket from the boxes.  I guess they thought that maybe the “bead ornament” (there really is no other name for it since it resembles absolutely NOTHING ever known to man) and the “paper Jesus candy cane” may have seen better days.  “If there’s room on the tree, then there’s room for it,” was my constant reply.  And while I think the “all-things, everything” kind of Christmas tree has roots in my husband’s Christmas tradition, he is the one who announces every year that “it looks like Christmas threw up in here!”  At least he says it with a smile.

Merry Christmas 2015 wideOur tree is still up (it’s New Year’s Day,) it’s leaning to the side as is its custom during the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ornaments are taking themselves down (with a mini thud!)  The Christmas “spew” extends well beyond the tree to the fireplace mantel, hearth, the piano and into the dining room, and it will…for at least another week.  Yes, it STILL looks like Christmas in here and everywhere we go…even if it’s the regurgitated type.  Falalalala Lalalala!

I get obsessed with decorations and decorating the house.  I keep it tasteful outside, but when you get inside it is a bit like Blackpool illuminations, I go BONKERS!  –Johnny Vegas

Stay tuned for Christmas Trilogy, Part 3:  The Sticky Nativity

Repetition Wins (Mama’s Secret Weapon)

Everybody knows how to raise children, except the people who have them.  P.J. O’Rourke

Repetition WinsI often wonder who’s going to write the next BIG parenting book?   It seems like every generation has its guru.  And with today’s parenting styles running the gamut–authoritative to permissive, supportive to absent, indulgent to neglectful–it’s hard to know who really has it figured out.  Throw in your favorite media platform and practically everyone’s an expert nowadays!  So, allow me to throw my hat in to the ring.  While you won’t find any fancy letters following my name, I do have a theory.  And for simplicity’s sake, I’ve narrowed it down to two words:  REPETITION WINS!  Genius, right…I know.

Basically I’ve been applying this strategy throughout my whole parenting career, I just didn’t know it until last election season.  (Stay with me here.) I just happened to be listening to a political strategist ramble on about the power of the message…more specifically the repetitive factor to a particular campaign slogan.  He pontificated that through a basic media blitz, they had managed to turn the tide in their favor…especially since today’s voters never bother to research the issues.  I equate this concept to the “beloved” brain worm–you know, the little song or ditty that invades your every waking thought!  Once it reaches your ears it then proceeds to swim around in your head for hours and if you’re (un)lucky even days.  Oh yeah, there’s power in the message!

So here’s where it comes full circle….  I have been known to be somewhat of a “rules” Mom, harping on my kids with suggestions about practically everything.  (I honestly prefer the word suggestions over rules, just saying.)  My handy little tidbits like, “Wash first,” “Make good choices,” and “No food in the bedrooms–EVER!” are expressions that I have uttered for years.  These phrases have become practically automatic after more than a decade of parenting, only now I hear my kids mumble them (and several other goodies) before I can even get the words out.  I’ll admit that sometimes they’re mumbled sarcastically, still I don’t mind claiming it as a tiny victory!

message 3I’m employing a similar approach with quirky sayings, inspirational quotes and Bible scripture spread across posters, white boards and post-it notes throughout the house.  I’ve got my fingers crossed that these, too, will make their way inside their heads (and hearts,) and if nothing else that they might gain some wisdom from my efforts.    I know I’m doing something right when I see their friends stop and check out the kitchen whiteboard and ask questions about the “Family Rules” poster on the fridge…and I’m just getting started!  Window markers allow me to write messages to my children on mirrors in their bedrooms and thanks to iPhone technology, I have several great memes saved and ready to send to my kiddos’ devices at a moment’s notice.   In my book, it all counts.  Still the master plan is worth nothing without the one message I utilize several times a day, “I love you.”  Out the door, when they come home, before they go to bed and at random times in between, “I love you.”  It’s the message I hope they remember most.

I tease my husband that we’ll find out soon enough whether the strategies we’ve employed will be labeled a success or a failure.  With a tween girl and a teenage boy, I feel like we’ve jumped out of one fox hole only to find ourselves in a whole new set of trenches.  It’s all good, though…because Mama’s got her secret weapon and she ain’t afraid to use it.  Pay heed, parents–REPETITION WINS (no book required.)

I Can Still Taste the Caramel Apples (aka Why I LOVE Halloween!)

Traditions are the guideposts driven deep in our subconscious minds. —Ellen Goodman

10690117_715990488490123_92735026534026743_nWhen it comes to holidays, I like to go full-out! I love traditions…the habits and rituals that create memories (both good and bad, but especially MEANINGFUL) and serve to connect families and friends to the past, present and the future.  Equally as important, I enjoy sharing where, why and how the traditions came about.  So for the last month, my family has endured all of my favorite stories about Halloweens past.  I share these little gems, not just for myself (okay, maybe just for myself) but also as a way to join together my childhood experiences, a little history, some faith/religion and finally…to secretly instill some expectations and wisdom upon my kiddos.  And you thought I just hung out in my kitchen baking cookies all day 🙂

Seriously, I think one of the most effective tools in parenting (and a number of other categories) is the personal testimony.  That’s why I like telling Sean and Casey all about my Halloween adventures–successes and epic fails (age appropriate, of course.)  Everything from what costumes we donned (not ashamed to admit that I was Bat Girl more than once) to trick or treating in the neighborhood to visiting my great grandmother’s house (for peanuts and apples) to haunted houses and everything in between.  We compare and contrast classroom parties, popular candy (then and now), real (and not so real) ghost stories all while asking questions and googling Halloween history.  Together we’ve learned a lot!  And the payoff comes when the kiddos are just as invested in the traditions as I am 🙂

10616209_716894205066418_4160538980628630829_nI would say that I get my love of Halloween from my Dad.  He was the first adult (outside of teachers) that I can remember dressing up for Halloween on a regular basis.  Dad likes his costumes to be scary, and while that’s not my cup of tea, I have many memories of his gory masks and spooky get-ups.  He would help us carve pumpkins and Mom would work on roasting the pumpkin seeds.  At the time, pumpkin patches weren’t a part of our Halloween experience…but we looked forward to the carving nonetheless.  We didn’t use fancy stencils or patterns and our primitive carving tools could have easily sent one of us to the ER (fortunately it never came to that!)  Today, my family looks forward to our annual trip to “the patch” (which my son tells me doesn’t sound quite right) and choosing our own pumpkins from a giant field of orange and green.  Over the years, I have amassed a great deal of pumpkin carving supplies and we make an event out of the whole thing…complete with spooky music courtesy of Pandora.  This year we added hot dogs and s’mores to the occasion.  It’s one of my favorite days of the year (and someday I will master those pumpkin seeds, too!)

The traditions go way beyond the pumpkin patch and the carving.  We decorate the house, reminisce over old Halloween photos and spend countless hours discussing, shopping and creating Halloween costumes.  The costumes have become one of our best-loved parts of the season.  Fortunately, my kids aren’t into scary and with a little imagination and planning, they’ve managed to come up with some pretty creative costumes over the years.  And while I’ve quietly lobbied for the “family” costume, I am afraid that ship has sailed.  For some years, however, I was able to finagle the kiddos into coordinated costumes, but my luck eventually ran out there, too :(.  Oh well.  There’s plenty of fun in sharing stories about past costumes, who we went trick or treating with (family or friends,) where we were living at the time and surprisingly no one ever seems to mention the candy.

Typically we watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” once (sometimes twice) each October and I marvel at the questions the kids come up with.  When they were younger, they needed help with the character’s names and who was related to whom.  Now they ask why Lucy is so mean, how come Charlie Brown can’t get a break, and what Snoopy’s role as the Red Baron is really all about.  This year I had to explain that bobbing for apples was a real thing and we discussed some of the reasons why that tradition didn’t carry on (gross.)  We marvel at Schroeder’s piano playing skills, discuss party invite etiquette and basically feel bad for Linus.

As the children have grown older, Halloween has included a faith dialogue as well.  We talk about the early history of the holiday…a time when pagan superstitions and overall fear fueled the observance.  Picture a people who warily watched the seasons change and anxiously retreated into a time of the year when no crops grew, the weather was particularly harsh and their survival depended upon the work that had been done in the warmer months.  Harvest really was a reason to celebrate as they prepared for months of cold and uncertainty.  Can you imagine how they were compelled to turn to a number of gods for protection and provision?  Warding off evil lent itself to carving scary faces on gourds and trees and displaying these items on their doorsteps.  And what about trick or treating?  A custom that spans ancient beliefs, religious practices and morphed into a “pseudo-war” between the haves and have-nots before becoming the family friendly outing that we now know.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/the-history-of-trick-or-treating-is-weirder-than-you-thought-79408373/?no-ist

10700574_718765481545957_3257901382160519510_oIt’s November 1st and  costumes lie crumpled up on the floor, candy wrappers dot the tabletops, and tired looking eyes stare up at me.  And while the whole Halloween adventure culminates in one day, I realize that it’s not the holiday itself that means so much to me–it’s actually the whole season.  We’ve been gearing up, preparing for, talking about and making plans for a whole month.  Through it all we’ve carved out special (additional!) time together…outside of mealtimes and the occasional quiet evening.  We’ve cooked and baked together.  We’ve shopped together.  We’ve attended school parties together.  We’ve enjoyed nature together.  And it feels good.  I know these seasons are fleeting.  Before long, their Halloween plans won’t include me.  The kids are growing up so fast and that probably scares me more than any creepy costume on Halloween.  For now I hold onto the imagination and creativity of the season.  I look forward to the cooler temperatures and the rustling of leaves and my mind wanders (unafraid) to the approaching season that seems to draw us closer (even if it only is for warmth 🙂 )  The traditions abound and yes, I can still taste the caramel apples that sweeten this already favored season.

There is a child in every one of us who is still a trick-or-treater looking for a brightly-lit front porch. ~Robert Brault

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lest We Forget

11988726_429047497291597_5725020903439229141_nI was not anywhere near the tragedies of 9-11…at least not physically. We watched the events unfold on television while sitting on a couch in our tiny apartment on a seminary campus just north of San Francisco.  Like most of the country, we sat dumbfounded.  No one spoke.  Everyone cried, including my newborn son.  It was a lot to take in.  Clearly the world had changed.  I’m certain I will never forget that day…and yet I do.  We all do.  It slips in and out of our thoughts as we Americans seek routine and demand normalcy.  And then, we remember again.

My mother-in-law, Karen, woke us up with the news that day.  Given the three-hour difference between New York and California, my husband and I were still sleeping.  Karen was helping to care for our newborn son (she had been up feeding the baby) and held him in her arms when she came into the bedroom.    I remember her voice, mostly a whisper, saying, “You have to see this,” as she ushered us into the next room.  It didn’t take but a moment for us to realize that this was not good news.  Over the next few hours we watched news coverage of our country being attacked.  Like a bad movie, it all seemed so surreal as report after report showed one plane crash and then another and another.  Time stood still.

Eventually, there were phone calls.  Lots of phone calls.  While the East Coast was under attack, it didn’t take long for family and friends to try to reach out to one another…making sure everyone was accounted for.  Living in the Bay Area, it occurred to us that San Francisco could easily be on a target list.  I tried to put it out of my mind, but looking at my baby Sean I remember thinking THIS WASN’T THE PLAN!  If you know me, you know I have these random (and possibly irrational) thought outbursts.  Sean and I had already been through a bumpy pregnancy, a scary delivery, followed by two hospital stays and he wasn’t even two weeks old yet.  I cried.  What kind of a world was this?

Panic is an interesting emotion.  It builds upon itself and opens the door to sadness, fear and anger.  Nothing seemed right.  Immediately, I prayed for those at the scene.  I prayed that there would be survivors.  I prayed that help would arrive on time.  I prayed for justice.  I worried about kids who were at schools and people on the freeway trying to get home.  I especially prayed for those in the air.  Eventually, we learned that Steve’s uncle’s flight was diverted to Canada.  My mother informed me that large passenger planes had been forced to land at the small airport in the tiny, Kansas town where I grew up.  Everyone was on heightened alert.  And this is where we stayed emotionally, not just for the day…but for days and days which eventually stretched into weeks.

There is another memory that I will forever carry with me about this particular time in our nation’s history.  On the way to church the next week, there were armed soldiers on the Golden Gate Bridge.  Dozens of them.  The beauty of this national landmark and the breathtaking scenery surrounding it took a backseat to the reality of life in the United States at that moment.  My heart sank.  Would it always be like this?  Could we find our way back?  Would anything ever be the same?  I know I was not alone in asking these questions.  Yet, it’s at times like these where we find our faith and ultimately our strength.  That Sunday we praised, prayed and sang to an all-powerful, loving God.  This, I will always want to remember.

America is a great nation, founded on wonderful principles that continue to fill its people with a sense of pride and purpose.  Our country rallied.  We made plans, sought out ways to ensure the safety of our people, and moved forward.  Some would say that THIS IS the American way.  The days since have not always been easy.  The threat of terrorism has become the new normal.  And we’ve had to adjust.  The world is different and we are different.  A swell of nationalism permeated every part of our country during those times.  Many laid aside their differences as we came together in prayer and resolve.  In the following months and years much was sacrificed to apprehend those responsible for this unbelievable tragedy.  The events of that one day dramatically affecting every part of American life.

Unfortunately, in the fourteen years since the attack we have seen that sense of unity erode.  Nowadays, America is known for its political infighting.  Activists of all kinds have sought to divide the people in countless ways.  Those spewing hate have managed to turn neighbors against one another.  Agendas have created word wars and many have been hurt…even killed.  All of this within our own borders while the threat of terrorism still looms large.  I hate what happened to our country on 9-11, but in remembering the tragedy itself we can find hope.  Today (on the anniversary,) in every way and shape imaginable WE REMEMBER.   Today, at every turn we recall the significance of this day and remember the lives lost.  Today, we seek to honor and recognize the true heroes among us.  Today, social media is filled with symbolism and pride as we cannot and will not forget what has happened.  Surprisingly, I find comfort in this type of remembering.

I’m certain I will never forget that day…and yet I do.  We all do.  It slips in and out of our thoughts as we Americans seek routine and demand normalcy.  And then, we remember again…lest we forget.

9-11 Timeline

When pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.  –C.S. Lewis

You Really Are What You Eat (Feeding the Soul)

For He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.  Psalm 107:9

photo 1

This morning’s bowl of Cheerios. Yummy!

I like Cheerios.  A lot.  And not just at breakfast time.  I think Cheerios are appropriate for lunch AND dinner, too.  I should also note that I like them with AND without milk.  So, if you are what you eat…then I’m heart healthy and packed with fiber and whole grain goodness!  If only it were that easy.  Truth is, in addition to my love for Cheerios, I really enjoy pizza, chocolate ice cream, nachos and several different brands of potato chips.  I also think these tasty treats qualify as breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.  Gross, huh?  Because now it’s pretty obvious that if you are what you eat (Cheerios aside,) I am junk food—loaded with calories, packed with sodium and in every way possible just a cheesy, greasy mess 😦

I don’t want to be a cheesy, greasy mess.  Who does?  Which is why I’ve carefully chosen the middle of the road where these food cravings are concerned.  It’s called MODERATION.  We’ve all heard the word.  It’s the term that foodies and nutritionists throw around which serves as code for “eat what you want, just not too much.”  Have a small bowl of ice cream, instead of the whole gallon.  Sounds like a good system.  I mean MODERATION allows us to munch on the yummy (yet less than healthy) goodies we desire without any guilt and few consequences, right?  Come on…you didn’t just land on the planet!  You know that while moderation is all well and good, it can (and usually does) come back and bite us in our ever-expanding back ends.  We are human after all…given to temptation and with little (if any) willpower.  Watching what we feed our bodies is tough stuff.  Health and nutrition can be hard to manage.  Time, energy, and money all factor into the equation as well.  Which is why I wish Willie Wonka would perfect that “3 Course Dinner Chewing Gum”  Violet sampled in the movie.  It would really come in handy at my house (sans the exploding blueberry part, of course.)

Clearly, there’s no easy button here.  The same goes for what we feed our soul.  It seems to be a recurring theme lately.  Of course, I’m only speaking for myself, but it feels like everywhere I go that it’s not too hard to decipher one’s soul food diet.  For example, the kid who is cussing up a storm at the baseball diamond is palling around with a tribe of kids cussing up the same storm.  Never mind that there are three-year old ears in close proximity.  Never mind there are grandparents in attendance.  Never mind the fact that we all know your parents and you should know better!  Somehow, somewhere this child has ingested ugly, nasty words and probably without any forethought, has decided to share them with the world.  Look, I’m not the word police.  Sure, I personally find it distasteful, but I understand that it is pretty common in today’s culture.  That being said, I still would appreciate it if there was some consideration for the “audience.”  Comedians, politicians, businessmen/women…most of us know that rule #1 in many parts of the real world is knowing your audience.  Bottom line, if you’re going to swear, don’t share.  Your friend is sitting right next to you and can easily hear you…so shouting your obscenities really isn’t necessary.

Still, the cussing is pretty benign.  When you start adding up all the other foul soul food shares out there…like berating your kids in the store parking lot, trash talking your wife, glamorizing past and current drug use (in front of kiddos no less,) your disdain for the church and religion, your lack of confidence in political leaders, and your basic hate for anyone who doesn’t see life your way…the notion that you are what you eat becomes pretty clear.   Listen, I’m not perfect.  I know life can be hard.  Maybe things haven’t been easy.  Rough family life, a bad marriage, children who try your patience and the list goes on.  There’s plenty of blame to go around. Often we try to excuse our own behavior by insisting that we don’t know any better or fault the way we were raised.  But whether it’s nature or nurture (or a self-labeled  “bad habit”) none of this lets any of us off the hook.  We’re not all privy to the good life.  Understood.  But I think there’s an argument to made for the fact that we all WANT the GOOD LIFE.  We want to be successful and happy, so let’s start making some personal decisions that breed success and happiness.  Decisions that translate into being the absolute best that we can be!  When it comes to good soul food, MODERATION doesn’t seem to amount to much.  In fact, myself included, we need to be visiting that good soul food trough several times a day.  I mean, would it really be terrible to try to attain a little positivity by feeding our soul a few good things?

Nosh on the POSITIVE.  Live better, be better.  Find kind neighbors.  Be a kind neighbor.  Show a genuine interest in your family and friends.    Practice generosity.  Pay it forward.  Feast on GOOD news.  Share your time and talents with others.  Help a stranger.  Say hello.  Hug your children (often, or as often as they’ll let you.)  Sing!  Gorge on HOPE.  Seek out good, honest friends.  Be a good, honest friend.  Affirm others.  Believe in yourself.  Be playful!  Smile (a lot.)   Be an example.  Offer grace.  REPEAT.  With this menu you can go back for seconds and thirds–guilt free.  I truly believe we are all capable of making good choices for ourselves and others.

This is the table that I want to sit at!  And I want others to feel free to pull up a chair.  Let’s invite our spouse, children, family members we get along with (and especially those we don’t) and our neighbors.  Maybe we could all talk it over while enjoying Cheerios (with OR without milk.)  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  So…who’s hungry?

Food for the body is not enough.  There must be food for the soul.  Dorothy Day

 

 

 

A Flood of Thoughts (aka Back to School Panic Attack)

Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge.  Proverbs 23:12

Back to School 2015

Back to School 2015

I have a LOVE/HATE relationship with the whole “back to school” thing. I LOVE that my kids have the opportunity to grow and learn under the guidance of some pretty amazing teachers. I HATE that summer break is over.  I LOVE that my kiddos are social butterflies…it’s good for them to be with their friends in the classroom and it takes the pressure off my role as “entertainment director.”  I HATE that we have to wake up early.  I LOVE having the house to myself for a few hours a day…and I HATE having the house to myself a few hours a day…you get the picture.  So this morning as my daughter was packing up for her first day of 5th grade…something tripped my panic button hard–this wasn’t just the first day of 5th grade…no…, this was the first day of her last year in elementary school!  I HATE the panic button 😦

As luck would have it (I’m saying this sarcastically,) we walked to school this morning…thus giving me plenty of time to think and let the panic button go to work.  Was she prepared?  Was she nervous?  Would this be a good year?  What really makes a school year good?  It wasn’t long before my panic attack became a full blown list of “did I tell her….?”  So for my sanity (because this “back to school” thing is all about me,) I’ve come up with a few thoughts to share with her (after school, of course.)

  1. School is about learning.  Sure you go there to learn the “school” stuff, but you will learn so much more. You’ll learn about yourself.  Each day you’ll grow in discovering who you are, what you stand for, and all that you’re capable of accomplishing.  You’ll find out what you like and what you don’t like (and you just might be surprised how the categories break down!)
  2. No one said you have to know everything…so give yourself a break.  Some things will come easily.  Other things will make you work (hard.)  Both are good.
  3. Relationships are tough, but worthwhile.  Getting to know a new teacher will take time.  Building friendships take time.  Discovering who to avoid…well, that takes time, too.  Not everyone will like you and you probably won’t like everyone.  Either way, be kind.  You never know what someone else is going through. If you want a friend, be a friend.  It is far better to be remembered for being a “good guy” than a total jerk.
  4. Pay attention.  Learning requires focus.  Don’t assume anything.  Ask questions.  It’s okay not to get it the first time.  Practice, preparation and performance are related.  Don’t get behind.  If you need help, say something.
  5. Trust your instincts.  God gives us that little voice for a reason.  Tune your ears and your heart to it.  Remember that peer pressure can be a trap.  Comparing yourself to others is never a good idea.
  6. Think before you speak.  Words can hurt.  Offer grace and understanding at every turn.  Compassion for others goes a long way.  Be a helper.
  7. Even good kids make mistakes.  You’re not perfect, none of us are.  Making mistakes goes beyond the classroom.  You know where I stand on drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, etc.  Likewise, you should realize that lying, cheating, and disrespect will also not be tolerated.  At the same time, I love you and together we can work through anything.
  8. It’s okay to pray at school.  I’m not telling you to get on the loud speaker and lead a revival, but don’t be afraid to ask God to guide you throughout your day.
  9. School is your job right now.  As your mother, I will be on you to do your homework, study for tests and remind you not to take short cuts.  This is important for you now and in the future, but school performance is not the sum of your worth.
  10. Attitude is everything.  You get what you give.  You will have bad days.  Life is unfair.  How you navigate through the good and the bad says a lot about your character.  You can do this.  I believe in you no matter what.

So my LOVE/HATE relationship with this time of year continues.  I LOVE that I have the opportunity to share these thoughts with my daughter.  I HATE that she’s growing up so fast.  I LOVE watching my kiddos move forward on this journey toward adulthood.  I HATE that tomorrow morning my son will have his first day of eighth grade.  I can hear the panic button gearing up now….

Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King, Jr.