September’s Wholesome List

September’s Wholesome List
An unusual approach for this month's list. I've got 5 questions for you about your life. Are you living it the way you say you want to?
Original photo by Anton Sukhinov on Unsplash. Words, mine.

September wasn’t a typical month. Yes, there was the back-to-school hoopla and a re-establishment of routines, but for me, two events also consumed a fair amount of my attention: a 5-day girls’ trip to Des Moines with my mom for the International Convention of the P.E.O. Sisterhood, and my oldest son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. (For a few more details, you can check out the highlighted links.) If you’re a parent, you know you can’t leave town or host an event without doing A LOT of prep work.

What this meant, in effect, was that I did a poor job of leaving myself a bread-crumb trail of observations for my monthly “wholesome” list. What I DID do, was contemplate what it means to: 1. try to live virtuously, and 2. belong to organizations that affirm and uphold values such as faith, trust, honor, kindness, justice, and thriftiness. Being part of a group holds us accountable to the values we profess.

Not all of us are “joiners,” as they say, but I would guess that most of us like to think of ourselves as “good people.”

Are we?

A friend of mine told me she once heard a priest ask the following in a homily:

“If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

That certainly would have gotten my attention.

For those of us who are Christians, it is a very pointed and appropriate question.

Rather than offer you 5 wholesome items to consider this month such as films, songs, or even yogurt, I have a few questions for reflection. See if you agree with me when I say that I think checking to see if our outer lives are truly aligned with our inner desire to be “good people” is a valuable and wholesome exercise.

Ask yourself:

  1. Do I have a personal creed that I (try to) live by?
  2. What are the components or virtues of this creed? Is it altruistic and centered on serving others, or not?
  3. How am I doing? Do my daily decisions (big and small) reflect my desires to live by my creed? If not, where do I need to make changes so that the virtues I want to develop further will manifest themselves in my life?
  4. Do those I love know which virtues matter most to me and why?
  5. Am I a good role model to the younger people in my life?

If we want to live with purpose and intention, we need to think about what we do and why we do it.

God didn’t create us to be automatons. He gave us reason and choice to promote His love in a world that needs to hear of it so very, very much.

To my Christian brothers and sisters – do not lose heart if you read these questions and realize you are coming up short. I know I am.

Remember that Jesus fills the gap between us and heaven, and He sent us the Advocate, “the Spirit of Truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.” (John 14:17) Don’t give up when the battle is hard. The Holy Spirit fills our hearts and minds with wisdom, knowledge, and holy respect for the Father, and when we rely on Him – and not ourselves – He guides us to the Father’s will.

Think of a time when you offered up a faint prayer – a cry for help – and it was answered in a powerful, inexplicable whisper of peace that filled you from head to toe. You somehow knew the next step to take, the next words to say.

This is a small example of grace. Though we deny and forget God, He has never forgotten us. He’s loved us since before time began.

Perhaps we can take a step today to recommit ourselves to valuing and practicing the virtues He cares about most, leaning into His strength to carry us through.

The Great Scoutmaster’s Promise

The Great Scoutmaster’s Promise
Candles at my son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor signifying the Scout Oath
and the 12 points of the Scout Law.

I was having a hard time finding words.

My son’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor had been Saturday night, and I was sending an email to the entire Troop – Scouts, leaders, parents, etc. – to thank them.

To thank them for helping our family prepare for this great celebration. For attending it in such force. And then for disassembling every piece of it and putting items away into cartons, closets, and cars with orderly and cheerful precision – without bending cherished photographs or neglecting to sweep up the last crumbs of crushed Doritos on the carpeted floor.

The event was so much more than the sum of its material parts, of course. But I was unable to say precisely why.

Just hours before, I had let the ceremony’s prayers roll over me….

God, we thank you for the opportunity to come together ….  Today is a celebration of a journey…full of challenges, friendship, struggles…. Little by little, month by month, and year by year, he was faithful and we celebrate his faith, commitment, and hard work.

With everyone in attendance, my husband and I recognized our son’s perseverance and efforts, the many merit badges he earned, his final large-scale community service project, and especially the character traits and leadership skills he’d developed along the way.

For more than 100 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been molding boys into young men, and our son is no exception. We are in awe of what he’s accomplished by the tender age of 16.

But my pride wasn’t the point, either.

What was bursting at my seams? Why had it been so difficult to keep conversations light and airy on Saturday night?

I wrote my email Monday morning, attaching some additional words of thanks from my son, my husband, and me that had appeared in the program that was handed out to guests.

From my son (in part):

…I am honored that you have elected to spend your time here at my Eagle Court of Honor. You have each influenced me for the better in one way or another, and for that I am forever grateful.

And from my husband and me, to the Troop leaders:

….The thousands of hours you volunteer for these kids can never be repaid, and we are so grateful for your devotion…

I hit ‘send’ and resumed my daily tasks.

Later, a dear friend and Troop chair wrote back to me:

“Through His people, He gives back to His extra special Matthews family!  We love you all so very much!”

I could barely see through my tears to respond.

I understood then – and not for the first time in my life – what had actually happened.

It was evidence of the timeless miracle of faith – that when we walk toward God believing in His goodness, the outpouring of His love will be more than our arms and hearts and minds can hold.

I live (and have for some time) in expectant hope that God’s promises to me, my children, and you are true now and forever. His love for us is perpetually strong and faithful (Psalm 117), even when we are unaware of His presence in our lives.

God’s grace was present throughout my son’s journey in Scouting. In every Board of Review, camping trip, merit badge assignment, Scoutmaster’s Minute wrap-up at the end of every Wednesday night meeting – God was there in all of it, working through His good people who day-by-day live out virtues that please His heart. Virtues including kindness, obedience, trustworthiness, helpfulness, thriftiness, and more.

When the Spirit of God is present and moving, there is indescribable joy.

The Boy Scouts welcome Scouts of many faiths. Scouts are encouraged to be reverent in their own faith tradition and to be respectful of the beliefs of others.

But the fact is – few organizations welcome the reverence of God at all anymore.

Few groups pray together.

Even fewer which shape the character of young people suggest that honoring God is important, much less provide regularly scheduled meeting time to do it.

Those that do are places of special strength and character.

And – I would submit – of peace. And love.

Praise the Lord, all you nations! Give glory, all you peoples!

The Lord’s love for us is strong; the Lord is faithful forever. Hallelujah! (Psalm 117)

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?

Praiseworthy Boys

Praiseworthy Boys

eagle-scout_painting
Eagle Scout by Joseph Csatari.

I was watching my teenage son wrestle with his emotions as he grabbed his kid brother a little too roughly by the collar to pull him out of the way. A skateboarder, a few years older than him, was flying by. We caught his breeze as he launched himself up onto a empty planter next to the Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington, DC.

By now my little one was whining.

“Mom! He pulled me too hard!”

“I know, I know. He was just trying to help. Give me your hand.”

Meanwhile, my oldest was off on his own train of thought, a bit of a tirade.

“Mom! They’re destroying government property! They are NOT showing respect!”

He was right, of course. There are black treadmarks and dislodged pieces of pavement all over the area because skaters have made it a playground. And there appears to be little resistance to their doing so.

I didn’t get into the whys and wherefores right then – the complexities of urban life and how he (my son) has opportunities for education and to expel energy that others don’t. But I understand his frustration. I hope and pray he’ll grow up to be someone who will contribute solutions.

My husband and I try to give him tools. We’re trying to get him ready.

Be prepared. It’s the motto of the Boy Scouts of America and a darn good one at that. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know that my oldest son is a Boy Scout and has been moving up through the ranks, starting as a Cub Scout, for the last 7 years.

Scouting provides unique opportunities to gain leadership skills and self-confidence while teaching the importance of service to nation and community. I have also seen the ethical values my husband and I are trying to instill in our children at home – such as hard work, courtesy, trustworthiness, and honesty – reinforced through the activities and actions of individuals committed to this organization. It’s a group I believe is a force for good in our country.

In 2015, 54,366 young men became Eagle Scouts – the highest rank of Boy Scout. That amounts to 6.57 percent of eligible Scouts (defined as registered Boy Scouts or male Venturers who are under 18). It also marks a 4.9 increase in new Eagle Scouts from 2014, but 7.3 percent fewer than the all-time high of 58,659 in 2012, when the Boy Scouts celebrated 100 years of the Eagle Scout award and many young men pushed to attain it, along with a special centennial Eagle Scout patch.

Young men who earned Eagle in 2015 together recorded 8,503,337 hours of service on Eagle projects. That’s an average of 156.4 hours of service per Eagle project!

An Eagle project is generally completed in the community where the Scout lives, and is designed for that community’s benefit. Eagle projects can be found in places you probably frequent on a weekly basis, such as churches, parks, and schools. In 2015, the Corporation for National and Community Service valued volunteer time at $23.56 an hour, which means that while working on these projects, the Eagle Scouts and the volunteers they led contributed more than $200 million worth of time in their service.

This is of course after years of service on other, smaller projects, and after having acquired prerequisite skills in leadership, civics and citizenship, personal management, family life, and general health and well-being.

Young men who are giving of themselves to their communities in their teenage years should be thanked and praised. They are a source of hope to our nation – which often complains of its self-absorbed youth.

There are more than 50,000 new Eagle Scouts on average each year. This, I think, is good news.

Train a boy in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not swerve from it. – Proverbs 22:6

 

Statistics for this piece are from “Eagle Scout Class of 2015, by the numbers” by Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, and senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines, and well as from Independent Sector.org.

 

Not Prepared, But Not Alone

imageThe words on the brand-new patch seem ironic this morning.

“Be Prepared.”

As if my son could have been ready for the emotional roller coaster he rode yesterday. It was his alone – not really a journey for the rest of us.

He’s been a Boy Scout for just one year, and last night he completed his Board of Review for the fourth rank, and was awarded it – First Class. He was thrilled. It was a goal he’d been working toward for months; he’d wanted to be First Class by the time he leaves for Scout camp this summer, and we were so proud of him for following through.

But sometimes highs are just a little tainted, and so this one was.  Before he left for the meeting, he realized that his beloved fish, “jerk fish,” – the same one I wrote about here a few months back – had died. This little fish had lived for 6 years and was my son’s personal, first pet. It was bad news.

When we got home from the meeting, we buried him in the garden. My poor son was so upset. It broke my heart. I know how he hurt – how he’d cared for this animal, put effort into its life. But I reminded him of all the things he had done well for this fish, and of the fact that God designs his creatures with finite life spans, for reasons only He understands.

My son’s eyes never left my face as I told him these things. Then he hugged me for a long, long time.

In victories and loss, we have one another, and the knowledge that others can empathize. This too, is a gift from the One who promises to never leave us alone.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed,

yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken

nor my covenant of peace be removed,”

says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

– Isaiah 54:10