No Spring Chicken

chicken in glassesTonight I attended a College Readiness meeting with my Junior-to-be kid. This is Kid #3, meaning this is the third of these meetings I’ve attended, and it was exactly the same as the previous two, so I probably could have skipped it. It was mostly all been-there-done-that type stuff except for one HUGE difference: the crowd of parents.

It slowly dawned on me during the meeting that I am no longer the “young” mom of the group.  Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of gray hairs and reading glasses in the group. My own reading glasses stayed quietly tucked inside my purse, even though there was print so tiny – and I mean T I N Y – I know I couldn’t have read it even with my glasses on. But, even without my glasses on, it was painfully clear that I fall somewhere in the lower middle of the youngest moms.

Thankfully, next year’s college readiness meeting with my youngest will be the last time I must endure this glaring realization.

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Dear Kids

Dear Kids,

You are in the home stretch now. You’ve trudged on for months to land at this moment. You’ve read novels you didn’t understand, written essays you couldn’t repeat today, copied and studied vocab words that you know you’ll never use in conversation. You’ve worked Algebra problems, Geometry problems, Physics and Chemistry problems until your erasers were gone. You’ve spent hours on the computer pretending to do research. And, because you have the privilege of attending a private Christian school, you’ve memorized Scripture verses and studied the Old Testament, the life of Jesus, and everything in between, even when you weren’t sure what you were learning was true or good or held any promise.

Your Dad and I have yelled and threatened, cajoled and coaxed, begged and blackmailed until we’re blue in the face and I’m pretty sure we each have sprouted new gray hairs this year. We’ve spent sleepless nights worrying about your futures, awoken early to plead on our knees for God to just help us get through this school year. We’ve conferenced with teachers, emailed the counselor, and tracked your progress way more than we should have needed to. We’ve all but emptied our savings account to give you the best possible education so you’ll be intelligent, productive members of the society you’ll one day enter in, with little to no show of appreciation from you. I suppose we didn’t appreciate all our parents did for us either.

Next week, after exams are over, we’ll move on into summer – whatever that means. We’ll move forward with whatever we need to do next. We’ll do it because that’s what we’ve been called to do. We’ll do it because, as imperfect as we are in the doing, we love you.

Work hard, kids, and learn to persevere. Finish well. Because, trust us, there will be harder things to come in your life and there just isn’t a better time to figure out how to push through than now.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who by faith have testified to the truth of God’s absolute faithfulness], stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, 2 [looking away from all that will distract us and] focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith [the first incentive for our belief and the One who brings our faith to maturity], who for the joy [of accomplishing the goal] set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [revealing His deity, His authority, and the completion of His work].” Hebrews 12:1-2 AMP

Thanks, You Made a Difference

There’s a new movie out right now, The Revenant, which is based off of a book written by a guy from my hometown. I think that’s pretty cool. It would be cooler if I knew him, but I don’t.

But I think my six degrees of separation is still pretty cool.

I happened to notice that the author of the book, Michael Punke, thanked a few of his teachers from said hometown on the acknowledgement page.  In his words, “Thanks to a group of outstanding teachers from Torrington, Wyoming: …Craig Sodaro, Randy Adams … If you ever wonder whether teachers make a difference, please know that you did for me.”

I smiled. These were my teachers as well.

Mr. Adams taught me history or geography or some other subject I really didn’t care about at the time. He was a good teacher; I just wasn’t his greatest student.

Mr. Sodaro, however, was my eighth grade English teacher – a subject I was interested in.  Not only was he a great teacher, but I also credit him, in part, for my wanting to be a writer (even if it went off my radar for a couple decades.) To this day, he remains one of my favorite teachers. He might even rank #1 on that list. As evidence of that, I have kept – for all these (gulp) thirty years – two of my writing assignments from his class, one fiction and one non-fiction.

(There was another teacher mentioned that I’m pretty sure was my freshman English teacher, and no discredit to him, but I wasn’t very focused on school that year.)

I love two things about these papers. First, that they are handwritten. Hand writing anything is rapidly becoming a thing of the past and that’s just sad. I cling to the handwritten word mightily. Secondly, I love the painstakingly perfect penmanship, every left-slanted line and circle-dotted ‘i’ of it.

Perfect Essay

Mr. Sodaro was being generous with the “perfect essay” compliment, but even now I think it was pretty good. He must have let me slide in that resource sheet after all.

Cert of Excellence Paper

I think this one might have been the first piece of fiction I ever wrote. It’s horrible, of course, and completely cheesy. Also, I’m sure everyone in the class got the Certificate of Excellence.

To tell you the truth, I’m not entirely sure how or why I hung on to these papers all these years. But I’m glad I did. It’s a visual reminder that this course was set before me long before I knew I was on it.

I echo Mr. Punke’s sentiment: Thanks, you made a difference for me too.

Blooming Where You Are Planted

Two years ago today, a bunch of strangers were packing up all our earthly belongings into cardboard boxes, to load them into a big (really big – we have too much stuff) truck, to haul them 1200 miles to our new home.  I still find myself muttering, I can’t believe we moved.

Moving is hard. Yes, it’s physically hard, especially if you’re the one doing all the heavy lifting. But, more than that – far more than that – it is mentally hard. Moving is more than changing the location of your stuff; more than changing the grocery store where you buy your food; more than the difference in language, culture, or the weather. It is an uprooting.

Putting down roots takes great care and a good amount of time. Every season with a friend, every town festival, every job change or neighborhood change, every school fundraiser or band concert, every putting up of the Christmas tree and taking it back down again – day by day – we grow new roots and grow others deeper in the place where we are.

Now, I’m not a gardener (and anyone who knows me will tell you that is a huge understatement,) but nearly every plant I’ve ever transplanted has died. I am so not kidding. And I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the roots. When you pull a plant out of the pot it’s been in for a while, no matter how careful you are, the roots rip a little. And it takes time to recover.

The same thing happens when you’re rooted deeply where you are and you have to rip up your roots to transplant everything into new ground.  It takes time for your life to recover.

Although I had done some packing of our belongings, arranged for the termination of household services, had a pot to pi home to land in on the other side – done everything I could do to be physically prepared – I was not mentally prepared. I thought the dirt would be like home, the fertilizer would smell the same, and the plants around me would be the familiarity I needed. But this was not the case.

For the first year, I was undernourished – starving even – and wilted. I tried (although pretty wimpily) to do things, go places, talk to people, and get involved, but the mourning in my soul clouded my vision and stunted my growth.  Yeah, I know, I should have just put on my big girl panties and left the pity party. Trust me, I wanted to. I tried. But moving is hard.

Well, they say hindsight is 20/20. Having come out of that first year, I can tell you that my problem was I never took my eyes off me. I never looked up. Negative emotions tend to plunge me right straight down the dark hole of narcissistic self pity. When I did bother to look up, I started to see all that God had set before me, everything waiting for my attention.

It started when we finally found our church home. I cannot stress enough to anyone who has just moved or is about to move how vitally important it is to first, find your church home, and then build the rest around that. God had things for me to do, but I had been too busy sulking to notice. I love the saying bloom where you are planted (as corny as it sounds, it’s actually Scriptural) because I’m finding that, not only is it possible to grow in new soil, but God will use the new soil to grow new roots.

I still miss home, my people, the really great grocery store just down the street, and all my favorite restaurants … the lighter traffic, the Warren movie theater, the sunsets. And wine sold in grocery stores has nothing on Groves or Jacobs, let me tell you.

But Savannah has long been my love-affair city because there is so much to love here. When the rest of the world is belly-aching about blizzards, ice, hurricanes, heat waves, or crazy wind (I do not miss that Kansas wind,) Savannah is safely tucked in the armpit of the coast. I am still in awe when I drive down streets canopied with Live Oaks cloaked in Resurrection Fern after a good rain. I still love watching the container ships coming and going along the river. And even though I’m not a beach person, I like having the option of going to the beach any day of the week.

So, even though moving is hard, when you look for where God is working and lean into being a part of it, the blooms are bigger and more vibrant than they’ve ever been.

Moping Mom

Coffee CupIt’s been four years since he has lived under our roof. Eight since he moved away for college. You’d think I’d be used to him leaving by now.

Nope.

Dropped my big kid at the airport and have been moping ever since. But this – something as small and stupid as the coffee cup he left on the porch, where he sat just a few short hours ago – makes me want to run to the airport and drag him back. So I can tell him how proud I am of him and how much I love him and how I hate living so far away.

And so he can pick up his dishes.

 

Late to the Party

Stop light

It seems I’m late to the Thankfulness party this year. What party, you ask? I’m referring to the one where everyone shows up on social media the first few days of November to express their thankfulness for each and every possible thing they can think of until they run out of ideas midmonth and the whole notion fizzles out, being replaced by warnings like, “Only 7 Mondays until Christmas!” Have mercy.

As it is, I am thankful mostly for the same things as everyone else: God, family, friends, a working toilet (never more than on this day when certain unnamed stomach disturbances force me to stay home and write silly, yet totally meaningful blog posts.)

So, let’s think out of the box a little bit, shall we?

Red lights. Many of us curse them, if not run them. They seem to go on for e v e r… and then twenty seconds more. They make us late, give us the grumpies, and are detrimental to our miles per gallon. We drum the steering wheel in impatience. We are annoyed by the commercial we’ve heard for the third stinking time today on the “no commercials” station and pound the radio dial for something else. Anything else. We pull out our cell phone to text (gasp!) our waiting party that we’re probably going to be two minutes late because we’re stuck at the longest stop light known to man. Or worse, we post it as a Facebook status real quick because to not would just be a waste of a good status.

But what if we decided to be thankful for red lights? Thankful for the chance in our day to p a u s e for just a moment on our way to wherever our working car is taking us. Imagine if we took the thirty-second opportunity to tell God thanks for our working car, or to notice the wildflowers that grow along the side of the road, or appreciate the couple holding hands through the crosswalk. I like to spy on people behind me in my rear view mirror. People can be so funny when they think no one is watching.

Trust me, when you spend a red light in thankfulness, they really seem pretty short. Too short.

Strangely Beautiful, Profoundly Sad

Pramukh Swami Maharaj, current Hindi spiritual guru (Photo shared from BAPS website.)

Pramukh Swami Maharaj, current Hindi spiritual guru (Photo shared from BAPS website.)

This time last week I was attending a funeral service at a Hindu temple. It was strangely beautiful and profoundly sad at the same time. I have thought a lot about it since.

Three men lost their lives during a Hindu religious ceremony on Tybee Island two weeks ago today. While many were looking skyward for a glimpse at the super moon lunar eclipse – what Christians admire as God’s amazing creation and perfect will – the friends and family of these three men were undoubtedly questioning God’s love and protection, following the drowning deaths of their loved ones.

One of the men who died was a long-time friend and colleague of my husband. As much as I have just recently come to understand the cultural bubble we live in, David has understood this for some time, but probably never as much as when attending the funeral service of his friend, Anup.

The atmosphere in the temple (or mandir) was as different as it was familiar. Inside was mostly like any other church, with seats and a stage. The difference being the huge shrine off to one side with statues of unfamiliar gods. It reminded me a little of the golden idols of the Bible. Instead of a piano or organ, the sadhus played music on what looked like a combination of a small piano and an accordion, while sitting on the floor.

One of my favorite things about Indian women is that they dress up all the time, either in brightly colored kurti (tunic style) or the traditional wrap-around style, sari. This service was no different, and it is so much prettier to celebrate life than the black mourning ensemble we are used to seeing at funerals. As the mourning color of their culture is white, even the men wore white or light-colored garments.

We all took off our shoes at the door – men’s shoe closet on the right, women’s on the left – and went barefoot or in socks until we were ready to leave the building. And as tradition dictates, men and women sit separately as well. Our translator explained this is to keep the focus on God while in the temple, and not to invite sexual tension. It was a little strange being barefoot in church, even during the post-service meal.

The swami spoke of God’s will – yes, Hindus do believe in God – and that we should not question His divine decisions, but to search instead for His Supreme peace (or Shanti.) Put in a suit, rather than saffron-colored robes, and placed in a church, rather than a mandir, you probably would not know the difference between his Hindu message and a Christian one.

With the exception of one very large deficiency.

And this is the profoundly sad part. While Hindus do believe in one Supreme Divine God, they believe God incarnates in different forms on earth at different times, for different reasons, each receiving a different name – I’ve read, up to 330 million of them. And they believe Jesus Christ was just a man, who died, and was reincarnated … just like all men.

There is no savior, no heaven, no eternal life in paradise. This world is as good as it gets, with the chance to do it over and over again through rigorous spiritual practice, forever striving to realize for himself the ever-elusive “god-consciousness.”

My reading over the last two weeks about Hinduism has only touched the tiniest tip of the iceberg of all there is to know about the religion. I’ve thought about how it is that people all over the world are a part of certain religions (usually) because that’s what they’ve been exposed to since they were children.

And the thing that bothers me the most about those three lives lost on Tybee Island two weeks ago … that they didn’t know my Savior, Jesus. I shudder to think that they faced their last moments in that water knowing they had … no … Hope.

I’ve found that almost nothing has brought me greater appreciation for the time and place God has put me – to learn of the Gospel, to find my hope in God through Jesus Christ – than having been exposed, so intimately, to something outside my bubble. This is the place God grows me. Not just sitting in my comfortable church pew on Sunday morning, but out in the world – to be salt and light. My friend and Bible teacher, Janice, used to tell us, “To be the salt of the earth you have to get out of the salt shaker.”

I pray more now for our non-believing family and friends, and praying for more opportunities outside of the salt shaker.