Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Decisions, Decisions

I had all sorts of random fears when I first learned I was carrying three babies. 
Would I ever sleep again?
Would people ever be able to tell them apart?
Would they speak in their own language & plot an uprising without my knowledge?
How on Earth would I manage alone time with each child?
Would this "trio" be able to find themselves as individuals outside of the group? 

So many of these fears weighed into early decisions like: 
Sharing a room or not (and for how long)
If/When to split them up at school
and even whether it was detrimental to dress them as a unit

There were so many opinions and a healthy amount of discussion surrounding each of these topics.

And like so much of parenting, my husband & I ultimately made decisions as they came and then we exhaled a prayer or 25 and went with it. Often we had to tweak and adjust, because life works that way. An important lesson in parenting was reinforced: There is no formula but to love hard, pray hard and be willing to recognize and follow through with necessary adjustments along the way.

As we enter these tween years, I do a lot more coaching that instructing--and that requires observation. I am loving the opportunity to watch and see how God is bringing things together in these young lives.

After a decade of investment, shoots of growth & fruit pop up at random times, like last night during our school's Open House. Each 4th grader made an "About Me" wheel that was displayed on the classroom walls with a visual representation of 8 things they enjoy. I marveled at 24 examples of my children's stories unfolding.
At 10 years old, she aspires to be a Veterinary Surgeon or a National Geographic Photographer "that hangs off cliffs." 

At 10 years old, his career goal is to be a video game maker or a dog trainer.

At 10 years old, he aspires to be a professional sports player.
I am documenting these for posterity's sake, because I know time will change the specifics, but the message to my heart is the same.

Take the role as parent seriously, but remember their story is ultimately being written by One far greater than you. 

Love. Pray. Breathe. Pay Attention. Marvel.

Because even though mine have shared a womb and a life they are each growing and bending and blooming in different ways under the direction of the master Gardener who continues to provide, nurture, and prune.

And so am I.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pictures and Perspective

This weekend my boys went on a special fishing trip with my husband and his Dad. Three generations of Scott fishermen meant sweet memories for all.

While they were piling up red fish, I had a chance to plan a special adventure with my K. Her number one request was "a bike adventure around town where you teach me more about photography." Well, twist my arm...on Saturday afternoon we took off.

As I handed over my Nikon with just a few basic tips, I marveled at my girl.

From her stance, to her zoom I realized by observing her that she has certainly been watching me. She had picked up so many nuances that I never mentioned, nor realized I was modeling.

And the implications were clear. She had her own style, but it was heavily influenced by what she has seen through the years.

She reveled in her chance to be in control, behind the camera, independently choosing the subjects. She didn't have many questions. She just wanted to experiment. We talked briefly about composition and light--and then I kept my mouth shut and let her click away.

Today when I finally pulled the photos off my memory card and onto my computer I was blown away. Here are just a few of the images she took.

It was both astounding and humbling to realize my little bit took every one of these images without any intervention from me--a true picture of her budding independence. As I flipped through the dozens of images she captured I couldn't help but grin at the surprises that often come when we back up and let our kids explore.

And I marveled at the gift of really being able to see things from her perspective.

I felt like the photos were little glimpses into the types of things she notices and cares about.

We talk a lot, but this was if I had gotten to be her eyes for an afternoon. If only it were always so easy to see what they are seeing, to have a way to capture what they value! 

I am grateful for this glimpse--and the reminders that:
 She is watching what I model. 
She's going to learn a lot more from experience than lectures. 
There is so much I've yet to learn and know of her.
Her point of view/perspective is not the same as mine.
We can have a lot of fun on this journey to adulthood. 

I really love this phase of parenthood!

Monday, September 08, 2014

K, P & R,
A lot is said in the wake of the deaths of celebrities, much of it by people who never really knew the person who passed. We feel like we knew them because of the image we had from our television/movie screens and magazine covers. I think we often relate to or feel affection for the characters they play as much as anything else.

Because I am not really inclined to be a fan-girl I don't always get it. However, the death of Truett Cathy has had me thinking all day. Most know him because of chicken sandwiches and a refusal to have his stores open on Sundays--but our community has the blessing of seeing the generosity that resulted from his business success. As I have thought about him and other famous people we've recently lost I can't help but hang on this: He didn't just  play a character, he was a man marked by character.

Even though I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Cathy, he truly impacted my life. By virtue of Berry College, our town hosts campuses for Winshape Summer camps, stellar marriage retreats, amazing foster homes and leadership programming. We are surrounded by people whose lives have been directly impacted by his life of generosity.

I didn't need to meet Mr. Cathy to know without a doubt that he was the real deal.
The people I know who work for Mr. Cathy's organizations--from the offices to the stores and within countless ministries in between-- are focused on excellence, service and the Lord.
The chicken sandwiches are awesome, but the eternal investment of those profits is the real story.
I have friends whose marriages have literally been resurrected through the work of the intensive marriage retreats.
I have watched real lives changed as foster kids have been brought into families with full time parents who are fully funded by the foundation Mr. Cathy's chicken sandwich business funds. They sit next to you in Sunday School, you've met at equestrian camp and in dance class--kids who have endless opportunities despite rough starts because of the vision and investment of Mr. Cathy.
Your Dad & I have been blessed by Winshape Marriage adventure programming and sailing trips.
Kids who might not have ever had the opportunity to attend Summer camp have been granted the experience.
College scholarships have changed the course of lives of people I know.
Leadership paradigms have been changed...

The tagline from Winshape Foundation's website really sums it up. "This is about life on purpose."

It started with a little restaurant in a small town in Georgia. A reminder that no job is too small or unimportant to be used for great purposes. Its proprietor was a faithful man who honored the Lord and chose generosity over greed and purpose over prosperity.

His life verse? "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches." Proverbs 22:1

I hope each time you pass the statue of Mr. Cathy outside our local Chick-Fil-A you'll forgive me for pausing just a moment. I pray it will serve as a reminder of a life well lived. Work hard. Honor the Lord. Live a life of love and generosity.

A true gentleman, full of principle, work ethic and devotion to community. This is a legacy to be esteemed, an example to follow, a life to celebrate. A true hero--not just a work of fiction manufactured to sell movies.

I am grateful for your life, Mr. Cathy.
Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Parenting Ten-agers

I am having a hard time blogging lately. I am still thinking, noticing, conversing with friends, praying--and even writing. I just can't bring myself to click the publish button. Three times in three days I have written multiple paragraphs only to delete the whole thing with a click.

There are a lot of voices proclaiming their truth with passion and certainty. If I am going to enter the fray, I hope it is with hope, encouragement or insight that adds value. Honestly, many times I read over what I have written and its none of the above.

I am in a season of tween-dom that is tricky. One minute K, R, P & I are discussing procreation and the next we are planning a lemonade stand. We go from silly karaoke of Frozen songs to deeper discussions about racism. The same child that won't let me post anything about him on social media for fear it might embarrass him asked me a few minutes later to buy him a t-shirt with an applique dinosaur.

This season is known for its awkwardness--and I think I am feeling it as much as the children. Having a home full of ten-agers gives me whiplash. Their growth spurts make me gangly too. And, somehow, strangely, I kinda love it.

As my people are sorting out who they are, I am working through how to love them in ways that celebrate their uniqueness. I am trying to honor the advice of wise Mamas who have gone before me to not ride the wave of my children's roller coaster emotions--but I want to stay in tune to them. We are navigating new waters.

I hesitate to write much out of respect for my children's growing up process, but also out of fear that it somehow communicates that I think I 'know' how to do this all the right way. I don't! But, for better or for worse, I have a (loose) plan:

Unplug as much as possible when my children (and husband!) are around. While we don't have plans for phones yet, my children are increasingly wired. They just received school issued ipads and email accounts. Not only is it a reminder that I am modeling the right way to use technology, I'm already jealous of how much they love their gadgets. It feels different being on this side of things. Wanting to connect and seeing the top of a head is frustrating at best and even hurtful sometimes.

Increasingly, when my people are home, my phone is on the charger. When we go out to dinner, I leave my phone in the car. If all my birdies are in the nest, there's nothing that urgent to stay wired for.

These two small changes made me twitch at first--which was all the confirmation I needed that it was overdue.

Much to my dismay, 2/3 of my people are now very concerned with how I portray them on social media. I confess that selfishly it is robbing my news feeds of some cute stories and fun pictures...but I must respect their boundaries. If I want them to trust me, I need to prove that I am safe. The last thing awkward tween emotions need is a fear that their confessions or struggles will be blasted across facebook and twitter.

I am a little bummed that they've robbed me of some great material (wink) but I appreciate that they recognize the permanency of the Internet. Here's hoping this lesson carries over when they are old enough for their own accounts!

Hunker down at home. Between tennis, tumbling, soccer and community theater our week nights are busy--I am making it a priority to eat together around a table as often as possible..even if that is at 5pm. We need face time and the predictability of that space.

I am also making more of an effort to sit with my children on the sofa at night to watch something together. Modern Marvels, American Ninja Warrior and Dirty Jobs are our current favorites--and of course college football. It is a small way to be physically close, to hold hands, to have them lean on me, to touch feet. It sounds so silly as I type it. I know I could be 'doing' something like cleaning the kitchen or another load of laundry, but when we are in a sofa pile--my heart knows it is the best use of my time.

Create space to listen. When my children were younger, I never really thought about what the ritual of 'tucking them in" would come to mean. I am now learning that wrapping the day up with quiet conversation in the dark is priceless. No matter what, each child knows they have my private, undivided attention. This has become my favorite time of day because I get real glimpses into their hearts.

And the last part is probably the most important...

Be honest about where I'm failing. Be open to correction. Be willing to laugh, learn and adjust my sails.

Gulp. This is hard for prideful, self-sufficient me. My children are the ones growing up...but, boy, I am growing too.

I am learning to love the humility of parenthood because it gives me compassion for the minefield our children are facing as they learn to navigate this life.

One step at a time--marked by lots of prayer, deep breaths, laughter and apologies.

What a journey!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Road Trips Instead of Roses

This weekend I accepted my husband's invitation to accompany him (kid free) to a work conference on the Georgia Coast. While he spent 10 hours in meetings, I caught up on long-postponed tasks in the quiet of a hotel room. I walked just a bit on the beach each morning and was able to spend some quality time with an old friend who lives in the area. But my absolute favorite part of the trip was 12 hours (out of the 48 we were away) in the car.

We laughed, we dreamed, we planned. We listened to news radio and discussed current events. I read articles aloud to him. We even discussed our wills! I couldn't help but laugh at how stereotypically middle aged we have become. And yet, it was so very good for my soul.

I remembered all over again that we are on the same team...and I am grateful for it.

When I was in my 20s, I thought of romance the way it is often portrayed in novels or splashed across the big screen--epic, dramatic. I am a product of the generation that grew up on protagonists with Peter Gabriel blaring from boomboxes out in the rain. I dated people who were big on presentation and kapow--and realized that sometimes it was more about how it made them feel than it was about me.

I didn't marry a rose petals on the bed kind of guy. Instead, I married a man I can hop in a car with and not particularly worry about where it is headed--because I trust him. I love him. Even when on strange side roads we didn't plan on, I know he will lead us well and absolutely honor me in the process.

His loving gestures happen day in and day out--in the way he prioritizes and orders his life. My man is much more practical than splashy--and I am grateful for that. I pray this is the type of relationship my children hold out for...where the joy is in the companionship on the journey, regardless of the destination or challenges along the way.

Turns out this middle aged Mama isn't searching for a dramatic tango or a place to get my groove back...I just need the gift of devoted time with my faithful man.

And returning home to reminders of just how many people benefit from this investment is icing on the cake.

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.