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Saturday, August 5, 2017

The other half of addiction

I woke up this morning from a very vivid dream that hurt my heart. I was immediately reminded of a poem I wrote close to 20 years ago now. I'm always hesitant to share my poetry, but I feel compelled to share this because it depicts the raw emotions that come with watching someone you love struggle with addiction.  It isn't something that just affects that person; it is almost equally as destructive to the people who love them. And, if you are in that place now, I encourage you to get support with you own struggles. There is help out there - no one has to go through this alone. -->

Oh, your aching heart
So very close to mine,
And this sickening poison
Running through your mind.
You try so very hard
To make it go away.
You push away the right things,
The ones who bid you stay.
You cling to demons
While angels cry for you,
Pushing away the pain
While reeling it in times two.
And I have been right here
Loving you all the while,
Holding on to your dreams,
And remembering your smile.
I've cried out to God for you -
For all the times you wouldn't.
I've stayed calm and sane
Most of the times you couldn't.
How could it not destroy me
To watch you fall apart?
You are in my soul
And you hold half my heart.
I'll be that consistency
In the corner of your mind.
I'll be here loving you
When there's nothing better you can find...
-Christin Knowles, 1998

Saturday, May 20, 2017

To the Seniors

Dear High School Senior,

I had a shoe box in my closet growing up and it was full of pamphlets and info (much of which I'd sent off for - remember I didn't grow up with the internet. Ha!!) about various issues I was highly concerned with. Endangered species, wild flower preservation, rain forest conservation, etc. I was the kid calling to pledge $5 to the telethons on TV and I wrote more than one "letter to the editor" as a child. At under 10 years old, I followed the situation in East/West Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall with intense concern. I was so ecstatic when it fell and I desperately wanted a piece of the wall to commemorate the occasion. (My husband, who is exactly my age, has no recollection of this event from 4th grade.)

Am I telling you this because I want you to know I was born an outstanding citizen of the world? Gosh, no. For Heaven's sake, I sometimes look back at me as a child and want to tell myself, "Would you just chill out and let the adults worry about world hunger and the hole in the ozone??" I'm telling you this to explain to you that everyone is passionate about something!

You are about to go make decisions about what you want to do with your life, and this is NOT the most opportune age or time in your life to have to decide what you want to do forever. Sheesh! Most of you have barely experienced anything, really. You're still figuring yourself out. Picking a college or trade school, declaring a major, and deciding on a field of study are all major decisions!! Looking at you all from this vantage point, here is the best advice I can give you: if you choose something you're passionate about, something you love, something you believe in, then going to work every day won't feel like going to work. It will feel like fulfilling your life's mission.

What excites you? What makes you tick? What interests you? If money is what you are passionate about, then pursue that! Focus on the salary, by all means, because that's going to drive you!  Money motivates me least of all, so it's probably no surprise I'm working in a non-profit, education based agency!  If you love creating things, then figure out how to make a career of it.

The other night I was at a fundraising event for cancer research and my sister saw a picture of me on social media. She texted me to tell me I looked like I was glowing. I thought about it for a minute and then decided, "Of course I'm glowing!" I was taking part in something bigger than me, a cause, that would benefit humanity in a positive way. (Not to mention I also had my husband and kids joining in with me!) I was in my element, I was doing what I was made to do.

Lucky for me, I work in an agency where every single day I'm playing a part to change the trajectory of people's lives. That doesn't mean that every day at work for me is all sunshine and roses, but it means every day I go to work on a mission. I'm fulfilling my passion.

You see, you have to pull that proverbial shoe box out of your closet and try to narrow it down to your most prized pamphlet. And, that is the answer to what career path you should follow.  It may not end up looking exactly like you think. My plan to be a child psychologist has ended up as a career in Head Start administration and training adults in early childhood best practices! Your passion for sports may not end you up as a professional ball player, but maybe you're destined to be a sports analyst or for a career in sports medicine! Find a way to channel some of your favorite things in to a way to make money, and you're going to be pretty​ happy in your career!

In the wise words of the Postman (my Dad), "You're going to spend most of your life working. You might as well do something you WANT to instead of something you HAVE to do." (He also told me college isn't a race. But he may regret that advice now!! Ha!!)

But, the most important thing I can tell you is this: listen to what God is telling you. He has already worked out a perfect plan for you and He will direct you exactly where you need to be.  God has instilled specific passions in you for His specific purposes! There is nothing quite like the contentment of knowing you are right where God wants you.

I keep my eyes always on the Lord . With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,  because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.  You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:8‭-‬11 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Who ARE these Blue and Gold Kids?

I am sitting in a sea of blue and gold, and I am in complete awe. I am in this arena, surrounded by kids (KIDS!) who are dressed so much better than I, in their official FFA dress attire - all business.

There are adults around to keep things in check, but this outstanding conference I am listening to is being put on by young adults. Who ARE these kids?? They're conducting board-style meetings in front of thousands of people. They're speaking more eloquently than I ever dreamed of, even at my age with my current training in adult education and presentation. They're dynamically introducing public figures, presenting statistics on current issues, and sharing their personal stories. (Did I mention in front of thousands of people?!)

I witnessed our little chapter, alone, have discussions and make decisions on who to vote for to represent them at the state level in their organization.  I watched several of them serve on different levels. I just continue to be amazed by the skills and values instilled in these kids in blue and gold.

I watch the things they are doing now, already, at their tender ages, and it is so encouraging to think of what they'll be capable of as adults. They are ahead of the game!!  I never wore that blue and gold jacket myself, but I'm so proud to be raising children who do and the more I learn about this organization the more value I see in supporting it any way I can. That is why I am here this week. I sincerely thank every person and company who gives of their time or resources to keep this great organization going. You are helping make our future better!

Who are these kids in blue and gold? They are our future Educators, Innovators, Legislators, Ranchers, CEOs... They will be the leaders of our communities. If you doubt that, then I challenge you to come see a State FFA Convention.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dear Teen I am your Mom AND your friend

This blog post may not be popular with everyone and I may get some push back on it.  We may have to agree to disagree.  And, like with so many parenting issues, there is always the chance I'll get some more experience under my belt and I'll change my stance.  But, right here, right now, in THIS moment with a 16 year old daughter, I have very purposely chosen to be her friend.

Don't get me wrong.  She knows the boundaries and she knows that look on my face or tone in my voice that tells her I'm not kidding around anymore.  See, all those boundaries were set up long, long ago.  I'm a firm believer in allowing kids their consequences to their actions and we've spent a good 13 years on setting limits, allowing consequences, etc.  (I say 13 and not 16 because she's my oldest and it took me a few years to find my groove in the discipline area!!)  I know that a child's values are set somewhere between the ages of 8 and 12 and I concentrated on those years pretty hard.  We've been through groundings, loss of privileges, and many many conversations.

This girl knows my stories.  Within age appropriate timelines, I've told her my tales - yes, even the ones I'm not too proud of.  Oh, my goodness!  It is a humbling experience to look at this child who adores you and tell them how you messed stuff up really good at times.  But, if my children can somehow not have to repeat my same mistakes (although I know they'll find their own!) and learn from my life experiences, then choking on my pride is worth it.  

So, I guess you could say we're friends.  If you ask her, she'll tell you we are.  I was fully prepared to lose her.  I braced myself as she entered her teen years for her to dislike me, pull away from me, and decide I am completely dumb and out of touch.  But, I also have done my due diligence to NOT be out of touch.  I Snapchat!  I Instagram.  I tweet.  I listen to music that is not always my favorite.  Why do I do these things?  Because I want to be a teenager?  Not even a little bit.  (I wasn't even great at being a teenager when I was one.)  I do these things to stay in touch with my child - to read what she read, hear what she hears, and stay informed enough to help her navigate this crazy digital world our kids are growing up in.

She is now 3 months away from 17 years old.  We. Have. Raised. Her.  She knows what we do and do not expect.  She knows what our family values are.  She knows what is okay with us and what is not. We are not going to back track on that now.  I look to God as an example of the ultimate parent.  He sets out the guidelines for us, he allows us to suffer our consequences when we need to.  But, he is also the dearest, dearest friend.  So, why would I think I need to try to be different to my children?  I want to parent them and I also want to be their friend.

Why?  Because, please God let my daughter come to me if she messes up.  She is going to mess up.  How do I know that?  Because she is human.  And, because as a fellow human (for just a minute I'm pulling out of the parent role) I know what it means to be faced with temptation from every angle.  I know what it means to have every good intention but still blow it.  So, if she slips up and drinks at a party, Oh please let her call us instead of getting a ride home with one of her fellow party-goers.  My daughter's stance on purity is firm.  I pray she can stay true to that.  But, if she were to slip up and give in to satan's snare in that area one night, it breaks my heart in two to imagine her crying in her room alone.  I'm never going to say to my children, "It's okay.  Go on walking that path."  (God doesn't ever tell us that!)  But, I am going to say to them what I'd say to a friend in those moments.  "It's okay.  We all fall short.  How can I help you move past this?"  

The consequences to any of these actions are going to come at this point!  We are so far past simply grounding or shutting down the phone.  Not that there would never be reasons for that to happen.  We still have to discipline and we still have to parent.  But, as far as molding their character and instilling their values... that's pretty much done at this point!  Now it is about supporting them and helping them navigate.  There is a season for everything.  And, this season of parenting - at least for me and for this particular child - is about lying on her bed listening to her latest story at the end of the day.  It's about dancing like fools in the car.  It's about very frank (sometimes sort of uncomfortable - mainly for me) conversations about real issues.  It's about reserving judgement on the things that aren't moral issues so she will still come to me and share with me.  It's about staying plugged in to the issues these kids are facing in the here and now.  It's about being an authentic version of myself and displaying authenticity with my faith - admitting my past mistakes and my current ones.  

My ultimate goal for my children is that they have a real relationship with Christ.  It's bigger for me than saving face, it's more important than being right or keeping my pride intact.  It's the cornerstone of everything for me.  There are times God has allowed me my trials, there are times God has rescued me even when I was drowning in my own sin, there are times he's gently prompted me, and there are times he's downright gotten in my face and given me a little bit of "what for."  He knows me.  He knows what I need and when.  But, through it all, no matter what, he's been closer to my heart than any friend.  That's how he knows the what and when!  Why would I fashion my parenting after any other model?       

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Holding Hands in the Rain

The puke was all over the front desk and entry way of the IHOP where we were waiting for seats. IHOP is the morning after date night tradition we started years ago on that one anniversary early on when we fought the whole next morning and Trav spouted off a hilarious retort to me that has become legendary (and often quoted) in our relationship.

I knew my hubby wouldn't handle the puke scene well and I watched his face as the poor kid's mom finally walked back out of the restaraunt with a trail of "chunks" down her back. (We've all been there!) I stood there for a minute as NO ONE came to clean it up and I finally went to him and asked, "How set are you on eating here?" "You want to go?" He asked. And just like that, we were in total agreement and walking out of the restaraunt in perfect unison.

The night before I'd planned a getaway to a "Riverwalk" location about an hour from where we live. It's pretty romantic and you can just stroll around outside together by the river or catch some live music being played. We checked in to the hotel and as we headed over to the restaraunt we started to feel raindrops. You know, in the movies rain seems really sexy. In real life, rain is wet and cold. By the time we'd eaten dinner it was pouring outside. Travis grabbed my hand for the trek back to our room (no romantic river walks this night!) and we both just cracked up. We laughed about "our luck" the whole way back to the hotel and recounted all the ridiculous mishaps we've encountered during past attempts at nights away together. (They are many!) Early on in our relationship I would have been so upset about things not turning out like I planned, but 10 years in to marriage my thoughts were different. I thought about how much that moment in time mirrored our life together. I just kept thinking about my hand in his hand as he led me through the rain.

This world is trying and very rarely does life go the way we plan it to. It's so easy to get caught up in the negativity, the doubt, and the sheer exhaustion of it. But, at the end of the day, when my plans are "rained out," and I'm traveling down a path with stormy weather, my hand in his makes it so much easier to keep walking. Having someone to share the memories with makes them so much sweeter.  There are times when he has to be strong for me and there are times when I have to be the strong one. There have been times along the way when each of us has wanted to stop walking, but the other one has pulled by the hand and said, "Come on. We need to get out of this rain."

That's the beautiful part of this marriage thing, which I've found to be so much more about living life with your best friend than it is about passion and romance. Those things fade. What's real is coming back, rain soaked, from anniversary dinner and both agreeing (amidst lots of laughter) that you're too stinking full to move and being content with falling asleep in each others arms to a movie you've seen 100 times.  What's real is seeing the most flawed parts of someone and loving those parts as much as the good things. What's real is having someone see you - I mean really see you for who you are - and choose you over and over again. Real is walking through life's storms and knowing you have someone to hold your hand and help keep you safe.

Real is knowing who can clean up the puke and who can't - and never keeping score about it.

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Colossians 3:13‭-‬14

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dear Standardized Testing: Sorry Not Sorry

Tonight I watched my generally laid-back, happy 13 year old son break down in tears over the stress of standardized tests administered to him at school. And, so, tonight I gave my son a speech that totally negated the validity of these tests. I'm not sorry I did.

I told him a secret none of us knew back in school. Not even those of us in the "smarty-great-test-taker" club (I was in that club). That secret is: unless you're a genius, when you grow up and join the work force no one gives two flying rips what you made on any of those tests in school. Being able to sit down and choose the correct answers on a test gives no indication of whether or not you have the grit it takes to make it in life.  And, honestly, even if the person next to you at work is smarter than you, if you're willing to outwork them that's what gets noticed.

School is already a struggle for my son who is basically a square peg trying to fit himself in the round hole of public education. I know he feels like he's swimming upstream every single day as he fights against ADHD, moderate sensory processing issues, fine motor delays, mild visual memory issues, and just the fact that he's a hands-on learner in a world designed for visual/auditory learners. He has nothing severe enough to qualify for an IEP. He has modifications that I doubt are even considered during test time because our poor public school staff are understaffed, overworked and just as stressed as the kids! So we take a child like my son, make him believe these tests are life or death, put him in a room where he has to be still for hours, with a brain that often processes the sound of a ticking clock like a pounding on the wall.  The result will not be an accurate picture of what he knows or what he's capable of.

A standardized test will not tell you what amazing adaptations his brain has made over the years to overcome his predominately proprioceptive sensory issues.  This test will not tell you that at 4 years old he randomly told me who the 26th president was on the way home from daycare or that at 3 he could differentiate the various types of trailer hitches on every truck someone he knew drove and match them to other hitches, from memory, while in public. These tests won't tell you that he intuitively knows when something is wrong with me no matter how hard I try to hide it or that he meticulously sees to his livestock chores every single day without a reminder. They won't measure his huge capacity for compassion.  They won't show you how amazing he is with small children or how he's had an uncanny ability to strike up conversations with much older adults since he was a toddler.  These tests won't tell you that while he may struggle with writing and sometimes at keeping up with his homework, if you put him to work outside with his hands he's relentless and quite the perfectionist.

So, today I told him I don't care what these tests say about him because they're not the whole picture.  We told him to, of course, try his best. That's always our expectation for our children. But, you can't measure my beautiful, unique, amazing son with a test.

Furthermore, you cannot measure his teacher's efforts with this test, either. They are dealing with hundreds of beautiful, unique individuals with equally unique learning styles and struggles. We can expect a standardized continuum of development for kids and we can set benchmarks, but we cannot teach them all the same way and we cannot measure them all authentically with these "standard" tests. I hear from the children, the educators, and the parents this system is not working. Preparing our future generations for adulthood and the workforce should be our goal. Are these tests accurately measuring our work towards that?  Can all our kids truly be on one "standardized" track towards that goal?  All of us in education truly know the answer to that question, and we've tied our teachers' hands, forcing them to be ruled by these tests and to take all these different shaped pegs and force them in to one shaped hole. Then we tell them their jobs are on the line.

At some point we have to wake up, look at the evidence, and change our system. We are going to pay the price for it later when our children end up without an authentic education. Just a "standardized" one that only truly works for a percentage of them.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Your Mommy Shaming Debate is Invalid

 I just orchestrated the picking up of my children from a good friend after church from hundreds of miles away on a business trip.  Because I am a mom.  I am a mom no matter what I am doing or where I am  at.  Always, always since the double line appeared at the age of nineteen - I have been constantly considering at least one other human being alongside whatever else it is I am doing.   The bottom line is:  That is how I want it.

I cried a little tiny bit in the shower tonight.  Not the big, huge sobbing shower cries you sometimes hear of.  Just a little pity-party, few tears, overwhelmed with life sort of cry that slips out unnoticed along with the shower spray.  This week I am away from home for work and despite what it may sometimes look like on a social media post, it is not always easy.  Do not get me wrong!  I love to travel, and I definitely see getting to travel for work as an awesome perk in my career.  However, there seems to somehow be some misconception out there that as a mother when you go to work for the day or when you go away for work, you somehow quit being a mom and you are just kind of "off the hook" as far as all your motherly duties are concerned. I want to clear that up by giving you a quick laundry list of the things I've still been responsible for since I've been away:

On the trip up here I paid our car insurance bill.  I meant to check my son's school lunch account balance, but I forgot until just now.  So, on top of feeling guilty that I somehow did not have his lunches pre-packed for the week (even though I presented a training all day last Saturday and spent Sunday at church and then at an out of town soccer game and also had to make sure there was some sort of laundry clean for the week and my own clothes packed...) I now feel bad that I did not do that and am making a mental note to do that as soon as I finish this!  I texted my husband to make sure he knew how much money was in the account attached to the debit card he has in case he needs me to transfer money over since he has no idea how any of that works. Before I left I scheduled parent-teacher conference for my husband to attend without me on Monday night with my youngest (add more to the guilt-o-meter), and made sure to get the whole run down about how it went.  I ordered my nephew's birthday gift from Amazon and called today to make sure the package was brought in the house and not left outside until I got home!  Thank goodness for technology!! Tuesday evening I received a text from my son about his horrible headache so I orchestrated the administration of ibuprofen via my oldest daughter (mind you, still from hundreds of miles away). I also made reservations for mine and my husband's tenth anniversary celebration this weekend (again, feeling guilty because I've already been away from the kids all week!)  Tonight I was trying to manage the pick-up situation of my two youngest and I just ended up so incredibly frustrated at the fact that so many things were still on my shoulders even though I'm not even home!  I mean let's be honest, my husband is going to be up for a medal of honor when I get back just for doing PART of what I do on a daily basis, meanwhile I'm administering medication virtually, by proxy.  I started trying to imagine the kids texting HIM about a headache if he was out of town.  It would never happen!  And, then it hit me.  I want that text.  I want to know about the headache.  I want to still be the mom even when I'm gone.

I know there are those people who look at my situation and wonder why I work.  Well, I found myself in a situation as a young single mom who had no choice.  I had to work. (And, before you judge, take a minute. There but for the grace of God went I instead of most of you, right?)  If I had been given a choice back then, I would have stayed home with my babies in a heartbeat.  Those early adulthood experiences are part of what have driven me to be so passionate about the early childhood field I'm in, and now this career is so much a part of my being it is not even a choice anymore.  It is my passion.  Very much like my actual children, this career of mine was painstakingly birthed from me.  I've nurtured it, sacrificed for it, and watched it grow.  Part of why I do this is for my children; it actually began completely for them.  Now, I'm driven by a passion to help better the situations of children who started out much like my own did!

Most moms are doing what they do for their children.  Moms who work are partially doing it for reasons I stated above - they have a career they birthed and nurtured and please don't make them choose between their two loves!  Their career makes up part of who they are.  Also, most moms are working, in part, to create a better life for their children.  I have devoted my whole professional life to creating safe, loving, nurturing, stimulating atmospheres for little ones to be in during the day.  I believe in quality early childhood programs.  My children are products of them.  Children who are cared for outside of the home are not doomed to some kind of underachieving, germ infested social group.  

Likewise, moms who stay at home are doing it for their children!  Some moms have chosen to sacrifice a career they loved to be at home with their children and give all of themselves day in and day out to these little humans.  Good for them!  At one point in time I would have wholeheartedly chosen that path; God had a different plan for me.  These kids are not going to automatically end up socially awkward, crunchy, granola kids who automatically know their multiplication tables upon entering Kindergarten.

Being a mom is hard.  If you are doing it right, it takes all of you.  If we are being honest, we are all going to feel like a failure at points along the way - maybe some of us more than others!  Being a mom is 24/7 - you do not get breaks from it.  I don't care if you work at home or in an office, when the assistant principal calls you it feels the same.  The difference is if that call leaves you in tears and you are in your office, you have to explain it to your co-workers.  When your kid is sick and needs you, it does not matter if you are a state away or you are in the next room, your momma heart kicks in to gear.  An overwhelmed mom on a business trip who lets a few tears slip in the shower is not much different than an overwhelmed stay-at-home mom who does the same! 

So, can someone tell me why on earth we have this debate about which is harder?  Being a stay at-home-mom or a work outside the home mom?  Can we please, for the love, just agree that being a mom is hard? And, that wearing all the hats we wear can be so completely overwhelming?  And, that ultimately we would not trade it for anything?  That no matter what, deep down we will always want to be the one to know about the  headaches, and admittedly maybe it is a little easier to get yucky phone calls if you are at work and your co-workers are awesome and supportive - which leads me to this:  Couldn't we shut down the debate, put away the judgments, and learn to support each other and build each other up?

Tonight my dear friend who is a "work-at-home" mom (which I have done before and may possibly actually be the toughest job!!) got my kids from school, fed them dinner, took them to church, and passed absolutely no judgment when my husband and I crossed wires about when/where he was picking the kids up from her after.  Tonight she stood in the gap for me while I was gone, made sure homework was finished, loved on my babies, and even gave them ice cream.  And, I have tears again as I write this because it means so much to me to know I have other women I "do life" with who will just be there in the trenches with me and help me fill in the blanks.  (Goodness knows there are blanks!)  The debate is invalid - with me at least.  We are all just moms, trying to make it and trying not to mess it up too bad.  Let's quit trying to decide who has it harder and just help each other fill in those blanks!