Four

11 10 2014

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Dearest Drewsie,

This picture gets me every time…it is so YOU.  Moving, jumping, bouncing, alert, awake and living life to the full.  Have striped sweater with hood?  Will Travel.  You have had such a year…age three was one of settling in to our new “digs” in Corvallis, cementing some new friendships, diving into swim lessons, preschool and life in new ways.  You have spent most free moments playing LEGOS or coloring (sometimes even furniture and other off limit items), dressing up in costumes, kicking a ball, helping cook in the kitchen…not really wanting anyone or anything to boundary you.  That is such a “gift” of age three….exploration.  Testing limits.  Finding your voice.  And desiring to shout it all from the rooftops.  When things unfold in YOUR way in YOUR timing, you are in your element.  If anyone else suggests it?!?  No way, no how.  Sometimes this means we butt heads.  Sometimes this means we yell.  We experience time outs.  We get frustrated.  But, you, my dear Drew?  You are a reconciler.  You have to make it right.  You need snuggles.  Hugs.  You put your arm through mine, squeeze in tight and say, “I’m sorry.”  You always come back and remember.

I love watching your independence.  Your humor.  Your mind.  You can sit and color and write letters for hours, calm and focused. You love looking at books, absorbing stories and plots.  You observe, watch and remember.  You seek to engage with others.  You are busy, always on the move.  My little energizer bunny.  As your mom, I feel like it is all just a bit too much out of my control, sometimes.  It’s the delicate balance of push and pull.  Going out and coming back in.  And Bud, it’s not always easy.  I pray that in the year ahead, you continue to learn to use your voice.  To invite others in.  That we might all loosen our grasp on what we want and embrace what could be (or what NEEDS to be….aka…washing hands before a meal or NOT coloring on the NEW couch…or a bath once in awhile!).

It is my prayer that as Year Four unfolds ahead that you will take these words below to heart.  I found them in a book I’m reading, but they originally come from the Book of Common Prayer.  And really?!  They are about bravery.  You define bravery in so many ways (except your current fear of mosquitoes in the bathroom requiring our constant presence with you!!).  Anyhow, it says:

“This is another day, O Lord.

I know not what it will bring forth,

but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.

If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.

If I am to sit still, help me sit quietly.

If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.

And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.

Make these words more than words,

and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.”

These are hard words for anyone, let alone a busy, curious and impulsive now four year old like you….but I pray them over your life and my own, nonetheless.  May the Spirit grant us bravery.  Patience.  Quiet presence.  Gallant waiting.  May you be ready and listening, curious what God has in store.  I know you’re only four, sweetie, but God’s not limited by that.  It’s my hope that you will know you are deeply loved and needed in our family and in our world.  May you understand that love deep deep down and may it be the energy that pushes you as you jump and leap through life.

We Love You So MUCH!  Happy Birthday!

Mom (and Dad and Alex)

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Promises

3 10 2014

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Last week my youngest son did the unthinkable. Well…maybe “unthinkable” to the mind of a 40 year old. But, it was “artistic expression” to a three year old. After taking a quick trip to the bathroom, I came out to our living room. And it was way too quiet. My expected fears led me to look at our new couch in apprehension.

Sure enough as I squinted and looked more closely, a fine yet very distinguishable brown line came into view. It wove its way up the back of the couch. It meandered along the top of the L-shaped sectional. The brown line ran down the arm rest and came to rest in a dark back-and-forth pattern along the front leg. Our brand new couch. Our not even 1 month old NEW couch. The lava volcano inside me came to life and words unrepeatable here started coming out of my mouth in rapid succession. Two choice words over and over. In a very tidy A-B-A-B-A-B pattern. Maybe 50 times.

After picking up the culprit and putting him safely out of my reach in a very long time out, I went to take a closer look. My eldest found the pen and of course it was one of the recent 99 cent “Back-to-School” deals I’d scored at Target. And thus, the marker didn’t have the magic words “washable” stamped on the side.

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I promptly grabbed the phone and called my father-in-law. He truly is THE stain master with uncanny abilities to help deal with the impossible. After a few minutes of heated words from me, I started calming down enough to allow the smoke to stop pouring out of my ears. We chatted about orphanages being part of the official “couch warranty” program and then I hung up.

I was greeted at the door by my 7 year old, holding a wet paper towel, having attempted to start removing the marker. This same eldest son also held up a contract for me. In neatly written, mistakenly spelled letters, he wrote, “I, Mommy, promise NEVER to use naughty words again!”, with a line and place to put my signature, along with the date.

We are working a LOT on expected vs. unexpected behaviors in our household lately, and yet I don’t think I was prepared to have it thrown back in my own face. My kids are the ones with UNEXPECTED behaviors for their ages. And c’mon??!?! HE WROTE ON THE COUCH WITH MARKER!!!! But unmoved, my eldest stood there with a clipboard, pen and the promise for me to agree to.

Was my mouthful of patterned expletives called for? Was it “expected” behavior for a 40 year old mom? And even if it might have been “expected” in such a situation, was it fair for my eldest son to call me on it?!

Either way I answered those questions, I knew one thing. I couldn’t sign that form. My best intention is that I will hold my anger and express my frustration appropriately. But signing in permanent pen, promising to never again swear or use naughty words, felt like a conundrum.

While I HOPE I won’t react quite so severely again, I know I’m human. I have seen myself break promise after promise, despite best laid plans, and felt the reminder that a human-made-promise seems almost MADE to be broken.

We promise to love, honor and cherish another in marriage, uttering those words for many to see and witness. We promise to take care of our children, to feed and clothe them, and to surround them with love. We promise to show up on time and do our jobs to the best of our abilities when we sign a contract. But it seems like a futile act, when we KNOW we are bound to mess it all up. Over and over. Time and time again.

How do we help our children and even ourselves, understand the infallible nature of God’s promises when they see the exact opposite from those they love and trust? God promised to never wipe out creation again after the flood. God promised God’s very presence to be with us through the Holy Spirit. God promises a never-ending, always and forever love to surround us.

As I attempt to hold these two realities in tandem for my boys it feels impossible to reconcile it all. As a human, as a mom, as a teacher, I break promises over and over. How do we help those in our care understand our best intentions, our false starts, our missteps, our “re-dos” are part of our own sanctification? How do we remind them that unlike us, we are held by a God who doesn’t need a re-do. A God who doesn’t neglect to follow through or keep a promise?

For me, it comes down to conversation. Open, true, honest, often hard conversation. Sharing space and words together. Talking through mistakes. Admitting the places we failed and fell short. Predicting the times we will, no doubt, mess up in the future. These connecting points give important “lines in the sand” for us to come back to. Moments to reconnect and remember our best intentions. Our goals. And the importance of reconciliation after mistakes.

While I might have chosen not to sign that specific contract my oldest son drafted, I have promised a few things. One, I will do my best to deal with my anger in a less foul way. Secondly, that we will keep circling the wagons. Gathering. Talking. Sharing. Restarting. Trying it again….in hopes we too can keep the promises that really matter. And turn to the God who loves us so deeply when we fail. And finally? Only washable markers will now be available for the kids.

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{This post is part of my monthly contribution at Practicing Families.  Feel free to hop over there too!….}





Reality

18 08 2014

It is no secret…I have a passion for/addiction/obsession with The Bachelor and Bachelorette enterprise.  I should just say “no” and pick up a book and actually utilize a few more crannies of my brain.  But, sometimes we succumb to guilty pleasures.  This all began just before I got married.  My dear roommate and I would bond over Bachelors Andrew Firestone and Bob Guiney from Seasons 3 and 4 or Bachelorette Trista Sutter from Season 1, giving our lives true meaning, intrigue and excitement after especially hard teaching days.  The “MOST DRAMATIC ROSE CEREMONY EVER” kept us watching, week after week, season after season to see which contestants, vying for love, would come out the winner.

Now twenty-eight seasons later, I am still watching.  And shhhh….but….my husband will watch too.  We even included illusions to it in our Christmas letter the year we were married.

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Things have changed, though.  I have read more and more about how producers influence so many aspects of the reality we naively watch.  I now follow many former cast members on instagram and find myself thinking I have a true “insider view” into their everyday lives.  And shocker of all shockers?!?  I am a big Reality Steve fan.  Reality Steve is infamous for his “secret” sources which give him all the nitty gritty details on the season, prior to its premiere.  His “spoilers” allow viewers to know background about the cast, blow by blow details of the exotic dates and who goes home on which episodes. Steve even reveals who wins the entire kit and caboodle on the finale.

You are either a spoiler FAN or spoiler HATER.  Reality Steve is your hero.  Or your nemesis.  And the other day I got to thinking about this quandry.  What is my fascination with “reality” tv?  And more than that…knowing ahead of time what will REALLY happen and then watching “reality” unfold to see if they match up?  I think Reality Steves’ spoilers provide levity for me.  He is humorous and pokes fun at the whole Bachelor enterprise.  Yet, if asked, “Would you want to know is going to happen in the future or not?!?” I would invariably say, “no, thanks”.  In this case, though, I love how you can watch the show with totally different eyes knowing who is to come out the “winner”.  You watch for the nuances and catch the beginning sparks that lead to love in the end—or at least, perceived love.

There is so little in life that we truly know for sure, except perhaps,  that life is unpredictable.  So to know FOR SURE who will make what decisions seemingly before they even do feels pretty powerful.  The finale for this past season, season 10 of the Bachelorette, just finished up 2 weeks ago.  We were camping on the Oregon Coast, far from DVRs, cable and Hulu Plus services.  Even though I KNEW Andi and Josh would wind up together, I had a compulsion to watch the episode.  I needed to see it for myself.  Then….my phone connected long enough to see this picture come up on my instagram feed.  Proof!  Look at that ring!  Engagement confirmed.

 

But still, once we got home the following Saturday from our camping trip, I had to pull up the three hour show and watch it all.  See it and experience it for myself—-in all of its over-produced wonder.  Sometimes, though we want sure-fire, guaranteed knowledge of what the future holds, it really comes down to needing to walk through today, the here and now, ourselves.  Reality Steve may make me feel all-knowing and powerful, but really?  The Bachelor and Bachelorette are a lot of smoke and mirrors.  And the truth of it??  I still will watch despite knowing the absurdity.  Because sometimes it’s nice to escape reality by being privy to someone else’s.  After a long day of household chores and trying to help our children grow into respectable citizens, it can be fun to accompany the Bachelorette to Italy or Belgium or the Domincan Republic enjoying fancy dinners and over-the-top dates.

When it comes to my life, my decisions, my companions and family, though, I am happy to live in my reality. Our stories, our lives, our narratives, are like any plot.  There are low moments, highs & mountaintop experiences, day-to-day monotony. God calls us into the story, to be the main character, living in the unknown ourselves.  To have perspective to see how the harder moments of our past lead to our self of today.  But also, to see how we too can shape the storyline for our days ahead.  A call to—like the Bachelor and Bachelorette—to find love.  Maybe our love, though, is the capital “L”, love.  To find the places where God dwells and is moving and be co-creators on the journey.

 

 

 





Love Does

15 08 2014

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The angst of the next few weeks is palpable.  Kids are gearing up for school to start.  School supplies are being purchased.  First day outfits laid out.  For myself and so many of my friends, it means preparing as an educator to begin another year.  Empty plan books.  Desks to be organized.  Closets to be decluttered.  Books to be “leveled” and labelled.   Truly the lists {and lists and lists and lists} go on and on.  And thus, the angst can go on and on.

We have three new curriculum areas at my school this fall and luckily for me as a part time teacher, I only have to grapple with two, Reading and Writing.  As any compulsive, obsessed teacher does, I turned to the source of all wisdom—Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers.   But the scary thing?!? Our new reading curriculum is SO new that we are the only folks using it on the west coast.  It is truly hot off the press and we’re hoping we actually have all the supplies when school begins.  There are no “cutified” {I know that’s a word…somewhere} worksheets to be found.  There is no plan mapped out.  There is no sage advice from those who have gone before.

We are living into Oregon’s history….the trailblazers.  The Pioneers.  We are making a trail.  Creating a path.  Trying new scary things and no doubt failing sometimes.

And it’s uncomfortable.  I really like to have a framework and wisdom from others.  We have gone to training, yes, and there is a suggested, clear, laid out plan in our teacher guides.  But even our trainer, in the sweetest way possible, shrugged her shoulders a few times when met with our incessant questions and basically said, “It’s up to YOU.”  We get to make those “adjustable seats” for each student with their own needs (did you watch the TED talk I referenced in my last post?  click here).  We are going to have to read the books the night before and think about themes and deeper implications.  We are the ones on the front lines with the students every morning at 7:55am (gulp) greeting them and creating a place they feel loved and supported in the midst of academic challenges.

And all of those tasks leave me tossing and turning at night, unconsciously grinding my teeth.  Living in the fear.  This morning, though, I got a jolt to push out of that place.  Author Bob Goff, who wrote Love Does {A MUST READ} wrote on Facebook:

“Quit waiting for a plan; just go love everybody.”

Maybe that’s the answer to the fears I keep grappling with….just go love.  Obviously teachers without a plan or preparation will sink in moments.  But the reason for the plan is to allow space for growth, learning and love.  Remind me of this on September 2nd, but for now, these words are going to hopefully quell my knees from knocking a tiny bit.

 

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Just add a Filter

13 08 2014

For the past few years I have oogled over photographic images posted on blogs I follow.  Pictures capturing so much of a family in one still frame.  I have been an avid blog  devour-er and began to see a common denominator on many….the work of Wendy and Tyler of Blue Lily Photography.  Some of my favorites are linked below:

Meg Duerksen (1, 2 and 3)

Nie Nie Dialogues (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5)

Design Mom (1 and 2)

Wendy and Tyler work as a team, but “double book” for most sessions so they are each capturing a separate family at the same time.  Shortly after our move to Oregon, I started noticing lots of blog posts saying that the Blue Lily calendar/schedule was up.  Wendy and Tyler travel the world, year round, with their two kids, photographing as they go.  From Hong Kong to Australia to Spain to most states across the U.S….they travel spreading immense joy and clicking picture after picture.

For our session, we worked with Wendy and man alive, she earned her money with our boys.  Drew was like a little puppy, running off down various paths and after every distractable option possible.  Alex was climbing trees and rock walls and going a mile a minute.  Just an hour prior to the session we had been sitting in horrendous traffic, trying to grab a quick dinner and checking into our hotel.  Matt dared to suggest we just call and cancel.  I exploded like a volcano, this session being something I had wanted for my 40th birthday—-photographs with me in them with our family since I am usually the one behind the camera.

After apologizing and deep breaths, we drove along the unparalleled Columbia River Gorge towards Multnomah Falls.  It was raining on and off and my Burgerville dinner in a bag was threatening to drip all over my clothes.  But we made it in time and Wendy put us at ease right away, joking, keeping the kids on their toes and taking the time and energy to learn and know our names and part of our story.  She is truly a master at her craft, oozing out love and joy.

All this to say….photographs are only a moment in time.  They may tell or give off a story that isn’t quite accurate.  You can’t hear what was going on prior, during or after these pictures.  The bargaining for ice cream.  The gritting of teeth.  The hole Alex put in the knee of his pants earlier in the day.  Sometimes the images we put up for others to see are filtered.  We shield eyes, even our own, from the truth.  Make it appear perfect.  And yet, despite the imperfections—-the pounds I wish I’d shed, the discipline and frustrations uttered to the boys, the difficulty figuring out the clothing, etc—I feel like every single cent was worth it.

For me, photography is a deep passion.  I feel completely off kilter when I find myself without a camera in hand.  Capturing life through my lens, even my phone, is like breathing.  It helps me look for, see, and document beauty in the world.  And while I may add a filter to soften, tone down or even amp up an image, it is more about a sharing beauty than perfection.

In an attempt to set the record straight…if you think our family is perfect.  Docile.  Calm.  Pulled together.  Loving 24/7.  You are dead wrong.  No matter what the photos might suggest or the filters might hide, rest assured, underneath it all—it’s a bit of a circus.  So grateful that we were able to have some still frames of our family in July of 2014, though, as it might be the only STILL we experience for the next 15 years.

Thanks so much, Wendy, for working with us.  We truly had a blast!

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So Far…

12 08 2014

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Like many of you, no doubt, summer feels like a hot bed of opportunity.  Sometimes fall feels that way too.  School starting.  New clothes.  New backpacks.  New school supplies.  Or Winter?  It’s the new year.  Resolutions are made.  We can begin a new chapter.  Spring?  Everything comes back to life after hibernating.  Flowers pop through the ground.  In the classroom, it is non-failingly the time when everyone seems to kick into gear and really grow in their learning, cemented as a community.

But summer?  I have visions of relaxing in a hammock.  Roasting marshmallows.  Taking hikes.  Reading books.  Taking family trips and adventures.  Rejuvenating.

And while many of those things HAVE happened, it has also felt quite different this year.  Almost like holding onto a strong, metal support for dear life as a hurricane raged around me.  There have been many teacher trainings and days devoted to my new job come September.  Camps and preschool for the boys.  Two trips for us as a family.  Lots of visiting friends and family.  It has all been {{{good}}}, but that island living, relaxed and mellow vibe I envision each June?!  Not so much.

There have been some hard “Come to Jesus” moments lately as expectation has met reality head on—-with reality taking the cake.  Gulping down what I envisioned my life to look like, and realizing that things are actually different.  Mostly in the area of parenting.  For years, as a teacher, I have lived in judgement of parents, students and circumstances only to find myself becoming THAT parent, in charge of THAT kid. Humility can be a hard pill to swallow.

When I think of the summer of 2010, I remember last weeks in our job at summer camp.  I was waddling around 8 months pregnant, waiting on the baby to come and a move to be made a few months later.  In 2013 we were packing, saying goodbyes, road-tripping north and starting a new adventure.  In 2003 I was newly engaged, enjoying 3 weeks in Europe, planning a wedding, on cloud 9.  Summers all have different memories attached.  And this one?  Well, some days I want to reframe it.  Rename it.  Recreate it into something a little more perfect.  In reality, it has been a tougher nut to crack.  I wish I could say I was entering a new school year, relaxed as if from a spa treatment, ready for whatever lies ahead.  Nope.  It’s more of a “hanging on for dear life”, diving into the next adventure.

One thing that remains, however, is my choice on how to look at the days and weeks to come.  I will be in a new school district come September.  Even though the needs of our students—on paper—are daunting, I see so much commitment, joy and determination in the companions that share classrooms around me.  There is a strong belief that every child can be educated, but more than that….inspired.  I can, and DO, look at my soon-to-be students’ reading scores, and get nervous, filled with fear that I won’t be able to help them grow and learn.  But, truly?  It comes down to what, in my core, I believe to be possible.  A paradigm shift to be had in my heart.  Some days this summer, my heart has felt rather hopeless or on an unpredictable, out-of-control roller coaster.  I am guessing that it comes down to re-framing things, not with Pollyanna, unrealistic memory-recreating.  Rather, with an open heart, accepting the days behind and ahead, believing that growth and inspiration waits to be found.  And when I look back at the pictures and images below, I see the inspiration that can be found, the growth & adventures  that were had and find myself grateful for the summer of 2014.

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We watched the Ted Talk video found below at my teacher training today and it really says it all…the Myth of Average by Todd Rose.  Challenging.  Inspiring.  Paradigm Shifter for sure.  Worth each of the 18 minutes to watch.  And be sure to read Shauna Niequist’s latest post about her own paradigm shift (click here).  As she says:

I want to shift the math. I want to be deeply, wholly responsible for myself, my little family, my very close tribe. And I want to stop being, in the words of my favorite writer Anne Lamott, “the flight attendant for the planet.” I want to be entirely less responsible for a whole bunch of people and expectations and roles, and way more deeply, richly connected to a tiny circle of people who really do need me, in appropriate ways.





Roughing It

8 08 2014

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With barely a square inch to breathe or move, we pulled out of our driveway for a week of camping on the Oregon Coast.  Ever the planner, I had lists in hand.  Lists for packing.  Lists of “must see and do” activities and eateries.  Lists of campsite details and driving directions.  Lists of menus.  The kids were buckled into the car almost a half an hour before we actually departed, ready to go.  Or maybe just ready to view the long-awaited “movie in the car”, Star Wars?  For me, I knew that once we were on the road, I could exhale.  We would be off on the adventure!  Memories were about to be made.  We would bond while “roughing it”.

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But were we really “roughing it”?!?  French Press, extra-long, extendable marshmallow roasting sticks, wine, Ipads,  Legos and  down comforter were packed.  Or so we thought.  We had everything we needed to experience God’s beautiful creation—-in comfort.   And yet despite the thorough lists, and even double checking each item two times, we still forgot bedding for my husband and myself.  I say “we”, but really, it was me.  I somehow missed a crucial item.  When it hits the mid-50s at night and you are in a tent, blankets or sleeping bags are not really negotiable.  Was God trying to help me really “rough it”?  To test my worth and see what I was made of?

The non-negotiable elements of our faith journey can become lists used to plan out our daily lives.  Sunday?  Head to church.  6:00am?  Time to be up having a quiet reflective time.  Panhandler asking for spare change?  Empty your purse, smile, be on your way.  But are the non-negotiable elements of faith we so desperately want to impart to our children or be seen to possess in our own lives, truly LISTS?  I wonder if we begin to see each aspect as something to attain.  To get.  To pack.  To check off.  To do.  To possess….when God is raising the “red flag” on the sidelines trying to get a word in edgewise.  “Hey, Guys?!?  Over here!!  Did you forget?  What you need is already within you.  Don’t add it to your shopping list, just pay attention.”

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Like our own children, prematurely buckled into the car, antsy to GET ON WITH IT.  Like myself, smug with Type A satisfaction that I had made my list and checked it twice.  Like so many of us, toting around our figured out understandings about who God is and how God works…we often need a reminder that knowing and pursuing God and modeling that journey to our children is different than we anticipated.  It isn’t something to figure out or even plan for.  God’s Spirit doesn’t follow our rules,  plans or agendas.

To follow after God requires a paradigm shift.  Letting go of the lists.  Releasing expectations.  “Roughing it” by removing our perceived comforts and necessary must haves, seeing what God has already placed within us.  God’s love.  God’s joy.  God’s peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Goodness.  Faithfulness. Gentleness and Self-Control.  The fruit of God’s very Spirit that is part of our selves from the moment we are created.  Rather than packing all of these qualities, demanding them of our children, trying to rough it on our own, it is a call to listen, pay attention and make space.

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Our parish associate preached on gentleness last Sunday and she reminded that gentleness is really about creating room for others to share their story.  It was a light bulb moment for me, ever the “always on the go”, list-maker, doer, God was trying to speak to my heart.  A reminder that making space for others, unlike our jam-packed car , allows for growth, breathing room and the chance to exhale.  Our children deserve this too.  How often do my boys feel like they are just part of my list of things pack?  To finish?  Rather than creating space for their story, to enter into their narrative and listen.  Often that feels rough.  And difficult.  And unnecessary.  But, lucky for us, God has already placed what essentials we need in us.  May we do the hard work to tap into these “fruits” instead of focusing on all we think we need to pack for the journey.  To realize that “roughing it” might look quite different than we planned and change us in ways we weren’t expecting.

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{This post is part of my monthly contribution at Practicing Families.  Feel free to hop over there too!….}








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