I will go up to the lookout tower

Our Life Group at church has been going through the Bible chronologically. It’s been a great learning experience, there are so many stories I had forgotten from childhood or never really learned because they did not translate well to a felt board or puppet show in Sunday School. We recently covered the book of Habakkuk, three small chapters towards the back of your Old Testament.

Habakkuk doesn’t get a great deal of press, because it’s small and because the message isn’t something we cross-stitch on a pillow or post as a meme on Facebook. It’s a back and forth dialogue between a little known prophet and God that basically goes like this:

Habakkuk: God, why do you allow so much bad stuff?

God: Yeah, it is bad. It’s actually going to get even worse. And soon.

Habakkuk: Are you crazy? You are God. Do some good stuff.

God: Well, after the bad stuff happens, I’m going to do some restoration, and then something amazing will happen. You won’t live to see it on this earth, but trust me, it will be GREAT!

Habakkuk: You are a loving God. Whatever happens, I will be glad you are my God.

This synopsis is not seminary approved, but that’s my own in-a-nutshell version. For the record, I do not have these kind of conversations with God. Most notably because God does not dialogue back and forth with me but also because I’m not sure I would be so accepting of God’s good character right after He has told me things are about to go from bad to worse. I respect Habakkuk for getting there so quickly and I hope one day my default thought process is to Praise God Anyway. We’re all a work in progress, so it’s not out of the question.

But if I struggle with the content and I don’t relate to the response of Habakkuk, what pulls me in to this tiny book of the Bible? It’s the first verse of the second chapter:

“I will go up to the lookout tower. I’ll station myself on the city wall. I’ll wait to see how God will reply to me. Then I’ll try to figure out how his reply answers what I’ve complained about.”

That verse comes right after God has told him how much worse things are about to get and Habakkuk has questioned if God realizes what He is doing. I love the posture he’s taking by going up to a watchtower, high above everything, where he can see from a wider perspective. In other words, I’m not going to sit insulated in the problem, I want to see this the way God does. I want to get outside my own head, above the smallness I’m focused on and see something Bigger, Wider, Greater. I think that verse is the linchpin to getting to the song of praise at the end of Habakkuk.

In life, there are so many things that get my laser focus. They become the Big Deal that consumes my efforts and thoughts. Sometimes this focus is necessary in order to complete a task or a season of life. I’m just not sure it is the best modus operandi for a whole life. Right now I am coaching my kids about personal responsibility and how to handle conflict and confrontation. We have had many failures and setbacks in this process. When I dwell on the setbacks, transfixed in the small world of only the problem, I can become depressed, worried, or angry which leads me to act in ways that are not particularly healthy. My spiritual life can consist of (mostly) whining to God that the current situation sucks and He needs to show up and FIX IT.

Or.

I can go up to the lookout tower. I can stop looking at the thing that I feel certain is about to destroy us, take a wide angled view of this life, and wait to see how God might be using this. I’ll try and figure out what He’s saying about the Big Picture. I’ll practice the praise of Habakkuk, and I’ll wrestle with the idea that even if there is hardship and struggle, He is still a good God. He will give me strength to get through it. He will help me walk along the highest places, where the perspective is wide and the view is beautiful.

January Reflections

Since my word of the year is Mindfulness, I want to build some self- reflection into my life and a month-in-review seemed the best way to do that. It’s also good accountability for consistent journaling when I know I have to blog it all at the end of every 30 days. This end of month blog may look different each month, but I imagine it will be a potpourri of the things I’m enjoying, learning, questioning, reading and laughing about.

Things I’m learning

1. We took a trip to New Orleans with my parents after Christmas. We wanted to show my Dad the World War II museum, enjoy the city’s charm, and eat amazing food. We checked all the boxes. On our way home, we were waiting in the airport and chatting about places we’ve been and the kids were naming all the places they want to travel. My Mom was listening and she said, “I don’t have a bucket list. I never really have.” I quickly blurted out, “Oh, I do.” I didn’t list any places though. I looked at my Mother’s face and the tone of her voice and just paused. Her comment was not passive aggressive, wistful, prideful, or hopeful. It wasn’t tied to any emotion. It was just her truth. It’s not right, wrong, well informed or ill informed. It just is. Values, dreams or methods are not assigned a moral value based on how well they align with others. My dreams, goals, lessons, and values are my own. They may not be for everyone, but they don’t have to be universal for them to right for me. No one is behind and no one is ahead because we are all on our own path- being equipped for our unique journey.

2. My husband was looking over my shoulder the other day as I was was scrolling through my emails. “What are all the purple flags for?” he asked.

“It’s my new system,” I replied, “Email triage. Not everything requires immediate action. Like at the ER, chest pain gets you taken back immediately, because it could be life threatening? Most ER visits are not life threatening. Most emails do not require immediate action. That’s how my inbox operates now. I have it noted so I come back to address it, but it’s not a 911.”

I think about how in the Scriptures, there is emphasis on THIS day. Give us THIS day our daily bread. THIS is the day that the Lord has made. I think we were made to live in THIS day. To put aside the demands of things that will live to be solved another day (or that might even resolve themselves) is to be fully present in THIS day. This is the day God made and suggested we enjoy.

Things that made me laugh

* Paul and I were telling Lindsey the plans for our 25th anniversary this summer and she said, “Why are you doing all that? Your marriage isn’t that great.”

* Stephen went on a service and educational trip to Austria with school. One of their experiences was worship in a multicultural church in Vienna. When he came home he told us he found his worship niche with Pentecostal African immigrants residing in Vienna, Austria.

Should be easy to replicate that experience.

* I grew up in a place where winter lasted 10 months. It was cold a lot. What I remember most about birthdays from my childhood was that kids born in July and August had it the best. Birthday parties could be outside and featured lawn games, picnics, and swimming. My January birthday parties were held inside my parents’ basement, playing pin the tail on the donkey and hoping the guest list wasn’t decimated by a blizzard or a flu epidemic. I live in Georgia now and it was 72° on my birthday. All day I thought about how I could have had a pool party.

A Quote That Made Me Think

“Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”

– John Calvin

Institutes of the Christian Religion

It actually blew my mind that John Calvin wrote this because in my mind I always pictured him as a curmudgeonly old man (I might be projecting from the church people I’ve known who love to quote him) and yet, this quote seems so full of grace. I never stopped to ponder that self-awareness could help me understand God better and seeking God would help me understand self better. Mind blown. Well done, John Calvin.

Books I read in January

I set a goal this year to read 26.2 books, a marathon of reading so to speak. The problem is, I’m not sure exactly how many books I normally read in the course of a year. This could be a low bar or an unrealistic expectation. We’ll see where the year takes us, but at least there will be a measurement in 2020, and what gets measured can be improved upon. I read a wide variety of books. I’m all over the board so to speak with genres and my selections are not for everyone. I want to use this space not to review the books, but more to reflect on what I learned from reading them.

The Pressure’s Off : Breaking Free from Rules and Performance by: Larry Crabb

This book was outside my normal genres but I heard someone mention it on a podcast and I was compelled to give it a shot. I learned so much from this book. The basic principle he writes about and that we all fall victim to is the Law of Linearity. This law states “there is an A that leads to the B you want. Figure out what A is, do it, and you’ll have the life you most desire. The pressure’s on.” (p. 12) Can I tell you how subtly this creeps into your life? It affects me on so many levels but this book focuses primarily on the spiritual. I so often try to define God with this Karen-made system where if I do X, God will do Y for me. Or the reverse, if I don’t do X, God won’t punish me with Y. This is garbage theology because Christ came to set me free from unrealistic laws. I think the Law of Linearity is an unhealthy mindset even if you are not a person of faith because personal growth and setbacks are not linear. Life happens. One step forward and two steps back is a popular saying because it is a common enough reality. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Every single day.

I recognized that living under Law of Linearity meant I was wholly focused on my performance. God existed only to bless my good and punish my bad. That’s not a relationship with God, it’s a relationship with performance. Viewing God as Santa Claus or the Angry School Principal puts him in a small box where I deceive myself into thinking I can manipulate the outcome. It’s such a small way to live.

God will bless me. God will discipline me. These are both true. But I choose him not because blessings or discipline are a prize to be won or avoided. He alone is the prize.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by: Kelly Harms

I’ve decided this year I need to read more light hearted fiction, so I’m going to try for one per month. I am so often drawn towards tomes of history or the Great American World War II novel. 2020 me is being intentional and fun. (Sarcasm font)

This was an entertaining fast read about a single mom of two and the summer break she got alone in New York after her estranged husband resurfaced to make up for a long absence in the kids’ lives. The heroine has a teen daughter with a sarcastic attitude (totally relatable to my own child) and every chapter begins with a journal entry by the daughter. It also has a poignant moment between the two that sets up this quote on page 294:

” So the change you’ll see when we all get home is that I show you how creating an enjoyable life- not just a vacation but a life- is another part of being a mother, like serving vegetables once a week or lecturing your kids about slouching.”

I loved that! We get so hung up on teaching and nagging and demonstrating all the things to our kids we forget that modeling a life well lived and enjoyed is just as much a legacy as knowing how to separate light and dark laundry.

Warsaw 1944 by: Alexandra Richie

Remember when I said I was drawn to historical tomes? Well, here you go. I became fascinated with Poland two years ago when I read the novel Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (highly recommend). It just weighed on me that this country was stuck between two tyrannical bullies. Their liberation came from their next oppressor and the rest of the world kept quiet because peace was more important than the freedom of these people. It’s such a human story and it was the Polish identity for most of the twentieth century. When we were in New Orleans at the World War II museum bookstore, I picked up this book and could not put it down. (I did pay for it, because while many things are permissible in New Orleans, shoplifting is not one of them)

The book is about the Warsaw uprising in summer 1944. The resistance in Poland tried to drive out the Nazis in the hope that the Soviets and (preferably) the Western Allies would lend support. Support never came and 170,000 Warsawians were killed and 520,000 were processed as refugees and sent to concentration camps, PoW camps, or to work as slaves in German factories and farms. The city itself was razed to the ground.

My favorite quote was from an editorial George Orwell wrote to the Tribune in September 1944 in admonishment for how the media, and the world really, was collectively turning its back on Poland (p. 537):

“Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet regime, or any other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency…”

That is such a timeless warning not only for political entities, but us as individuals. Dishonesty and cowardice have a cost and we cannot ignore them without realizing the toll that takes on our humanity.

Happiness for Beginners by: Katherine Center

My friends at Amazon sent me an email, because they know me so well, and thought I might enjoy this book. I had a week left in January and three books already done, so I decided a short piece of fiction might be the thing. Apparently, no one knows me better than Amazon because I did really like this book.

It’s another piece about a woman’s get away and journey of self-discovery. This one is set on a wilderness survival course in Wyoming. There is a romantic storyline here too, but it’s more about what the heroine learns about herself. I really liked Helen Carpenter. Our lives do not have any circumstantial similarities, but I identified so much with her personality.

The Epilogue in this book is worth the entire book. It’s written in Helen’s voice and it’s such a beautiful reminder that we get to frame our own story. You can write it as a history of all the tragedies that have ever befallen you or you can frame it as a journey of overcoming. She says it’s beautifully on page 308:

But that’s not the story I want to tell. Those aren’t the moments in my life I want to dwell on. They happened. They mattered. They left their marks. But the things we remember are what we hold on to, and what we hold on to becomes the story of our lives. We only get one story. And I am determined to make mine a good one.”

How good is that? Fiction teaches me just as much as nonfiction.

That was my mindful January. As I read this back I see a few themes emerging. I’m grateful for all the things that converged this month and I’m excited to see just what I do hold on to.

The path to 2020 Mindfulness

(I’m finally getting my New Year post up. Yes, it is two weeks late, but if you noticed the title of the blog, this is a safe space from deadlines and schedules.)

I’m not much of a resolution person. Really, you can resolve to do something any one of the 365 days of the year. For some reason January 1 Resolutions seem to get all the press and when the resolve is gone after a few weeks, the failure feels a lot like shame. I do understand the allure of a resolution. Beginnings seem to demand a title page, don’t they? I think that’s why I decided instead on a word of the year. It’s more of a theme that centers and defines the truth you are living out (or wish to live out) in the coming season. It’s the underlined title at the top of the page that you can build the outline of life around wherever the content of the year takes you.

My word for 2019 was Adventure.

It was an easy word to land on because I started 2019 on a plane to London with Stephen for a 10 day trip across Europe. I also knew we had another family trip to Europe planned for later that year. Adventure was more than just those trips, though. I wanted a year where I adventured… a year when I tried new things. Like starting a blog. Or where as a family, we embraced the spontaneity that had defined us when the kids were younger- when we woke up on a Saturday or Sunday and said, Let’s go do THIS today. Adventure served me well last year because the intentionality of the word lead me to my word for 2020.

Mindfulness is a state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings and thoughts. I have been terrible at mindfulness my entire life. My coping skill has been to live outside the present and focus on the next good or fun thing on the calendar. Anticipation is great, but living in the future as a panacea for the struggles of the present is not a very whole approach to life.

As we were living out adventure this year, I became aware of enjoying all of the moments. We only have a short time left with all four of us in the house together and I want to live fully aware in that time. I actually thought my word of the year would be savor, but savor seemed too focused on just the good times. I don’t necessarily savor an argument with my fourteen year old over the state of her bedroom but I can be mindful in that tension. I can remind myself to remember what really matters in that moment and maybe dirty clothes and empty cups are not the thing.

There was a time back in the fall when we were all riding bikes and I watched Stephen and Lindsey racing to be first. Paul looked back at me and we laughed at them and it hit me, These are the good old days. The four of us together. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful of the last 16 years. I want to live wholly present in these next two years. I want to experience and feel and ponder all of it as I’m living it, not just looking forward to the next Big Thing. Today is a Big Thing too.

I have lived in that survive-for-today-anticipate-the-future mode for so long. I say that without any shame or guilt. It was all I knew to do, and on some level it worked because it helped me to arrive in the place I am now. But like Maya Angelou famously said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

I know better now.

I am mindful.

Liam Neeson and Praise the Lord

It’s been awhile since I’ve written and I have lots of things that I’ve been thinking about and working on for 2020. I even have the outline to what I thought would be my first blog of the new year, but life sometimes leads us down other paths and so I’m pounding the keyboard with fresh thoughts in my head. Just like in life, we will see where this leads.

In a few hours, I’m going to take Stephen to school where he will take a bus to the airport and then board a flight(s) to Vienna, Austria. I started this whole blog thing last year after his school trip to London, Paris, Florence, and Rome. It was a great trip that I can testify to because I WENT WITH HIM. He’s taking this trip without me. This decision felt like a great idea nine months ago when he signed up but now it feels like the precursor to having myself checked for early onset dementia. My recent Facebook memories were the times he explained to his fourth grade class (at his small private school in metropolitan Toronto) how to skin a deer properly or the time he started a Ponzi scheme in fifth grade. What made me think that five years removed from those experiences is the perfect time to send him to Central Europe without legal guardians?

This morning I opened my prayer journal needing a Word from God. My prayer journal prompts me with a verse and some gratitude practice and I usually write from there. I needed God to show up with a verse to speak into my fears. I’m paraphrasing, but I was looking for something along the lines of: Fear not and worry not for the Lord God Almighty will surround your firstborn son with legions of angels, a wall of fire, pillar of clouds, and the United States Army Delta Force and nary any harm shall fall upon him for the time ye are apart. Also, the Lord has installed a nanny cam on his phone so you can check on him every single minute.

That was not the verse I got. In fact, when I first read the passage, I had no idea why God put it there because it made about as much sense as those passages in Numbers about the lineage of the tribes of Israel. This morning’s passage was Psalm 103: 20-22.

You who are the Lord’s angels, you strong angels who do what he tells you to do, praise the Lord!

All of you who belong to his armies in heaven, his servants who do what he wants, praise the Lord!

Yes, everything that the Lord has made, in all the places that he rules over, praise the Lord!

I say to myself: Praise the Lord!

I realize that the words “angels” and “armies” are included in this passage, but if you read carefully, they are being told to praise God, not protect and or rescue my son from harm. There is also nothing here to address my fear and anxiety. Nothing here tells me everything is going to be fine. This is not the Word I wanted this morning.

But maybe it’s the message I need? Because what if praising the Lord is what we should do when we’re scared, worried, or planning scenarios where you might have to fly to Vienna and pull your child out of a dangerous situation like some kind of Mama-Bear-Liam-Neeson-ninja. Like a Hallelujah anyway, but maybe it’s a Praise the Lord always.

Praise the Lord when I’m scared.

Praise the Lord when I’m worried.

Praise the Lord when I’m not in control.

Next week might find me blogging from a chair in the United States Embassy in Vienna or hunting down kidnappers in shady dives across Europe. Who knows? Wherever I am, I hope it finds praising the Lord.

You Can Someday Yourself Out Of A Life

I saw that quote while scrolling through Facebook awhile back and it made my thumb pause and hover. It was from a post by Kay Wyma author of several books (that I have loved) and the MOATblog. Written in chalk on the sidewalk as she took a walk through her neighborhood, she snapped a picture and posted it.

I think it resonated so deeply with me because in 8 words it expressed a truth that I’d been wrestling with for most of 2019 but had struggled to put into succinct prose. Time is passing swiftly and all the things I’ve said “someday” to are started to stack up like the proverbial elephant in the room.

Some of those things are big ticket items, but many are small. Some are things I want to do with Paul. Others are adventures I want with our kids. Still others are just for me. And while I firmly believe you can travel and experience with your kids after they have flown the nest, there is something sacred about the years we all live here together. I want to honor THIS chapter.

We lived in Canada for four years. It was such a gift for our family for so many reasons not the least of which was that we learned to live intentionally. We knew we were there for only a few years and we wanted to see, experience, and cultivate as much as we could and with people who had different perspectives than those we had known. It was the perfect time in our lives to take on that adventure because our kids were so young and their commitments were minimal.

When we moved home our priorities shifted to the familiar and the more rigorous pace of the tween and teen years. I have no regrets because it was and still is the season of life we are in. Yet, each of us, over the last year, has talked about going back to visit Canada. We talk about our people back there. The places we visited. Our favorite restaurants. The spirit of adventure we had when we lived there.

We’ve had a great 2019 that included a pretty epic trip to London and France. We love to travel as a family but adventure isn’t only about vacations. Being intentional, the way we were in Canada, means examining that stack of Someday items and starting to address some of those today. Let’s go ride bikes together. Play a game. Make s’mores and watch the football game outside. Tag along on a business trip. Skip church and go to Top Golf. Have family movie night. Go to see the Nutcracker. Start a blog. If we say we value time together, time to discover, time to create, then let’s stop reminiscing and “someday-ing” and let’s start living out our values.

Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, so maybe it’s a good idea to begin as you intend to go and not let those “Somedays” pile up too high. Stephen will graduate in two years and while that makes me sad, I’m also grateful for it. Like a stint in Canada, there is a date looming out there that reminds me: Be intentional. Be mindful.

We watched Dead Poet’s Society a few weeks ago as a family. If you’ve seen the movie, the whole Carpe Diem theme goes hand in hand with this Someday quote. Sieze the Day. Don’t postpone everything for Someday. The movie features a Thoreau quote, from Walden, that the boys read before the first meeting of the Dead Poets and I have always loved it, “…I wanted to live deliberately…To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Seize the day. Be mindful and intentional, because you can Someday yourself out of a life.

Carefully Curated Childhoods

I have this childhood memory that I channel whenever I want to remember a time of pure peaceful innocence. In this memory (which might be a composite of many memories) I feel warm, loved, cared for, and complete. It’s a random 10 second snippet of time, yet it brings so much peace. The most amazing part is that my Mother managed to pull it off without Pinterest, Mommy Blogs, or a friend’s Facebook post.

In this snippet of memory, I am probably seven years old and back in my childhood house. I’m lying on the yellow linoleum of that 1970s kitchen, right by the refrigerator, where the fan is blowing warm air out at me. Soft music and traffic reports play out of the old clock radio my Mom set on top of the refrigerator. My sister is at the kitchen table nearby, probably coloring for her own enjoyment, because in 1980 we did not have homework in kindergarten. My Mom is cooking over at the stove and our cocker spaniel, Buffy, is right by her side. The house smells like dinner, which was spaghetti and meatballs. It’s cold outside and already dark, because this is winter in Massachusetts after all, but we’re in for the night so it doesn’t matter. We’re waiting for Dad to get home so we can eat.

And that’s it.

That’s the memory.

A saved mental video that I replay all the time. It’s so vivid, I can feel the warm air blowing on me, hear the traffic report updating an accident on Storrow Drive, and smell my Mom’s homemade tomato sauce.

I have no idea if there is some kind of mind science that explains why every sense of that memory has stayed so alive in me. It’s a pretty ordinary memory. Nothing of consequence happened that day. My childhood featured vacations, day trip excursions, and even scheduled Family Game Nights, and while I still remember all of those things and treasure those experiences, this is the memory I return to with the most fondness. This is what plays first in my mind when I remember my childhood.

We live in a world where so much is carefully curated. There are subscription boxes of clothes, beauty items and meal plans that are “meticulously chosen” for us based on our personal information. When Lindsey was in elementary school, one of the snack sign ups specifically asked for a Yule log shaped baked good for the class party. Chocolate chip cookies would not do, we needed carefully curated Christmas themed desserts. We try so carefully to curate the childhood of our kids as if we are in control of which perfectly planned memories they will hold tight. As if their hearts don’t have anything to say about it.

I often wonder what memories my kids will treasure. When they are adults and look back on their childhood, what are the moments that will encapsulate all of their senses and stir up all of the feelings and nostalgia for childhood innocence? I’m willing to bet it will surprise me in it’s ordinariness. We place so much emphasis on the carefully curated Activity, Vacation, Craft, Extracurricular, etc., but the real beauty of a happy childhood is in the mundane. It’s found in the random moments of doing ordinary life, being present, and loving your people.

Belonging and Worthiness

Last week I experienced a couple of the better Mom moments of my “illustrious” mothering career. I saw two of the primary emotional needs met in my kids’ life. These were not large, poetic, epic events that played out to inspirational music. They were small, un-staged but still soul-filling experiences that displayed on their faces in radiant joy and it made my heart so full.

For Lindsey, it has been a struggle to be seen. The Lord knows we have struggled in this regard. This child is clearly an introvert. She checks all of the boxes on the Susan Cain checklist. While she may get exhausted from peopling, she is not shy, she does not lack courage, and she would still like to be acknowledged for effort and ability. She gets overlooked all the time. The last two years have been hard for her. Seventh and eighth grade are not awesome times in the human experience and there have been a lot of things that have piled onto this already tenuous existence. Last week in volleyball, her coach called her aside to give her instruction but in a backhanded compliment, wound up filling her bucket more than anything I have told her for the last two months. After the game we got in the car and she told me the whole story and I could see the excitement in the glow of her face and hear it in the breathlessness of her voice. The validation in that off the cuff remark said everything she has needed to hear: You are worthy. Oh, how she needed to hear that from someone who is not related to her.

For Stephen, last Friday morning was just an exclamation point to the blessing his school has been since Day One. As we pulled up, and he was driving, there was a group of students that he is friends with, selling donuts and coffee for a fundraiser. They all came rushing to the car, calling out to him, and joking with him. As I rounded the car to change places with him, he just stood there looking at me with the biggest, happiest grin on his face. That look on his face is imprinted on my brain until the end of time because it said: These are my people. I belong.

What a blessing to see, in the span of 18 hours, these needs met and recognized on the faces of your children.

I dwelled on it over weekend, replaying the interactions and the faces of my kids. I just reveled in the fragile grace of all of it. But on Sunday as I was getting dressed, I felt God whisper right into my soul, “It was my pleasure.” It nearly broke my heart because I had not seen his hand in it at the time, but in that moment I knew it was all His orchestration. My faith has been vulnerable lately. It’s a season where I have not seen much evidence of God in our lives. There has been heavy emotional and mental stuff that has worn me down and that has been coupled with an absence of refreshment and renewal. But God knew. He knew, because in these two sacred moments when I saw worthiness and belonging poured into my children, refreshment came. Renewal came.

God sees. God hears. God knows.

We are worthy.

We belong.

I nag, therefore I am

Job performance reviews are in around here and apparently I nag too much. I nag about homework. I nag about picked up bedrooms. I nag about dishes in the sink. I nag about food left in rooms. I nag about study habits. It’s apparently out of control, at least according to my children. Since they are the ones that have offered this constructive criticism and the very ones I seek to train up in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it, I have been doing some soul searching.

I started my introspection by defining “nag.” Google dictionary defines nag (verb): to annoy or irritate a person with persistent fault-finding or continuous urging. My daughter says my nagging lacks perspective because I’m not putting her behavior in the context of what is actually important for a thirteen year old girl. She says I should look at all the bad decisions other kids make and then reverse engineer my way to gratitude that her and her small time problems are the only thing I have to worry about. This has faulty logic all over it, but there is a nugget of truth in there- nagging quenches gratitude. My son says my nagging makes him feel “inferior.” He hates the implication that he is unable to perform in the care of himself without my vocal interference.

The next thing I thought about were the emotions I felt before I started to nag. Sometimes it is frustration. I become frustrated when I feel like I am the only person invested in the care of our home. Other times it is motivated by fear and insecurity, whether that be on their behalf or my own. Still other times, I don’t have faith that my kids will make smart choices regarding time management. And do they even understand good housekeeping? We live in the South. Cockroaches are real. And finally, sometimes I’m just tired and hangry. I can nag when what I really need are potato chips and a nap.

This past weekend, I watched my husband manage my son so perfectly without any nagging. He empowered him with time management, accountability to tasks, and good faith that he was capable of all of it. Stephen would like nothing more than to spend his entire Sunday playing video games. However, he had some tasks he needed to do around the house as well his homework. Paul said to him, “I understand you have homework, yes? You also need to clean your gun (Stephen shoots sporting clays competitively). At around 5 pm we’re going to replace the headlights on the Jeep. So this day can look however you want it to look, but those are all the things that need to get done.” Full transparency- Stephen was less than thrilled about some of these tasks, but he also realized, I will still have time to do the things I like to do, if I manage my time effectively. And he did. He has developed maturity that I had not realized because I default to nagging him about each task he needs to complete.

Lindsey is a different story. I don’t know if she would have responded the same way as Stephen, but she’s also two years younger. Her exception to my nagging may have a different root cause. She told me that I’m not seeing the good she IS doing. She has told me numerous times, “I would never NOT do my homework.” And as I sit here and think about it, that’s absolutely true. She has always done her work. I can show my gratefulness for her and my trust in her academic diligence, by leaving her alone to handle it. We still need to work on her housekeeping and cleanliness habits, but maybe she’s correct that I’m focused on things that don’t matter as much in the big picture right now.

I’m not sure if I will ever fully defeat the nagging monster inside me, at least as long as the kids live here and my eyes are trained on them daily. The things that motivate me to nag still remain. I want them to accomplish everything in life they dream of doing. I want them to understand how to manage time. I want them to have clean bedrooms so they know how to take care of their living space and so we don’t get insect infestations. I want to eat high carbohydrate snacks that I know I shouldn’t eat.

So, I will probably still speak out of these emotions.

I’m probably still going to nag.

But hopefully, maybe, a little less.

Happy 16th to my Boy

Dear Stephen,

I cannot believe you are 16. It’s not that you don’t look like it or act like it, it’s just that I can’t believe this much time has passed. You are a teenager. You drive automobiles. You shave your face.

I am amazed by you all the time. I’m not sure other people understand what we’ve been through. It is crazy that now we can talk about what we felt and thought during those “strong-willed” years. I think the two of us have such a bond because together we survived a crucible experience: your early childhood.

You were an absolute terror as a toddler and young child. I used to project out what it might look like when you became a teenager with all the energy and attitude you had as a kindergartner. Fortunately, a mother’s projections are not always the best indicator of anything but her own fears. You are a phoenix- this magnificent ball of fire that burned itself out and re-emerged as this smart, even-tempered young man.

Your sense of humor is obviously my favorite thing. You are in on the joke. You can laugh at yourself. Our texts of nothing but memes and GIFs are as sacred to me as any memento a mother can save of their child. Your giggle and laugh still make me smile. When you were born, your cry sounded like a giggle. Did I ever tell you that? Maybe from the beginning, God intended you to be a person who laughs easy and often.

I love that you love us well. You are never ashamed to hug or say “I love you.” My favorite part of the day is when you get out of the car at school and wish me a great day followed by a “Love you.” And that tiny wave you give me as I start to pull away….that has left a mark forever. When you were little, you climbed out of the car and ran into the building without a single glance backward. The first time you turned around for that little wave was fourth grade. Do you know why I remember that? Because I know exactly what it did to my heart. I still feel it. When I pick you up from school you always ask me how my day was. That is how I know you are growing up. You sincerely want to know what your Mom did all day, as if laundry and grocery shopping were fascinating phenomenon every teenage boy longs to understand.

I think it is amazing that you do not allow anyone to define you. You have pleasantly surprised us with the things you have chosen to do in high school. You do not waste time worrying what anyone else thinks. YOU ARE SO BRAVE, Stephen… in all the ways that matter. I look at you all the time with pride and more than just a little envy that I could be more like you.

I have so many hopes for you. I hope you get to do all the things you dream of doing. I hope your desire to learn never goes away. I hope the passion you have for certain subjects is realized and integrated into the life you choose. I hope you never stop traveling. I hope you always keep that belly laugh. I hope you find love. I hope you have loyal friends and community . I hope you follow after Jesus in a personal and purposeful way.

I hope you always text me funny things.

I hope 16 is your best year yet.

I hope you always know I love you the most.

Love,

Mom

50 years

My parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this weekend, which is awesome until you understand that the next thing to turn 50 will be their first born child, yours truly. A marriage commitment of 50 years warrants gold anniversary tidings and celebrations. 50 years old gets you a balloon that refers to you as ancient flatulence. The greeting card and party favor business is not always logical or kind…

Back to my parents- a half century is a long time to do life together and it’s not all sunshine and roses. My parents can argue with the best of anyone. They are so proficient at it, they are unaware they are even doing it. That’s a gift. My sister and I pointed this out to them when we were old enough to realize that their brand of spirited discussion was not the runway to divorce, rather just the way they communicate. My mother was oblivious and said, “We never argue. It must be only when you two are around.” Her denial is the age old analogy of a tree falling in a forest and no one being there to hear it. It’s an argument you cannot win, so clearly we are indeed dealing with a master.

Outside the arguing, my parents are a strange mix of two people from completely different backgrounds that just go together perfectly. My Dad is an extrovert born and raised in Boston. His childhood is a scrapbook of shenanigans. My Mom is introverted, the youngest of six, raised in Maryland, and the goodiest of all the goody two shoes. They were paired up together in the wedding of mutual friends in 1967 and while my mother found him obnoxious at first sight, she went out on a date with Dad shortly after and the rest is history. My sister and I try to puzzle out which one of them would be more lost with out the other and it tallies out dead even. They are so tightly woven together in interdependence, the two have truly become one. Call it stubbornness or kismet, but they have created something that endures.

When it comes to marriage longevity, there is some evidence that it may run in the family. My grandparents were married just shy of 75 years. You learn a lot from watching a marriage last for three quarters of a century. My Grandma always said her marriage advice was to “Stay sweethearts.” I appreciate that and she certainly had the years to back it up. But I also think that everyone writes their own recipe for marriage because we are, all of us, different types of ingredients. My parents’ marriage is different from my grandparents in the same way mine is different from theirs.

We took my parents out for a family celebration recently. It was a different 50th celebration than for my grandparents in 1978, where we gathered in a church basement and my sister and I sang “God is so Good” in matching dresses my mother had sewn for us. We celebrated this one with dinner at a local bistro and started with a champagne toast that got my Baptist mother tipsy and encouraged my Dad to move on to a martini. We had a great dinner with conversation and laughter, and that evening was a snapshot of what these last 50 years yielded- two daughters, two sons-in-law, five grandchildren, memories, laughter, and a few shenanigans.

We drove my parents home and I had Alexa play music from 1969. My parents got the biggest kick out of that. They don’t really have a song per se, so we were trying to capture the era. My Dad remembered a song that used to play at the airport when he was flying back and forth from Boston to Washington DC to visit my Mom before they were married. It was called, “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas,” by Guy Marks. We played the song and it was every bit as cheesy as you can imagine so of course my father remembered all of the words. They reminisced about how he would be waiting for his plane and this song would come on in the terminal and he would sing along while my mom sniffled because he was leaving.

As we got to their house, my Mom thanked us for the evening and she said, “It’s been 50 good years.”

I said, “Well, if you take the hard times out, doesn’t the good really factor down to like 45 years? Surely the rough spots would make up a chunk you could subtract from the good years.”

“No,” she said, “It all goes together, the good and the bad. That’s what makes up life. And when it all shakes out… it’s good.”

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad. Thank you for these 50 years. Even though loving you both has <sometimes> made us bananas…it’s been so good.

P.S. And if anyone asks, could you say you waited ten years before you started having kids? Kthanksbye