Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Because It Should Be Real for Us Too

Monday morning after dropping my children off for their first day of school, I celebrated by sitting down and lingering over a second cup of coffee. After writing a blog post, I clicked over to get reengaged in US/world events. As much as I profess to not want to live in a bubble, Summer break can become just that for a stay-at-home mother, as time limitations require that most of my news be gathered from 140 characters on twitter. It is restful, precisely because it is not real life.

You can imagine my shock as I started to read about Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri. I don't live there. I live in a small town in Georgia. My house is on a street that is 100% white. The country club is literally my back yard, but one street over an aged neighborhood begins that stretches about 20 blocks of 95% African American residents. I drive twelve minutes round trip to school every morning and afternoon, through this neighborhood where foot traffic is the norm. As much as I love a good metaphor, it is not lost on me that I pass dozens people of color watching, waiting on the bus or walking, while driving a white Suburban that cost as much as the average home on these streets.

This is my neighborhood. I wave at some of the regulars and on my return trip home in the morning I sometimes pray for various ones as I pass. I vote at the baptist church that sits right in the center and am privileged to know their amazing pastor. His daughter is one of my dearest friends. I've been blessed to attend a worship service there...a vanilla sprinkle in a chocolate sea of praise. And not one iota of this is an attempt at activism. (Frankly, I have hesitated to even write about this because of fear that my intentions would be questioned or misconstrued.)

But Monday, after reading, watching and thinking I couldn't help but wonder, "Could my town be a Ferguson?" Do my neighbors feel the anger, vulnerability and frustration these protesters feel? I called my friend, T. and told her I wanted to talk about it all when she was ready. I don't want to be ignorant to the challenges my friends and neighbors face.

While we can argue the various disputed issues of the Brown case, one thing is clear:  race issues are complicated, painful and still very real for many of our friends and neighbors. I have watched videos and read heartfelt posts from mothers of boys: both white and black. One of the most profound was a facebook post from a woman named Loris Adams in North Carolina. (I tried to link but can't.) She posted pictures with her son and described how terrified she was to realize her son had taken a shortcut while walking home that night which involved jumping a fence. Her thoughts went immediately to a place I cannot imagine.

"... because there is a target on his chest and I've trained him since birth to NOT invite red dots to train on that target. I'm MAD that I lost it on him, but I'd rather now than at a funeral.
Can you imagine the police response if some of my good neighbors had seen the boys, who were just going home? You can't? Let me help you see this picture - ‪#‎MikeBrown‬ ‪#‎TrayvonMartin‬ ‪#‎OscarGrant‬ ‪#‎JonathanFerrell‬
I would love my friends and colleagues who are not parents of a black child to understand the complexity of everyday life for those of us who are. I have the same concerns about gas prices and paying for a college education as you do, but that's topped by the gnawing fear - "is my boy next?"
That's why I pray. That's why I march. That's why I push. That's why I teach...That's why you'll find me on my knees in my office. That's why I look so sad sometimes.
It's not news for me.
These are my sons.
These are my nephews. 
My brothers.
My friends.
This is real..."  -Loris N. Adams, via facebook

It is hard for me to imagine this reality. I thought of my children's friends, some of whom happen to have dark skin, the sons of my friends and the neighborhood children I see at the bus stop each day and I realized in its own way, this is real for me too. I gulped to realize there is even a landscaped roadblock at the end of my street...erected years ago to divide the neighborhoods.

I want to be more about bridges than barriers. In the same way we seek to understand the unique challenges faced by single parents, those with special needs, impoverished people--I want to be sensitive to the real fears and issues of Moms raising children of color.

Ironically (or not), the post I wrote Monday before tuning into the news was about loving our neighbors---Jesus described it as the second greatest commandment. While I am still sorting out exactly what that means as a Causasian housewife in the deep South, I know that as love so often does it starts with paying attention.

I can't 'fix' Ferguson, but I can be a caring friend and neighbor who prioritizes building bridges and relationships. I can listen. I can care. I can model that for my children.
So can you.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Prayer for the First Day of School

K, P, & R,
Happy first day of fourth grade! This morning you dressed yourselves and made your own breakfast. You gathered your own backpacks and tied your own shoes. You reminded me about the traditional first day of school photo and we made it to school not only on time, but with a few minutes to spare.

I was there. I woke you up (and you groaned). I circulated with reminders and prompts. I offered a little extra height to reach the cereal bowls and brushed 2/3 of your hair because you still haven't quite grasped that grooming is a part of getting dressed. But you have essentially figured this elementary school thing out. There were no tears--from me or you. We have come a long way, babies!

And now I am home in an eerily quiet house. For the first time in three months I can sip a second cup of coffee with only the soundtrack of a humming refrigerator and the occasional thumping of the dog's tail on the hardwood floor...and of course, the tapping of my laptop's keys.

I need to do a lot of things, but first on my list was to sit for a while and think about what I hope and pray for you in this age and stage of life. The older I get the more complex this world seems, and yet the clearer my call feels. I have read plenty of parenting/womanhood/life checklists, but it always seems to come back to this:

May you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind...and love your neighbor as you love yourself. 

I borrowed those words from Jesus and I offer them as your benediction.

Loving the Lord with all your heart means trusting Him with your hurt feelings and your greatest wants. I pray as you grow, you will want Him first and above all else. When your heart seeks approval from your peers, your teachers and even from me and your Dad, I pray you will remember you are ALREADY approved in Him. Lean into Him. Allow Him to shower you with His love.

Loving with your soul is about the deepest places, loving Him with who you are. At ten, we are only beginning to discover your talents and unique gifting, but some are becoming apparent. I urge you to love Him with your leadership, R, your energy, K, and your sensitivity, P.

Loving Him with your mind, means being diligent about what is being allowed into your brain, what thoughts you allow to take root. It also involves applying yourself at school. God has gifted you each with different kinds of intelligence. My problem solver/strategist, my creative and my curious, I pray you will give those minds back to Him. May you see school as a place those gifts are being nurtured and refined for your good and His Glory. This is not about all As, it is about being engaged and interested. Education is a gift and a journey to further equip you for the call on your lives.

Loving your neighbor as yourself is a tall order, but when we begin to grasp how He loves us, it all makes a bit more sense. Your classmates, your teachers and those younger students who are looking up to you are dearly loved by God. Part of loving Him is loving them...especially, when we don't feel like it. Look out for who needs a friend. Be respectful of and grateful for the teachers and school staff who are giving their lives to your care. Forgive those who are hurtful or rude--you have no idea what may be going on in their lives.

If you are ever in doubt how to respond in any situation, I pray you will ask yourself one question: what is the loving thing to do?

I hope this list doesn't make you feel overwhelmed. It is a lifelong journey I am still on at 39...and why I know I need Him. I am praying for you. God has plans for your lives--not just one day when you 'grow up,' but right now in the thick of elementary school.

I love you dearly and am so grateful for the front row seat to what He is doing in and through your lives.

So, go forth, laugh, play, discover, fall, fail, forgive, learn, grow...and may you do it all with love.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Night Before 4th Grade

As I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner tonight it struck me:

Yesterday my next door neighbor dropped her third child off at college.
Early this morning friends of ours had their first baby.
Tomorrow morning my ten year olds start the 4th grade.

I am not yet a veteran of parenting, but I am not such a newbie either. I am smack dab in the middle of this parenting journey (the at-home years, anyway) and it is a sweet place.

My kiddos still play in the backyard, but I don't have to be the activities coordinator. I can really play against them in board games, soccer, races and the like--and they beat me more often than not. Their questions are insightful. They ask me to explain things that are out of my league. (I am increasingly asking myself what parents did before Google.) They are able to articulate feelings and ideas that give a glimpse into how they are growing. Individual personalities are quite clear and defined.

But they are still children. They call me Mommy and want me around (most of the time). We act silly in the car and they aren't too big to believe in child-like things. I am still called upon occasionally for band-aids and kisses.

We have a long way to go in the next nine years together, but I am truly excited about where we are headed. I feel peace and joy in the journey, but have been increasingly feeling like days are approaching when K,P & R will start to feel more insecure. I don't want to put that on them, but am making efforts to check in.

As we put them to bed tonight, each child's tuck in involved two questions:
What are you most excited about in 4th grade?
What are you nervous about?
After we talked about their answers, my husband and I encouraged them to pray...talking to God just like they had talked to us. It was a sweet time, but the simple prayer of my P was just the gift my heart needed.

"Dear God, I just want to tell you that I love you and I'm really not worried about 4th grade."

I walked out of his room with a sigh and a goofy grin. They aren't worried. This is a year when they get to feel 'in the groove' of elementary school--and I get to step back and let them grow.

I am not feeling like the frantic Mama of first days of years past. I feel peace. Of course, this is real life. It won't be perfect, but it IS well with my soul.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Looking to the Skies

Monday afternoon we intended to spend as long as possible out on the beach. It was the last night of our vacation and I am a sucker for sunsets.

The immense ocean and sky were reminders of the greatness of God. As the wind started to pick up we brought out a kite.

My super Dad spouse got everything set up and started a demonstration on how to operate a stunt kite. Then  he allowed K, P & R to try their hand at flying.

As you might imagine, there were crashes, tangles, frustrated tears and big goofy grins. 
I marveled at the metaphor of 'learning to fly' under the watchful eye of our Father. At this age and stage, they weren't quite ready for him to let them go it alone. He offered, but they clung to his guidance.

Ten years old is a sweet, sweet time.
I am so grateful for the gift of this Summer--the profound growth in these people (not so much in stature as in other ways) and the opportunity to be mindful right here in the thick of it. I still can't spot the magic in every moment. Truth is, most of life is very ordinary, stressful even a bit groundhog day-ish. Yet, if we look, there really are glimpses of glory--moments when I realize that God is working out their story and mine.

After all our joy, I heard thunder begin to rumble and spun around to see darkness moving in.

An ominous reminder of the dynamic, changing world in which we live. I thought about my post from earlier this week. All the struggle and darkness in Missouri, Iraq and even in my own neighborhood--people were hurting and oppressed under the very same sky my family was basking in.

I won't even pretend to understand it. 
But I will be grateful, tender and mindful. And like my children learning to fly the kite, I will watch and cling. 

(The storm clouds were my view of shore and the picture below was my view towards the horizon.)
God’s love is meteroic,
his loyalty astronomic,

His purpose titanic,

    his verdicts oceanic.
Yet in his largeness
    nothing gets lost;
Not a man, not a mouse,
    slips through the cracks.
How exquisite your love, O God!

    How eager we are to run under your wings...
You’re a fountain of cascading light,
    and you open our eyes to light. 
Psalm 36:5-9 The Message

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

From Headlines to my Hometown

**I wrote this the day before all of the ISIS Iraq issues hit mainstream news. All the more relevant now.

Those Central American children who have crossed the border. 

It all seems so far away from my simple, splendid Summer in small town Georgia. 

But it's not. 
My brother and sister and law lived in Israel years ago.
We have served with Samaritans Purse/World Medical Missions.
My husband trained in healthcare at the hospital in Atlanta where the Ebola patients are being treated. 
My cousin was deployed and serving in Afghanistan this time last year.
I have been to the areas of Central America these children are fleeing--and seen first hand the extreme poverty and machine gun toting men on every corner. 

These issues do touch my life--not to mention my heart. The people in these places are God's children too. And yet, all of those experiences are a bit removed from August 2014 as I send my kids to tennis camp in the morning and while away hours at the pool in the afternoon. My greatest conflict these days is how to limit my children's purchases at the snack bar. I am simultaneously grateful and disgusted.

I keep the television off at home because it is anxiety producing. I read news when I want to and skip a few days when it is overwhelming. The issues are so complex--and my limited understanding comes from bits and pieces I have read--certainly not enough to really grasp the problems, much less formulate a solution.

The thing is: I want to care. I wish there was something I could do to help...but what in the world can a housewife in Georgia who can't even keep up with her laundry supposed to do about these crises a world away? 

My belief in a Sovereign God reminds me that He put me here--in this place at this time in history. Again, I am incredibly grateful for this life of relative ease--but struggle with WHAT IN THE WORLD would honor God most from this position. We pray. We send donations. We return to our first world lives. 

I have had this lengthy conversation with three different wise people in my life in the last week--and we all shook our heads. As we spoke about the tension of not being consumed but not being complacent either I was reminded of all the places in life where wisdom demands we are stuck in the both/and.

Grace AND truth.
Truth AND love.
Wisdom AND faith.
In but NOT of.
Grateful but NOT complacent.
Concerned but NOT fearful.

My chest tightens a little just typing it. The tension. And yet, I don't think tension has to be a negative emotion. 

For believers, the tension serves as a reminder of our need for an Almighty, all-knowing God that is big enough to handle the complexities of this world. The healthy tension is what keeps us tethered to the Lord, kneeling at His feet, cognizant of our desperate need for Him, clinging to the Cross.

As I have been struggling in the last week God showed me some beautiful opportunities to serve in place. The simple domestic task of cleaning out a bedroom turning into a beautiful lesson in the provision and care of God. A couple of our afternoon family adventures included babysitting foster children (which felt like play dates to my children win-win). And then, Saturday, a simple trip to the park became a humbling and poignant lesson in how very much my heart had in common with a Mom whose outer appearances and circumstances were quite different from mine.

I was reminded that our God wants us to know Him. He tells us in Scripture that when we seek Him we WILL find Him. 
What we read in the headlines matters, but we must remember that the very same sin and human need that has led to so many crises overseas in also alive and well in the communities He has settled us in. 
So, let's spend less time being overwhelmed by headlines and take them confidently to Him instead. 
Let's look up from our phones to see the very real needs of our neighbors. 
Let's stop wringing our hands and open them to serve.

I am learning that when I PAY ATTENTION to the tension God is faithful to remind me that He is right here and willing to allow me to be part of His story of redemption and love.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Gifts of Kindness & Grace at Home

*I accidentally deleted this post from last night. This is a repost.*

"He's not the person I married."
"Kids changed things."
"I feel like I don't know him anymore."
"There is just a distance."

I have had this heart-wrenching conversation many times in the last couple of years as marital problems changed from something people my parents' age discussed in hushed tones to being a personally relevant topic for my friends. Hours have been spent over coffee or phone lines trying to dissect where things got off track and how to resurrect them.

And here's what I realize at mid life: my husband isn't the man I married any more than I am the woman he married. Of course we aren't.  Life is dynamic. People grow, change and are marked by circumstances. It is a fact of life. We can allow this truth to divide or have it unite, encourage and push 'us' in a new and different direction. We pledged for better or for worse--not for 'same.'

I adore my husband and am incredibly grateful for all he is to our family, but life is busy and we are both tired. He spends his days focused on the needs of patients and demands that are constantly being put on him. I often feel like I've spent all day "on call' serving our family and performing mindnumbing household tasks.

What both of us want at the end of the day is to collapse into a little kindness. If we both enter the evening wrapped up in our own pity parties of how tired we are, with an expectation that the other needs to serve us or give us some space--trouble will brew. In many ways home can be the hardest place to show grace. Especially when we retreat there to have our own needs met and collide into the reality of people who need us back.

Increasingly I am realizing that the secret to relationships that last are the little things. It seems like such an oversimplification of the complexities of relationships, but as I read this article from The Atlantic on kindness and generosity in marriage, science reinforced what our faith teaches us about focusing on others. When we strive to believe the best--and respond to the little cues we get from one another--both partners are happier. As Glennon Melton says, "Somebody's got to pour that first glass..."

Frankly, on long Summer days with kids, I have learned this method of choosing love works wonders too. Freely given. Unearned. Breathing deeply and deciding to respond in love when I don't particularly feel like it. It is grace.

"I am on your team."
"I like you."
"Can I help?"
"I am glad we get to be in the same family."
"I'm sorry."

Kindness is highly effective on the toughest adolescent personality in my home. We can lock horns like rams and exhaust ourselves getting nowhere or I can inhale, pray and do the hard thing: love instead of fight. I am amazed at the results. Our kids have hearts like ours--looking for acceptance no matter what.

Crossing battle lines instead of drawing's the way God loves us. When we 'get' that--allowing ourselves to be moved and changed--we will be more willing to pour grace out on those around us.

It's how I want to be treated--better than I deserve. It is what I want my heart, life and home to be marked by--and I am learning that this kind of love reaps its own beautiful reward.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

God's Provision in a Plastic Container

Yesterday K made me an offer I couldn't refuse.
"Mom, can we spend some time together cleaning and organizing my room?"

It was an especially welcomed suggestion since my girl is not exactly marked by neat and orderly tendencies. My energizer bunny would much rather be climbing a tree or conducting a science experiment than sorting, folding or straightening indoors!

I didn't ask any questions, but chose to accept it as a kind gesture. After dropping the boys at tennis this morning, we set out to tackle the project. I didn't want to risk her enthusiasm having a chance to wane.

Before long, music was blaring, stacks were being formed and her room was shaping up. After two hours we had a large black garbage bag full of trash and neat cabinets and drawers.

My little one is a bit of a pack rat with sentimental attachment to lots of things, so I was surprised by the number of formerly treasured items she was setting aside "for someone else to enjoy." We managed to fill a large plastic bin.

As I closed the lid on this girly treasure trove of stuffed animals, dolls, games, craft kits and jewelry she said, "Mom, I want to find someONE to give this to instead of just dropping it off somewhere."

We went about our rather ordinary Summer day. I dropped K off for a play date and went to retrieve my sons.

Around 2pm I received a text from a friend that serves as a foster parent with news that she had recently taken in a sibling group (two boys and a girl). She indicated that the children had arrived with very little and she was working on securing a few things to make them feel more at home--especially dolls and toys for the 6 year old girl.

I couldn't believe it! I excitedly informed her that we had a freshly packed container of great things that would be completely age and size appropriate. When I collected K from her friend's house we drove over to meet this sweet girl and deliver the goodies.

As the little girl opened the box and went through the items with K I was overwhelmed by God's provision for this sweet one. I saw the contents in a fresh way--through her eyes--and it looked like a 6 year old's Christmas wish...a doll with clothes, bottles, brushes and a stroller. Stuffed animals. A veterinary kit. Craft sets. Costume jewelry for dress up. A swimsuit and cover up. A church dress and play clothes. It suddenly didn't seem like donations, but instead like a suitcase that had been custom packed for this little one.

All the uncharacteristic interest in cleaning up had been for a much grander purpose.God had this child on His mind. What we considered a Summer chore was a way He was planning to shower love.

As we were leaving I couldn't help but point it out to our new friend. "Hey, do you know how much God loves you? He had us thinking of you before we had even met you. God had us pack up this container just for you!"

She smiled and I gulped as the implications in my own life sunk in. I looked over at my friend who had tears in her eyes too. 

When we drove away I reminded K not to miss the sweetness of this story. God loves US so much He let us be a small part of His big plan today. 

This is the way our God operates. He is thinking of us, loving us and putting us on other people's hearts even when we don't realize it. Even tonight I am shaking my head at the reminder of His Provision. 

I don't retell this story as a "look at me," but as a "Look at HIM!" God made a moment today that all of my well-intentioned orchestrating could not have crafted. He is woo-ing that sweet foster child, just as he is wooing my daughter, my friend and me...with undeniable reminders that He is weaving all our stories together. We must simply pay attention.