Monday, October 5, 2015

Don't Mess with Texas

Don't Mess with Texas
I went to a party a week ago. Really, almost two weeks ago, and really, it will have been a month before you read this. I went to a party in Austin, Texas at Jen Hatmaker's house. For those who do not know, Jen is an author, speaker, mom, wife, and everyone's best friend, plus she helps lead an awesome church that is basically being Jesus except with cowboy boots. 

Apparently, the house I partied at was made famous on HGTV, but since I only get to watch HGTV in hotel rooms (we watched a lot of it going to Texas and back) I would not know that detail.

She invited her launch team to a party. I am still amazed at that fact, and I am still amazed that I picked up and just drove to get there. It's still surreal.
Everyone else involved seems to have written about it immediately. As in, they must have gone back to their hotel rooms in Austin and blogged at midnight, people, because that's how fast some of them managed to get these reflections posted.

I did not.

Yes, we really drove there. And loved it.
I went back to my room, meandered around Texas for another two days, drove back to Chicago in another three, and spent a week returning to life and processing what had happened. Because I am All. About. Processing. And not so much about getting things done right away. Let's assume it's all for good reasons and not basic procrastination.

Being on the launch team has been a gift. In five months' time, a group of 500 of us have somehow made a community online that defied Christian stereotypes. We are a people of random ages, backgrounds, political theories, theologies, and colors. We disagree. But we don't fight. We don't call names. We don't compare. We do pray for one another, encourage one another, and mourn with one another. We even give one another our time, money, and coffee mugs. That's community, people. And until the party, most of us had never met.

Now, here's the thing. I'm an introvert. I don't do parties. I don't do people I've never met. In large quantities. E-V-E-R.

So this was hard. I loved it, but it was hard. (Most lovely things are.) Sometimes I socialized and hugged and told stories and listened. Sometimes, I sat and just watched the buzz around me. I'm not the person to sit on Jen's porch and take selfies. I'm not the one who will approach her to talk about life, even though I feel (like so many others) that we could be bffs. I'm not the girl who will sit in the middle of a table of strangers and draw them in.

The day after the party, many of us went to the Hatmakers' church. (I know, she would hate having it called her church. It's Jesus' church. But it's easier for identification purposes.) She made a comment during the sermon about it looking like a sorority house in the congregation. And it kind of did.

Which is exactly the place on earth I would feel the least comfortable.
I am so not a sorority kind of girl.

In the book we launched, Jen talks about community. She tells tales of how we have the tools and the ability to reach out where we are, with who we are and what we have, to create the community the world craves. And I realized something about that while I was taking my dear sweet time processing what the party had meant.

I love those women, and I will continue to love them and support them and do life with them. Even those I never see again. I am so grateful for their presence and for the party and for the woman who brought us there.

But community needs to happen where I am. It needs to happen on my back porch, in my church, in my coffee shop or library or park, where I live. The point of the book was to push us out into creating that, not to make us comfortable with a safe group of people we don't have to see on a daily basis. That is a wonderful thing too—but it's not the main thing. It can springboard us into the main thing by encouraging us along, but it isn't the thing itself.

Wouldn't you know, looking again at her book today, that's exactly what she says,

“Online life is no substitute for practiced, physical presence, and it will never replace someone looking you in the eye, padding around your kitchen in bare feet, making you take a blind taste test on various olives, walking in your front door without knocking.”

My community needs to be where I am. And that's even harder and scarier than a strange farmhouse in Texas.

Because its up to me. Up to my insecurities, imperfections, and fears. But that's the point.

"When your worn-out kitchen table hosts good people and good conversation, when it provides a safe place to break bread and share wine, your house becomes a sanctuary, holy as a cathedral. If you have a porch, then you have an altar to gather around. If you can make a pot of chili and use a cell phone, then you can create community. If you want to wait until your house is perfect and you aren’t nervous, then just forget it. This is an imperfect apparatus, thank goodness. It requires people with true faces, courageously being seen.” (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)

I can make chili. (I don't like to eat it, but I can make it. It's one of the few things I like to make.) I have a porch falling-apart-deck. I can be seen.

At our house, we have a formula to test how well people know us. Appliance repairpersons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and salespeople will knock on the front door. Friends will knock on the back door. Real friends will walk in it.

In October, I want to focus on this idea of community. How do you create community? Please share your ideas, things that have worked, things that have been disasters, and thoughts for the future. I would love to see your creativity and questions!

Absolute proof I was in Texas.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

(Don't) Clean up Your Mess

Hey, what's wrong with messes? We look great, right?
The more I live with people instead of just coexisting in proximity, the more I recognize something—there are a of of messed up people out there. Even more messed up than I am. Yes, true story.

The other thing I've come to recognize is that being messed up is not necessarily a bad thing. Neat lives are often a sign of lives so carefully curated that they are museum dioramas, not lives. And the thing about museum dioramas? They're full of dead things. Stuffed dead things. This is not appealing to most of us as an environment.

A little bit of mess signals a life that's lived in, like a couch with graham cracker crumbs welded to the underside of the cushions. That life has taken risks, known joy, and has the stains to prove it. Some messes are dangerous, toxic spills that needs to be cleaned up out of our lives. But others? We need them to prove we're alive.

I never wanted or imagined the mess of a loved one with mental illness and attendant self-destructive behavior. Given the choice, I'd have picked the carefully curated life. Having chosen that, I would have missed out on a lot that has made me alive.

I had no idea I was living amid dead things.

Sometimes messes just mean something better is coming.
Because of that experience, I've been able to share a lot with people whose lives are broken in various ways, and similar variations on a theme keep returning. It's hard. It hurts. But we have learned so much. When you're in the slime and mud of the mess, though, you really want to know what exactly people have learned. What could possibly make this worthwhile? What could anyone tell me to make me appreciate this wrenching time of uncertainty?

I'm not sure. I suspect that when people are slogging through those times is not always the best opportunity to offer sage advice. Most of us aren't ready to hear it when the pain is shrieking louder than the wisdom. But people ask. What do you find out about life, and yourself, when your world is a mess? How do you even survive?

The answer to the second question is easy: God's grace and insistent love. Nothing more or less.

The answer to the first could go on a while. But here are a few thoughts.

I learned that grace was a choice I didn't make often enough. 

I had theoretically believed in grace, but operationally, I extended it mostly to those who didn't look like they needed it. For those with rough edges and incomprehensible, annoying behavior? Maybe when they got themselves together. My reality of grace was not even close to God's dream of it for me. I had no idea that grace looked a lot more like hugging a drug addict than praying for lunch at Panera.

Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross and with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.” (Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday)

I never understood that before. I didn't really want to. Now, I don't want anything else.

I learned that love is always a good thing to decide. 

You might get hurt. You will be taken advantage of. But love reserved for those who deserve it and won't tamper with it is not love at all. It's a calculated investment. CS Lewis said, To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”

I didn't understand that until I had to choose to love not only my loved one in a mess but the people it brought into our lives. It seemed God put them there despite what I wanted, so the only real choice was to love them. And they did, indeed, break my heart. But broken hearts are the best kind for letting others inside.   [tweet this]. God's dream for me was to lavish unconditional love, as He did. My reality had been fearful half loving.

I learned to honestly believe that He loves us. 

He loves our messes. Really.
He can handle them.

Driving with a loved one to a potential prison sentence is about as messy as it gets. Until in the middle of praying you hear those words on the radio, “If His grace is an ocean we're all sinking; oh, how He loves us so.” And you realize for perhaps the first, or at least the most profound, time that they are true. Not just for you but for the person sitting next to you. And all those other persons out there who have messes in their lives and need that grace like an ocean. He loves. Beyond our imagination.

He takes care of the messes, beyond our imagination. All the worries and terrors and anxieties about them do nothing helpful, while putting the mess in His hands and leaving it there always does. Because He Loves are the most needed and true words you will ever hear, and they are bedrock when life feels more like a mudslide than a picnic.

I don't know if you're feeling messy right now, and I don't know if it helps to be told those things. Maybe you have to learn them yourself in the fire. I think, though, that at least it helps to know someone else has been in that mess, and it has not won.

Something better is still coming.
We still have not finished this mess.
Have you seen the sign some people hang in their kitchen that reads “God Bless This Mess”? Yeah. That's about right. Ask Him to. He will.

Friday, September 25, 2015

What Tabs Do You Have Open?

It's #FridayFive link up time! This is a new fun time for me in this space. It's a chance to talk randomly about five things (I like random) and get to know one another better. It doesn't have to be profound or amazing or brave or anything. Just us. I like that, too. 

This week, the bloggers chose to write on "Five open tabs." I could go with five tabs that are often open, or five tabs I'd like you to think were often open, but I believe I'll just go with the literal meaning here--five tabs that are currently open on my laptop. It's a little microcosm of who I am (I cant believe I used that word in a sentence this early.)

You have to promise to be equally honest, right? I want to know who you are, too.

#1-- I like trivia. I like geography. So to unwind at night, I go to sporcle to answer questions ranging from "What are the 197 countries of the world" (I know the answers now!) to ""Can you fill in the words to this Disney song?" It's my version of candy crush. Plus, I can answer pretty much all the Lord of the Rings and Jane Austen trivia. It offers affirmation after a long day.

#2--Do Millennial Christians Have the Strongest Faith of Any Generation? I love reading Relevant, and I love reading about my current research/book topic, Millennials and faith. So this article is a great mix of both. Basically, I'm always going to have a research window open. Because this is work, and because I'm kind of a research nerd. "Input" is one of my strengths according to the StrengthsFinders test. It means I like to learn stuff. Like, when I have a topic to study, I want to know everything I can find about that topic. It gets a little overwhelming. I need to have an emergency brake.

Not the dress. Just for fun.
#3--Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Resort. Because wedding. Next spring. And making accommodation reservations. Now. Because wedding on Memorial Day weekend when everyone wants to be at Starved Rock State Park, apparently. So, reservations. Today. Many tabs will be open this year because wedding. :) 

#4--For the Love of Dixie. Because that's where my guest blogging post was yesterday. I still have to do more social media work on it, so it is still open. I can't even read it again. It makes me cry. What would you say to your mom in a letter if you could? 

Also, while I'm at it, the other site I guest posted on yesterday is also open, for the same reasons. Chronically Whole. Not as teary. I decided to go more for my sarcasm font. But the subject is quite real--why do we chase the illusion of a perfect body? So, #4 looks like I keep tabs open just to talk about me a lot. Sometimes I do. Writers have to. I hate that part.

#5--Facebook. Obviously. This needs no explanation.

What tabs do you have open? What are you concentrating on in this season of your life? I would love to know! Comment below. And, you can see the other linkups here to find out what interesting things other people have dug up.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Dirty Laundry: Questioning the Have-To's of Our Lives

One of our cats prefers to hang out in the clean laundry basket. Whatever. I'm so used to cat hair on my clothes I don't stress too much over the fact that he gets it there before I've even had a chance to put them away. 

But the other day he hunkered down in there while I was actually doing the laundry. So it happened that I began to toss clean folded laundry on top of him. Hey, if you're going to lounge around where I'm working, expect to get buried in stuff. 

He did not move. No matter how many clean clothes I piled on top of him, on he slept. He may have opened a slightly perturbed eye now and then, but he had no plan to get out of that basket anytime soon.

Sitting in Dirty Laundry?

At first, I wondered what to make of this. I mean, wouldn't a normal human being (read that cat) want to maybe move away if he was being suffocated in stuff? Then I thought about it a bit more. And I wondered how often that was true in my own life. How many times have I sat there while life, or other people, piled things on top of me? I just took them and slept on. When it would make sense to wake up and say, “Hey! Didn't you notice me in here?” and then get the heck our from underneath all that junk, sometimes I don't behave any smarter than the cat.

Comfortable Excuses Reasons

There may be lot of crap being piled on top of me, but I am comfortable. Moving is work. Moving means finding a new place to be. It means giving up the known and comfortable basket and making the effort to walk away toward other options.

Raise of hands—how many of you do that consistently? I thought so.

I know so, because I hear it all the time.

  • I'd like more time together at home but I have to take my kid to four practices this week. . .
  • I would hang out but there's this project at work someone else was supposed to do and now. . .
  • My family expects me to host this big dinner and I can't take the stress . . .
  • I'm going to feel so guilty if I don't do this the way my in-laws want it done. . .
  • There are two meetings and an outreach event and a kids' camp at church this week, and I really should be there . . .
  • It's my three-year-old's birthday and I have to make zoo cupcake trains. (Is that even a thing?!)

Did you notice some of the common words in those all-too-real scenarios? Expect. But. Supposed to. Guilt. Should. Have to.

Ask the Questions

There is all kinds of stuff being piled on us all the time, and we accept it because it comes with those magically guilt-inducing words: "have to." When was the last time you looked at one of those expectations and asked, “Do I really?”

  • Do I really have to put my kid in all those sports, or can I step off that wild ride?
  • Do I really have to complete someone else's work, or am I just controlling that it has to get done?
  • Do I really have to host a dinner for family, or can we call it a potluck?
  • Do I really have to craft a birthday party that rivals Martha Stewart and Disney combined, or will a family get together with a cake and candles do fine?

What are we afraid is going to happen if we question the have-to's in our life? [tweet this].

Hard truth--We put too much blame on what others are throwing on us and take too little responsibility for not moving out from underneath it all. Their laundry is stifling, but at least we know we're comfortably in control of making others happy. We know we're needed. We know it will get done right. 

Let's be honest, more often than not, if we're sitting under a load of stuff, we have chosen to sit there. We could get out. But we're afraid to leave the warm security, even if it's slowly suffocating us.

  • What's the worst thing that can happen if I say no?
  • What terrible tragedy will take place if I decide to let something go I think I have to control?
  • What world will spin out if I choose to let others be responsible for themselves?

  • Will I still be a worthwhile, loved person if I get out from under the pile?

As Jen Hatmaker writes in For the Love,

“We no longer assess our lives with any accuracy. We have lost the ability to declare a job well-done. We measure our performance against an invented standard and come up wanting, and it is destroying our joy. No matter how hard we work or excel in an area or two, it never feels like enough. Our primary defaults are exhaustion and guilt. Meanwhile, we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived, really enjoyed, really applauded—and it is simpler than we dare hope.”

Jump Out

How simple? Get out of the laundry basket. Decide now that the world will not implode if you don't please everyone or control the outcome of everything. Start asking yourself the questions: Do I really? What's the worst that could happen? Will I still matter?

It's doubt on that last one that kills us. So let's settle it now. You are a human being made in the image of God. (At least I think you're human. If you're not, and you're reading this blog, pleeeease send me a video.)

That image has never been rescinded. It's never been recalled. It's never been contingent on how much you've done to earn it. It was a done deal at creation. If someone else wants to doubt that about you, that's their big ol' mess of laundry, not yours. Pitch it off.

That's why we have beautiful lives begging to be really lived. It was wired into us from the beginning. Lived in the sense of knowing all the way through us that it is freer outside of the basket where the air is clear. (Especially if it's dirty laundry being thrown on us. Eeew.) It only seems scarier just before you jump out.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Five--Five Smiles

Getting our kicks . . . 
I have finally figured out my love language. I don't do dinner parties. I don't cook, in fact, unless under extreme duress. I don't do social gatherings larger than 3 close friends. I'm not a great counselor (although I am a good listener, and sometimes God comes up with great things to say through and despite me). 

I don't remember birthdays on social media and may forget those in my immediate family on occasion. So how in the world do I connect with people?

I have discovered that my “connection” language is travel. I should have known that. In the car is where most personal discussions with my kids have ever taken place. Travel memories are the ones our family returns to time and again. So other people will cook with their friends—I will travel to know you. I just have to figure out how to make that affordable.

Since this week's link is Friday Five Smiles (click here to see more), I thought this revelation was good for today, because I've just been on a week-long road trip with a daughter. And we had smiles. SO many of them. Here are Five.

I let her choose our first motel. She picked this cute place authentic to Route 66. This set off an intentional detour the next day to stay on the iconic highway for a while rather than get back on zoom-zoom 44. We smiled, a lot.

Slowing down often produces smiles.

We drove off course a bit to see a giant blue whale. You could jump off it into a pond. We didn't. But you could. And that made it super cool. Particularly in the middle of Oklahoma, where giant blue whales are not common.

Life's detours are great chances for connection and smiles.

We set off smoke alarms in a hotel in Shreveport. This was not our fault—the air conditioning had left the room at a cozy 61 degrees when we walked in at 11 pm, and we needed some heat to stay there. Unfortunately, turning on the heat released noxious fumes that simulated (or were) something burning. The smell and noise was not smiley or fun. But the laughter afterward was. You connect when you try to torch a hotel together.

Mistakes and malfunctions create smiles, when we treat them like adventures together rather than disasters.

We did new things and found whole new worlds. Serendipitously, the two even connected.

No, that is henna. Not that adventurous.

Braving the new is an achievement worth smiling about.

We chronicled all the signs we we passed through.

Because it's always good to smile at both where you've been and where you're going.

 Happy Friday!

What are your smiles today?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

HOT! A New Novel

Today I have the privilege to introduce you to a new novel by David Stearman. Now, if you know me by now, you know I'm not a huge novel reader. My favorite living writer is Malcolm Gladwell, people. 

But I have been blogging with David for a while and greatly respect his skill and desire to tell a good story that moves people toward God. So it's exciting to hear his take on how HOT! does just that.

David, first Give us the gist of the new book without giving it away.

Hot is the story of a young Jake, whose competitiveness with his peers drives him to become a rock star. He gives his all to reach this goal, sacrificing friends and even Chloe, the girl he loves, to reach the top. But once there he discovers how lonely life can be at the top. Now all he wants is to restore the dream he lived before his dreams came true. But most of all, Jake wants reconnect with Chloe, whom he once betrayed. Can he do it? Can Jake find his way back home and into Chloe’s arms? Well, you’ve gotta read the book to find out.

How did the idea for this book start?

I used to be a recording artist, so elements of this story are autobiographical. My dream was legitimate, and God made it happen. But I’m thankful I never made it “enormously big” like Jake did. Past a certain point, a life of fame can be rife with pitfalls.
What appealed to you about the setting, history, or culture of the project?

My love of the music business. Which is not unlike the “book business,” which I love every bit as much.

What aspect of the main character makes him/her most interesting?

We can all relate to Jake’s insecurity and vulnerability. And his childlike simplicity and fascination for life makes him lovable. What makes him interesting are his choices; how he chooses poorly in the beginning but learns from his mistakes later on.

What drives you when you write?

The desire to help someone else live a happier, more fulfilled life. I know this might sound fake, and even cheesy to some people, but it’s the truth.

Just for Fun--what is the best travel experience you've ever had (or worst!), favorite hobby, and/or favorite place/cuisine to eat?

Best travel inexperience: I do a lot of missionary work, so seeing an entire Philippine village who had never heard the Gospel stand upon their feet and give their lives to Jesus Christ was the best thing ever.

Favorite hobby: Archery. My arms itch to shoot arrows every day. I can’t explain it. I know it sounds boring, but shooting an awesome score is just too much fun. Think if it like golf, but you get to poke things with a pointy stick.

Favorite place/cuisine: I have two, which contrast with one another. I once had canard en croute in a little restaurant in the South of France. It was every bit as awesome as it sounds. But my favorite of all are the huevos rancheros my friend Roman whips up in his humble little rooftop cafe in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

What else is in the works for you?

I recently wrote a novella about cowboys, Apaches, and some supernatural goings-on. It’s a blast, but heartwarming and meaningful, too. My agent said it made her cry. Can’t wait ‘til this one’s out in print.

You can learn more about David by: 
Following him on Twitter
Finding him on Facebook
Checking out his reviews on Goodreads
Or reading his blog.

And you can order HOT! Now here.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Screaming Comets, Hot Messes, and Grace

I have been blessed for the last several months to be a part of the launch team for Jen Hatmaker's new book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards (available here on Amazon).
But guys, the wild unpredictable can be gorgeous.

This is the final installment of my series taking chapters of the book that spoke to my work and discussing them. Thus far,we've covered crazy self-imposed expectations of parenting, responding to the millennial generation, and allowing the gospel of Jesus to be what He said it was.

This week: grace. That's it. Just grace. The topic of my seminary thesis, so you know, it is just a tad important to me. However, that thesis was written twenty years ago, and you know what? I had no idea what the word meant.

Oh, theologically, sure. We were told to choose one word that defined what we believed and described God and the gospel, or something like that. I chose grace. Somehow, I knew it would be a very important word for me. Or God knew. But really? I hadn't a clue.

More life had to be lived before I would have any idea what grace meant. Far more hurt had to be experienced, far more gratitude realized, and far more pride peeled away before I could even get a start on a kindergarten comprehension of that word.

See, I was a high school debater. I was also high school valedictorian. You know what all that means, in addition to being facts I can trot out to impress approximately no one at this point? I specialized in persuasion. I knew how to argue, I knew how to research, and I knew how to get it right. When I became a Christian, I took those skills with me into the brave new world of belief.

I soon discovered they could be used as weapons.

I believed in grace, but it was mostly grace for those who had already repented. My concept of grace looked more like forgiveness for those who already had figured out how to get it right.

Now, I understand the truth of what Jen says about that line of thinking.

“We tend to formulize the mysterious, opting for a more manageable gospel than the wild, unpredictable one we have. We’d like one with clearer edges and better boundaries, because who can fathom a Savior born in a barn who washed the feet of His followers before dying for people who hated Him?

It is no wonder humanity has long preferred legalism, which involves much cleaner territory. Give me a rule any day. Give me a clear “in” and “out” because boundaries make me feel safe. If I can clearly mark the borders, then I am assured of my insider status—the position I feel compelled to defend, the one thing I can be sure of. I want to stand before God having gotten it right. Doctrine is tidier terrain than flesh and blood.”

I wanted life, and grace, to be manageable. It wasn't until life got so unmanageable for me, beyond the capabilities of my valedictorian credentials, that grace screamed in, stunning and electrifying, like a comet with a star-streamed tail across my dark sky. Disorienting like that, too.

The God who spoke from a flaming bush and pushed his way into a cattle stall swaddled in blood and fluid never offered us clean lines. He brazenly led the way to coloring outside the clean lines when he dined with prostitutes and called tax collectors out of treetops.

God led us into the wild terrain of unmitigated, incomprehensible grace. And sometimes, we don't like it.  [tweet this].It messes with our clean lines. It defies our borders. It threatens our safe standing.

Grace forces us to stare at the depths of our own capacity for sin. Honestly, I'd far rather stare at the depths of someone else's.

Looking at our own forces us to look at those others differently, as folks just like us. The place this is the most difficult, sometimes, is right in the chair next to us on a Sunday morning. Because if anyone should have it right by now, it should be those other church people, right?


Church can sometimes be like this, right? And this is FUN.
“Church people are regular old sinners too. If I could fix this, I would. As it turns out, the church isn’t a gathering of shiny new pennies. It lets anyone in the door! All sorts of hooligans fill the sanctuaries: kind and good ones, angry and cynical ones, mean and judgmental ones, smart and funny ones, broken and sad ones, weird and awkward ones, precious and loving ones, scared and wounded ones, brave and passionate ones, insiders and outliers, newbies and lifers and trying-one-more-timers. Just a whole bunch of human people. Every church has all these folks. It is just the hottest mess, but clearly you belong here because everyone does.”

Grace. A church throwing open its doors and admitting to the world that it is what it is. Not a bunch of people who have it all right and are waiting for the world outside to realize it. A bunch of people who, like the Israelites of old, have gotten it wrong time and again but who still show up, still try, still ask God to take them just one step closer to what He wants them to be. People who do not cover up their awkwardness to welcome the awkward into their world.

We don't see it often. But when we do, we recognize it immediately. It's grace.

“The breadth of God’s family is mercifully wide. Grace has no discernment, apparently. Jesus created a motley crew, plucking us from every context and inaugurating a piecemeal clan that has only ever functioned with mercy. We should be grabbing hands, throwing our heads back, and laughing that God saved us all, because surely this is the messiest family ever and He loves us anyway. Our shared redemption should keep us grateful and kind, because what other response even makes sense?”

That last line. That's grace. 

A favorite quote from another great book.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Back to School Tips from a Finished Mom

First day of school  Middle child. A while ago.
For the first time in approximately 3700 years, I realized last fall that I did not have to care about when school started. Or ended. Or did basically anything at any time, except as it pertained to driving through school zones. I was done. Three kids more-or-less-successfully shepherded through school. With a complicated combo of public, home, and private schooling. But we did it.

And then we launched the baby into college, and I predictably lost it, but all is good, because I got to blog about it here in one of my favorite posts that still makes me cry.

Those years were crazy. Partly because I made them so with all the expectations I put on myself to be Awesome Mom. I do not wear that title well. The tiara slips. But I wanted to.

I did the Pinterest lunch ideas, before Pinterest existed. Ask my kids about the eggs. They still remember those eggs. I'm not positive they always ate them, but they remember them. 

I created elaborate birthday parties at home. I chaperoned field trips, at least until I lost a couple kids at the Field Museum. It was totally not my fault they were not as fascinated by the minerals display as the rest of us. I even chaperoned a high school trip to Orlando, and that is hard core, people.

And now it's done. And I'm writing a post on five back-to-school tips when I am not going back to school. (Actually, I am. Me, myself. But that's another story.)

But I'm not here at the take-out end of sending kids back to school to give you great tips for kale salads that look like ostriches playing kickball (and that your kids will actually eat). I'm not going to tell you how to color-code your school supplies with brads and die cuts and washi tape. This is not something I am an expert in. I am an expert in knowing all those school supplies will be lost/torn/traded/eaten (it happens) within the fist two weeks of their life. And you do not want to be responsible for any kids eating brads and hot glue.

I'm here with five tips for life in all its beautiful feelings when you say goodbye to those kids, whether it be to kindergarten or, like me now, the second year of college. For a larger perspective at the end. Whether those kids are going on a bus, driving themselves to high school or headed right back into your living room to go to school.

#1--Feel however you feel. 

Elated? Terrified? Sorrowful? Like turning cartwheels and drinking wine right there in the middle of the morning? Whatever, guys. All of those feelings might be cycled through in one hour. It's OK. Feel them. Don't feel like you're “supposed” to feel. We all react differently, and it is no measure of our love for our offspring. No comparisons, no condemnation.

#2--Treasure the firsts and lasts. 

There's this . . . 
And then there's this. And I swear to you,
they were only about three hours apart.
Don't wait until senior year of high school to realize you will never have another first day of school, another last packed lunch (hallelujah!), or another Christmas concert. Treasure them all as they happen. I know—at times you will want to eat your own toenails more than you will want to attend another two-hour concert sitting on bleachers. But trust me, treasure it. It will be over. Enjoy the firsts and lasts, big and small, as they happen. Just don't believe you have to create a Pinterest/Facebook moment out of all of them.

#3--Be your child's best advocate but not her biggest excuse. 

She will need you to be in her corner. Especially if she has special needs teachers, parents, and others do not understand and don't care to. Stand firmly in that corner and don't back down. But—don't become his fall back for not making the effort to stand on his own. You won't always be there. Walk the tightrope of defending when needed and letting him take his consequences when needed. It's an art, not a perfect science. You will make mistakes here. When you do, reference tip #4.

#4--Nothing is a permanent mistake. 

Remember all those warnings that whatever horrible deeds you did in school would end up in your permanent record? Yeah, exactly true, except not. No misplaced homework paper, no unfinished art project, not even that one time your kid repeated the word your husband said when he missed the final minutes of the Superbowl are going to matter At All when your kid tries to get a job on Wall Street.

Yes, we care about teaching our kids to be responsible. We care about helping them to use the minds God gave them to their fullest capacity. We care about making sure they do not live in our basements forever but do get into college and get jobs. But we also care about giving grace. Offering second chances. Not acting like the end of the world hovers over our heads if they color the grass purple and the sun blue. Kids make mistakes. They are not forever. Dispense grace. Liberally.

Nothing is a permanent mistake for you, either. Not the time you forgot to pack the birthday cupcake. Not the time you sent him to school with a 102 fever because you were sure he was faking it. Not even the time you missed the first grade mother's day program because you couldn't get out of Home Depot on time. (I have no personal experience in that last one. None. Except that I still have not forgiven myself for that. And the kid is almost 25.) You, mom or dad, will make mistakes. Reference #3. Dispense grace. To yourself. It is not forever. It will not be on your permanent record unless you put it there. Don't.

Remember the big picture. 

China. Better than school.
Life is not about perfect papers or team sports or science fair projects that get your kid in the newspaper. It's about doing what God has for you to do and being what God has for you to be. For both you and your kid. Step back. Breathe. Drop activities that make you crazy. Your kid isn't going to the big leagues or the Olympics. Take the time to enjoy one another now and grow in God. Don't sacrifice those things for the things that will not matter in the end. Make the time to put them first.

We took our kids on a mission trip during school. The world did not end, and they did not fail first/fifth/sixth grade. I took my daughter out of school for a zoo trip on her birthday. No one turned us in to DFS. (Sh did, however, get food poisoning from the zoo cafeteria. Karma?) Sometimes, the big picture memories are far more important than the daily urgent. Remember the big picture. Step back. Breathe. Trust me on this one. Earth will remain in orbit.

So there you are. Your five back-to-school tips from one who is finished going back to school. What are your tips?

Happy fall!

And remember--you're egg-straordinary!