On Quitting

Almost two years ago, we struggled with the possibility of changing churches.  When we moved here in 2008, we did a month or so of dreaded “church shopping” but landed somewhere fairly quickly; in a place that was ideal for that chapter of our lives.  Nine years later, they were undergoing staff changes and things started to feel….not-so-ideal.  Things honestly felt completely off.  Add to this an out-of-nowhere, very extreme moment of bullying that one of my kids experienced, and things were finally officially set in motion.  We were moving on.

Words from a friend, watching from the sidelines, still echo in my head:  “You can’t just leave every time you don’t like something.”

She was seeing a pattern.  Pull son from school (2013).  Pull family from church (2017).  And I was so unsettled, so frustrated about this whole church-thing, that I let those words cover me like a blanket; weighing me down with should’s and ought’s and what’s right and commitment.  I let that set up camp in my head for a good long time.

Now we’re a few years out, and with that distance I feel like I can see more clearly, breathe more freely, and maybe (possibly) judge more fairly.  That, and my husband just quit his job, so quitting is back on my mind.  Some things I’ve considered:

  1. If you are miserable somewhere, why would you not leave?
  2. If a place/thing is no longer working for you, and you have tried different options–unsuccessfully–for making it work, why would you not consider moving on/getting rid of it?
  3. Isn’t the feeling of fear (involved in not knowing the next step) a better feeling than despair/sadness/misery (involved in staying where you are, and continuing to do what you’re doing)?
  4. How long do you have to stay in a situation you hate before you’ve “paid your dues” and can move on free of guilt?  Is that really even necessary?
  5. Isn’t it possible to acknowledge, “I had (x) wonderful years here….now things have changed and it’s time to move on?”  Sunk-cost bias doesn’t always apply in life.
  6. I think, though, most importantly….Do I want to look back over my life and see large swaths of misery when I could have done something to change it?  If this is the only life we get, don’t I want to use it in a better way?

My husband’s job change only partially falls into this situation.  He has an idea and he’s ready to take the leap to start acting on it.  The Best Job in the World–which he pretty much had since 2013 as a work-from-home pharmacist–had been sliding toward a tolerable slog (okay, maybe not so tolerable) for about the past year.  The shift in how he spent his days made it easier to go ahead and quit (see #1).  Now we’re off on a new adventure, because (see #3).

Friends, there are plenty of things we don’t have control over in our lives.  Events large and small happen every day that we can’t do anything about.  Don’t we want to act on the things we can?  

I’m ending this post with the Serenity Prayer.  It applies here more than ever.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

 

 

 

 

Hope and Change

A little over a week ago I finally planted the crocus bulbs that I’d bought last fall.  Winter hit early here, and my ridiculous to-do list of “things to do before the first freeze” was pretty much thrown out the window–I was glad simply to have gotten the hoses disconnected before the temps dropped.  (I did also manage to plant six shrubs….and that was it.)

Then it was January and for nearly a week, we had fall again.

Temperatures started out in that “not too bad when it’s sunny” 40 degree range, then up into the 60’s, and suddenly it was genuinely warm.….and I realized that with the ground thawed, I might be able to get those two boxes of crocus in the ground.

That’s when I started plotting this blog post.  Thoughts of hope and spring were collecting in my head and knocking about; I knew I had to work in Anne Lamott’s quote about how

It helps beyond words to plant bulbs in the dark of winter.

So that’s what we did, my five-year-old gardening partner and I, on a blustery 50 degree afternoon in January.  (50 degrees!  In January!!)

 

That was a Tuesday.  Then Saturday came, and the snow poured down…..this is Kansas, after all.

Honestly, even this weather makes me happy.  Nine inches of snow is more than that five-year-old has ever seen….this was the year she finally got to build her first snowman.  And this was decidedly the best kind of snow; the stuff that sticks to the trees and makes everything glorious, but melts on the still-warm streets.

So my thoughts shift to change.  Yes, hope and spring; but also, yes, change….things can go dark and silent quickly.  Those warm, sunny days can come crashing down days later, branches overwhelmed with heavy snow.  Bulbs planted in hope are now buried, a foot deep, under all that’s fallen.

Pay attention, though, to what that means.

If things can turn that quickly for the worse, they can also turn for the better.

Change works both ways.  For the bad…and for the good.

So this is still a post about hope.  Because it is January now.  But in time it will be April.  “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalms 30:5)

 

A homeschool day in the life

I’m eyeing this slightly apprehensively…..is there really a “typical” day around here?  Regardless, here is the lay of the land for a random Monday in January, when I decided to join the linkup at Simple Homeschool…..  

I’m up at 6:00, as always….I’ve been up at 6:00 for so long my brain has acclimated and I don’t even need an alarm clock.  I love this time of day; the entire house still asleep and dark and quiet; just me with coffee and my Bible.  I open the living room curtains and peek out to see if I can see the moon, then spend my hour–by far, the quietest hour of my day–alone with God.

At 7:00 I reluctantly drag myself away from my cozy corner, grab my water from the fridge, and head upstairs to get ready.  It’s a full morning, so I can’t move quite as slowly as I sometimes do.

7:20 brings a smiling four-year-old and “Mun” (her faithful Blanket) to my door, while I’m still attempting to put myself together.  “It’s a preschool day!” she announces with a smile, and she hangs out on the floor of my closet, singing and playing with my jewelry, while I finish getting ready, stepping around the pajama-clad little one.

We head downstairs together.  I start a load of laundry, feed the dogs, and she and I have our first “just Mommy and me” time of the day:  breakfast.  The “just us” doesn’t last as long as usual since her 14-year-old brother comes down early this morning; he’s heading out with us because of a doctor’s appointment today.  My twelve-year-old daughter is still asleep and will probably stay asleep for awhile longer.  I pull our school books from the cabinet, arrange things on the kitchen counter, and write a note encouraging her to enjoy her quiet morning.  (While I am the type who loves quiet mornings, the lone  extrovert in this house tends not to be a fan.)  My work-from-home pharmacist husband is downstairs, clocking in at 7:00 in the basement; no one is ever really alone in this house.  I flip the laundry that I put in before breakfast while my youngest gets dressed, and then we’re off.

My son packed all his school books for the day in a bag and starts working during the drive to preschool.  My youngest attends a Reggio-inspired, home-based preschool run by another homeschooling mom for a few hours twice a week; to say she loves it would be an understatement.  I drop her off with hugs, and my son and I make a quick run to the library before his doctor’s appointment, where I pick up holds and he discovers a new Rick Riordan book on the Hot Picks shelf.  Back in the car and off to the doctor.

Today’s appointment was doctor initiated; she wanted to check in on how the new dose of antidepressants was working for my kiddo.  I sat and listened to him answer her inquiries, question after question, praying a silent thank you, Jesus, over and over as each item got checked off her list.

Any thoughts of hurting yourself or suicide in the past two weeks?

Nope!

Thank you, Jesus.  THANK YOU.

They chat about school and she asks what he does with his free time, if he usually manages to get his school done mid-morning.  “I write,” he tells her.  “Write?” she asks.  “About what?”

And then I watch him light up as he explains to her how he writes about music, how he loves music--so many different kinds of music–and he writes reviews and critiques of albums and songs and rankings….

I cannot put into words my sense of relief as I watch this kid get excited about something again.  Get excited about life again.

We’re done at the doctor early enough that I have some time at home before I need to get my little.  I seize the time to knock out the laundry that’s been waiting in the dryer, then (finally) hang up the platform swing my twelve-year-old got for Christmas.  It’s warming up to almost 50 degrees today, and tomorrow looks even better.  (It is winter.  You take what you can get. 😉 )

The twelve-year-old has had a productive morning at home, knocking out her school while we were away and now curled up reading the Missy Piggle-Wiggle books we stumbled across while looking for Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to read aloud.  She jumps in the car with me as I head out to pick up my youngest, wanting to be the first to tell her sister that the swing is up and ready in the backyard.

We’re home in time to visit with Daddy during his 11:30 lunch break; the sisters head to the swing in the backyard for only a little bit (it’s still cold!) while I fix lunch for the little and me.  The bigs make their lunches, too, and today we eat together around the kitchen table (oldest son has been known to eat in the dining room….apparently teens need their space).  My son is laughing uncontrollably as he explains his idea to create an entire album “recorded” by the dog, and starts writing lyrics to the kind of songs that Kina would sing while I remind him to at least keep it appropriate while we eat.

Once lunch is cleaned up and the dishwasher started (around 1:00), my youngest and I head upstairs for her second (and most favorite) “just Mommy and me” time:  reading before her quiet time.  We have outgrown the rocker in her room and now just curl up on the bed in the master bedroom, today getting to choose from fresh library books I got on our trip this morning.  We read and snuggle and I admit this is my favorite time, too.

Big hugs as I leave her in her bedroom for some quiet time….and I go downstairs to get my quiet time.  The bigs are knee-deep in their own things; my daughter has started the second Missy Piggle-Wiggle book she brought home, while my son is creating cover art for the dog’s album.  (It’s actually pretty stinkin’ funny.)

At about 1:30 my husband’s music is oozing up through the floorboards and the older kids are around, but this is as quiet as it gets when everyone is awake.  This is my recharge time; I’m going over any written schoolwork from the morning, and reading or writing or thinking and planning, and while there are occasional days I don’t get it, this highly-sensitive introvert makes sure this time happens as often as possible.

At 3:00 I realize I’ve stumbled into bonus time:  the four-year-old actually fell asleep. Regular naps are a distant memory, but she does still sleep once or twice a week, and today is apparently one of those days.  I take the extra time to get some housework done and remind my son we leave for math at 3:30.

Finding a tutor for math has been a huge blessing for us.  Once the words “algebra” start appearing in curriculum, I’m officially in over my head, and this math teacher has been wonderful for my son.  He needs someone as confident and competent as her, and I love seeing him through a different set of eyes (namely, less worried eyes).  It turns out that in spite of his dread of math, it “comes really naturally” to him and he’s doing quite well.

I spend his hour-long math lesson roaming the library where we meet up, and come home with more library books for everyone.  (Yes….I might have a problem.)  When his session ends I text my husband that we’re finished, and he (ahem) calls in an order to Planet Sub that I’ll pick up on our way home.  Kids eat free night conveniently falls on math night.  While this was not planned, I will happily take advantage of the situation; so much so that the cashier calls, “See you next week!” as we walk out the door.  (Blush.)

Math does knock the day out of whack.  My usual snuggle-with-my-little and watch something after quiet time doesn’t happen, and my bigs don’t get the “up in their room alone time” they seem to crave by late afternoon.  Instead, my son and I come in with bags of warm sub sandwiches, and we gather in the kitchen to eat and talk about our day.  Once dinner is over and the kitchen cleaned up, the girls take off to play in the basement, which is finally free now that Daddy’s off work.  I’m frequently invited to watch “shows” they perform together, always interesting mash-ups of whatever my older daughter happens to be listening to incessantly (this week, The Greatest Showman) and liberal doses of My Little Pony music.  “The boys” enjoy some (relative) quiet until I bring the little one up at 7:00 and start bedtime rounds.

PJ’s, teeth brushing, and another slew of books spread out on our bed for one last “just Mommy and me” time. Once I tuck her in and pray with her, I move to my 12-year-old’s room, where we have about thirty minutes of what she calls “talk time,” before I pray with her and say good-night (though she’ll read for at least another hour before she actually goes to sleep).  Downstairs for about thirty minutes of sibling-free time for my son, who loves this opportunity to have the parents all to himself.  Once he’s off to bed (I’ll pray with him and say goodnight before I turn in, myself), it’s finally just my husband and me and we can talk in peace without interruptions.  (Finally.)

Typical?  Well, yes, I guess I see glimpses of typical in there…..

Beauty in the Valley

Our pastor ran a sermon series in December called God With Us.  The promo video that ran each week began with a reminder that God is always with us:  “On the mountain…in the valley….”

Ah, yes, the valley.  The first sermon was all about the valley, which is where our family spent most of 2016 and a fair portion of 2017.  The valley is supposed to be a dark, desperate place–“I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” from Psalm 23, right?–but here’s what hit me as I watched the video intro:

Valleys are beautiful.

Honestly, on our trips to Colorado, valleys are my favorite places to be.  Mountains are majestic, of course, but the countless houses tucked into the deeply wooded valleys? That’s where I’d want to live.  There’s beauty there; it’s not hard to see.

There’s beauty in the valleys of our lives, too.

A perfect example came to me a few Fridays ago, when I went to bed early (like before-dinner early) with what seemed to be a stomach bug.  My husband had plans that night, so my twelve-year-old daughter put my four-year-old to bed.  While I lay curled up under the covers, miserable and barely awake, the sound of my older daughter’s voice floated down the hall, reading bedtime stories to her little sister. Snuggles, giggles, a chapter of Betsy-Tacy; A Birthday for Frances….

When did she get to be such a beautifully fluent reader?

Beauty in the valley.

Watching your oldest pull back and withdraw, more and more often, until you fear that depression might actually really win–that’s a valley.  No doubt.

Watching your son buy his younger sisters stuffed animal souvenirs on the zoo trip he chose to go on with the family, smack in the middle of the ugliness….spending his own money to put a smile on their faces….there’s beauty in the valley.

Holding your son while he sobs and begs….begs you to buy him a gun, so he can end it all and just be done with it for good…that’s the deepest, lowest valley I’ve come to yet.

A doctor who returns your calls while on vacation to ensure he gets medication started: beauty in the valley.

Any trouble with friends tripping a switch that still seems to be set to “despair” is even now a very real part of our valley.

Watching the same child–barely 24 hours later–bringing the folding card table up from the basement, setting it up on the back deck, and cooking and serving dinner to his entire family under the light of the near-full moon….that is a step beyond beauty.  That is unbelievable.

Watching my middle child lose her older-brother-best-friend to the gaping maw of depression has been one of the most ongoing, difficult valleys.

Signing off on her “homework” for church and realizing that under “list three ways you know God cares for you” she included, “He gave me a baby sister….”  That is beauty so vivid it brought me to tears.

It’s beauty, too, when the big kids do reconnect and find out they are still friends, even after everything they’ve been through.

I know that God has been with us in every one of these situations.  He was sitting on the bed with us, brokenhearted, while my son sobbed into my shoulder.  He was pulling up a seat with us, outside on the deck, rejoicing in His gorgeous night and healing child.  I know his hand is on my family as we walk this rocky road, full of switchbacks, that winds through the valley.  But I’m also realizing the valley can be an amazing place, full of beauty, if I can just pay attention.  I don’t know how much longer our valley is.  I do have faith there will continue to be beauty along the way.

Start the Car

As the year turned I was having my usual evaluation of The State of Things.  I’ve spent the better part of five years paring down this family’s life, and I was wondering–especially in light of a potential job offer–what was next.  Was it time to start adding in?  Was it time to say “more” instead of “less,” at least to some things?

What I really want, I’ve always joked, is for God to put a sign in my yard.  “Do this,” it would say, and I’d do it.

Reading during my quiet time one morning I came across this verse:

“I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts.” –Psalm 119:45

At liberty.

It’s almost like as long as I’m seeking him, following Him, I can do whatever.

Well, that can’t be right.  Can it?

Not even two weeks go by and I stumble across this quote in Emily P. Freeman’s book A Million Little Ways:

“Author Barbara Brown Taylor writes about a time in her life when she was desperate to discover what she was supposed to be doing with her life.  She describes praying to God, asking him that very question in her book An Altar in the World.

God’s answer to her was both surprising and infuriating.  She sensed him saying this:  Do anything that pleases you, and belong to me.”  (pg. 50)

Well….okay then.  Let me think on that.

One week later I’m reading in the book we’ve chosen for our Bible study and come to this beautiful (and comical) word picture:

“The difference between the mechanical and relational approach could be pictured like this:  Let’s say you’d been taught how to get written directions from God to go any place you wanted to go.  You could get in your car and hold these instructions in your hand, printed clearly in black and white.  That’s what many people want from God:  ‘Just tell me what to do!’          [See?  There’s that sign I want in my yard.]

But Jesus will not have it!  Jesus is relentlessly relational.  He gets in the car with you, takes the instructions out of your hands, and grins as he tears them up.  ‘Start the car!’ he says.

You feel uneasy; you just want the instructions!  You protest:  ‘How will I know when to turn?’

He smiles and challenges you to risk trusting him:  ‘I’ll tell you when to turn.  Start the car!’

You protest again:  ‘I need to know ahead of time!’

But Jesus replies, ‘Trust me.  We’re going to stop at restaurants you’re going to love; we’re going to see beautiful places; we’re going to stop alongside the road and help people you can’t stand.  It will be wonderful.  Start the car.”  (–When the Soul Listens, by Jan Johnson, pg. 6-7)

I’d like to think, by now, that I’m starting to get the point.  (I can be slow, don’t get me wrong, but this is a little much.)  All these moments formed the beginning of my “intentional” year, the things that came together just before I sat down to look at my days and do something about them.  I don’t have a map (honestly, I’m lousy at reading maps anyway), and I have no idea what the year in front of us holds (let’s be real, no one really does), but I plan on walking as closely to Him as I can.  If I’m close enough–and stay quiet enough–maybe I can hear his direction.

 

(Incidentally, the other option I considered for my word this year was “abide:”  “Abide in me as I abide in you…..I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).  It sounds like I’ll be focused on doing that anyway, “word” or no. )

She keeps me young

We made our annual trip to the Cider Mill this past week.  The weather was absolutely perfect for the fall trek, cool and crisp with plenty of sunshine to keep us warm.  We wandered the grounds, ate our doughnuts, and drank our cider, and then (of course) I took pictures like a crazy person.

Hide and seek at the Cider Mill….because, why not?

I started innocently, following the kids around and snapping occasional pics. Then it was goofy poses, to get them willing for the follow-up attempt at nice poses.  The beauty of digital photography is that you can take literally a hundred pictures and know that somewhere in there are two or three keepers.  Pic after pic of my kids on hay bales and rock walls, being crazy, being silly, and finally being “smiley for the camera.”

When I finished and turned them loose, I turned to see an older woman smiling and holding out her phone.  “Would you mind taking a photo of us?” she asked with a smile, gesturing toward two young-adult daughters and her husband.  “We  never manage to get all together like this.”  I agreed–who wouldn’t!?–and snapped a handful of pics of the four of them.  As I handed the phone back, she complimented me on my “beautiful family” and my four-year-old’s darling dress.

I smiled sheepishly.  “That was a hand-me-down from sister,” I admitted.  “We didn’t save hardly anything between my older daughter and the surprise, but we saved that.”

She laughed.  “I wondered about that!  That was me, you know.  I was the surprise.”  She was smiling mischievously.  “My mom always said–she’s ninety-seven now–my mom always said, ‘She keeps me young.'”

I burst out laughing.  “That needs to be my phrase!  I’m always looking at her saying, ‘Oh, baby girl, Mama’s so old….”

“NO!” The woman was beaming.  “She keeps you young!!”

I sincerely hope I can adopt that attitude.  A shift in mindset of that magnitude changes everything.  I wonder what adventures she’ll lead us on; what paths we’re going to walk down because she exists.  I know that the past two years of depression with my oldest would have been incredibly more difficult for me, without this little one’s unrelenting joy and sunshine to wrap myself in.  Snuggling with an inquisitive, cheerful preschooler has been a blessed antidote to many of my days.

Maybe the “keeps you young” has already been happening.  Maybe she, with her sweet spirit and loving nature and concern for others, has been keeping me from being beaten down prematurely as we walk the dark, ugly path of depression with our son.  And how blessed we are now, to have him healing and returning–almost always–to his tenderhearted, sweet self (with that sly sense of humor).  She was, somehow, always thoroughly untainted by her brother’s moods; now that unceasing joy allows us to rejoice more deeply in the healing that is taking place.

Our lives were changed dramatically with her arrival.  But as my husband and I were discussing last night, there hasn’t been a single change for the worse.  God knew exactly what we were going to need at this point in our lives.  We can’t imagine life without her.

Yes, she keeps me young.

 

 

 

To the Parents of a Strong-Willed Child

When my first daughter was born eleven years ago, she was very slightly jaundiced. The doctors asked us to bring her back in to the hospital just a few days after birth, to do blood tests and make sure all her levels were acceptable.  I still remember laying my little bundle down on the table for the sweet nurse to prick her tiny heel and gather the blood necessary for the lab work.  She held my little one’s struggling foot in her hand…then asked me to help hold the baby….and once she finally managed to get the sample, she looked at me with wide eyes.  “She is strong,” the nurse informed me.

Little did we know….

At four months, I was so exhausted from simply surviving her presence that I chose to take her to the Mom’s Day Out where I was taking my two-year-old son once a week. Looking back, I’m slightly horrified–she was four months old!  But I remember my desperation for any kind of break from the crying.  There was the colic; you could set your watch by her: at 5PM, everything fell apart and it didn’t stop until around 9:30. But there was also, simply, the crying.  The “I’m never happy….what will you do to keep me happy….that worked for ten minutes but now I want something new” crying. Her first day at Mom’s Day Out, she came home with a note from her caregiver:  “She certainly knows her mind!”  That’s an understatement.

The tantrums of her toddlerhood.  The violent frustration that might show up unexpectedly, at any moment.  Scrolling through “Your memories on Facebook” recently, it revealed that at age four we had a conversation:  “Are you going to go upstairs now, get dressed, and get out the door at a reasonable time?  Or are you going to have a screaming fit, spend all your time crying hysterically, and finally give up and get dressed?”  Her response?  “Yeah, let’s do that.”  Sigh.

I don’t need to go on, do I?  Because if you have a strong-willed child, you know.  You have your own stories, probably even bigger and larger-than-life, that you’re dealing with daily.  The draining, depleting kinds of stories.

Can I tell you something?  A strong-willed child looks quite different at eleven.

It looks like a kid who sings in six choir performances during the Christmas season….with undiagnosed bronchitis.

It looks like a kid who is teaching herself to play the piano.  Each time she turns the page to a new song, she struggles a bit, and growls a bit, and each time she sets her jaw and works until she’s got it.

It looks like a kid who plugs along, doing the things that need to be done, until she finally admits that her ear hurts a bit….and is informed by the doctor that she has a double ear-infection and a blister on one eardrum.

It looks like a kid who, in fifth grade, is wrestling with questions I only took on in high school and college.  What do people mean when they say God spoke to them?  What does it mean to follow Jesus with all my heart?  What does “giving all my life to God” look like?  (A small sampling of our conversation over my coffee this morning….)

It looks like a kid who will find a way to make things happen, instead of rolling over and playing dead when she’s told they can’t.

I remember joking, when she was tiny, that someday this stubbornness might be a good thing. I think, maybe, we may have reached that point.

So to all the parents of strong-willed little ones who are pulling their hair out with frustration and exhaustion:  it gets better.

These kids of ours may very well end up doing something magnificent.