Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Privilege of Being the One They Ask

This afternoon, I watched Benjamin pace the floor of our friends' house on my iPhone. He looked and sounded so utterly proficient from the side of the conversation I could hear.

"I see," he'd say thoughtfully.

"So what I hear you saying is...," he'd respond, putting those active listening skills we've practiced to work.

Benjamin called my dad to gain insight into a problem his team is trying to solve for a tournament in a few weeks. As part of the solution to their challenge, they are creating a small, portable iPhone charger, and in the process, they've learned about energy conversion, generators, electromagnetic energy, and how to build their prototype. But fuzziness on a few of the basic science formulas was stalling their precise calculations.

It dawned on us that Papa sells generators and might be a good resource for their remaining questions, so Benjamin decided to call him after school during the team's meeting today.

There were so many things I loved about this exchange:

My dad's willingness to make time for Benjamin's questions and to patiently lead this third grader through basic physics.

Benjamin's utter ease in talking with Papa on the phone. There is history, relationship there that makes the exchange comfortable.

Watching my little boy grow up. He carries himself so maturely sometimes. He looked out the window, listening carefully, occasionally nodding, and I could envision him twenty years from now making a call from his own office.

I stood there, spirit gushing with affection for Ben, heart overflowing with knowledge of my dad's love for both of us.

I wished I could squeeze my son to pieces. As I write, I realize I need to tell Benjamin how much I admired his poise on the phone, how much I respect the young man he's becoming.

I also wished I could give my dad a hug for being so present. And I realize I need to tell him how very grateful I am for the time he made for me and Benjamin today.

Because even after Benjamin got off the phone with my dad, I ended up calling back to put my dad on speaker phone with four of the other kids so they could ask follow-up questions. Without hesitation, my dad greeted these four little strangers warmly, congratulated and affirmed the work they were investing in this project, and then clarified  all of their questions and concerns with great skill and patience.

And it didn't surprise me, for my dad has always graciously made room in his life to show up for me.

My dad's availability to me--and now to my family--is one of his purest demonstrations of love. When I see the way he happily takes time from his work and full life to invest in this project simply because I ask, he communicates that I am important to him, that I am not a headache or a burden.

He inspires me to respond to my kids' requests for help with enthusiasm and tenderness, to readily support them in whatever they undertake, no matter their age or ability. Though the demands are great some days, I want them to know, deep down, that being invited into their lives is my great joy.

Because I want them to keep asking as they grow up.

My parents--and Josh's, too--have communicated over and over that they are happy to help us in any way they can. Not in a helicopter-parent kind of way, but in the way that good parents genuinely support and show up for their kids.

Generally, Josh and I are pretty self-sufficient and appropriately independent and all grown-up and such, but there is comfort in knowing we can call them up when a need arises, and the answer is not only yes, but a generous and enthusiastic yes at that.

I want my kids to feel that same value and freedom. When the babies come or the house needs to be packed or the money's tight or the day has reduced them to tears, I want them to call, confident the response from my end will be respect, compassion, and great joy at the invitation to participate in their lives.

And it begins now, in the dozens of small, daily moments when my littles come to me wearing vulnerability on their sleeve: not yet big enough or coordinated enough or sophisticated enough to navigate their world entirely on their own.

May I view each request not as an inconvenience but as an opportunity to send a powerful message of love to my precious kiddos. May I discipline myself to pause what I'm doing, look them in they eye, and smile at the privilege of being the one they ask.

Even if it's the twenty-fourth time in as many hours.

Even if it's the twenty-fourth time in as many minutes. Especially then.

For that is how we build trust to last a lifetime.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Advice I Should Take

What would I tell Abby?

I couldn't shake this question when I finished reading Brene Brown's latest book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

Her book is titled after Theodore Roosevelt's speech, "The Man in the Arena":

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly..." 

What would I tell Abby about getting in the arena?

When I look at my sweet girl, when I see all the gifts she's been given, when I see her spirit, her dreams, her determination, and her compassion, I want to do everything in my power to make sure no one in her life thwarts her goals, to let her know it's okay to undertake new endeavors, to try something she hasn't yet mastered, to take risks that others may criticize.

I don't ever want her to hold back for fear of what others may think.

I don't ever want her to withhold herself from the world because she may not succeed.

I want to support her as she walks bravely through this life, sharing herself and her ideas and her creativity with those around her.

I know she will experience heartache. I know there will be times when the risk pays off in pain. But I know her life will be fuller for having stepped out in courage, for having "dared greatly."

Whatever the outcome, I will cheer wildly. I will be so breathlessly proud of her willingness to simply show up in the fullness of who she is.

And isn't this how God feels about me?

It's easy to tell someone else to take the risk, to attempt the seemingly impossible for the sake of living fully, to ignore the critics and naysayers.

But what about me? Can I take my own advice? Can I find the courage to act on the seeds of inspiration planted deep within?

In her chapter about parenting, Brown says this:

"Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting."

So what would I tell Abby if she were in my shoes? How would I encourage her to engage this world?

I would tell her to be brave. To lean into the uncomfortable. To silence the voice that says, Who do you think you are? To do the things that make her feel most alive, even if they make her most afraid. To accept error and shortcoming as a necessary byproduct of effort, not a sign that she should give up. To be willing to fail for the opportunity to succeed.

And if that's how I hope she will live, if those are values I hope she'll embrace, then that's how I need to live, how I want to live--as a mother, as a writer, as a fellow sojourner on this earth.

For my daughter's sake.

And for mine.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Perfect Timing

It felt naive, at times, to believe that the timing of our house selling or renting was God at work. To trust that the many months of our home sitting on the market in Colorado while we established our new life in a little Texas apartment was part of a larger plan.

And the longer I had to believe it--the more weeks that passed without change--the more naive I felt.

I could hope in the ultimate benevolence of the situation when I kept my focus off of what other people must think of us and our circumstances. But as soon as I transitioned back to feeling I had to justify our situation to onlookers, to feeling responsible for the fact that our beautiful home, which received rave feedback showing after showing, hadn't sold, my thoughts became crazy-making. I felt great chagrin, to be honest: for trusting and proclaiming so strongly that God had led us to Texas but then feeling stuck with this huge hassle and yet still trying to believe that there was a purpose for this timing.

How do you explain that deep down, beyond the frustration of inconvenience and financial burden, you believe that what looks like a curse will become a blessing? 

Sometimes, we confuse God's leading with a smooth path, and so when circumstances grow challenging, we assume that perhaps we've done something wrong, misread the signs, chosen poorly.

When I read the Bible, however, I see journeys full of hardship far, far greater than a house not selling, all of which were transformed to blessing. One need only look to Jesus to see that the greatest suffering becomes the greatest good.

I've thought often of the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt: wandering around the desert for forty years eating manna: literally, what is it? Forty years!

I feel great compassion for the Israelites--and for Moses, the deliverer, who was confronted with declarations that it would be better to return to Egypt, to slavery, than to continue without direction, without a home, indefinitely. What's the point of following God if a generation of desert-dwelling is the reward? If their daily bread is something they can't even name?

I've grown to recognize this longing for permanence. We've spent only eight months "wandering," asking "What is this?", and even that season has felt too long. How would I respond if I were asked to continue in this state (and by state, I mean both Texas and the condition of living in transience) for forty years?

What is it within us that so strongly desires establishment? Why is the notion of "home," of being "settled," so compelling to our human nature that we are tempted to return to slavery rather than live uprooted so we can inhabit the Promised Land. I don't know the answer to these questions. I simply witness this truth: we are internally driven to find our home, our place, our belonging now. Wandering blindly, dependently, is a profound struggle for our independent souls.

But I'm learning that the invitation to follow God is not an invitation to a life free of struggle. Rather, it's an invitation to believe God's goodness, to believe his promises, in the the midst of struggle. Though we grieve, lament, and rail against circumstance, we can surrender our self-doubt and self-criticism and the crushing weight of feeling responsible for our suffering, resting instead in the inscrutable ways of our Maker, waiting patiently upon his redemption.

When we believe that God's goodness, God's love for us, God's perception of us never changes, cannot change, is unchangeable; when we recognize that it is only our own fickle perceptions that change, we can say, "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Because we realize our circumstances are not a reflection of God's feelings toward us.

Well, to my great relief, we are not being asked to wander for forty years like the Israelites.

We found renters for our house in late December, and their lease will start in February. The fact that the house rented rather than sold means we don't have our equity from the sale, so we've had to change the price point of the homes we're looking at down here.

The first day we went out casually looking at houses a couple weeks ago, we stumbled onto an opportunity not listed on the MLS or any of the realty websites, a home that meets all of our needs and many of the wants we had thought impossible at this price.

And had we begun looking even one day sooner, we would have missed it.


It is a brand new home falling out of contract due to a job transfer. We signed the contract in time to pick 90% of the finishes, and the house is scheduled to be completed within the time frame necessary to move our belongings from Colorado straight into the house without paying extra storage or moving fees.

The timing, in fact, could not have worked out more perfectly.

We are in the area we hoped to live, in a neighborhood we really like, and remarkably, though we don't know a lot of people down here yet, we do know (and like!) the neighbors right next door.

Though we couldn't see the master plan for months and months, the picture is becoming clearer. And as is usually the case with God, the outcome is even better than we had thought.

Time and again, we worry that our hope in God is naive, silly, a pipe dream. That He has bigger problems to solve and less whiney children to care for. But time and again, God teaches us that we are wise to believe His goodness, that we are significant to Him, even in our foibles. We are not foolish to abdicate responsibility for circumstances beyond our control to the benevolence of the One who spoke heaven and earth into existence.

This particular story becomes yet another monument in our life to remind us of how God provides, of how He meets us in ways far superior to what we would construct if we were in charge. And we're only glimpsing the beginning of what's to come. In response, our hearts swell with gratitude and with the desire to use the blessings we've been given to bless those around us.

This is the dance of faith. God initiates, we respond. God provides, we give thanks. God blesses, and we bless out of our blessing. God proves his trustworthiness time after time, and so the next time our circumstances confound us, we have a little more history, a little more experience, a little more confidence in God's plan to transform the worst of times into the best of times.

We receive our manna, and it is enough to sustain us until we reach the land overflowing with milk and honey.

We have yet to know what the full plan for Josh's career and our time in Texas will be. But kindly, dependably, God shows us with each circumstance that He is for us, that His plan is not to harm us. He simply asks that we follow, with as much patience as a child can muster, in faith that the Father is good--really, truly good.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

When Nostalgia Whispers

Despite our best attempts to plan around the weather, we found ourselves caught in a winter snow storm on our drive from Texas to Colorado at Christmas. Though the storm wasn't forecasted to roll in until the evening of our second day driving, by lunchtime, the snow fell in steady white flakes, covering the roads, the rural towns, and the rest of the empty landscape in pristine powder.

We pulled into a restaurant for lunch, the parking lot frosted thickly white. Before we opened the car doors, we readied ourselves for the cold, wet trek to the warmth inside.

I climbed out of the car quickly and turned to extend my hand to Abby so we could race in together. But as soon as Abby stepped out of the car, she stopped.

She closed her eyes, lifted her face to the sky, and opened her mouth to catch snowflakes on her tongue.

Her response to the snow was reflexive, without thought, as natural as squinting into the sun. It was as though something deep within her recognized the snow as a return to home, and her little body knew its role by heart.

I stood there watching my girl, silent snowflakes collecting all around us, and marveled at how deep the roots of a place burrow inside us, how readily our spirit responds to the memories of where we come from.

She giggled and ran to grab my hand, her cheeks now pink. "It tastes good, Mama!" she shouted as we hurried inside together, kicking up puffs of ivory with each step.

Yes, Baby. Nothing tastes sweeter than home. And we are wise to listen when nostalgia whispers, inviting us to stop, close our eyes, and remember.

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