Bigger Than a Bumper Sticker

Last weekend I was One Proud Mama, overflowing with joy, as Teen had what may well have been the best weekend of his seventeen years.

It began with a rugby end-of-season barbecue where he won a coaches award for Most Improved player in his position. The coach spoke of Teen’s hard work, determination, and playing all in both before—and more significantly—after his six-week injury. He laid it all out for his sport and his team, and it showed.tournament 1

Racing home, Teen had 20 minutes to shower and change into his brand new Calvin Klein tuxedo complete with a tie-it-yourself bow tie for Junior Prom. It took Dad and Kid (consulting YouTube) a few tries, but he looked sharp—and he knew it, with that sweet arrogance of youth. This may have been one of the few times he did not complain about Mama taking too many pictures. He patiently smiled and posed, on his own, with his stunningly beautiful date, in this spot and that, and with friends. We even got a couple of family shots. I kept thinking: who is this good looking young man, and what happened to my rascally kid?prom

But Sunday was the best, a culmination of years of diligence and small achievements along the way. Sunday Teen’s Boy Scout Troop celebrated its 53rd Eagle Court of Honor to present eight new Eagle Scouts with Scouting’s highest honor.

Teen and I sat in the front pew of our church during Scout Sunday when he was just eight years old, not yet a Cub Scout. He watched older boys—shoulders back, heads held high—lead the service and share stories of adventures, brotherhood, and faith. He turned to me and declared, “I am going to be an Eagle Scout in this troop.” And he is.

Like most worthwhile pursuits, it hasn’t been an easy road. The troop prides itself on being boy-led, which means each Scout must play his role and take the leadership failures and successes at each level. Which means that, if you’re a Scout—or a parent of a Scout—in a patrol where the leader fails (it happens often), you feel the bumps. The learning curve is huge and yet, from this vantage point, I can truthfully say it has been the best long-term leadership training we could ever have hoped our son would experience.

During the private pinning ceremony, we presented our son with a blessing of words before we pinned the Eagle Scout pin on his uniform, right over his heart. We expressed gratitude for this Troop which has developed his leadership while allowing him to indulge his passions for the outdoors and for animals.

We told stories of his perseverance (he designed the District award-winning patch with the theme of Perseverance)—climbing out of his crib and over two stacked childproof-gates all the while whispering, “I can do it. I can do it.” At times, Scouting itself has felt like a sky-high mountain of switchback trails, and yet he has persevered.

We told stories of his gift with animals—just two examples, book-ending his Scouting experience:
his first Troop hike, accompanied by the Scoutmaster Emeritus, during which Teen safely caught and displayed (and released) countless reptiles and opened the Scoutmaster’s eyes to how many species of reptiles inhabited a trail he’d hiked for 34 years…
his kayaking trip last summer, when he was the only person deft enough to catch one of the many turtles populating the river.

During the Court, his Scoutmaster shared Teen’s outstanding qualities: kindness, thoughtfulness, his desire and gift for mentoring younger Scouts. A family friend told about Teen as a preK who, much like the Croc Hunter, insisted he come along while Teen narrated a critter-filled walk around the block. Teen’s spectacular gift is to insist that we notice critters we might never see otherwise and help us appreciate them for their God-created place in the ecosystem.

Passionate, exuberant, spontaneous to the point of recklessness… For most of Teen’s life I have been his advocate, helping others see the strengths in what, at times, seemed like weaknesses. On this afternoon, I listened as others spoke to the beauty of these strengths and how they will be gifts Teen will use to change the world.

These eight new Eagles form an impressive group. Two high school seniors and six juniors, they have a combined total of 387+ camp outs. They include the ASB President and Vice President and the Quarterback of the championship football team. They have demonstrated their duty to God through 24 trips to work among the poor in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. They are scholars, athletes, musicians, and leaders in several arenas. While several have shared significant friendship beyond the Troop, together they share in a unique fraternity.2016Eagles2

Teen has participated in over 48 camp outs, including 5 week-long Wilderness Camps, a 3-day Mini Backpacking Trek, 2 Orange Torpedo Kayak Treks in Oregon, 2 Bike Treks, and a 50-mile Mt. Lassen Sierra Trek. For his Eagle project, Teen refurbished and built exercise stations for the Raptor and Reptile Rehabilitation Grove at Lindsay Wildlife Experience, an animal rescue/rehabilitation organization. In the words of the gentlemen who reviewed his project and approved his Eagle Scout application, “he didn’t build just another bench.”

A hawk working out on Teen's refurbished exercise equipment

A hawk working out on Teen’s refurbished exercise equipment

After the post-Court reception, after the post-reception dinner, after the cards and gifts had been opened, Teen explained to his grandparents the meaning and experiences behind each patch he had received on the road to Eagle. Tremendous experiences, so many memories, some hard and many glorious. At the end, I watched as my son turned his head aside. I sat on the floor at his feet and I wonder if anyone else heard as he almost whispered, almost to himself: “I set a goal, and I achieved it.”

There are very few goals of this caliber one can set in childhood and achieve during adolescence. Fewer still are goals of this caliber that will last into adulthood. Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout. He has accomplished something that will hold him in good stead throughout his life. He should feel proud of himself, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Moms’ and Kids’ End-of-Summer Camp Out

A queue of 40 email responses filled my inbox before I saw Email #1 inviting me to participate in an end-of-summer overnight camp out with moms and kids, and by then the sites had been booked. Besides, I expected (hoped!) to be just returning from a sixteen-day family camping trip, so the timing wouldn’t work for us.

However, the family trip never materialized, the gals had space for two more, and I come with a 10-person tent. So Tween and I went camping, part of my continuing resolution this year to “put myself in the way of beauty.”

Gatherings of women + kids always carry potential for drama. Between five moms and nine children, some of us…
…have more and less experience.
…were more and less prepared.
…felt more and less anxiety (and for different reasons).
…are more and less high maintenance.
…tend to be more and less accident prone.
…have more and less energy.
…are more and less organized.
…feel more and less easily overwhelmed.
…enjoy more and less spontaneity.

Most of us had never traveled together, although collectively we’ve known each other well and socialized regularly for a number of years. To boot, I’ve never been camping as an adult without Guy who does all the heavy lifting.

This trip was worth any risk! We packed a lot of fun and laughter into two short days.

We caravaned to Drakes Beach where we picnicked and played. Kids found shells, sand dollars, and crabs.shell crabThey also learned that crabs, even small ones, bite hard.crab 1 crab 2Kids ran and danced and played chicken with waves and of course got soaked. It never takes long at the beach before children who swore they wouldn’t get wet and had been warned by moms not to get wet in fact get wet and by necessity start stripping off various layers of clothing. Kids also dug in sand and in sandstone cliffs. Best yet, we encountered a sea lion taking a siesta on the shore.sea lionWe camped at Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Sans Dad-assistance, we learned to set up tents. I am particularly proud that, despite a temporary break in my Drama Dam, I coordinated kids and set up a new-to-me 10-person tent. It might not have been perfect, but it stayed up.tent 1tent 2

Kids rode bikes and scooters and, when they got tired, worked together to create lanyards while moms brought out excessive amounts of food and drink – chips and dips, salad, perfectly grilled veggies, and quesadillas and burritos made to order. One mom taught us to make a new camping dessert: s’mores in a cone! Fill a sugar cone with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips, wrap completely in aluminum foil, then set on a grill rack, turning occasionally, until ooey-gooey. Yum!

After a warmer-than-anticipated night’s sleep, wherein some of us slept more and less well, we feasted yet again on beer pancakes, melon, and a goulash of scrambled eggs and veggies. In the absence of a coffee maker, one mom improvised by using a hair elastic to secure a napkin-turned-filter to the mouth of a coffee cup before filling it with Peet’s Coffee grounds and adding boiling water. Creativity + Determination = Voila!

We packed up the cars, then biked/scootered/walked to a watering hole where kids skipped rocks.moms walkrock skippingthistleHalf of us set off for home, while the rest went to Point Reyes Station to stroll through cute shops (including a fun art exhibit, The Box Show) and get lunch and soft serve ice cream made from buffalo milk.ice cream

Last night while dinner cooked, the Moms gathered around the table for a glass of wine. Feeling grateful, I raised my glass and said, “Cheers, Moms! Parenting is hard. We are all different with different kids and we may do this parenting thing differently, but I am so glad to be parenting in such good company.”

And today as we packed up, Tween gave me a quick side-grab hug and thanked me for taking him camping. We made happy memories together, my kid and I, and my friends and I, and my heart is full.

camping cheers

Humanity: Lost

Guy spent his childhood summers traveling the United States in a Volkswagen Vanagon with his parents and younger brother. Four to eight weeks most summers, adventuring and creating memories. A few summers ago we took a 9-state, 5-National Parks, 15-day trip of our own. We loaded up our minivan with clothes and food, camping equipment and cots, and got outta Dodge with books on CD as our only on-board entertainment.

More than halfway through the trip, we camped at Farragut State Park outside Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. One late afternoon we hiked to the lake. Kids swam while Guy and I watched, pleased to see Swim Team so obviously paying dividends in Tween’s confidence. Tween eventually got out and wanted me to take him back to our campsite for food and warm clothes. His simple request produced a memorable adventure.

Farragut

The trail we took from campsite to lake had seemed easy enough, straight, then slight left, then hard left. But it hadn’t been clearly marked, and somehow we missed the hard right and slight right that would have dropped us on the straightaway.

I love to hike, one of my favorite ways to spend time with my guys, but they are the outdoors-men, the pathfinders, the Scouts. Here I was in the clear leadership position – Tween was eight that summer – and, while I knew we had missed our intended way, my best guess was to turn right and aim for the road.

It didn’t take too long to get out of the forest, but then we walked for two hours more, winding roads between this campground and another, none of them ours. Tween complained of hunger, thirst, fatigue (after all, he’d been swimming prior to our unexpected hike). I held his hand and did my best to bite down my concern while I encouraged him that we were having our very own adventure, that this would be something we’d talk about for years to come (true!). We told stories and made up jokes and prayed, me distracting him best I could.

My heart held a mixed-bag of emotions: frustration that I’d gotten us into a mess; anger that Guy hadn’t sent out a search party; pride that Guy trusted me and hadn’t sent out a search party; wonder at the beauty surrounding us; joy in the sweet softness of my little guy’s hand in mine.

mother and son holding hands

True confessions: I have an odd habit leftover from my learning-to-type days… I ‘type’ words I see along the roadside by moving in order the fingers that would strike the appropriate keys. So I remembered the street signage because I had ‘typed’ them as we’d driven past the day before. At least I knew we were finally headed in the right direction!

Of course we eventually made it back to the campsite to find Guy and Teen not at all worried (again, an honor or an upset?). They figured we’d enjoyed a detour, or maybe we’d headed to the showers, but either way they knew we’d be fine. And we were, truly, just a little shaken, and colder and hungrier than we had been two hours earlier. I especially felt frazzled around the edges as my strong-for-my-kid exterior crumbled head to toe.

This story works as a metaphor for the human predicament. The path should be simple enough but we’re not equipped or able to find it. We’ve made more than a few wrong turns. We’re lost. We see some signs here and there but the hike is hard work, lonely, stressful. How I would’ve welcomed the help of a ranger! We need someone to show us the way, and Jesus is The Way (more on that next week).

Meanwhile, it helps to recognize that we are lost, to stop pretending that we know exactly where we are and where we’re going. We might as well be honest with ourselves and one another. Faking it will not help us make it. At least in our honesty we can express and experience compassion for fellow lost travelers.

Connect
Reflect on a time when you or someone you love got lost.

Study
Read aloud Romans 3:9-20.
Who is under sin’s power (vv. 9-10, 19-20)?
Jesus calls us to love the Lord our God “with all [our] heart, soul, mind and strength” (Luke 10:27), which covers every aspect of a person’s being. In this passage, note how Paul describes how each of these four aspects of a person is affected by sin.
Which description in vv. 10-18 most stands out to you, and why?
What is the power of the law (vv. 19-20)?

Live
Give some examples of how you see the power of sin over people.
From this passage, how do you respond to someone who says that people are essentially good?
How do we in the church still try to justify ourselves by works of law?
Read Psalm 1:1-3. How do you “delight in the law of the Lord”? How is your daily Bible reading useful in becoming conscious of your sin?
How can a regular practice of confession work as an antibiotic against sin?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Spirit will convict you of sin and guide you deeper in relationship with your God.