Are We Eating Enough Humble Pie?

Are We Eating Enough Humble Pie?

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

Humble pie. An old-fashioned phrase. Makes me think of a picnic in springtime, a checkerboard tablecloth, and someone joyriding through a forest in a horse-drawn wagon. That person thinks he’s king of the world. He’s showing off but all-too-soon he hits a rock, is catapulted from his dinky wooden seat, and with arms and legs flailing catches air and unceremoniously lands in a huge puddle. Mud covers him from head to toe.

Don’t ask me where I got this visual. I have no idea. But when people say, “He’s too big for his britches,” something along these lines comes to mind.

What is humility, exactly?

In modern parlance, we’ve wrongly accepted it as having low self-esteem. It’s not that.

Merriam-Webster’s defines it as the quality or state of not being proud or haughty. To be humble is also to rank low in a hierarchy or scale. To be unpretentious.

Note that these definitions do not indicate intrinsic value. You can be a cog in the wheel of a large organization, but if doing your job enables others to get theirs done too, you’re not exactly worthless, are you?

My grandfather used to say he was a “peanut” when he described his career as an engineer at Boeing in Seattle, WA. A former WWII pilot and instructor, he was extremely bright and capable, and held a variety of positions which relocated his family a handful of times over the years. But no matter how much I admired his work, his perspective was different. He’d grown up in the Great Depression, and lived apart from his mom for seven years on a small farm outside of Vancouver, WA with his father and sister, while his mother provided income as washer woman in Seattle. She sent money down to her family every time she got a paycheck. He never forgot arriving at that farm house for the very first time and realizing that the only running water came through a rough, open pipe over the kitchen sink, fed by a trickling local stream. Though the amenities did improve, prolonged family separation – not by choice but by necessity – and hard times, left marks. He never took blessings for granted. Instead, he took the opportunities he was given and used them to serve others. He always gave others credit and downplayed his own contributions. He was holding all things in proper perspective, the way a truly humble person navigates life.

So it made sense to me, sitting at his memorial service, that here was a man who had spent his life making kind overtures. Yes, he helped feed and clothe the homeless through his church, and volunteered countless hours to manage the books for community groups. But another thing he did really struck me.

In his later years, he joined a yacht club and rose ‘through the chairs’ to become Commodore. At the end of the monthly members’ meeting, he had a personal tradition of “Naming the House.” Starting on one side of the room and making his way around, he would say the name of every person present, and if there was enough time, also the name of his/her spouse and their boat. At any meeting, there might be as many as 200 people present.

This is notable for a few reasons:

First, what a memory! Keeping his mind sharp was always important to him, but he must have spent days studying the roster. It shows a level of dedication to his organization that I believe most leaders don’t have.

Second, he was looking at each person as he said their name and relayed information pertinent to that person’s life. How often do we tell others that they are seen? That we know them? That we care who they are?

And finally, he was not doing this to show off or to elevate himself above his fellow members. He did it because he fully understood that once his term was up, he would reassume his place in the crew. Despite the fancy uniform and podium he was speaking from – he was – essentially – just like them, and he valued each of them for who they were individually. His heart was in serving them. He knew that each person was important – a valued member – and he wanted them to know that he would never forget a single one.  

This how God sees us.

He looks upon us with tremendous love – boundless affection – and says, “I know you. Every part of you. And in my leadership, I will never forget you.”

To show us that he understands, He sent us Himself in Jesus. Fully man, and fully divine, a person who was similarly tested in all ways, but remained without sin. (Hebrews 4:15) God “gets” us.

True humility on our part is recognizing our rightful place in the world, which is neither less than nor greater than any other human being, but bowing only toward the One Who is.

How does this thought strike you? Is it strange? Foreign? Liberating?

Our intrinsic value is not defined by our position. It is not related to our income, connections, careers, or even our bad habits.

We were created in love by the One Who cradles us in the palm of His hand and calls us Beloved. This is where we find our true worth. 

This kind of humble pie is Truth. And it’s deliciously filling.

Study Birds and Turtles – Or How to Love in Life’s Mundane Moments

Study Birds and Turtles – Or  How to Love in Life’s Mundane Moments
Me and my first-born at the National Zoo many years ago.

How do you love those closest to you in life’s mundane moments? Those times when all you see are the remains of everyday life and the residue bugs you…Toothpaste stuck to the sides of the sink. Towels in crumpled heaps on the floor. Crumbs all over the countertop.

When our first child – a boy – was still an ‘only’, my husband and I took him on regular visits to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. We had high hopes that our son would embrace our love of animals – all the same majestic beasts of power I admired (like the great cats), and the intelligence and antics of the creatures my husband favored (such as the primates and the otters). Instead, we often found ourselves wandering around the Bird House or lingering beside a pond of lily pads as eternal minutes dragged on. But these locales were positively scintillating for our son. He was mesmerized by the tiniest of brown birds, the plainest of turtles sitting motionless on its mini-island rock in the center of a lagoon.

I couldn’t understand it until my husband made the wise observation, “These animals are small. Closer to his size. They’re easier for him to study and appreciate.”

It was true. While we may be attracted by the bright, colorful, and bold, it’s more often the case that passionate love for a creature, person, place, or anything else develops in a slower, more nuanced way. We connect with what seems within reach – with what we understand – starting from the outside and exploring within. Once there, we bridge the gap, allowing our hearts to grow stronger in affection for that which we have come to esteem.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” but even she knew her sonnet would inadequately describe love of a person – the greatest experience known to man this side of heaven.

“I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace….
and, if God choose, I shall love thee better after death.”

-Sonnet 43

It takes a lifetime and beyond to fully value an individual, doesn’t it?

When we truly stretch ourselves to love the entirety of another person, accepting him or her as a unique and irreplaceable gift, we experience a taste of the vastness of God.

But most days, we are blind to the divine glory of our loved ones.

We get tired. We fuss and fidget over our to-dos. We become automatons in the stress and hustle of our world. And in the modern age, we stare blankly and numbly at our screens, scrolling past the myriad faces of people who don’t play significant roles in our lives.

Why? Why are we wasting this precious time?

God’s grace – as evidenced by the immense creativity across the depth of the people we love – is there for the knowing, if only we would look up and SEE.

Post-Valentine’s Day, I would encourage us all to recommit ourselves to the study and appreciation of the people closest to us. The ones who really matter.

Memorize the feel of your child’s hair under your palm. Fix your beloved’s smile in your mind’s eye. Etch the echoes of voices you treasure on your heart.

Listen. Not to just the words, but to the yearning to be understood that lies behind the words.

Love never ends, but opportunities to see it shimmering like dewfall in life’s most mundane moments – do.

Let’s not rely on a holiday to savor the beauty of our valentines. Today is as perfect a day as any.

The Gift You Should Give Yourself

The Gift You Should Give Yourself
Photo by Elisa Coluccia on Unsplash.

Can you stop for 5 minutes?

FULL. STOP.

Close your eyes and tune out the world, right where you are?

If you’re like me, you think, “Sure. Anytime.”

But doing it isn’t easy.

My oldest child will receive the sacrament of Confirmation in the spring, so last night I attended a meeting for parents of candidates. Appropriately, we began in prayer.

I closed my eyes, but not before noticing that the mom next to me kept glancing down at the phone in her lap, reluctant to put it away. She crossed and uncrossed her knees. Shuffled in her purse. Wiped hair from her face. Pulled herself out of her nylon parka, making “swish, swish” sounds which seemed amplified in the quiet church sanctuary.

The fact that I can tell you this is an indication that I myself was not ‘fully present to God.’

My mind was also very much here on earth, following its whims.

Sitting quietly is hard for us.

We firmly believe that busyness is such a hallmark of our time that we’ve allowed the noise of it all to sweep us away from what our souls actually crave: silence.

A Real Simple article from September 2017 traces the influence of noise on our well-being. Writer Florence Williams points out that while loud noises have always been a threat to our hearing, recent research links increasing noise levels with heart attacks and high blood pressure. There is an association between elevated noise in our environment and the release of stress hormones.

When you factor in visual stimulation – the way we are constantly bombarded with news, advertising, and even the accumulation of items in our spaces – it’s no wonder we feel some sense of peace just standing in a place that’s clutter-free.

So what’s the take-away?

We need quiet to find peace.

Quiet – and the practice of learning to be still – could be the very best thing you give yourself this holiday season and into the new year.

It won’t be easy. And not because you and I don’t have 5 minutes to spare.

Sit motionless with your eyes closed for 30 seconds and you’ll see that your other senses are amplified.

You’ll hear your own breathing and the air whirring about your head, feel shifts in your body, smell lingering odors, taste whatever you last ate…. You’ll experience any number of sensations before realizing your mind is cataloging them!

But we can change this.

Practice helps us progress.

After we parents at last night’s meeting finished our shuffling, we settled into clarity and calm. Eyes closed, I listened wholeheartedly to what came next – a song – and relaxed into its words of praise, letting the alto voice carry me toward a better frame of mind.

It wasn’t pure silence, but it was a start.

When we empty ourselves of ourselves, we find what’s greater than us.

Practicing silence, we hear the whisper of God.

So as you hustle around handing out presents to those you love, find a place in your day to… hush.

Stop where you are. Close your eyes.

Start with just one minute and grow from there. One day into the next.

But give yourself this gift, because we fool ourselves into thinking that stimulation is necessary and good, when the absence of it holds the promise of so much more.

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

When was the last time the events of a day seemed to be pointing to bad news for you? Did things actually turn out to be as awful as you’d feared?

I shared this story with my readers several seasons ago, but this year seems as good a time as any to revisit the lessons of that fateful day. 

Re-posting this story for your holidays. Blessings to you and yours.

– Gretchen 

The Unexpected Christmas Visitor

I can’t remember the year, but I know it was Christmas. And he called my brother-in-law by name. And that’s part of what set off the  tension in the air….

As I remember it, it was like this…
The doorbell rang and a 20-something guy in a fire department sport jacket was standing on the front steps of my sister- and brother-in-law’s house looking very nervous.

Photo my Les Anderson, Unsplash.

The door opened.
“Mr. D?” he asked.
“Yes, yes.”
“I’m uh. I’m uh…very sorry to tell you this. But…”
“Yeah??” my brother-in-law’s voice escalated a little.
“But, uhm. Uh…”
“YEah?”
 “I ran into your mailbox. I’m…”
“Oh, GOD!!!”
“I’m really, really sorry. The road is very icy and I just…”
“NO! No! No,” my brother-in-law was almost yelling, and beginning to let out bits of relieved laughter.
The guy in the doorway wasn’t sure what to think. He paused, dumbfounded.
“No! I…I have five brothers! I thought you were gonna tell me one of them had died!”
“Oh, God!! Oh, no!! No, man! I’m sorry.”
At this point, the rest of us adults in the house were laughing with relief too.
“It was just the fire department jacket, you know!?? And you looked so serious!”
“Well, I just feel so bad about the mailbox, and…”
“Ah no! This hill, the road, it’s ok. Really.”
“I want to pay for it.”
“No. No. Won’t let you do that. Merry Christmas!! Merry Christmas!!”
Isn’t it funny, how in a flash, we can calculate what’s truly most important to us? My brother-in-law knew that his wife and kids were right there at home with him, so his thoughts then followed to the next ring of people he loves – his brothers. And his heart was filled with gratitude for the fact that the news was not about them.
How often do I give thanks for ill that has not befallen me? I’m not saying I should look at other people’s tragedies and say, “I’m so glad that’s not happening in my life.” But if I’m honest, on the vast, vast, vast majority of days the good so far outweighs the bad that I have no reason to dwell unnecessarily on negative things.
Rejoice always. 
– 2 Thessalonians 5:16

Contemplating Home and the Passing of Days

Contemplating Home and the Passing of Days

Fall is turning to winter and we are, once again, considering Christmas preparations. But as we do, I think back on the events of my fall and they seem to coalesce around one concept: HOME.

What a loaded word that is.

HOME. My third-grader listed it as one of the places he most likes to go on his “All About Me” poster for school. This blessed me greatly. For him, home is close to what it should be – a refuge and stronghold of love.

And I fervently hope my children will always feel this way about the home they’ve grown up in.

HOME is where we live, where we once lived, and what will be our place of living at some point in the future. And yet despite our best efforts to make HOME stable, it is perpetually in flux.

From one year to the next, home changes.

Because the people are changing. Moving in and out. Closer and farther away.

This is my lesson from fall 2018.

Last month, I sat across from my 15-year old son at a wedding our family attended, and felt the years stretch out ahead and behind.

The bride was radiant (as all brides are) and the groom was dazzled by her. Family and friends wished them well and prayed for their happiness. I was especially hopeful, as the bride is a diamond of a person whom I’ve known for 15 years. Yes – ever since she started babysitting an infant boy – who grew into the teenage boy sitting across from me at her reception dinner. Back then, she herself was his exact age.

I see the way his increasingly broad shoulders fill out his blazer, how remarkably relaxed he is in a tie, joking with his teenage sister in a manner closely approximating adulthood. There are clear outlines of the man he will become; only the shading need be filled in.

And I returned again to my mind’s refrain – the one I’ve heard daily since September.

I miss him already.

He’s only a sophomore in high school. A couple years to go.

But you can see a bird is going to take flight when it raises its wings off its back, and that’s where we are now.

How do you sit with melancholy?

The instability of knowing the inevitability of an event that is both happy and sad? Desirable – even prayed for – and yet – not exactly what your heart craves.

He will be leaving his home.

I can stand back and watch time pass quickly – like sand through an hourglass – or I can break open the glass and examine each grain.

So I watch him eat. I listen to him laugh. I hear his stories and respond empathetically. Try not to react with alarm when surprised or concerned. I ask questions that I hope will bring us closer, and when he shares with me – I thank him. His life is his. I know this. And yet….and yet….

Home is where we want to be….together. But togetherness is fleeting. All homes are temporary shelters of love since the members come and go. They draw closer to us. And pull away. For days, months, years, or forever.

There is no real home here on earth.

I bear this in mind, and take my heart to the only One who can console, and who loves my son more than me. It’s his Creator, and mine, after all.

And while I pray for my son’s protection, I am reminded that this boy was given to me for a time, and no more.

Let’s live the days as if they are numbered, for indeed – they are.

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. – Psalm 90:12

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

“All the Days of My Life” – a guest post by my husband, Chris

Today – May 23, 2018 – my husband Chris and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. About a month ago, I asked my beloved if he’d like to write something about marriage for my blog to mark this occasion, and I was delighted when he said yes. The final product is a gift that exceeded all of my hopes and expectations, and I am both humbled and overjoyed to be sharing it with you.

 

All the days of my life

In our first week of dating, attending an inaugural ball for President Clinton’s second inauguration. January 1997.

The first 7,304

It never occurred to me that marrying Gretchen was a choice.  Truly, it was no more a decision than it was whether to draw another breath.  I suppose I could have put it off, but then I’d eventually pass out and start again.  Breathing that is.  But you get the point.

We were engaged ten months after our first date and wed six months later. It didn’t seem fast because marrying her was the most natural thing I have ever done.  I had also been brought up to believe that’s how it should be. Blessed to be born into a family overrun with happy marriages, my mother used say that “you just know it when you know it.”  It was a uniquely unsatisfying, irretrievably irrational and absolutely accurate piece of wisdom, and I never doubted.

I gave little real thought to how “just knowing it” would feel.  But when I fell in love with Gretchen, I remember having a sense of peace that I hadn’t known before.  It was the kind of serenity that comes when you flow effortlessly in the stream of life.  I recall thinking calmly to myself,

“So this is her. The love of my life.  I knew she’d be smart.  Glad she’s pretty. Figured she’d be blonde.”

And I exhaled, as if I had been holding a small measure of my breath for the better part of 24 years.

Of course we did have some difficulties which were also learning experiences.  To this day, our biggest fight came as newlyweds setting up our first apartment.  The Great Spice Rack Dispute will live on in family lore for decades to come.  Well it should as a tale rife with lessons about life.

The facts of the matter, as stipulated by the parties, are these: Gretchen wanted the spice rack concealed in a cabinet so the kitchen wouldn’t look messy.  I preferred the spices visible and within arm’s reach.  Needless to say, it’s a miracle our marriage survived.

I recollect nothing of what was said but I remember it being explosive, at least by our standards.  I think I even left the condo that night, coming back a little later.  After all, my magnificent dog, Crash, was still there.

When the dust settled, we spoke about what had happened.  It turns out that Gretchen was actually not arguing about the spice rack’s precise location. Instead, I learned that she had a lifetime of plans and ideas about how to create a home; that these notions were an extension of her identity; that our disagreement seemingly threatened our very being as well as endangering all manner of critically important, authentically valid, truly emotional and deeply-held thoughts about herself, me and our new life together.

And for my part, I was arguing about where to put the spice rack.

May 23, 1998.

An important lesson to this day, I understand that the real cause of most conflicts usually has little to do with the ostensible terms of the debate.  That is, it’s easy to confuse the symptom with the illness and growth in our marriage has usually come from focusing on underlying issues.

That said, we have developed a few everyday strategies to avoid unnecessary flare-ups.  These include:

  1. No discussing anything after 10pm. Not the kids, not tomorrow’s schedule, not rainbows, not unicorns.  No matter how seemingly innocuous, a late day conversation is about 500 times more likely to end poorly and/or stupidly.
  2. No mind reading. And no demands for telepathy.  We try not to conjure up each other’s thoughts and if we want something, we need to say it.
  3. Always assume the best intentions. We want the best for each other.  Our frustrations are usually borne of a lack of understanding rather than an absence of love.
  4. No quinoa. Ever.  I’ve forgiven Gretchen for knowingly eating Grape Nuts, but there’s a limit.  Quinoa is bad for a marriage, your soul and for America.

Most importantly, over the years we’ve found that approximately 99.3% of our issues are not between us as a couple, but within us as individuals.  Gretchen brings out my better qualities, but she doesn’t rid me of my flaws.  I still bring me into every situation.

That’s one of the many reasons spiritual growth has become part of our life together.  We don’t always approach it in the same way, nor do we have to.  For instance, Gretchen is a Catholic convert.  Her kind can be found singing during Mass and probably sitting upfront being all attentive and holy.  On the other hand, I was raised Philadelphia Irish Catholic, so my brand of religion involves telling jokes during funerals.

Such superficialities aside, we both care deeply about growing personally and growing as a couple.  Early on, especially when we were finding our own way, we stepped on each other a few times.   But we have accepted that our spiritual paths run alongside each other, each meandering at its own pace, sometimes crossing, sometimes in parallel, always moving the same direction. And that works for us.

When reflecting on marriage, it’s easy to dwell on the bumps in the road.  I think doing so misses the joy in it all. After all, perfection is a fine thought, but it means that there is no further growth, no greater joy, nothing more to be revealed. I’m in no hurry.

The fact is that our problems are really just challenges, and our challenges are really just worries. The worries, trifles.  Job stress, busy schedules, not enough time for all the people we care about.  Each and every one just a reflection of some wonderful blessing in our lives.

I often need to remind myself of that great truth and to bask in profound gratitude for having been given such a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman with whom I can greet life.  Gretchen is my greatest blessing.

When we married, I promised to love and honor Gretchen all the days of my life. Great days do adorn our past, but the best lay yet ahead.  And as each has passed over the last twenty years, I remain forever overwhelmed.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Kids Driving You Nuts? Make ‘Em Laugh.

Can you make your kids laugh?

Allow me to rephrase.

Do you make your kids laugh?

I am not widely considered to be a funny person, but I have found that making my kids laugh is one of the most underrated joys of parenthood.

It also happens to be the perfect antidote for my own bad moods.

We’re a little more than halfway through spring break and the kids are very PRESENT. With me 24-7. And I’m an introvert. I REALLY like my time alone.

You can see the potential for conflict here.

But lately, I’ve been reminded of a delightful truth: grace can even take the form of humor.

When I’m my most cranky and selfish – the moments when I want to go hide in a long bath, read my novel, and paint my toenails over and over again – those are the times when I find that humor helps the most.

And how does a non-funny woman become a comic for her kids?

I do something out of character.

A case in point: I have been known to dab for laughs.

I know, I know – it’s a 2015 move. (I think?) It’s not au courant. Cam Newton and the rest of the cool people have moved on. But that’s why it’s funny.

Do things your kids think you don’t know about in an untimely fashion (and out of the sight of their friends) and they’ll think you’re hilarious.

A few weeks back, it was just me and my two boys at dinner. The conversation was not award-winning and my mood could generally be described as testy, so to counter its effects I did the unthinkable – I dropped my fork and punctuated a sentence with a dab.

Four eyebrows were raised.

“Mom?!” they asked incredulously as I went back to eating.

“What’s up with you?!” I asked them, dropped the fork again, and jerked my arms back toward the ceiling.

They started to choke in fits of giggles. So I kept it up, telling them about something (I don’t even remember what), and ending each sentence with the trademark move.

Milk and water were snorted and tomato sauce spilled on the floor.

Silliness won the day.

And grace won too.

Like so many adults, I get caught up in my thoughts rather than allow myself to just move freely from one moment to the next, embracing the possible spark of joy that each moment holds.

I spend so much time considering the past or ruminating on the future that I miss the NOW.

So this spring break, I’m trying to allow humor to work its magic, because the joy I give to others bounces back and rejuvenates me.

My youngest is whining and says he’s bored, and man, I hate it when he does that. I tackle him as he walks by me, pin him to the floor, and tickle him until he shrieks in laughter.

My tween daughter is making a private Musically video to “Firework” AGAIN, and so I act it out with her, throwing myself in front of her iPad camera like I’m Katy Perry gone psycho.

Tired of the same-old, tired of yourself, and tired of your own foul mood?

Mix it up and and do something I’m sure you’ve done at some point before.

Surprise the ones you love with a move that’s hilariously out of (your) character. It’s a gesture of spiritual generosity you’re not likely to regret.

Who Gives the Best Pep Talks? Total Surprise.

Who Gives the Best Pep Talks? Total Surprise.

For the most part, my kids hang together well. But other days I worry about whether they’ll be on speaking terms when they grow up. They bicker and taunt each other. They mimic one other until someone is yelling and slamming a door. Sarcastic comments have led to hurt feelings. They are not unique kids; they are American siblings. And I am always listening to my own inner voice that tells me when I need to intervene and when I shouldn’t. It’s a learning process for all of us.

Then – once in awhile – they surprise me completely.

Saturday, my 12 year-old daughter and I were in Pittsburgh for an Irish dance competition. She was tired because we’d gotten in late the night before, and after lunch she still had two dances to go when I told her:

“Don’t use up the tank on this third one. Save it. And then just give it all you’ve got for hornpipe.”

Hornpipe was the dance she wanted to win. She’d been dancing well all day, but this last dance was the one she needed to finish off her current level and move closer to becoming a champion.

“Mom,” she said, “You’re really bad at giving pep talks.”

“What?!!” I feigned surprise.

She smiled.

“You don’t want to hear from me?” I continued, knowing full well she really doesn’t, but by that exhausted point, I was clueless about what to say next.

“How about Dad? Does he give good pep talks?”

“Not really.”

“Huh. Who does?”

Then – shocker of them all – she mentioned her older brother.

“Really?!!? What does he say?” I couldn’t imagine a 15-year old being a font of wisdom.

Giggling for the first time in hours she said, “Stuff like, ‘Kick the dancer in front of you.’”

“Oh!” I laughed, “That would never occur to me.”

“Of course not, Mom! You’re you.”

She got in line for her third dance and I texted her brother, saying his words were needed.

Right away he responded with this.

I stared at my phone like it was the best Christmas present I’d ever received.

You are going to do great…I have faith in you…

Did I read that right?

I read it again. And again.

After she came back, I handed her my phone and told her to call her brother. She snatched it with gusto.

A few minutes later she returned, laughing and smiling broadly. Her brother’s encouragement strengthened the words of his text, and hearing his voice soothed her soul. Just like that – he had completely changed her day.

Parents are a family’s leaders. But we often feel sidelined, taken for granted, and forgotten. Most of our work is unseen. While we may ultimately be remembered for the jobs we dutifully perform to provide, to feed, to enable participation and so forth, we are seldom thanked for the even more important work we do: building character in our kids, and showing them how to forge relationships in their lives. 

When was the last time you heard a kid say, “Thank you for teaching me forgiveness and gratitude. I really love my sister/brother”?

Yet this is what we do, every time we speak to our kids about why we treat one another with respect and love, and why we expect them to behave with decency and goodness.

Instilling virtue in kids is like throwing cooked spaghetti at the wall. Do it enough and eventually a piece sticks.

Or so I keep telling myself.

It had been awhile since I’d seen a reminder that this was still truth.

My daughter’s hornpipe dance was absolutely beautiful – probably the best I’d ever seen her do it. And her smile and posture – my gosh….She was on fire with joy.

In the end, she got fourth place. Not the first she wanted, but she had no regrets and had made no mistakes. Judging is a little subjective, and she’ll get her first another day.

And on that day, her brother will be cheering for her while I root for the two of them, from the sidelines.

How I Made My Little Boy Cry and How I’m Mending His Heart

How I Made My Little Boy Cry and How I’m Mending His Heart

I made my little boy cry last night, and I am not proud of it.

It was a typical Thursday. We live in Annapolis and my daughter had Irish dance class in Columbia, which is about 40 minutes away. (Yes, for this particular style of dance, her experience level, and the coaching, the drive is worth it.) So – I was bringing her and another dancer home, when she announced that she was hungry. Understandable at 6 pm after an intense workout. I put my plans for reheating the leftover Mexican casserole on the back burner, so to speak.

We stopped at Chick Fil A. There was another passenger in the car: my 8-year old son. He’d been with us for the entire trip up to dance and back (as he often is) and I was fairly sure he was hungry too. So I fed everyone.

The other dancer’s mother picked her up and we headed home, but not before making yet one more stop to drop off some paperwork for my oldest child’s Boy Scout troop that was due before the coming weekend.

We got home at 7:45. I told my little guy that his dad would be late, and to get a shower. He obeyed me. Then I sat down with my oldest son (age 15, who himself had just arrived home from school and crew practice) to discuss his day while we ate the aforementioned casserole.

At 8:15 my youngest walked into the kitchen and propped his skinny arms up on the far side of the island. I turned around from the sink, hung up the towel, and faced him.

“Ok. So you’ve got 15 minutes before bed. Want to go read a bit before lights out?”

Surprise, bewilderment, and sadness crossed his face all at once.

“Aren’t we going to have dinner?”

I was taken aback.

“You ate at Chick Fil A. Are you still hungry?”

His eyes began to flood. He nodded slightly.

I handed him a banana from the fruit bowl on the counter between us.

“Oh, bud. Come sit down.”

We walked over to the table, and as he slid into a chair and opened his banana, his welling eyes spilled over and he began a full-on cry.

“What’s wrong?” I stammered. But even as I said it, I knew.

“Is it about having dinner? Or just being together…at dinner?”

“Being together,” he managed to say.

I was convicted in where I’d wronged him, and also deeply thankful that all the sacrifices my husband and I make to force as many family dinners a week as we can are paying off. Dinner is often late and preceded by many “appetizers” – plates of cheese and crackers or apples meant to “hold you over” until everyone is home and able to sit down. But our kids love to be together. We are bonding a family, and this little boy’s crying heart was proof.

I coaxed him into my lap, grateful that he’s still small enough to kind-of, almost, fit there, and snuggled with him.

We talked it through. I apologized for all the running around, for failing to explain the day’s turn of events better to him as they were happening, and for not paying closer attention to how he was feeling along the way. And I told him that being together was important to ALL of us.

As a down payment on my renewed promise to reconnect with him, I let him stay up an extra 15 minutes, and we read together. Actually, he read to me, which is what he wanted, and I tell you, after all that driving, it was sort of nice to lie on his carpet and hear a story about a brave mouse going on an adventure.

I’m reading a great book right now called Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx. Marx is a journalist who spends a year with football coach Joe Ehrmann, a former Baltimore Colt, and his team at Gilman High School. The book was published back in 2004, but the lessons for raising kids – especially boys – are timeless and perhaps more important today than ever. Ehrmann argues that our lives are to be other-centered rather than self-centered, and that we find purpose when we choose this path.

When we focus on building and sustaining meaningful relationships over success by any other measure, our lives are more fulfilling and we find the satisfaction that we crave. Empathy is the key. We must develop empathy for one another – the ability to be touched by the pain and plight of others.

I looked at my son and wanted him to know that he was understood. Known. Heard. And cared for.

All it took was a couple moments and a renewed commitment to pay attention to the things that he values. Time with his family. Hugs and laughter at dinner every night.

I could do that. Just BE with him.

And you can do it too.

There is someone you know who has a silent crying heart right now. And your empathy is the key to changing things just a tiny bit for him or her.

Will you stop your endless driving, and sit and listen today?

A Good Spin On a Bad Day

A Good Spin On a Bad Day

It seemed to have been a bad day.

My teenage son sat at dinner and told me he’d walked to the bus that morning in the slush and rain, soaking his shoes right through. He felt just mediocre about how his classes had gone and then said,

“Coach was yelling at me a lot during practice.”

“What about?” I asked.

“Keeping my back straighter.”

My son is a novice rower, and learning the correct technique is what this year is all about.

“Was he disparaging or encouraging?”

“Mmm. Encouraging,” he admitted.

“He wants you to get better?”

My son nodded.

“And did he single you out, or was he yelling at others too?”

“He was yelling at others too.”

“Right. I see. You know, I heard on the radio today that the average American has 60 bad days a year. That’s slightly more than 1 per week.”

My son looked up from his plate and gave me a begrudging grin.

I left it at that.

Sometimes we need to hear a few well-placed questions and a relevant tidbit to help us turn our perspective slightly, from a jaded to a more positive point of view.

The same is true in the spiritual life. If I consider all my trials as personal attacks, I will become disheartened.

But if I recognize that in my human condition I am not alone in my suffering, I can take a step toward seeing things more clearly.

There is Someone Who is willing to carry my burdens for me and give me His strength in return for my trust in Him. I can draw new strength from Him to carry on, and someday He will show me the reasons for my trials.

Cast your care upon the Lord,
Who will give you support.
God will never allow
The righteous one to stumble.
(Psalm 55:23)