College Applications and Love Redeemed

It’s the Fall of my son’s senior year in high school.  The seeds we planted in the blind enthusiasm of grade school, protected from the ambivalence of middle school, and fertilized with a hearty mix of encouragement and extracurriculars through the high school years have culminated into a small crop of college applications, deadlines, and gut-wrenching decisions.  Our mailbox is jammed with colorful college brochures, inviting postcards, and glossy magazines that clearly explain the absurd-cost of college.  For months, we’ve binged on the propaganda.  We’ve made our list.  We’ve pared down our list.  We’ve reevaluated and we’ve changed it – sometimes all in one day.  At times, motivations and decisions seemed logical, and, just as often, the experience has felt more like a diagnosis of insanity than a direction to begin anew.

It’s been exciting, exhausting, and frustrating.  There have been hard talks and heartfelt moments of hope.  It has brought us closer in ways that feel like a cherished parting gift which right now we have the joy of opening, but will ultimately close this chapter in our lives.  Undoubtedly, the best chapter I could hope to write.  It is not lost on me that all our efforts, not just to send him off to college, but to prepare him for adulthood, inevitably mean a parting of ways.  Every act that brings him closer to his goals is taking me farther from the child I want to hold onto.  Yet I know I can’t keep him.  He needs to go and I need to let go.  It makes me think a lot about what love means.   So often, love is more of a surrender than a holding on.  Love is another’s heart that we don’t get to keep no matter how much it has imprinted our own.  It’s helping someone meet their goals knowing that getting them there will cost a piece of you.  It’s explicably worth the sacrifice, the heartache, and the cavernous emptiness that makes you wonder if your heart is imploding.  Love is the illogical dying on the cross for unworthy sinners that Jesus endured.   It’s letting go of what you want to give someone else a chance at what they want.  It’s beautiful and boundless.  Despite breaking us into a million pieces, it inevitably makes us more whole.

Read more

Wrinkles in His Will (and some tips on boiling corn)

I was talking to Jesus one night before bed and told him that his will for my life appears fairly willy-nilly.  What are we really doing here, God?  This?  That?  Does it even matter?  It’s as if he thinks I can read the signs he sends.  I can’t even read a map much less fold one, so why he thinks I can discern his will is a mystery to me.  Still, I come back to that longing to know.  It’s like a kid the night before their birthday trying to figure out what their gifts will be.  It’s a sleepless mix of exhilaration and anticipation and longing for the relief of just knowing.  What a gift the knowing would be.

The next morning, my son had an appointment to have his high school senior pictures taken.  I had reminded him the night before that mama doesn’t iron and he needed to have his clothes ready.  When I saw him half-dressed in a half-ironed shirt, I was wholly annoyed.  He explained that he had ironed his shirt and the wrinkles weren’t coming out.  He said he was going to wear it a bit and that would make the wrinkles come out.  Lord Jesus, I am supposed to send this child to college in a year?  I told him to give me the shirt and I would iron it.

It’s not that I am unwilling to iron, it’s just that most things that have to do with domesticity fail me.  The day before I texted a friend to ask how long to boil corn (10 minutes).  It’s frustrating to do things that we aren’t good at.  When I was a little girl, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a stay-at-home mom.  I know in today’s world that is terribly lame but that was my wish, my will.  While I’ve been able to do that and mostly love it, I can’t say I am particularly good at it.  So, there I was ironing the already-ironed shirt wondering why the heat and the pressing and the willing weren’t working.  Since we were running short on time, I called a friend for advice.  She reminded me she was in a different time zone and still asleep.  I explained my domestic emergency and necessary disregard for her slumber.  She suggested that I spray the shirt with water.  It turns out the spray bottle under my sink is a mix of soap and water so when I sprayed the shirt it bubbled up like a wound doused in peroxide.  I just can’t imagine things like this happening to June Cleaver.

Read more

Out of the Ash: American Heroes

I remember exactly where I was when a plane crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. It was a profoundly sad day. It changed lives and an entire nation. I will never forget the unthinkable, unimaginable horror as I huddled around the television watching the ash of innocence unite a country in anguished grief. As the morning went on, the plane crashes went from one to four, each one an almost unrecoverable blow of terror, multiplying devastation into exponential heartache.

A new commitment to patriotism rose like a phoenix out of ashes on that pivotal day. We were less naïve and more united. A surge of civilians stepped out of their air-conditioned offices and into the desert heat to join our military. They traded the comforts of civilian life for the trials of war to ensure freedom.

I don’t doubt the urgency of the call to serve that those newly converted soldiers felt. I was almost eight months pregnant with my first child on 9/11. Things that mattered to me before that day—the décor of the nursery, the name I would choose, decisions about going to work afterward, and finding a pediatrician—were suddenly inconsequential. Somehow, life as we knew it was in jeopardy. My body was full of the promise of life, and the sky was falling. Read more

Parenting: the Long Goodbye

I am in the “letting go” years of motherhood.   I know Alzheimer’s disease is considered the long-goodbye, but having teenagers feels as much so.  Except instead of forgetting precious memories, I am flooded with them: story times at the library, field trips to the zoo, class parties, countless baseball games, first dances, and ordinary moments that have aged into extraordinary memories.

It is often said of parenting that the days are long but the years are short.  I would only add that the years get successively faster like a racing heart sprinting toward the finish line.  The teenage years are propelled with a momentum that has little to do with parenting but is filled with our children’s pursuits.  We no longer set the pace of their days.  Instead, we race to keep up or merely watch their projection as they shoot off like a ball in a pinball machine: hither and yonder, to and fro, until they finally land in their beds at night.  Still.   Safe.  Ours.

But the truth is they were never ours to keep.  They were trusted to us by an ever-generous God for what suddenly feels like too little time.  Somehow, he put us together knowing that we will each learn from the other.   We are shown we could love more than seemed physically possible and that we can stretch beyond what we once considered strong to a surprisingly soft place of resilience.  I can’t think of anything else that compares to the ways it has broken me, built me anew, and taught lessons that only love could teach.

Read more

Sex Education: Failing Teenagers

While my teenage son was at youth group one Sunday afternoon, I was on the computer researching a new television show marketed to teenagers called “Sex Education.”   It shows male and female nudity including close-ups of genitals.  It has teenage characters not only having sex, but also abortions. The Netflix series is described as a comedy, which in my opinion, is laughable.

I can’t think of anything funny about watching teenagers have sex while I nosh on popcorn like I am watching an episode of the “Andy Griffith Show.” I know some teenagers have sex.  I also know there are physical and emotional consequences that they are not mature enough to handle.  I could rattle on about this – the science of it, the immorality, and the struggle of trying to feel whole after giving away a part of oneself intended to unify two souls in the context of love and the bounds of marriage.  But I would just be another moralistic adult preaching to the choir.  It wouldn’t change the fact that some teenagers are going to have sex anyway.  They had it long before sexting, internet porn, and the legalization of abortion.

What has changed is the horrific way teenage sex is being normalized by mainstream media to the point that it is considered entertainment.  Teenage sex as television entertainment.  It’s incredulous.  Parental responsibilities to teach about the sacred nature of sex have been disregarded — outsourced to Netflix despite the completely irresponsible premise of a “comedy” teaching the many dimensions of human sexuality.  The reviews of the show are generally positive as the characters are described as endearing and empathetic.  I even read reviews by teenagers who say that it is a realistic depiction of what teens struggle with.  Maybe so.  Yet by normalizing teenage sex as something to explore, we are ignoring the spiritual component that is more complicated than its physical counterpart.  By debasing sex to something to share as freely as a stick of gum, we exchange the wholeness of the person for a fraction of carnal pleasure.  Teenagers are left to sort broken pieces of themselves – feeling more confused than ever as to why something that was marketed to fill them has left them empty. Is Netflix going to create a show to help with that? Read more

The Meaning of Life: a letter to my son

Last year, seventh-grade parents were given the assignment to write their children a letter explaining the meaning of life.  Seriously?  Why not just write the cure for cancer?  Or, solve the problem of world peace?  Or do ninth-grade algebra? The meaning of life?! 

Of course, the best teachers challenge us.   As it turns out, the question is worth answering.  I am sharing my letter because at times I need to be reminded of its message.  Maybe you do too.  

Dear Alex,

I have been asked to write you a letter explaining the meaning of life.  But seeing that only moments ago I spilled hot coffee down the front of my shirt, I am not sure I feel qualified to answer such a poignant question.

When we are children, we see the world in solid colors.  There are no shades or variations of pigments.  We learn basic colors early and life seems pretty simple.   As we grow older, things get more complicated.  There is no longer just the color blue but countless shades of it.

We have a lot more choices, but the right ones aren’t always clear.  A spectrum of possibilities exists as to what one’s life may mean.  That’s the beauty of life and the mystery for you to uncover.  I can’t tell you what the answer will be for you, because I am still learning what it is for me.

In some ways, the answer seems obvious, and I am tempted to spell it out.  But I resist the urge to give you a one-word solution, to pick one color from the few that existed when we were younger, to oversimplify, give away the secret, the magic formula, the profundity of life’s meaning, because of that word itself, love.  Love would be the easy answer.  God’s love, family love, married love, love of others, merciful love, eternal love, and unconditional love will be the answer many times over if you live life well.

I could do this, and I wouldn’t be wrong.  After all, love is as true as the color red. But it would be too simplistic, and life is many things, yet I have never known it to be simple. Read more

Practicing What I Preach

Sometimes I look at my life, and I don’t know whether hypocrisy or irony is screaming louder.  I write about mercy,  because I believe whole-heartedly in its power to change lives and, in a broader sense, the world.  That is not hyperbole.  It is a truth that exists regardless of whether we acknowledge or believe it.

Despite my enthusiasm, doing works of mercy sometimes feels like a struggle.  You would think in my zeal, I would embrace them with a “Woo-hoo! Here’s another opportunity for me to serve!”  But often my “woo-hoo” sounds more like, “woe is me.”

Frequently the service we are called to do is organic, and, like the produce in the grocery store, organic always costs more.  It has always felt easier to serve when I plan for it, choose the capacity, and have had a shower.  When someone else’s misfortune interrupts my plans or to-do list, it can be frustrating.

Recently, I took my mom to the doctor, because she was sick.  I tried to be peppy about it despite my manic Monday mentality.  My mom was pleasant and chatty on the way to her appointment, and, instead of gratitude for her attitude, I begrudged it for being better than mine.  After all, I was the healthy one.  Why wasn’t I bubbly and bright?  Maybe she should have been driving me around! Read more

Parenting: Instructing Mama

The work of mercy that most embodies parenting is to instruct the uninformed.  Only it took me a while to figure out that maybe it was me, the mama, who needed the most instruction.

From the earliest days of motherhood, when I frantically thumbed through pages of parenting books in the dark of the night in a desperate attempt to find a way to coax my son to sleep, I felt more clueless than confident.

No matter how many books I read, I could never get my son on a nursing schedule, sleep schedule, or a mama-really-needs-a-shower schedule.  I had friends who were more successful with following the instructions, and, of course, I resented their efficiency and ease.

Read more

Mothers: Strong as they are soft

I keep seeing ads for Mother’s Day with petal pink letters in frilly font and slight women wearing flowing flowering frocks.    It’s like advertisers think mothers dress in doilies, cover their heads in bonnets with perfectly tied grosgrain ribbon, and smile demurely all day wearing pink champagne tinted lip gloss.

I guess I should be glad they think that.  Maybe they don’t notice that my flowing hair is tied back in a rubber band because I haven’t washed it, the dew on my skin isn’t from sprinkles of rose water but the sheen of oil on my face that I didn’t have time to powder, and my tinted lips are from biting them in an effort to avoid saying something regrettable. Read more

Teen Parenting– and a trashed manual

My son will become a teenager on Black Friday. Could there be a more ominous sign than that? While hoards of shoppers are waking up at 3 a.m. to suffer through lines and duke it out for deals, my sweet baby, ever so dear, will be entering the darkness that often accompanies the teen years.

As if he is already rehearsing for the big day of black, my house has recently been filled with a cacophony of slamming doors, woeful sighs and whispers under the breath that I am pretty sure do not include any sweet nothings. It sounds like a coarse symphony that does nothing to evoke my sympathies.

I called a friend a few weeks ago and in a prayerful plea, asked in the name of all that is holy, all that is sane, and all that is merciful, to lend me every parenting book she owns.

She brought me five.

The small stack of books sat in my office and my younger son asked me why I had so many teenager books. Before I could even formulate a response, he answered his own question — obviously remembering his brother’s upcoming birthday.   “Oh yeah, it’s going to be a long seven years…,” he said prophetically.

Seven years? Why do the terrible twos get all the notoriety? That’s one measly year and they are still small enough to be restrained.

As I read, I began strategizing, thinking of systems to implement and solutions to employ. I realized that, if necessary, doors could be unhinged. He would inevitably realize that not loading the dishwasher would be to his disadvantage.   And, I felt hopeful that discussions could be facilitated without anyone actually dying.

Ah, I was going to be the most brilliant teen mother ever.

I started writing a sort of manifesto for the teen years. I clicked away at the computer thinking to myself that I was doing the holy work of writing the instruction manual for parenting that I always wished I had.

Although my business interests have never evolved passed retail and at that, only on the paying side of the cash register, I had ultimately written my first business plan.

It read like a contract, with caveats and consequences included for clarity. It featured equations for various if/then scenarios and it clearly proved that my naiveté is boundless.

I actually believed that what I had written would be embraced – that is until I proudly emailed a trusted friend with the teen manual, which I intended to present to my son. She is tactful to a fault, so when she suggested that my glorious parenting plan would evoke a middle finger response I was stunned.

Really?

I reread my work. It was so beautiful. It had italics and bullet points and fancy words like parameters, privileges, outlined and occasionally.

I guess I could see where it was kind of bossy pants-ish, but it did include a smiley emoticon and an I love you.

I signed it not with the slang, Yo mama, but with the sincere, sweet, your mama that was so obviously me.

Later that night, with my two-page, single-spaced manifesto by my side I sat down and spoke with my son. Maybe it was because I was lulled by the soothing sound of the dishwasher that my tween ran without my mention, but I was uncannily calm. We talked about grades, basketball and ways he could earn extra money.

We didn’t hold hands, or hug or do anything that would invoke Norman Rockwell to paint us, but we talked. I didn’t boss or dictate either, yet I didn’t digress from making my expectations clear.

When we finished talking, he kissed me goodnight and there I sat – the manifesto, a mostly-read parenting book and myself.

I thought about ripping up my beautiful plan I had written about how the teen years would unfold in our home, but I didn’t have the energy to be so dramatic.   I simply folded it into a little square to put in the trash.

I guess what I realized is that maybe the reason children don’t come with instructions is because parenting isn’t meant to be precise. It might be insightful to read some books, or even to write your own plan about how you intend to parent, but often intentions and plans don’t really have much to do with raising children.

Like the rest of us, children are unique and, like it or not, have plans of their own. They will make their own path in the world and it’s our job to guide them as they do. It is a delicate balance between letting go and holding on. Sometimes it’s letting pieces fall where they may, and sometimes it means picking up the pieces and starting over again.

Maybe parenthood could best be described as prayer – a combination of something we hope for, ask of, praise, repent, and offer thanks. It is an active petition that is said every time we discipline, praise, share affection, or just sit and talk. The prayer does not end, like love, it endures time, tantrums and even teenagers. It is an offering of the best of ourselves so that someone we love can become the best of their selves. It is sacrifice, surrender, forgiveness, and humility.

Parenting may be described as more gut-wrenching than glorious, but it is no doubt the most Holy work we can do.

While my son may turn 13 on a day dubbed Black Friday, it’s no coincidence this falls the day after Thanksgiving. After all, he has been a blessing everyday of his life. He is a prayer and a gift.

Of course, I know the teen years won’t be easy, but I can’t help but feel excited about all that awaits.  The spectrum of joy, discovery and promise that lies ahead is sure to be anything but black.

 

Want more on parenting, you might like: http://mercymatters.net/2014/10/20/5-things-i-learn…ooler-about-life/