Monday, November 17, 2014

Absent to be Present

My nightly routine for many years was to write once the children were tucked into their beds. In those days bedtime was like a marathon finish line I couldn't wait to cross.

These days my 'big kids' stay up a little later and I lay with them to talk, laugh and just enjoy the silence. I really like these people and the quiet, one-on-one time the nights allow. It often ends this way.
How is this man-child one of my boys?

So this little blog is a bit neglected, but the hearts of those closest to me are not.

I have been absent here to be fully present in my home, and it is well with my soul.

Because I don't want my children to have beautifully bound volumes of the lessons I learned in parenting that required me to miss the days when they just wanted to be together.

I don't want them to one day speak of how I took the role of motherhood seriously... reading, writing, pondering, praying. I want them to know it was THEM I valued.

As a mama of 10 (and a half!) year olds, this often means watching shows I don't particularly care about in order to hold hands with one I do, playing all sorts of games, hearing a lot of long stories or corny jokes I don't always find funny and evenings of just laying close because I know these days are fleeting.

I do a lot of 'coaching' and correcting during the day...carping about wet towels, unbrushed hair, table manners, eye contact with adults, misplaced belongings, homework. I am not particularly smoothe at this motherhood gig, but after 8pm it is all about the snuggles and heart reconnection. The shine of the day has worn off. They are still and lovey. They invite me to connect. I'm in!

I have to remind myself that this time is not unproductive. I am making relationship investments in their hearts and mine. It is about presence not perfection.

So please pardon my absence. This is the season I am in-- and it is good.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Who's On Your Boat?

I have been offline for a bit due to an amazing opportunity Ryland & I had to serve as hosts for a marriage sailing adventure in the British Virgin Islands. A year and a half ago when we took our first journey with Winshape Marriage we had no idea it would lead to this. I am grateful! 

Prior to last week, I had never been on a catamaran--and yet, ten of us lived onboard one for seven nights. As hosts, our role involved serving guests via meal preparation and dishwashing duty in the tight quarters of a "two booty kitchen." (Quite an adventure some days on rough seas and with a limited water supply)
 You certainly won't find me complaining about the chance to 'serve' with this view!

Our days were filled with adventure and our evenings included small group discussion from The Art of Marriage.  We were urged to completely unplug and spend the time we would normally be tethered to devices and distracted by the pull of daily life to invest in each other.  We snorkeled, sea kayaked, swam, hiked, lounged, laughed and took life at a slow pace. 

It was the most refreshing week of my life. 

(This pic just makes me giggle. Rebecca, on the end, sacrificed her hubby/our boat captain to photographer duties.)

And the time with this fella was life giving.
The study materials were full of reminders of foundational truth. My favorite was actually a quote from a woman whose marriage was in a desperate place. She gave up, turning to an affair and moving out before she felt a conviction that said, "Do you not think the God who raised Lazarus from the dead is capable of resurrecting your marriage?" Wow. I just know there are people who need to be reminded of that. This life can be hard, but we serve a BIG God. 

 Though we were there to serve, kitchen duty helped Ryland & me smoothe out some of our marriage's rough edges in working together as a team instead of our typical mode of 'divide and conquer.' Nothing like sequestration in the middle of an ocean with lots of witnesses in close quarters to make you work it out. :)

We truly had a great cloud of witnesses on our boat...dear friends from college and people we really do life with here in our town. Over 50 years of marriage and lots of shared history between us...a beautiful depiction of community and intertwined lives. As we lived 8 days in the close quarters of a 52 foot boat, I basked in the gratefulness of WHO God has put in our figurative life boat.

I realized that I've been intentional about who I parent with, work out with, study Scripture with, etc. Yet, who we 'do' marriage with seems to all too often happen by default. It really matters who we choose to give a voice into this most intimate part our lives. Will they be those who edify or those who invite us to pull away?   
I choose these people (and others like them).
Brave people who walk authentically,
Laugh a lot, 
Cheer each other on, 
Challenge us to live out the fullness of God's plan,
Pitch in without being asked,
Keep short accounts & 
Love well. 

The journey really is marked by the people with whom you travel. I am so grateful for the people on our boat...and especially this one.

And guess what? The kids were fine. They grew in our absence. They welcomed us home with open arms. And they are already benefitting from rested parents whose love tanks returned full and ready to overflow into their hearts.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Because Long Division is Life

There is a word that strikes fear among the hearts of students and parents alike. It is the source of great emotion in homes across this nation each evening. It interrupts our notions of 'family time,' ruins many dreams of Rockwellian dinner scenes and leads to breakdowns in both adults and children.  It is homework.

I believe in letting my children do their own work. I try not to nag or hover. I seek instead to create an environment and a schedule that allows for adequate time and space for work to be completed independently and be on hand for clarification or feedback.

And yet, there are vocabulary pages, technological hiccups and most recently...long division. 

Last night as K was struggling with 'not getting' her Math, I looked into her face and saw my own. I could completely remember the frustration Math assignments often brought to my academic life. I wanted to curse Math with her until I considered the beauty of learning to do hard things early on...and, seriously, can we just pause to praise the Lord that her 'hard things' are Math assignments not the litany of other things some children her age around the world have already had to face.

It's not cancer or molestation or divorce or terror or hunger or ebola or the loss of a parent. It's long division. And I get the chance to cheer her on and encourage her as she tackles this hard thing at 10 years old, hoping and praying this will be a relatively painless building block God uses as she works her way up to countless other hard things in life.

We can dismiss homework as a stupid interruption or we can see it as a tremendous opportunity to work together on perseverence and problem solving. (Some days I'm better about this than others.) This is part of real life. Frustrating, inconvenient, challenging.  

Tonight she had second thoughts about a commitment she made to run in an elementary cross country meet Friday. The timing means she will miss all the Halloween festivities at school, which have historically been very enjoyable to her. But weeks ago she committed and now she wants to drop out. This isn't a major life decision--and yet, it is a wonderful, safe opportunity for her to learn about keeping her word, being honest, and thoughtfully choosing 'best yeses.'

Her Dad & I listened to her. We offered our opinions. Then we let her email the coach & prayed God would give her strength to honor whatever they decided.

As a parent, I have a choice. I can try to remove all the 'hard' things in her life--which again, mercifully at this point are pretty small in the grand scheme of things--or I can listen, counsel, pray and let her work through some age-appropriate life lessons at 10 that God will use to strengthen her and embolden her for what is to come.

Frankly, the desire to remove all the obstacles in our loved ones' lives is a false hope. We cannot protect our children from every danger, threat or bad choice. Attempts to do so make us feel courageous, but can communicate that we believe our children are weak, untrustworthy or unable to make solid decisions. 

God is leading us through a changing parental season. I feel him urging us to guide, direct and encourage a deepening faith that truly trusts God and His voice in their gut. 

It is so tempting to keep the reigns. Letting go means risking embarrassment, relinquishing control. Honestly, I like to rescue. It feels good for her to still need me...but increasingly, this is not the best long term parental strategy.

It will be hard for my children to recognize their need for Savior when I am busy trying to fill that role.

I feel peace tonight that these are places where God is telling me to back off and give Him some space to show Himself as real and relevant in K's life..

So I pray, exhale and loosen my grip a bit more, trusting that He has got her (and me.)

**Before the comments turn into a debate about the merits of homework, I acknowledge some types of assignments are more beneficial than others. My point really was about the temptation to remove all 'struggle' from our kids lives. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lessons from the Louvre

I am still basking in the memories (and the laundry) of our Fall break. It was an incredible trip. We learned a great deal about history and culture, but one of my favorite lessons from the adventure happened in the Louvre.

This museum is an incredible place. Not only is it massive in size, but the sheer volume of priceless treasures is astounding. I am not an art aficionado and yet it seemed that every direction I looked I saw something I recognized.

As I tried to take it all in, I realized that each of these works was born out of vision, talent and individual work. From sculptures to canvases, the world famous art housed here takes on incredibly different forms, yet, we can admire them all for the varied beauty and perspective they bring.

Yesterday morning in Sunday School as our family pastor was speaking about parenthood, he used I Corinthians 7:17.

 "Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him."

He was making the point that while many of us have the vocation of parent, the way we live it out does not necessarily look the same way from one person to the next. Much like the vocation of artist, the methodolgy and style is born from the individual and circumstances involved.

Read that slowly Mamas. We all develop our own style. We do things differently. Beauty is achieved in many different ways.

And I thought back to the Louvre. It is not one artist. It is not one style. There is no one prevailing medium--or even time period. 

What would the world have lost if Rembrandt had tried to be da Vinci?

Be the YOU God designed. Offer your life as a living sacrifice that seeks to contribute the 'art' He inspires in your life. There is a plan for your life to bring Glory to God. So lean in...and look up.

Look up: the other lesson I hope to never forget from the Louvre. 

There were so many things to see at eye level, that I almost missed the mind boggling beauty of the ceilings.

What a reminder that what we see down here, at eye level...these circumstances, these fears, these test results, the challenges of living in a broken world... they really are just a small part of the story. This is just a slice, a taste really.

Want to be blown away? Want to be reminded of grandeur and glory that restores your perspective? 

Don't forget to look up.

"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." Colossians 3:2

Monday, October 20, 2014

Last Day in London

Today's goals for our last full day were:
1- Get out of the city,
2- Enjoy a more laid back pace, and
3-Try to accomplish a few of the 7-8 things on our wish list that we hadn't managed to do yet in London.

We didn't have a single reservation, so we had a great deal of flexibility. As an added bonus, the weather was fantastic...crisp & clear in the mid 60s.

We let the kids sleep in until 8am/2am EST (oh, jetlag is going to be a drag!) before heading to the train station for a 20-30 trip to Windsor. This was honestly one of my favorite things we've done. It was so peaceful, yet regal. It reminded me of the Biltmore in North Carolina--except a few centuries older and so very grand!

 The love for the Royal Family & the Monarchy in general is so clear here. It was easy to get swept up in the sentimentality of it all. The history is so long and deep. We particularly loved the stories of the knights!

We all wore our audio guides and found much of what they covered very interesting. The sheer grandeur of the castle, chapel and grounds is impressive. I just cannot get over the artistry and craftmanship of the architecture. This trip has reminded me what a young country the U.S. still is! 

We had heard that it was more enjoyable to view the Changing of the Guard at Windsor than at Buckingham Palace...and after visiting the grounds I can see why. Unfortunately, we arrived in time for the 11am ceremony only to discover they had switched to an every other day schedule in the off season. Bummer. 

The grounds here are extensive, so you could spend MUCH more time exploring than we actually did. We gave it two hours before heading back to town, because although this was our 'laid back day,' we are Scotts--and we like to do a lot. :-) 

 From Windsor, we traveled via train & tube to Kensington Gardens where we had a real British tea at the Orangery on the grounds of Kensington Palace.

I have read assorted reviews of this place, so I will add mine. Although we did not have a reservation and were able to walk right in at 2pm. The price was less than many other places in town and the atmosphere was nice. I appreciated the location, because as you will see in subsequent pictures, my children really needed to just RUN for a bit and just outside the doors they could do just that.

The tea was delicious, but I have mixed feelings about the food. We had hoped this would count as lunch...but my 10 year olds couldn't quite find enough in the selection (cucumber sandwich, curried chicken sandwich. egg sandwich, scone & cake) that they loved enough to fill up.

We spent an hour and a half after tea exploring the grounds at Kensington. Having just been at Luxembourg Gardens yesterday, I found the feel here to be very different. Kensington was much more natural, relaxing and full of dogs, bikes and kids.

In addition to chasing the ducks and taunting the two dozen swans, my children loved the Diana Memorial Playground. I think they were likely just on the verge of being too old for it, but you would not have known it from watching them play. They thoroughly enjoyed it!

We exited Kensignton Gardens via Notting Hill and took the tube to Picadilly Circus--which is truly a British version of Times Square. We spent 15-20 minutes taking in the atmosphere here before our final adventure to find a pub with fish and chips.

I wish this picture quality was better so you could see how clearly comfortable (perhaps too much so) my children became with the underground!

Tonight has been spent packing up--which made the reality of the extensive travel involved in getting here come crashing in. My final thoughts on this as a family trip are yes, yes, yes. I told Ryland tonight that I wouldn't change anything and he agreed. I wish we had made it to Churchill War Rooms and Cotswold, but as young R said "we will just have to return one day for that!"

Relaxing vacations are fine--but, honestly, this type of travel is far more our family's speed. We are busy bodies who like challenges, learning and exploring. The opportunity to sequester our kids outside of their normal routine, screen free and engaged in adventure is how we bond and grow.

We have been so proud of the way our kids have learned to flex this week--and, honestly, it has been good for our marriage too! The nature of our life at home often requires both Ryland & me to operate very individually. We spend much of our time dividing and conquering. He works long, hard hours and I hold down the fort with kids, bills, house, etc... As a result, working TOGETHER, in concert with one another can often be an adjustment for us. This trip required us to be a team and work things out together and, by golly, we've done it.

Returning home tomorrow with a full heart... but first we must 'pay the piper' with 18 hours of travel!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Paris Part Two

Did I say 36 hours in Paris? Because it was actually only 29! So fast I thought at times we might be auditioning for The Amazing Race as we carted backpacks through parks and dashed down metro platforms to avoid missing a train. 

Nonetheless, we hit the major high points on our list and enjoyed ourselves in the process.

Being too young for coffee has definitely been a disadvantage for these little travellers. Mornings are groggy!
 Today's cafe stop for 'real' hot chocolate quickly perked them up.
Honestly, I cannot say enough good things about what troopers they have been this week--rolling with the punches, trying new things and really embracing the experience! (and mostly carrying their own stuff ;-)

Our first tour stop this morning was the Catacombs. I confess, my first impression of this activity was to be pretty creeped out. After all, it is a set of tunnels deep under Paris where remains of 6 million Parisian bodies were laid to rest in the 1800s. But after reading the Lonely Planet book about Paris and discussing our trip with a travel agent friend, my children were insistent. The tour was quite interesting--and this was a situation where I am glad we booked a guide and skipped the very lengthy line. 

After the Catacombs we went directly to the Notre Dame. It was a glorious Sunday and the line was very long. We decided our limited time was better spent exploring than standing in line, so we took a lap around the outside and admired the grounds and exterior along the River Seine without going in.

This walk allowed us to see the "Love Lock Bridge" and enjoy a true Parisian experience with the musical accompaniment of street performers.  
We ended this walk with a quirky little find our friend Jennifer, suggested to the kids...a pet/bird/flower market tucked along a small city street only a block away from Notre Dame. Of course, the kids asked to take home a bird or bunny. Can you imagine Customs' response?

 After this we had a cafe lunch before a short Metro ride to Luxembourg Gardens.
 It was a sunny, warm day so the park was very busy! We enjoyed some wooden sailboat racing around the pond.
 These boats are powered only by the wind and a long stick, so it really is a unique and fun activity!
The plan was to then watch a real French marionnette show in the gardens. We got there early, stood in line for a spot, and my children stared so longingly at the children running and laughing on the playground that we gave them a choice.

A French Marionette version of Pinocchio or stretching, climbing and enjoying other kids...guess what they chose?

Ryland & I kicked up our feet (backpack free) and enjoyed nutella crepes and passion fruit sorbet while they played. Everybody was happy!

In the "I wish I would have known" column: Admittance to the park is free, but you have to pay to use the playground AND you have to pay to use the toilet! (half a Euro each to potty)
We left the Garden with just enough time to spare to stop by the highly recommended Pierre Herme for macaroons. The line stretched down the block...and they did not disappoint. That made three stops for macaroons in 29 hours if anyone is counting! It's a good thing we've walked an average of 9 miles a day this week. (Seriously, my people are troopers!)

We took the RER train from Luxembourg back to Gare du Nord for the 5pm return train to London...resting our travel weary bones tonight for one last day tomorrow!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Whirlwind Day in Paris

We woke up VERY early this morning bound for France. The children were less than thrilled about alarms that required them waking up at 1am EST, but their resiliency was amazing. We took backpacks only and headed for a fast and furious 36 hours in Paris!

A short tube ride to St. Pancras station where we boarded the Eurostar train for a trek through the 'chunnel,' underwater to cross from the UK to France. It was a pleasant ride, much like Amtrak (but on time!)

Once we arrived at the Gare du Nord station in Paris it became quite clear we were in a foreign country. So much of our foreign travel experience has either been in primarily English speaking countries or places where we can get by with our broken English. Paris was fast paced and quite a different culture than the one we've become accustomed to in London.

We boarded bus 42--a highly recommended public transit route that took us right through the city center.  I had read a lot about this method of travel--and it was definitely a taste of Parisian life-- but not having any French language skills made this somewhat of a 'baptism by fire.' 

Even the way the buses work here--they don't stop unless you push a button--was foreign. We figured it out, but it was an adventure! People were pushy and unconcerned with the fact that we had three children, but  for one kind woman who noticed we could use some help and made sure we knew what we were doing.  Merci, kind woman, merci!

We got off the bus near the Louvre because one of our people had a bladder in need of some attention. Lucky us, it was on the same block as Laduree and their incredible macaroons. We went through the line twice, feasting on salted caramel, citron, gingerbread, vanilla and chocolate. Yum!

We then hailed a taxi and went on the ride of our life...honestly, this guy's reckless driving seriously rivalled our experiences in Central America and made NYC cabbies look like kiddie rides. It didn't help that he was on facebook on his tablet while driving--and pointed to the spot where Diana's crash occurred as we flew through a short tunnel.

After checking our backpacks in the hotel, we went to the Louvre.

We planned a quick 2 hour visit since our stay in Paris is so brief. We were able to see our three top priorities: Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo & the Egyptian antiquities. But, honestly, it was way too short. I do not have words to accurately capture how incredible the Louvre is...the artwork is unbelievable, but the facility itself is breathtaking...and the ceilings? The artistry is hard to comprehend!

I, honestly, was concerned about how 'into it' the kiddos would be...but we could have easily spent a couple more hours there before they grew restless. I was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm. And when R asked for my cell phone so he could "take a selfie with the Venus de Milo" I felt like all the cheesy photo ops from the wax museum yesterday were redeemed. I am raising well balanced children, right? 
(This pic is not of R because though he started the trend he did not want the pic published. :) 
After the Louvre, we took a taxi to the Eiffel Tower.
I decided to go through a tour company for a 'behind the scenes, skip the line, theatrical experience' and I am SO glad we did. It was a true history lesson that kept the children captivated for two hours--from the war bunkers to the engine room--and there were even two special photo op areas off limits to the public that were terrific. 

As we were leaving, the sun was setting, so we decided to take our time and walk down the stairs to exit rather than the elevator. I will always treasure that memory. The view, the supreme weather and the time with my tribe. 

We took a quick ride on the double decker carousel as it got dark, then admired the Eiffel Tower all lit up before heading out in search of a restaurant that served escargot. This was P's #1 request of Paris...and I am happy to report it was satisfied. He is our pickiest eater, so we were surprised by this request...but he followed through and even convinced the other two to try.

Again, there were other things I'd hoped to accomplish today, when this was all just a plan on paper...but this was a comfortable pace and a satisfying day of rich experiences!
(And I have already decided I plan to turn 40 every single year. What a gift this trip has been!!!)