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Friday, November 28, 2014

Distracted

The holidays are barreling towards us.

Shopping.  Decorating.  Concerts.  Christmas pageants.  Get those holiday parties on the calendar.  Prepare the the house for guests, not to mention kids and a husband who will be home for ten days.  The food.  Ack, the food.

All of the regular stuff must happen, too.  Appointments and car tune-ups and bills and service calls and we should really get another electricity provider - we are paying way too much.  Somehow the cleaning and the toilet paper shopping and the laundry must get done, too.  Is it any wonder that we are crazed over the holidays?

Okay.  I am crazed over the holidays.

Every year, as the wave of Thanksgiving and Christmas and the New Year looms, I look for a place to hide.  I want to protect myself from the tide and enjoy this time – shouldn’t we all enjoy this beautiful time? – so I retreat.  I find myself nose-deep in writing, reading, social media, TV.  I ignore certain things that should be addressed, like kids needing help with homework and a husband who’s talking about work.  They deserve my attention, not this article on Buzzfeed that consists of thirty pictures of dogs sitting on cats.

But I can’t help myself.  The distractions are too many, the pile of work exhausting, and I am weak.

It’s not an effective way to address feelings of being overwhelmed, to give into the paralysis that allthethings tends to elicit.  It’s also not an effective way to get allthethings accomplished.  Yet I still give in to distractions.

I wonder why these things exist.  If the holidays weren’t here, I’d still find something to be overwhelmed about, would still find the distractions that take my mind off of important things.  Ten years ago I wasn’t spending much time on writing or social media.  But I was preoccupied with other things.  Are distractions here to test our character, teach us what’s important, remind us to trust in God?  Are they here to throw another wrench in the system, to showcase our most ruinous sin, the one we refuse to address directly?

The obvious solution would be to get rid of the distraction.  Unplug.  Draw up a firm structure of when to work and when to decompress.  Stick to that structure.  When others are around, give them your full attention.  Make no exceptions.

But life isn’t like that.  I cannot draw up a schedule of when to work and when to play because life is fluid, not confined by the time I have.  Activities and events are often cut off in the middle; conversations started are stopped without conclusions; tasks and projects begin and are not finished. A rigid schedule may get me through this time, but it is only a bandage, stemming the flow right now only.

Distractions will present themselves until I give them the strongest medicine available: the word of God, the  power of the Holy Spirit, the example of Jesus.  When my focus is on anything else, I will be distracted and overwhelmed.  When I give these feelings and things over to be dealt with by God, they won’t bog me down any longer, and I will be free to manage the holidays, nurture my most important relationships, and enjoy this life that I have been so freely and wonderfully given.

Now is as good a time to start as any.

Dear God, my distractions are many.  Please help me put them in their place.  Thank you, Amen.

*******

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Friends

When we moved to our current town we knew no one.  It didn’t matter much; my husband and I were both working full-time and in the process of selling one house and buying another, and I was well into pregnancy.  Life was busy, and we worked at building our life block by block. 

Eventually all the pieces fell into place and we put down roots.  We found doctors and mechanics and favorite restaurants, spent a lot of time working on the house, shook hands with neighbors before asking them to help us move furniture, and socialized with my husband’s work colleagues.  As a new mom who worked from home I spent my days wrangling a baby while trying to work during naptime.

I don’t remember being lonely.  We were busy enjoying the little life we had made.

Eventually life found its groove, that hum that comes from doing something for enough time that things just fall into line as you go along.  We decided to find a church.  We weren’t church-goers during that time, opting in only for major holidays – it wasn’t a priority.  But we each had grown up going to church and something told us that our kids needed to, too.  Plus, church was a great place to meet people and make friends.

As we church-shopped and found our home, we started looking into faces of the people around us.  This was our new family, the people we would be spending this part of our lives with.  We didn’t have family members close by; we needed to connect with the people right here.

An ad in the bulletin and a stint in the nursery one Sunday morning led me to a mom’s ministry meeting around the time that I discovered days and nights with a baby and work-logged husband were more than I could handle.  I needed a break.  I needed out.  I needed girlfriends.

And I found them.



We shared so much around the table during those monthly meetings: from tips on how to get babies to sleep all night and potty training ideas and the best parks to take your children to relationship issues with spouses and parents and everything in between.  We shared more during those meetings than I had in years with other women.  The floodgates opened and each month we unloaded our hearts over cups of lemonade and pans of brownies.  There were stories and tears and so much laughter.

Over time I practically ran out the door of our house to sit at that table.

Some relationships blossom and others fade; I am fortunate to maintain a few strong ones that began during those meetings.  I am immensely grateful for them; they have become my family, aunts and uncles to my kids, people we spend birthdays and holidays and vacations with. 

I am just as grateful for the acquaintances I made during that time.  No longer together during monthly meetings, we still pass each other in church and in the community and smile; I remember the faces in the crowd as the faces around that table.  They are older and wiser, maybe not as needing of the shared time now as much as then.  Maybe they have gone off to nurture their own strong bonds with each other.

Those connections were vital to me, to our family, to our life.  I learned so much about motherhood during that time, but also marriage and being a daughter, sister, friend, and Christian.  I learned from these other women how to grow in my faith and as a person in general.  I found God, and myself, in those meetings.


When people ask when God has helped you through a rough part of life, I think of how he put these women in my life at this particular time.  When I needed to learn about being a mom, wife, friend, and Christian, he put these women right in my path.  More than that, he put the desire in my heart for their company.  Just at the moment when I needed friends, he provided them. 

Friendships are mysterious relationships; we never know who will be in our lives for the long haul upon first meeting.  We can connect with others on a deep level quickly, but that initial spark might be a flame that burns fast and dies down just as quickly.  These relationships are no less important to God – after all, he gave them to us just as he gave us our greatest relationship with Jesus.  Knowing this, those past relationships are not any less important to me, either.  I still love those women with whom I might not be as close with; they occupy a space in my heart that God made just for them.  They were with me during a great growing part of my life.

For all of these friends, I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Teachable Moments

I’ll never forget that first back-to-school night as a middle school parent.  The night crackled with the positive outlook that all teachers have at the beginning of a school year.  I was nervous and excited to hear about the next phase of education for my child.  I was ready to absorb all I needed to help him navigate new challenges and experiences that are emblematic of the in-between years.  It was a clean slate, and I wondered what these educators could teach me as they taught my kid.

The details of the meeting focused on curriculum and new freedoms that our students would enjoy, both items that I expected.  But one thing stood out.  As the principal gave his speech, he said something that will forever stick in my brain:

“Although we are teachers by profession, we only have your children 29% of an entire calendar year.  The rest of their time spent learning is with YOU, the parents.”

That means that for 71% of my children’s life, it is up to me to teach them.  Math and Language Arts and Social Studies are subjects taught at school, but they are only a small fraction of what they must learn.

I am their primary teacher.



Often parents talk about having teachable moments with their kids.  We are equal parts amused and thankful for the opportunity to live through something with our children instead of having to lecture them about it. Teachable moments may be times where we catch our child doing something right or wrong, and we take the time to emphasize what that experience means within the framework of a life.  We teach our kids to share, help, and work through experience and our own example.  We hope that they learn and apply the lesson when we aren’t looking.

What we overlook is that most moments are teachable.

It’s the teachable moment that isn’t scripted that truly reveals our character.  The one that happens when our guard is down and we don’t notice who is watching.  We know that when we volunteer our time helping others, treat others with kindness and respect, and work hard, we are teaching.  But it goes further.  Every second that our kids are with us, they are learning how to treat people, how to assert themselves, how to be in a relationship, how to work hard to attain goals, how to be brave, how to care for others.  Our kids hear and see everything we do. 

They also see us when we gossip, lie, and judge others, lash out in anger, keep secrets, and waste time.  We might not intend to teach them these less-than-stellar behaviors, but the effects of these behaviors are strong.  It’s important to know that however we live our lives, we are teaching our kids how to live theirs. 

I have to say that I worry about these subversive teachable moments that I am giving my children, the ones that show them my dark side without realizing that it is showing.  My character is not unmarred; there are cracks in the surface and pieces that are missing, exposing the deeper parts.  I see the ugly parts of me in the behaviors of my children, and it is regrettable.

Luckily for them – and me – we have a better role model in Jesus.  Jesus’ example is always stellar, and he doesn’t shy away from teaching his true character.  There is no dark underbelly to his makeup; his lessons are all worthy of following.  Each moment of his life is teachable.  The hard part is adapting his lessons to our lives in this world.

But we can.  With the tools that God gives us through his word and the spiritual gifts that he provides within our own personalities and abilities, we can be a better role model and better teacher to our kids.   And everyone around us.

Each of us is capable – and called – to use the gifts that God has given us, and follow the lead of Jesus to show our children and strangers the lessons of life.  We don’t need to spotlight the teachable moment, the lengthy lecture that induces judgment, shame and boredom.  We can just live our lives – with humility and love, integrity and kindness.  If we follow Jesus’ lead, and make his teachable moments our own, our example will influence not only our children, but others around us as well.

*******


Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. Philippians 12:14-15

Friday, November 7, 2014

Taking Care

“What happens when you run out of gas?  Does the car just stop?”

“Yes.  Well, it slows down.  But then it just stops.”

My kids, sitting in the car with me on a rainy morning at the bus stop, were silent as they thought about this.  My daughter wondered, “What if you’re on the highway?”

I said “Well, I think you’d just try to pull off as best you can, and call someone for help.”

My son: “Has that ever happened to you?”

“No.  It hasn’t.  But it might today.”

The gas gauge, which just a moment ago proclaimed “4 miles to empty” now gave me a different warning: “0 miles to empty.”  Just the other night it promised 11 miles.  That night I had enough gas in my tank get to the gas station and back a couple of times.  I didn’t go then.  Literally overnight, I lost those eleven miles.  I needed those eleven miles.

It was 46 degrees and raining, the type of weather that seeps into your bones and chills you all day long.  The kind of weather you definitely don’t want to walk in along the highway to the gas station for a portable container of gas because you ran out. 

The school bus arrived, and I hurriedly kissed my kids goodbye and not very patiently waited for the bus to drive away.  Barely after it took off, I began my speedy trip to the gas station a couple of miles away, mentally listing names of friends who could bail me out if I got stranded, and cursing myself for toeing the line of an empty gas tank yet again.

Please God don’t leave me stranded. Please God don’t let me run out of gas.  Please oh please oh please oh please just let there be enough gas, I shouted in my mind as I zoomed down the road.  I prayed as if I was bargaining for my life and the lives of my children.  Please just let me make it there.

I wheeled into the gas station on two wheels, imagining my gas tank emptying right then, not a drop to spare.  I opened the tank and inserted the gas nozzle and breathed a sigh of relief as the gas poured into the tank.  Saved.

* * *



Shortly after my husband and I met, I made arrangements to meet his family at Christmastime.  I was visiting my family in Arizona, and I would be flying back to a city three hours away from his family’s home.  Three days before my trip out west was to end, I caught the flu.  Feverish and nauseated, I spent the last days of my visit in bed.  The night of my trip back, I dosed myself with medicine and slept on the plane, only to learn that a snowstorm was making its way through the area.

I remember hoping that my new boyfriend would have realized my need for assistance, having the flu and all, and, knowing that the roads were treacherous, would either have found me a hotel room somewhere or, like a knight in shining armor, would meet me at the airport to drive me to his family’s house.

Neither one happened.  After scanning the airport welcome crowd to no avail, finally calling to tell him I made it, I drove through a snowstorm through the night, following the tire tracks of the salt trucks in front of me to avoid sliding off the road.  The trip took almost six hours.  I arrived safely but exhausted and ill, mumbling my hellos and nice to meet yous in a stupor, quickly falling asleep.

Later I wondered: He knew I was sick, knew it was late, that the weather was dangerous: why didn’t he take care of me better?

* * *



In our house, everyone else gets the first choice.  Just take what you want, I say.  I’ll make do with what’s left.  My husband and I decided that when we had kids, I would take care of the house and our family.  For many years this was fine: the needs of our babies and new home were novel, fun, time-consuming, and relatively easy.  Caring for children, cleaning the house, making dinner; I took on the tasks willingly; indeed, with gusto.  Paint the walls?  Pay the bills?  Make the appointments?  Buy the toilet paper?  Don’t mind if I do!

Over the years, though, the tasks have worn on me.  I am older, tired.  The tasks have become harder, kids’ needs more complex.  I need assistance, and only sometimes get it.  Worse, my own interests suffer because I spend so much time taking care of everyone else’s needs.  Balance is hard.

It’s easy for me to be bitter about it, to resent not being taken care of the way I’ve taken care of everyone else for so long.  I complain that all I do is take care of everything: the house, the kids, my husband, and lastly, myself.  I come last, always last.  Who takes care of me?

* * *

As I pulled away from the gas station, shaking my head at how close I came to walking in the rain, vowing never to cut it that close again with an empty tank, it dawned on me that I had not thanked God for answering my frantic prayers.  Minutes before, I was crying out for deliverance, for one last push forward to get me to where I wanted to be, to avoid the inconvenient and possibly dangerous consequences of my own actions. 

Thank you, Lord.  Thank you so much for doing that for me, for giving me something that I do not deserve, not even a little bit.  Thank you for giving me the time, the money, and the ability to do this.  Thank you for taking care of me.

In that moment I realized something.  Despite all the times I complain about not being taken care of the way I take care of everyone else, the poor me self-pity parties, the spewed rants about how nobody notices anything I do, that God takes care of me.  That while I was waiting for my husband to pick me up at the airport so long ago and when I wish he was home to help me pick the kids up from their practices at the same times and when I want someone else to make dinner for the love of Pete, God took care of me, he takes care of me.  He delivered me safely to my husband’s family that Christmas; he keeps my kids safe when I am late picking them up; he gives us the food that we need to survive; and he gave me just enough gas to get to the gas station.

I had been looking to be taken care of by other people, to have someone take care of my needs so thoroughly, the way I feel I do for them. And while I was being mad that they didn’t, I was overlooking the fact that they couldn't.  They can't.  Only God can do that for me.

I’m not special in this way.  God takes care of all of us individually, of our personal needs, one by one.  He knows us intimately.  He knows how to take care of us.  And he does it without fail. 

Do we always recognize it?

*******

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19