Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On not forgetting the deep darkness

Everyone talks about 'missing' Christmas. We spend a lot of words and energy trying not to miss the meaning, trying to absorb and teach and remember the reason we celebrate this season.

Lately I'm understanding why. Christmas is joyfully fluffy. It is a big dollop of whipped cream on top of the dessert-month of the calendar. We work hard to get to December, when we want to bask in the fluff.

I love it too. The carols, the smells, the lights, the traditions, the gatherings and gifts and glorious foods. Christmas is usually a time of enjoying our blessings. And I'm not about to say any of those things are bad, so stop worrying.

What happens to me, though, around now, as the actual day approaches, is that I get quieter on the inside. When I'm tempted to feel overwhelmed and kick it into overdrive to clean up my to-do lists, I start thinking about the real first Christmas and how messy it was and how I'm not finished with anything.

Look at this verse about Christmas.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father." Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child.
Galatians 4:4-7 

I'm stuck on the first part: but when the right time came. What made it the right time? I feel like Christmas can't arrive until all the items on my list are checked off. All the decorations are just so. All the groceries are in the fridge. All the people in my house are happy and have tidy outfits on and understand the depth of what we are celebrating. When all of us are standing, holding our breath, in a clean house in clean outfits with clean hearts, that is the right time, and then Christmas can come and we can exhale.

But what made Jesus' birth the 'right time?' I think about the moments He's shown up in the biggest ways in my own life. And goodness, if it's not at the very last minute every time. I'm in a cliffhanger of a problem, everything is messy, and that's when He shows up, when I'm pleading and crying and my fingers are slipping off the end of a rope I can't hold onto any longer. Usually, that's His definition of the right time.

And so I'd guess things were so at His birth. Jesus is first and foremost a savior, not just a prophet to tell cool stories, or a friendly guy coming to give hugs, so I'd bet, at the time of His birth, mankind was as deep in darkness as it ever was. I'd bet the world was pleading and crying and desperate. The right time meant things were the most messy, the most people were starved for light. Look at this prophecy in Isaiah.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.
Isaiah 9:2

Deep darkness. Suddenly the desperation I see in Christmas makes the fluff blur in the background. I am reminded the snuggly, "silent night" was really a rescue mission with more controversy, conflict, and more at stake than any event in history. Christmas isn't whipped cream as much as it is lifeblood. It's knee-dropping grace. It's God with helpless us. It's a world about to let go of a rope.

It's the King of Kings coming to ransom His children by sending one, like an innocent lamb to the slaughter. It's adoption and forgiveness and everything you've ever needed.

Today, I can make my candy cane cookies and still recognize that there is deep darkness all around me. It threatens my health, my children, my marriage, my faith. We live in a broken, messy world. I never want to forget reality, being blinded by twinkle lights, because that's why we have Christmas at all. Of course even my own heart harbors darkness; we all do, and we want to bury and ignore it at Christmas. But every day of the year, I need the light of Jesus, I need to know He saw my darkness and came down and lived and gave up his life. For me.

We'll still read about the Grinch. Tomorrow we're making gingerbread men. And the weekend is chock full of activities. But I'll also tell my kids the real story. Not just the fluffy nativity version with bleating goats and a glowing baby.

I'll tell them the desperate part. Because we all need that part, even children. Until heaven, we all need freedom and adoption as God's own children. We all at times feel like we may just slip off the end of the rope and need Jesus to catch us at just the right time.

In 2014, I'm sure I'll have some of those desperate moments, when I need serious rescuing. I'm sure you will too. And no matter what time of year our 'right time' arrives, remembering the epic rescue called Christmas will make us stronger.


Monday, December 16, 2013

"It's coming on Christmas, we're cutting down trees"

Oh, if you've been around for a while here, you know I love that song. Good old Joni Mitchell.

And this year, I'm not lying when I sing it. Because we did cut down a tree, for the first time ever. Because it's coming on Christmas.

In Montana, you can go to the local hardware store and buy a permit for $5. But really you're buying the promise of experience, memory making, and a fresh cut, snow covered tree that may just last until St. Patty's Day.

I knew the day had the potential also for crumbling into disaster due to incompatible weather, incompatible moods, or incompatible trees. Or all of the above. Throughout the day, I was aware that the whole experience and how we'd remember it was fragile, like a an expensive, glass ornament that you slowly extend, reaching, on tip toes to gingerly place on a high branch.


We all started off with happy hearts and enthusiasm. I mean, I'm off the ground here. And we live in Montana now; just LOOK at this place. It's breathtaking.

As for the day, it didn't crumble. Oh it wasn't perfect; how could it be? We were four people trying to agree on a tree in the middle of nowhere in 30 degree weather. But we found one. And no one got frostbite, or injured with the hatchet or saw (there was one close call though!) and I don't even think anyone cried. So. Huge success in my books.

I liked shaking the trunks, sending the snow cascading down all around me, which gave us a better look at the tree itself. This was our pretty little pick.

Then, since all little boys want to be like their dads, these two went off in search of a baby tree for my baby big boy to cut down.

Even though he is literally caked in snow from lying in it and making himself a "snow blanket," and he is wearing his sister's scarf and his dad's fleece vest since he forgot his coat, he is one happy customer of the woodlands. He is practically a little woodland creature himself.

This tree is way, way heavier than it looks, by the way. And way taller than we thought. Hashtag 'rookies'. Thank goodness for friends who loaned us their pick up truck and giant sled on which to drag it back.

And glory! It is our favorite tree yet. I even had to use the big ladder.

Yes, one day it will be on the curbside. But the memories of the day we found our first Christmas tree in the snowy wilderness will live forever.  I hope one day you have the chance to do the same.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Perfectly Messy


This past week was the worst.

It was the hardest week for me since we've moved. The weather never got above zero. Negative temps meant the kids were never allowed outside at school. They were antsy and grouchy. My husband slid twice through red lights, unable to brake on the ice. The chill took my breath away and made me cough. I was sure my nose and lips would drop off, they were in such pain, even just walking from the car to the school doors at pick up. Our dog was sick and I didn't know what to do. The washing machine flooded the laundry room because the pipes froze. And everyone was stressed. Everyone was having a bad time of it. I never complained, though I don't think I even had time to, because it took all my effort to manage my own self, the warmth of the house, and that of the kids.

We couldn't get a tree because we couldn't be outside. We didn't go to the city Christmas celebration on Main Street (since it was -10). We all argued and managed and worked to keep our heads above water.

And all the while, I grappled with the fact that it is Christmas and I don't want it to look this way.

I want to lead beautiful advent devotionals with my kids every night. I want to bake and watch the snow fall with a smile. I want to decorate, and feel prepared with my gifts for my loved ones. And zero of these things were happening.

I didn't panic or cry about all these things that weren't happening. I just stared at them. I stared at the bathrooms that need cleaning, the heaps of laundry waiting for warmer weather, the messy relationships in my home, the Thanksgiving decor on every surface, the sick dog, and accepted it all with a small pit in my stomach. 

On Saturday, when I finally started to decorate, I pulled out the pieces of my favorite, vintage nativity set. My daughter pointed out that Joseph's head was broken off and missing. Of course it was. I rummaged through the white fabric in which I'd wrapped the set, and out his painted little head rolled. Despite the decapitated Joseph, my girl placed all the pieces in their spots under the mossy wooden crèche. She stood back to assess her work and announced it looked more like a Halloween display than a Christmas one.

Yesterday I heard this verse differently, where the angels intercept the shepherds in the middle of the night to tell them the good news: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12) Goodness, we are so familiar with these verses that we roll right past them. But it jumped out at me yesterday; the shepherds were not only terrified, as the Bible says, but they must have looked at each other like, "Wait. What?? The savior we've been waiting for is (as other translations say) wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough?" It is a ridiculous message. They must have been absolutely shocked, and then confused.

Read what one commentary from says about verse 12:

"The sign was to consist, it seems, solely in the overpowering contrast between the things just said of Him and the lowly condition in which they would find Him—Him whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting, "ye shall find a Babe"; whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, "wrapt in swaddling bands"; the "Saviour, Christ the Lord," lying in a manger! Thus early were these amazing contrasts, which are His chosen style..."

Amazing contrasts are His chosen style. Wow. Fanciness and neatly checked off lists and cozy comforts were never our Lord's chosen style. He came messy. Perfectly messy.

Now that is something I can do. Actually, it's already just taking place without my intervention. Isn't that humorous? Perfectly messy just naturally occurs in my life, and I get all ruffled over it. But it was our Lord's choice. It didn't just happen that there was no room in the inn. It wasn't an accident that super pregnant Mary had to be riding a donkey while starting to go into labor. All the crazy, ridiculous circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus were His first choice.

I don't quite know how to get there, myself. How to make 'perfectly messy' MY first choice. How to let go of wanting a Pinterest-worthy mantle and Rockwellian chats over hot cocoa. But I think it starts with my focus. Am I looking around my house and at my lists, or am I looking at Jesus? Am I striving to create something completely different and distanced from the first real Christmas, or am I allowing the messiness of that night in Bethlehem to be a model for my celebrating? 

I am certain those smelly animals, the dirty strips of cloth, the humble teenagers, the crying baby, and the feeding trough lined with hay would have never made it into a magazine. People probably scoffed at them, in fact. A scene would have been caused. Reporters would have made a circus attraction out of them. And so many people in town for the census surely missed the wonder and the beauty that took place at the greatest event in history thus far.  

I am resolving to not miss the beauty, to embrace the messy, and to worship the Lord who loves amazing contrasts.

Looking deeper, inside, I'm even messier than my holiday season has been, which is why Christmas even happened in the first place. God came down to trade my mess for His perfect. It's the best and craziest contrast of all.

Perfectly messy is His first choice. I am His first choice. You are His first choice. Right where we are.

I'm going to focus on that.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

An easy place to start


I'm not ashamed to admit that I have been indoctrinated by Veggie Tales more than once.

Those crazy veggies are always singing about truth. And truth has a way of getting to the heart, no matter how it's packaged. After over 10 years now of hearing those guys preach it, I can say that bits of their Bible based messages are likely forever rooted in my brain. And heart.

One such nugget is from the movie Madame Blueberry. It's an oldie but a goodie. I remember receiving this DVD for free, when I signed up for MOPS when my daughter was really small, like maybe 18 months old. Because Madame Blueberry always wants more stuff, it has this catchy song on contentment and gratitude. I guess I'm on this theme lately; I talked about contentment like two posts ago. Anyway, the song says this:

A thankful heart is a happy heart.
I'm glad for what I have,
that's an easy place to start.

It's Sunday so this will be brief. Many things in my life right now are not easy. Or particularly happy. In fact, they're super complicated and confusing and potentially overwhelming. I could choose to focus on all of them. It's tempting. But a thankful heart is a happy heart. When everything seems cloudy and you don't know what to do next, being glad for what you have is an easy place to start.

I'm going to start, off the top of my head.

1. my family's health
2. the promise of snow on Monday
3. seeing the birds fly south
4. the golden birches
5. having a church to attend
6. mini pinecones
7. movie and cracker jacks tonight
8. our home
9. a fridge with food in it
10. being invited to the neighbors' for pumpkin carving
11. funny costumes
12. candy corn in a bowl on the piano
13. learning to knit
14. the omnipresence of God
15. my kids giggling
16. friendship
17. Pandora  
18. reading with my kids
19. creating stuff
20. knowing God has good plans and purposes for me
21. our new chalkboard wall
22. the sheep we pass on the way to school
23. forgiveness
24. the armor of God
25. grace

I could go on and on. Want to add to the list?

Want to start your own? I'm going to be writing a private list daily for the month of November, starting on the 1st, simply to practice having a thankful heart.

Because a thankful heart is a happy heart. I couldn't believe it more.

Thanks Jr. Asparagus.


Friday, October 25, 2013

I'm the redhead (a Hope Spoken introduction)

Next March, I'll be at Hope Spoken, God willing, pouring my heart out. I'm excited. Really. I don't feel scared about speaking in front of people, and I think I could be. But my overriding feelings are thrilled and humbled and blessed and energized to have the opportunity to share God's story, the one He's written in my life. That is such a privilege.

If God has taken the time to write this story in my life, and if He has opened a door through my friend Casey for me to share it with others, then He'll finish that work and make it all mean something bigger than I'll ever know. That's my hope, simply to be used in His timing, for His reasons, and I may never know all the ways in which that hope materialized.

I'm sure there will be moments when I am too conscious of myself, wondering if I'm dressed cute enough, or if I'll remember people's names, or if I'll stumble over my words, Jesus will be there too, amidst the crowd. He will remind me that I am beautiful. He will remind me that no one's approval matters but His. And He will remind me that this is all about HIM. Not me. When I remember that, I get those feelings back, the thrilled and humbled and blessed and energized ones.

If I walk in the belief that Hope Spoken is all about Jesus, I am free to be myself, my very imperfect self who may stumble over words and forget a few names. And truly, I'll have way more fun being myself rather than trying to be someone I think I should be....perhaps someone more together, who wears cute maxi skirts, the latest necklace, and knows everyone in the room.   

So that picture up there at the very top is of my two kids and I. That's what I look like. I'm the redhead. There aren't many of us around and I hear by 2050, we'll be extinct. I may still be alive, but I certainly didn't propagate any redheads, so we're dying out, or so I hear. But you're welcome, because I'm easy to spot in a big crowd. If you're going to Hope Spoken and if you spy me, please come say hello.

We recently moved from CA to Montana and I have to write out the word Montana because it seems people get the M states confused when I just use MT. It's been a big adjustment, and the step - well, really ginormous leap - of faith it took for us to move here, where we didn't know a soul, is part of my story I'll be sharing. It's the ending part, actually, of a long story I'll be sharing on my journey with the Lord and the challenges through which He's taught me to surrender. Surrendering to God's plans for my life, not the Montana ones, but the ones before that, the ones that were really starting to look like my worst nightmare, was very difficult.

Maybe you're in a hard place too. Things don't make sense; life isn't turning out like you'd imagined. Well I'd love for you to come to Hope Spoken and find refreshment, a renewed sense of endurance and hope in your walk with Jesus. Come hear my story and listen to others that are sure to encourage you. Casey and the girls will be releasing thirty more tickets soon, so you can watch out for that news on her blog or follow @hopespoken on Instagram.

My son took this picture last weekend. Suddenly I'm an outdoorsy girl. I never have been before because I lived in suburban Orange County for the last 20 years. I mean, I enjoyed the outdoor malls. That I can tell you. But now I'm a hiker. I love the crisp, fall air and the brilliant leaves on the changing birches. I even have a cow hide as a living room rug. It's so funny to me.

God is an unparalleled storyteller. The one He's writing in my life right now is pretty humorous and desperate and blindingly lovely all at the same time.

I hope you get a chance to come hear a bit of it in person. I'd love to give you a hug.

{find out more at}

* linking up on take heart, with many other ladies attending the conference *


Saturday, October 19, 2013

How we walked in fields of gold

A day off of school, not for a holiday, not for any expected reason, is a gift. I guess it was a teacher training day, but I didn't pay that close of attention.

For us, it meant a trip to the pumpkin patch in the sunshine and crisp air.

It meant being completely surrounded by golden leaves and golden fields everywhere you turned.

It meant seeing childhood emerge and breathe again, having shaken off the cloak of responsibility and pressure and expectation, at least for the day. Running with no destination in mind. Hurtling over hay bales and hedges. Taking as much time as necessary to look and enjoy and play.

It meant laughing joyfully as I watched my city kids try to figure out what to do with the many tire swings hanging from the trees. His expression says it all. And honestly, I had no idea what to suggest to them either. Seriously. Later, when I saw kids sitting on TOP of them, easily swinging, I was like, "Ohhhh. That's why they're hanging like two inches from the ground." Which I thought was sort of dumb at first. We are new at this. 

The day also meant buying freshly pressed cider, then making a fragrant concoction of spices and orange slices when we got home.

And best of all, it meant seeing the truth again about who we are. People who love one another. Period. Sometimes all I can see is the sassy remarks, the misspoken words, the hurtful actions. What is it about a fall day with no school and some space to roam that can bring out the best in us all?

It reminded me of how grateful I am for my life. For my kids. For Montana. For grace and forgiveness. And for fields of gold.

And hey. If your school calendar doesn't give you a day off soon, I say take one anyway. Make the time to get out in the crisp and beautiful fall air. Remember and refresh.

The laundry can wait.


Monday, October 14, 2013

On contentment (and the changing weather)


The rooftops today look like ridged waffles sprinkled with powdered sugar and my phone says it is 36 degrees. Our wiener dog walks in hurried circles when he needs to go outside. Two nights ago, as I picked up a little friend while her dad played in a hockey tournament, the icy wind introduced my body to a new level of cold. Today my phone also tells me that back in my California town, it is sunny, with a high of 80.

It was about a year ago that my husband started talking about leaving his job. I wasn't at all scared for what the future would hold. But we had no idea God had such a dramatic change in mind for our family as moving to Montana. When it grew increasingly clear that He was communicating to both my husband and I that this was "it," Montana was where we were supposed to go, we started to share the news with others.

I thought it was so strange how we would tell others what God had put on our hearts, and many times the response would be something like, "But it's so cold there!" When I weighed the matter in my own two hands, God's call was in one, and The Weather was in another. Again, I found it so strange. Did some people really believe that those two things were close contenders for making the decision to move? This was the point at which I started thinking a lot about weather and the effect it has on us.

Certainly some people have had terrifying or tragic experiences related to weather. Bad car accidents. Being stranded. Things like that. I've never had any of those, so I can't speak to how that may affect a person's decision making based on the outdoor conditions. But most people, I think, myself included, just want to feel comfortable. And cozy. We are comfort addicts, really. That's why we have such a problem with the cold (or the heat, whichever you detest more). We even call all sorts of weather "bad."

But after living in Montana for six months now, and after experiencing more days of cold and snow than I ever have in my prior 37 years combined, I'm learning that there really is no such thing as bad weather. It's all just weather. We call it bad only because it interferes with our agendas. I wonder if God thinks there is any weather that is bad.

Aside from tsunamis, tornados, and destructive natural disasters, I'm deciding that no weather is bad. I mean, if it were the olden days and I could stay indoors by a fire, teaching my own children and making all my own food from scratch, it wouldn't be a problem. But because we have to get to school and go to dance lessons and swing by Target and pick up a Starbucks coffee, any sort of hindrance to our agendas seems bad. Well, I'm becoming less and less a fan of that egocentric attitude in myself.

I have had at least three people ask me if I hate the snow yet. I'm serious. It's clear that some have very impassioned feelings about winter and all that it brings. And that particular question makes me want to dig my heels in and be as far away from hating it as possible. Creation reveals the creativity of my Maker. And I don't want to have a grumbling or complaining spirit about His appointed changes to the scenery. If I did, I feel I'd be shutting my eyes and ears to something He is trying to say.

A wise friend back in California once told me that they used to live in the northern part of the country, where the weather was very different from that of Orange County. She said when they moved down south to our town, they were baffled by the busyness and the unrelenting pressure to be productive every day of the week, every week of the year, simply due to the warm climate. If one COULD be outdoors working on the yard, playing tennis, making money, or teaching your kid a new sport, then one should be. She noticed something I never had: that the lack of change in seasons yielded a culture that didn't know how to rest.

Winter reminds us that nature pulls in, draw together, and rests. Fall is the counselor telling us to calm down, extinguish the activity of the summer, and begin to store up resources for a season of pruning and deepening roots and staying closer to those we love.

Maturity means we too change with the seasons, not fighting to maintain comfort and sameness, not feeling entitled to year round productivity, but listening to God's signals, submitting to His rhythm. And His rhythm is never the same for too long. He is so gracious to show us what we need.

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Romans 1:20

As the seasons change around your home, listen to what God may be saying through creation. And if you live in a place where the seasons don't really change, like I did most of my life, then God is speaking through creation there too. All around us, everywhere, He has something to reveal about Himself.

Right now, I'm reading a book called Calm My Anxious Heart because I told a friend I would read it with her. I don't feel I particularly struggle with anxiety. But there is always room to grow in the area of contentment. The author speaks of an overseas missionary of over 50 years whom she knew, and who had five secrets of contentment. They are so practical, I wanted to share them. I will certainly be applying these this winter.

1. Never allow yourself to complain about anything, not even the weather.
2. Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else.
3. Never compare your lot with another's.
4. Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
5. Never dwell on tomorrow - remember that is God's, not ours.

Imagine if we could all do this perfectly. I think of the verse that says "Godliness with contentment is great gain (I Tim 6:6)," and I want both of those things. Godliness and contentment.

Much, much more than I want it to be 75 degrees every day.


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

BTS Series, lesson 6

I've thought a lot about prayer these last few years. I've written about it too. I guest-posted on Casey's blog last fall with many of my thoughts and changed beliefs regarding prayer. If you missed it, maybe read that first, because it gives a context for this post.

I used to be the type to sit before God and literally rattle off a laundry list of prayers. On occasion, I'm still tempted to fall back into that habit of presenting my agenda to God, my will, my ideas for how my life and the lives of those around me should run. I'm tempted to ask Him to sign on the bottom line of my plans and give the green light for all my amazing solutions.

But for the most part, I don't pray like that anymore. So this post is not going to be a list of topics to pray through for your children while they're in school. That would have been the easy thing for me to write. Frankly, that's what I want to write. And that would have been the easy thing for you to do. We both could have checked something simple off our lists for the day.

The problem is that we would both then miss out on the most important aspect of prayer: relationship with our Father. Sometimes we can reduce prayer to talking at God. That's not relationship. A good, healthy one is two-directional. And in our best relationships, we do more listening that talking.

Now it's getting daunting, I know. Listening before God, rather than the rattling-off, is hard. It takes discipline and quiet. Those are two things I don't often have, or rather, I don't often choose. But my challenge for you, in this very last Back To School Lesson, is to sit before God and LISTEN to Him during your prayer time regarding your kids.

He will speak to your heart, you know. He loves your kids more than you do, and He knows them even better. He knows what they fear, what they feel insecure about, what they need and when they need it. Doesn't that motivate you to ask Him how you can help parent these little guys? A prayer of mine for my kids may go something like this:

God, you already know my heart is full of concerns and wishes for my kids. I don't need to tell you those. But I do need your wisdom on where my kids are at right now. What are the issues I need to address? What are you working on in them? What do they need from me right now? Speak, Lord, I'm listening.....

(And then I'd be quiet, with no deadline, and focus on one child at a time, being aware of things that God sort of pops into my head, or feelings He brings to my heart about this thing or that. Sometimes, at first, I picture a blank slate to clear out my own mind's clutter. Sometimes, I ask him to calm my mind and heart first. Sometimes, I ask him to put aside His still, small voice and SHOUT to me what I need to hear if I feel distracted or confused. It takes discipline and practice. And it gets easier.)

There have been times - many times - when I open myself up to the Holy Spirit in this way that I feel convicted for a misspoken word, or hurtful attitude towards my kids and know I need to apologize. There have been a couple rare times when I've felt the Lord speak about my child's distant future, a prophecy, I guess, about His plans for them. But most of the time, He meets me in the middle of the day's events and problems. He equips me to meet their needs, and maybe most importantly, He gives me a refreshed love and compassion for my kids, even when one is about to make me lose my mind.

I long to go before God with open ears when I face the fact that I don't know how to pray for them. I don't really know with whom they should be friends. I don't really know which teachers are best for them. I don't know how God will use the events of this school year to grow and shape them into the people He wants them to be. And I desperately need His input on all these matters.

I wish there was a formula for praying for our kids, I do. I love formulas and lists and checking things off. But there's not. Powerful prayer requires faith, and faith means believing that God's will is the very marrow of abundant life, even when the circumstances themselves can look like a train wreck. A former pastor used to speak of prayer requiring a "double-fisted" faith. In one hand, you pray with a firm grasp on belief that god hears all our prayers, all our ideas and solutions and feelings, but if His will is something completely different from what we want, in the other hand, you grip onto the truth that He is good and worthy of our trust, no matter what.

The visual of having double-fisted faith reminds me of a boxer, standing tense and ready to defend and protect. That's what we do as parents, isn't it? But the boxing ring is our space for prayer, and our heads are bowed and our hearts are brave.

I've loved doing this series with you guys. Thanks for reading. May God lead you with wisdom in your mothering this school year, and may you lead your kids with double-fisted faith.  


Tuesday, October 01, 2013

BTS series, Lesson 5

The kids have been in school for about a month now, right?  They've adjusted to the new routine. You've adjusted to the new routine. The dog has started waking up early on Saturday mornings again, thinking it's just another weekday...or is that just mine?

It has only taken a month, but everyone has already established his or her opinions on the friends, teachers, homework and lunch menus the fall season has delivered. With my kids, I've found that each year unfolds differently than the last, and the dynamics of each classroom is totally unique. Most years have been amazing. A few have been woven with struggle. None have been perfect, that's for sure.

A handful of years ago was one that started off rocky; my child's teacher, I think, was suffering from some sudden changes in the district and in the administration that were making her job much more difficult. And she was bringing that stress and a lot of negativity into her classroom. She was continually complaining, and was also emotionally reactive when things or people weren't living up to her expectations. Upon my first few interactions with her, I was tempted to panic, go into protection mode, and be that "advocate" for my child. But parenting is not my only responsibility. I realized I have a responsibility also as a follower of Jesus to see my kids' teachers as not only servants of the school and of my child, but also as women (or men). Before they are teachers, they are first human beings who have flaws and carry stress and endure painful seasons, just like I do.

That year, I shared with my cousin who is four years ahead of me in parenting, the concerning things I observed with the negative teacher. She had a quick and lovely solution. I've written about this before (last fall, I think) so I apologize if this is old news to you. Finding herself in the same shoes in the past, my cousin decided to write an encouraging note to the troublesome teacher weekly. I was somewhat resistant, at first, to adopt this strategy; I couldn't think of anything nice to say to that teacher. But somehow, I knew that was exactly what I was supposed to do and, more importantly, exactly who I am supposed to be.

I committed to writing this woman an encouraging note once a week. And I committed to myself that I would only write things I could firmly stand behind. No false flattery, no fluff. For example:

"Dear _______,
I just wanted to send a note to say thank you for all your efforts. It must be incredibly challenging to start a new year with so many little ones to care for. My (son/daughter) really enjoyed the Dr. Seuss craft and is clearly improving in math already. He/she is having fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing how much he/she grows this year. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Wednesday mornings are a good time for me.
With gratitude,
Leslie Padgett, _______'s mom"

Oftentimes, when I couldn't say many complimentary things about her as a teacher, I stuck to statements of empathy and focused the attention on my child and his/her feelings about the class. Once, I left the note with a latte. Sometimes when I made muffins, I'd bring her a few to snack on during breaks. What if - I mean, really think about it - what if my words were the only positive, encouraging ones she heard all day? What if there were really far more difficult circumstances in her life, ones about which I knew nothing, taking place? What if this woman just needed a little grace and a muffin to get her through another day? She is in charge of my child, for heaven's sake. The least I can do is support her, no matter how I feel about her personality.      

I will never know if it changed the teacher's, but my cousin's simple suggestion totally changed MY heart. That teacher and I grew to have an excellent working relationship by Christmas. I think she even considered me a friend, and I saw her soften a lot to her own job conditions. In fact, I began to believe in the note-writing so much that my own gratitude for these important characters in my children's lives just grew and grew. What started as a strategy to cope with a difficult teacher has become a loved habit for me. Every year now, with every teacher, I write notes and bake muffins and offer my help. I think it's safe to assume that for every bit of encouragement I can offer, they get ten negative and critical bits from other parents. I don't want to be those other parents. I want to love on the people to whom I'm entrusting my precious children.

I'm not EVER entitled to a perfect schooling environment for my child. (Let's face it: even if I were in complete control, let's say homeschooling them, the environment would still never be perfect for them, because I'm not perfect.) However, I'm required to parent my children through all circumstances and love everyone involved, as far as it depends on me.

So my take home message is this. It's time; we're one month into this deal. Love on your kids' teachers and school staff. Particularly if you don't like them. Even the grouchy receptionist. Seriously. And if you don't have words of encouragement yet, buy him/her a coffee. Bake some muffins. They have charge of your child; and the more we can do to build partnerships with teachers and staff instead of just complaining about the problems, the better the whole learning experience will be for our kids. I really believe that. And more than that, I really believe that people need grace, a generous, loving dose of unmerited favor. That's what God gives us and tells us to pass on to those around us. They will know we are Christians by our love.

It takes discernment - a lot - to know when to step in and advocate for your child when a serious problem is at hand. But I know you know, in your gut, when that is.

Most of the time, muffins may as well be peace treaties.