Helping Our Kids See So-Called “Failure” in Another Light

Helping Our Kids See So-Called “Failure” in Another Light

‘Tis the season – for baccalaureates and graduations, end-of-the-year recitals, class parties, and team dinners. All kinds of awards are given out for the kids who exemplify the traits we all admire: hard work, good citizenship, perseverance, dedication, sportsmanship, and congeniality.

And we’ve all seen the important messages telling us to remember the kids who won’t get awards, since it’s true that oftentimes virtuous, good-hearted people are the least celebrated.

Yet what’s also happening under the surface at this time of year, is a certain degree of parental angst. A battle within of pride versus humility. The knowledge that as parents we are somewhat responsible for our kids’ success, yet wholly inadequate to account for most of it.

Try as we might to encourage our kids, point them in a good direction, and set them on a course for success, they are each working with a particular set of skills and abilities. And to a large degree, they must their provide their own initiative and fuel to go forward.

Then, we have to be there to help them when things don’t quite work out.

Sometimes the victories and the so-called ‘failures’ happen simultaneously. In the same season.

One kid receives an award and sets a personal record or is offered a spot on a team, while another falls short of a goal. Lessons will be learned from the lead-up to these events, but meanwhile, the tension between kids can threaten familial peace or the bonds of friendship.

What to do?

How do we, as parents and mentors, respond?

As in all things, let Love lead the way. Here are 4 small steps to consider:

1) Focus on what gives your child LIFE. Activities that diminish his or her spirit will not enhance growth toward the person God has created this child to be. Does the sport or subject bring out the child’s best qualities, allow her to develop her skills in useful ways, make her feel valued and appreciated, allow her to display her inborn talents? Think about the long-term objectives of the activity, not the short-term goals.

2) Remind the child of other occasions when he or she overcame setbacks. It’s practically a guarantee that this disappointment is not the first in this kid’s life, and it won’t be the last. Learning to handle adversity is a valuable life skill. Let’s make sure our kids know their own histories. They don’t have to feel perpetually defeated.

3) Ask if the child would rather be doing something else, and listen carefully to his or her interests. Our secret dreams reveal our desires, and while they may seem far-fetched once vocalized, they hold keys to the divine plans for our lives. You might ask, “Does this mean that if my child wants to be a singer I should drop everything and look for an agent?” No – but it might mean that he should learn more about music.

4) Remember the adage, “God never closes a door without opening a window.” It grows out of the faith St. Paul expressed in Romans 8:28, that “[W]e know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Made in His image, our lives are not meant for our own glory; we are here to serve Him in His infinite love, and nothing could be more important or more beautiful than working toward that particular goal. We can teach our children to see every hurdle, every roadblock, every detour they encounter with faith that He who has loved us all from before time began can and will make something wonderful of even this.

Planting small seeds with this attitude about personal growth pays off. I had a conversation with my 9-year old this week that surprised me. It wasn’t exactly about holiness, but it was about encouragement, something I was delighted to see him passing on.

God was there in the midst of two kids, one helping the other one out. At the end of a baseball game my son told me,

“Adam* was crying after he struck out. So, I gave him a pep talk.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, ‘Striking out is your next step to greatness.’”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

*Not his real name.

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in May

5 Wholesome Things I Learned in May

The title tells you what this monthly post is typically about: 5 Wholesome Things I’ve learned in the last 30 days. But this time, I’m going to broaden the scope just a bit and add in stuff you already knew but might not think about every day. Observations that make you feel better about life – because we all know our mood is elevated when we focus on what’s good and pure, instead of what’s demoralizing and evil. Right? Ok. Here goes.

  • The fierce, protective spirit of motherhood is alive and well. In May we celebrated Mother’s Day, so women who mother in all kinds of ways got much of the attention they so richly deserve. But even as they were lauded, women’s selfless instincts shone. Twice this month, I saw women display crazy mothering proclivity when they stopped traffic to save small animals. The first ran from her truck and held out her arm to halt three lanes of cars so a mama duck and her 8 ducklings could cross the road. The second sprang from her sedan and dashed in flip-flops about 20 feet behind her car to snatch a turtle from the center of the lane and lay it in the grass before the next car came up behind. On both occasions, I was driving past, and my teenage daughter – sitting in my passenger seat – declared, “I would do that, Mom.” Her comments made me smile, shake my head, and launch into lectures about how dangerous it is risk life and limb to save adorable, helpless animals from oncoming cars. But the desire, bravery, and inclination a woman has to do this? I get it. I really do.

  • Kind and decent men are everywhere. You’d think from the news that we have to beware of nefarious men lurking in every corner. But I can think of at least a dozen men this month – all of them strangers – who were gracious to me. They held open doors, gave me directions, offered to help load groceries into my car, politely answered questions about products I was buying, and simply wished me good day. It may seem strange to point this out, but when we are individually thankful for the good men in our families, yet buy into society’s lie that all men are predators, it’s time to reconsider our thinking. And many men are cheering women on in all kinds of endeavors – and our sons are noticing. A former Blue Angels pilot came to speak to my son’s 3rd grade class this month. It was a day my little boy will always remember, and he has since regaled me with many of the stories and facts the pilot shared. This gentleman made a point of telling the group, “There has never been a woman Blue Angels pilot [of the F/A-18s], but I have met many women I think would make good ones.” I wasn’t there and I can’t read minds, but I’m guessing when they heard that, a few girls sat up straighter in their seats. I know my son did, and he was happy to tell me all about it.
  • Decluttering is liberating. My husband and I ordered a dumpster this month and while it sat in our driveway for a week our family cleaned out our garage and backyard, tossing our trash into the green monster with glee. (Well, I felt gleeful; everyone else was less excited, but hey – the work got done!!) In the photo, you only see the topmost layer: branches from a tree we trimmed. But under that are huge rusted pieces of our dismantled shed, broken flower pots, random chunks of plywood, old hoses, two beleaguered dog houses, and much, much more. Without all this stuff, our entire property feels bigger and fresher. Getting rid of what’s broken and no longer useful is exhilarating. If you haven’t done any spring cleaning, go purge a junk drawer and live the dream!! You already know how good you’ll feel!
  • Spring weather and a walk with a friend is good medicine. I’m not going to point to any studies confirming this statement, but sunny weather lifts our spirits. We all know this is true. Don’t you just love to be outside on a 75 degree day when the sun is warm, a light breeze blows, and you’ve struck up a good conversation with someone you trust? I’ve been walking once a week with a friend this May, and while we haven’t cured cancer or solved global conflicts, we have found some measure of peace by discussing the topics that scare and delight us as we stroll along. As Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good [more satisfying] reward for their labor.” (The Amplified Bible) True friends are gifts from the best Giver of all. Spending time with such people are part of His plan for us – a way in which He wants to bless our days.
  • The people surrounding us – physically – matter the most, most of the time. For two 4-day weekends this month, I spent very, very little time (i.e. less than 10 minutes total) on social media, and for someone with multiple accounts this was unusual. I like Facebook and Instagram, and I try to limit my screen time in general, but this was different. Both weekends, I focused on being present – to my mother in Florida for Mother’s Day, and to my husband and kids for Memorial Day. And the truth is – no online ‘friends’ missed me, and if my faraway friends had important news to share, I heard about it later, directly from them. Why? Because the people who need me mostand who I need most – are living and breathing in the same spaces as me. I think you know it’s true in your life as well. Let’s not waste time living vicariously in curated feeds or mindlessly scrolling for memes to make us laugh. With God’s help, we can be wiser than that; we can learn to see our days for what they are: numbered, precious, and meant to be given in love to those with whom we actually share them.

Wishing you peace and joy in June and always!

Amidst Angels: A Short Post on Gratitude

Amidst Angels: A Short Post on Gratitude
U.S. Navy Blue Angels, 2015. Photo taken at Hospital Point, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis.

“It’s so beautiful,” I said as we watched the Blue Angels making the final pass of their 2019 flight demonstration over the Severn River.

“Mom, you think everything is beautiful,” replied my teenage daughter.

I looked over at her – sandy blonde hair – taking videos with my phone.

Yep. Beautiful.

Me and my daughter at the 2019 Blue Angels flight demonstration.

Practically all of Annapolis clamors to find a spot somewhere near the water to view the planes at 2 pm on the Wednesday of Commissioning Week – those 5 blissful days in May when the Academy sends off its newest batch of brilliant officers to represent our nation across the globe. I give that praise with no sarcasm whatsoever. They are – to a woman and man – among the very best and brightest our country has to offer.

So we’ve come to watch the flight demonstration honoring them every year for the past 12? I’ve lost count. Except when the Blue Angels were grounded because of weather or budget cuts (2013), we were there. With friends or by ourselves, we make this annual pilgrimage to appreciate the display of skill, training, courage, complete trust and raw nerve it takes to fly one combat airplane at 800 mph just inches from another. The show celebrates those who serve. It is about noble character, sacrifice, and working as a team for a cause greater than one’s self.

The elegance and energy of the moment will take your breath away.

And the glinting sun on the wings, the howling engines, and the cooling breeze make me wistful. In this week, more than any other in the year, I feel the passage of time.

My wedding anniversary…the near-end of another school year…the dying away of the spring flowers and the full-on growth of green shade for summer…all are happening right now in this week.

Is there a spot in your geography which makes you grateful? Where you see your days spread out before and behind you? You remember the good and the bad simultaneously? You hold the joy and the pain together as one?

2019. View across the Severn River.

The key to a full heart, I’ve found, is taking an inventory of the GOOD and raising it up high.

Even when there’s hurt. Even when there’s suffering. Even when concern is knocking on your door.

My days are not the same as they were just last year or two years ago, and I’m sure yours aren’t either. There has been success and sadness. There have been sound decisions and bad ones. And there are battles still being waged.

But in our favorite spots we are reminded that we are never independent of God’s grace. His presence – which continually blesses us despite all the ways we continually screw up – is just that – PRESENT. Always.

Every year, I stand on Hospital Point and I just feel so darn thankful to be alive. And this time, I knew why.

It’s all beautiful. All of it. Beautiful.

When You’re In a Hard Spot on Mother’s Day

When You’re In a Hard Spot on Mother’s Day
Is this going to be a tough Mother's Day? Take heart, friend. In all likelihood, you can honor your mother best in this one way.

Are you in a hard spot this Mother’s Day? Just not sure how to handle it?

Maybe you’ve recently lost your mom and the ache is raw and deep. Or she’s been gone a long while and you find yourself just a little bit resentful of people who’ve had their moms around for so much longer.

Or maybe your relationship with your mom is complex. You’re out of sync with her. Perhaps there’s a long, complicated history. Or nothing more than the fact that you’re separated by geography, personality, or matters of the heart; it’s hard to bridge the distances you feel between you.

We want love to be simple but it so rarely is.

We especially know this to be true when we try to express how we feel about our moms.

The necessary pulling away, the inexpressible desire to be close – it’s more than most of us can negotiate easily, and certainly beyond words.

We feel the tension even when we’re young.

Two nights ago, my teenage son entered the kitchen and told me that as part of an assignment, he needed to read me a letter he’d written to me during Spanish class. He was laughing as he explained, saying, “I told my friends, ‘My mom won’t understand a word of this. She studied French.’”

True. So he translated each line as he went, telling me, “I am proud to be your son,” and “You make the best food in the world,” which cracked us both up because we both know the latter is patently false.

The letter was equal parts humor and heart; a perfect reflection of how difficult it is to tell someone why you love them – much less in a language that challenges you.

I’m up against this now – struggling every day to tell my mom how much I love her – because I’m not taking any day for granted. An illness does that. It brings everything into proper perspective.

My mom has stage 3 mucosal melanoma. It’s a rare cancer that affects the body’s mucous membranes and does not respond to chemotherapy. She’s been battling it for 11 months now through surgeries, immunotherapy, and radiation, and there’s a reason why people say cancer sucks. It really, really, really does.

My heart is so heavy with the pain and suffering she’s enduring. And I tell her all the time, “I wish I could carry this burden for you.” But she wouldn’t wish it on anyone. If it were within her power, she would forever prevent my sister and me from ever experiencing this torment. She would take it all on herself.

A mother’s love is all about sacrifice.

From the moment the idea of you was born, your mother’s every breath was a silent prayer of hope for your well-being.

It’s exceedingly rare to hear of a mother who doesn’t love her children more than herself.

Every day, she shared her very soul with you.

And she gave all she could in the hope that you would grow fully into yourself – the most beautiful YOU she believed you could be – a person who would contribute goodness to the world.

To the best of her ability – however perfectly or imperfectly – she displayed the self-sacrificial love of God, the One who made her, and you, in His image.

Her sacrifice, written forever in your heart, was God’s sacrifice first.

We were divinely designed to love.

There have been many times when I felt indebted to my mom. Like when I was younger and she’d done too much for me at Christmas. It was then that I told her, “I can’t give you what you’ve given me.” She always said, “You’ll do the same for your kids, or for someone else.”

We come up short when we try to return our mothers’ affections. But in the end, that was never their intent.

How do we honor our moms?

We acknowledge and thank them for their love and all they’ve done for us – with fumbling words, our simple presence, and token gifts if our moms are alive, or with our grateful hearts if they have passed.

And just as importantly, we recollect and recount that she made daily sacrifices of love, in big and small ways, on our behalf.

And then?

Then we go. And we do the same.

Simple Lessons from Our Littlest Selves

Simple Lessons from Our Littlest Selves

Do you have a lifelong love? An interest or passion you’ve held since childhood?

Mine is flowers. I can’t remember not loving them. I look back through years of albums and there they are – random pics of lilies, roses, daisies, etc.

When we were little and living in Connecticut, my sister and I made chains out of dandelions and white clover (they looked like flowers to us!) and draped them around our heads and necks. We were princesses, ruling our tiny brick patio kingdom and its fuzzy caterpillars which we collected in Cool Whip bins lined with lush green leaves.

Flowers remind me that life – while fleeting – typically unfolds slowly. It should be colorful. Varied. Fragrant. Blooms and blossoms are part of a cycle which points to never-ending beauty.

Apparently, I was treasuring flowers even before I started making those dandelion chains. In the spring of 1975 when I was 2 and my dad (a Coast Guard officer) was out at sea, my mother and I rode the train down to Washington, DC, to see my dad’s parents who were living there for a short time while my grandfather took a work assignment from Boeing. We visited Mount Vernon, and I immersed myself in tulips.

Age two. Spring 1975. Mount Vernon.

For the next 40 years, that photo hung in my grandparents’ kitchen after they returned home to Seattle, WA, a treasured memory of a special day and a granddaughter they loved so much.

When I was 20, I visited the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Netherlands, when the tulips were in full bloom. If you ever have the chance to go – go. The colors were extraordinary. And I thought of my grandparents’ photo and asked my friends to help me reenact it on the spot.

Age 20. Spring 1993. Keukenhof Gardens.

When I look at these two pictures – especially the first one – I realize that my childhood still has lessons to teach me. And here are three simple ones:

1) Rushing is learned. When I was following my whims and exploring those tulips – which were at eye-level when I was 2 – I felt no pressure. How often do we allow others to create stress in our lives? How much of our stress is self-induced? When we feel tension, we can ask ourselves – is this truly necessary? My pace is my pace. In so far as it is possible, we should embrace our personal speeds as the way we were made.


2) We have 5 senses. This may seem like a silly statement, but really – do you ever just stop – and sniff? Taste? Look? Listen to the natural world? My mind is a whirl of information and I can go days without appreciating the scent of my child’s hair, all the flavors in every meal, or the concert the doves, cardinals, and finches perform outside my windows every single morning. Are you reveling in the world’s delights like a child does? Like you did when you were very, very young?


3) Someone is looking out for us. Toddling among the tulips, I knew my mother and grandparents were close by and I was safe to explore. Small children are innately trusting because they can’t do anything for themselves. But along the way we develop skills to help us navigate, and then we become arrogant. We begin to think we’re actually in control. But that’s a lie. None of us is fully responsible for where we’ve ended up. Some individual somewhere along the way was kind to each of us, gave us a piece of advice, or opened a door of opportunity that enabled us to become the people we are. Today, let’s offer gratitude for that person (or people), and acknowledge the possibility that his or her involvement was not an accident or coincidence, but a movement of affection by a divine Source of Love that wants us all to enjoy a fuller, richer existence.

Our childhood selves – the purest, most untroubled versions – believed and hoped and loved boldly before we were ever told there were limits. We moved at our natural pace, opened ourselves to life’s wonders, and trusted that all would be well.

Though we learned that people – even ourselves – can let us down, God has promised us that He never will.

Our Father in heaven longs for us to follow Him with a childlike love – a faith and hope without constraint, made possible by a renewal of daily trust in His slow and steady work in this beautiful world.

Can We Be Like Kids?

Can We Be Like Kids?
In one of our happy places.

Can we be like kids?

Maybe.

How are kids, exactly? Are they innocent? Carefree? Curious? Imaginative? Easily duped? Yes and no. It all depends on their ages and life experiences.

But one thing most of them can do – at least for a few moments at a time – is suspend whatever bothers them, relax, and PLAY.

This week, my younger two kids have been on Spring Break. Their school’s schedule is different from my older son’s and we’re not planning a family vacation until summer, so there were would be no “getting away” from our day-to-day. It was incumbent upon me to make plans to keep us from climbing the walls.

We did some closet cleaning and clothes shopping, but I also wanted to incorporate some fun, so we went to the aquarium, played mini-golf, and visited (brace yourself) IKEA!!

When a 9-year old drives.

I don’t know why IKEA has become a playground for our family over the years, but we can go there to buy a few organizer bins and spend hours. Yesterday was no exception.

Maybe it’s the bright, happy yellow and blue logo that sparks our endorphins, or the Swedish words we can’t pronounce – bjorksta, lustigt, or djungelskog, anyone? Better yet – the hundreds of inexpensive household trinkets. Or perhaps it’s the tasty food in the cafeteria, and the simple, functional furniture. Personally, I like the small designer showrooms – because I secretly dream of living in a tiny home with very few possessions. What’s funny is, on most trips, we don’t even buy very much (except the frozen meatballs, we always get lots of those). But whatever the allure…we all love it.

They’d like apartments in NYC with kitchens just like this…

And so my kids went into full IKEA mode. In the Showroom, they each claimed a perfectly-planned model apartment as ‘theirs,’ and pretended to serve one another in the mock kitchens. They sat at desks, opened and closed cabinets and closets, made themselves comfy on sofas, and spun round and round on bar stools.

Making himself at home.

And of course, in the kids’ section, they re-lived their “little” years, trying to fit into every playspace item that used to be a favorite.

She’s a good egg. Just not so little anymore.
What does it take to be like a kid? For most of us, it's fairly difficult. Here's why.
He spun her and spun her and spun her. It never gets old.

And what did I do? I took pictures.

Because for adults – watching kids be kids is easy. But being kid-like is hard.

I didn’t roll around on the couches or put my feet up on the coffee tables as if I were home watching TV. But maybe I should have.

And when my daughter yelled, “Mom, come try out this mattress,” I declined, thinking of all the people who had already done that. Ick.

The fact is, I was thinking about adult things – people I’m worried about, stuff on my to-do list – albeit with a smile on my face as I watched my kids.

As grown-ups, we carry burdens of concern, and we have a hard time setting them down. We offer up prayers and have to remind ourselves not to take them back again – to let the One above handle our issues.

Always trying to find resolutions on our own when we know that He is in charge is prideful. It shows we lack faith.

But we can start again. Every second of the day is a new opportunity to re-surrender.

When Jesus said, “Let the children come to me,” (Matthew 19:14) he wasn’t just talking about kids. He was also talking about a state of the heart. “[T]he kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” He said. When we become trusting and humble – when we open ourselves to the grace of this very moment – we will find Him there, and it will give our souls respite, a place to relax.

I need a place to go that’s far better than my own mind. Even better than a vacation or – need I say it, the make-believe spaces of IKEA. I need to be like a kid – finding joy at the feet of God.

I need to re-surrender and rest in Him. How about you?

Notre Dame de Paris and Legacies at Easter

Notre Dame de Paris and  Legacies at Easter

Photo by Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

On Monday, April 15, when the very first sparks caught deep in the forest of Notre Dame Cathedral’s 800-year old oak beams, my husband and I were singing the closing hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings,” at the funeral of a beloved man. His name was Jim, and he was the father of one of our dearest friends.

The church was packed, full of people whose lives had been touched by this husband of 51 years, father of 4, grandfather of 11, friend to hundreds, and volunteer whose time and contributions touched the lives of thousands through a long list of organizations within his community.

During the homily, the priest told a story about visiting the grave of Christopher Wren (1632-1723), the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the first person entombed within it. Wren’s gravestone reads, in Latin: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around you.”

Wren’s monument was the entire building. Spectacular, of course, but buildings do fall down.

Jim’s legacy is one of love and connection. It is a baton that has been passed on – and will be – for generations to come.

I was so grateful for the priest’s reminder as I drove home, thinking about people I love – people very close to me – who are currently suffering. Some have been fighting health battles for months with no end in sight. Others are dealing with very emotional issues – facing new realities, changed expectations, and daunting unknowns.

Like a devastating fire, suffering leaves marks on us and changes the way we move forward in our lives.

The temptation is to believe that a happy ending requires that we – like Notre Dame – be restored to some version of a former glory.

We think that with enough rest, medicine, good food, positive words, and advice from experts and well-meaning friends we can shore up our mental and physical strength and proceed as if nothing ever happened.

But what if we’re not supposed to? What if suffering – in all its forms – has a larger purpose?

What if it is supposed to change us forever?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction….” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Our suffering is allowed so that we might be brought closer to God’s face and then, in turn, use our experience to boost others on their journeys.

We are to pass the baton of Love.

So Jim’s life becomes a message of hope to us, just as Jesus’s resurrection – which we celebrate this weekend on Easter – is the tangible sign that with God, even death is not an end but an entryway.

Perhaps the Cathedral of Notre Dame will be rebuilt, but it can never be the same. The story must go on and be fashioned anew.

On Monday, we sat with our grieving friends and remembered that Jim was a man who gave generously of himself. He was beloved, because humans are attracted to the image of God reflected in a kind person.

Easter is coming. Suffering will end.

May Love be our guide to build legacies that last.

Do You Have Your Own Hogwarts House? I Do.

Do You Have Your Own Hogwarts House? I Do.

Do you have your own Hogwarts house? I don’t mean which of the 4 houses brilliantly imagined by J.K. Rowling for the Harry Potter** series do you think you would fit in, but do you have your OWN house?

Perhaps you should.

My family and I are big Harry Potter fans. Last summer during our vacation we finished up our 2-year adventure of listening to the entire series of audiobooks on long car rides (having already read them in print, of course). Then we visited the Pottermore website, created accounts, completed the online quizzes, were “sorted” into houses, and determined where our supposed loyalties should be.

According to Pottermore, my house is Ravenclaw – home of intelligent, creative, wise wizards. My patronus (spirit animal) is an otter (just like Hermione’s!), and my wand is Hawthorn Wood with a Unicorn hair core, 12 1/4” long and of quite bendy flexibility. I’m to use it with care and confidence, or it will create problems for me, as “hawthorn wands, which are complex and intriguing in their natures, [are] just like their owners who best suit them.”

I took this all in stride and my family hasn’t really pinned these descriptors to me, probably because we all know it’s just in good fun, plus – I had made a declaration months before.

In dinner-table conversation one night, everyone was busy trying to choose houses for one another when I announced, “I’m in my own house.”

“What do you mean?” they asked. So I explained.

“My house is called Dinglepouf, and it’s a very small house. Just for me.”

I was pressed for details…so I fashioned them on the spot.

“My colors are pink and green and my symbol? The Cockatoo. Because I think they’re cute and hilarious…all that hopping up and down with feathers puffed atop their heads.”

This was met with incredulous amazement. And laughter. But it was quickly accepted as family fact, and no one questioned me further.

And how could you? There’s only one member of my house, and so any of her qualities are those of the house as well. In general, she is sensitive, inquisitive, and a seeker of knowledge. She’s devoted to the people and pursuits of her heart, soft-spoken, and a lifelong daydreamer who still laughs at silly puns and other forms of low humor. People have often told her she’s sweet, but those closest to her know she can be mean, and that she outrageously stubborn.

And – she likes her own space. Hence, her own house.

Imaginary lives are entertaining. But we know where to draw the lines.

My 13-year old daughter enjoys playing online quizzes. She likes to see which celebrity’s style she supposedly matches, car she should drive, city she might prefer, or animal she would be if she were to miraculously transform.

And she likes me to play along. Sometimes, I do.

“Mom,” she said recently as she pointed to one such quiz on her iPad. “What do you really want from your life? Fame? Money? Power? or Other?”

“Other,” I answered.

“What do you mean?”

“What I really want is for my kids to grow up and have a close relationship with God.”

Her face crinkled, eyebrows pinched in the middle.

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

“But this is about YOU. What do you want?” she asked again.

“To live forever with God.”

She smiled and shook her head.

“Mom! You’re no fun!”

She was laughing and I knew she wanted me to be more accommodating to the quiz.

“I know. My answers don’t fit. But that’s often the way it is for me. I think differently.” I met her gaze, then added, “And that’s good.”

She nodded because she understood, chose ‘Other’ for me, and for the rest of the quiz I picked whatever sounded alright until I ended up being a blue aardvark or something at the end. It doesn’t matter.

What does matter is this: our kids are listening, and observing what we believe. About ourselves. About life. About where we find meaning and purpose.

It’s great to be a member of a “house” or a team – to find commonality and fellowship, to contribute our talents toward a greater cause, to be part of a unified effort – but each of us individually is worthy of celebration and we don’t need to be afraid to step apart.

I don’t want my daughter to pigeonhole herself. She CANNOT be pigeonholed. All of her traits, gifts, and talents are far too robust and varied for her to ever fit into just one category. It’s the way she was fantastically created. I don’t want her to be anyone but herself. Though I tell her this, I also have to lead by example.

In my adult life, I have been intrigued by personality-type frameworks such as the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram, and I know that I am not alone. I recently enjoyed Reading People by Anne Bogel (Free on Kindle now!), a thoughtful overview of several of these popular frameworks, which can provide us with valuable insights on our inner lives and the ways we interact with others, especially those who seem so different from us. Knowing our “type” – be it an ENFJ, or a Number 2 with a 5 wing, etc. (see the book if that’s all goo to you) – can help us in our careers, marriages, parenting, and spiritual lives. These frameworks are more meaningful, grown-up versions of “type” quizzes.

BUT, even if we can be grouped because we are similar to others, we are still uniquely made by One Creator. No two people are even remotely the same.

I am uniquely created to fulfill God’s purpose for my life, just as you are uniquely created by Him for yours, and each of my kids are for theirs.

And my life’s purpose is to love and serve God – my maker and lover of my soul – in all the ways He calls me right here and now. On paper yours might be the same, but it will play out in countless different ways.

This is a process of discernment which basically boils down to asking Him on the daily: 1) Where do You want me to show love? 2) Where do You want me to give of my time, talents, and treasure?

It took me a long, long time to figure this out, but once I did, all my days – even the bad ones, all through my history of pushing Him away – made sense. In light of this calling, in the light of God’s unending love for me – a deep, unshakable joy welled up from within, and I am happy to share it with everyone – especially my kids.

When I tell them I have my own house or that I want to live forever with God, I’m not saying it’s not good to be part of a team.

I am saying – embrace the person God made you to be, and know that this world can’t pin you down. You were made to go far, far beyond it. You are unique. You are wonderfully made. You are beloved. Don’t you ever, ever forget it.

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! – Psalm 139:13-14

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What Does the Cashier See in Our Eyes?

What Does the Cashier See in Our Eyes?

Photo by Barrett Baker on Unsplash

“What does the cashier see in our eyes?” I wondered as my teenage son and I approached the woman at counter number 17 of the Motor Vehicle Administration, after waiting for 3 1/2 hours to replace his lost learner’s permit.

Does she see anger? Frustration? Impatience? Or can we turn that all around?

While we were waiting, I’d been reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly,** in which she writes of the many virtues of sharing our vulnerabilities in order to live wholeheartedly – that is, in a manner that creates meaningful connections between ourselves and everyone we encounter.

In a sidebar that stretches across three grayed-out pages she highlights the way service people are often treated, recounting a story where she was caught on the phone in the middle of a drive-thru and had the presence of mind to tell the cashier:

“I’m so sorry. The phone rang right when I was pulling up and I thought it was my son’s school.”

I must have surprised her because she got huge tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you. Thank you so much. You have no idea how humiliating it is sometimes. They don’t even see us.” (p.149)

Brown goes on to explain,

“I see adults who don’t even look at their waiters when they speak to them. I see parents who let their young children talk down to store clerks. I see people rage and scream at receptionists…

When we treat people as objects we dehumanize them. We do something really terrible to their souls and our own. Martin Buber, an Austrian-born philosopher, wrote about the differences between an I-it relationship and an I-you relationship. An I-it relationship is basically what we create when we are in transactions with people whom we treat as objects— people who are simply there to serve us or complete a task. I-you relationships are characterized by human connection and empathy.

Buber wrote, ‘When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.’” (p.149-150)

I finished the three pages in Brown’s book and handed it to my son.

“Read this segment,” I said, and he did, agreeing with all of Brown’s observations about the current state of our society – people so involved with their phones and so wrapped up in themselves that they never once look a person across the counter from them in the eye.

If we know in our hearts that every individual is made in the image of God, imagine what we’re missing when we don’t stop to appreciate that kind of beauty every time we encounter it in a person each day.

And if we are God’s vessels – broken but still useful – can’t we summon enough courage to step out of ourselves so He can use us to promote peace in the world?

The rewards far outweigh the risk.

By the time we got to counter number 17, my son and I were tired, hungry, and more than ready to go home. But we both knew the woman who greeted us was doing her best. We smiled and were courteous. And lo and behold – she smiled back. We made small talk. She was surprised and laughed a little.

We learned she has kids of her own, was sympathetic to our situation, was patient and understanding.

Most importantly, we looked her in the eye as we spoke to her. And I saw she had big, brown gorgeous ones with tiny gold flecks and long, black eyelashes. And her hands moved across her keyboard with confident grace because she was very quick and knowledgeable in her work.

I’m glad I took a few moments to really see her – yet another one of God’s masterpieces.

****This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

I Am Where I’m Meant to Be

I Am Where I’m Meant to Be

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

“I am where I’m meant to be,” I kept telling myself as all my Friday plans were ditched and I succumbed to day two of a migraine.

Things happen for a divine reason and here I was, re-learning what it means to be present. My daughter was home sick and we’d just come through a rough 72 hours.

I walked into the family room to check on her – my daughter-patient – lounging in front of the TV. I was thinking I could console her in some way when she reached her arms up to me. There was a fraction of a smile in her eyes and I realized in an instant, she wasn’t asking for a hug, she was giving one.

“Mom.”

I let myself sink down into the soft couch corner beside her and rested my head on hers, our blond hair commingling on the blue pillows. We exhaled at the same time.

“I need to work on an article,” I said.

“No, you don’t.”

“I also need to write a blog post.”

“No, you don’t.”

“My head still hurts.”

“I know. That’s why you need to just sit here and be a couch potato. With me.”

There is a connection between a mother and her daughter that is unique. And when the nurturer in the daughter is born, it is with a wordless tenderness.

Late night on Shrove Tuesday, my daughter had come down with severe stomach pains. They were bad enough to bring on tears, and she is not the crying type. We rushed to our hospital’s pediatric ER and spent the rest of the night there. She had many ‘firsts:’ her first IV, first ultrasound, and first MRI – as the pain, which she rated an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10 – moved from all over her belly to the lower right quadrant. If you’re guessing appendicitis, so was everyone else.

The tests were all inconclusive, but thankfully, the pain was gradually subsiding by Wednesday afternoon. It seemed to be some weird viral issue. She could go home under the condition that she should return if things got worse or a fever developed. As it turned out, the slight, residual pain would last a few more days, and my mothering eyes didn’t rest until my daughter seemed fully herself once again.

I make it sound like it was all bad, don’t I? It wasn’t.

Ever since I acknowledged my dependence on God so many years ago, I carry within my soul an abiding sense of peace that doesn’t waver, even when circumstances make my mind wander into a land of worry and concern.

So when I pray, the two – mind and soul – are both at work. With my mind, I address the One I know is my ever-ready and ever-present help.

Watching needles going into my daughter’s veins….

Lord, steady her. Please relieve her pain.

As I saw her organs flash across a screen, images in black and white…

Please Lord, help this radiologist to find the problem.

And from my soul, words of praise and hope sometimes bubble up spontaneously. While standing next to the MRI, holding my daughter’s hands, extended above her head as she tried to remain still, my heart and soul sang the songs of my childhood.

Father, I adore You
Lay my life before you
How I love you

I didn’t know what the diagnosis would be, but I had faith that God was there.

He was there in the consoling words of the nurse who made my daughter smile as she put in the IV; in the kindness of the staff who brought us warm blankets so we could try to sleep; and in the gentle eyes of the doctor who listened carefully to the story of my own appendectomy and readily admitted that yes, appendicitis runs in families, so I had every reason to be suspicious when my daughter doubled up in pain.

The goodness God gives to us through the people who cross our paths gets passed on when we give it away.

We are His hands in the world.

And sometimes, His love comes back to us in the form of a needed hug from a daughter-patient.

God is always with us, and our souls want to talk with him.

Our relationship with God depends less on what we do than on which direction we face.

Are we turned toward Him? Or away?

There’s only one place I’m meant to be. Wherever I am, that’s looking up at Him.