Saturday, August 31, 2013

BTS Series, Lesson 1

So we're back at it, sending our kids to school. 

Be it public, private, charter, co-op, part-time, virtually ANYTHING besides shutting them in their rooms all day long, we are exposing them to the outside world.

And this world - this horribly broken world in which we live - presses in on us. If our kids are compared to balls of clay, then many things can leave an impression. The question I have today is this: How can we, as mothers, leave the strongest and most influential one?

Well, I don't have ALL the answers, and I'm sure innumerable books have been written on the subject. But I thought I'd share some strategies I've come up with to maintain my relationships with my children when they are no longer around me most hours of the day.

I'll start with a little background. Last year sometime, things got a little crazy. I gradually lost sight of my real job as a mother, and instead tried to perfect my less important jobs of time manager, homework supervisor, activities get my drift. This happens as your kids get older, I've noticed. I suddenly realized that the main two windows of time I had to spend exclusively with my kids during the week, the morning shift and the after school shift, had been reduced to me barking orders and getting frustrated if my small people didn't act like robots completing their responsibilities.

I hated that realization.

And I knew I needed my precious few hours with them per day to be very different. Now, here are some ways I approach those two windows in an effort to maintain my influential ground.

1. Before school time stays positive.

First of all, I am not a morning person; I don't feel much like talking to anyone, eating anything, or investing in relationships anytime before 9 a.m. But the reality is that I have to engage with, provide for, and encourage my two small people starting at 6:30. I wasn't doing it very well before. Now I am. And I've learned that I, maybe more than some moms, have to exert a lot of effort to be a good mom in the early hours of the day. I force a happier tone of voice. I ask questions nicely about how prepared they are and what kind of cereal they want. I try to make sure I've given them some physical affection too. Then in the car, we listen to worship music, talk, or tell funny, made up stories about their stuffed animals on the way to school. None of it is what I FEEL like doing. I promise. But this short window is the launching point of their hours without me. They then get sent out into the battlefield of childhood. That day, they may feel small, or unseen, or they may get laughed at for something they say. They may fail a test or make a bad choice. They may get their hearts broken. But before they walk out MY door, I want to leave a strong and positive impression so they know I'm on their side. I know them. I'm a safe, accepting place. It's really so hard for me to do in the morning before my brain is even awake, but I work hard at it now. Maybe all this morning business is natural for you. But for me, it takes work.

And do I even need to say that some days, all this fails and some people are crying? I didn't think so. Life is messy, and grace is important. Especially for yourself as a mom.

2. After school time includes connecting.

During the season when I realized I was losing influential ground, when I realized being AROUND them was not the same as being connected WITH them, I noticed our nightly reading-together time had been squeezed out by classroom demands that the kids read every night independently. And I was getting too tired from the days activities to muster up the energy for it anyways. That's when we started what I called Padgett Book Club. As soon as they came home from school, my focus was turned toward them. Instead of me rushing them to the table to complete a pile of homework, they got a mental break. I showed interest in being with them, not necessarily peppering them with questions about the day, but I stated up front that any questions or problems they encountered at school would certainly take precedence. We made a snack together, and then I read aloud to them while they ate it. By the way, this tradition is continuing, and my kids are 8 and 11. They still love it.

One reason I chose to make this happen was because I was getting a little too used to my time off from mothering. This didn't happen for me until they were both in full-day elementary school. The big chunk of time off allowed me to get more involved in projects or activities of my own that I had a hard time pulling away from once they got home. Again, they would come home from school, but my mind would be on the thing I had just gotten interrupted doing when I had to go pick them up. It could have been a fine or folding or grocery shopping. Maybe a very legitimate job of mine. Or maybe just an overly ambitious craft. The activity didn't matter though. It was more about where my head was. I had to reconsider which jobs were my priorities, and which ones were the true interruptions? Are my children interrupting my jobs, or are my other jobs interfering with my relationships with my children? I learned to stop myself. And I'm still learning, because it's hard. I shut off all the things going on in my brain and I focus on my kids. It's as simple and as difficult as that.

By the way, when my oldest first started preschool and I had a younger one still, my version of connecting after school looked like this. On the drive home, we'd chat in the car. (To this day, my kids know that "Nothing," and "I don't know," are not answers I accept when I ask about their day. I would kindly encourage them, "Use the good brain God gave you and think of one thing to share." And then wait. It never failed. I'm hopeful this has given us a foundation of openness about their time they spend away from me at school.) When we got home and little guy went down for his nap, my big girl and I would have a snack date. I'd make a special snack - the same for BOTH of us - sit across the table from her, and chat with her more about anything. The point was connection. The point was making sure she knew I liked her, I wanted to know her, and I loved to be with her. Ugh, that last bit gave me a lump in my throat.

In each season of the young ages, I tried hard to maximize one on one time, until, finally, they were both old enough to follow along in the same book and we could spend that quality time together.

So I guess the bottom line here is this. Holding your influential ground when you lose hours with your kids during the school year is not so much about lecturing and teaching and trying to make that lasting impression on the ball of clay. The lasting impression, I'm guessing, is simply a natural result of a positive, loving relationship. If your child has more of a positive relationship with their peers, their teacher, their coach, or their choice of entertainment, then those things or people will most likely have more of an influence on them. I know it's healthy for those influencers to shift as they get closer to adulthood. But I'm certainly not willing to lose my influence on my children right now, and by accident. By carelessness.

Making the most of the short windows of time during the week is what I shoot for. And then I lecture sometimes too. I'm really good at lecturing. But I know deep down, it is not the heart of love. Relationship is. Time and touch and listening and snacks.

We will have to fight for consistent opportunities to connect with our kids. I know it. Our phones and our friends and our blogs and our schedules will compete against our children for our attention. I pray that we both make better choices this year in those little windows, for those little souls.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Back to School Series: an introduction

"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address."

That's what Tom Hanks says, of course playing Joe Fox to one Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), in the movie "You've Got Mail." And every time I see that movie, my heart jumps a little at that part. I love the back-to-school season, perhaps because as a child, it meant the start of a whole new year of learning, reading new books, and making up dance routines on the playground with my friends.

As I face a new school year now as a mother, I feel equally excited for my kids to learn and grow, but also a little anxious. I spend so much time making sure THEY are prepared, but am I? Am I equipped to adequately help them face the social and academic challenges? Am I grounded, myself, for the many early mornings and trying afternoons of homework to come?

I know I'm not alone in these concerns, so I've compiled a series of short posts sharing what I HAVE learned in the last 6 years of having school aged children. The posts are intended to not only offer you some new ideas for your routine, but also to refresh my own mind, gird me up with intentionality and renewed vision.

If you have a child starting school this fall, of any age, really, I hope you follow along and join in the conversation. It's tough being a mother. But it's perhaps tougher to be a kid. Staying encouraged in our online community will hopefully help us start off this new school year with courage and practical tools.  Here are the topics I'll cover in the series, sort of in order:

- keeping your influence as kids get immersed in a school culture
- fearless parenting during the ups and downs
- teaching your kids about emotions
- being their ultimate authority and advocate
- how to support and bless even a difficult teacher
- the value of prayer for your kids in school

Stay tuned! The series will start soon.

Now I need to get back to sharpening pencils.


Monday, August 26, 2013

My favorite summer moments, in pictures

We go back to school this week. I'm excited. A little. They
 are excited. A little. This transition back to routines, early mornings, more free time, and homework is always bittersweet. I'm always conflicted; as much as I need some space around my body and silence in my head, I will immediately miss them clamoring all around my body and making so much noise.
Motherhood is at first a total laying down of self for the sake of children, and then the slow, simultaneous letting go of those children and re-discovery of oneself.  
It's always bittersweet. And I love that.
But I have a couple days left to reflect on the good that summer brought us. Here are my most favorite moments.  

{celebrating 16 years as a family}


And besides these, many beautiful moments took place on the inside. The times the kids and I practiced memorizing Psalm 27:1-5. The times we spent making new connections with friends. The times we laughed so hard while reading Pippi Longstocking together. The times I heard from the Lord in the quiet of the night. Those were even more precious than the ones I can snap with a camera.

Though far from perfect and woven with challenges, none of which are ever captured in photos but rather in bruises of the heart, it was a good summer.

I'm so grateful for everything God provided.

And I have a lingering feeling He'll provide for all our needs in the coming school year too. Happy Back to School, friends.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Meteor showers and perspective

Being a night owl comes in handy in only a few circumstances a year: New Year's Eve, late night completion of school projects, and meteor showers.

If you haven't heard, this weekend is when the earth passes through some debris from an old comet, and here's my mostly ignorant grasp of what is happening: as these floating rocks pass through our atmosphere, they burn up and look like shooting stars. That's what we call a meteor shower. And I was more than up for lying on the grass in the backyard at midnight to watch it last night.

We gently dragged the kids out of bed, wrapped them in robes, and huddled them out to the expanse of blankets and sleeping bags my husband and I had laid down on the lawn. Then we all lied on our backs in a tight row like sardines because the breeze was chilly. We faced up at the blackness, and waited. 

But first let me remind you. We now live in Montana, the "Big Sky" state, where I swear the sky is a whole lot bigger than I've ever seen it anywhere. At night, it's also darker than I am used to, coming from the city. Back in Orange County, home to 2 million other folks, the stars, if you can see any, are sparse and they hang flat against a hazy background. It's like a theater set, like a two-dimensional space painted grey and poked with lights in an unnaturally even scatter.

But here in Montana, the black is blacker and the stars are all sizes and vary in brightness. In certain directions, you can see no light BUT the stars. And there is an incredible depth to the sky; some stars are clearly closer than others, big and crisp, while others are fuzzy and tiny and numerous. One gets the real sense that the sky must go on forever, not just side to side, but straight out and away. It's dizzying, actually, when you try to squint your eyes and see as far and as deep as you can see into space.

My husband said, "Oh! I just saw one," when he spotted the first meteor burning up and making a quick thread of light in the blackness. And then my son saw a different one. We called out in rotation for a while like this, each of us scanning the sky for a fraction-of-a-second rush of light. But none of us ever saw the other person's. The sky was so big, and the meteors were so quick. Finally in frustration, my daughter called out, "I wish I could look everywhere at once!"

It was then that I began to take notice of how small a space upon which I could truly focus at any one time. Who knows how many meteors I missed all around me, while I stared at one narrow circle at a time.

At then I thought of God, who knows all the stars by name. Who hung them all carefully in place, and who is able to look everywhere at once. What is overwhelming and dizzying to me is simple and clear and easy to manage for Him.

My vision is so small. Way, way smaller than I even understand. When I say I have an "eternal perspective" on life, on my marriage and my kids and my purpose for being here, I truly am no where near having God's perspective on it all. How could I? I simply have a hazy understanding that there is more going on than meets the eye.

And some of us don't even have that. Some of us think that two-dimensional flat looking stars are all that's out there. What you see is what you get. I'll believe it when I see it. These kinds of sayings come from two-dimensional living, an inability, or perhaps an unwillingness, to look deeper into a situation and wonder - just simply wonder - if there is any other reason things are the way they are.

Let's challenge ourselves this week in this one thing: to look deeper, out and away from ourselves. To squint the eyes of our hearts and peer into the unknown of what God may see that we cannot. And when we see that there's more - way more - than meets the eye, may we TRUST Him.

The Namer of the stars can look everywhere at once. He knows what He's doing. And just because you turned your head for a second and missed them, it doesn't mean there aren't incredible wonders taking place all around you.

He alone stretches out the heavens
    and treads on the waves of the sea.
He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion,
    the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
    miracles that cannot be counted.
Job 9:8-10


Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Lies on the Battlefield

A few days ago, I stood at the stove, my thoughts swirling as I scrambled eggs. How would I explain what the tiny green specks were to the kids? They would certainly ask, and flick at them with their forks. But I like chives in my eggs. And it's a rare day I have a half-box in the fridge leftover from last night's enchiladas.

I kept stirring. I was holding a lot together. And when I say 'a lot,' I mean more than I can actually hold together. More accurately, I was being held together. And I knew it. Lately I'd felt generous doses of grace poured out in my daily life. Despite how difficult things were, I'd been lifted up, my feet set upon a rock. Know what I mean? I'd been miraculously able to stay filled and faithful in a hard season where it made no sense to have peace, and by virtue of nothing I'd done.

But as I scrambled the eggs and searched for an appeasing explanation for the chives, I heard the lies. To be fair, I didn't realize right away what they were. Even though the slinking negativity came from nowhere as I cooked, one always thinks the lies of the enemy are one's own thoughts. That's why they're so effective.

"You're just pretending. What a joke. You're efforts don't mean anything. Your words are worthless. Just pretending. In reality, you're crumbling. You're falling apart..."

For a split second, I thought, "Oh my gosh, I am crumbling...I can't hold it together..." But thank the Lord, His spirit is living and active and protective of His children, because quickly, a "," welled up in me. "No....that's not true," my heart protested, though feebly at first.

Discernment means carefully weighing something against what is known to be true and right by what the Bible says. And in that moment, I weighed the lies, not knowing yet that they were lies. First, I sensed that claiming ownership of those thoughts, even for a second, felt like being pushed into a dark room. It felt gripping and hopeless and terrifying. Just entertaining the thoughts briefly made my spirit feel like it was sinking. But when I weighed the opposite, felt out the resistant viewpoint, it felt freeing and brave. It felt like clouds parting. And it was clear to me, then, what was happening.

Battle. Good old spiritual battle. I was a target in an open field and I had a choice to make. Either I let the lethal arrows of deception hit me and take me down, or I defend myself.

"I'm not pretending," I thought, with a swelling defiance. "I'm certainly not falling apart. God sees me! (The truth gathered momentum.) He's set my feet on a rock. He's defined my worth. He knows what He's doing. There's a BIG difference between pretending and waiting in faith, believing in God's promises despite the darkness."

That was all it took. I owned the truth, instead of the lies. And suddenly the lies seemed as material as a puff of smoke. The battle scene turned back into my kitchen, breakfast commenced, and my kids ate the chives.

I thought later about Ephesians 6 where Paul talks about the armor of God. The kids and I recalled the pieces of armor, one at a time, in the car on the way to the park. In a new way, I understood why the shield is our faith. It's the first line of a warrior's defense. A shield is the first thing an arrow will hit, if you have one.

Look at the language in God's word:

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.

Ephesians 6:16

Faith is a shield. Believing God is who He says He is, and will do what He says He will do is my biggest and first defense when I am spiritually attacked. My vicious enemy shot flaming darts at me while I innocently scrambled eggs. This time, thankfully, he failed to take me down.

But he is not stupid. He was preying on some very personal and real desires I have. And his goal was to burn down my identity. Burn down my hope. Burn down my beliefs. He knows how much I want to be seen, and for my words and actions to be significant to my loved ones. He knows that He can easily plant seeds of fear in me about falling apart and failing. He knows that all of us long to have great worth, though we secretly wonder if we have any at all.

All of his lies depend on fear. Lies work because we are tricked into being afraid.

But love is the antidote. It's the opposite of fear, you know. I have faith in what God says about He and I, and He says we're in this radical love affair where no eye has seen and no ear has heard about all the good things He has in store for me. He says He has big plans for me, for my family, and for my life in Montana, of all places. He says that He will cause even the bad stuff of life to work out for my benefit.

And that's the truth. That's reality. That's who I am.

I am loved.

Here's the question of the day, for me, pretty much every day. When God's answer to my prayers is, "Wait," do I put on a smile and secretly freak out inside, or do I let Him lift me up out of my fears to a place of safety and peace? Do I fight back when the arrows come, and cling to His promises, even though I'm in a tunnel with no sign of light at the end?

The first option does, in fact, lead to the fall-apart scenario. I've totally tried it. But the second, I've tried that too. God has trained me, through long seasons of trials, to let Him rescue me. To trust Him. To stop the fears and the thought circles and the preoccupation. And to hold up my shield of faith.

There's only one good reason to switch from Plan A to Plan B. One powerful belief separates the two: He loves me. That's all.

And He loves you. Like crazy.

Friend. Whatever battlefield you're on right now, I'm praying you'll pick up your shield.