Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hearts breaking open...

The screaming was so loud she wanted to hide.  Her hair flew behind her as she raced down the hall and burrowed under the covers on her bed. It didn't stop the noise.  All she could think of was how to make it stop and she knew she needed to create a distraction and at eight year's old, her options were limited.  She began to cough and she coughed until she forced herself to vomit just to stop the screaming and the repeated use of the word divorce.  Finally, as she too began screaming, alerting her parents that she was sick, the voices stopped.  The attention shifted and her father came to her side. Amidst the tears and mess she was sitting in, she begged her Dad to put aside talks of divorce.  His response left her feeling worse than before, no reassurances, just an indifferent shrug, a non-verbal signal that even an eight-year-old knew meant he'd lost hope for his marriage.

I'm blessed to share a time of prayer with 7 eight-year-old girls each week.
I've been meeting with these girls for 3 months now and I'm used to the typical prayer requests, a neighbor's hamster was attacked by their dog, a cat ran away, even a very sick grandma.  The requests are a window into the hearts of these sweet girls who are beginning to experience some tougher life issues.

Each week that we are together tightens our bond and just as I see among my teen girls, they become more willing to let me in.  Yesterday the dam broke and a few of them shared the heartache of divorce through a child's eyes.

The stories bubbled to the surface peppered with shaky voices and averted  eye contact.  Even at their young age, the girls who had experienced divorce were the first to comfort those that revealed their fears.  One revealed the pain of a custody arrangement and another loosened her grip on her
anxiety over her parents constant arguing.  The girls who had never experienced these issues were oblivious to the hurt the others were revealing, a perfect reflection of their own innocence.  Perhaps their parents don't argue, perhaps they live with a single parent already, perhaps they balance other issues that force them to grow up quickly also.  We are all faced to maneuver some type of struggle in our lives...some of us earlier than others.

If you are a child of divorce, I'm sorry. It hurts and there is always a struggle to balance the what-ifs with what might have been.  If you are considering a divorce and the options seem limited in your life, please don't assume your child is oblivious to what's happening in the other room. Cartoons can't drown out screaming and buying them gifts builds nothing but suspicion.  If divorce is inevitable, and all counseling options have been exhausted, talk to your child.  Secrecy breeds fear and to a child who is afraid, life's problems seem insurmountable. 

Not every marriage is able to be 'happily ever after' but our kids deserve a love of a lifetime from two parents who adore them and put their needs above their own when necessary.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spilling open...

I spent the weekend surrounded by teenagers.  I spent hours doing nothing with them and they in return poured their hearts out to me and I came away feeling like a millionaire. 

It is a privilege to see these teens in their element.  I see them excited and laughing and raw and crying.  There is very little holding back in the experiences we have and it is an honor to be with them. 

I love to observe them and gain insight into their varied and complex emotions in a way that their parents cannot.  I watch the innocent flirting unfold, the risky friendships take root and the painful heartaches spill over.  I am privy to inside jokes and elaborate tall tales and all the while I feel somewhat like a mole.  An underworld spy sent out to gain insight and information on these teens who are dearly loved by their parents, but who are also a bit of a mystery to them.

The emotions they share are real, raw and unreserved.  They haven't learned the skill of hiding their emotions that most adults have perfected.  When teens feel an emotion they pour it out and I am honored when I can be their splash guard.  The safety net solidly in place to catch the messy emotions and tears or the high fives and hugs when the feelings come spilling out.

Their experiences are all so varied, from artists to academics, athletes to techies they all share the desire we all have to be loved and valued. They struggle to keep good grades and strong morals while walking the tightrope of meeting their parents expectations and their personal pursuits.

The greatest gift these teens give me is the chance to be a better mom to my kids.  They offer me a glimpse into the future of what awaits me as my 11, 9 and 6 year old get older by the day.
I am a volunteer youth leader, but these amazing youth are leading me.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mirror mirror on the wall, why am I the worst of all...

The voices scream at me.  "You are an awful mom, you didn't even tuck Ethan in last night, you just yelled at him to get in bed when he came downstairs for water for the third time."  "There are no clean socks for the kids to wear!  What kind of mom suggests that they wear dirty socks to school?'  'Why do
you always wait until the last minute to do everything? There are a million better wives, friends, housekeepers, organizers, mothers, etc. than you!"

These bullies attack me when I'm most vulnerable.  They wait for me and pounce in the early morning hours when I hit snooze on my alarm.  They stalk me as a sprawl out on the couch at the end of a long day.  Their attacks are vicious and unrelenting.  They pull my hair and scratch my arms leaving me feeling wounded, powerless and unmotivated to press on. They say things that are so nasty and mean; I would never associate with anyone who spoke to me that way.  If anyone told me about friends like that I would advise them to run and never look back...but what if the voices are your own?  What if the bullies that attack with such viciousness reside within you? Those cruel whispers that begin with a tiny spark and can rage into an inferno if I allow it.

I've had days when I've let the fire roar.  The heat and intensity of the flames cripple me and I feel defeated.  I sit paralyzed in my self-doubt and failure and I do nothing.  The flames lick my cheeks and I close my eyes and the tears flow.  I succumb to the pity party and let the fire rage until I'm left sitting in a pile of glowing embers.

God speaks of truth and grace.  He longs to extinguish the voices and fight the fire for me.  The truth is that I'm not a bad mom.  Could I be a better organizer, housekeeper, and laundress, (who knew that was really a word?) of course.  Should I have more patience at bedtime and re-establish expectations for last minute water requests, sure.  Yet the voices want me to believe that without perfection, nothing is worth it.  My measuring stick can't be what my OCD friends can accomplish, I can't parent based on the latest suggestions I've read in a magazine or what I perceive as a better kid/parent relationship I observe in a friend. 

When I gaze at my reflection in the rear view mirror from my drivers seat, I must view the true reflection and not allow myself to see a distorted carnival mirror reproduction of what the 'voices' sometimes say I am not.
When I allow the voices to rule my day I cannot do anything.  I stand and burn and God weeps.  He created us for amazing things.  He adores me (and you!) and when I allow the doubt and defeat to sweep me up I cannot pour into others. 

God stands ready and waiting with the biggest fire engine I can imagine and he longs to blare the squealing sirens and douse the flames.  I only need to ask.  I pray that when you and I catch a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror this week, the only thing we see is a beautiful smile reflecting back all that God has gifted us to be...and if that smile is wearing red lipstick, even better.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Are relationships even worth it?

I don't mind getting messy.  I can function happily when my hands are covered up to my elbows in flour and bread dough.  Finger painting used to be one of my favorite activities and there is nothing that makes me smile like getting dirty when I plant my geraniums each summer. 

The thing that makes it fun is that I know the outcome.  I eagerly await the intoxicating aroma of baking bread and the taste of melting butter spilling over the crusty edges of a fresh warm slice. There is such pride when I watch those tiny plants explode into balls of color by the fourth of July each summer and I have two framed masterpieces from my kids finger painting days. 

Relationships are not that easy.  I love to go deep with  I'm not great with staying at the small talk acquaintance level.  Perhaps it's a product of my days spent as a college recruiter, perhaps it's a subconscious nod to my realization of my own mortality, but I'm not the kind of friend who is satisfied to skim the surface.

I love to ask questions and I want to connect.  I love to go to work events with my husband and compare notes at the end of the night, without exception, I come away with layers of information that he was previously unaware of.  I fill him in on his co-workers divorces, children and childhoods.  Things surface that he was unaware of, not because he is not caring or compassionate or interested, he just does relationships differently. 

Going deep, however, is not always all it's cracked up to be and sometimes I wonder if Scott's approach would be easier.  As much I love getting messy in the kitchen and in the yard, I hate getting messy in relationships, and it's impossible to go deep without getting dirty. 

If I'm really honest, I don't love getting dirt under my fingernails and getting my shoes muddy.  The cleanup of the flour and sugar when I'm baking is not much fun either.  It's tiresome and tedious, it causes me to question why I don't just buy bread at Panera or stick to perennials instead of annuals in my pots and flower beds.  There is a time and a place for easy and convenient, but the pride that comes from something I invest in is hard to beat. 

The same is true in relationships.  The acquaintances in my life certainly can be fulfilling.  The fellow room mom's and the other parents I sit next to at baseball games sweeten the experience.  We are all there for a common cause and I enjoy the camaraderie of supporting our kids. Those relationships are necessary, but more of a quick fix.  They serve a purpose but rarely go beyond the event.  It's impossible for me to sustain my emotional health on only acquaintances, I'm not wired that way. 

God requires me to get messy.   Sometimes it's great, like those times when I'm hurting and I have girlfriends to call and carry me through the difficult heartaches and hurts.  Times like when my mother-in-law died and I was surrounded by love and kindness.  Moments when mothering is so overwhelming I want to submit my resignation and I'm covered with prayer and affirmations or days when I doubt my ability to even write this blog or stand behind a microphone and my friends shower me with more confidence than I can muster.
Those are the days when I welcome messy.

Then come the days when I wonder if it's worth it.  Days when I spread myself too thin and disappoint someone with my lack of compassion.  Times when I respond with 100% emotion and 0% thoughtfulness. Moments when I succumb to the gossip and choose power over grace and let pride and ego guide me and I refuse to take the blame for my mistakes.  Those are the messy days...things feel broken and chaotic and it seems easier to walk away and sometimes I do, but it leaves a tremendous hole in my spirit.
Those are the times when the unpredictable creeps in and my insecurity rises up.  Although I know what the outcome of the baking bread will be, I am not always allowed that foresight with my friendships.

There are times when I have messed up and walked away, but there are times that I haven't.  When the geraniums are growing strong in the summer sun and one of my kiddos runs through and tramples the plant, it's not dead, it just requires some special care.  Many times it must be trimmed back and stabilized, it requires extra nurturing and it's presence can't be taken for granted for a few weeks as it pushes its roots in a bit deeper.

Relationships are hard.  If you choose to go deep, it's not easy and it can be very painful, but when you forgive yourself and others, your roots eventually stabilize and you are able to stand stronger together. We are not meant to live this life alone, bring on the scary, unpredictable, ugly, beautiful and yes, even the messy.