Monday, May 30, 2011


1 : serving to preserve remembrance : commemorative
2 : of or relating to memory

As I prayed tonight with each of my daughters, we prayed for the people who have given their lives for us to have the freedom to openly pray and worship, amongst other things. It's not a very big way to commemorate this day, but it's something.  My family used this day for practical purposes.  I collected, sorted, washed, folded and put away laundry.  J switched over computer files and did yard work.  The girls read, played and rested.  All in all, it was a day that will make this week easier.  With only a day and a half left of school for B and K, we are all ready for summer to start.

But while we needed a day of relative rest and recuperation, I'm ending this day pondering how I'd like for our family to celebrate future Memorial Days.  Is there a way we could make it more than just a holiday to celebrate the start of summer?

The very idea of memorial and remembrance is a bit foreign in our culture.  We have very short memories (hence our love of American history above all types of World history in the classroom). We're a people about looking forward, not back.  Looking back makes us uncomfortable.  It forces us to realize our own smallness compared to the greater world.  It puts our own mortality front and center as we realize we'll one day be a part of the stream of history.  For all these reasons and more, it's difficult to know how to celebrate this day in a more intentional way.

My own personal feelings about Memorial Day are perhaps colored by my politics.  I didn't agree with President Bush's decision to invade Iraq based on the information we had available, but I have complete respect for my brother and others who serve in the military.  To further complicate matters, I'm a pacifist at heart.  In college, I wrote a paper about Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience.  The paper stands out in my memory for two reasons: 1) It was the first A I got on a paper in college and 2) I struggled mightily with the subject.  I met with the professor.  I asked for and received an extension.  I recall thinking that the right answer was that violence was sometimes necessary, but I could not get myself to actually believe that.

But I have the luxury of being a pacifist because of where I live.  I have the luxury of having a three day weekend with my family all under one roof because my husband works for a corporation, not a military branch.  I have the luxury to ponder how the world should work, how I'd like for it to be because I am not afraid to walk on my streets.  I don't have to worry about bus bombings or snipers.  All of these luxuries are mine because of the people today commemorates.

I'm still not sure how I'd like to celebrate Memorial Day.  I'd like to find something that feels authentic, not cheesy.  I'm not a flag-waving kind of girl.  But could we write letters to deployed troops on Memorial Day morning and pray for the soldiers that evening?  That would be a start.  I've got another 364 days to think about it.  In the meantime, I'm going to work on being thankful for my everyday freedoms and not living like I'm entitled to them.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


1 : capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
3 : liable to increased penalties but entitled to increased bonuses after winning a game in contract bridge

Last night I went to my twenty year high school reunion.  To say that I was nervous about going is an understatement.  But one of my longest standing friends (we met in 4th grade) was organizing the reunion and as I agonized over whether we should make the long drive for a few hours, J said to me, "We should go.  You should honor those friendships."  It was just the right advice and I'm thankful that I took it.

Prior to leaving for the reunion, I described my emotional state to someone as feeling like I was piece of laundry being treated none too gently by a pioneer woman.  I felt like I was being twisted and wrung out, until I was dripping, before being put through a tortuous device to straighten, dry and unfurl me.  It was not pleasant, not fun and positively terrifying.  I felt like God was stretching me in many directions, asking me to do things that I didn't much feel like doing.  I still feel this way to some degree, but last night showed me that it's sometimes worth it to stretch, unfurl and leave yourself vulnerable.

J and I got lost on our way to the reunion.  Instead of trusting my instincts on how to get to the restaurant, I trusted Google maps.  I should have known Google wouldn't know this part of the world as well as I did.  Alas, I wasn't feeling like I could trust myself.  Which led us to a dead-end road and a fifteen minute detour.  When we finally arrived, we parked in the wrong area, moved the van and tried again.  I was getting progressively more nervous with each fit and start.

We walked into the restaurant together and were directed to the room for our private party.  I took a deep breath, glad of J beside me and walked through the door and down the stairs.  And didn't see a single face that I recognized.  In the few moments before I can turn to J in my nervousness, two friends got up from the table at the far end of the room and walked over to me.  "Shannon! Let me be the first to give you a hug," K said.  Then W gave me a hug and shared a tidbit from high school, "Did you know that people used to ask me if we were sisters?  Apparently we look alike."  And that was all it took.  I immediately felt better.  After a few minutes of chatting with these two women - neither of whom were close friends all those years ago - I felt much better and a few people I knew better had spotted me and come down from the bar.

The night progressed a bit like high school itself.  J and I sat by my best friend from way back when, across from a friend who took all of the same classes I did, down the table from my high school sweetheart.  I knew everyone at our table and couldn't place a lot of names and faces from the other tables.  As the night went on, my nervousness eased and I was shocked to realize how well some of these people remembered me.  One commented on my hair being so much darker, several asked after my mom (their high school math teacher) and the two who knew me best remarked to me and each other how surprising it was to find all these years later that I am a mother to three. (And not much more - although that was mostly left unsaid with only a vague reference to a valedictorian who is now a full time mom.)

You see, back in high school I swore I would never get married, much less have children.  Yet here I am, fifteen years into one, eleven years into the other.  And I love both states of being.  As I made the long drive back home today, I pondered why I ended up having children after plans to never do so.  J is the answer in part.  He always wanted children and had me convinced before we were even engaged.  The bigger reason, I suspect, is that God knew how much I would learn and grow from motherhood.  I knew how to take care of myself before I had children, but I didn't know to care for myself - or anyone else, really.  Having children makes you aware of how many needs people have.  I've seen how unashamed my daughters are of their needs and asking to have them met.  They eat when they are hungry, rest when they are tired, play when they are bored.  I'd like to learn to listen to my own internal desires and meet them without shaming or blaming myself for having needs.  They teach me far more than I am teaching them.

As we drove away from the party, J mentioned how many people had come over to talk to me.  Once he said it, I realized he was right.  I stayed in one spot most of the night, but still got caught up on more people than were seated at our table.  J's take on this was that I have more influence than I realize.  While I'm not so sure about that, I do feel like part of this painful, vulnerable unfurling has been God calling me to lead when I don't really feel up to the task.   Some steps are easier for me to take than others, but I've been trying to walk in faith regardless.
J told me and several of my friends last night that it was so nice to see me smile the way I did at the reunion.  I don't know for sure when the smile started, but I clearly remember talking with my high school sweetheart after he pulled up a chair behind my best friend and me.  As the three of us talked, I realized how well these two people know me - and more importantly, that they like me anyway.  I think we're all vulnerable to some degree in high school.  We haven't learned how to put on armor to protect us from peers and life, yet the angst and drama of adolescence opens many doors for wounding.  It touched me to realize these people from so long ago still hold a fondness for me, as I do for them.  Sometimes it's worth vulnerability's potential costs to reap its rewards.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


7 a : a retrospective view or survey (as of one's life)

A and I have two days of school left this year.  By design, this week has been a light week.  We are two math lessons away from finishing our math book and have spent the rest of our time reviewing history and reading lots of library books. As A has been reviewing, I've been doing my own survey as well.  How has this first year of homeschooling gone?  Better than I could ever have expected is the short answer.  The long answer?  Read on.  That's basically what this post will be about.

Academically, we didn't cover everything I thought we would, nor did we cover it the way I thought we would.  I had grand plans for regularly spaced author studies and composer studies.  Those fell by the wayside.  I bought a grammar curriculum, which we started, slogged halfway through and finally quit.  A absolutely detested it and, in retrospect, I shouldn't have purchased a grammar book with "analytical" in the title for my math-averse daughter.  My bad.  Shelve it and move on.

But in not covering everything I thought we would, we learned a lot that I didn't know we would learn.  We did a few unit studies - at Thanksgiving, Advent and Lent and on the subject of oceanography.  We both loved incorporating the church calendar into our school calendar and the unit studies gave us a nice break from routine when we needed it.  I'm already planning similar breaks for next year.  We learned less science than I would have liked - all my fault.  But the science we learned, we learned by reading about scientists and doing a unit study - both methods that worked well for A.

And we incorporated literature at every turn.  If we studied a person or historical event and there was a novel that I could tie in, I tied it in.  I have no idea how many books A read this year, but it has to be well over 100.  Even in the midst of our light wrap up week, she's also been working on a report about The Old Man and the Sea, which we read to conclude our oceanography study.  As I've looked back and noticed the gaps I left in A's education this year, I've also reminded myself that the girl is clearly learning.  I gave A a series of essay questions about The Old Man and the Sea.  One of the questions read, "What is Manolin's role in this story? Do we see Santiago through his own eyes or Manolin's for most of the book? Why did Hemingway include Manolin? What would the book have been like without him?"  Here is A's (unedited) response:

Manolin's role in the story is to love and take care of the old man.  We see Santiago through Manolin's eyes for most of this story.  We see Santiago as a brave, strong, old man.  I believe that Hemingway included Manolin to take care of him and adore him.  Every hero has an admirer.  Without Manolin, the admirer might have been a wife, a little girl, or even a dog.

This is not the response I anticipated when I asked the question.  In fact, I hadn't even thought about the fact that without Manolin we might read the story and not see Santiago as a hero.  But A is right - because the boy admired the old man so much, I did, too.  I didn't even realize I was seeing the story through Manolin's eyes until she explained it this way.  So whatever else she didn't learn this year, I'm holding on to this one.  This one answer that shows me that she is thinking critically, reading closely and learning while she goes - no matter what I do right or wrong.

Our year certainly wasn't without bumps.  Even today, A sighed, put her head on the table and complained, "I'm bored."  This utterance came at 9 AM when she had only three tiny items to complete today.  I not-so-kindly offered to give her a far heavier workload to alleviate her boredom.  So yes, there are days when she doesn't want to work.  Even A herself noticed this.  As she prepared for her year end history review, she read through her history notes and essay questions.  She came to me and said, "Some of this isn't very good.  I can tell I tried on some of it and I didn't on others.  Some of my paragraphs are good and some aren't."  Yes, dear, you're exactly right.  And that's just life, isn't it?  We all have days that are less productive.  Days when we'd rather just stay in bed or read a book or read a book in bed all day.  But we get up anyway and slog through it.  And sometimes it shows that we were just slogging through.

A year ago I had no idea how this homeschooling thing would go.  I didn't know what curriculum to buy.  I couldn't find the information I needed all in one place.  I feared it would be exhausting and hard and draining and that I might fail.  All of that has happened.  But it's also been relaxing, fun, interesting and I'm content.  The way I see it, that's a pretty good year end review.

Monday, May 23, 2011


2 : one who studies : an attentive and systematic observer

Grace Enough

Parenting is a continual lesson in humility.  Just when I think I know something about one of my daughters, I'll observe her in a new situation and have to recalibrate my opinion of who this girl is.  Last Saturday, K had her first birthday sleepover at the young age of seven.  (I would never have let either of her sisters have a group sleepover at age seven, but that's one of the perks of being the youngest.)  After hosting, I decided there are advantages and disadvantages to sleepovers with younger girls - more energy, less drama.  I also learned a great many things about my daughter by watching her interact with five other six to eight year olds.

I've found over the years that the key to a successful girl's birthday party is to keep the kids busy.  If that means a water balloon fight for B's August celebration, I'm ok with that.  If it means a full night of ice skating in January for A, we'll do it.  For K's sleepover, I had planned to serve pizza, have the girls decorate bags to hold pinata candy and then each complete a Book of Seven (in honor of K's 7th birthday) before cupcakes and a movie.  What I learned:  attention spans vary greatly at this age.  K contentedly sat and decorated her pinata bag with a drawing of herself as the Birthday Princess, complete with crown.  Another friend quickly sketched out two or three bags and asked for more to decorate.  Others completed a bag and wanted something else to do.

These were small variations compared to what I found when we started the books.  Some girls wanted to diligently complete each of the seven lists of seven things, others struggled to get through one list before losing interest.  As J whispered to me, "It never quite goes according to plan."  While that was true, I looked at K and said, "Yes, but I based it on our daughter.  And she's doing exactly what I anticipated."  Which was sort of true.  She was completely content to do each of the activities and would have kept working on her book even longer had there not been a general consensus that it was time to move on.  She loved making her book.  What I didn't anticipate was that K would help others, have a great deal of focus and even spell words for her friends as they completed their lists.  In short, she's capable of more than I realized.

I try very hard to not compare my daughters to each other.  A learned to read very early, in an abnormally accelerated manner.  B was a bit slower to decide she wanted to read and K took her time even learning the alphabet.  I knew, because K is a third child and I've now witnessed this two times, that K would eventually decide to read.  It was just a matter of waiting for the right time.  None of my girls learned to read in a regular progression - it was far more like a series of sprints than a steady marathon.  K hit her stride earlier this year and while she still struggles a bit with new words, she reads quite well.

I didn't judge K for the fact that she learned to read a bit later and differently than her sisters.  They are all so very different that it seemed silly to think that K wouldn't approach reading differently.  After all, she approaches life differently.

But this is a bigger issue than reading.  What I realized Saturday night is that K has a pretty good attention span for a seven year old.  To be brutally honest, it was shocking to see that she could sustain an activity longer than any of the other girls in her grade.  Prior to witnessing it myself, I would have guessed that her attention span was shorter than average.  As J and I talked about the party, we realized that we have based our opinion of K's focus on that of her sisters.  Worse, I have underestimated my daughter.

It pains me to realize this, much less admit it publicly.  I want to encourage my daughters, breathe life into their gifts, hold their hands and let them go.  I don't want to hold them back by not seeing them for who they really are.

The things I said of K in my last post are still true.  She was a fabulous hostess, she was kind to each and every friend and she adored being the center of attention.  But she's more than just those things.  Much more.  I'm thankful to have been given a glimpse of the K I saw on Saturday and I want to keep my eyes open to see each of my daughters as they grow, change and evolve into more than I can hope or imagine.  I want to be a student of who they are and who they are becoming.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


: the length of time from May 21, 2004 to today

My youngest daughter K is seven today.  That's right, my baby is seven years old.  Not much of a baby anymore, is she?  For her birthday this evening, she is having five friends spend the night.  It will be a jam-packed evening, complete with pizza, pinata, craft and movie-watching.  For our craft, we're making Books of Seven.  In these books, the girls have space for seven lists of seven favorite things.  As I made the books, I thought about how seven represents perfection in the Bible.  Looked at from this angle, these books are complete perfection - seven lists of seven things. 

In many ways, I think seven might be a perfect age.  K is old enough for me to catch glimpses of who she will one day be.  In my experience, it's difficult to know who your children really are at a young age.  To some extent, toddlers and babies all like the same things.  How to tell whether your daughter loves to dress up at age three because she's going to be a fashionista, because it's an easy way to express her creativity or as a valuable way to try on different personas in an attempt to learn who she really is?  Does your baby like to be rocked to sleep because she's a people person or because that's what she's learned to do?  Who knows?  But by age seven, I know a few things about K that are specific to who she is:

She is relationship oriented.  We had dinner with some college friends earlier this week.  In the span of two hours, K met and formed a friendship with another little girl.  They met as we were walking in to the restaurant and played and talked together for the remainder of the evening.  As we sat there eating, K walked over to the mom of her new friend.  She handed her a napkin with writing on it and said, "Here's my mom's phone number.  I'd like to have a play date with H."  As we walked back to our car that evening, I broke it to K that her new friend lives in Chicago, so a play date was unlikely.  She was puzzled as to how their family made it to dinner on time with such a long commute, but unruffled about where her new friend lives.  I suspect K will adjust easily to new circumstances all her life - she makes friends quickly and effortlessly.  She gets that life is about relationship and she pursues it.

K is a hostess at heart.  She has been planning tonight's birthday party for at least six months.  She knows exactly what she wants served for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow.  She knows what movie she wants to watch, who will sleep where and numerous other details.  Whenever we have someone drop by to visit, K is quick to make them feel at home.  I hope K always has an open door policy - for her dorm room, apartment and first house.  She understands that one purpose of a home is to use it to bless others.

K loves sports, dance and all things performance.  At her recital last week, she kept a huge, genuine smile on her face the entire time.  She simply loves being on a field or on a stage where people watch her.  Last night as I tucked her in to bed, she told me she wanted a birthday crown to wear all day today.  "So that everyone will know it's my birthday," she explained.  I smiled inwardly at how different she and I are (you won't catch me in a crown on December 10th), but I made her a crown this morning before our trip to Waffle House for her birthday breakfast.  She wore it with aplomb.  I hope K will always be as comfortable in her own skin as she is at the sweet age of seven.

Seven might just be the perfect childhood age - when a child is old enough to be independent, confident enough to know her preferences and content to still be a little girl.  I'm going to savor every minute of it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


1 : any of the instinctive desires necessary to keep up organic life; especially : the desire to eat
2 a : an inherent craving

What are you hungry for right now?  Do you even know?

On Saturday, A danced at a funeral.  No, I'm not joking.  Technically it was a memorial service, but the sentiment is the same.  She danced to celebrate the life of a 92 year old woman who lived a long, full life of service.  She served in ordinary ways - she was a mom to three and was known for baking cookies.  Lots and lots of cookies.  Cookies that melted in your mouth and made your hand involuntarily reach out for one more.  In the last years of her life, she often baked for the dancers at Rejoice, a ministry started by her daughter.  At her memorial service, those same dancers who ate her cookies honored her memory with beautiful dance, glowing faces and a few tears.  And as we remembered her life, we ate cookies.  Like Jesus, Grandma Hove fed the masses.  She just fed them cookies instead of bread.

After the memorial service, I sat at a table (eating cookies) talking with one of A's dance teachers.  She's a joy of a person to be around, exactly the kind of woman I am thankful to have teach dance to my daughters - because I'd love for them to learn about not just dance, but about life, from her.  She has two young children and a few months ago we were chatting about eating habits and children.  I'm not sure how the conversation started, but I think I mentioned that our girls aren't allowed to watch TV on weekdays.  This is as much about setting expectations as it is about managing our time and household.  Because there's no TV on Tuesdays, it feels like a treat when I bend the rule and let them watch an episode of Phineas and Ferb.  But if post-school TV were the norm, there would be less joy, more demanding.  They would feel entitled to TV time.  (And I hate entitlement.)  These thoughts led us to a discussion of dessert and children's appetites.  Dessert after every meal?  Only dinner?  Only certain days of the week?  There's no right or wrong answer here, but it is a minefield to navigate, especially when parenting daughters.

My friend shared that she noticed when her daughter was very hungry, it was unsettling, but when her son ate a lot, she just thought, "Oh, look.  He has a healthy appetite."  Each of my three daughters has a completely different body type.  Consequently, they have different appetites.  My approach has been to not only offer them healthy food choices, but to explain why certain choices are healthier than others.  But I don't try to control their appetites.

By the time I was the age of my eldest daughter, I was (futilely) trying to curb my appetite.  By 6th grade, I was dieting with a friend.  I remember trying to stay under 500 (!) calories per day for a while (without much success, I might add).  I made terrible food choices.  My daily high school lunch consisted of a Coke and a bag of chips.  I've learned slowly but surely a better way to eat, a better way to approach my appetite.  Over time, I've found the best cure for an unhealthy appetite is exercise.  I'm not only less hungry when I work out regularly, I crave foods that are better for me.  Moderate exercise and healthy foods are a far better choice for satisfying an appetite than empty calories, dieting and pretending an appetite doesn't exist.

I've held these beliefs and practices about food for a while, but the recent memorial service made me realize another truth: our appetites are God-given.  I have seen for myself that my daughters eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full.  They know to listen to their bodies and respond accordingly.  And it's wrong of me, of our family, of our world, to tell them to stop listening to these appetites.  God has planted in them a desire for things that are good for them.  And when we start tampering with how to listen to and satisfy those desires, things go awry.

If we can help our children - and ourselves - learn to recognize our God-given appetites, it will be easier for them to distinguish which appetites should be satisfied and which should be ignored.  (And some appetites should be ignored, especially the things the world tells us we should want - things our hearts don't care about at all, but that keep our economy afloat.)  I fear that if I discourage my girls from listening for, understanding and meeting their desires, they will become unable to know what they truly want.  They'll hunger and not know what they hunger for.  They'll long to do something - but not quite know what to do.

This has far broader applications than just food.  My daughter A knew she wanted to dance from the time she was three.  God planted that desire in her.  Had I stifled it, discouraged it or told her to ignore it, she would still have an unsettled place inside her that longs for that outlet.  Barring wise choices for satisfying that desire, she might have ultimately chosen a more destructive way to scratch the itch that dance is for her soul.

I taught myself to not only ignore what my body longed for, but to ignore some things that my soul craved.  I'm inept at drawing and for years equated that with a lack of creativity.  I am creative.  I just needed to understand myself better instead of stifling my appetite.

What are you hungry for?  Do you even know?

Saturday, May 14, 2011


1 : activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something: 

It's been a busy, if interesting, few weeks.  A and K danced in their annual spring recital last night.  For the third year in a row, I organized the volunteers for the recital and helped with planning, scheduling, set-up and other assorted jobs.  After a few days of working on spreadsheets to get every dancer a chaperone, a seating assignment, a rehearsal time and more, I noticed something surprising: it was addictive.  Sure, it took time, energy and focus.  But I was good at this.  I copied, I pasted, I formatted.  And I got a satisfaction from it that has been missing from my life for several years.  Excel didn't complain when I asked it to alphabetize my dancers.  The computer didn't roll its eyes when I needed help organizing more than two dozen volunteers.  And no one came behind me to undo the work I had just done.

I mentioned this to a friend who works part-time in addition to parenting four daughters and homeschooling.  She immediately understood.  It's exhilarating to use your skills, especially when they've laid dormant for weeks, months or years.  I had planned to write an entire post on the word addictive, but as the week went on, I found a few other qualities about work that paint a fuller picture.  Work can be addictive, but it also promotes a false sense of self-reliance, inhibits my creativity and yields a disaster zone of a home.

To say that I've not had a lot of time this week is an understatement.  The time not consumed by recital preparations has been devoted to teaching A, keeping my children fed and getting us all where we need to be.  The effect of that on my home?  It's not pretty.  This morning started with a sink full of dirty dishes, a dishwasher full of clean dishes, a living room overrun with books, dirty laundry waiting to be washed and clean laundry waiting to be folded.  In fact, it still pretty much looks that way (although the kitchen looks considerably better because J unloaded and loaded the dishwasher while I watched Toy Story 3 with the girls over breakfast).  The recital - and any event - does require a big time commitment as the event nears.  I know not all work is like this, but I was completely ineffective this week at maintaining our home and getting my work done.

I also failed miserably at making time to do anything creative.  While this was partly due to time constraints, I think the bigger issue is that I am unable to use both sides of my brains in quick succession.  When working on a project that requires organization, linear thinking and problem solving, I find it nearly impossible to switch over to a more creative, open ended, peaceful mode of thought.  This is why I haven't written a blog post in over a week, fully completed my Bible Study or made a collage of any sort.  The most frustrating part of this side-effect of work is that I have wanted to write, study and create.  I've been thinking about this post for ten days, but haven't been able to string together coherent thoughts until now.  I want to make cards for two of A's teachers who are leaving Nashville.  I want to be able to think again.  

My thinking has deteriorated not just creatively, but linearly as well.  I chalk this up to the exhaustion brought on by trying to work, homeschool, parent and manage our home over the last two weeks.  Yesterday, I took A to the library for a quick trip.  We were mainly there to pick up some books on hold for our curriculum for next week, but we made a quick trip to the stacks as well.  While there, I was so tired, so exhausted, so completely drained, that I struggled to properly alphabetize in my mind as I looked for books from a specific author.  When my brain is so tired that I can't function well in the library, it's a sign that I need some serious rest.

Earlier in this cycle, when I was enjoying the short-lived high of work, I felt capable.  It felt good to stretch my mental muscles.  But as the work wore on and the recital drew nearer, I was aware of the less desirable results of work.  I saw how work robbed me of some of the things I have come to value in my day to day life.  A few days ago, I read this in one of my favorite devotional books:

Although self-sufficiency is acclaimed in the world, reliance on Me produces abundant living in My kingdom.  Thank Me for the difficulties in your life, since they provide protection from the idolatry of self-reliance.
 As I read this, I knew these words were for me.  I can look back on my life and see how one of the gifts of my career path has been a gradual loosening of my grip on the idol of self-reliance.  While I left the full time workforce almost nine years ago, it took nearly seven of those years for me to stop mourning the loss of a job and celebrate what I've been offered instead.  I liked my work.  I was good at it.  It allowed me to travel and see dozens of cities.  It let me use my mind, hone my skills and feel capable and self-reliant.  Some of this was a gift, some of it was not.  After leaving full time work, I transitioned into part time work for several years.  When I left my most recent job, I thought of it as a sabbatical.  I'd always imagined I would, at a minimum, return to work when K started kindergarten.  But God had a different path in mind for me.  One that involves work with my mind (I love the teaching component of homeschooling), work with my hands (I don't love the housekeeping part as much) and work with my heart (parenting, writing, creating).

This journey is a gift.  I don't know where I'd be had I continued to follow my own path for my life.  Surely not where I am now.  I don't regret the work I've been given.  Last night's recital was beautiful.  I cried nearly all the way through it as I noticed how dancers have grown and matured from one year to the next, how my own daughters were beautiful and radiant on stage and how the organization has given children and parents the chance to see the fruits of working hard toward a goal.  I'm thankful for the work I did over the last two weeks - for the yield of the work and, more importantly, for what it taught me about myself.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


3. a : of or relating to a condition of full development

Last night, J and I were at a small group gathering with some neighborhood friends who attend our church.  We chowed down on good pizza, drank some red wine and read part of Chapter 4 of Ephesians.  Then we discussed what stood out to us in the verses.  Several people shared thoughts and then we settled in to talk for a bit about what it means to be mature - a mature person, a mature person of faith.  My immediate thoughts didn't go far beyond Paul's description of maturity as one who is not prone to being tossed about, blown here and there by life itself.  We threw out a few more words that described mature: steadfast, resolute.  And then the conversation took us elsewhere.

Today I've spent some more time thinking about what I think it means to be mature.  I've used a few different frameworks to help me think about this: where do I see my daughters maturing? what people would I describe as mature? in what context do I use the word mature?

I found the last question easiest to answer.  The circumstance that immediately sprang to mind was one where someone is hurt by someone else, but reacts well, reacts maturely.  I've occasionally commended one of my daughters for not being quick to take offense by saying she reacted with maturity.  Part of being mature is an emotional maturity, yes, but it's also a willingness to set aside one's own experiences, feelings.  The mature response often requires unselfishness.  This makes sense because selfishness is our natural bent as humans (ever seen a hungry, frustrated two year old? selfishness embodied).  Only through learning, growing and living with others can we hope to shed this selfishness.  Letting go of our own wants, needs, emotions does aid steadfastness because what is more likely to batter us about internally than our own emotions, thoughts,etc.?  These hold far more sway than any external force, so by choosing to set them aside, you choose a step towards maturity.

There's also the obvious growth - physical, emotional and intellectual - that accompanies the maturation process.  These three are not always in sync.  There are many books that my daughters are capable of reading that are too emotionally advanced for them.  But one key to maturing - to not just wandering aimlessly down a path, but walking down it with purpose - is to assess where you are in your growth so that you give yourself appropriate challenges.  Without appropriate pacing and steady movement towards maturity, we either flame out too fast or languish as a sapling, never making it to the maturity of a full grown oak. 

A certain degree of self-awareness is required to maintain growth, to even begin to move towards unselfishness.  The people I would describe as mature are quite often comfortable in their own skin.  Not in a belligerent "take it or leave it" fashion, but in a humble "this is who I am" kind of way.  Being mature is as much about realizing who you aren't as about realizing who you are - and giving others the freedom to be completely different than you.

As I pondered the word mature today, it occurred to me how much our world discourages, discounts and devalues maturity.  I recalled a time several years ago when A was about 6 or 7.  She was fresh out of the bathtub and I was toweling her off when I thought, "I wish my body looked like that!"  She was lean, slim, flat bellied.  Of course she was - she was 6!  What made me think I should want the body of a child, not a woman?  Who told me this?  Why did I believe them?  Clearly no one person told me this - it's the story our daughters are told over and over.  Be thin.  Look young.  Aim for sexiness in a prepubescent body.  It's all so very wrong and it's one reason plastic surgery is so desirable in our culture.  There's no value given to aging - no credence given to the wisdom acquired with age, the empathy learned from hard lessons learned, the hindsight gained through years lived.  We aren't meant to stall in the teenage years.  We're to grow, learn, mature.

One reason we need to think about what it looks like to be mature, live maturely and act with maturity is because our world gives us few examples.  If maturity is about setting aside your selfishness to think about another's feelings, that is completely counter-cultural.  If being mature means growing, that requires an admission of the aging process.  If self-awareness is desirable, we must be willing to spend time alone with our own souls.

I think the important question isn't just how to live as mature believers, but how to live maturely in a world that screams at you: "Don't grow up!  Do what you want! Don't think about other people!"  The strength, courage and intentionality to mature in our world must be a sign of something greater at work in a person - because otherwise, it simply doesn't happen.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


2: full of activity : bustling

This day, this week, this month is busy. This afternoon/evening we had three concurrent events – ballet for A, soccer for K and school musical for B. It took nearly three hours straight in the van to get them all dropped off to their various locations so that I could watch B while J coached K’s soccer team.

The rest of the week is not much better – crammed full of activities right up through Saturday evening. And the month? Last week, I sent J a list from our calendar and was a bit stunned to realize that there are weekend and evening commitments straight through mid-June.

I believe some people thrive on schedules like this – they are more efficient, more effective, more focused, more productive when they have a lot to do. I am not one of these people. When faced with a busy schedule like the one we have right now, I lose sight of myself. I feel unable to do anything well. I can’t relax during the few spare minutes sandwiched between activities – afraid to start a book only to need to stop mid-paragraph, hesitant to pull out the collage materials only to have to clear them away. So I move zombie-like from task to task – cleaning, chauffeuring, cooking, folding clothes – not really here, not really there. Not really present.

I hate this. I hate feeling numb like this, but it seems one of few weapons at my disposal when assaulted by the pain of busy-ness. Having just come through a season that reminded me of the importance of self-care, adjusting to our life this month has been jarring. I do know, I do remember what I need to do to take care of myself. I just don’t know how to actually do it and get everything else done.

So I ignore the important for the sake of the urgent. And I shame myself for doing so. I tell myself I should be stronger, different, more capable. I should have more endurance, need less. I mistake exhaustion for lack of contentment, my limitations for laziness.

At least I am aware of what I do to myself internally when in a season that stretches me and strips me bare. I know rationally that these are lies I am telling myself and I would be wise to not believe them – wiser still to not say them.

I’ve tried to help myself deal with feeling overwhelmed by taking one day at a time – and one day only. If I could truly be disciplined enough to do it, I think this is the key. To not worry about how I’ll get through Saturday’s schedule when I am this beaten down by Tuesday. To trust that I really will be given grace enough in the moment – but not a moment before.

There is an element of trust lacking on my part as I survey my feelings in the midst of our family’s final sprint through the end of spring. I don’t think we were wrong to let K play soccer, to let A take ballet, to allow B piano lessons. These were good and right decisions. They are helping to shape my daughters into being who they were made to be. The things we do as a family – together and separately – are not undertaken whimsically. J and I put much thought into what level of involvement is appropriate and what level is too much. So I want to trust that I will have what is needed to make it through the resultant commitments.

I would like to be able to live the month of May with grace - to walk through the month instead of limping to the finish line. I’d like time and space to breathe and think and feel like a real, whole person, not a zombie mom. How to create time and space? How to breathe in the rarefied atmosphere of spring in the life of a family of five?