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Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Letter to Parent Volunteers in Elementary School Classrooms

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The following blog is written the way that it is, in letter format, because of a wise friend who saw my Mama Pain in a brief vent on social media today and encouraged me to write something that informs parents from the perspective of a parent with a child who struggles. He is often the recipient of harsh treatment from perhaps well-intended parent volunteers. Sometimes, this has happened right in front of me at volunteer times in the classroom, and sometimes, my child tells me days later, in tears. He is sensitive, but not overly so. He knows not everyone will jive with everyone else. In his short school tenure, at age 8, he has had teachers he really clicked with and those he hasn’t. He knows not every person will really try to know him, and that’s okay. That’s true of life.

But I have been growing very weary of parent volunteers going in to a lower elementary school classroom lacking humor, patience, and compassion, especially for kids with struggles or who think outside the box, and “playing uptight parent” to someone else’s kid. I know the lower elementary school teachers benefit from rotations of parent help for reading times, math games, and research, and we have wonderful staff, but if a parent is going in to exert a power trip over little kids, perhaps they should not volunteer. I volunteer to help children and teachers but also now to babysit out-of-line parents. Happens every year.

Not on my watch.

In my opinion, being that harsh to a child with or without struggles (not their own child…mine or someone else’s) is without excuse. The school environment should be a safe place for little hearts.

Some of the most cutting, sharpest comments are made to my child by parent volunteers. Little Man sat at my breakfast table this morning in tears thinking he had done something wrong when he was being creative. (I cleared up the details of what was said, why, and if there was misbehavior or teacher intervention. There wasn’t.) His exact words: “She [snappy parent volunteer] connected with all of the other kids there but me. She didn’t make a good connection to me.” This was after letting me know what she did say to him. I spent part of the morning praying down my mother rage. I don’t even know her or her name.

It motivated me to write this. Thank you for reading it.

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Dear Elementary School Parent Volunteer:

There are a few things I would really like us all to know, to think about, to swirl around in our minds and hearts before we enter the classroom to help with math games, reading centers, research units. Going to volunteer training is not enough. We must go in deeply, firmly rooted in an understanding that we are not the parents of every child in that classroom. We can’t possibly know each situation, each struggle, each backstory, each tender heart. We do not know what each child faced that morning over his/her bowl of cereal.

  • He could have heard his parents threaten each other with divorce for the tenth time this week.
  • She could have heard that anger rising in the voice of a violent family member or encountered the malaise of a depressed or ill parent.
  • He could have had his fifth meltdown because the tag on the neckline of his shirt was irritating him.
  • She could have had a panic attack about the small oral presentation she had to give today for her book project.
  • He could have washed his hands 12 times before, during, and after getting dressed because he was worried about germs.
  • She could have struggled to get her math facts the night before, and everyone else in the class seems to catch on more quickly.
  • He could have struggled to write neatly and color in the lines because of a fine motor weakness.
  • She might not be able to focus because something happened on the bus on the way in that was too loud for her, too much for her to process at once, and she’s still in the middle of processing it.

Dear Parents: We don’t know whom and what we are walking into when we go in to help. We are not experts on the issues of all children. Let’s face it: Some days we don’t always even know the “right” approach for our own. We do not have full perspective.

We are not there to parent other parents’ children. The class discipline is really up to the teacher’s discretion and discernment.

Even if some of us have degrees in special education, social work, or child/family therapy, if we do not live with a child with those challenges, we only know the outside story. We do not know the inside one. We do not know what it is like to work around the challenges and struggles, big or small, typical or atypical, on a daily basis of those specific kids.

We also do not know what it is like to be a child with adults towering over him/her trying to be part of a “solution,” one that is assumed, while the child is silently trying to figure out where and why he/she is failing expectation.

Here are some things we need to remember: Everyone struggles with something. In any home, there may be:

  • academic super-achievers who are a little immature or socially behind
  • dyslexia and other learning disorders
  • developmental delays
  • autism spectrum
  • ADHD/ADD
  • anxiety/depression (yes, young children can legitimately struggle with these for a host of different reasons)
  • speech delays
  • processing disorders
  • a combo meal of several of these

And the list goes on.

Really, do any of us know what those all look like in individual children and families? Are we reading IEPs before we go into the classroom as parent volunteers?

Of course not.

So we need to allow for the fact some kids are going to be slower to process something, have trouble focusing, melt down emotionally more than another kid. We don’t have access to this information, but we absolutely should go into the classroom to volunteer wearing:

  • grace
  • patience
  • compassion
  • understanding
  • kindness

I’ve had a parent hover over my child who couldn’t complete a drawing/coloring task anywhere near the time other kids could. She kept on him as if he were her personal “fix-it” project for the day.

I wanted to say to her:

“That is not why you are in the classroom today. You need to let the school specialists help my child in that way. Your job is to encourage him, perhaps kindly redirect, but to help him at whatever point he is at. It is not to tell him over and over again he isn’t as quick as everyone else and to hurry up and catch up, and why is he coloring like that?

Your job is to keep him on task, to make sure everyone is including each other, to build these kids up, to make sure they understand the instructions.

Your job isn’t to roll your eyes when one kid is fixated on dinosaur facts. Or another talks louder than others.

Can you see inside his ear? Do you know if he has a hearing problem or processing disorder?”

No, we just work around whatever we find in the classroom. We don’t try to fix, control, or judge it.

One day, my child could not move beyond the glue on the end of his fingers that came off of a Valentine someone gave him. He thought it was a germ. A volunteer yelling at him to hurry up and finish his own Valentine wasn’t going to help him stop fixating.

Again, the voice in my head had an internal conversation with her:

“Because you don’t live with him, you don’t know that he is having a massive, internal panic attack, one that, not being visible, is almost more crippling. It’s not your fault you can’t see it, but please approach him with kindness and not judgment. He is my ‘project.’ He was given to me. Along with specialized staff, I’ll take it from here. Please know your part is just to do classroom tasks and not to make everyone fit into the same size box of expectation.”

To be fair, I see so many parent volunteers do it well. Because they bring grace in with them—and the perspective that they do not “know it all” and can only come at it from their own limited experience. Just like mine is limited. We each come in with only one piece of the puzzle.

Like all of the adults in the school building directing small kids, volunteers make an impact and leave an imprint. My son often receives the message that (his exact words): “She connected with all of the other kids there but me. She didn’t make a good connection to me.” Young kids are smart, intuitive, and sensitive. They know when adults don’t like them or are irritated.

For 45 minutes, can we please just walk in, turning off the following buttons in our minds and hearts (we all have them):

Judgment
Diagnosing
Criticism
Impatience

Can we please go, approaching tender hearts as if we didn’t have all the answers yet?

Because none of us do—even in our own homes and situations.

Let’s take the burden off ourselves and let the staff “figure out” the kids. Some kids might not read as fluently as the rest of the class or color inside the lines. Let’s meet them right where they are and just grace them to the next logical step, or even just help sustain the learning of the moment.

Today might be a rough day. A child may have already been necessarily corrected by several staff at this point. He/she might be weary, frustrated, or sad.

If you have three to five adults (parents, teacher, principal, special services teachers, specials teachers) in your life every day that you expect to be leading you, having several more in your face—some outright strangers—can add stress when you’re 5, 7, 9.

Let’s go in and be stress-reducers, speaking in soft tones.

Let’s remember how our kids are all still works-in-progress—how we all are.

Sincerely,

The Concerned Parent of a Child Who Struggles

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In the middle of writing Not Just on Sundays, I heard the squeaky, growing voice of my youngest child begging to be heard, and a children’s book deposited itself into my heart; I asked all three of my children to collaborate with me. It attempts to shed light on how it feels to be a child when adults aren’t really listening to them. Why Don’t Grow-Ups Listen? should be out in 2015/16.

*This blog can also be found at Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up #25, Make a Difference Mondays, Pick Your Pin TuesdayFaith-Filled Fridaysand Grace & Truth Link-Up.

 

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Keeping the Strength in Our Lattes—and Character!

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A dear friend of mine recently met me for coffee and delighted me with a “publishing congrats” gift: a coffee-bean-shaped ice cube tray to keep some iced espresso on hand so that when I chill out my iced white pumpkin mochas at home, my ice cubes will offer espresso instead of watering down my coffee joy. If you’ve read a blog or two so far, you probably know how much coffee and I get along. We are companions of the sweetest sort. The sounds of my coffee machine grinding beans and whirring foam in the morning really do motivate me to not just go straight back to bed after the school buses roll away.

So, as proud as I am to have these awesome ice cubes keeping the coffee strength and love fully rocking my espresso drinks, I started thinking about how much we each need to keep the strength in our character. What does that look like? How do we do that? Where can we improve (because we all can)? Some of the things that make me question someone else’s character are exactly what I should be keeping in check in mine (your list may be different, but this is mine):

Gossip
Critical spirit/negativity
Lies
Malice
Sneakiness/deceit
Passive-aggressive behavior
Conflict-avoidance (which is different than drawing boundaries in toxic situations)
Favoritism (preferential treatment of certain groups of people over others)
A need to control/dominate
Selfishness or chronic self-absorption
Anger/bitterness that shows a lack of self-control
A competitiveness that is so extreme it hurts people to get to the top
Taking advantage/using people
Fair-weather friendship
Jealousy
Manipulation

So, when I think about this list, I consider how frequently:

  • I try to steer my kids away from attitudes that come too close to the extreme negative end of the spectrum where you find these traits.
  • I tend to look for friendships that don’t lean heavily in these directions.
  • I desire to right or improve places in myself that veer too close to these characteristics.

I think about how we each have seasons of life where, of course, we are more angry, self-absorbed, bitter, tempted to lie or criticize. The tendencies are human. But if we stay stuck in these places and don’t work on leaving them—and don’t ask God to help us find our way out—we end up perpetually circling the drain, unable to un-do who we’ve become a ways down from our initial stroll at the start of Negative Lane.

Maybe last year nobody would have defined us as bitter or critical, but this year we are the poster child, and people are heading the other direction?

Maybe we have a few close friends willing to keep a hand out for us to grab, but everyone else is running for the hills?

When this happens, we need help.

The Bible says the fruit of the Spirit is:

Galatians 5:22-26, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

That’s lovely, and it truly is an awesome way to live, but if we’re currently chomping regularly on the bitter apple, how do we get from the opposite of “Spirit fruit” to a life that bears that positive fruit, that draws people toward peace and hope instead of offering them darkness? How do we get back into the Light?

Good friendships hold us accountable. Trusted people in our lives can call us out and lovingly remain alongside us as we try to find fresh air again. But Who and what has the power to turn us around, to change us?

Prayer. Asking God’s help (conversation with God, which is prayer). If you put your faith and hope in Christ, confessing your need for Him as your Savior, you have the Holy Spirit within you. “Keeping in step with the Spirit” means to listen to how He guides us.

Romans 12:2-3, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Paul talks about not conforming to the world. The world—the news being one example—shows us darkness all of the time. It’s easy to take up residence with parts of it and become regular companions. It’s also easy to think of ourselves as “more highly than [we] ought to think.” That is often what is behind a critical spirit.

2 Corinthians 10:5, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

We have to regularly ask God to cleanse our hearts, to remind us to practice thankfulness, and to take each of our negative thoughts captive and submit them to bow to the reign of Christ in our lives.

For me, asking God to purify my heart is like asking Him to take the watery ice cubes that weaken who I am and replace them with His strength. I like my lattes strong, for sure, but even more so, I love my character strong in Christ. And the only way to do that is to ask Him to take me out of the muck and mire and give me His heart.

How about you?

Psalm 26:2-7, King David speaking, ESV
Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.
I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites.
I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.
I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD,
proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds. 

More on how to renew our minds and live more days outside of the negativity whirlpool than inside can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day.

 

 

 

 

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The End of the Line: Why We Need to Stay and Cheer for Every Athlete

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I was recently at my daughter’s cross country meet. She’s not the fastest runner, but she’s not the end of the line either. I got there in time to watch the girls start, leave the track, and head into the woods. It’s another 10 minutes before we see them pop back out again and onto the track. There’s time for swigging the warm coffee from my thermos on a chilly, New England, autumn afternoon and catching up with some other cross country parents.

I’m always amazed and encouraged to see many supportive parents in our community come out for this. Admittedly, I usually don’t make the away meets, but it’s very good to see my long-haired little ray of sunshine come bursting through the woods, trying to beat her personal best each time. She embraced running like a champ!

The middle child with a strong sense of independence, this is something where she is really competing against herself.

She can feed her internal drive to do better.

She can feel the wind on her back and see my face at the end of the last stretch.

She can tear down that track dropping off tween stress and angst as she goes.

I so admire this. Walking to the mailbox feels like an achievement to me. She’s a petite girl with long legs strengthened by many years of dance. Those legs wanted to do more than plié and leap (which she still does, by the way). They wanted to see if they could set fire to a pavement. We haven’t set fire yet, but she fiercely takes on each race.

So, as I noticed the first few young ladies head to the finish line, naturally, the cheers were loud and strong. Of course, we’re very proud of those high-achieving athletes that get there first. Well done. And not everyone can be first, or, obviously, it would mean nothing, but the more girls who came out of those woods, the fewer the cheers, the more parents ready to walk away to collect their daughters and go home. And that made me sad.

Now, I realize we are all on tight schedules and not everyone can stick around the full time every time. I get it. I also know that people get distracted and the meet seems less exciting as the last few runners close in. I am very appreciative of the few boys, who already ran, hanging out at the end to keep cheering for every last girl that comes around the corner. These are boys who might not give some of these girls the time of day during school hours, but on the track, there is a level playing field: They are fellow athletes.

What warms my heart, personally, is the group of parents who stay there until the last puffing runner comes out, even when their family athlete has already arrived. I love hearing those cheers. They are few, quiet, and not quite the pep rally of the beginning of the finish, but they

empower,
encourage,
strengthen, and
motivate.

I watch those stragglers at the end. They hear their names being called, and they run their hearts out. They pick up the pace.

The first runners push themselves to place at the top. Sure, they are cheered on to run a bit faster those last few yards, but they also run to make rank.

But the end of the line? They run for themselves, for the bystanders, for perseverance, and for personal best.

Neither is better than the other, but they approach those last 30 seconds from slightly different vantage points.

So it is with probably any sport. This could easily be applied to the sophomore football player benched most of the varsity game. He needs to hear the cheers when he does finally have play time because his play time has to count.

And so it is with us. 

When I am trailing behind others in a life lesson, a place of heart healing, an area of character that needs to be fine-tuned in my life, I look ahead to the runners who finished the race first and am inspired. But sometimes, that feels unachievable when I’m still at the end of the line. They are an awesome inspiration, but what I really need are the people waiting it out until I make it out of the woods. I need patient folks who don’t mind waiting the extra 10 minutes for me to “arrive” and who call out my name and let me know this time I got a better score.

Sometimes, I need them to tell me what was holding me back.

Who do we know who isn’t functioning in the top half right now? Who can we stay and cheer for when they improve, even just slightly, and want to finish the race—no matter the obstacles?

I love what the Apostle Paul says here, and I pray I live most of my days with this in mind:

1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Philippians 3:12-14, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

We need to be cheering each other in the race. It’s a hard race when people drop off the sidelines. It’s hard enough as it is. How can we be more present and encouraging, and where do we need others to come alongside and be our sideline cheerleaders for a while?

2 Timothy 4:7-8, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

 

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Journey to Joy: How Giving Back Brings Hope and Healing to Hurting Hearts

Journey to Joy-How Giving Back Brings Hope and HealingI am so thrilled to be able to share another part of Rick and Tammie Wommack’s story here at Espressos of Faith. I know these dear friends from my time spent in the Marshall Islands, a time when their world shattered into unbearable heartache. For anyone knowing or currently mourning tragic loss of any kind, this blog is for you. It’s also for others to understand the journey the heart takes in these hard circumstances—and the hope and healing that come through giving back. Thank you, Tammie, for being vulnerable so that others know where to get their bearing again and what life looks like on the other side, each day offering a choice as to how we will let ourselves be used for good. Tammie’s honesty and humility are so refreshing. What she offers us here brings my heart to this exact place, and I can’t wait to bring yours there too, if you’re willing to give it a read:

Psalm 27:3, King David speaking, NKJV 
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.

[After losing their son to suicide, Tammie and Rick made a choice to forfeit regular income and steady jobs to travel around the country volunteering. For Part 1 of this story, please refer to “Honoring Josh: A Mother’s Heart in the Aftermath of Suicide.”] 

Blessings!
Bonnie Lyn Smith, author of Not Just on Sundays

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Here’s Tammie….

The Interview

HOPE through FAITH and SERVICE to Others

Most of us travel through life just trying to get through it, not really realizing how what we do impacts others. We would like to think we are kind, generous, trusting, and all the things the Bible tells us a good and godly person should be.

The reality is we are busy: with work, families, finances, commitments, appointments, shopping, daily chores, and so many things on our to-do list that we are too tired to even think about how our actions, words, and deeds might be affecting others. I am confident that if you really contemplated this question and took the time to think about it, as I did this morning, you would find that most all of us impact others in our daily lives, no matter how busy they seem.

The questions then become:

Are we impacting them in a positive or negative way? 

Are we showing them an example of Christian love?

Can they see Jesus in us?

The other day while we were traveling through Iowa, I received a phone call from someone who wanted to write an article about Rick and me. They wanted to know how we got started on our Volunteer Journey: how we find volunteer jobs, what motivated us to choose this lifestyle, how we fund what we do, etc. Most of all they wanted cute, heartwarming stories about the people we helped—something that would really tug at the heartstrings of the readers.

I didn’t have any of those—heartstring stories to share. We do not really see the impact of what we do, but we know it does not diminish the importance to us on our journey.

This morning, as I was doing my devotional, I thought about her questions and my response (I’ll share my response later). I still couldn’t really think of any heartstring-tugging moments that are a result of what Rick and I do. Most of what we do is rarely even seen by other people.

It does, however, have a impact on us. And that is the real story.

We are healing and growing in Christ, learning every day to be more like Jesus and to help others just as Jesus would if He were living an everyday, “normal” life.

We are simply living a lifestyle that allows us to find joy again—a joy that we thought would never be ours.

In our hearts, we believe that we are saving lives when we teach water safety to young children.

We are keeping God’s house clean and getting it ready for visitors when we are working at the campground.

We enjoy doing all the little, behind-the-scenes details that have to be taken care of so that ministers and counselors can share the Word of God and lead children and adults to Christ.

So many of our volunteer jobs are just that: jobs. But in the work, we find hope and healing, God’s grace, and, yes, joy. We find joy in everyday living and in the wonderful people we meet, in the places we visit, and in the personal and quiet knowledge that what we are doing makes a difference and is part of God’s path for us.

By societal standards, we are not successful: We live in a camper, drive a very old truck, own few possessions, have very little money, and, yet, we find ourselves happier than we can ever remember being. We are rich in the knowledge that we are saved by grace and are following God’s plan for our lives. Through this grace, we have found:

Hope
Love
Forgiveness
Healing
Joy

So my response to the interviewer that day was more or less:

“This is not that kind of story. We are not outstanding people on a mission to help others. We are not looking for praise for all the wonderful things we are doing. We are certainly not missionaries.

It is not a story about the people we have helped. It is a story about how giving back has helped us.

We are simply ordinary people who have suffered a tragic loss and found healing through giving back. The story is really just that simple! We did not start out feeling that God had called us to go forth and help others. Our journey is one of evolution; we started out just running away from home and memories, not really sure what we were seeking but still very much stuck in our grieving. We finally realized (not both at the same time) what we were doing each time we were volunteering was actually helping us to move forward through our grief in to a life filled with purpose and hope. We began to heal and find joy again. It was not overnight; rather, it was a gradual process. We are still traveling that journey but believe that if we have any kind of story to tell, it is one of hope through Jesus Christ and healing through giving back.”

2 Samuel 22:29, author unknown, ESV
For you are my lamp, O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness.

I suspect that our story was not what she was looking for, although she did say she would send it to her editor. We are not looking for the spotlight to shine on us.

Isaiah 66:2, Isaiah the Prophet speaking, ESV
All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

The only story we have is how this journey has helped us and, in turn, has helped others. That is what we hope to share and what we would like to spotlight for other parents and family members who are lost in the grieving process. Hope through faith and service to others will help you heal and find your joy in life again.

1 Timothy 4:10, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

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A great resource for suicide prevention is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

To find out more about Tammie and Rick, you can read part of their story at http://www.gofundme.com/Giving-Back-For-Joshua.

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Traveling Spouse: How Do You Catch Up in 48 Hours?

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Let me begin this blog by recognizing that not everyone has the benefit of having a spouse in the first place. Some people are single-parenting full-time. In no way am I minimizing or comparing myself to those particular challenges. I admire you greatly. I don’t feel that when I have to, I single-parent consistently well, so please know I admire those who do this day in and day out. But this is written for those who know the constant disruption of one half of the relationship always on the road and how do marriages survive that? It’s a thinking-out-loud kind of blog because I have some things to share but also because I’m open to what works for others. I find it helpful to know what others do to make the minutes count when they are together.

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Weekends are interesting. They bring a switch from me being the 24/7 home manager to sharing the burden: for two days. This is just seasonally, but when he travels every week for months on end, this is how we roll. Reentry is hard. We don’t like doing life without him, but we have to, so when Salad Boy (husband) comes back home, it feels like a lot of pressure for all of us to prioritize:

How should we spend the minutes?

Having been a military spouse and having lived in military environments several times, I know that it looks different when they are gone for months at a time on deployment. There is no regular ebb and flow of return, except maybe the occasional quick few hours on leave home, whenever possible.

Every Friday night, we face the decisions about the weekend. Like anyone else prioritizing time off, it’s a juggle: Do we do a family outing? Catch up on lawn work? Work on that loft bed project? Divide in half to get groceries and run kids to activities? Be still?

Be still?

That last one doesn’t seem to get enough credit in its importance. Everything else is loud and demanding when competing for our time. “Be still” is just an invitation. It’s quiet. It’s warm and inviting. But we have to come to it and say “yes.” How often I fail to say “yes” and tune out all other life noise around me for even an hour? Way too often.

Psalm 46:10, author unknown, but he is recording the words of God, ESV
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” 

Psalm 37:7a, King David speaking
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.

Psalm 107:29, author unknown, but he is recording the words of God, ESV
He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.

Oh, God, if you made the storm be still, then please look at my storm and make me be still as well. I’m saying: “Yes!”

Then there’s also the juggle of Salad Boy and I carving out 10 minutes of talk time, competing with three kids wanting to share about their week and show him things they’ve been working on—and us collapsing in a heap after he took an early morning flight. More often than not, we’re both exhausted.

What do we talk about? What matters most? What can wait, for now, for another week, or perhaps never make it onto the discussion topic list?

I honestly find this part really challenging. Do we talk about one kid’s medical/therapy? Another’s struggles in a certain academic subject? The drama of teen/tweens coexisting in the same home? The epic fails of the weeks? The successes? The fact the washing machine decided to leak while he was gone? The people coming to the door to sell us solar energy? The teacher meeting I called? The fact the kids often blame the only parent here when I can’t pull off being two people? The fact the car is making funky noises? The phone company changed our voice mail, and now I can’t access messages? My own test results?

How much can we jam into quick conversations that will stick? Is it better to focus on three topics and not 24? How can you make up for not being even able to phone most of the time away (there are legitimate, work-related reasons for this)? What can you expect, reasonably, of someone floating back through the house just to do laundry, hug the family, and pack a bag again?

I’m not really sure I’ve figured it out yet. And it won’t be forever. But I certainly can’t do any of it on my own strength.

Exodus 15:2, Moses speaking, ESV
The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

1 Chronicles 16:11, Ezra narrating, David speaking, ESV
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually!

Ephesians 6:10, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Philippians 4:13, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

And then what about that loss that’s felt when stress piles up? Anger? Resentment? Where do we take that so we don’t unfairly drop it all over the person who is providing the main income? Is it fair to keep it in a heavy treasure chest and then spill it out all over him for those 48 hours? Is there even time for that, even if it was the best approach, which it’s not?

This post is written not as a whine fest. It’s me thinking out loud and also writing for those who live this every day. It’s not the worst thing ever. It’s also not really a blessing either. It is what it is.

Even if your spouse is home more frequently, but regularly working late, or checked-out because of work weightiness, how do we do life and stay intact?

I haven’t been good at saying: “No robotics tonight. You’re watching your siblings so Dad and I can go on a date.”

I have been good at proclaiming: “This is a kid-free zone this morning as Dad and I catch up.”

I haven’t done well at having clear time carved out for family outings—or even a plan.

I have done well at turning down invitations to do other things so, if and when our family of five catches a few minutes, it’s just with each other. It’s open.

This post isn’t about having all the answers. It’s about sharing the journey: what has worked and what hasn’t. Salad Boy is very invested in the family and very helpful when he’s here. It’s why there is a huge void when he’s not.

We’re both fiercely independent, which offers a deceiving “strong vibe” that isn’t always there—because we’re human.

And it’s normal for the kids to miss him, to resent the one-parent gig (although I know some people, with no choice, pull that off beautifully), and to take it out on the parent who is home. I get it. I really do.

So, I’m thinking of keeping a journal of a few words/phrases that trigger what happened throughout the week. He can choose from it his top 5, and I can choose from it my top 5. I don’t have time to write it out. Just a few thoughts. It’s a way of making sure he doesn’t miss what is happening here and I feel listened to, understood, as if he was part of the week.

I absolutely believe communication is everything, even if other things on the checklist don’t “get done.” There has to be connecting. Eyes have to look into eyes, and ears have to hear, and sometimes, mouths have to repeat back some of the key points of what was shared. For me, personally, I need to know each weekend he is touching into what I’m carrying around or feeling for our family members. I need to see his hands lift some weight off. And he needs a safe haven where we don’t rage at him when he’s finally here.

The journal is just one strategy. What works for you?

*This blog post has been shared at Wedded Wednesdays and Dance with Jesus.

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Cows, Cornfields, and a Father Who Cares for It All

Cows, Cornfields,This past weekend, I took my oldest son with me to visit my parents. It was a nice, long drive through New England and the middle states during leaf peeping season. The hand of God almost seemed to be painting treetops as we drove. My parents now live in farm country, where life somehow seems slower and cornfields abound—even the occasional buggy or two. And I really didn’t know how much my frantic, suburban heart needed cows and cornfields until I had been there a few hours and soaked it all in.

My father recently had surgery to remove his bladder. I went down there post-op to check on him but also to hear face-to-face the plan from here on out. Phone calls just didn’t cut it. I needed to look at him and see where life after surgery had taken him.

I was amazed. In addition to decorating the foliage with a beautiful array of color, God was apparently also strengthening a body that should be beaten down and exhausted after a sum total of five tumors over many years and, most recently, ten hours of surgery and four units of blood—but, overall, it wasn’t. I’m sure it was for the first few weeks after surgery, but it certainly wasn’t now.

While God was growing cornfields so tall with bonneted women bending over to eagerly check the harvest, He was also apparently breathing fresh peace through a cottage home: winds of reassurance, a cloak of safety.

While He was giving cows full milk to squeeze in industrious dairy farms all over His rolling fields, He was also delivering love, food, gifts, and messages to two of His children weathering a raging storm.

And this moment converged in my own life with crazy-busy slamming in regularly and not letting go. So, sitting in this peaceful countryside did much to soothe me and my son. I napped when they napped. I worshipped when they worshipped. And I slowed way down for a few days.

Blogs and book signings by the wayside.

My own “mom duties” minimal.

Just breathing in hay smells and watching the buggies clomp-clomp down a street that wasn’t too busy for them. How badly I yearned to be a buggy in those moments.

We even watched an old movie snuggled under afghans after warm chicken pot pie.

This isn’t where I grew up. Where I was raised used to have tall cornfields. I could get lost in them for hours. I still dream about them from time to time. But developments popped up everywhere, the high school grew enormous, and streets became busy. My parents found that quiet space again when they retired, and it’s a place to truly feel restoration and refreshment.

I thought I was going just to see how things were going, but God also delighted me with rest.

The noise around me stopped.

I could see where this was the best place for my father to convalesce. How could you not heal in a place where people seem to have enough time and quiet to feel God’s breath on their faces as He exhaled?

When I asked my son what his favorite part was, it wasn’t the Chinese food buffet we went to (although that ranked up there) but rather the amazing worship choir/band/orchestra at their church—and relaxing. It said a lot to me about what a family in our season of life back home in Massachusetts was like. We had been spinning like tops, trying to find a good stopping place, but we hadn’t found it yet.

Until this trip.

I found it difficult to part with the calm I felt in their part of the country. I found myself longing for another escape there very soon—with a different child this time, to be fair.

But I also realized that God provides in ways that are sometimes not thought of or expected by us.

–The visiting nurse arriving to discuss my father’s body functions, in her own way, was Jesus tangibly holding his hand.

–The woman at church who wrote so many sentiments and cards was Christ’s disciple washing my father’s feet.

–The beaming smiles of the friends in the pew behind them were life-giving gifts from a Father Who deeply loves us.

For seven weeks, I had been sitting in my home, half a day’s drive away, crying out to God (joining the voices of many others) for my father’s provision, and this weekend, I got to meet some of them. I was able to thank them. I was able to touch into what God had been doing while I lived away. And I was able to feel the Father’s warm embrace that “He’s got this. He always has. He takes care of His children.”

I returned to talk at a speaking engagement the very next day, but I was rested, calm, at peace, and knowing my Father in heaven better. He knew I came to check on my dad, but isn’t it just like God to take care of us at the same time?

Life picked up where it left off, except I had auburn-golden-crimson colors in my mind. The kindness of strangers. God’s kiss on my face in the smile of a coffee shop manager. A peace that passes all understanding swirling through my parents’ home.

That peace certainly didn’t belong there on its own because cancer doesn’t speak peace.

But Jesus does. He put it there.

Philippians 4:7, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus speaking, ESV
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This blog has been shared at Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up, Tell It To Me Tuesdays, Pick Your Pin TuesdaysWomen With Intention WednesdaysCoffee & Conversationand A Little R & R.

More anecdotal stories about an everyday relationship with God can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day (includes Book Club Discussion Questions).

 

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Why I Don’t Mind That You Know We Go to Family Therapy

Why I Don't Mind That You KnowOne of my personal goals in life is to take the stigma and shame off mental health issues and to open wide the floodgates so that people who struggle (or their family members/friends) will not shy away from walking through doors of help. I want to write about the things we all desperately want to know so we don’t feel alone, but maybe we just aren’t ready to be public about. Maybe we are intensely private in general, or perhaps we just can’t let this part of our lives out into the light yet.

That’s okay. I get it. I’ve been there. I felt deep shame for a while because I didn’t know how to tell people I wasn’t well, find the right words, or even understand how to get them to listen. It’s only been six years for me. The feeling is still fresh. I get it.

Today I want to open up conversation about family therapy because even if you go, you might not write about it. Or maybe you’re considering it but not sure what it’s about. Maybe it seems overwhelming or intimidating. Obviously, I will not divulge personal details here that dishonor anyone in my family or step over any privacy/professional lines. This is about the overall experience.

It’s to broaden the dialogue.

To make people feel less alone.

To reach into dark places and shine some light.

[Disclaimer: I have permission from my family members to share this. We remain committed to sharing the journey together with the goal of bringing hope and help to others walking a similar path. Ours is neither a worst-case nor a best-case scenario. It’s simply our scenario.]

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2014 in ADHD, Anxiety/OCD/Depression

 

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