Boomerang

For Mother’s Day, I received two bouquets of flowers: one from my in-laws and another from my kids. I posted pictures on social media because I have a thing for flowers.

The next day, my neighbor and her young daughter stood on my doorstep holding a beautiful bouquet of homegrown roses. Mom had shown my pictures to Daughter; Daughter led Mom outside to pick a bouquet from their garden, carefully choosing one by one the flowers she wanted to share with me.

My former neighbor and friend planted and nurtured those roses. This simple gift felt like it connected more of us than were present in beauty and friendship.

Later that day, another neighbor dropped off a gallon bag of lemons from her tree. Two days later, still another neighbor brought over a bouquet of fresh herbs with an invitation to snip more from her front yard garden.

Humbled by these generous gestures, I wondered aloud what I could share.

Northern California has experienced odd mid-May weather: a cold front dumped rain on us. My just-blooming roses had become so heavy that I feared they might snap their stems. During a break in the weather, I ran outside and quickly cut as many blooms as I could. I shook them dry-ish and brought them inside.

As I considered what to do with them, I realized that evening would be the last gathering for our middle school group where I have served as a leader for the now-8th grade girls during their three years of participation. My two co-leaders are high school students. I set about tying up two bouquets with white satin ribbon to present to these darling girls.

One of the 8th graders pounced on the bouquets and took it upon herself to present them to the high school girls, who both choked back tears of joy. One said that she had given flowers to her teachers last week, and now she understood how they felt: honored. Loved.

I told Q15 this story at breakfast the next day and he said, “Of course. Boomerang.”

When I asked what he meant, he explained: “It’s the boomerang effect. We talk about it at Boy Scouts whenever there isn’t something else to talk about. When one person does good for another, so that person does good for another, and the good keeps flying around…”

I’m grateful they talk about such things at Boy Scouts. We should all talk about it more often.

The night after I presented the girls with bouquets, the church had a scavenger hunt/end-of-year party for the 8th grade students. I couldn’t go because I had to work. So the girls came to my workplace, and one of my high school co-leaders handed me a jewelry bag; she had purchased matching friendship bracelets for all of us. My turn to choke back tears. The love keeps boomerang-ing.

Earlier that evening, my co-worker had told me a story about a BART worker he chats with when he takes BART late on weekend nights. This middle-aged gal does a great job in an under-appreciated position and often has to deal with the last-car crazies, those who have over-imbibed or are trying to hide so as to sleep overnight on the train. He said to her, “Perhaps only you and I in all the world actually know what goes down on nights like these.” She sighed in agreement.

On Mother’s Day, our wine bar gave away flowers to our guests. At closing time, he wrapped up a few blooms for his BART friend, who was genuinely moved. A few nights later, she presented him with a $10 BART pass a tourist had given her since he wouldn’t be able to use the remainder. The love keeps boomerang-ing.

Last night I trimmed a few more roses and brought them to a friend who plays piano in the bar a few nights each month. She lives alone, is facing health issues, and I thought she might like them. She smiled and exclaimed, “Oh! These are the roses I see on Facebook!” Yes, they are.

Personally, I’ve never played with an actual boomerang, but I sure am having fun watching the love fly here and there!

Friendship Quilt

As a young adult, a dear friend introduced me to Anne of Green Gables. Anne pines for a bosom friend, a kindred spirit, whom she finds in Diana Barry. Maybe you have one Best Friend. Maybe you have a Friendship Quilt. Either way, we can be grateful for the friends in our lives.

Guest post: Kristi Grover

Many years ago I endured a hard season. I’d been quite ill and, even as I was recovering, doctors couldn’t give me any assurances that life would go back to the ‘normal’ to which I had become accustomed.

Additionally, my trusted inner circle of friends—small in number but strong in their support for me—had disappeared. Every single one. Each had moved away due to changes in work, family needs, or a sense that they needed to go now to pursue their life’s dream lest their window of opportunity forever closed. I could support each in their individual decisions and celebrate what they had contributed to the lives of those impacted by their unique gifting while here…but deep inside I felt (irrationally, I know) betrayed by their departure when I especially needed them.

On a long drive together, I finally shared this feeling with my husband—even though I was embarrassed by it and acknowledged how narrowly focused it was. And then I segued on to how I had always longed for a “best friend.”

In the books I read as a girl, the protagonist always had a best friend, someone who understood everything and was always loyal and stayed in their life for keeps. In childhood and early adulthood I heard others speak of their “best friend”—someone who was, even if they now lived miles apart, worth the effort to keep close and share life. Was it me? Was I somehow unworthy of having a “best friend”?

This was long before Facebook and cell phones and frequent flyer miles and email—all ways to keep in touch now (or keep others at a distance, but that is another story). My heart ached with lifelong accumulated losses. Perhaps it wasn’t a big deal when viewed from a distance: I kept abreast of national and international news and knew this was not a cosmic problem and was quite aware of how much I had for which to be grateful. And I was grateful. But it still touched a hurt place in my heart.

My husband, a very good listener who thinks before he speaks, heard and considered my outpouring. He responded: “Perhaps another way to look at it is as a friendship quilt. You treasure your grandma’s old quilts and value the stories behind each scrap of fabric. Maybe friendship is like that. Think over your life and all the friends you’ve been blessed with and the ones currently in your life, too, even though those pieces in your quilt won’t be as large as you’d like. In the end, don’t you have enough pieces now, and in the years to come, to piece together a friendship quilt? Maybe you won’t have one single blanket, a forever ‘best friend,’ but still, it will be enough to wrap around you and keep the winds of loneliness from chilling you.”

I was stunned—not for the first time and certainly not the last—by his wisdom and perspective. A friendship quilt. Instantly, my mind filled with new thoughts: from what I was losing as dear friends moved away to profound gratitude that they had been in my life, in rich and deep ways, in the first place. Thoughts of other friends through the years crowded my mind. Focusing on what I had, rather than what I had lost, changed my perspective.

A friendship quilt. Even then I could imagine the loving warmth as I pulled it close around me. And it gave me a sense of adventure about friendships to come, people I hadn’t met yet who would delight me and challenge me and deepen me in ways I couldn’t even imagine. A lifelong friendship quilt that would continue to grow throughout the years.

*****

Friendship Quilt: First occurring midcentury 1800’s, constructed with blocks (or stars or triangles or other shapes) made up of bits of fabric salvaged from worn out clothing. Individual blocks were created and often signed by each quilter as a way to express the love they felt for the person who would be given the finished quilt. Frequently given at times of change such as weddings or births or when someone was about to move away, they were a way to (literally) stay in touch with the circle of women who made such quilts. Until recent times, such a quilt given away at the time of a move was a way of recognizing that they might never again see one another. Sometimes fabrics from family members no longer living would be incorporated to remind the recipient that such precious bonds always remain close. A gathering to stitch together the individual pieces and quilt the top through the filling to the reverse side would be a time of joy and storytelling and often include hints of grief as participants realized that an era of life had ended. But the quilt would remain as silent, ongoing testimony to love and shared history.

some things that are true about me

My work in life is as a teacher and storyteller.  I take joy in many things – time spent with children and my family and friends, working in various ways for justice, hiking along high mountain ridge lines and walking in the woods and sitting quietly to stare at the ocean, hearing people share their life stories and affirming them, writing and reading, rainy afternoons by the fire with my small grey cat, listening to music and singing and dancing, intelligent conversation and laughter, making a home. These and other things are true about me but the truest thing is that I am a child of God.

 

Guest Post: A.J. Brown

Our 2018 theme is “Connect” and my dear A.J. Brown wrote about “Community,” which seems just right: we live in community, we invest in community, we create community as we knit our heartstrings together. Please note: if you would like to guest post on this blog, please see the link above.

Community.

When someone asks me to write an article or blog post about a certain word, I usually try to start with my knee jerk emotional reaction to that word. For example, when the owner of this blog asked me to write a post about creativity a couple of years ago, that was simple. My beautiful, unicorn and rainbow loving little boy exemplified the word and still does now.

Community.

What does that mean to me? I think the reason this post was hard to write is that community means so many different things to me. The town I grew up in represented a community I couldn’t wait to get out of. Then, when I grew up and became a parent, I couldn’t wait to move back. I can’t imagine raising my kids anywhere else.

Community.

It doesn’t just refer to a geographical area in which we live, does it? Not for me, anyway. Yes, I live in this community. I am part of this community. But, I am also part of many communities within this community, and that’s what I love about this community.

In junior high and high school in this same community, I often felt like the odd girl out. I didn’t have just one posse of friends with whom I did everything and shared everything…I never felt like I belonged to any one group. I was more of a floater. Some months I gravitated towards the popular crowd and the other cheerleaders, other times I’d get fed up with the cattiness and take refuge with the quiet academics. Or, if there was a boy I was interested in (wasn’t there always?), I’d hang around with the athletes. I got really good at being “one of the guys.” I could occasionally be found breathing second hand smoke in a van behind the school listening to “Stairway to Heaven,” or flaunting my impressively flipped bangs and perm at college parties when I was just sixteen. Some lunchtimes, I felt too insecure to join any group at all, and you’d find me in the library, or assisting a teacher. Looking back, I realize that what was so hard about those years for me was that I felt that I didn’t HAVE a community. I was just an occasional honorary member. I didn’t have the self-confidence to just…be. I could not wait to graduate, get the heck out, and finally discover who I really was.

Fast forward several decades, and here I am, living in this same community, with a lot of the same folks who grew up here just like I did. Apparently this town breeds homing pigeons. The difference? Now this finally feels like MY community. This time around, I know exactly who I am and who I want to be. Furthermore, I truly don’t care who likes it and who doesn’t. Interestingly, while I’m a completely different person as an adult than I was as that corner hugging, cringing teenager, I’m still a floater. But this time, it’s not because I feel like I don’t fit in, it’s because I am blessed to feel like I fit in everywhere. Everything about this town makes me happy, and I adore all of the smaller communities that, together, make up this beautiful flower of a larger community. 

When I go to Starbucks in the morning, I love that I see the same faces, day after day. I don’t know many of their names, but they know my face and I know theirs and we greet each other with smiles that are genuine. I love the groups of older (than me, which is all relative) folks who commune there every single morning. They have an amazing community. I love that when I’m working out of Starbucks, as I often am because my home and office get lonely during the day, never a day goes by where I don’t see several people I know and whom I am genuinely happy to see. This silly little chain store coffee shop is a community all its own. Just as I’ve been sitting here writing this, I’ve been greeted by a teenager, several moms, a dear friend of a dad who happens to be working at “home” today, a newspaper reporter I adore for whom this is home base, a friend I went to high school with, and one of my favorite neighbors who’s treating her kindergarten son to a treat after a traumatic dentist visit. And that’s just in the space of an hour.

I love that I can’t ever go to the gym without seeing at least one friendly face I know. I’ve been taking the same Friday morning spin class for several years now, and the group of people that show up with me, week after week, through good times and bad, is a community all its own. I love these people, and I love the pixie sized, tattooed sprite who inspires us and pushes us to the point where I’m not sure if I’m going to throw up or pass out, and yet afterwards I feel amazing for two days. I love that when I’m having a really bad week I can cry my way through class and no one blinks an eye, they just hug me when we’re done. I’m literally tearing up writing this just thinking about that group of people and how much they mean to me even though I really only see them once a week for an hour. That’s community.

Our kids’ schools, of course, create their own communities. We’re so fortunate to live in a place where the parents work really hard to help make the schools great, and we are blessed with teachers and administrators who have passion about kids and education. It tends to be the same group of parents year over year who volunteer for everything, but instead of that feeling like a burden, to me it feels like a gift. It makes me part of THAT community, and that is an amazing group of selfless parents and school staff that I’m blessed to be a part of.

If you know me, you know that I could, of course, write chapters and chapters about this community and how it rallied around my family when our daughter got diagnosed with cancer (almost three years ago, WHAT?!?). I’ll save that for another post. Suffice it to say, I truly learned the meaning of the word community when the $4i% hit the fan, as people I didn’t even know in this community banded together and raised us up when we were in danger of sinking. During that time, this community felt more like a TRIBE. It still does. At unexpected moments, I will be approached by a complete stranger who will tell me that she has followed my (prolific) Facebook posts about our journey with cancer and that she was inspired by our story.

I could go on and on about all the other communities within this community that add joy to my life…from the moms who became friends when our kids were in preschool and even though the kids are now spread out across different elementary schools, seeing them still makes me feel like part of a special family. There are the “dance moms,” moms whose children share a passion for dance at the academy where I am lucky enough to work, and who make me feel blessed every time I go to work to be a part of that community, one that brings the gift of joy and grace and strength to kids through the art of dance. There are the sporty moms, the philanthropic moms, the working moms, the mindful moms, the activist moms…and now as then, I float. I love ALL these groups of moms. I AM these moms. All of them. Why should I pigeonhole myself?

I can’t close any discussion about community, though, without mentioning the one community-within-my-community that feeds my soul the most. On Thursday mornings, I skip the gym in favor of strengthening my spirit instead of my body. I go to a group called Moms’ Council, which is held at my church and is a group of about 150 mothers of all ages and generations who come together each week to…commune. Each session has a theme and there are always wonderful speakers to engage the mind, but for me, it’s the community of women that truly feeds my soul. I’ve sat at the same table with the same group of women for three years now, and I can’t describe the feeling of sitting down with them any better than I feel like I can just…breathe. Breathe in a way I can’t anywhere else. These women are my safest of safest places. We can rage, cry, fall apart and emotionally vomit all over each other without judgment and without ever worrying that what we say won’t remain just between us.

Because, as outwardly perfect as many of our lives may seem, we’re all dealing with our own burdens, fears and pain. Sometimes, you just can’t carry it alone. Sometimes you need more than your family and faith in God to help with the weight. Sometimes you need…community. And no matter how messy or difficult my life may get, that is one area in which I am incredibly blessed. I am rich in community, and for that I am very, very grateful.

 

 

A.J. Brown is a mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter, employee, volunteer, taxi driver, gym rat, health nut, lover of wine, travel, books, dessert, cooking, meditation, Buddha statues, and a compulsive throw pillow purchaser.

Hush.

It’s been a quiet week. While C19 has been away at college, Guy has been leading a house-building trip in Mexico for 250 high school students and adults, and Q13 has been travelling England and France, I have been at home, working and walking dogs.

I don’t mind. I had been looking forward to this week of quiet with an almost physical longing. I planned to deep dive in quiet, to enter into projects I never seem to get to or, if I do, have more than 20 minutes to devote at a time.

Not long ago, I reread that passage from Luke 1 where the angel strikes Zechariah mute because of his disbelief that he and Elizabeth would finally have the baby for which they’d longed for too many years. I can’t imagine being physically unable to speak for nine months. I’ve had the occasional bout of laryngitis for a few days, but even then I managed to whisper or squeak my point across.

Still, this week wasn’t as quiet as I’d anticipated. Twice a day (until the weather turned) I took the dogs to the park where I chatted with church acquaintances and park ‘regulars,’ most of whom I know by “Robin’s dad” or “Maya’s mom,” the names of their dogs carrying different weight than their own in this setting. I met friends at a movie, a comedy show, and a concert, an unusual amount of activity for this homebody. I talked on the phone with my mom and my mother-in-law. I ran a few errands.

I took the quiet to a different level by not trying to fill it with noise. I watched only the TV shows I’d decided to watch in advance (Jesus Christ Superstar and the last several episodes of This is Us, both excellent). I left the car stereo off. It was a discipline, for sure, but I resisted the urge. Somehow, it felt important.

As always, my To Do list was overly ambitious and I cannot cross off everything. But I got some things done and, most importantly, moved forward a project that required from me a stringent focus.

In the quiet, I noticed a few things:

The words I shared with others felt to me differently significant, breaking silence like breaking bread.

I like the hubbub of family life and neighborhood. Some quiet is good, and balance is necessary.

I am grateful for nurtured relationships with friends, neighbor friends and park friends and friends with whom to share different types of events.

This experience of quiet will help me appreciate the gift of spoken word, of shared daily life, of relationships. What a gift!

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!

Thankful Thursday – Growing Happy

Where did I read it? Magazine, blog, online news article…?

Anyway, last weekend I read, somewhere, that those who study these things have shown three significant factors that affect brain chemistry to increase the feelings of happiness:

Gratitude
Laughter
Good people

Gratitude: find three unique things for which you can be grateful each day.

I unearthed my misplaced gratitude journal beneath a stack of mislaid papers on my too-messy desk. What an inconsistent adventure this year of gratitude has been… I started out strong, but I easily let life get out of control and let other things get in the way. I miss a few days, write for a few days; miss a week, write for three, miss a month, and so on. Well, I’m back at it, and I will say I look forward to recording my three thanksgivings each day and I do feel happier for having done it. It helps me remember life’s little moments, the funny things my kiddo says, the flower I noticed on my walk, the simple evening ritual of tea and book and a solid bedtime.

Laughter: always the best medicine

Way back when toward the beginning of our relationship, the Indigo Girls sang a line that rang true of one of the gifts Guy has given me: “And the best thing you’ve ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously…”

I tend to be a wee bit dramatic. I lead from my heart. I can be impulsive and feel easily overwhelmed. And early on we recognized that my inclination to take life too seriously could be balanced by Guy’s easy-going, life-embracing stability. Like his bouncy hero, Tigger, he makes me laugh. 

I need to intentionally seek out cheerful people and opportunities to laugh. Silly sitcoms and light-and-fluffy books scattered in-and-between educational and moving programming.

Yesterday, just before I was to lead a meeting, I caught the giggles and it spread to my co-workers on either side. I’d gain control, and one or the other of them would burst out laughing again. It took a while for us to calm down. I am grateful for those minutes of gut-clenching hilarity.

Good people: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” (Helen Keller)

In this season of life, I notice that I am just not in a party mood. I don’t want to make small talk (I never want to make small talk, but on occasion I am grudgingly willing). But I still need my friends, connection, good people.

Before this school year began, I decided to clear space once a week to share intentional conversation with someone. And, for the last two months, I have had coffee or tea or a walk or lunch with someone who would not have appeared across the table or shoulder-to-shoulder if I hadn’t scheduled it. In practicality, it’s been an easier decision than I’d anticipated. And it has deepened friendships and added so much joy to my life, and hopefully to theirs as well.

Today over lunch with a friend with whom I haven’t talked in far too long, I took it one step further. I decided to share these happiness points, and to ask what she would include on her gratitude list. Not surprisingly, it took the conversation in even deeper, more vulnerable and lovely directions.

Gratitude + Laughter + Good people = Happiness. Easy enough.

Thankful Thursday – Neighbors

Our dog has been sleeping on two beds.

A few days ago, our neighbors drove away in their cars and rental moving van, all loaded to the max. They took their funny cat and sweet black lab.

Of course they did.

But over nine years, our neighbors have become our friends. We borrowed onions and bought each other flowers. We enjoyed regular parties with the other neighbors on our court. We celebrated holidays and occasions. We sat on each other’s front porches to shoot the breeze. We shared meals and drank wine around the fire pit. We walked our dogs together.

We actually co-parented our dogs.

Their dog and our dog have been besties since puppyhood. Neighbors took a board out of our shared fence so the dogs could be together constantly. Jessie (their dog) is an early riser; most mornings she came over to wake Izzy (our dog) and tank up on water, which she seemed to prefer at our house. They had morning play time with Guy before we all went to work and dogs went outside.

Unless someone was working at home–between our houses, that happened often–in which case dogs stayed in. In the evenings, dogs followed Neighbor room to room, begging with anxious eyes, until he took them onto the hill, the open space behind our homes. When he wasn’t home, our boys were enlisted to doggy hill duty, despite the fact that dogs (usually) had already had a walk or two that day.

Most nights dogs slept on their own beds in their own homes. But we had an extra bed for Jessie since she was at our house so often. Our dogs even had regular spontaneous sleepovers, more often than my kids and their friends!

This week has been different. Izzy doesn’t play with toys; she played with Jessie who played with toys. We should probably clean up all the toys scattered around the floor. Tween spilled some dry cereal, and we don’t have Jessie as our doggy vacuum cleaner (Izzy’s picky that way). I thought I heard Jessie chomping on a bone; nope, just Tween making some odd racket in the next room.

Izzy keeps asking to go outside. She looks toward the fence separating our properties, the one that used to have an opening through which her friend appeared. She turns around and flops by my feet. She follows me from room to room. We stacked Jessie’s bed on hers, and so she sleeps on two beds, our princess puppy.

We’re excited for our friends in their new adventures. Change is hard. Change can be good. Change brings new opportunities. In Jessie’s absence, we’re keeping Izzy busy– she’s been out on the hill, on a run, and to the dog park twice. Good for her, and for us.

And today we have new neighbors. They have little kids, which makes for different sounds drifting through the windows. We also have new neighbors on the other side; a mom and three daughters, one of whom turns out to be a school friend of Tween’s, are moving in to the house below us.

Maybe, with time, our new neighbors will also become friends. Now, if only they had a dog…

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Overwhelmed

I received a rejection slip! Of course I’m disappointed, but here’s the catch: all creative ventures involve risk. I took a risk. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I took it nonetheless. I am creating, and putting my work out there, and it’s a step in the right direction. This post just didn’t meet their needs at this time, which also means I get to post it here instead. Create, and recreate, and all good. What are you creating, and how’s it going?

Bristling like an electrical storm, Teen blustered into the house—door slamming behind him—and tossed his gangly body onto the couch beside his dad. “Hey, did you know the wage gap is a myth? That women get paid less than men for the same work is just not a thing!
 
We stared in response, so he kept spouting facts he’d heard in a video on social media. He thrust his phone in his dad’s face, insisting he watch it, too.
 
Parents want their kids to think critically. At eighteen years old and soon off to college, it is good for him to take account of the world and wrestle with his place in it. But a two-minute video by some guy not much older than he is cannot be his only information source.
 
I left the room, returning armed with a book—Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York). Earlier that afternoon I had finished the section on Work.
 
Schulte offers solid reporting and not by any definition a feminist manifesto. Yet as I read one story after another, I felt affirmed and discouraged that sexism—in the workplace as one societal microcosm—still runs rampant. My kid may be right, that women and men with comparable education, experience and skills receive comparable pay for comparable work. But nothing is ever that simple.
 
For example, researchers at Cornell University put together four nearly identical resumes: half with male names and half with female; half signaling parenthood through PTA involvement and half indicating childlessness through charitable volunteerism. Nearly 200 college students ranked fathers as “best worker,” more employable and promotable and better management training candidates than men without children, while mothers ranked at bottom, considered significantly less competent, intelligent and committed than women without children (79). To test this “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus,” they confirmed their research by submitting resumes to entry and mid-level positions and found that fathers were called back at a higher rate than nonfathers, while mothers received half the offers of nonmothers (80).
 
As I tried to explain ‘my side’ to my ever-argumentative child (oh, the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the women he will encounter in life, begging him to trade grace for an arrogant hard line), he asked, “But Mom, when have women had it better?”
 
To which I replied, “Maybe they haven’t. But, Son, look at me. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
 
Over a post-yoga iced tea with a girlfriend, I relayed this story. She gave up her hard-earned career to be a full-time stay-at-home mom who employs her work skills as PTA president. I have cobbled together full-time motherhood with part-time employment plus freelance writing. We each have made choices that feel sacrificial. Even at our best, we both feel we will never be able to do it all well.
 
Schulte defines overwhelm as “a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce” (280). Who can calculate how many factors in a women’s life fall into “lack of control and unpredictability”? On any given day, I can only control so much: what time I get out of bed; how I fuel and move my body; the ways in which I interact with others; the work or home projects I tackle before the interruptions come. Because the interruptions come, hard and fast, predictably unpredictable: sick kids; forgotten lunches, forms, homework; overlooked deadlines, and immediately-required answers; bad news, local and global, or worse, from loved ones.
 
No wonder we feel overwhelmed! So how to squelch the rampant anxiety? Schulte includes pages of suggestions in the “Do One Thing” appendix—working smarter, not harder; time chunking; practicing gratitude; remembering that play, too, can be useful. For those too overwhelmed to read a book on feeling overwhelmed, this appendix alone is worth perusing.
 
Thankfully, my friend and I have found our way to a straight path. Exercise and togetherness. Swapping stories and encouragement. Expressing gratitude that, though we may not do it all as well as if we only did some, we have opportunities that others have not. Cherishing the truly precious moments in the mess of parenting (that an eighteen-year-old wants to spend an evening discussing real-life issues with his parents is not to be taken lightly!).
 
And taking time to read good books.

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Thankful Thursday – Friendship

Slowly, gently, she grew into my life like a beautiful, flowering vine: mom of Tween’s friend, friend of a friend, eventually, my friend.

And way too soon, she moved a world away.

Of course she would. She came from across the world. She and her sweet family were always on loan to us. I just didn’t recognize the temporariness of our time.

Isn’t that too often the way?
“But, wait, if I’d known…”
“I wish I’d said… I wish we’d done…”
“If only we’d had more time…”

Before she moved, our friend-group invested concerted effort to create memories together. In addition to our regular Friday Fun Days in the park, we added walks, coffees, weekends away, wine tasting, parties that often led to late-night dancing in the kitchen, you name it. We shared time with her, and also with each other.

After she moved, I felt like a sinkhole had opened up in our small town. Though she is a lovely skinny twig of a woman, her absence felt almost like its own ominous presence. Funny (not funny): not too long after a literal sinkhole opened up downtown…

We lost her in our daily lives and special occasions. Social media softens the blow, and we’re ever so grateful for her husband’s airline job that makes possible spontaneous return visits, like the one we enjoyed this week.

But as we gathered round, talking about the things we’ve always talked about–kids, school, friendship, cultural do’s and don’ts in our different cultures, language, work, friendship–I remembered how it felt to know the time would be short. And as I gazed around at the beautiful faces of my friends and listened to the laughter of our children playing in the other room, I wondered why we give in to life’s frenetic pace at the cost of sharing time together.

We have lost our regular rhythms. Seasons change and kids grow and the stuff of life gets in the way. It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t challenge it.

Family first, sure. But most of us have more time than we recognize, at least a little time to spare. How we spend our time signals our priorities. For my part, I want less Facebook and more face time. I want to keep making memories with the people in my community now. I don’t want to wake up one day to discover another friendship lost, even temporarily, to a sinkhole.

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ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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