Travel Bug

My parents took me to London when I was thirteen years old. Real estate clients/friends of theirs held a wedding reception in London; my dad flew for Pan American Airlines; off we went.

As the daughter of an airline captain, this certainly wasn’t my first trip. Yet London captured my heart. Before we returned home, I declared my intentions to my parents: “I will come back here and study during college!”

So I did. It was every bit as wonderful as I remembered–and then some. Our ‘home base’ for the trip was Hengrave Hall–then run by nuns, now apparently a premiere UK wedding venue–in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk County. I was 21. At 21, my dad was in the Air Force, stationed in Bury St. Edmunds. Life is funny that way.

At thirteen years old, C19 fulfilled a life goal of traveling to Costa Rica with students and teachers from his middle school. The kid had been clamoring to go to Costa Rica since he read a picture book about the rain forest at age four–how many of us get to check off bucket list items at such a young age? Having experienced my own life-changing trip at his age, how could I say no? 

Through the almost daily emails we received from his teacher (“Your son keeps trying to touch the animals!”), we knew he was having a great time. And his trip led to us spending Guy’s sabbatical summer in Costa Rica as a family.

Today we dropped Q13 at San Francisco International Airport, entrusting him to the care of three middle school teachers and three parent chaperones as they travel to Europe. Specifically, London, Normandy, and Paris. That’s right: I was thirteen when I first visited London, and my thirteen-year-old son will be in London for Easter weekend.

This parenting gig gets easier and harder, all at the same time. A mom with whom I’d never spoken before got teary as she reflected on letting her oldest child venture out: “But you’ve done this before…!” Yes, I have done this before. A few times, actually.

Still, I have had sleepless nights recently. Technicolor stress dreams work through my out-of-control feelings, my fears of letting my youngest leave my nest. Tossing-and-turning and oh-just-get-up-already! nights, just to make lists rather than pointlessly swat at the bitey-itchy mosquitoes to-do’s that buzz my brain.

True to character, he would not could not settle down to pack until the night before, when we discovered that of course he had lost one shoe from his pair of sneakers (in his locked PE locker?) and his new rain jacket (not sure when he even wore it?), a replacement for the identical rain jacket he lost last season. I can only imagine what he might lose along the way, and I’m so grateful the chaperones have hold of his passport.

Last night he went to bed with a book he’s read previously, a ‘familiar friend’ to calm him. This morning he admitted he read until 3 am, caught up in the story, surely, but also…anxious.

Of course he is. As am I. But he’s also ready for this adventure, including the misadventures that create travel memories. Travel at a young age changed my life, which affects my inclination to allow my kids to follow travel bugs down their own winding paths. Their travels have, in turn, changed not only them but also me.

I can’t wait to hear his stories. I can’t wait to see how this trip might lead to more. I know he just left, but I can’t wait to get him in my arms again. Even though that will mean letting go…again.

 

Meatless Monday – Cherry Berry Banana Green Smoothie

A few months ago I read that a shot of cherry juice before bed could help with insomnia. So when I saw cherry juice on sale at Costco, I added it to the cart. But we’re tired and forget to a) drink it and b) make anything resembling scientific study when we happen to remember to drink it.

And now it is officially spring! Even though there’s still a chilly bite to the morning air, I have returned to my most-days green smoothie routine, in part prompted by the presence of cherry juice in the fridge.

As already noted, I am not scientifically inclined, aka, imprecise. I have tried to measure, but really, I throw ingredients in the blender until they “look right.” Be warned: you may want to experiment yourself for the exact ratios, if exact ratios are your thing.

Another tip: red cherries/berries + green spinach = interesting color. Pour your smoothie into a colored cup with a lid and enjoy it through a straw. Now you’re ready to take it on the go and no one (including you) will be distracted by your otherwise delicious drink.

Cherry Berry Banana Green Smoothie
Serves 1

1/2 c frozen cherries
4-6 large frozen strawberries (add to cherries and you should have just under 1 c fruit)
1/2 frozen banana
1 large handful spinach (approx 1 c packed)
1/4 c cherry juice
fresh ginger (about the size of the first digit of your pinky finger)
water, as necessary to blend

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Keep adding water a little at a time until you have good blending consistency.

No idea if the cherry juice at bedtime has helped us sleep better. But I can attest to a cherry smoothie helping to jump start my morning!

Keep Focused

Does the word psychosomatic still have a negative connotation?

It used to be that if someone accused you of having a psychosomatic illness, they meant it was “all in your head.” In other words, change your thinking and your illness will disappear.

But we know so much more now about the mind-body connection. The mind does affect the body and it can cause very real, very distressing physical ailments.

When Q13 first developed cyclic vomiting, everyone asked, “It must be stress, don’t you think?” That question stressed me out! I felt like they were blaming me, like I could somehow change my parenting and his cycles would stop. I already work so hard to keep stress out of my home. Don’t you think that if I could have done anything differently to keep my child well, I would have done it?

As it turns out, the poor kiddo has anxiety hand-in-hand with inattentive ADHD. He does not look like an anxious kid, but who knows what loopdeloops his brain spins. And his body pays the price, which increases his anxiety. More than one cycle at play, because of course our bodies affect our minds as well.

My sister is in the hospital. Again. She’s been in and out of the hospital for years with a chronic illness. Like most illnesses I’m sure it can be aggravated by stress, but the physical pain in her body sure causes stress.

She texted me an update and, understandably, vented her frustrations. She also yelled at God a little bit.

That’s okay, He can take it. But I took the opportunity to encourage her that God isn’t doing this to her, that He’s right there with her holding her hand and hurting with her.

Life happens, whether it’s illness, conflict, a bad day at work, or ordinary inconveniences like a flat tire or keys locked in the car. It can shake our confidence and, some days, even make us question God.

We all need some encouragement, all the time, but especially when discouragement flusters our faith. We need other people to help us keep our focus squarely on Jesus. When all else fails, He is our solid ground.

Walk in Love
Week 12: Final Words
1 John 5:13-21

Connect
What helps you feel confident?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 5:13-21.
What does this passage say we “know” (vv13, 15, 18-20)? Why are those things important?
What does this passage say God does for us (vv14-16, 18, 20)? Why are those things important?
Name some examples of prayers you could boldly pray “according to his will” (v14).
What specific prayer does John encourage (v16)?
Why do God’s children not continue to sin (vv18-20)? How does that square with your experience of life?
Why do you think John ended his letter with a caution against idolatry (v21)? How does that fit with what he’s already said?
Imagine you are among John’s congregation, hearing these words after a contentious church split. Explain how this passage would make you feel.

Live
When have you felt uncertain in your faith, and what did you do about it?
What helps you focus on Jesus when you feel discouraged?
How does your eternal life influence your daily life? Explain.
Share an example of a bold prayer you prayed and God answered.
How have you seen people in the church handle (well or not so well) other people’s sin?
What idols compete for your attention? How do you guard yourself again their temptations?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for the gift of eternal life through His Son, Jesus.

 

Getting to Know You

If you want to get to know me but you only invite me to large group gatherings and never have time for a chat over a cuppa joe, you might describe me as awkward, or unfriendly, or cold.

I hope I’m not truly awkward, unfriendly, or cold. However, as an introvert, large group settings are not my comfort zone. If you want to get to know me, it sure helps to know that smaller, more intimate settings are where I open up and can be my best self.

Like the story you’ve probably heard about the blind men and the elephant. Each man stood near a different section of the massive creature. As they felt tail, or trunk, or side, or leg, each described what sounded like a different animal. They didn’t understand they were describing parts of a whole and so they missed the truth of the elephant.

Sadly, it’s possible to do the same thing with Jesus. If we only want to think of Him as a good guy, a teacher, a buddy, and don’t acknowledge His divinity, His saving work on the cross, His indwelling Spirit that confirms for us the Truth about who He really is in all His glory, then we’ve actually missed getting to know Him at all.

God’s Church is massive, and each individual church has a different style and approach to knowing God. That’s fine, but to truthfully proclaim Jesus, there are a few essential Christian beliefs:

Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. He lived to show us how to live humanly, and He died to pay the price for our sins so that we can live forever in relationship with God. Love God and love for His people are the basic and greatest commandments, and they are how we show that we know and love Him (yes, that sounds like circular logic: to show we love God we love God and His children, but it works).

The denomination to which our church belongs has a helpful motto: In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

If it matters for salvation (and Jesus as fully God and fully human sure does), we hold those things in common.

If it doesn’t matter for salvation but is a matter of interpretation and practice, you do you.

But in all things, we share God’s love. Because we love God, and loving God means loving His children.

Walk in Love
Week 11: Victory & Assurance
1 John 5:1-12

Connect
What is important for someone to understand about you as they get to know you, and why?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 5:1-12.
What is important to believe about Jesus (vv1, 5)?
Explain John’s argument about loving God and loving God’s children (vv1-4).
What do we learn about Jesus from His baptism and crucifixion (“water and blood”)? What would be different about Christianity if we believed only one or the other (vv6-10)?
Explain the significance of the three who testify about Jesus (vv6-12). What do they testify?
What encouragement does this passage hold for one who believes in Jesus, God’s incarnate Son, who died for our sins?

Live
What difference does God’s Spirit, testifying to Jesus as God’s Son who lived and died for us, make to your daily decisions?
How do you lovingly handle differences of belief with others who also say they believe in Jesus?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:23-24. How do you share the good news of the cross with someone who thinks it’s foolishness?
How do you recognize the testimony of the Spirit?
How do/can God’s children encourage you to stick to the essentials of Christian faith?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray The Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

ACK the Crazy of Parenting Teens

A friend posted a link to an article entitled, “WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT PARENTING TEENAGERS? I’M LOST AF.”

Before I even read the article (a great article) I had my response:
Because teens don’t want us telling their stories. Because we don’t want to mess up their lives any more by sharing with the world the stupid stuff they do. Because colleges/employers search the Internet before accepting/hiring. Because we don’t want the judgment of other adults who will look askance or, worse, tell us our kids would behave better if only we were better parents. Reasons aside, I do write about parenting teens on my blog: milagromama.wordpress.com

I started blogging in part because I spotted the hole in the Mommy Blog community. Mommy bloggers tend to have littles, not teens. At a writing conference, I asked advice of a respected blogger who told me she wished she’d begun her blog anonymously, that she had not posted her kids’ names or beautiful faces.

I asked my kids: Could I write my stories about our life together? Not tell their stories—they have their own stories to tell—but mine? I promised not to use their names or faces.

Without hesitation, they both gave me a big thumbs up. The younger one matter-of-factly stated: “Mom, you’re a writer. I can’t believe you don’t already have a blog.”

After reading the blog post this morning, I picked up my Bible. Funny: today’s reading came from Luke 2, when teenage Jesus ditches his parents’ caravan from the Passover festival in Jerusalem to sleepy old Nazareth to instead spend days in the Temple. At first his parents don’t miss him, but when they do, they’re frantic. I imagine Mary bursting into tears at the sight of him, and falling further apart when Jesus just doesn’t get why they’re upset. And then the narrator comments: “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people” (Luke 2:52).

Can’t you imagine Mary and Joseph, chatting over a late-night oil lamp-lit glass of Cabernet: Sheesh, everyone thinks he’s so great, and he is, of course he is, I love him so much, absolutely to pieces, but I just don’t know what to do with him!

If I think raising my own teenagers is difficult, how entirely confusing it must have been to be responsible for raising the Son of God!

As Renegade Mama wrote:
Parenting a teenager is the hardest, loneliest, most emotionally trying phase I’ve ever experienced as a mother, and by far puts the biggest strain on my marriage, and our family as a whole…. and this is the part that makes the whole thing so excruciating: They are these soaring, powerful creatures who you look at sometimes and cannot believe they’ve grown so strong, so whole, so complete in themselves.

I felt like a total loser in the early childhood phase of parenting. Exhausted beyond measure, setting timers to get me—and them—through the next fifteen minutes of whatever boring—to me, or them—activity we had engaged in, I thought I might lose my mind.

Some days I still feel like I’m losing my mind, though the circumstances have changed and the stakes are so much higher. While I love watching my boys grow, developing personalities and interests and friendships, while I love seeing the incredible, gifted, unique human beings they have become and are becoming, some days I’d give anything to be able to pick up the cranky-butt and plop him in a crib for nap time.

My husband and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage in a couple of months. We’re still going strong, but I will say that we’ve had our biggest ever fights over parenting teens.

With younger kids, there were regularly-scheduled pack play dates, all the moms (and available dads) with kids of various ages meeting at the school or park or someone’s home for a spontaneous gathering, often a potluck. That doesn’t work so well when the kids age into different social circles and have more of their own commitments.

Friends with younger kids have said, “I can’t relate to what you’re going through” aka, “Let’s change the subject.” Other friendships strained as friends with younger kids couldn’t understand why, as kids got older and one might think moms should have increased freedom, instead my priorities shifted and I had to be home all the time during off-school hours for the random moment when the kids might feel like talking.

Somehow, Big Kid’s peers have always seemed to be perfect, compliant children. Those kids never hit, or bit, or ran circles around—and obviously, knocked into—the littles (of the same age) who weren’t yet stable walkers. They never talked out of turn in class or wreaked havoc for Sunday school teachers and Scout leaders. Or, you know, worse. Because, teens.

Maybe they didn’t, maybe they did. Maybe their parents a) didn’t know or b) wouldn’t talk about it. When I talked about it (because we work hard to foster a relationship in which our kids tell us the truth, ugly as it sometimes may be), I received looks of pity, shame, even anger. Which made me want to talk less. And increased the loneliness.

Renegade Mama asks why we aren’t supporting the hell out of parents of teenagers. We should be. I try. Lord knows I need it, as do others. But we won’t get anywhere if we’re trying to hide our fears, our disappointments, our own and our kids’ imperfections. We won’t be receptive of nor forthcoming with support if we’re pretending.

These teens, they’re like unicorns: mythical, beautiful, colorful, magical. Parenting them can be maddening beyond belief, and as magical as they are. They spook easily, but I bet we’ll catch more of their majestic colors if we, as parents, stop spooking so easily.

Parents of teens, if you’re down to tell the truth, I’m here for you. We need each other. Let’s do this!

What’s the News?

A couple years ago, I decided I needed to curtail my practice of ending each day with the first fifteen minutes of the 10 pm newscast. For most of my adult life, I watched the news before bed. But gradually I realized that I wasn’t sleeping soundly, that images or issues from the news wound themselves into my dreams or, worse, left me tossing sleeplessly through the night. Adulting can be difficult enough without insomnia.

Towards the end of 2016 I decided that, for my sanity, I needed to forgo TV newscasts altogether. The presidential race brought out the worst in everyone, me included. Above and beyond the ‘commonplace’ stories on worldwide political shifts and violence, America’s angry politicians and their supporters had turned up the volume. In response, I turned it off.

Although we had stopped taking the paper years earlier, the time had come to once again read the news. To that end, I am grateful for The Skimm, which (ahem) skims the national and international headlines and presents summaries in a nonpartisan, headline style with links to more information.

I need to stay informed, but there is just so much bad news!

Without trying hard, I could rattle off bad news on too many world-changing issues. Yet when I ask myself, “What’s the good news?” I’m not sure I know how to answer.

What is the good news? And, now that we’re thinking about it, don’t we all love those too-infrequent feel-good news stories? The ones where the good Samaritan does some wonderful sacrificial act that changes the life of a wheelchair-bound child, or a homeless person, or simply their neighbor who has fallen on hard times. Maybe someone should produce a regular good-news cast (Is there such a thing? If so, point me in the right direction, because I need it!).

Some days—many days?—I forget that gospel = good news. I forget that Jesus told us all about this: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I forget that God’s still in charge: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

I suspect I’m not alone. Not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the world’s troubles. Not alone in finding it incredibly difficult to be still. Not alone in forgetting that God loves the world, this world, the very one He created, populated by all the people He fearfully and wonderfully made.

Not alone at all, because God loves me. And God loves you. And God asks us to love one another.

That love one another thing can be hard, especially with all the bad news. You and me, we may not even like each other. We may be on opposite sides of battle lines, barbed wire, drawn guns, hatred.

Jesus found Himself there, too. And, despite all the bad news that we are, He loved us so much anyway that He did the most wonderfully sacrificial good-news thing ever: He gave His life in our place, for our sins, so that we can live forever in relationship with God. Jesus’ story–which becomes our story–makes for the ultimate good-news cast.

Walk in Love
Week 10: Walk in Love
1 John 4:7-21

Connect
What good news have you received recently?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 4:7-21.
Why should God’s people love one another?
What does God’s love for us look like?
How does God’s love for us change us?
According to this passage, what does the Spirit do for us (vv13-16)?
Compare vv12 and 17. What is the difference between God’s love being made complete in us and among us?
How do God’s people loving one another make God visible (vv12, 17, 20-21)?
What is the connection between love and Christian confidence or “no fear” (vv17-19)?

Live
Does John mean to say that everyone who acts lovingly has a saving relationship with God? That anyone who does not act lovingly does not? Explain.
How do you know God loves you? How do you experience God’s love for you? What’s the difference between knowledge and experience of God’s love?
In your experience, does love or fear inspire more obedience? Better character? Explain.
When have you acted lovingly despite not feeling loving? What was that like?
“Remarkably, loving someone who is unlovely brings into focus the power of God’s choice to love us in our unloveliness” (Gary M. Burge). Have you ever experienced this? If so, describe it.
How would you sum up John’s version of the gospel’s good news from this passage?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Pray that God will help you know and experience His love so that you have generous love to share with others.

Meatless Monday – Tomato Soup

I was in a funk. The kiddo was sick and the day’s plans dashed. After walking the dogs, I decided to cook the rest of the day away. I created some lovely food, and the acts of creating and serving those I love helped lift the gray clouds from my atmosphere.

C19 had called from college to report that his girlfriend was home from college, sick. Apparently, tomato soup is her favorite, and he promised I would make some for her. Easy enough.

After school this afternoon, Q13 opened the fridge and started hollering, sure that I had delivered away all of the soup. Nah, of course I made extra, and it’s our dinner tonight. Tomorrow we will dive in to the vegan veggie-happy lasagna I also made, and maybe eventually I’ll share here that recipe as well.

C19 called today to say thank you, that GF had eaten soup for dinner last night and lunch today, that it was warm and comforting and perfect. He confessed: he thought I had opened a box of grocery store soup. They had no idea it was real, home-made soup. Which Q13 tells me I should consider a compliment, that the soup was so good it could have come from a box. Silly kids! It’s better than a box, and just about that easy.

Tomato Soup
Makes 6 servings

3 Tbsp non-dairy butter
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
Coarse salt & ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ c all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp tomato paste
4 14.5 oz cans tomatoes (do not drain)
4 c veggie broth
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or no-salt herb/veggie seasoning)
½ Tbsp dried basil
½ Tbsp dried oregano
½ tsp dried thyme
Optional: 1 c cooked brown rice

In a large stock pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add oil and onion, season w/ salt and pepper. After 3 minutes, add garlic. Cook until onion is translucent, about 2 more minutes. Stir in flour and tomato paste, cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes in their liquid, broth, vinegar and seasonings. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Turn off heat. Use an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender) to puree. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Stir in rice before serving, if using.

This recipe is something of a blank canvas. The variations all depend on your taste buds!
Roast tomatoes, garlic and even diced bell peppers and use in place of one or more cans of tomatoes.
Use cans of whole peeled, diced, stewed or fire roasted tomatoes with whatever seasonings float your boat.
Swap out the vinegar for red wine.
Use fresh herbs instead of dried.