Summer

 

IMG_0586Um, I looked at the calendar and realized that there are less than three weeks left in summer break. What is this crazy vortex I live in that makes time move at hyper speed?

In an instant I went from “super chill summer mode” to “GET ALL THE SUPPLIES AND BUY ALL THE BACKPACKS AND CLEAN OUT EVERY CUPBOARD!”

Now I’m on a mission to squeeze every last moment out of the dwindling break.

I have a love-hate relationship with summer. Desert summers are so hot it’s stupid and that means I can’t really get outside, which is something I enjoy. I do love that all six of us are on a break together and we don’t have to worry about rushed mornings, homework, rehearsals, tournaments, recitals, etc., etc.

We’ve done some really fun things since the school year ended. We’ve escaped to the beach, played at the lake, gone roller skating, watched a movie at a drive-in, had countless game nights, spent time at the library (free air conditioning!), stayed up late, and slept in. As far as making memories, I think we’ve done a solid job of that this year.

But this summer has had some sharp edges also. Last month John was in a serious auto accident. The damage from being hit landed his car in a wrecking yard two months after we got it. He said he looked at the grill of the other car, time slowed, and he thought, “This isn’t how I thought I was going to go.” The car took the impact, but in the aftermath we all felt emotionally crushed.

The month before that, during a self-check, I found a lump. With my mom’s history of breast cancer and her death from ovarian cancer, I am pretty diligent. I wasn’t ready for it though, and I worried. By “I worried,” I really mean “I lost my mind.” If I’m being honest, there was no faith in God’s plan or peace that things would be okay. There was only, “Who will dance with my son’s at their weddings?” and “I won’t be able to help my girls when they have babies of their own.”

The next day, volunteering as a stage manager, I sat in a dark corner behind a curtain while nearly 1,000 kids celebrated the first day of our church’s annual week-long VBS camp. I kept stealing away to make appointments and email John. I was able to see my doctor that afternoon and he referred me for the proper tests. Three weeks later (I know!) I went in for my appointment. I couldn’t help but notice that all of the other ladies sitting near me — all waiting for the results of their own diagnostic tests — walked in for their news and one-by-one, walked out smiling. I was sure the odds were against me, so when my name was called I prepared myself for the worst. I almost didn’t believe it when the doctor handed me my report and said everything looked just fine. “What you found was totally normal,” she said. “Always be watchful, but never assume the worst.”

Right. Talk about emotional whiplash.

For a long time I thought summer had some whimsical superiority over other seasons, and was disappointed when it didn’t meet my expectations. I’d spend half the school year dreading it, and the other half dreaming about its lazy days. The fall is my absolute favorite season and it’s not unusual for me to begin counting down the days until summer gives way to pumpkin everything.

A few weeks ago I stole an idea from Instagram and made a bracelet that reads, “SUMMER.” I’m wearing it because the calendar already moves so fast; wishing away the heat or complaints of boredom or focusing so much on what’s next is a sure way to miss what’s happening right now. This simple bracelet acts as a reminder that we’ve had some great summertime experiences, and even in the ugly stuff, God has always carried us through.

But blessed is the man who trusts God,
the woman who sticks with God.
They’re like trees planted in Eden,
putting down roots near the rivers —
Never a worry through the hottest of summers,
never dropping a leaf,
Serene and calm through droughts,
bearing fresh fruit every season.
– Jeremiah 17:7-8 (The Message) 

 

 

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Choosing battles and pursuing dreams

My oldest is starting high school next month and it’s bizarre. Wasn’t I just in high school (flips hair over shoulder)?

The last three years have been rough. Seeing him through middle school was a balance between holding my breath, walking on eggshells, and, at times, forcing him out the door in the mornings.

It’s because he hates school.

So much of parenting is mastering the art of choosing our battles, but for the longest time I fought Ryln as he complained about going to school. We knew bullying wasn’t the issue — trust me, we looked into it — he got A’s and B’s, has a solid group of loyal friends. I just didn’t get it.

“You need school,” I’d tell him. “College will be here before you know it.”

“I’m not going to college,” he replied every. single. time.

I remember the first time he said it, worry swept over me like a swarm. Even though some of the smartest — and happiest — people I know never went to college, even though I know that God uses people regardless of their education, I still freaked out.

“College is pointless,” he would call after me as I walked away fretting and wringing my hands.

His mentality, in part, comes from the fact that he’s a teenager and apparently teenagers know everything, but part of it comes from a true place. College isn’t for everyone.

Ry with clubRyln doesn’t want to go to college because he wants to pursue his passion (I understand that he’s only going to be a freshman, but the years go by lightning-quick). Ryln’s first words were “golf ball” (true story). As a toddler, he’d drag clubs, twice his height, all around the house. In elementary school he took lessons, practiced with his dad, and discovered competitive golf. He spends entire days at the practice facility, honing his skills. He wants to focus on his game after high school and eventually try to play professionally. Frankly, if there wasn’t a golf team at the high school, the next four years would be unimaginable.

I’ve changed my mind about college for Ryln. I edged my way there with tentative steps; now I’m at peace.

A few months ago I was sitting across from him at a restaurant and he was telling us all, again, why school “is so dumb.” I reminded him that I went back to school to get my master’s and how I didn’t think it was dumb. “I don’t get why you did that,” he said. “You’re a phenomenal writer and that’s what you love doing.” John and I exchanged a look; he silently said to me, “See, he likes you.” Ryln’s biased because he’s my kid, but in terms of choosing a “safe path” rather than one with inherent risks — he hit the nail on the head. Kids are brave in ways that adults just aren’t.

Something shifted that day though, and I firmly planted one foot in Ryln’s camp.

A few weeks later I was talking to someone at work and they were asking about my degree program. As I was explaining it to her I said, “I can’t wait to be done. I love teaching, but I really don’t like being a student. I never have.” I have no idea what she said after that because as soon as the words left my mouth, I realized how much like Ry I sounded; I mentally shook my fist toward the heavens. It’s humbling, realizing the annoying things your kids do actually originate with you.

The tipping point came when I was watching a documentary — FINE! I was watching The Voice — and a participant’s mom was explaining that her daughter is passionate about music; even if it meant postponing college, she would support her kid. “As a parent, why wouldn’t you want to see your children step into their dreams?” asked the mom.

“Whatever, random lady from Lansing,” I thought.

But she was right.

Last month I stood on the threshold of Ryln’s bedroom door, one hand on the wall to steady myself, and told him that no matter what, I’m in his corner. “If you want to take a gap year, or (gulp) forgo college all together in order to do what you really love, I’m fine with that.

“And son,” I added, “you have the talent and the dedication to succeed.”

Because relenting and supporting aren’t the same. “Go ahead, do what you want,” isn’t the same as, “You can do this, I believe in you.”

He didn’t know what to make of it at first, but now he knows I’m sincere.

A few weeks later he made a passing comment about going to college if he gets a full ride.

Reverse psychology wasn’t my intention, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tiny bit relieved.

Either way though, he has our support. Everyone deserves to be cheered on as they step into their dreams.

Ryln walking to DW

 

Musings for the end of 2016

saying-goodbyeJoy. That was my word for 2016. Joy is something you either have or you don’t. It’s not the same as happiness, which can come and go. That’s why the whole “choose joy” thing is super annoying. Whether I’m in a good mood or not, happy or not, excited or not, I still have joy. Who would choose not to have joy? For me, joy is the result of knowing who God is in my life and that’s not going to change. (Who picked this word anyway?)

What I did learn from spending a year ruminating on the word is that I probably don’t let my joy show enough. Fine. FINE! I definitely don’t. I feel like a grumpy 85-year-old man half the time, shaking my fist and yelling, “Get off my damn lawn!”

I want to be better about reflecting joy. More than anything, I want my kids to grow up knowing that it’s okay to be a goof every once in a while, to relax,  and not to take things so seriously.

As for the year in general…it has had its peaks and valleys. After thinking about it for 27 minutes I decided to go back to school to get my masters and my teaching credential. It’s not hard at all to take care of a family and a house, work, and go to school full time. By “not hard at all,” I really mean, “Get off my damn lawn!” It hasn’t been easy. I have questioned the decision more than once. I will be completely done before the end of 2017, and that is a very bright light at the end of what has felt like a very long tunnel.

I laid 1500 square feet of tile in our home in 2016. Nearly six months later and I sometimes still lay on the tile that looks exactly like beautifully aged barn wood, cheek pressed against the cold ceramic, and thank Jesus that I didn’t cut off a finger or lose an eye. Also, I thank Him for YouTube and Lowe’s.

Nothing happened in November and nobody freaked out. Translation – everyone freaked out.

For the most part, the year was fine.

Then a few days ago, just as it was almost closed, death stuck its foot in the door of 2016. It took a kind, genuine, honorable person less than a week before 2017 bloomed on the notes of Auld Lang Syne. He was one of the very best and I miss him a lot.

The word I picked for 2017 is trust. I was going to pick reconciliation. Frankly, I don’t know which one is worse. I mean better. They’re both so amazing. I’m looking forward to posting more about this soon.

Silent Saturday and silent seasons

photo by Darren Waters, 14 September 2005
Photo by Darren Waters.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
Psalm 27:14

For Christ-followers, today is a day of anticipation. The brutality of what yesterday, Good Friday, represents — Jesus’ violent, unrelenting beating and crucifixion — still lingers in our minds. Of course we think about Christ hanging on that cross, but that’s not what Easter is for the believer. We don’t celebrate His death. We celebrate His sacrifice and His resurrection, and that celebration is tomorrow.

So here we are — knowing — that we are in the middle of what represents the darkest day and the most important day in history.

But that wasn’t so for those who walked beside Jesus, followed His real-time teaching, watched Him take His last breath, experienced the blanket darkness that marked His end.

In the final hours of Jesus’ earthly life, the whole land went dark. Luke 23:45 says, the sun stopped shinning. Then the temple curtain split in half. With a hush, Jesus breathed His last, and His earthly life ended. Can you imagine it? The eerie pulse that must have run through the spectators, reaching the fringe where His followers watched in silence. A crowd of believers and Jesus-haters realizing that what He’d been saying all along really was truth.

In a strange way, that’s when the emotional darkness began. No one knew that the very next day, Jesus’ followers would find the tomb empty, splayed open so the sun cut like a knife into the deepest, darkest corners. They didn’t know that so, so soon, the Light would drive out the darkness.

During that silent middle day, there was weeping, fear, confusion, doubting, debating. The disciples were frenzied, unsure. Former dissenters were in anguish that they hadn’t believed Jesus’ teachings.

There was crushing silence.

We know what happened next. Jesus rose from the dead. But that middle day, Silent Saturday as we now call it, that must have been hell on earth. It’s hard to image the darkness.

Or maybe it isn’t.

People walk through “silent Saturdays” all the time. Middle sections of difficult seasons. Times they’re waiting to hear from God, and feel untethered, broken, or alone. They love God and have seen Him do big things, but they’re still waiting for healing, for reconciliation, for joy, for Light.

Like those who waited more than 2,000 years ago, a new set of believers and Jesus-haters are waiting to experience the miraculous.

Glory is coming; that can be counted on. History proves it. The Bible promises it. The first Silent Saturday is proof that every single silent season will come to an end.

Jesus is always victorious.

Joy in 2016

I was a little sad to say farewell to 2015. It was a good year. There were hard times and several goodbyes, but I’d settled in and I was comfortable.

My word for 2015 was “New.” To go with my word I picked Revelation 21:5: And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” I had no idea how relevant it would turn out to be.

I liked “New,” and I’d keep that word for 2016, if I didn’t feel like it’s time to move forward. In contrast, my 2014 word was “Surrender,” and when the clock struck midnight on 1/1/15, I was like, “Later surrender. You sucked.”

As 2015 dawned I considered what “New” would look like. It was cute, how I had it all planned out. I wrote in my journal, “I want to approach everything in a new and fresh way…” It even sounds annoying. I thought I’d just work at being more patient, smile more, stress less. Snort. God was all, “Orrrrr, how about I completely change your life.”

Occasionally I will tell people that I enjoyed labor, that it was a good pain (note, my longest labor was five hours). They either back away slowly, or look like they’re going to punch me in the face. That’s how I feel about my “New” year too. A lot of good pain. It was hard at the time, but I was better off when it was finished.

joyI prayed a lot for my 2016 word. Every where I looked, the word “Joy” winked at me, mocked me. See, joy is a choice, and it goes far deeper than happiness. It’s something I’d have to be intentional about, instead of riding the “New” wave. When John asked me what my 2016 word is, I said, “Joy, and I’m mad about it.” I mean, it’s not really what I’m known for. Once, at a retreat, someone told me I needed to smile more when I was speaking to the group. So I did. I went up on stage and smiled and said “Hi!!!” That was immediately followed by several of my friends laughing because, as they pointed out later, I’m not one to blow sunshine.

Here’s the thing though, I’m a Level 1 worrier (that’s the highest level possible) and I often allow circumstances to steal my joy. If I have more joy, I’d have more peace, more hope, a more positive outlook. This Joy thing could actually be beneficial. When I came across Psalm 30:11-12, I was sold. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with JOY, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever. 

I may have cheated a little, because I feel like it piggy-backs on New, that it’s Act II to what God did in 2015. He changed my perspective on my past, busted down decades-old walls, gave me a sense of heaven and eternity.

He gave me beauty for ashes, and joy replaced sorrow. It doesn’t make sense for me to keep a lid on that.

Happy New Year, may 2016 bring you peace, love, and JOY.

Life in Progress, Part 4: To be continued…

If I had written the final post in this series last week, it would undoubtedly sound different. That’s because grief is a beast, and there’s no instruction manual for this particular situation. It’s also because I learned a valuable lesson, one that I’ll share before this post ends.

If you haven’t read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 in the Life in Progress series, I would. I just think the story makes more sense in order.

I ended my last post explaining that I decided to chase my mom’s story, which meant John and I were going to Oregon. I questioned the choice a hundred times before we actually left. I thought maybe it was too “Lifetime movie” of me to get on a plane and fly to a city I’d never been before, to go interview friends of a woman who, let’s face it, I really didn’t know. I mentioned my idea to a friend who said I had to go, and as the days went on, I told more people about my plan. Not only were they encouraging, they were taking care of the details.

Since having our first child 12 1/2 years ago, John and I have never been anywhere, overnight, without the kids. Flying to another state was a huge stretch for me. This was a milestone trip for several reasons.

As I prepared to leave, I made some phone calls. I spoke with my mom’s pastor, who organized a breakfast meeting with several of her friends. I was given all the details of where her ashes were spread. I was encouraged to attend her favorite Sunday service at church. Her people were helping me in the midst of their grief.

I was still reeling from the loss and all of the unanswered questions when John and I left our four babies with dear friends to fly to Portland.

It was late when we arrived. A friend’s husband works for a rental car company and set up our reservation. All I had to do was pay our charges and get the keys. As we waited at the counter, my physical and emotional exhaustion began to consume me. I noticed the agent stop what he was doing and lean closer to the computer, with his hand over his heart, and read notes on the screen. Eventually he looked at me and whispered, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Little things like that happened the entire weekend. Friends making sure I was cared for, and Jesus showing me His love.

20150710_134532_001On the first full day of our trip we went to Newport, Oregon. There’s a lighthouse there, and a heart-shaped cove where sea lions gather. It’s surrounded by a wall of craggy coastline, and you can feel the wind fill the entire space. That’s where my mom’s ashes had been spread less than three weeks before. I waded into the water, and cried.

The next morning at a restaurant, I met my mom’s pastor and his wife, along with five of her close friends. They asked me a lot of questions, some of them hard, some of them out of curiosity. They said my mom spoke of me, but they didn’t know a lot about the estrangement.

I have reversed the roles so many times on this journey. If I had passed, and my mom had shown up in my town, how would my friends react? In light of that, I was very, very careful. They knew her so much better than I did, and they had just lost their dear friend. But they were so gracious. They cried with me and prayed for me. They shared funny stories and hard stories. They recounted my mom’s final days and her deep desire to live. They said she was known for her eclectic fashion, her heart for widows, and her propensity for saying exactly what was on her mind. She also loved crepes with strawberries and whip cream. That came up when I ordered the exact same thing; it’s my go-to when eating out.

John and I have spoken often of the people my mom was in community with. They are solid, Bible-believing, faith-filled lovers of Jesus. Not only did God honor my prayer to surround her with Christ followers, He surrounded her with people who are passionately pursuing Him. They were perfect for her.

Before leaving for the trip I’d mentioned to the person handling her estate that I would like her Bible, if possible. I thought of it often in the days leading up to the trip. I told several people that I didn’t want to leave Oregon without it. When the representative emailed back and said that her belongings couldn’t be distributed at that time, I was disappointed.

As I sat among her friends at breakfast, John asked her pastor whether he was confident that my mom had genuinely found faith in God. He responded, “Without a doubt. She loved Jesus.” Turning to me, he continued, “There’s something I think will help you. It’s a note she wrote in her Bible…I have her Bible for you.”

And I lost it. Right there in that restaurant, I sobbed. Someone pulled some strings, I didn’t ask any questions. I just knew I’d be able to return home with something tangible that pointed to her faith.

John and I spent a lot of time walking around town, visiting bookstores and little shops and historical landmarks. We found an amazing seafood restaurant and spent hours there, two nights in a row.

IMG_20150712_112628On Sunday morning we attended her favorite church service. Before he began the message, her pastor handed me her Bible, showing me the note she’d written inside. It’s too private to share in its entirety, but it does say, “God entered my heart and soul. I feel it in my core like a bolt of lightening…I am God’s plan.” It’s dated March, 2010.

I sat next to my husband, in my mom’s usual seat, at her regular service, holding her Bible, two weeks after she died, 20 years since I’d last seen her, and mourned an amazing stranger who also happened to be my mama. It was a full circle the likes of which I’ve never experienced.

I wish I could tie up this series with a big red bow. I wish I could say she left behind a letter, any explanation at all for the choices she made. The truth is, this story is to be continued in more ways than one. Over time I believe I’ll learn more about her. For the most part though, I think my questions won’t be answered until the other side.

This situation has drilled home the truth that people will always disappoint us. No one on this earth is perfect. No one can be Jesus to us, other than Jesus. I can only tell so much of my mom’s story because I didn’t actually learn about her last years and her faith until after she died. Any kindness toward me I assigned her, I did because I couldn’t stand the idea of her dying hating me, or worse, nothing-ing me.

That’s why I have to stop focusing on her story.

I have to tell my story. That’s the valuable lesson I learned.

I had a mother who fought emotional and psychological demons for most of her life.

She wasn’t the greatest mom.

We parted ways, and it broke the already-broken pieces.

I found the Lord.

I prayed for her salvation for 20 years.

She fell in love with a man who took her to church. Then she fell in love with Jesus.

And for years, neither of us reached out to the other.

I will always wish that the Jesus-loving version of my mom was in my life.

But now I have to move on to the next chapter. I have to face head-on the areas I struggle with on this earth — many of which came from my relationship with my mom — while honoring her faith, and thanking Jesus that He always does what He says He’s going to do.

 

 

 

Life in Progress, Part 1: Why I wasn’t looking forward to school starting

Since July I’ve dreaded the back-to-school process.

The reason is probably not what you’re thinking. In fact, I’m almost positive it’s not.

My dread wasn’t because of early mornings, extra-curriculars, or the busyness that the school year brings.

It wasn’t because of the car payment’s-worth of school supplies, or the homework packets.

It was the question. The one I had no idea how to answer, but that everyone would be asking.

“How was your summer?” 

Parents, how  many times do we hear that during back to school time? Like 72,000, that’s how many.

It started a week before school began when I was helping out on my kids’ campus. “How was your summer?” another parent inquired. I thought I was ready for it, but I still had to think carefully about my answer.

“It was good,” I replied. “Pretty low key,” I added, lying.

When I was young I’d read those books that allow the reader to choose the outcome of the story. “Go to page 62 to find out where Mr. Buffalo hid the key to the treasure,” OR “Go to page 109 to learn whether Mr. Buffalo really does take up skeet shooting.”

That’s how I feel every time someone asks me how my summer was.

I could say “Fine,” OR I could say, “John and I went to Oregon for a few days.” If I pick the latter, the next question is surely, “What’s in Oregon?” I could say “We love it there” (which is true) OR I could respond with “Family” (which is sort of true).

I can’t say the thing though. The thing that made this summer hard and life-changing and eye-opening and breathtaking.

When someone asks me how my summer was, I don’t feel comfortable replying, “My mom died.”

Yaquina Head Lighthouse; Newport, Oregon
Yaquina Head Lighthouse; Newport, Oregon

That is not — not! — what people want to hear. Many people only ask about summer break because it’s the equivalent to chatting about the weather. If they really are interested, that answer is a serious downer.

What I’d say next, which would probably freak people out, is “It’s okay though!!” waving my hands around to smooth over the awkwardness. “That’s not even the big part!”

Then I’d have to explain the story. My history. And that takes some time.

I’d have to explain why I’m faced with grieving two different people. My mom, the one I was estranged from for the last 18 years. The one who fought psychological demons for a lot of her life, and most of my childhood. And the mom I didn’t even know. The one who, in the last several years — and unbeknownst to me — found love and peace and community. And faith. She found faith. There is no grieving competition, but if there was, I think I’d score high.

But like I said, her death isn’t even the big part. To understand her end, you’d have to know our beginning, and that post is coming.