Thursday, May 24, 2012

Some Things, You Just Know

Some things, you just know.
  • When there's just enough milk in the batter. 
  • The first pancake is always a little off. 
  • There is a perfect moment to flip it over; wait for it....
I was up early today, making pancakes for the kids. Let's take a short time-out to expound upon the shock and awe of this simple statement. I know. You're stunned. It's okay. I understand. It's been a long time since I was up early enough to cook breakfast; once you can pour yourself a bowl of cereal or heat up a packet of instant oatmeal, you're kind of on your own around here for breakfast. I am not a morning person.

But, boy do I love my new kitchen. Even without counter tops.

So last night, when David said, "Mom, I have my first SOL tomorrow. Will you make pancakes?" I agreed, and when the alarm went off I -

- went back to sleep. Oh, yes, I did. I'm that kind of mom.

But then David stood in the doorway and whispered, "Mom...pancakes?"

Bleary eyed and far from bushy-tailed, because I stayed up way too late chatting and Facebook and then finishing a book I just couldn't put down, I stumbled into the kitchen, grabbed the Bisquick and started assembling the batter.

David cracked an egg and I cracked another and then I poured the milk in and stirred, thankful that I could do this on autopilot.

Some things you just know.

I added a little more milk to make it just right, that perfect place between thin enough to cook quickly and spread out a bit, and thick enough to be a serious pancake and not a crepe.

Some things you just know.

I thought back to the long dialogue last night with a friend who is struggling with the challenges of a new - and much more difficult - role for her as a mom, as her daughter learns to live with a a life-altering disease. I had told her that I got it, that I knew about the vast pit of sorrow that can suck us in when our kids are hurting and we are helpless. And that it was going to be okay.

Some things you just know.

I can make pancakes on autopilot; I can share my story with my friend. I've been doing these things for a while, and at some point, you just know.

It's no secret to those around me that I've struggled with this season of life, clinging to the final little bit of my forties, having young adult children, transitioning into being....well, "older". However, there are some things happening in this season of life, bits and pieces bubbling up to the surface that are solid and good and tangible.

I know things.

I know how to put together pancakes without thinking through the recipe. I can make rice with a good guess at the proportions. I know that my sorrow will subside. I know that God really is faithful, and that he really will never leave.

I know that there is an inexplicable mystery to God, and that I'm okay with that.

I know that my kids are going to be okay.

I know that a nap fixes almost everything, and it's okay to take one.

And lately, there's this other thing: Growing up is not so bad. A certain wisdom settles in, even with simple things like making food and letting things slide.

I'm not completely there. In so many areas, I'm still tripping and falling and trying to figure things out.

But there's a trade-off with the getting older; I know things.

I know what I know, and I can make pancakes without thinking. And that's a good start.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Not Everybody Leaves

For anybody, really, who has ever struggled with thinking they aren't enough.

That their sin is too great.

That their pain is too deep.

That eventually, everyone leaves.

For all of us who have been left, abandoned, rejected. For all of us who will always believe, deep inside, that it really was our fault. No matter what anybody says.

For all of us who think that everybody else Gets It, and that there's something fundamentally wrong. In us.

Here's the story of a girl who thought so, too. Until she let the words come out.

Until she told someone who proved her wrong.

Not everybody leaves.

You're worth sticking around for.

Read this.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

My Parenting Secret

We drove to the church this evening in the Big Red Suburban, the vehicle that once was a necessity for us to get anywhere we wanted to go. Now, with two kids away at college and four of them with driver's licenses, it's simply an optional vehicle.

That, in itself, gives me pause.

We drove and talked, Sydni, Daniel, David and I. We talked about this community being our home; we've lived here longer than we've ever lived anywhere, and we bounced that around a bit. We commented on the fact that our neighbor April just turned six years old, and that we remember her mom's pregnancy. We watched (not literally, but you know what I mean) as she came into the world, and now she's in school and growing up and before you know it, she'll be graduating. And she'll be going through what we experienced this evening.

David, leading. And by leading, I mean dancing.

Two milestones at church tonight; the first being David's "graduation" from children's ministry up to the youth group. It's a slow transition into summer activities and then full blown transition next fall. The children's ministry team said goodbye this evening. It was a revelation for me in some ways, as I rarely get to see my son in that environment. He's a leader; a dancer and singer for worship songs, very much at home in their space. He's also very comfortable with the upcoming move into seventh grade, where he probably won't stand six inches taller than everybody else in the room. We watched a slide show and listened to some inspiring words and applauded as they received certificates of achievement.

I got to be a mom, and simply sit and watch. And beam. And be proud, as my youngest steps up a level.

And then we moved downstairs for Senior Night, where the youth ministry leaders honored and celebrated the students who graduate this year.

The seniors.
We heard from adults who have been part of our kids' lives in ways that we were not. That's a good thing, by the way; the influence of significant adults other than parents is not to be underestimated. They are able to experience things and interact with our students in ways that will never be opened to us. Sydni's small group leader has been with her since she began seventh grade. Mandy has walked with my daughter as she has skipped, slipped, stumbled, sung, acted, laughed, cried, crawled and now gracefully walks into adulthood. They share a bond that is fundamentally based on spiritual truth, and the impact of Mandy's life on our family will probably never be fully measured.

Over and over, we heard words expressing the fact that being part of this church through student ministry had changed lives; not only those of the students, but of their families as well. And lest you tune out and think, "Oh, that's just some religious, churchy, Jesus stuff. Not for me. Thanks, but no thanks...", let me encourage you to reconsider.

At our core, all of us want to belong; we want to be part of something larger than ourselves. We long for acceptance. We hope for friendships and people who will love us as we are. Nowhere is that more prevalent - and more important - than in the lives of adolescents. Relationships matter.

At its core, Christian faith is about relationship. Doctrine can be somewhat complex; we can trip over tangled interpretation of scripture, be distracted by tradition and translation. But fundamentally, following Jesus is a journey of relationship, a movement towards acceptance, authentic and unconditional love, redemption, restoration and grace. Relationships with one another are crucial to spiritual health. 

That's why student ministry matters. 

That's why we do small groups. That's why adults like Mandy and Angie and Aimee and Jackie and Andy invest their time and resources in being available to students. 

I've been around small group at our house when their was nothing more spiritual to the discussion that a feeble prayer thrown out begging help with schoolwork. But that same group learned to trust one another, learned what it means to be connected with other people, learned what it means to have an adult in their life that cares enough to show up - for plays, hockey games, soccer matches and lunch dates. They learn what it means to invest in other people, meeting consistently, week after week, year after year....and now they graduate and move on and look back, knowing that they were changed. And that somebody cared, all along the way. And that changes all of us.

When it comes to parenting, I feel blessed indeed. My five children are awesome. They're not perfect, but they're headed in good directions. I'm proud of all of them. I enjoy them and I'm grateful for the privilege of being their mom. They're good kids; they've got a great dad and two step-parents that adore them. But I'll let you in on a little secret, the best parenting decision I think I ever made for my kids. The reason I think they turned out so well.

I took them to church. Consistently. 

They had a church home.

And by a church home, I mean they did small group, mission trips, FOCUS, served and gave back whenever possible (Power Jam, Greeting, Worship, etc.) and went to service. Because it is simply "what we do", nobody argues or whines about it. We go to church. It's what we do.

It helps that they happen to love going to church.

Parents - if you ever wondered whether or not it would be a good thing for you to have your kids involved in church, let me just say this about that:

Yes. It would.

My kids would not be the people they are today without the influence of the people they know through our church. And I don't mean this is some sort of religious, join-our-team-'cause-we're-the-best-church-in-town way. And I don't mean it because I work at a church and think you should come to it.

I mean it because they are loved, and they learned to love. And by loved, I mean not only God, but that whole "your neighbor as yourself" thing. They're better people, and it's the best thing I've ever done for my kids.

I encourage you to do the same.

Syd and her two small group leaders.

Mandy and Syd.

Getting ready for the NEXT one...Daniel and one of his biggest cheerleaders, his grandma!

Thanks to Angie Frame and Mandy James and the other adults who led small groups, led (and fed!) FOCUS) drove and chaperoned on countless mission trips, youth activities and invested themselves in the lives of the Brawley girls. I thank God for you, every time I remember you. What you do matters. My kids are living proof.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Advice To Worship Leaders

I was driving home this afternoon, and I had this thought:

I'm really humble.

No, really.

Isn't that crazy? I mean, what kind of person calls themselves humble and is, in fact, humble? Isn't that a big, fat oxymoron?

I remember being in a conversation once - for the life of me, I can't remember who, but that's par for the course these days, because I'm lucky if I can remember my own name. It's hormonal, I think.

Anyway - where was I? Oh, right. That conversation.

Somebody was telling me about themselves in regards to serving on our arts team, and the comment they made was, "Oh, I get humility. I'm the most humble person you'll ever meet."

Now that is messed up.

But back to my point: It has to do with the way I do my job. I had lots of meetings this week, with lots of dialogue and conversation. I'm working on some strategic planning for the summer that involves a good bit of collaboration. And in every one of those situations, I'm investing time and energy into processing, thinking through and then pitching ideas - my ideas. That's what I get paid for, that's my calling, that's my role and responsibility. I'm often invited into places where my opinion or evaluation is requested, and I tread very carefully; but I use my brain and my experience and my discernment and I offer ideas and suggestions and plans. Sometimes with a great deal of passion.

Then there's the music leading part, too; I have strong feelings about how we're called to serve the church and one another as musicians. I also have strong feelings about how songs ought to sound and how a service ought to flow, about who has potential and a calling to lead worship and who might not be quite ready. I'm not ashamed of voicing those opinions, of pushing through to create things that I believe will honor God and inspire people. Things that will be excellent.

But undergirding all this opining and leading that I do is a very specific underlying assumption. I rest my pride and ego upon it, and I also balance a great deal of confidence here, because I know, ultimately, that working from this premise makes me better. And makes our team better.
Regardless of all my great ideas, I always believe that somebody else has a better idea. 
I always believe that somebody else is more on top of things, smarter, brighter, more effective, more efficient. Not just that they might, but that they are. And that they have better ideas than I do.

At its worst, I'll cling to this life-raft of insecurity and cry myself a pity party in which I am old and decrepit and useless and jealous. Oh, yes. Sometimes that happens.

But at its best, I passionately believe that I am leaning hard into Paul's words in Philippians*, which I think are dead on:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. 
Or, as creatively voiced by Eugene Peterson in The Message:
Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
This is important to me. I think it's important to my job, to our church, and ultimately, to the community. I think it resonates with me because I've screwed up so royally by looking to my own selfish interests first and foremost, by being obsessed with getting what I wanted. I've swung the pendulum the other way.

It's better this way. And it matters.

If I could give counsel to any person leading in the creative arts field, most especially to worship leaders, I would say this: the sooner you own this sort of humility, the better. You'll be better. The people you lead will be better. And even though you might say stupid things to yourself like, "Gee - I'm really humble!", in the long run it'll be fine. It works.

*Philippians 2.3

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Kind Of Wife?

My husband has been gone most of the past two weeks, out of town to take care of a family medical emergency. All is well, and he is due home shortly.

It's been an interesting time.

We are newly married, only about 2 1/2 years, and after 40+ years of life for me, 30 months seems like the blink of an eye. I love the man dearly; love who he is and how he conducts his life. I love that I am better with him beside me, that he balances me in just about every way possible.

I love our life together.

It's been stressful lately, though; a huge season of transition. Kids moving in and out, a major home addition, a new business, health issues, life in general. Our relationship is good, but we've been clinging to faith and hope and love more than we've been able to live it. We love each other; we just don't have a lot of time or energy to be in love.

I think that's just the way it is, mostly. Life is like this for people in this season of life. He told me the other day, "We aren't retired, yet. We have a few years of work ahead of us..."

So in his absence, a curious thing has happened. For two weeks, I have stretched out a bit, spread my arms wide, slept in all of the bed, turned on the light whenever I wanted to, like I used to. I've focused fully on the kids, like I used to. I've felt less anxious, less concerned about how the house looks, whether or not there's food left over (he always gets home late, after closing the music store). I've been less self-conscious and more self-aware. Like I used to.

I miss him, for sure. I can't wait till he calls me and tells me about his day and we listen to one another breathe on the phone before we hang up, way too late for a 615AM alarm. I send him text messages and email. I miss him.

Like I used to.

There's something wonderful and fresh about this longing. We're apart, and the fondness is, indeed, growing.

But it scared me, to realize all of this. To admit, in my head, that I missed him but I was okay.

That somehow, I was breathing easier.

It scared me, and I pushed it all away, and buried it, and leaned harder into the waiting for his call.

And then the other night, I gave in, and I thought about it all, and how it was probably okay that I kind of liked this quick revisit to that other place, where it was me and just me. I lived that way, lived it hard, for eight years. It was me, only me, and the bed was always all mine and my heart was for my kids and when I let go at the end of a long day, I sunk into a place that was just me, and it was good. Easy. Comfortable.

And then I felt called to make a marriage, to commit, to have a partner in the second half of this life. I loved and respected him. I knew, deep in my heart, that he was for me. I chose the "yes", and I dressed like a princess and walked towards him alone, down an aisle lined with my history, into a circle of the best love I've ever known, my children and my friends and my brother and sister-in-law and my pastor and his tears, who tethered me to grace through the working out, through the fear and trembling. I said, "yes".

I chose, and it's been the up and down and chaotic and busy and crazy and fun and deeply joyful. It's been the holding hands, side by side. It's been the passion and the risk, the wide and the deep.

We lived it, up and down, holding on for dear life. And lately, it's been tenuous. But still good, solid. It is our life.

And then these few weeks apart, and I've been reminded of the wide open spaces I walked through when it was Just Me.

And I whispered, finally, the truth to myself.

"I kind of like this."

"This is easier."

Secrets bind anxiety, and I let go my secret to my own ears, and then knew I needed some other ears. I started an email to my most trusted advisor, asking for a few moments, thinking I could pour my heart out and admit my feelings and get some good counsel.

I finished the first sentence and I stopped. I heard his voice, this advisor, and I knew what he would say.

"Have you talked to Tony about this?"

My fear leapt into my throat, and I recognized that Independent Girl, the single mom, the one who Takes Care Of Everything; the part of me that lives in fear, that fixes everything herself, that hates vulnerability, that bears all the burdens. That part of me was terrified to speak these things aloud to the man I loved, afraid of rejection, afraid of letting him process these feelings that had a life of its own.

What kind of wife is content and relaxed when her husband is gone?

A failure.

A bad wife.

I longed to choose the easy, to keep it to myself, to manage it on my own.

I have control issues, but I'm learning.

I picked up the phone, and I called, even though it was after midnight, and I let my heart spill out, carried in the mucky sludge of anxiety and fear and failure.

What kind of wife is content and relaxed when her husband is gone?

It seems odd, I'm sure; but I was terrified. But I told him how I felt, and he responded with understanding beyond my own, layered with love and compassion, and before I realized what had happened, love snuck under my fear and got in between the cracks of my doubt and squeezed until it hurt. He got it, he validated it, he loved me anyway. I admitted my failure.

He loved me anyway.

This is my life. It is not easy.

But I've chosen this, and I'm in for keeps.

And he's on his way home.

I can't wait.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day 2012

 This was an unusual Mother's Day; the first time in memory without all five kids.

As my kids grow up and move on, I'm thinking more about how my identity has been forged in my responsibilities to and for them. Being the mother of Sarah-Shannon-Sydni-Daniel-David has been my life for over 20 years. It remains so, but that life expands and broadens with every passing season. Or school semester. Or tuition payment.

Fall 2012 = three girls in college. At the same time. Ow.

I digress: Mother's Day today, and two of the five - the oldest - are away. One to the south, pursuing the education of her dreams. The other to the north, investing her summer months in a future career.

In years past, they've congregated and planned a meal, a housecleaning, gifts and cards and pedicures and all sorts of wonderful blessings. This year, in the midst of a lot of major transitions, we opted to make a new memory.

Today, they gave me beautiful cards with heartfelt sentiments; small, sentimental gifts that meant a lot and were just what I wanted.

And then we went to lunch, me and my youngest three kids. And I thought about the privilege of tackling this second generation of parenting with the two boys (and a few short weeks with the girl) in the time that I have left. I've joked with friends who are my age and done, because they had one kid, or maybe two, and the nest is empty and they have time and nobody drinks all the milk and the house stays clean. I look at my youngest and know that I have six more years of active parenting, six years before he's 18 and able to step out on his own. Sort of.

Some times that seems daunting. But lately, I've been seeing it as a privilege. I've learned so much in the past 20 years. I'm a different mom now than I was then. I'm praying that I can apply it and invest the time and energy they deserve. I figure God chose me to be their mom. I do well to honor that gift.

So I took THEM to lunch today. And I gave each of them a personal letter, with my sentiments expressed as best I could. I told them why I valued them, what I loved about them and my commitment to them.

It was the best way I could think of to celebrate. I got, and I gave. And I know this: I wouldn't be the woman I am today without being a mother.

And these kids made me a mother. I'm grateful.

By the way; to the two girls who live north and south, don't worry....yours is coming. I love you ALL.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Wrap Up And Why I Can't Talk

I have a million words floating around in my head. Time for a bullet list.
  • I am refraining from speaking. This morning, during our second church service, I was singing along with the music while playing (we had three other singers and anything I did was superfluous and pretty much just my own personal church singing time). During the final song of the opening set, I felt something "pop" in my throat. It hurt. I kept trying to swallow and felt like I couldn't. And then I realized that I really couldn't sing anymore. Nothing would come out. Not good. It's gotten a bit better as the day has gone by, but it's certainly cause for concern.
  • Add the Popping Throat Issue to the run-down of every other crazy thing that could happen this week. There's a long list, which has included the necessity of a quite flight to Cleveland and back, along with some changes in our normal living conditions. 
  • Speaking of living conditions, our new kitchen is close to completion, with a usable oven and microwave and some cabinets and drawers with Things In Them (as in silverware and plates). I'm giddy with excitement.
  • Because the kitchen is sort of habitable, we had a big family gathering for lunch today. My mom and dad came, and all the kids were home, and it was glorious. I was bursting with joy the entire time, as we sat around the table and talked. It's been my dream for several years, to have a kitchen big enough to live in, and by live I mean have lots of people in it talking and eating. I hope today is the first of many.
So purdy!
  • My mom was helping to clear the table and wash dishes in the old sink, in the tiny, cramped, no-counter-space old kitchen. She said, "I don't know how in the world you manage to do dishes in here. This would drive me crazy." I said, "Why do you think I've been so depressed?" My mom gets it, and I feel validated. Especially when she said she thought she'd just go sit on the couch and put a blanket over her head and give up. Or something like that. Because that's what I've felt like for months. I feel affirmed.
That's my mom. Uh, and my dad. That's a whole lot of awesome right there.
  • Back to church this morning: Because I wasn't leading on vocals, I focused on playing the keyboard parts and engaging in worship. It was powerful. The church was singing loudly and I felt so completely surrounded in worship, like I haven't in a while. Something transcendental happened today; that thing about our faith, our God, the Holy Spirit, the Mystery that is inexplicable and supernatural. It was a powerful, real moment. Very meaningful for me. Worship changes us. I felt that, today.
  • We have a new member of the household, here to spend a few months helping at the music store and hanging out and we'll see what else. I never thought I'd be living under the same roof as this guy. It's a great blessing and a very good thing.
This kid. Yup.
  • All five kids, plus the new kid, have been here since early Saturday morning. I have reached that stage of parenting life where They Are Gone and then They Come Home, and I realize again the value of perspective. The house is full, and it is wonderful and beautiful and joyful. It will be a bit emptier and quieter tomorrow, and that will also be wonderful and beautiful and joyful. I love my family.