In These Desperate Times

Are we not all desperate one way or another?  Taylor Caldwell, author

The funny thing about standing on the edge is that there’s typically little to no warning that you’re about to go over.  No countdown.  No alert system.  I usually only realize that I’ve arrived at this point when one foot is dangling and the other is making every crazy attempt to stay planted.  It’s a dance I’ve seen countless times and one that I’m not proud of.

Lately, this idea of desperation has been rearing its ugly head in all kinds of places.  I see it everywhere–in my home, overheard at the grocery store, on television/radio, it’s become a mainstay on social media, I hear it in the voices of my closest loved ones and it even stares back at me from the bathroom mirror.  It’s become practically inescapable and totally overwhelming.  And it appears to be the new norm.

What I hate most about desperation is that it clouds decision-making, muddies our sense of right and wrong, and worst of all causes us to say/do things we (should) almost immediately regret (although that’s not always the case.)  And “desperation” has become so incredibly clever.  Nowadays, it masks itself as “urgency,” “FoMO” (fear of missing out) and even “self-righteousness”…often times creating an anxiety that holds us captive.  This type of desperation not only leaves us hopeless but it creates fear, anger,  and sadness.  Desperation puts us in situations we could have never imagined…poisoning ourselves and everything around us.  Numb and cowering like a defenseless animal, we can only respond by lashing out at one another or internalizing our darkest fears.  When these feelings reach their peak, one is left feeling incredibly alone.  And yet, we keep coming back to the same well.  Doing the same things.  Repeating this frantic pattern over and over.

Where is the faith, the peace, the hope?  As a Christian, I think it’s in the same place it’s always been–Jesus.  I’ve noticed that as our culture continues to distance itself from God…the only truly content people I can find are those who consider themselves followers of Christ.  In fact, one of the reasons I was so drawn to Christianity was the sense of peace that Jesus offers.  Picture the most devout person you know and I’m willing to bet that person just exudes peace.  Shining, content, grace-filled peace…in abundance.  The kind of peace we hope to capture for ourselves.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that peace is elusive…only attainable after years of practice.  We’ve been told that peace is for the enlightened, those who have achieved some higher level learning.  We’ve been advised that peace is for the naive.  And we’ve been warned that peace simply cannot exist.  And I think that’s exactly what the world wants us to believe.

There are no quick answers here, only prayer.  Distancing ourselves from desperation requires discipline and personal growth.  I imagine it’s a lifelong endeavor, but one well worth every effort.  I refuse to drink from the world’s cup and fall prey to these desperate times.  I will continue to seek out those whose grace-filled examples serve as encouragement and inspiration.   And I fully plan to surround myself with only His perfect peace.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

Closing Time (Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning’s End)

She believed she could, so she did. –R.S. Grey

A young woman who I know AND love is about to do something BIG and brave…and I couldn’t let this occasion go by without penning a few thoughts…because what’s the point of growing older (and wiser) if you can’t drop some knowledge on a youngster, right?  Amen.

myrandaMost of these musings came to me at 2am.  I mention this as both a disclaimer and an explanation to the randomness of these points, but let me start at the beginning.  I remember the day you were born.  Driving down the highway to the nearby town, your aunt and I talked excitedly about our soon-to-arrive niece.  I’m pretty sure we didn’t know exactly what to expect, so when we were invited into the delivery room we stood dumbfounded.  Now that you know us (and my aversion to all things medical) you can probably guess that we declined and opted to do the next best thing–MAKE A SIGN!  We sat in the hallway with a poster board and some markers scribbling a “welcome baby” greeting just for YOU!  From the beginning, you were so loved.  For years, our whole family life revolved around you.  When I would come home from college, you were one of the people I most looked forward to seeing.  I liked to rock you to sleep and quietly sing the KU alma mater song…because I found the song both hopeful and soothing (and I wanted to make sure you grew up to be a Jayhawk fan.)  Funny how things come full circle…it was this memory that actually brought me to write this blog which I hope will be equally hopeful and soothing to you as you ironically prepare to move to Manhattan, Kansas!  So here goes:

  • Moving away from home/going to school takes guts.  Not everyone can do it.  Not everyone should do it, but having the courage to walk away from everything you know and try something new/exciting/scary and uncomfortable deserves some major props.  In doing this, you have already proven one thing:  you are WILLING to take chances.  Kudos.
  • In many ways you’ve been preparing for this your whole life and in many other ways you’re not prepared at all.  This is okay.  In fact, it’s better than okay.  It’s absolutely normal.
  • Good things will happen and bad things will happen, too.  How you deal with these things will make all the difference.  My favorite quote is by author Og Mandino.  It says “Count your blessings, proclaim your rarity, go another mile, USE WISELY YOUR POWER OF CHOICE, and one more–to fulfill the other four–do all things with love…love for yourself, love for all others, and love for GOD….You Are the Greatest Miracle in The World.”   You can always choose.  Remember that no hole is too deep, no place is too far for redemption.
  • Never date a man with hair longer than your own.  Random, I know…but really.  Who needs the competition?  I actually came up with this rule while visiting friends at K-State.  I can’t remember what the circumstances were exactly, but it’s a rule that has served me well.  BTW…man buns are now included in this one.
  • Talk to God (a lot) and don’t forget to listen, too.  Although I think you should go to church, I have to admit that I didn’t attend while I was in college.  I can honestly tell you that I missed out and I would definitely do this part differently today.  Nonetheless, I did a whole lot of praying during that time and LISTENING to God, too.  This saved my bacon more than once and I am eternally grateful.  Looking back I can clearly see God at work during my college years.  Make your relationship with Him a priority.
  • Practice the “pause.” I didn’t come up with this…I’m not sure who did, but it makes a lot of sense and it may actually save your life someday.  “When in doubt, pause.  When angry, pause.  When tired, pause.  When stressed, pause.  And when you pause, always pray.”
  • Keep an eye on your drink.  Again, another random one…but this is vital.  There are bad guys (and girls) out there.  People who do not have your best interest at heart.  People who will try to use (and abuse) you and hurt you to satisfy their own evil desires.  These people will buy you drinks and worse, they may even spike your drink.  I made it a practice to never, ever, EVER accept a drink from a stranger (and eventually I didn’t accept any drinks at all.)  It was not always well received.  I’ve been called countless names, been yelled at, and made fun of.  I didn’t care.  In fact, it just proved that this was someone who I definitely didn’t have any business hanging out with.  If someone wants to buy you a drink, great.  The two of you can go up to the bar and order it together.  At a party, keep in mind that you are perfectly capable of pouring your own drink.  Carry a water bottle (drunkenness is overrated anyway.)  Be on guard.  Protect yourself…and look after your friends, too.
  • You’re not expected to peak now.  While these clearly are some of the best days of your life…they’re not the only days of your life.  Someday you might choose to travel, land your dream job, become President, meet an awesome guy, have a fabulous wedding, start your own business, become a mother…the list goes on and on.  Life is a series of journeys.  Never think that your best days are behind you…always look forward.
  • Trust your gut…that’s the Holy Spirit at work.  Look people in the eye, but more importantly watch what they say and do.  I wholeheartedly believe God speaks to us and a little warning light goes off when we’re in bad company.  Do not ignore this!  Women (especially) tend to discount this small little voice.  We want to be nice, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t want to seem childish or afraid…you get the point.  So we make nice…and often times this puts us in very vulnerable situations.  If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right.  End of story.  You owe no one an explanation.
  • Finally, know this…you can always go home.  ALWAYS.  There is no shame.  You’ve stepped out once, you can and will do it again.  This IS life.  Having a home base is a luxury not afforded to everyone.  You have a family that would move mountains for you (just ask.)  This is an incredible blessing.

There are a lot of people rooting for you, kid.  Team MO is firmly in your corner!  You’re going to do great…I just know it.  Do your very best, make good choices, and have lots of fun.  You are so loved.

The old is gone.  The new is here. 2 Corinthians 5:17

 

Dollar Store Jesus

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

The Holy Spirit spoke to me while putting away Christmas decorations last year.  “Leave this one out,” it urged, “Place it some place where you will see it.  Leave it some where so you won’t forget.”  This Divine nudge prompted me to leave the Dollar Store Jesus on the shelf in the dining room.

dollar-tree-jesusAt first, it felt odd.  Really odd.  Not a lick of glittery, sparkly Christmas décor around and there sat the clumsily painted baby Jesus.  A gift to my son from several years back.  A tradition really, as I always try to purchase a little something for the kiddos to remind them of the true Reason for the season.  Mostly I buy ornaments, but when the children were very young I wanted them to have a “hands on” experience with Jesus.  The Dollar Store is perfect for gifts like this…it was a cost-effective way to teach the children to be careful with breakables while allowing them to touch, feel, and hold an item so precious.  If it broke, no problem.  We would carefully glue it back together or (as is prone to happen with little boys) we would sweep up the pieces.  I wanted them to know that Jesus was always within reach and as a result various Dollar Store Jesus figurines would live among other toys, on their bedroom night stands or carried in a backpack to preschool show-and-tell…all December long.  The collection grew larger each year with a few duplicates after Casey was born (whatever Sean had, Casey had to have, too) and then back in the box they would go.  Until now….

Over the past year, this Dollar Store Jesus has lived among various other holiday decorations, next to the kiddos’ photographs, by the clock, near the plants, and on the piano.  I laugh to myself every time I place Him in a new “home.”  Will anyone notice?  (They did.) Will anyone care?  (This is yet to be determined.)  Regardless, I know He’s there…reminding me.  EVERY DAY JESUS.

Peace on earth will come to stay, when we live Christmas every day.  -Helen Steiner Rice

A Case for Kitchen Walls (My Rally Cry Against Open Concept)

The kitchen is the heart of the home.  –author unknown

When I was a kid I remember telling my Mom all about my dream house.  I mean, if Barbie could have a dream house…surely I could, too.  In my simplistic, imaginary abode there would be few rooms (less to clean,) one room completely without furniture (reserved exclusively for me,) and absolutely NO KITCHEN.  “How will you eat?” she asked, “Where will you prepare your food?”  Okay, Mom, I didn’t have it all worked out.  I always thought food was overrated anyway, but in a pinch I figured a microwave and a mini refrigerator would bail me out.  Eventually, I developed a love for baking and thus a kitchen became a necessary evil in my small mind, but it still didn’t make me an overall fan of the kitchen.  In fact at that point, I started championing the idea of paper everything.  Paper plates, paper cups, disposable silverware, etc.  I even spoke of inventing paper pots and pans (I was a tween at this point and HATED doing the dishes!)  Finally, as a young adult preparing my own meals in a “one-butt” kitchen, I gave up on the idea of the “kitchen-free” home.

Fast forward many years (and many kitchens later,) and I practically double over laughing at myself for these crazy anti-kitchen ideas.  Especially now that I claim the kitchen as my favorite room in the whole house.  No, it’s not because I somehow became a master chef (we all know that didn’t happen.)  The reality is that no one in my home seems to really enjoy being in the kitchen. For our family, the kitchen is for doing homework afterschool and grabbing the occasional meal together.  This means that I basically have this room all to myself, ALL THE TIME.  As an introvert…this qualifies as my own little inner sactum.  And I like it that way.  So when everybody on HGTV demands open concept, I’m the one screaming at the television, “DON’T DO IT!”  Keep your walls, people.  Whatever you do, keep your walls!!!

Obviously, no one is listening to me.  Kitchen remodels are underway as we speak and the people are clamoring for the open concept.  Apparently, we’re all hosting large dinner parties and get-togethers thus making the need for a life without walls mandatory.  I believe the folks on HGTV call this ideal for “entertaining” and everyone on the planet is doing this but me!  Look, I’ve had the open concept kitchen before.  It meant that I was subject to watch/listen to whatever the person in the “family” part of the room had on the television.  It meant no private phone calls.  It meant constant interruptions.  If I wanted to take in a little talk radio or music (as I am prone to do,) I had to do so via ear buds which meant I couldn’t hear my kiddos (this is imperative as everyone knows that the best time to act up is when mom is out of earshot.)  The open concept was also problematic whenever company decided to drop by unexpectedly (as is apt to happen in a parsonage.)  Oh yes…on HGTV the kitchen portion of the open concept is always spotless.  In real life, however, the kitchen is a constant work in progress.  I don’t know about you, but a pile of dishes in the background quickly negates any inclination toward hospitality.  I just remember feeling so self-conscious.  I know, real friends don’t judge…but come on, it’s a little weird to have your breakfast leftovers hanging out for all to see.  Then there’s the smell.  Okay, we all burn the bacon every once in a while, but sitting down on your couch and catching a whiff of it in the fabric of your decorative pillows hours later is just not worth it.  And since I’m laying out my case, have you ever noticed that food travels just a little easier in the open concept home?  Toddlers suddenly believe that mac and cheese is good at the kitchen table, but even better on the living room floor.  Uuugggghhhh.

kitchenI could go on and on about the pitfalls of the open concept, but what really inspires me are all the perks of having a “real” kitchen (complete with WALLS.)  This is my space.  I control the lighting, the radio, and the level of activity in this room.  I can quickly whip something up for dinner or I can methodically (and slowly) try out a new recipe with the level of concentration a less-than-great cook requires.  I can spread out without the risk of someone “observing” and judging the madness.  I can multi-task and take my time cleaning up (or better yet, I can just walk away.)  Like a dictator, I can make sure food doesn’t wander out of this space.  While kitchen smells always migrate, I am less likely to catch a whiff of “Taco Tuesday” in the couch cushions on Wednesday morning.  Still, my all time favorite argument in defense of kitchen walls is that I can dance.  A lot.  I can blast New Kids on the Block, George Strait, or my non-stop Christmas music and jitterbug, two-step and let loose to my heart’s delight.  It’s at times like these that walls make all the difference.

I’m no interior designer (and no one is asking,) but I have a feeling that the open concept is here to stay.  As much as I love HGTV, I am fully aware of the more/bigger/better/different agenda that permeates our culture and homes.  Still, I will not be deterred.  Say it loud, say it proud…I AM ALL FOR WALLS…because if cooking is good for the soul, then the sanctity of the kitchen must be a personal heaven.

When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence.  (Lamentations 3:28)

 

 

 

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

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.”  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 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) and the occasional meow of the neighborhood cats. So on this particular night, starwatching 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…Big Dipper, 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….

It’s not like my husband and I had not seen a shooting star before.  We had.  But despite all the time we had spent stargazing this summer, the kids hadn’t been so lucky.  But right then and there we had finally witnessed one…and it was a good one!  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 four of us saw it together, 2) because everyone made a wish, and 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 more like prayers.  That night as that star streaked across the sky…the wish on my heart was really a silent petition to God.

Later, after everyone else had gone back inside, my daughter asked if I thought wishes came true.  We had seen two more meteors that night.  She said she was pretty sure that she had wished hard for a flat screen TV one Christmas, but she didn’t get one.  It was the start to a long conversation about magical versus miracle, God versus “genie,” and the incredible power of prayer.  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.  An answered prayer.  I honestly could have stayed out all night.

I’m already looking forward to more sky watching.  I hope that someday the kids will share their wishes (and prayers!) with me–because if (when) mine comes 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

 

I Have So Much to Tell You….

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Used to be that if you found an interesting news article, you’d clip it out of the newspaper/magazine and store it in a safe place.  Sometimes, if it was particularly moving or important, you’d haul yourself down to a Kinko’s or something and make copies.  If one deemed it EXTRA pertinent, you might purchase a stamp and mail it to someone.  In today’s “copy and paste” world, news nerds like myself are one click away from sharing various news links…or in my case, SAVING, interesting articles.

FullSizeRenderI have several dozens saved.  I won’t give you an exact number…as it might be used against me as a measurement of my nerdiness.  You can probably imagine that several of these saved articles fall into the faith and family categories.  What can I say other than that I’m fairly predictable and in some regards, very old school.  I tried sharing a SAVED article with my son recently…via a link in a text message…to which I received a sullen reply and an interesting emoticon followed by the words “you know, I’m not reading this.”  Sure, I’ve been known to send him (and my daughter) preachy sorts of things, but in my defense this was actually a sports article and a good one at that.  But my kids are too wise and know their mother too well…the warning lights start flashing, “SHE’S TRYING TO TELL US SOMETHING.”  And, yes, they’re right.

Lately, my SAVED files have been focused on one subject–SUBSTANCE ABUSE.  I have countless, tragic articles on teens dying as a result of drinking games, drunk driving accidents, and every type of drug overdose.  It’s morbid, I know.  Some of these news links have photos…sweet, smiling photos of adolescents who have become victims and horrible, graphic photos of teenagers lost too soon.  These are the kinds of things that break my heart.  In the sweet smiling photos I see my own babies…innocent and full of promise.  In the horrible, graphic photos I feel my eyes well up with tears and my throat tighten at what I can only imagine is a mother’s worst nightmare.

The researcher in me keeps hitting the “save” button and then I pour over the article looking for what went wrong and scanning the account for early warning signs and prevention strategies.  The mother bear in me keeps hitting the “save” button, vowing that I will protect my children from drugs and alcohol at all costs.  The realist in me keeps hitting the “save” button knowing that these sorts of things are happening NOW, in our schools and in our community.  I do these things all the while praying…for an angel to watch over my kiddos, for good role models and friends for them, and that I might be the kind of parent that can love them through anything.  I do this because I am not naïve, families (like mine and like yours) have been hit over the head and completely broken by these sorts of tragedies.  If my research has proven anything, it’s that no one is immune.

no hope with dope

Saved by the Bell. Season 3, Episode 21. 1991

But the news nerd in me says, “Tell them, show them” as I compile my montage of anecdotes and news links about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.  I play out in my head conversations about how to handle alcohol and what responsible drinking looks like and then, oftentimes following beer commercials (while watching sports on TV,) we talk about it.  I remind the kids that alcoholism has taken the lives of family members.  We talk about some of the science behind addiction.  I quote my mantra (courtesy of the Saved by the Bell television show,) THERE’S NO HOPE WITH DOPE.  (I have actually told my children that I would foot the bill for that tattoo!)  I scrunch up my nose every time some one tries to convince me that recreational marijuana is a good idea…and then I talk about it with my kids.  I tell them that while I worked as a reporter that I met a woman who was my age (22 at the time) and addicted to meth.  She looked gaunt with leathery skin.  She slurred her words because she had lost so many teeth as a result of her addiction.  Her hair was falling out and she was in jail.  I remember this so clearly because in talking with her we discovered that we had similar backgrounds…middle class upbringing, two parent household, grew up in a small town, etc.  And yet our lives were so different.  When I share these things, I’m bold enough to tell them, “This is NOT for YOU.”  And then I pray some more.

So here’s what I want them to know….

  • With one “hit,” they can drastically change their life.
  • Drinking games are not games.
  • Underage drinking and drug use is dumb (you’re destroying brain cells) and dangerous.
  • Being “under the influence” of anything will cause you to make horrible decisions.
  • Be on guard.  Today strangers (and so-called friends) can put drugs/alcohol in your drinks and food.
  • Bad guys will prey upon girls (and boys) who are under the influence.
  • There will be photographs and I will find out.

And here’s what I also want to tell them….

  • I love you.  I will help you and care for you first…but that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences or a lecture for bad choices.
  • A bad day, date, break-up does not determine your worth.  Don’t add to your heartache by throwing drugs and alcohol into the mix.
  • Peer pressure sucks.  I taught you to the difference between right and wrong.  Be strong.  It won’t be easy, but I believe it is in you to say “No,” in fact I’ve heard you say it a thousand times already.
  • I’m going to ask you where you’re going and who you’re with.  This is for both of us.  It makes you accountable and helps me gauge just how much I should worry about you and whether or not I should just NOT let you go.
  • And finally, don’t die doing something stupid!

I’m sick of people glamorizing drugs and alcohol…in music, television and social media.  It turns my stomach to see celebrities practically endorsing this kind of lifestyle.  It’s gut wrenching to see so many young people, full of hope and promise, end up broken or dead…and for what?  I wish I didn’t have a SAVE list full of these horror stories, but I do.  So listen up, kiddos, I will continue to tell you (and your friends) all about them.  I will even share the photos.  Know that I’m adding to my arsenal of articles everyday…because you are loved and I truly do have so much more to tell you.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.  Proverbs 1:8

 

 

 

 

A Lesson in Ponytails

“I am not a perfect mother and I will never be. You are not a perfect daughter and you will never be. But put us together and we will be the best mother and daughter we would ever be.” – Zoraida Pesante

Lately, I’ve been marveling at my daughter.  It’s not that she’s doing anything special really…it’s just that she’s growing up and I’m trying to take it all in.  I get like this sometimes with my kiddos…making an extra effort to be super present, wondering what they’re thinking and how their brains work…basically just staring at them (sometimes they catch me–that’s a teeny bit awkward!)  The funny thing is, that while she may not actually be getting any taller (she’s doomed to be short like her mother,) I can see all kinds of other changes…in her maturity, her personality, and the way she carries herself.  She’s really becoming her own person and as a consequence separating from me…at least as much as any 11-year-old should be allowed to do.  So when I came across this article titled What Your Ponytail Says About You on the Man Repeller website, it really caught my eye.

You see, Casey and I both LOVE long hair.  I would say about ninety percent of the time we both choose to wear our hair down, but we are not strangers to ponytails.  As soon as Casey’s hair was long enough, I would put it in pig tails or a nice high pony.  I loved fixing her toddler hair and adorning it with those cutesy little girl bows!  Then came Disney Channel and it wasn’t long before she boycotted wearing her hair up and started favoring long locks carefully styled with a head band (a la “Gabriella Montez.”)  No more funny “fountain” ponytails on the top of her head!  low and parted CaseyRecently, however, after years of only wearing ponytails to play sports, she has decided that the pony is in style again…only now it’s on her terms.  This is what made the ponytail article stand out.  No longer would she settle for my favorite style (the high pony,) but rather she preferred the low and parted ponytail–and she could style it all by herself, thank you very much.  The low and parted ponytail, the one the Man Repeller article labeled the “champagne” of ponytails for its elegant and timeless look.  The description basically screamed “Casey.”  It went on to say that this was the look of someone who is “making a knowing decision to look put together.”  Yes, that’s my girl.

The "High Ponytail."So, out of curiosity of course, I had to look up the hidden meaning to my go-to ponytail look–the HIGH pony (a look I’ve been sporting for practically my whole life!)  Turns out it’s the preferred style of those who exercise (what?) and it’s also great for “signaling that you don’t give a what!”  Apparently this is a very versatile look and its meaning depends upon the method in which it is executed (combed and smoothed, tousled and messy…that’s a lot to read in to a ponytail!)  It goes on to say that the “high ponies are the maxi dress of their kind,” suggesting that the look is only for some and definitely NOT for all!  This made me giggle.  Here I am a forty-year old wife and mother, and the high pony has always been my go to updo.  Yes, I like the “fountain” as my daughter so affectionately calls it (did I mention that she’s pretty well versed in sarcasm these days?) The high pony is my all-time favorite!

All fun aside, this was just a cute reminder that while we have so many mother-daughter similarities, my girl is certainly growing up and developing her own thoughts and ideas.  It’s causing both a swelling of pride and quite a bit of anxiety as well.  In a matter of months, we’ll be talking about locker décor and what table she landed at for lunch in the middle school cafeteria.  We’ve already had numerous conversations (or was it disagreements) about clothes and shoes…not to mention what’s in and what’s definitely OUT!  Occasionally, I get to be labeled “cool,” but mostly I “just don’t know anything.”  Still, I’m the first person she comes running to on a bad day, when she doesn’t understand something, or gets herself into a jam.    Which just goes to show that what goes around, comes around.  My own mother probably has loads of stories about my tween/teen years and the occasional ups and downs of our relationship back then.  And I know that when I talk with fellow mothers today, it seems we’re all in some kind of yo-yo territory with our own girls at one time or another…a reality of growing up.

So, I may not be fixing her ponytails anymore…and that’s okay because every girl has to learn to style her own hair.  It’s all just part of the process.  And while I learned through curling iron burns, crazy perms and tons of AquaNet…it’s fun to watch her develop her own sense of style.  (And in some ways I think she’s  got the advantage–we didn’t have YouTube tutorials back in the day!)

May your ponytail be high (or low) and your mother/daughter relationship blessed 🙂

Hair doesn’t make the woman, but it definitely helps!  –Unknown

 

 

 

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