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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Therapeutic Writing

I'm writing you this, knowing you will not read the words. I'm writing because it makes me feel better...

It's been a year now. It's been a year, but just the other day I grabbed my phone to take a picture of your youngest two children, in my kitchen with their arms around each other, with the intent to send it to you. For about the thousandth time this year I had to quickly remind myself I can't. It is so strange how intermingled my contrasting thoughts can be. I knew you'd be so proud of how they are all three taking care of each other since you're gone and that is why I wanted to send you the picture. But... You're gone.

Today I took your girl to get her hair cut. I assume somewhere inside that's hard for her since you were always the one to cut her hair. I tried to make it a fun, lighthearted day for her. She brought it up at lunch, though, saying so very casually, "My mom always cut my hair." Since she opened the subject up, I asked her if it bothers her to have someone else cut it. Of course, she said no just like I figured she would. She keeps that tough exterior up just like you always did. 

A little later I went to the restaurant bathroom to see what was taking the girls so long and thanks to MY girl (who has a big sister) yours blurted out the question: "WHAT is a period??!" It struck me as so hilarious and with permission from Dad I gave her the basics of the feminine functions. It was no burden to have this little talk with two of my favorite girls in the backseat - I considered it a privilege actually. I thought of how you surely would have made it light and funny. It broke my heart, too, though because it should have been you. You should have had the talk with her and we should have shared our stories about how they reacted. Your baby asked about you. "Did my mom have that???" 😂😂 

I'm so incredibly thankful to be able to include you in these moments. We talk about you all the time. Not in a sad, mournful way, but usually through funny memories. Just today she told me a story about leaving early from a school party and you were holding her cupcake. She said she got to the car and the cupcake was gone and you just told her you dropped it "like it was no big deal." I told her you probably ate it and just told her you dropped it. She agreed. 

Our biggest bond was always these girls. I remember you texting me to ask what I thought about her name when you were pregnant. I remember being so exited for you at the news you were going to get your girl this time, and you showing me at that very first ultrasound, just a few months later, you were pretty sure I was having a girl, too. I remember holding your baby girl in the hospital the day she was born. We had absolutely no clue back then how much our girls would end up meaning to each other! I remember sharing almost every funny, cute, sweet, or monumental thing she did at my house during the day via a text or picture. That's a hard habit to break, I guess. I miss you. And I'm sad. And I'm a little angry, honestly, that you're missing all this. It's not fair.

I think you'd be proud of all of us, though. I think you'd be happy to see how everyone is taking care of your babies - to see how they take care of each other.You'd be proud of their dad, for sure. And maybe someday I'll quit reaching for my phone to tell you all about it...

Monday, October 9, 2017

Second String

...whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

My son is not the star of his football team.  

So, let's all be honest with each other for just one minute.  As a parent, doesn't that sting?  Whether you're the type of parent who wants to live vicariously through your children, the type who feels your child's performance is a reflection on you, or just a parent who really wants awesome things for your child with a life of minimal heartache, it is hard to watch other kids be the stars.

Recently our little 8th grade football team lost a game.  Incidentally, my son played less in that game than he has so far this season.  (2nd string doesn't get a lot of playing time when the chips are down.)  I think he went in for one or two plays and in my haughty internal parental monologue I thought, "Hmmmph.  Just going in to give someone else a breather."  We left when the game was over and I was being my usual self when I'm with my kids; cutting up and making jokes.  My son was having none of it!  He. was. angry.  Was he angry that he did not get to play much?  No.  (He NEVER has an attitude about how much playing time he gets.)  He was upset because his team lost.

Did you catch that?  HIS team.  (Isn't it humbling when your children teach you life lessons?)  I didn't get as in to the game as I might have because my boy didn't play much.  I realized after that game, his level of playing time matters very little to how he views his place on that team.  They are his teammates and that was his game as much as it was the super-star starter boys'.

Mind you that I have no delusions about my child's abilities on the field and I am not one of those parents who thinks everyone should get equal playing time after we get up in the middle school years.  My son is a hard worker, he has more heart than anyone I know, and giving up on something is absolutely not in his nature.  But, there are some kids on that team who can just flat outplay him on a football field.  As it goes with life, those boys are obviously going to start in front of him.  When we talk about it I tell him to just keep working hard and playing to the best of his ability.  Hard work pays off.

But, there is a piece of this puzzle I've been missing the whole time.  My son is a servant.  I have worked hard throughout my life to turn on that side of myself that wants to do things for others and give of my resources and time.  My son, however, came out of the womb that way.  He is forever looking for ways to take a burden off of someone.  He genuinely loves to help other people and in service is where he finds his true joy.  I watch him on the sidelines sometimes and I see him just go from one little group of padded up teenage boys to another, talking to them.  I see him patting guys on the shoulder pad or helmet.  I see him high-five his teammates for a great play.  What I do not see every day at practice is he is there on that field for those starters to practice against and get better. 

You see, not everyone is a starter.  There have to be the other kids on the team to make practice work; to step in when the starters are winded and need a break.  How could I have not seen it before?  Of course this is the role my son plays.  (It is the role he plays in life!)  And, how could I have missed how important that role is to the team?

I recently had this conversation with my dad who absolutely was a "super-star starter kid" his whole life and played college football on a scholarship.  This was no revelation to him.  He was nodding the whole time I talked to him about my little epiphany, and said, "Oh, yeah.  Everyone has a role they play.  Those guys are just as important."

So, the biggest question I had to ask myself in all of this is, "why?"  Why do I want so much for my child to start on a football team?  Why have I even gone so far as to pray for favor over my child to have more playing time? (Yes, I am at this point a little bit ashamed to admit that!)  It was absolutely not because I wanted God to be glorified.  It was because I want my kids to be blissfully happy all the time and have wonderful fantastic lives because I love them more than anything.  All the while, my son has been out on the football field just glorifying God with his servant's heart and amazing attitude and I totally missed it.  

So from here on out I will never watch my 2nd string football player's team like I used to.  That is HIS team, and I am going to be watching it from his point of view.  Now I am praying for him to glorify God in whatever position God chooses for him to be in.  

Because I know as well as anyone, God uses us 2nd string kids in big ways sometimes! 

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!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dear local business owner:

Dear local business owner, I want to take a minute to express to you just what you're teaching my children by supporting their livestock projects.

The times I've tried to explain the workings of livestock showing to someone who isn't "in it!" I give a long explanation, then they usually kind of nod and smile and I know they still don't really understand. I think some of the biggest confusion stems around what we call our "premium sale" or "sale of champions" at our County and Regional shows. It's always our big goal to "make sale" at these shows. What happens, beyond just celebrating and showcasing their animal, is each exhibitor goes in the arena and their animal is "auctioned" to the highest bidder. However, these bidders aren't bidding to actually buy the animal, they're competing to donate money towards the exhibitor.

Are you asking why on earth anyone would do that? Well, that's what I want to explain. Of course, it's good P.R. Beyond that, though, it is really an investment in the future of our communities. You know, sports are an awesome tool to teach kids about teamwork, hard work, discipline, etc. I grew up playing ball and was in a sports family. Two of my children play sports and I fully support that environment and all it teaches kids. However, I'm here to tell you I've yet to find anything that even remotely compares to the way livestock showing is preparing kids to enter real life and the business world! Here is what you're teaching my child with the money you donate to them:

You are teaching them about investing. The money you donate goes in a savings account and my children use it to reinvest in their project for next year. It goes towards buying another animal, feed, supplies, etc. This money is not spent on video games, designer jeans, or accessories. My children are learning to designate certain money for certain things and so far they've learned as they work hard and are diligent, their endeavors pay off more each year. But, they also are learning investing has risks. You may buy 3 pigs, but only one turns out. So, you make the tough decision to focus your energy and time on the one endeavor that is going to be most lucrative even if it wasn't what you thought in the beginning. Tough choices and dealing with disappointments - just like the real business world.

You are teaching my child to keep business records. My kids have to keep track of their income and expenses with their projects. We collect receipts and they keep record books. Sound like real life? They see the real income versus expenditures of this project and know the money you donate to them is precious and has to be dealt with wisely!

You are teaching my children to network. When you "buy" their animal we are instructing our children to go to you with their thank you basket and express their gratitude. They have to find buyers before the sale and are learning to use connections in the community. We pay attention to who supports our kids and that is where we do business. They already understand the importance of being connected to their communities.

You are teaching my children about the importance of how they conduct and present themselves. You'll find these kids in the ring with official dress on - jeans pressed, button up shirts (tucked in!), Official jackets, etc. They are learning that, while it's not everything, appearances matter in the business world. 

You are teaching my children to give back. They are being raised in an environment where so many people have helped them and supported them. They know the importance of giving back and they know first hand the profound difference it can make. It is my sincere hope they follow in your example someday when they're in the position to do so!

The biggest thing you are teaching my children, in particular, is hard work pays off. My children are not perfect, but their work ethic makes me proud. They spend every single day on these projects. They get up earlier than most kids do to feed an animal that is totally dependent on them. My son chooses to go to a camp every summer consisting of 4 days of grueling hard work with cattle so he can get better at what he does. My daughter who is barely 8 and not even able to show at our big shows this year wanted a hog and got up early every single morning to feed it. She cleaned pens, walked, and washed. My 16 year old voluntarily spends so many weekends a year at livestock shows versus out with friends like most kids her age.

The day of the sale, they are worn out!! It's right after a long week of showing but they get up and arrive at the barn by 8:30 am to help set up because they understand responsibility and that they need to be involved in the work that goes in to this event they are directly benefiting from. The arena needs to look a certain way and they know you have to get up and take care of business sometimes even when you're exhausted!

The bottom line here is my kids are not unique in these ag barns. This is the norm. And by investing in these children, you're really investing in the future. These are the kids you are going to want sitting across from you one day in a job interview. They leave high school with such an unrivaled sense of what it means to be able to succeed in the business world. If you think about it, many of them have basically been running their own versions of small businesses since they were in middle school!

Thank you for supporting these amazing kids and thank you for helping us teach them these life skills that will follow them for the rest of their lives. Thank you for investing in the future of our community and our state!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Who Is In Your Corner?

They don't get the glory and they are not in many of the pictures you see on the walls or on social media.  For every ribbon, buckle, monogrammed jacket, and picture of a grinning kid  and their animal, there is a whole crew of behind the scenes people it took to get them there!  

Let's start with the people behind the cameras.

It is a long day at a livestock show!  And, at most of them you will see someone standing in a ring with a camera in hand.  It may be a professional, or it may be a volunteer parent.  It may be a college student volunteering their time.  The end result is going to be some awesome shots of our kids we just can't get from the stands or the sidelines.

You'll also notice there are some sharp dressed kids out in the ring.  So, you can bet for every livestock exhibitor there was someone at home up in the early hours of the morning to  make sure everything was ready.  Long after the trucks and trailers are loaded and everyone is in bed, there are more than a few parents (or sometimes grandparents!) up late pressing the clothes, packing the snacks, and double checking to make sure everything is set for the next day.

If you haven't been around the show circuit, then you may not realize these animals do not just walk in the ring from the pen or the pasture.  There is a whole lot of work that goes in to them daily, and there is a whole lot of prep that goes on the day of a show!  From grooming to pep talks there is an entire behind-the-scenes world going on outside the arena and it takes a team of people to make it happen.  Some people actually hire "fitters" to come help, sometimes it is just relying on other parents on your team, and some of the breeders are awesome enough to come help out at shows.  One thing is for sure, no matter how many years we do this, we always find someone to learn something from who has been in it longer or has learned something we haven't.  (Probably through trial-and-error!) 

I'll never quit seeing the magnitude of several men standing around one pen, talking about an animal and helping each other decide what the next steps need to be to succeed, even though this animal is competing against theirs.  Their bodies aching and tired at the end of a long week, helping each other load trailers and haul each other's animals back home.  I feel so blessed for my kids to grow up surrounded by these men, watching them help each other, kid each other, pat each other on the back, and help take care of each other's children.  I am glad for the kids who may not see this at home, that they get to see these men in the barn!

I watch in awe as year after year parents come back who don't have to. Their children have graduated, and here they still are.  They're helping prep animals, organizing concession, helping with the booster club, and imparting their knowledge to the parents who are learning.

What do I say about the Ag Teachers?  I'm amazed at the time and energy they put in to their jobs.  You'll see them in the pictures, but you won't notice them.  They're in the corners.  They're opening gates, giving instruction, directing animals so the picture looks just right, clipping hair, giving shots, traveling to houses to check on a sick animal, answering a text from a parent, trying to brush off the latest critique about how they are running their program, and making their own kids wait until ours are taken care of. 

Their days are long and they don't get a lot of glory for it.  It isn't like an athletic coach where they win state and they get an article in the paper and Gatorade splashed on their heads with the whole town watching from the sidelines.  Their glory is in small moments when they watch a kid who they know has worked so hard and against odds has achieved a goal.  Because at least it's the case in our little town that our Ag teachers have probably worked just as hard to help them meet that goal.  I love to watch their faces when someone on our team gets a good win - you can see the pride beaming off of them.  In all honesty, it looks the same when my kid wins as it does when it's their own.  And, that is something truly special.     

And, if I am going to talk about the Ag teachers, I can't forget their families.  If an Ag teacher is in the arena when his or her own child is about to show, who is in charge of prep?  Our teachers' wives get left with a lot of duties I'm sure none of us ever even know about.  Making sure our "potluck" lunches are organized, being in charge of the school ice chest and table, pulling trailers... the list goes on and on. 

The point of all this is that I'm thankful.  I'm thankful for all these people I've mentioned (among countless I've left out), for my husband who works selflessly to make this all happen for our kids, for the businesses who support us, the friends who surround us and congratulate our wins, the grandparents who pick up so much slack, and the "non-show" friends who don't hold it against us that we can't socialize for a few months out of the year (and sort of smell bad sometimes)!  For all the many people it takes just to organize and put on these shows!  All these people are the people "in my kids' corners" helping to shape them in to awesome people and I just feel so grateful and incredibly blessed.  

And I want to remind everyone: When you're basking in the glory of your success, never forget to look and see who's in your corner - and thank them.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Moment in the Ring

Will I have a long, sappy post every show season now?  Maybe!  We are in my oldest child's last few years of school, so these moments get more and more precious as we go.

I watched her through the screen of my phone (while videoing) and with my own eyes, simultaneously as almost in slow motion the judge stretched his hand out to her as his choice for grand champion swine.  Keep in mind, this is just our local show and doesn't count for much in the whole scheme of things besides a cool monogrammed vest and bragging rites.  But, we have never won grand champion anything!  The grin on her face.  She turned to no one in particular and the grin she had was not the one that usually belongs to my 16 and a half year old daughter who almost 20 people that day told me didn't recognize her due to the fact that she just looks so grown up now.  

No, that was the grin of my 9 year old freckled faced girl, holding a lead rope to a calf big enough to drag her around the ring.  All the feminine, teenage, miss america-esque  grace that she uses to artfully maneuver pigs around an arena drained right from her body as she - for just the briefest of moments - let her pig walk ahead as her shoulders relaxed and she just relished the fact that she'd won it all.

Sissy with her second calf. Winter, 2010 (10 years old)

So many in the audience don't know.  They don't know this is her 8th local show and we usually end up towards the back of the placings there.  (We have some pretty good competition in our little town!)  They haven't watched her get up in the mornings and work every evening since she was 8 years old.  They haven't seen that for this one magnificent moment there are a hundred times she's had to hide her discouragement in a ring.  They haven't seen the rope burn on her hands from trying to hang on to that 1,300 pound calf we just couldn't ever really break, the ice she has broken in the freezing cold mornings, the times she's given up doing normal kid stuff because she has animals to take care of, the tears she has cried over a pig that got hurt.  This pig in particular.  This pig we thought probably wouldn't even make it because it hurt it's leg right after we got it this fall.  They don't know she has walked and fed another pig all Fall and Winter long that we can't even show because it had health issues and won't make weight at our County and Regional shows.  

Sissy with her very first calf in the Spring of 2009 (8 years old)

This moment was a culmination of so many other moments and it was over in a flash.  Somehow, though, this time in the ring where she won breed champion and went on to win grand was enough.  It was over so quickly but it will stay with all of us forever and it is enough to make us all go back to the barn and keep going.  For those of us who have been around since she was just a little girl, it was a tearful and proud moment we absolutely relished in.  She knows as well as we all do, it may not ever happen again.  And as we watched that almost woman turn around and grin, we all saw more than just that moment - we saw all the years leading up to it.  We saw the tears, sweat, hope, disappointment, hard work, and grit it has taken to stay with this thing we call livestock showing.  

And, somehow we've loved every moment in the ring.     

"The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops." -2 Timothy 2:6

Sissy winning Grand with her cross at local - Feb, 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sharing Pastures

What is it about show season that turns me in to a mushy, emotional mess? (Well, more so than usual!) Yesterday my daughter won Grand Champion Swine at our local show. This may not be a huge deal for everyone, but for us it was MAJOR. I was, as usual, trying to capture every moment possible in a photograph.

This photograph, in particular, stood out to me. This is a picture of my ex- husband's girlfriend's dad. We found out not long after they started dating that her parents lived directly behind us - a couple of pastures separates the back of our houses.

Although my ex and his girlfriend have been together for quite some time and my children have met her parents and been around them quite a bit, and my husband had talked with him on several occasion, I finally met her dad this Winter when we were out back working with our pigs. (Actually, I had yesterday's makeup on and had literally JUST given a pig an enema but that's a whole different blog post!) He introduced himself and told me he didn't want things to be awkward given our situation. (You know, his daughter dating my ex-husband!)

I'm fairly certain I laughed out loud a little on that one. Our whole situation is so different from most. I don't feel the least bit of animosity or awkwardness towards my ex's girlfriend just because she's with him. The only thing that would ever cause that, for me, is the mistreatment of my children. I reassured her dad of the fact that it wasn't awkward at all, and that I was actually happy that his daughter was the choice he'd made in partner. We talked for a long time and he reiterated to me that our kids are welcome at their house any time and that we are free to use their pasture for our daily pig walking.

Yesterday at our local show my kids had quite the fan club. They had 3 sets of grandparents (yes, I said THREE), 3 sets of aunts and uncles, and a host of cousins. Also, my ex-husband's girlfriend's parents came and sat through almost an entire livestock show.

Yes, two of my children are a product of divorce. But, in the metaphorical pastures of their lives  I have tried so very very hard (although I know I have failed at times) to sow love and forgiveness. It's moments like yesterday when I watch them reaping so much love from all angles, I know my toil and sacrifices were worth it. When I watch other people "open their pastures" up to them, as well. The people who don't have to! Who have no obligation to. Yes, my kids saw some heartache at a young age, but God took it and restored them and has reaped on their heads a double portion of love. Just like I prayed He would so many years ago.

Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.
Isaiah 61:7

Friday, February 10, 2017

Who am I

This post has been in my heart for over two months, but I just couldn't get it to my head and in to words. Big feelings are funny that way.
In the last study my small group went through, we were challenged to ask God to show us who He wants us to be - exactly what He made us to do. I had a hard time with that for some reason.
At the very end of last year I had the opportunity to travel to a conference for work. The location happened to be seaside and nowhere on earth speaks to my soul quite like the ocean. I tried to coax my husband in to tagging along so we could hang out in the evenings when I wasn't working, but he isn't much on travel so I wasn't surprised when he showed no interest. Disappointed, but not surprised. On the way there I got an incredible invitation, though. God asked me if I'd spend this magnificent trip with Him instead.
On the first full day of our trip we went down to the beach access at our hotel. I waded in to the water and kept back to myself a little, in awe of the beauty around me. And, timidly, in my mind, I asked the question: "Lord, who do you want me to be?  Who am I?"
And my answer was so clear. He said to me, "Remember when you were a little girl? Remember your heart back then? Before the world told you to not love so much, to not be so sensitive, to not be so open, to look out for number one? Before things happened to make you put walls up around the heart I created in you specifically to do my work in this world? That's who I want you to be."
And as I stood ankle deep in that salty water, with the sun beaming down on me, watching the waves roll in from the blue horizon, I fought back the tears that welled in my eyes. That was a tall order. That's what I was afraid of. I have spent years crusting over that super soft shell I was made with in order to fit in here.

Fast forward a few months and I'm sitting here at almost 11;00 PM with no sign of sleep in sight.  I have a huge fever blister, my family hates me just a little bit, I've almost cried 5 times today, and I think I've said 3 cuss words - out loud - where people can hear me.  There were witnesses.  (It's a big deal for me, y'all.  As much as I'd love to say I'm a little edgy and rogue, I tend to just stay on the vanilla side of life... )  My left arm has felt a tiny bit weak for about 3 days (but, I'm truly just ignoring it.  If I keep flexing my hand periodically, I should be fine!) and I've just about created a bald spot in the back of my head from incessantly twisting my hair the way I do when I'm nervous.  Those who know me are laughing now because they're picturing it; those who've been around me lately are shaking their head because they've watched it go from slightly-annoying-but-endearing-habit into hyper-drive-maybe-she-should-be-medicated-that-is-distracting-twitch.   But, I predicted all this about 30 days ago when I knew our grant refunding application was due at work at the same time we were preparing for our federal review at the same time we had some other major things going on at the same time my children are gearing up for their big livestock showing events for the year.  (Because why on earth would things ever NOT fall all at the same time?  WHY?)

Last night I went to my small group at church and last night I did not want to go to church because last night I was grumpy and hateful and I wanted to stay at home.  (Also, please see aforementioned stress-induced fever blister.)  Last night I listened to Beth Moore talk about the high costs we sometimes pay for loving people, but that we can't let those costs deter us because the dividends are worth it.  And, the losses are what make the rewards so sweet.  Oh, goodness, I'm paraphrasing here, because she is such a powerful speaker, but that was the whole theme and it resonated so much with me.  It could be tied to so many things in life and to so many relationships.  And, let me tell you that since my beautifully spiritual ocean experience, I've been attacked in the area of trying to be open and not protect myself from being hurt!  But oddly enough, I relate it so much to my work.

This morning I observed in a classroom and I sat back and watched as these extraordinary women (I used to be one of them, now I just manage these extraordinary people!) care for all these little humans who are all under the age of 3.  I guess if you've never done this and if you've never truly just given your heart to it, you can't understand it.  You can't understand how very closely you can hold someone else's child to your heart every day and care for them and love them so similarly to your own flesh and blood.  I watched those babies playing without a care in the world and I felt my smile automatically forming on my face and I felt like my heart might just bust open right then and there.  I don't even know all their names!  I don't know their stories.  I don't love them in the way I used to love my kids in my classroom. I don't love them the way I loved the children I had in my child care home for 3 years and rocked to sleep every single day.  (Those parents know they could drop any one of those kids off at my house to this day and I'd just finish raising them as my own!)  I'm not with them day in and day out, but I still love them.  I love them enough that the thought that they'd come to our school and have anything less than a day full of love, safety, fun and full bellies is something I can't even stand.  I love them enough that I watched them playing and the thought that any one of them would grow up and not just have every opportunity in front of them breaks my heart.  

I know the statistics.  That's the cost of what we do. The cost is loving a child who isn't yours and having them  leave your care and not knowing if they are going to be okay.  It's living with the hope that somehow what you did in those few months or years is enough to make a difference, because you'll never know.  And, then opening your heart up to the next child who comes along and loving them just as much even though you know your heart will break again.  It's pulling my hair out over a refunding grant application because I want the best for the handful of kids in this world we can maybe, just maybe, make things better for. Because I want the best for the extraordinary staff who I watch do things like work one-on-one with children who have special needs - certainly not for the pay - but because, even though they know the cost of the love they give, they just keep giving.  For the administrative staff I've spent hours on the phone with tonight because our jobs will never just be jobs to us.

This is our calling.

Some of it is beautiful.  Watching toddlers learn the concept of absorption today completely by accident and seeing their teacher take advantage of a teachable moment in a meaningful way.  Oh!  I could watch it all day.  Some of it messy.  Finger paint.  Potty accidents.  Co-worker drama. Snot.  Comes with the territory!  Some of it is gut-wrenching.  Real-life stuff that we don't know how to help children or families deal with, but we try.  Talking a newly divorced mom through her situation as she cries, helping a child work through the feelings of losing a loved one, helping a grandfather install a car seat who has just had to take over custody of his grandchildren... 

Getting in the trenches and opening your heart up every single day to people who need you is hard.  The stakes are high.  Over time, it can be easy to wonder if the dividends are worth the cost.  Today, as I just sat and watched in a classroom of infants and toddlers, that's all it took for me.  When I was a little girl, I wanted to save the world.  I don't remember when I finally let go of that dream,   but today as I looked at the little classroom I was observing I knew my tiny corner of the world is worth it all to me.  And, the little girl in me who wanted to make the world a better place for all the kids in the whole world will stay up all night long, if need be, to finish the grant application for the few hundred right here where I'm at. And, I will try very hard to quit pulling my hair out, because of 2 Peter 1:3
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises...

His divine power is is easy to feel when you are standing by the ocean with the magnificent waves spraying your face.  It's harder when you are tired and weary and your heart is just a little bit broken but you have to go on anyway.  But, aren't those words so amazing?  He has called us to HIS OWN glory and excellence. And that is who I am.  His little girl, all grown up now.  A little bit broken from this old world, a little bit tired, but rejoicing in the fact that he will equip me with HIS OWN excellence for the work he has handcrafted my heart to do.  That is who I am. Bald spot and all! 

Sunday, January 29, 2017