Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

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How to parent your teen — the manual that made it in the trash

My son turns 13 years-old on Black Friday. Could there be a more ominous sign than that? While hoards of shoppers are waking up at 3 a.m. to suffer through lines and duke it out for deals, my sweet baby, ever so dear, will be entering the darkness that often accompanies the teenage years.

As if he is already rehearsing for the big day of black, my house has recently been filled with a cacophony of slamming doors, woeful sighs and whispers under the breath that I am pretty sure do not include any sweet nothings. It sounds like a coarse symphony that does nothing to evoke my sympathies.

I called a friend a few weeks ago and in a prayerful plea, asked in the name of all that is holy, all that is sane, and all that is merciful, to lend me every parenting book she owns.

She brought me five.

The small stack of books sat in my office and my younger son asked me why I had so many teenager books. Before I could even formulate a response, he answered his own question — obviously remembering his brother’s upcoming birthday.   “Oh yeah, it’s going to be a long seven years…,” he said prophetically.

Seven years? Why do the terrible twos get all the notoriety? That’s one measly year and they are still small enough to be restrained.

As I read, I began strategizing, thinking of systems to implement and solutions to employ. I realized that, if necessary, doors could be unhinged. He would inevitably realize that not loading the dishwasher would be to his disadvantage.   And, I felt hopeful that discussions could be facilitated without anyone actually dying.

Ah, I was going to be the most brilliant teenage mother ever.

I started writing a sort of manifesto for the teen years. I clicked away at the computer thinking to myself that I was doing the holy work of writing the instruction manual for parenting that I always wished I had.

Although my business interests have never evolved passed retail and at that, only on the paying side of the cash register, I had ultimately written my first business plan.

It read like a contract, with caveats and consequences included for clarity. It featured equations for various if/then scenarios and it clearly proved that my naiveté is boundless.

I actually believed that what I had written would be embraced – that is until I proudly emailed a trusted friend with the teen manual, which I intended to present to my son. She is tactful to a fault, so when she suggested that my glorious parenting plan would evoke a middle finger response I was stunned.

Really?

I reread my work. It was so beautiful. It had italics and bullet points and fancy words like parameters, privileges, outlined and occasionally.

I guess I could see where it was kind of bossy pants-ish, but it did include a smiley emoticon and an I love you.

I signed it not with the slang, Yo mama, but with the sincere, sweet, your mama that was so obviously me.

Later that night, with my two-page, single-spaced manifesto by my side I sat down and spoke with my son. Maybe it was because I was lulled by the soothing sound of the dishwasher that my tween ran without my mention, but I was uncannily calm. We talked about grades, basketball and ways he could earn extra money.

We didn’t hold hands, or hug or do anything that would invoke Norman Rockwell to paint us, but we talked. I didn’t boss or dictate either, yet I didn’t digress from making my expectations clear.

When we finished talking, he kissed me goodnight and there I sat – the manifesto, a mostly-read parenting book and myself.

I thought about ripping up my beautiful plan I had written about how the teen years would unfold in our home, but I didn’t have the energy to be so dramatic.   I simply folded it into a little square to put in the trash.

I guess what I realized is that maybe the reason children don’t come with instructions is because parenting isn’t meant to be precise. It might be insightful to read some books, or even to write your own plan about how you intend to parent, but often intentions and plans don’t really have much to do with raising children.

Like the rest of us, children are unique and, like it or not, have plans of their own. They will make their own path in the world and it’s our job to guide them as they do. It is a delicate balance between letting go and holding on. Sometimes it’s letting pieces fall where they may, and sometimes it means picking up the pieces and starting over again.

Maybe parenthood could best be described as prayer – a combination of something we hope for, ask of, praise, repent, and offer thanks. It is an active petition that is said every time we discipline, praise, share affection, or just sit and talk. The prayer does not end, like love, it endures time, tantrums and even teenagers. It is an offering of the best of ourselves so that someone we love can become the best of their selves. It is sacrifice, surrender, forgiveness, and humility.PatanganFamily2014_107

Parenting may be described as more gut-wrenching than glorious, but it is no doubt the most Holy work we can do.

While my son may turn 13 on a day dubbed Black Friday, it’s no coincidence this falls the day after Thanksgiving. After all, he has been a blessing everyday of his life. He is a prayer and a gift.

Of course, I know the years ahead won’t be easy, but I can’t help but feel excited about all that awaits.  The spectrum of joy, discovery and promise that lies ahead is sure to be anything but black.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Why firewood is the perfect birthday gift – 5 ways to live simply

My birthday was last week and instead of getting diamonds, pearls, or even something useful like shower gel, I received a box of firewood as one of my gifts.

Yep. Firewood.

I would show you a picture of me posing with it on the big day, but somehow no one managed to capture the surprised look on my face.

Surprise isn’t really the right word either. I was more confused than surprised. I wondered, is there a diamond wrapped in the box of firewood?

No, it was indeed a box of firewood.

Believe it or not, it was actually one of the more thoughtful gifts I have received from my husband.

The other gifts did not include lighter fluid, matches or charcoal either. In fact, over the years, he has bought me lots of nice presents that did not involve kindling.

As I grow older, or just grow, I find that I want fewer things. The material becomes immaterial as I focus on creating moments that matter instead of curating a collection of more stuff.

I want to live more simply, and my feeble attempt to express that has been to tell my husband that I want to live like people do on a farm.

That’s what the firewood was all about. It wasn’t so we could have a fire this winter and talk about what crops we were going to plant in the spring. It was about giving me some of the simplicity I crave.

He knows I am kind of over my suburban lifestyle.

For one, I am tired of buying in bulk. It’s heavy. I feel like I need a farmhand just to load it all in my car.

Then, there is the waste. My Sunday ritual now includes throwing out all of the food we didn’t eat during the week. This week that included smoked salmon, two hard-boiled eggs and some left over quinoa. I am of the generation that grew up being guiltily reminded about the starving children in Ethiopia so I cringe every time I throw away food.

And while I am grateful for health insurance and good medical care, my children have had more x-rays, cat scans and seen more specialists than I have in all of my 42 years.

On the farm we would just see the doctor if we were dead, dying or bleeding to death, and the doctor would make house-calls. We would not have to drive across town to a medical complex and hunt for a parking a space that will fit our tractor-sized SUVs, only to have to crawl out the hatch back since all the spaces are made for compact cars.

Instead of waiting for the doctor in your own bed like on a farm, you go wait in an icy room with a bunch of magazines about crafts you can’t do, recipes too complicated to make and fashion that nobody could actually wear off of a runway. Eventually you see the doctor, but that’s only a blink of an eye of the whole experience.

But alas, I don’t live on a farm and thus will take my son to an orthopedist tomorrow – in my own SUV.

After listening to my conversations about farm living, my son has told me he can’t do chores on the farm with a separated growth plate in his right shoulder. I explained that on the farm he would just have to use his left arm, and like Gloria Gaynor, he would survive.

While I, myself, might be a little bit like Eva Gabor on the seventies sit-com Green Acres if I actually had to live on a farm, the concept of living more simply appeals to me.

So I have been trying to take small steps that really don’t require overalls or a move to the country. The only thing they entail is a decision to live mindfully.

Here’s my list of some ways I want to live:

1. Shop locally. I have always tried to do this, but have made more of a concerted effort lately. I know there is Amazon.com, mega malls and credit card points, but there are also small businesses who thoughtfully help you as you shop. They aren’t worried about making commission. They are more interested in conversation. One of the best things about shopping locally isn’t just supporting neighborhood retail and all they offer communities. It is that they carefully wrap whatever you purchase in crisp white tissue paper and put it in a bag that’s made out of paper. I love that. It feels so special — like you just sold the farm to make that purchase and they recognize that.

2. Buy what you need. I am not going to say much about this because the truth is we don’t need much. Not things. We need friendship, family and fellowship. We need love and mercy. We need God and goodness. We need conversation and conversions. Other than that, we just need a toothbrush, a little food, and some good wine.

3. Use what you buy. The waste drives me mad. It just feels gross, indulgent and disrespectful. I am trying to be more conscientious when I shop. I am trying to buy better food. Food that feels special. Food that looks beautiful like it was grown on a real farm. One night, I bought 4 chocolate covered strawberries for our dessert. One for each of us. It was perfect and somehow felt decadent to have only exactly what we needed.

4. Offer thanks. There is so much to be thankful for and you don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to acknowledge your life’s blessings. If you don’t think you are blessed, go outside. Feel the sunshine on your face – or the rain. Feel the breath you inhale. Feel the gentleness of the wind. Feel alive with possibility. Just let yourself feel — until you get it. Feel the fullness that is gratitude.

5. Light a fire. You don’t necessarily need firewood to do this. You just need a spark – something that gets you excited, people who make you feel warm; passions that make you feel purposeful. Life is short, and we really never know how short either. Birthdays are finite. So it is important to live it like it matters, so the people in it know they matter. IMG_1825

Because in the end, whether you choose city life or green acres, it won’t really matter. It’s the time you spend enjoying moments such as sitting by the fire with someone who somehow always knows exactly what you need – that will ultimately matter.

Those moments are the best gifts you can give, and the best gifts you can get.

Do you have any ideas to share on ways we can all live more simply? More deliberately? Be a good farmer and share your crop of ideas with us!


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5 Things I learned from my middle-schooler about life

I don’t think I ever learned in school a fraction of what I learn from my children. Childbirth alone was an education – even with the epidural.

From their birth on, my boys continue to enlighten me. Recently, my 7th grader switched middle schools and in doing so taught me a few new lessons about life.

  1. Change is okay. You know that song by Davie Bowie, Changes? Ch ch ch ch changes – turn and face the strain… Well, first off it turns out I have been singing it wrong my entire life. Who knew? I thought it was “strange” not “strain!”

 

After all, change is strange. My son had been at his school since pre-school and only had two more years left before he would graduate to go to high school. He loved his friends. He did well academically. I did not see any reason to change.

But he did.

He was open to the experience of an academic magnet school, to be the new kid, to start over.

Starting down a new path is probably one of the bravest things we can do. To risk the unknown is scary. To walk away from the safety, the comfort and the convenience of our situations to try something unfamiliar can be daunting. But by allowing the possibility of failure we also allow for the greater possibility of success.

Ch ch ch ch changes…

  1. Listening is really important. While we did not consider the magnet option until the beginning of the summer, I could hear the need for change throughout the past school year.

 

Only I didn’t listen.

When he talked to me about being bored at school, I thought he was just being a typical adolescent. I was not as open or as patient with him as I should have been. I thought the problem was with him. Rather it was with me.

We all go into situations and conversations thinking about our own point of view, and often are not very open to hearing anything, which doesn’t support that. However, listening to another perspective with the intent to understand is often more enlightening than interpreting conversations into our own viewpoints.

  1. Pigeonholes are for desks, not for people. I assumed my son would never consider leaving his school because I thought I knew him.

 

After all, he is my child and we have spent a considerable amount of time together.

I would have told you that he would NEVER switch schools. And, that he would be traumatized from that kind of change.

But I saw him from my own perspective, which is colored from my own experiences. I would have been devastated to switch schools at his age so I assumed he would have too.

One of the greatest things about life is that we can start over. We don’t even have to wait until tomorrow. We can start anytime we want. We tend to get stuck in our labels and in our self-defined regimens. Worse still is that we pigeonhole others.

We fail to see the multi-dimensions of our neighbors and ourselves. I am a mother, a Christian, a writer, a friend, a wife, however I am not singularly any of these things and together I am more than the sum of these parts.

Free yourself and the people in your life from the constraints of what you think you know. If you want to change, then change.

Fly free, little pigeon.

  1. Fight for what you want. Once I realized that my son needed something different than what I planned for him, I dedicated myself to making sure he had it. It wasn’t easy. There were forms, rules, bureaucracy and waiting lists. So, I made phone calls to guidance counselors, principals, county school administrators. I showed up uninvited and unannounced – I asked questions and asked for prayers (from the people working in the public school office no less — they probably prayed that they would never have to see me again.) I did everything I knew to do that remained in the bounds of sanity.

 

But the truth is, it was out of my hands once I turned in the application. Still, I couldn’t be complacent when my child wanted this so badly; when he felt like it was what he needed.

So I fought.   Often, it really isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about knowing you did all that you could. It’s about showing someone else that you believe in them; that they are worth it to you; that even if you don’t prevail, you persevered.

There is really no losing that kind of fight.

  1. Endings are really just new beginnings. I hate when things are over. I get nostalgic and weepy. I cry until my eyes burn and my head aches. I don’t know if that is normal, but it’s just what I do so I try not to beat my self about it.

 

So of course, this was no different.

But I realize he couldn’t embrace all that awaited him and remain where he was. He was indeed giving up a very special community of friends and teachers, a place where he had been loved and cherished, a place I knew he would miss.

Still, at the moment of his goodbye he was on the cusp of a new beginning.

Sometimes in life we have to let go of something so we can make room for something else– new experiences await, new friendships, new ideas. The possibilities are endless and they begin with an ending.

So those are the most recent lessons I have learned as a parent. I am all the wiser for what my son taught me and only hope to be so brave as “I turn and face the strange… ch ch ch changes”

I really think “strange” sounds better than “strain.” I think I am just going to keep on singing it wrong.

Sorry, David Bowie.

 

Often children are our best teachers.  What have you learned from your miniature-guru?  And, perhaps just as important, do you think strange makes more sense than strain?!  Ch ch ch changes…

 

 

 

 

 


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Love is messy; Love is kind

I heard the new Justin Timberlake song on the radio the other day and it got me thinking about love.

I would not have even known it was the former boy-bander had the announcer not mentioned it. Timberlake really isn’t my type, which I am sure is a huge relief to his wife, actress Jessica Biel.

Don’t worry, Jess, I’m not interested in Mickey Mousing around with the former Mouseketeer.

It’s just that his song got me thinking.

Maybe it’s because I seldom listen to music in the car anymore since I enjoy the rare sound of silence so much more. Or, maybe it was the combination of the beautiful spring day and the right amount of coffee, but I was feeling philosophical about the pop song.

Timberlake was singing about love, and something about making some girl’s dream come true by loving her.

If it was Jess, he didn’t say so.

I think it went something like this: love, give it a chance, yadda, yadda, (optional gag,) and if you do he will make your dreams come true. This was set to a rhythmic beat that seemed too fast to slow dance to and too slow to fast dance to.

Maybe it’s folding towels kind of music.

Is that a genre?

Anyway, I guess it was the part about the dreams coming true that I was stuck on.

When I think of dreams, I think of sleep; glorious sleep.

But maybe that’s totally lame. (It probably is.)

So, I tried to be open-minded and think about what the heck Timberlake was crooning about.

Dreams and love… Hmm. Yeah, I just wasn’t feeling it.

I have been married for 16 years. We met when we were 14. (No, not in a commune – but in high school, which admittedly is in some ways similar.) Anyway, we didn’t date until after college so if you go by our dating years, it will be 20 years this summer that we have been together.

But those are just statistics, and numbers don’t mean anything when you are talking about love.

Still, whether it’s been 16 years or 20, I have never thought of my husband as my dream.

I don’t think this would devastate him either (but I will certainly ask before I post this).

He is my dearest friend. The person I count on more than anyone else. Someone I have been really mean to and really nice to (mostly nice); a person who has seen me at my best and at my worst (mostly somewhere in between the two); and I could go on. But this is not a Hallmark card and the intimacies of my marriage are just that.

Ultimately, he is a lot of amazing things and a partner in the truest since of the word, but he is not my dream.

Why?

Because I think that is a totally ridiculous sentiment! Seriously — it’s just gross.

I don’t mean to pick on Timberlake and because I am certain he quit reading this in paragraph two when I said he wasn’t my type, I don’t feel bad saying it’s ridiculous.

I know it’s a ballad and it’s entertainment.

But I think it’s a little bit of a problem when we envision romantic love as the end all, be all – the dream.

Thinking of love only as first kisses, long gazes and electric touches, it’s no wonder so many people become disenchanted with their spouses.

All of that is flirtatious and often fleeting.

I would also find it a little annoying if my husband gazed at me anyway. Either speak to me or go unload the dishwasher. Don’t just sit there and stare! Who does that?

It’s weird.

And it’s not that I am not a romantic that I say all of this.

Long stares aside, I love those moments when your breath catches in your throat.

But it’s not sustainable. You would quite literally start to choke or gasp. Neither of which is particularly attractive.

Those moments are fun and they’re giddy. They sell books, movies and even, songs.

But, I think when we get too caught up in them we set unrealistic expectations in our relationships.

It sets everyone up to fail because it ignores a fundamental truth about love.

Love is messy.

I know they didn’t say that in Corinthians 13:4-13 which begins with “Love is patient, love is kind…” But maybe what’s inferred is that love is messy, so be patient; love is messy, so be kind…

Real love isn’t just romance. It is listening when you don’t feel like hearing. Love is accepting when you want change. Love is trusting. It is surrender. It is scary.

Add a mortgage and a couple of kids and it gets even scarier.

How come no one sings about that?

No, it’s not sexy but somehow, it’s kind of beautiful.

No one dreams about a sink full of dishes or a sinking feeling when you have different opinions or different approaches. No one dreams about taking care of someone when they are sick or struggling with feelings of indifference or apathy. No one dreams about the fights or the vulnerabilities they expose.

Love is beautiful because it’s so messy and it endures all the humanness, all the brokenness.

It’s beautiful because being willing to surrender takes a lot more courage sometimes than a fight.

It’s loving someone through moments, days or periods of time that for whatever reason feel like a nightmare.

When Jesus died on the cross for us, it was no dream.

It was a brutal reality. Yet, it was love.

It was the epitome and essence of love. It was sacrificial and unconditional.

Often our relationships with those we love require sacrifice.  That’s the messy part, but arguably it’s the part that matters most.   Knowing someone has seen the worst of you and still wants only the best for you, is pretty amazing.

I guess no one knows this better than Jesus.  He sees us at worst, at our weakest and still, he remains.

Jesus deserved better than He got on the cross. I am not worthy of His love through anything I have done but through everything that He has done.

I can’t live up to His example or repay His sacrifice.

Still, I am humbled by that reality. And even though I may have to pick up my own cross seven times seventy times to show the people in my life genuine love. I would do it.

It’s far from a dream, but somehow it’s music to my ears – the kind I actually feel like I can dance to.