Back-to-Something-Else

Back to my desk

For the first time in 21 years, neither one of our daughters are going back-to-school. Both are college graduates. Both are making inroads on the job market. Both are strong, lively, caring young women. But there’s no “Back-to-School” this year. It’s now “Back-to-Something-Else”!

From their public school days, I don’t miss the homework assignments that the student does not understand. I don’t miss the “creative” book report assignments. I sure as hell don’t miss the group projects. (And I suspect my daughters would agree!)

There’s plenty of appointments on my calendar. But there’s no dorm room to fill. No sweaty elevators or staircases. No jaunt to buy desk supplies or refills for the printer. No awkward good-byes (and tears by Mom in the car on the way home). 

I gotta tell ya, it feels a little weird. 

Ok, a lot weird. But in a good kind of way. 

Now our years now fall into the natural seasons of Creation. The year doesn’t reboot in September every year. Instead, each new day is a new start. 

I’ve put a new practice back in my life called The Daily Examen. You can use the website or an app (scroll to the bottom for the links). You can write out your own questions for daily reflection. It doesn’t matter how as long as you do it. 

When the house is quiet in the evening, I pause and do a mental reset. I wait. Sometimes I worry. I pray. Sometimes, I rage. But always, I feel re-engaged and ready for sleep. 

So whatever your fall season brings, I invite you to embrace it. With questions. With honest reflection. With integrity. And then with action. 

The “OFF” button

This weekend I have been practicing something that I haven’t done in a long time. I practiced using the “OFF” button. This particular one is on the cell phone issued to me by my employer. Though I am not required to use it to field voicemails and answer emails, on previous weekends, I have “just taken a quick look” at what is waiting in the queue. I’m not expected to be available on evenings and weekends. If they need me, they know how to find me!

As a pastor, there is ALWAYS another call to answer, another email to write. It’s ministry; there’s no timecard to punch. It’s part of our calling and our passion – to love and serve God and our people.

I love what I do, but I’m learning that as a hospice chaplain, the needs and questions are non-stop. I want to be helpful. I want to be there when I’m needed. But I can’t be “on” all the time. I just can’t. There is no “S” on this “Super Chaplain’s” chest!

The problem is, the emails and voicemails ping over to my phone 24 hours a day. If I forget and leave the ringer on, the little “beep-beepity-beep” is audible, even if I leave it in another room. (I guess my hearing is too good.)

So this weekend, after a couple of heart-breaking cases, I decided to turn off my phone. For the entire weekend. I buried it in the bottom of my work bag, and left it there. And it’s been a good thing.

Daughters were home for part of the weekend, and I did a lot of cooking and baking. My husband and I both got a lot of non-work tasks accomplished. I read, knit, and relaxed. I stopped and admired the leaves as they are beginning to change. I spoiled 2 cats. I wrote more for the essays I need for my certification paperwork.

leaves1

In short, I let other things go and focused on those things (and people) who were more important at the moment. I absorbed the love and beauty around me. I cleared my mind and my heart. Once again, I learned the lesson inherent in resting and waiting:

It. Can. Wait.

Book Review: Grief — A Mama’s Unwanted Journey

griefbookRamsey

I read many books about how to raise and care for my little boy. I had anticipated his arrival with joy and hope. But I was completely unprepared for his death. There was no book telling me how to take leave of him.

From Chapter Ten: A Bed for My Boy, Grief: A Mama’s Unwanted Journey by  Shelley Ramsey.     WestBowPress.

Shelley Ramsey writes about a mother’s nightmare: the loss of a child. She tells her experiences of her years-long recovery from the traumatic death of her 17-year-old in a car accident. Her words are real, raw, and honest. She expresses the grim reality of coming through grief to a place of wholeness and healing, recognizing that the loss of a close relationship is not something that “goes away” and does not have a timeline.

Those of us on the mourning bench must let ourselves be broken and allow ourselves to hurt…

We cannot walk out of the cemetery and back into life as we knew it. We must take time to grieve.

(from Chapter 24: Grief Doesn’t Come With Instructions)

Ramsey describes her struggle with anger, depression and emotional exhaustion. She doesn’t sugarcoat her own journey back to wellness; she also notes where and how she made progress through her own pain.

The story Shelley shares is at times difficult to read. There are places where the reader will identify with the heart-rending tasks of grief: informing family and friends, picking a casket, composing the gravestone, walking by the empty bedroom. These are raw, painful moments that are common to all who grieve.

The author not only helps to normalize the struggles of grieving individuals (being forgetful, feeling exhausted, stressed by social events) but offers some practical tips. She gives some great examples of what NOT to say in Chapter 28: No Consoling Words. She also shares her personal self-care steps to recovery that she tried to do on a daily basis:

I was in such bad shape that I had to begin with the most basic. I made a short to-do list for myself every day: (1) Get up and dress for work. (2) Make a plan for dinner. (3) Throw in a load of laundry. (4) Touch base with someone today. (5) Jot down one thing I am thankful for.

(from Chapter 31: Trust God in the Dark)

I particularly appreciated the quotes that Ramsey included from authors who understand the pain of the journey through grief. Writers like C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Ann Voscamp, Rick Warren, Teresa of Avila and Anne Lamott augment the personal stories from the author’s grief work. Combined with her thoughtful reflections, they are consoling words indeed.

Ramsey’s book is written from a Christian perspective. She holds firmly to the promises of God and the resurrection of Jesus. Those who are from other faiths may not find the latter chapters in particular as helpful, as they focus more on her own faith. However, it does not diminish the power of her experiences and the gentle, caring way she shares how she personally overcame depression and despair after the death of her son. Those who are newly bereaved may find her book a little too raw to read; I encourage them to set it aside and pick it up in a few months because they will find it a loving companion on the road from grief to life.

 

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Always is what you miss…

Beverly Beckham said it well:

I wasn’t wrong about their leaving. My husband kept telling me I was. That it wasn’t the end of the world when first one child, then another , and then the last packed their bags and left for college.

But it was the end of something. “Can you pick me up, Mom?” “What’s for dinner?” “What do you think?”

I was the sun and they were the planets. And there was life on those planets, whirling, non stop plans and parties and friends coming and going, and ideas and dreams and the phone ringing and doors slamming.

And I got to beam down on them. To watch. To glow.

And then they were gone, one after the other.

“They’ll be back,” my husband said. And he was right. They came back. But he was wrong, too, because they came back for intervals — not for always, not planets anymore, making their predictable orbits, but unpredictable, like shooting stars.

Always is what you miss…

…Saying goodbye to your children and their childhood is much harder than all the pithy sayings make it seem. Because that’s what going to college is. It’s goodbye.

It’s not a death. And it’s not a tragedy.

But it’s not nothing, either.

To grow a child, a body changes. It needs more sleep. It rejects food it used to like. It expands and it adapts.

To let go of a child, a body changes, too. It sighs and it cries and it feels weightless and heavy at the same time.

The drive home alone without them is the worst. And the first few days. But then it gets better. The kids call, come home, bring their friends, fill the house with their energy again.

Life does go on.

“Can you give me a ride to the mall?” “Mom, make him stop!” I don’t miss this part of parenting, playing chauffeur and referee. But I miss them, still, all these years later, the children they were, at the dinner table, beside me on the couch, talking on the phone, sleeping in their rooms, safe, home, mine.

 

I am so proud of our daughters. They are bright, shining, competent and caring. They are trying new skills, new languages, new responsibilties. We cheer them on from the sidelines in this move from “parenting” to “coaching.” They are indeed missed — but they are where they need to be. It’s where we have prayed them to be for all these years. And instead of me being the “sun” I know that GOD smiles down on them, cherishing them, guiding them and always, always watching over them.

Thanks be to God.

— See the complete column by Beverly Beckham at Boston.com

“Child-Free” again. Sort of.

This post was originally written for Viewpoint at Christian Feminism Today. It is published here with their permission and encouragement.

Lauren Sandler’s article in TIME magazine caught my attention. [“The Child-Free Life: When having it all means not having children,” 8/12/2013] In about two weeks, my husband and I will be “child-free” for the first time in 22+ years. Sort of.

Our lovely daughters
Our lovely daughters

One daughter has graduated from St. John’s College and one heads off to Annapolis for her freshman year this month. Our house will be emptier, our lives less busy, and our calendar much freer.

More than one person has asked, “What WILL you do with all that free time?” And then we all laugh. Because we are far too capable of filling up evenings and weekends with “other” things. My on call schedule, Bearded Brewer’s projects, gardening and home maintenance, and church… yeah. I’d say we will stay out of mischief.

Friends who still have children in public school are slaves to the calendar of teacher workdays and school closings. We could take that trip to Sanibel in October and enjoy the empty beaches, or a camping trip in early May before school lets out. These are enticing prospects, and I can relate to those who are “child-free” by choice and who revel in their ability to just pick up and GO.

The article, however, touches a nerve for friends, and even a few of my siblings, who have chosen not to have children. They are viewed as selfish, or immature or even decadent. Why reproductive choices continue to be a flash-point in our society is beyond me. But some folks apparently feel the need to comment or criticize if someone does not produce offspring, have them too soon, too late, too few or too many. It’s really NOT a matter of public debate.

This change has been coming for a long time. And it’s about time.

Sandler notes the trend in women ages 40-44 who have chosen to be childless. (Sadly, there are no statistics listed for men with the same choice. But that’s another topic.) According to her article, in 1976, 1 in 10 women of that age bracket were childless. In 2010, it had dropped to 1 in 5. I don’t see it as being a problem. In fact, I see it as a good idea! And even a biblical one.

Though limited in number, there ARE examples of women in Scripture who had titles other than “mother of ___________.” They were judges, prophetesses, midwives (heh), and Bible teachers. Some were even evangelists and apostles. Producing the fruit of the womb is not the only task God has given to women over the centuries.

Economically, legally and socially, women are no longer restricted to beings wives and mothers. They run countries and businesses and own property, instead of being property. They pay taxes, defend our freedoms and keep our streets safe. They would rather slay their own dragons, thankyouverymuch, than find a knight to do it for them. This is progress.

Having children may be a natural biological function, but nurturing them is NOT a natural psychological one.
Some people don’t want to have their own children. Given the freedom to choose a life and a child-bearing status of one’s own preference, couples and singles today are finding that they do not want to have offspring, by birth or adoption. They have found a way through the norms to choices which a century ago would have been rare, if not unthinkable. They. Don’t. Want. Children.

Many women feel like they “have” to get married and have children. It’s portrayed as something women just DO if they are ____________ (godly, mature, you pick the adjective). Women are SUPPOSED to be married and have babies. It’s held up as a Divine Order. But it’s really more of a Calling, and it isn’t for every woman. More than one mother has confided in me that they “didn’t like kids very much” and yet… here they are on the playground watching their children. They feel guilty and have a severe case of “the shoulds” because this whole butt-wiping, snotty-nose patrol thing is just not their cuppa.

So it’s really OK if a woman chooses not to have her own offspring. She is no less female, no less feminine based on her choices.

Being female does not mean you want to work with children.
And, yes, it can take a while to figure out that this is not for you. After a degree in education and teaching music, I realized I didn’t really want to do that for the rest of my life. No thanks. Those who DO teach — I salute you. You have invested a considerable amount of time and expertise in our children, and I am grateful.

Hello Church. I’m looking at you. Let’s stop assuming that all women want to help with children’s programs. Invite men AND women to participate. I have helped out here and there over the years, but I chose support roles that did not require my spending time with small children when I was home with my own all week. Even now that mine are older, I decline. Courteously. 🙂

Being an adult does not mean you want to always be around other people’s children.
We have all been on the flight where a child was not the best behaved example of humanity. (Ahem. And with adults too, from time to time.) Public transportation is one arena that we all learn to grin and bear it. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to be helpful to a stressed out family.

But families can try to be considerate. For instance, couples without children have been complaining — and asking for other venues to have child-free zones and hours. Huff-Post reported that La Fisheria in Houston now limits guests to those 9 and up from 7-10 pm each evening. I find that a little extreme, but I can see how a four-year-old needs to be home in bed, not eating dinner at 9 pm. When the kid across the street starts shooting hoops at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, I’m not grace-filled in my thoughts, that’s for sure. Consideration on the part of parents is key — what would be fair to expect if the situation were reversed?

When they have the time and the inclination, childless adults are — simply — the sprinkles on the triple-decker ice cream cone of life for kids.
Childless adults have been amazing role models to our daughters. They are entrepreneurs, investors, physicians, health care workers and professors. They are engaging, encouraging and a lot of fun to be around (for the whole family.) They bring a new kind of love and mentoring as “not-parents”. Who but our friend Carol could convince Reedy Girl to stuff those six remaining green beans in her mouth all at once — just so that she wouldn’t miss out on ice cream? Who but Bridget had the time to indulge The Johnnie in riding lessons when she was in her horse-crazy phase – and did it for free? Who but their amazing aunts mailed surprise packages with THE BEST books, American Girl doll clothes, and made them feel loved and special? Or filled them with ice cream from Sonic and their favorite kinds of candy or pizza… just because. (We did our best not to make them into free babysitters, either. They were our friends and family, and we welcomed them at our table and in our home. And that’s pretty wonderful — for all of us.)

There are other really good reasons why men AND women choose not to have children.
And it really isn’t any of our business. But — in case you can’t get your head around it, consider that…

  • It may be an awareness that we share an over-populated, under-resourced world.
  • It may be that they want to change the world through their life’s work, and so they have chosen a trail-blazing career instead of parenting.
  • It could be that they can’t conceive or can’t afford to adopt. (Let’s face it – adoption is lauded as a great idea, but we give little-to-no financial support to those who try that route.)
  • It may be that family needs and finances dictate they invest their nurturing in others.
  • And it may be that, really and truly, they don’t want to be responsible for raising children. As one friend commented to me, “I can’t keep goldfish alive. Why would I decide to have children?”

So… back to our being “child-free” soon…

I’m a realist. Just because our daughters are moving into their own lives and plans doesn’t mean we won’t make time for them, or be available when they need us. More than once, I moved back home in between college and grad school, summer jobs and new careers. There was room. There was love. There was storage for furniture, books and clothes. There was help when I needed it with finances and planning, and even loading the UHaul. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, by the way.)

I’m grateful that I’m married and that we have two wonderful daughters. I wouldn’t trade a single year of our parenting journey and family life for any amount of money. I’m not a perfect parent, but I love being one. But I don’t hold it up as a prescription for anyone else. Nor do I feel it validates adulthood, maturity, femininity or biblical life choices.

Let’s give it a rest, shall we? Life’s too short. Love the people that are your life — however you find them. That will make a world of difference.

500 things I’ve not done very well

We are in a season of launching our progeny. They are ready… to leave, to do their own thing, to not have Mom and Dad making all kinds of helpful “suggestions,” or trying to “help.”

I am sure I frustrate them. I know that they have frustrated me (maybe once or twice!)

But as I reflect on this launch season, I realize that there’s lots of things I’ve not done very well in preparing them to be on their own. Dumb stuff. Important stuff. And a myriad of things in between.

When I realize that I haven’t made sure they know how to do x or y, I get anxious. What if they need me? I don’t imagine big, horrible things… more like the everyday “cup of stupid” mistakes that we all make. And then I chill. In this age of cell phones and emails, really and truly we are just a couple of minutes away. If they want our help, that is. My anxieties are really not because I worry that they will have problems.

No, I think the reason that I get anxious is because I realize that there’s 500 things I’ve not done well. My own life is a rusty, dented example of living. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. (And they, being in the front row of my goofs all of their lives would be quick to correct me on that score.) I want them to avoid my mistakes. I want them to be happy, safe, loved and loving. I want them to avoid the “double cups of stupid” that I kept trying, spitting out, and saying, “I will NEVER do that again.” (and again. and again.)

DSC_0785I finally had a moment of clarity this morning I sat in the heat on my back patio, watching the butterflies move among my flowers. Their loopy flight paths seemed a bit crazy. They never moved in a straight line, it seemed. Yet, they got themselves fed as they flitted here and there, from butterfly bush to hydrangea to rose to day lily. And then Christ’s teaching came to mind…

27 Look how the wild flowers grow! They don’t work hard to make their clothes. But I tell you that Solomon with all his wealth wasn’t as well clothed as one of these flowers. 28 God gives such beauty to everything that grows in the fields, even though it is here today and thrown into a fire tomorrow. Won’t he do even more for you? You have such little faith!

29 Don’t keep worrying about having something to eat or drink. 30 Only people who don’t know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father knows what you need. 31 But put God’s work first, and these things will be yours as well. (Luke 12-27-31)

We’ve tried to show them that Kin-dom things come first, that God brings the rest in the right season. And I’m learning how to be content with believing that we’ve done enough, if not with perfection, at least with our bumbling, stumbling best. And to trust the God who loves them best and most to carry them through it all.

Thanks be to God.

“Rules” for dating our daughters…

You’ve probably read the “joke” rules from someone on dating his daughter. (One version is here.)

These rules are not funny. They border on brutality and reek of chauvenism. They suggest that every young man can’t keep his pants zipped and is only out for predatory dating. And they assume that because we have a daughter, that she is not capable of taking care of herself. That she needs a “prince” to rescue her from a “dragon.” Or that she needs our “help” in assessing who is a good person to date.

We hope that, by our example, conversations and the company we keep that we don’t need to screen their dates. Even in the internet age, we find that trust and openness are more likely to come as we teach and then back off and let them try their hand at life, relationships and the rest. In the interests of raising daughters who have common sense, and can face down and kill their own dragons, thankyouverymuch, here’s my rules. (By the way – It’s not difficult to impress her, or us. Just be a grown up!)

1) She has her own interests and her own pursuits. Find out about them, support them and genuinely cheer her on as she develops her skill and expertise. She will reciprocate.

2) Treat her as a piece of property and you will be evicted off hers. By her. (Corollary: She is not your property. Don’t treat her like it.)

3) She has a brain and knows how to use it. Same with some basic Chin-na moves.

4) She has feelings and doesn’t want them abused. She knows that the same applies to you.

5) When she says, “NO,” she means, “NO.” And don’t assume silence is a “YES.”

6) Remember to demonstrate the manners your parents tried to teach you. I promise she will try to use hers.

7) Act primeval and you will not impress. Any of us.

8) She has friends, a sib and parents who always, ALWAYS have her back.

9) Post online a snarky remark about her or text her a rude comment — you will find out that while she is forgiving, she is not stupid. And that it was nice knowing you.

10) We will welcome you as a guest and a friend in our home and our lives. We’ll celebrate your achievements, support your dreams and treat you well, because people who make our daughters happy, make us happy.