The Power of a Summer Word

Summer wordsSummer words are transportative, taking us to that place we remember from yesterday. Maybe yesterday last year. Maybe yesterday when we were eight.

The word sprinkler can take me to my front yard on Brookside Terrace, neighbor kids running through the oscillating water for hours–until everyone was called in for supper. As in, called from the front porch by mothers who knew how to gather children from blocks away. Their only device was a certain cupping of the hands around their mouths, directing their voices to where they knew their children to be. We would break immediately, knowing that the sprinkler would be on again after the last dish was dried.

And the word flip-flop. The word sandal is all season, but flip-flop is all summer. Memorial Day used to be a big deal. Shoes came off that day. Shoes can feel religious, covering the whole foot, just a little stiff. Flip-flops don’t exactly meet the rules for a shoe, but rules get broken in the summer. Back in the day, when shoes were required to go anywhere, we had a window between Memorial Day and Labor Day where we lived by summer rules. A little bit barefoot, a little bit shoe. When shoes were required, flip-flops counted.

We are officially at the long-awaited start of summer—and all the words that go with it. Days of popsicles, watermelon, beaches, hammocks, sand, and sparklers. And lightning bugs. Although, sadly, we don’t have those on the west coast, just the thought of them brings me back to the front lawn on Brookside Terrace. Clark, NJ. Ah, the power of a summer word.

Chase the Joy

Graduatiton

Sunday we had the privilege of watching our son Evan graduate from the University of Washington. We were there mostly for those five seconds his name would be called and he would walk across the stage. For the other 3+ hours, we hoped for something that would make it a little easier to sit there.

We got it in the form of a commencement address by noted author, poet, and screenwriter Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian. Someone should add comedian to that triad of adjectives. He brought a perfect mix of serious and funny to that hot crowded gym.

He began by noting the paradox of celebrating and being joyful in light of the mass murder of 49 young men in Orlando the day before. It really is the great paradox of life. Tragedy and joy occur simultaneously, parallel to each other in our world. Do we focus on grief or focus on joy? Many us feel like we are betraying one when choosing the other. He said it felt wrong to choose joy in the face of such tragedy.

The answer to the dilemma came from his 14-year old son. “Isn’t this a college graduation?” he asked. “Then you must choose joy, Dad. You must choose joy today.” There truly is a time for every purpose under heaven.

The lens we look through must be big enough to include both. We have to be able to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Our time spent in grief must, at some point, match our time spent in joy or we get unbalanced. Lack of balance throws us off and makes us walk with a limp.

Sherman told a story of needing to go through brain surgery to remove a benign tumor. When he finally woke up after surgery, he saw everyone standing around him, including the head of surgery, an eastern Indian doctor. His first thought was to tell his doctor an “inappropriate joke.”

“I bet it’s the first time an Indian ever scalped an Indian.” No one even cracked a smile. He thought maybe something was seriously wrong with him. His wife came over to him and gently leaned down. He panicked over what she was going to tell him. “Sherman, you’ve told that joke 11 times,” she said. Ah, he thought, the power of a good anesthetic drug!

He said the point is that everyone needs a good editor. Go ahead and tell an inappropriate joke if that keeps your sense of humor alive. But only tell it once. Keep someone in your corner who will edit you if need be. Make sure your sense of humor equals your sense of grief. Grieve when you must, but chase the joy that’s all around you the other times. Chase the joy. Whenever possible, chase the joy.

I got some valuable instruction at a college graduation yesterday. And some much needed laughter for my saddened soul.

Authoring Life

pen

…the new group of cardinals [who have] gathered around Pope Francis have used the term authority [as] the ability to author life in others, not the mere exercise of juridical power, or holding an office… Richard Rohr

I love this fresh perspective on the word “authority.” Its etymology comes from the Latin auctorem, literally “one who causes to grow.” Even further back, it stems from the past participle of augere, “to increase.” One who is in authority for the good of the people will call life out of them that they might grow. This is much different than the wielding of power or manipulating by position, which marks the abuse we see around us today.

For all of us in authority–whether in government, education, church, business or family—we need to ask whether we are increasing life in those we represent, teach, shepherd, employ, or parent. The increase must not be in our own power, but in the life of those we have authority over. Anything less than that may border on abuse.

“One who increases the life in another.” A beautiful definition of authority. One it might be good to evaluate in our own lives.

The “Change” Drill

 

LakeThe older I get, the more similarities I see across generations. Not the cultural stuff. That’s all pretty different. But the real stuff. Stuff like believing that we all have purpose, that our dreams aren’t just vain imaginings, and that our being here really matters.

We all get messed with sometimes, though. Something can change–in a big or small way–and we can be left feeling smothered by discouragement. The imperfect world we live in houses trials and triumphs. Tears and laughter. Life keeps moving and we get to choose what we think about all the changes that come our way.

Sometimes we choose the change and celebrate. Other times, it chooses us and we have to search for the good. In reality, we have been practicing for these changes from our earliest days. As a young child, we leave safe and familiar homes for school. We don’t realize that things will never be exactly the same again. The moms, yeah, they know. They go back and forth because their lives will never be exactly the same either.

The “change drill” continues with smaller milestones like double digit birthdays, and bigger ones like graduation. Then there’s moving out on our own, getting married, and becoming a parent. All big changes require leaving something behind. In even the most celebratory, we leave parents, friends, roommates, the single life, or the carefree married life.

And those are the changes we gladly choose. As we get older, they begin to choose us. And sometimes we don’t like them. As much practice as we have had, sometimes it feels like we got whacked from behind. What the heck just happened to my life???

But really, the drill is the same one we have been practicing for years. We have to leave things behind sometimes. And that’s going to have to be ok. This last season brought some big changes, and I had to find ways to stop focusing on what was being left behind. I think whether we’re young or old, when we go through big changes or minor adjustments, a couple things help keep our thoughts right: doing something opposite of how we feel, deciding to never give up, and believing in the power of redemption.

1. Doing something opposite of how we feel. This doesn’t have to be lofty and complicated. It could be simply declaring that love is stronger than anything else. Or that kindness always counts. Or that our seemingly crushed plans are still possible.This past season, I had to find something every day. Some days I got with a friend for a walk or coffee. Some days I lit a candle in a dark space. Some days I headed out to find an inspirational book. Some days I just prayed for grace and trusted tomorrow was a new day.

2. Deciding to never give up. Because it really IS a choice. That doesn’t mean we are always chirpy. It doesn’t mean we never want to give up. It doesn’t mean that we can’t get help. Some days it means declaring, “I can’t see it right now. But if I stay in the game today, I win.”

3. Believing in the power of redemption.  It helps to believe that change can be a valuable and wise teacher. And challenges are opportunities for growth that maybe we wouldn’t have pursued voluntarily. It might take a while to let go, but letting go isn’t the entire point. We have to allow life to teach us so we can move forward freer…freer to give, freer to love, freer to be who we were created to be.

Let’s celebrate all the transitions we get to choose. But let’s note how often we leave something behind as we do. We are practicing for other, maybe more difficult, transitions–learning to trust the process of life. And that will serve us in every season of change we go through.

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” ~Albert Camus

Beyond the Teenage Years

books (1 of 1)There’s a parenting book I’ve been searching for lately that I can’t seem to find. When I was first pregnant, I read every book out there. I wanted to get it right. Like you could really get pregnancy wrong. Unless you did something really stupid, these babies were going to come and could care less about how many books you read. In fact, those kicks we felt laying in bed reading our books? Yeah, probably them having a good laugh or two.

Once they arrived, we found other books. Sleeping through the night, feeding schedules, temper tantrums, potty training, discipline and more. I had a lot of friends in this with me and, of course, we talked about the books.

When school started, we added new friends. We laughed and cried and shared stories of what worked. And what didn’t. School functions, sporting events, and extracurricular activities put us with people who were going through the same things. Plus there were books.

But now. After the teenage years. Why didn’t anyone tell us that parenting still happens after the teenage years? And that it looks a LOT different than the other years. No one mentioned that support systems and camaraderie were going to drop off the planet when school years end. Just like those early years, we want books. We want to know how to do this.

I would consider writing a book if I could get even one chapter figured out. When there’s a chance, I get together with the friends from those earlier years. We talk about our season of unknowing and try to see if anyone has figured anything out. It helps to know we are not alone.

One day maybe I’ll find the books. But until then, I’ll tell you what I have learned–most of it the hard way and all of it imperfectly. So imperfectly.

  1. Love them even more. Our job at this point isn’t to train and correct, but to model and influence. I want them to know I love them unconditionally, and learning how to do that isn’t always easy. Because mostly it means letting go. It’s about giving them freedom to be who they were created to be. And loving them even when that doesn’t look like what we maybe thought it would.
  2. Trust the process of life in them. From birth, we are training them for who they will be. But as they become adults, we have to trust that training. Most of us wish for more time to do it better, to get it righter, to correct all the wrongs along the way. But wherever we are at the end, we let go and trust that they’ll learn and grow and become who they were created to be.
  3. Find ways to get a bigger life. Our kids don’t want to think that our lives lose meaning when they move on. Our lives have meaning because we all have inherent value. Getting a bigger life doesn’t have to look big. It just needs to look like we are interested in something beyond our own small world.

Parenting adult children is about releasing, trusting, and celebrating. I want to cheer more and stress less. I want to encourage when challenges come and celebrate when they get a win, either quietly in my heart or with a big old glass of champagne.

If I’m being honest, those books didn’t really help that much. I never really had a terrible two and all five eventually got potty trained. Just never by the same method. I think keeping our hearts at peace by listening to what we know to be right will always be the best guide to doing anything.

And when we are at peace, everyone around us is influenced by that. Newborns and adult children alike.

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Why All Those Words Really Mattered

flowersI’m sitting here this post-Mother’s Day morning reading all the social media posts to mothers and about mothers. I know the intent behind each one. To honor. To express gratitude. To put words to feelings. And many face-to-face gatherings took place as well, and we’re all still thinking about those today.

And here’s why all those expressions might be more important than you know: because we all went into this with hopes and dreams and a desire to be the best mom that ever lived. And then our children were born. And we realized we had no idea what was happening. With the birth of subsequent children, we thought we had something figured out. Only to find out each child was completely different than the other(s). At some point, we kinda threw the books away.

So, we did the best we could. We did some things right and we did many things wrong. And we want to know that grace has helped them remember the right and be not so clear about the wrong. We want them to remember how much we loved them then, and how we continue to love them with all we got. Grace is our ace in the hole. And those messages, dinners, cards, and flowers mean that grace is doing her thing.

I read something by Ann Voscamp recently that articulated this so clearly, so honestly, and so vulnerably that I thought I’d post an abbreviated version. It might not be every mother’s words, but I think it’s more universal than we think.

Yeah — if you’re being gut honest here — you don’t really want the cards or the flowers…What you really wanted is to be extraordinarily, obviously, good at this. At this mothering thing. You wanted to be the best at this.

You wanted to be more patient — you wanted to never lose it, to always have it together, to keep calm and that is all, always…You wanted more flashes of wisdom in the heat of the moment when you had no bloody idea what was the best thing to do, [the times] you crawled into bed feeling like you always gets it wrong when everyone else gets it right.

You’d about give your eye teeth and your left arm for more time. More time to get it more right and less wrong. What you really want, desperately, wildly, in spite of everything — is for them to remember the good…. to remember enough of the times you whispered, “I Love You” … to know how hard you really tried.

All you want? Is for them to feel a deep sense of safety, that they are safe to trust people, safe to dream large, safe to believe, safe to try, safe to love large and go fly — and you need to know that you haven’t wrecked that…What every mother wants, her most unspoken need —  is a truckload of Grace. Grace that buries her fears that her faith wasn’t enough, and that her faults were too many….

Grace holds you when everything else falls apart — and whispers that everything is really falling together.  

So, all those posts and messages and flowers and time spent…what they’re really saying is that maybe, just maybe, things are actually falling together. And, after all those years, that’s what we really want to know. A big thank you to all of you who cheered us on yesterday. You did a really good thing.

 

Am I Rising?

sunrise

When life has been challenging, sometimes I just want to go to bed and get out of the game. I want to pretend that my choices don’t matter to anyone else.

But those kinds of choices always matter. Especially if we’re a parent. Or a spouse. Or an employer. Or a friend.

“We do not have the luxury of despair. If we rise, they will rise with us.”  Cheryl Strayed

We can read all we want about rising strong, but rising obviously doesn’t happen when we are standing tall.  It happens when we are down. When we are confused. When we are in pain. When we are struggling. It’s harder to recite the platitudes from that position. And even harder to live them.

But we always have a choice in how we orient our attitudes. Sometimes rising means looking someone in the eye and saying, “I don’t know how all this will work out. I can’t see it right now. But I am holding on to the hope that I will move forward.”

The most important lesson we can teach our children, or anyone touched by our lives, is that no one day is the end of the story. I watch those reality TV shows where a mom or dad says they are competing for their children to be proud of them and to know that they can achieve anything if they will just believe and work hard.

And that is great. But I think a more important lesson is that what I am doing now is part of a bigger picture. It’s not about whether I win or lose. It’s about whether I can trust the process of life. A loss might feel bad right now, but I will learn something. It may take a little time to recover because I gave it all I had. But it is not the end of the story.

Resurrection only happens after an event that looks a lot like defeat. It might take a “few days” before that can happen, and we need to get whatever help we need to process our loss, failure, or pain. But we really don’t have the luxury of despair. Our lives are beautifully interwoven with others. And our choices matter more than we might want at that time.

Wholehearted living is about taking responsibility for our lives and being vulnerable and taking risks and making decisions that may not please everyone. But is also about knowing we live in community and wanting to be generous with our lives. I want those who depend on my life to gain strength from it.

My greatest privilege as a wife, mother, friend and mentor is to model a life of rising.  Is it always easy? No. And I don’t always like it. But I don’t have the luxury of choosing anything else. When I fall, my response is incredibly important. Incredibly important people are watching. If I rise, they will rise with me.