Sunday, July 31, 2011

Necessary Losses

I'm feeling a little sad this afternoon.  An hour ago, we put my baby boy on a bus that is taking him to camp for the first time.  Ok, he's almost 10, but he's still the baby boy of the family.  He was "a little bit nervous but more excited." Backpack and guitar in tow, he bounded up the stairs of the bus behind two of his best buddies.  After they boarded, we strained to see through the darkened windows as the three of them peered out and waived furiously... "good-bye."

This is my tender-hearted boy, who only a few years ago, couldn't bring himself to say goodbye to his sister as she was leaving home after a weekend visit from college.  "Mom, it just hurts too much." As I sat on the edge of the bed and watched my sweet boy unsuccessfully fight back the tears, my heart was divided. I never want him to hurt deeply.  I want to protect him from all of the evil in the world.  I don't want him to be disappointed.  I don't want his heart to ache.

At the same time, my hope is that he will grow to be a man who will love others well and live life to its fullest.  This is the kid who exudes life.  Whatever he feels, he feels deeply - both joy and pain.  You can't have one without the other.  I love his depth of emotion, but I'm sad for the self-protection that years and experience will most likely bring.  It's a paradox of sorts.  The very thing that I love about him is bound to bring him pain in life.

So it is with love and life.  Virtually every good gift that we are given comes as the result of some kind of loss.

~The butterfly - the end of the caterpillar
~The tree - no more a seed
~Wisdom - only after loss of innocence
~Marriage - the loss of carefree singleness
~Each new child - the smaller family unit will never be the same
~Graduations, weddings, birthdays - markers that a chapter of life has been written and completed

For me, here are a few to add to the list:

~Coming home to be with my family - the close of a rewarding career
~High school and college graduations - the shift in our family as 2 adult children launch their lives
~The wedding of our daughter - she's now under someone else's care

And now, a much smaller, yet still significant loss.  My blonde-headed blue-eyed little boy will come home to me having changed.  A bit more confident.  A little less dependent on me.  More aware that yes, there is life outside of our family, and it is good.  I'm thrilled that he's able to go.  I'm thankful for his opportunity to   have a life-changing experience in a safe, nurturing environment.  But yes, there will be loss.

Ultimately, I am deeply grateful for the gifts of growth, change, and reminders of my ultimate dependance.  My hope is to encourage you that in the dark of night, and in the melancholy seasons of loss and closing chapters, you will be aware that your heartache is evidence of you are living life fully.  That you'd look to times past when necessary losses led to deeper peace, greater joy, and a firmer foundation from which to live.  That you'd be comforted to know that indeed, "there is a time for everything, and a season for every purpose under heaven."

And if you think about it, pray for my Sam (and his mom) this week.  :)


"Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable."  C.S. Lewis


Chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast

I don't think he'll starve

A few more songs before we go

Have guitar, will travel

He's going to be missed

Mrs. Anderson and her ducks

Last "Good-byes"

Camp Lurecrest  -   Thanks for taking care of my baby boy...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Books for Boys: Why it Matters

Boys.  Wow.  They’re different.  Having grown up in an estrogen-rich home with only one sister, I had a limited understanding of just how diverse the differences between boys and girls were.  As a college student, I was stunned to see one of our male neighbors (we’ll call him “Hamilton”) drink directly from a carton of milk.  Who ever thought of doing such a thing?  I was shocked not only by the action, but also by my naivete.  At the wise old age of 20, I apparently had a few things left to learn about the opposite sex.

When I married my husband, with him came Chapman, a charming blue-eyed little boy.  This life change resulted in my immediate enrollment in “Boys 101.”  No more auditing.  This was the real class.  One of my earliest "boy" memories was created within the first few months of marriage. I was happily lost in the world of my latest book, when a sudden noise jarred me back to reality.  It became repetitious.  It was getting louder.  In the corner of the family room, lounging happily on the floor, was was a very content 4-yr-old Chapman. He had his matchbox cars lined up neatly in two rows.  Every few minutes, after they had completed the requisite figure 8’s, one car from each of the rows would collide with great velocity into the another.  Each crash came with impressively accurate sound effects.  Mystery of said noise solved.  I leaned over and asked what I thought was a reasonable question.  “Could you please be a little bit quieter when you do that?”  He gave me a look that I will never forget.  It communicated something close to, “And what would be the point of that?” Hamilton’s milk carton sprang to mind.  Boys.

Yes, boys are different than girls in a variety of ways.  Unfortunately, the literacy rate for boys falling consistently behind that of girls is one of them.  No doubt, there are a variety of factors that contribute to the problem, yet there is a consistent common denominator among researchers:  boys read far less than do girls.

Why aren't our boys interested in reading? 

“Boys prefer adventure tales, war, sports and historical nonfiction, while girls prefer stories about personal relationships and fantasy. Moreover, when given choices, boys do not choose stories that feature girls, while girls frequently select stories that appeal to boys. Unfortunately, the textbooks and literature assigned in the elementary grades do not reflect the dispositions of male students. Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. No military valor, no high adventure. On the other hand, stories about adventurous and brave women abound. Publishers seem to be more interested in avoiding "masculine" perspectives or "stereotypes" than in getting boys to like what they are assigned to read.”  Why Johnny Won’t Read (The Washington Post)

So what’s the response?  

We want our boys to want to read.  Unfortunately, many publishers have attempted to solve the problem by “insisting that we must "meet them where they are"—that is, pander to boys' untutored tastes.  For elementary- and middle-school boys, that means "books that exploit [their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor." AP reported that one school librarian treats her pupils to "grossology" parties. "Just get 'em reading," she counsels cheerily. "Worry about what they're reading later."  How to Raise Boys Who Read (Wall Street Journal)
One of the many problems with this approach is that the end-goal is rarely reached.  Boys’ hearts and minds hunger for stories of substance. We spoil their appetite by providing them with a steady diet of intellectual junk-food.  The “at least they’re reading” theory is a bad one.  In dumbing down the books that we give our boys, we’re reinforcing destructive messages about reading, quality literature, and the intellectual capacity of our young men.
But as it is with all appetites, we must be intentional in helping a healthy one develop.    How?
~Be intentional. Have a standard and a plan - for books to purchase and for books from the library.  For each of my children, I've created a simple spreadsheet with a list of books that I would like them to read AND that I think they'd enjoy.  This makes the quick trip to the library or the Christmas list for Grandma an efficient, pain-free way to obtain quality books for them.  Visit the Exceptional Resources for Children’s Books page.  Each book listed is filled with great recommendations.
~Put reasonable limits on “distractions”  - all screen time.  When left to our own propensities, we often gravitate toward that which requires less work.  Reading is deeply rewarding, but it requires more work than do video games and the TV.  The studies correlating literacy with screen time are staggering. 
~Listen to their interests and look for books that would be engaging to them. One of my sons judges the quality of a book by the number of battles that occur within.  His first literary love was the Dan Frontier series (Frontiersman and Indians).  Then came Peter Pan battling Captain Hook, Robin Hood, and King Arthur.  He's also, shall we say, addicted to engaged in  all things Star Wars.  Although I might not deem the Star Wars books as great literature, they do embody great story. 

Battle boy's brother has a keen sense of humor and is drawn to books that are clever.  To name a few, he's been absorbed in Edith Nesbit's Complete Book of Dragons,  Jonathan Roger's The Wilderking Trilogy, and most recently, GK Chesterton's Father Brown stories.  The Chronicles of Narnia and Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather Saga are forever woven into the tapestry of both of their childhoods.  Although we try to provide a “well-rounded meal” of different genres of literature, I always defer to their tastes when purchasing books for gifts or rewards.
~Read aloud.  And for the biggest benefit, have Dad read aloud.  Consistently.  My husband, who is not necessarily a read-for-pleasure guy, has committed to read aloud to the boys at night before they go to bed.  I do the research and supply the “boy books.”  They’ve worked their way through most of the Ralph Moody Little Britches series, and the three of them have developed a “secret culture” of which I’m (happily) not a part. The characters have become their friends, and they now have a long list of escapades and adventures which they have experienced together.  They’ve learned to love story.
~Appreciate boys for who they’ve been created to be.  Have vision for who they can become.  Look for books that affirm and inspire them.  Look for books that delight the imagination.  Begin with “the end” in mind.  If you want young men who are thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate, brave, and of high character, give them a steady diet of books that will shape their souls in that direction.

"More than the painting you see or the music you hear, the words you read become in the very act of reading them part of who you are, especially if they are the words of exceptionally promising writers.  If there is poison in the words, you are poisoned;  if there is nourishment, you are nourished;  if there is beauty, you are made a little more beautiful.  In Hebrew, the word dabar means both word and also deed.  A word doesn't merely say something, it does something.  It brings something into being."  Frederick Buechner
When you have a few moments, listen to this song by Steve Taylor (you'll have to listen beyond the very 80's synthesizer).  At its very heart is the power of the Greatest Story.  

For our boys…

When the house fell asleep

There was always a light

And it fell from the page to the eyes

Of an American boy

In a storybook land

I could dream what I read

When it went to my head I'd see

I wanna be a hero

But the practical side

Said the question was still

When you grow up what will you be?

I wanna be a hero


It's a nice-boy notion that the real world's gonna destroy

You know

It's a Marvel comic book Saturday matinee fairytale, boy
Growing older you'll find

That illusions are bought

And the idol you thought you'd be

Was just another zero
I wanna be a hero

Heroes died when the squealers bought 'em off

Died when the dealers got 'em off

Welcome to the "in it for the money as an idol" show

When they ain't as big as life

When they ditch their second wife

Where's the boy to go?

Gotta be a hero
It's a nice-boy notion that the real world's gonna destroy

You know

It's a Marvel comic book 
Saturday matinee fairytale, boy

When the house fell asleep

From a book I was led

To a light that I never knew

I wanna be your hero

And he spoke to my heart

From the moment I prayed

Here's a pattern I made for you

I wanna be your hero

My Heroes...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lest We Forget

For years, we've created and methodically stored boxes of pictures, have taken great care in preserving papers and programs of our children's accomplishments, and have accrued far too many trophies and ribbons representing participation in the activity of the season.  Why the hours and meticulous care in documenting our lives?  We don't want to forget.

Last year was a year of transition for our family.  Within a year, we had experienced an almost move to Nashville followed by a real-life move within Charlotte, my husband's transition into a new job after his year at home, and the upcoming marriage of our daughter (just to name a few).  We had spent the prior year assuring our children that God knew what was best for our family, and our job was to believe and follow.  The old hymn "Trust and Obey" became the mantra in the heart of our home.

I love it when whatever we're learning through study collides with what whatever we're experiencing in life.  I imagine that if we slowed down the pace of life, created margin in our days, filled our minds with truth, and waited expectantly, we would experience such a phenomenon with much more frequency.  We were studying the life of Joshua with a local Bible Study (this is the part where I put in a plug for Community Bible Study in Charlotte). The story had reached a pivotal point.  The children of Israel had spent the last 40 years wandering in the wilderness due to their own disobedience.  Finally, the time came for them to cross the Jordan River.  The Lord caused the waters to separate in order for them to cross over and enter the land of their inheritance.  After all they had experienced - the hardship, the disappointment, the heartache, and the longing, the moment had come. It would be a day that they would never forget.  God's forgiveness.  God's provision.  God's faithfulness.  God's abundance.  Or would they...

The perfect Father knew the fickle nature of his children.  So He commanded them to gather stones from the center of the river to set up a memorial to remind them, and their children, of His faithfulness.  I love the picture of...

~God's desire to give us good gifts

     ~Our foolish choices that get in the way

          ~His provision in spite of our unworthiness

               ~Our fickle appetites and short memories

~And ultimately, His wise, kind heart that wants us to remember - for our own good and for His glory.

We've talked a great deal about God's provision for our family in the past few years.  We've gathered at meal and bedtimes to ask for guidance and peace. The loss of (and acquisition of) David's job, the sale of our house, and our move to a new one have all prompted discussions with others about His faithfulness in the midst of an uncertain chapter in our family's story.  For many months, it remained front and center in our thoughts and conversations.  But just like the Israelites, we have short memories.  What seems unthinkable to forget today can all too easily become a faint memory tomorrow.

So, just like the Israelites, we decided to memorialize this amazing season in our family's history.  I don't want to forget.  I don't want my children to forget.  I want them to tell their children.  Of God's faithfulness.  Of His provision.  Of His abundance.  Regardless of circumstance.

One of my favorite features of our new home is the peaceful koi pond tucked away in our backyard.  It seemed fitting that our stones, which will mark for generations God's goodness, come from that pond.

My favorite nook in our new home.

 The children selected their stones, we discussed the purpose, and they commenced their artwork.

Sam's stone - "Because I'm happy"

Will's stone - Our new house.
 The back - "God helped my Dad get a job
 and helped us find a good house
 to live in.  We have been very blessed."  

Caroline's stone - Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus.
At first, I thought that she didn't understand what we were trying to do.
 And then I realized that she may have understood better than any of us.

We never made it to math that day.  Or spelling.  Or handwriting. But the lessons that we learned have been deeply engraved  upon our hearts.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Invisible Thread to Nashville... and Back

If you haven't read The Princess and the Goblin and missed the earlier post giving a bit of background information, you can catch up here.

Back to The Princess and the Goblin… As the story continues, Irene’s grandmother (who lives in the attic and is invisible to everyone but Irene) spins an invisible thread.  She attaches the thread to a ring, then instructs Irene that if she ever finds herself in danger, she is to follow the thread wherever it takes her.   The story proceeds to unfold as Irene is frightened once again by the creatures. Yet this time, she follows her grandmother’s thread rather than reacting out of fear.  Instead of leading Irene upstairs to the safety of her grandmother, the thread leads her outside, down the mountain, through the dark forest and into a dangerous cave.  Although the thread takes her through places of great peril, she ultimately discovers and saves her friend Curdie, who had been taken captive by the goblins and hidden deeply away in a cave.  The thread miraculously leads them through seemingly insurmountable dangers, then ultimately back to the safety of the castle.


“We’re moving to Nashville.”  Although we knew it had been a possibility and had seen friends who were in the same position, we never thought that we’d be the ones preparing to leave.  Two years ago, my husband’s group at the bank was disbanded.  It was the day before our anniversary when he received the news.  In his words, “While most wives were understandably worried about what was coming next, mine was giddy.” Only weeks earlier during our weekly small group meeting, I had casually uttered, “I wish it would all stop.  That the hamster wheel would come to a screeching halt.” After years of over-commitment and unrelenting activity, I longed for a slower pace of life.  Be careful what you ask for…

After absorbing and then processing the news, we decided to take a 6 month break before looking for employment.  By worldly standards, it was a risky thing to do.  David was an unemployed banker in a banking city, which was filled with 2,000 of his best friends in the same situation.  But we knew who held the cards.  We knew for whom we actually worked.  We were given the gift of peace.  Our hope was simple.  We wanted to step back, enjoy our family, and open our hands to receive what had been planned for us. This was an opportunity to live in the kind of dependence for which we were created.   Great peace came from living in the moment regardless of the outcome.  David, who tends to be prone to anxiety, slept soundly.  We loved having him home.  The hamster wheel had stopped, and we were having a happy little hamster party.

Within a few months, two ministry opportunities unexpectedly surfaced and became viable possibilities.  Well-meaning friends would ask, “Do you feel called into ministry?”  Our answer seemed somewhat illusive, but it was true.  We’d answer, “We don’t know if we’ve been called into ministry, but we feel like we’ve done what we were supposed to for today.” Seven months flew by, and it turned out that neither of the two ministry opportunities would be our ultimate destination.  During those months, David had chosen to pour himself and his talents into organizations and people we loved dearly, and that had been a gift unto itself.  But still no job.

Eight months into the adventure, it was time to consider banking opportunities that may exist in Charlotte.  He began the job-hunting process.  With 2,000 of his best friends. Although were not married to a particular home or life-style, we had been holding white-knuckled to our amazing community in Charlotte.  We couldn’t fathom leaving.  “God, we’ll do anything… but that. “  Of course, it’s the “anything but that” which he uses to teach us that all we really need is him.  And it’s the “anything but that” which proves that idols don’t have to come in the shape of houses, country clubs, or lifestyles.  They can also come in the form of Godly people and unique community.  

Shortly after commencing the job search,  David received “the call” from a bank in Nashville.  We had always said that we would grow old here, but if we ever had to move, Nashville would be our top city of choice. I started doing homework on churches, ballet studios, and music programs.  We made the house-hunting trip, and I found a beautiful old bookshop in which to make my dwelling while David had his final round of interviews downtown.  The kind old shopkeeper asked if I’d like to go behind the shop to the warehouse, and I spent over an hour digging through stacks of dusty, ragged books.  This could be my new home.  The great finds in the bookstore helped.  I do have my priorities, you know.

We returned to North Carolina and put our house on the market.  Homes in our neighborhood had been lingering on the market for months, and we didn’t want to waist time.  We had talked for years about moving to another neighborhood, so there seemed to be no downside and we had plenty of time to sort out the details.  Or so we thought.  Our home went under contract in less than 12 hours and after 3 showings.  We were shocked.  We were moving. 

Later that week, David received an unexpected call from a former colleague.  We were surprised to learn that he was a final candidate for a job in Charlotte. The folks in Nashville graciously allowed him the time to decide, and the folks in Charlotte sped the process up beyond what we could have anticipated. You can guess the end of the story.  We’re still here.

Although we all know that life can turn “on a dime” and that we ultimately have little control of our own destinies, we spend an extraordinary amount of time and energy fighting that universal truth.  We think we can plan, maneuver, and even convince God to give us what we want.  We’ve inherited an insidious spiritual cancer that tries to convince us that we know best.  Then God is gracious enough to intervene and remind us that it’s not true.  That he knows what we need far better than we do.  What we need is often not what we want.  What we need most is dependence on Him. 

Today, we stand grateful for the invisible thread which led us through such an adventure.  The path was never clear.   It was full of twists, turns, caverns, and surprises that didn’t make sense at the time. We experienced many great gifts during those months – time together, peace in the midst of turmoil, steadfast friends, and the storybook ending of staying in Charlotte.  Yet we've seen enough life to learn that although these are good things, they too could be taken away at any time. 

The greatest gift that we received along the way has been the assurance that "no, we are definitely not in charge."  And yes, the One who is in charge is good and faithful and true.  He gently leads if only we’ll choose to unwrap our white-knuckled fingers from around whatever it is that we grasp - in order to hold tight to the invisible thread. We can't hold both at once.  May we remember and believe, as Irene’s grandmother promised, “You must not doubt the thread.  Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.


For the rest of the story, visit "Lest We Forget"

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Two Words

Yep, that's the face.

It is generally understood that most children (and parents) undergo a degree of decompression as they leave the hectic school year behind and enter the realm of those golden months of summer.  Early mornings, busy schedules, and revolving deadlines are traded in for a more relaxed pace of life and significantly more free time.  This is what we’ve all been waiting for.  That is... until our sweet little cherubs, who have anticipated this emancipation for months, utter those 2 dreaded words.  “I’m bored”. 

Lest you think that the shift from school year to summer vacation is any less of an adjustment for those of us who have school in our homes during the year, take heart.  You are not alone.  Our children know the drill.  We typically don’t watch TV during the week, and they are in the habit of spending their abundant free time reading, creating, playing music, getting muddy in the creek,  and designing and implementing battle plans upon each other and their friends.  But something magical (hmmm) has happened in the last weeks.  As our outside commitments and internal schooling expectations have come to a creeping pace, there has been a shift.  My children, who have the skills, raw materials, and experience in creating their own adventures, seem to have regressed. 

 A few mornings ago, as I was basking in the luxury of enjoying a cup of coffee and time alone on our porch,  I became somewhat sentimental.  Having married a man with 2 young children, then adding 3 more to the crowd, I have had little people in my life for the past 18 years.  Our entire married life has been one of parenting.  For the first time, we don’t have babies.  We don’t have teenagers.  Our big kids are growing into delightful adults and my youngest is 7.  Old enough to sleep beyond 6:30 in the morning.  Finally.  I don’t have to rise before dawn to have time alone.  We’re in a sweet window of family life.  The summer has come.  Relief from schedule.  Fun outings planned and great books to be read as a family in the weeks to come.  As I was reflecting on how grateful I am for such a delight-filled season, Sam, my big-blue-eyed 9 year old, entered the scene.  It was 9am.  He proclaimed “I’m bored.”

As fate (or more likely Providence) would have it, my 20 minutes of contemplative reading for the day was surprisingly relevant.  In Buechner’s “Listening to Your Life", he observes, “You can be bored by virtually anything if you put your mind to it, or choose not to.  You can yawn your way through Don Giovanni or a trip to the Grand Canyon or an afternoon with your dearest friend or a sunset.  There are doubtless those who nodded off at the coronation of Napoleon or the trial of Joan of Arc or when Shakespeare appeared at the Globe in Hamlet or Lincoln delivered himself of a few remarks at Gettysburg.  The odds are that the Sermon on the Mount had more than a few of the congregation twitchy and glassy-eyedTo be bored is to turn down cold whatever life happens to be offering you at the moment.”

Isn’t that the truth?  As adults, we often live our lives in much the same way.  We’re bored.  Only we’re too sophisticated to use the word.  So we submit to the mindset without even knowing it.  We spend our days longing for (or regretting) our past.  Or we live in a state of waiting for (or fearing) the future.  We too miss the beauty that each moment of the day has to offer. 

“Bored” provides it’s own sense of security.  It doesn’t require of me.  It’s familiar.  It’s easy.  I trade in my books (or art, or music) for the TV.  I give concentrated chunks of time to returning email (or whatever else we find to do on the computer), yet rarely build that kind of time in my day to play with my children or talk with my husband.  I can keep my schedule so full of good things that I miss the best things.

So maybe, just maybe, our children become bored because they’ve (gasp) learned it from us.  Our busy schedules and addictions to our Blackberrys and iphones provide a constant stream of stimulation from the outside world.  Rather than experiencing the full range of vibrancy that life has to offer, we settle for the counterfeit and live life being entertained.  This can come in the form of a video game for my children… or in the the form of a favorite nightly TV show.  Neither is implicitly a bad thing.  That is, unless it soaks  up  my time and energy which prevents me from growing, creating, and exploring.  From becoming all that I was created to be.

As I hope to encourage my children to be grateful for and bask in what each day, even each moment, has to offer, I hope to do so myself.  I want to live life wide-eyed enough to view my everyday with a sense of anticipation.  Yet to do so requires discipline to be still.  The courage to hope for more.  And the willingness to be proactive in pursuing that which brings me great joy.

So as you launch into the heart of the summer, my hope for you is the same.  That you find time to be still.  That you discover (or remember) whatever it is that brings you joy.  That you wake up in the morning with the wonder of a child. Read a great book.  Take a class.  Try something new.  Notice the miracles that occur in your everyday.

Happy summer to you and yours!