Holding Space for Someone Else

{this post was originally published in June 2016 during my once-in-awhile contribution to Practicing Families blog}

After a rough parenting day, one which involved three instances of difficult transitions with my 5 ½ year old, I typed a text message to a few girlfriends through tears.   It has been the first week of summer vacation and as a teacher, the days have been filled with writing report cards, packing up a classroom, saying tough goodbyes, helping my students and my own children wrap up their years all the while hoping everyone has lunches, signed permission slips and clothing that is clean.

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This year end frenzy has been magnified due to an upcoming transition in our family as I move from half time to full time teaching. My youngest will start kindergarten and my oldest will be in 4th grade. For better or for worse, ¾ of our family will be in the same building all day for school…we will see who ends up embarrassing who the most come June 2017!

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As exciting as this whole shift is, it is a time of deep and oftentimes difficult transition. And in these times of change, it can be easy to dig deeper into the anxiety, the “what if’s,” the fears, the unknowns and spin out of control. But that handy scientific term…osmosis?!? Remember that biological term for the process where molecules can pass from one place to another? Well, it becomes a real life demonstration lesson for our family all too often.

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Today it was a building frustration that my children don’t just DO what I ask them to do WHEN I ask them without hesitation or complaint. Instead of responding with patience, calm and lack of charged emotion, I demonstrated the exact opposite. Stressors that have nothing to do with my children took over. Instead of letting their frustrations roll off, I engaged. I got frustrated. I entered into the anger.

In the midst of this moment of complete exhaustion, I typed out that quick text to two girlfriends confessing my own stuck points and frustrations. And even over their phones, they supported me, encouraged me, made me laugh and provided a place where I felt love unconditionally.

One sent me this quote:

Holding space for someone else “means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.” – Heather Plett

It dawned on me that this was the very message our family’s psychiatrist was planting this week as well. As parents, it is our job to hold space. To walk alongside our children, “without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them…” When my boys exhibit behaviors that embarrass me or leave me sinking into exhaustion, I keep hearing a faint voice of our counselor reminding us to not engage and respond with matched emotion. Rather, to take a break. To offer a suggestion or two that has worked for us. And most importantly to listen and hold space for our children where they experience God’s grace and acceptance and support. I am hoping against hope that the few times we disengage, leaving the heightened emotions behind, that we then begin to build the relationships with our children that are only possible with true support.

As we walk into summer, it is my prayer that we can all seek to be space holders for those around us. May we let go of the need to fix others, to change outcomes, to stay closed and to cling to judgmentalism.   But to enter conversations and interactions with the goal of open hearts and hands as we listen to and care for others on their own journeys.

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The Rain Fly

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{this post was originally published in May 2016 during my once-in-awhile contribution to Practicing Families blog}

A little over 12 ½ years ago we were knee deep in wedding preparations and of course this included the opportunity to register at some of our favorite stores. Registering conjures up many images in my mind, not all of them are pleasant. We had a brilliant idea, though. With hopes of outdoor adventures in our future, we decided to register at REI. REI would allow us to register for that water filtration system we would need for backcountry adventures. We could select the perfect Thermarest to keep us comfy. And of course…the sleek, lightweight, 3-season, “high in livability” tent for two.

Fast forward 12 years. I am standing in Costco. It’s mid-March and I am surrounded by outdoor “necessities” on all sides. Air beds. Cots. Coolers. Pop-ups. Cooking accessories. Kayaks. Backpacks. Lanterns. And yes. You guessed it. Tents. No more sleek, easy-to-carry models. We are talking full-on, Coleman, 10 person CABIN tents complete with vestibules, ventilated annexes and netted roves with unadulterated views of the stars. It was almost a shameful moment to imagine the potential purchase. We had become THAT family. The one that succumbed to the mini van. The family that gave in to the tent that could fit three queen Aerobeds. Would this be a slippery slope to glamping?! No more visions of hard core expeditions carrying all we needed on our backs?! Despite the fear of judgment, the Costco card was scanned and the tent procured. We now might break our backs setting up our home away from home, but there was space for “everything we needed.”

christine 2Just a week ago, we set off on our second adventure with the tent of amazingness. Our van was filled to the brim leaving barely any room for our poor dog, Sally. We left behind the worries of classrooms and congregations and hit the road. It was a warm Friday afternoon, hitting the low 80s. Blue skies promised a warm and comfortable weekend ahead. I finally exhaled, prepared to enjoy Mother’s Day weekend with wonderful friends in the Oregon outdoors.

After pulling up to the campground we met up with our friends and chose a spot to pitch the tent. The lure of starry skies and trees towering over us led us to naively pitch the tent without the rain fly.   We settled in for some beautiful views from the comfort of our pillow top queen Aerobed and down comforter (we nixed sleeping bags years ago…). Night one went fine. Didn’t sleep too much, but at least we enjoyed the starry view. Night two, we crashed hard. Our day had been filled with river exploration. Water gun fights. Amazing food concoctions. Raging campfires and multiple s’mores. Shenanigans with fellow mom friends. Kids running in packs like our very own Lord of the Flies. Suffice it to say, everyone fell asleep without much complaining.

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Until…the rain. The unpredicted, unplanned for, early morning rain showers. The rain fly seemed so superfluous just 36 hours prior. But things changed. The weather defied the most reliable apps on our phones. My husband went flying for the car to dig through the box and find the rain fly. We shivered while trying to unroll the fly, attempting to launch it over the almost 9 foot height of the already pitched tent. Somehow the kids slept through it all and we scurried back into bed after securing the fly enough to last until our departure later that Mother’s Day morning.

Mother’s Day. It’s often one of those days that we build up in our minds. A holiday filled with big expectations of handmade cards, colorful flowers, kid-prepared breakfast in bed. Sweet children cooing around their moms’ feet, gazing up with loving affection. But our best intentions and expectations often shift with time and perspective and LIFE. Those sleek, “high in livability” tents for two are soon traded in for the roomier and more comfortable Coleman models. Motherhood becomes an opportunity for best laid plans to be uprooted and changed. Parenting is all about planning for the perfect moment of starry skies perfection, and then running for the rain fly when the unexpected “storm hits,” burrowing down under the wet comforter and laughing at the ironies.

For me, the process of practicing our faith in the midst of raising children also looks so different than I imagined nine years ago, days before having our firstborn. You can “register” for all the necessities, and think you have all the boxes checked, everything prepared and purchased for success. And then these little free-will beings enter your neat and tidy world and change the homeostasis. It’s these same little ones, though, that teach us about God and faith in ways we never could have imagined. They help us expand our thinking and deeply held beliefs when they try and grasp the confusing enormity of God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity. Children ask the tough questions and send us running to grab the rain fly to keep us dry during the storms of their growing years.

Through it all—the warm days filled with lazy exploring in nature to the unexpected rains that surprise us—God grants us community to help us experience a felt presence of the Holy Spirit. We are not left alone. As the disciples attempted to grasp this new reality after Jesus’ ascension, God promises them a gift of presence. God moves amongst them in the craziest of ways. With fire. Wind. And too many languages to count. In the midst of true bewilderment over it all, the disciples are given the gift of the Holy Spirit to help them figure it all out in community on that first Pentecost.

Maybe these moments, the surprising and unexpected, send us running for protection, for our “rain fly” that we might have deemed unnecessary.   But may we know that true community and support are worth it and often, the means to weathering the hard times.

God, we thank you for the ways you surround us with fellow imperfect friends and family to show us the truest way to experience your grace and love.

Sweetness is Finite

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{this post was originally published in April 2016 during my once-in-awhile contribution to Practicing Families blog}

After two months of immersion in something slightly embarrassing (binge watching the entire Gilmore Girls series), I am finally pulling myself out of hiding and rejoining life.

With the end to Gilmore, Season 7, Episode 22, I am able to dig back into reading. Many library holds went unchecked out or ended up overdue as I sided with “just one more Gilmore Girls episode…” over picking up a book. First up, though? Anthony Doerr’s Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, & the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Doerr also penned the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See. Four Seasons chronicles the time Anthony and his wife were given the chance to spend a year in Rome in 2004 with their six month old twins while he worked on All the Light. From the moment I cracked this book open, I was immersed in the world of Rome…the sounds, the architecture, the history, the smells and food. All the while paired with parenting littles and the unique challenges that brings to travel and daily life….and sanity.

The book is organized into seasons and at the end of the first section about Fall, Doerr writes,

“I’m thankful that everything sweet
is sweet because it is finite.”

And my breath caught. Everything is truly sweet, because it has limits. Sweetness is finite. Boundaries make the special things in life…just that. SPECIAL.

The last episodes of Gilmore Girls were so poignant and sweet for many narrative reasons. But mostly, it was the knowledge that the end was coming that kept taking over my thoughts. It was a slippery slope running quickly towards…the finale. The final visions of characters. The “end” of story lines. No more insanely witty discourse. No more Lorelai or Rory. No more Luke’s Diner.

As parents, some sweet moments are truly sweet because we know there is “an end in sight”. Diapers, spoon feeding, babbling, sleepless nights?!? There are times they feel all the more precious because they truly are finite. Our children will develop. Learn to talk. Eat independently. Walk on their own. Communicate without us looking over their shoulders.

We are moving into the season of Spring and it is a time of new growth in the world around us. In classrooms, students are preparing work, taking statewide tests; teachers are assessing data in preparation for parent teacher conferences. The church calendar tells that we are Easter people, living in a time of resurrection. Flowers are pushing through the soil to paint our yards in color. Spring cleaning means taking stock, letting go and “clearing the decks” of the old. In our lives, though, spring cleaning might mean leaning into what lies ahead, the new life we wait on. And, it’s time to take stock in the sweetness of the finite.

Before relishing the sweetness of the endings, I believe we must also take a deeper look at what is ending. When we push ourselves and our children into the new thing…..new sport season. New grade level. New friendships. New developmental stages and expectations. New adventures. New responsibilities. Well, we can lose sight of that crucial moment of reflection.

So this year, as we roll into Spring and the newness bursts forth around us, stop and take a minute to mark and remember the sweetness of the moments that have passed by. Help your young ones to mark and remember the many things they have accomplished, tackled and worked through. The hard challenges that have felt impossible in the moment just might have offered enough disequilibrium to lead to new growth and development.

May we sit in moments of sweetness and take note of our surroundings, knowing that the finiteness of the moment is a gift. It is also a reminder of God’s overarching love—the one true infinite element. We are hemmed in by it and held in it. God’s love holds us through each moment and links the days together. May we hold out these road maps to our children and ourselves to see how our journeys, while made up of many endings, are part of a much bigger adventure. And adventure full of much sweet finiteness.

A Sapling to Grow

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{this post was originally published in February 2016 during my once-in-awhile contribution to Practicing Families blog}

“I try to believe,” she said, “that God doesn’t give you more than one little piece of the story at once. You know, the story of your life. Otherwise your heart would crack wider than you could handle. He only cracks it enough so you can still walk, like someone wearing a cast. But you’ve still got a crack running up your side, big enough for a sapling to grow out of. Only no one sees it. Nobody sees it. Everybody thinks you’re one whole piece, and so they treat you maybe not so gentle as they could see that crack.”

― Rebecca WellsDivine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Something began to crack. Not sure WHEN, but the tipping point was knowing that our boys had been yelling about underwear while waving it in the air.  Outside.  For all the neighborhood to hear.  Or playing practical jokes on babysitters.  Name calling was the norm.  Hitting seemed to have become the knee-jerk reaction to frustration and anger.  And the solution?  Turning our backs the other way, too emotionally exhausted to do more than bandaid it all with Netflix and PBS Kids, after appealing to other experts, friends and books.

The “crack” led to a reset. We “cleared the decks” and went back to square one, leaving only the basics (which by majority world standards are still quite extravagant).  Games, puzzles, art supplies and books were left alone.  Everything else was carefully packed away.  Screens were blackened.  It was time for the crack to “run up our side.”  Maybe this change wouldn’t be seen by many others, but no doubt our boys’ REACTION to the change could be heard by our neighbors!  Seen or not by the outside, it became necessary for the health of our family.

It was a wide, painful crack. But as Rebecca Wells’ quote so wisely says, it was “big enough for a sapling to grow out of.”  Sometimes it feels as if our story is cracked wider than we can handle.  That the narrative doesn’t seem to be going the way we planned.  The plot is flawed and headed off in a direction that isn’t linear.  All we feel is the pain.  The taking away.  The “not yet.”  And yet nobody sees it, or us.

We have just entered the season of Lent on the church calendar. These forty days preceding Easter give us time to strip things bare.  To pare down to the basics.  To let go of the things that keep our focus off of what truly matters.  Lent is a time of reflection.  A time to repent and turn from the patterns that are binding us and holding us.  This whole season of Lent “kicks off” with a service centered around dust.  Ashes.  Remnants of the fire.

It all sounds kind of morbid at first glance. Who wants to give up the comforts we love?  Chocolate?  TV?  Coffee?  Or in our boys’ case….LEGOS. Ipad time.  Or using mean words when the rage boils underneath.  Lent and parenting are actually more alike than we often imagine.  Our best attempts to raise these little humans to lead from a place of love, can often feel impossible.  Parenting can sometimes feel like a lot of taking away.  Losing.  Fire-filled moments.  But as ashes return to the earth, something new can spring up.  Fire, according to the National Park Service, “reduces dead vegetation, stimulates new growth and improves habitats for wildlife.”  I remember story, after amazing story, rising from the ashes of Mt. St. Helens’ volcanic explosion back in 1980.  New growth kept miraculously finding its way to the same places that had once been filled with devastation.  And oddly enough, there were many situations that seemed BETTER than before.  The narrative changed, but also improved.

As we walk through this Lenten season, individually or in our role as parent, we must remember these wise words of Gertrud Mueller Nelson in her book To Dance with God.  She writes, “We cannot hope for change in the other until we have changed ourselves.  We cannot change without dying.”  We must face these painful places in ourselves, modeling for our kids what it means to repair our mistakes, apologizing when our angry words get the best of us.  Asking for a do-over when we avoid what will hurt and maybe feels most difficult.

As Valentine’s Day rolls around this Sunday with the Lenten season already begun, we seek that God will “take away our hearts of stone.” That God would give us “hearts of flesh.”  In the midst of the cracks and the pain, the hard parenting moves we need to make, we can seek a God that meets us.  A God that desires to grow a sapling and bring new life to places that have felt broken or hard as stone.  Maybe we will even find places, surprising spots, where we can take on something new in a place that once felt barren.  Ashes giving way to new life.

Some questions for Reflection:

Where has your life felt “cracked” this season?
What painful interactions have you allowed to grow and become habits within yourself or your family?
What new life or “sapling” are you longing to have become real in your life?
What new commitments could you “take ON” during this Lenten season, rather than give up?

A Joyful Mystery

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Happy New Year!

2016.

A clean slate and a fresh start begins today!

We put so much pressure on ourselves to make resolutions and change our bad habits and lazy ways. Every January 1st, goals are set. Words of the year are declared. We push forward into the days ahead, feeling strong and motivated and positive. And then….the hard news. The diagnosis. The unexpected phone call. The world spins in ways we weren’t planning on. It feels impossible to hold tight to those intentions.

As I walk through moments of difficulty and sadness with my own boys, the world and its unpredictable ways often feel overwhelming. They struggle with grasping their own **little**worlds, their friendships, school challenges and family expectations, let alone stomaching what unfolds on the news and in our bigger communities and world.

So to see times of mystery as joy, feels counterintuitive.

To envision the unknown and challenging as worthy of gladness and praise, seems naïve.

How do we move forward amidst it all with joy? Gladness? And praise? We are working on this in our own lives and family these days. Trying to upend patterns of negativity and irritability and replace our knee jerk reactions with stillness, calm and an open heart. We are attempting to ask questions and seek more from each other, rather than assume.

When I heard Brené Brown speak this past fall, she challenged us with a question. “What is the story you are telling yourself?” How are we creating narratives for ourselves and for our closest loved ones that are fictional, inaccurate and made up in our own heads? Do we see the problems of our world and in our day-to-day lives as insurmountable obstacles, believing everyone is out to get us? How can we instead turn the questions back on ourselves and our children, seeking to see these problems differently?

“No one wants to play with me!”

“He hit me and said he’s not my friend…”

“You love HIM more than ME!”

“I don’t want to be in the family anymore! You’re a baby RAT, MOM!”

These are just a few of the many words uttered within our walls recently. I often don’t have advice to share with boys. Only rage bubbles up. But I am starting to hear Brené whispering in my ear these days, “What story are you telling yourself?” The root of these situations is often way different than I surmise and rather than thinking about these problems and challenges as a joyful mystery, I want to run and hide and ignore it.

As we walk into 2016, I am hoping for a year of joyful mystery mixed with a hefty does of contemplation. Time to sit with these questions. Opportunities to live with the pain and not run from it. Wherewithal to probe and ask for more from our boys, rather than escaping from the yelling. I hope we can all push ourselves to be on each other’s sides, leading with kindness rather than judgment or harshness. May we re-write the stories we tell ourselves with truth, remembering these words of Paul to the Romans:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you:

Take your everyday, ordinary life—

your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around-life—

and place it before God as an offering.

Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.

Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.

Instead, fix your attention of God.

You’ll be changed from the inside out.

Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.

Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God bring the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.”      

~Romans 12:1-2, 9

{this is originally a post for the blog Practicing Families that I contribute to every so often…you can also find it there, along with lots of other pieces}

Merry Christmas from the Goughs

It is hard to believe that we have already hit the much-anticipated CHRISTMAS EVE…I am sure that many of you (or your progeny!) are filled with expectations for the 24 hours ahead.  Taking a brief moment to share our 2015 Christmas card and letter for today’s December Photo Project entry.  This picture isn’t as polished as last years, due to our self-posed and taken shot vs the mad skills of Blue Lily and Wendy’s talents.  But….it is so much more spontaneous and us, down to Drew’s bandaided cheek and Alex’s bunny ears.

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May the words of Joseph Campbell challenge you in 2016 as they have challenged us…

and…a little Mad Lib fun for you.

Merry Christmas!

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Get Yourself Organized for Christmas

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Yes, I was the crazy person. Sitting on the beach at the Oregon Coast, watching a late August sunset, reading about….Christmas. And worse yet? Getting ORGANIZED for Christmas. Who wants to spend the fleeting hours of their summer, planning for December?!  It turns out I do…and hopefully you will too.

Last year, I had the gift of being part of Kathi Lipp’s launch team for her book Clutter Free: Quick and Easy Steps to Simplifying Your Space Many of you took on the challenge with me to get rid of 2000 items in 2015. Kathi’s latest book applies this same principal to the approaching Christmas season. In her new book Get Yourself Organized for Christmas, Kathi shares easy-to-follow steps to reduce the stress and increase the joy of the holiday season.

Last November, Kathi began to post daily projects & simple steps to help focus on what you really value and want for the holiday season.   By being purposeful, it is possible to be present and to experience the depth of Advent and Christmas vs. checklists, commitments & overwhelming decisions. To have a “Christmas that is clutter free—free of emotional, physical and relational clutter”—is possible.

The first step Kathi suggests is spending time thinking about what is truly important to you…and to your family. I am often the one who is planning event after event, setting up art projects, baking plans and Pinterest ventures to keep the month of December meaningful and memorable. When I finally stopped and began to take a closer look at the holidays and what is really important (and fun!), the need for a picture perfect holiday began to feel hollow.

I asked our boys what they love the best about our traditions. Everyone voiced a love for driving around to look at Christmas lights, for making gingerbread houses and watching Elf. The long list I am a slave to was barely mentioned or touched upon. So…once again, I am editing and trying to pare things down. Simplifying.

Each of the projects Kathi proposes are smaller, allowing you to take on the planning in manageable chunks. After working on Project One, Creating a Holiday Mission Statement, I felt much more focused when making hard decisions about what to keep and what to let go of. If an activity or event began to feel more like an obligation or if it didn’t line up with our Mission Statement, it was crossed off the list. And by mission statement, it needs to be more than “To SURVIVE”.

Kathi encourages you to think through words that resonate with your hopes for the season…each year’s statement having the potential to be a little bit different. {some words to think through: time, energy, spiritual, celebrate, family, tradition, creating, friends, church, community, gift gifting, love, reflect, patience, solitude, connect, serve, peace, joy, activities, care, gift giving, restore, food, etc}.

Next, the second project had me at…BINDER. I loved Kathi’s idea to create a Christmas Binder which held a calendar for the month of December, recipes, menus, gift ideas, receipts, a budget, the to-do list, a list of present hiding places, Christmas card addresses and other tidbits in one, easy-to-locate place.  Rather than trying to track down items you “tucked away” or trying to locate a receipt for the present you sent that isn’t the right size, everything is in one place, easy to find.  Here is a link for some free resources to start getting your binder together.

The projects unfold from there…

  • buying Christmas card stamps
  • choosing a photo for your Christmas card (if you are sending them)
  • planning for purchasing, wrapping and sending gifts to out of town friends and family
  • compiling the MUST make, family-favorite recipes
  • ordering Christmas books or movies from the Library
  • setting a budget for gift buying

There are 21 Projects to help you prepare for the holidays and I have to say that last year felt so much more manageable. And now a year later? I can’t even tell you the gift it is to have already attacked the ever-illusive spreadsheet of addresses for cards or planning for some simple, daily advent activities.  All the work I put in last year is “paying off” in less stress this year.

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If you are feeling overwhelmed about the holidays as Thanksgiving approaches, I would love to invite you to join me as we enter into this season to be more intentional and calm. To break up projects that typically make you want to run and hide and instead be more purposeful, focused and stress-free. Be sure to check out Kathi’s new book and also connect via Facebook where she posts the daily projects as well.  Here is the link for her blog, another great place to get the current scoop.  If you want to take the challenge, click here!  Please share about your progress if you decide to take on the challenge.  I will be doing it again this year and love having a friend or two to keep me accountable!

 

The Treasure Within the Putty

{this post is part of my monthly contribution at Practicing Families…finally getting around to posting it here…}christine

Almost every Thursday, I pick my youngest son up from Pre-K class and trek out to his Occupational Therapy appointment. Many days it is a struggle to extract him from his friends and class but Thursdays, I don’t need the promise of any “carrots.”  All I need to say is, “We get to go see Kecia today!” and he drops whatever he is working on like a hot potato and jets for the door.  If only I drew such excitement and motivation.

Each week during our appointments, the activities change and vary but one activity stays the same and is a favorite—Putty Time. Theraputty provides a fun and engaging way for finger and hand strengthening as well as improvement of muscle coordination.  Kecia’s Theraputty isn’t just putty, though….she has hidden treats inside.  A Lite Bright bulb, a nautilus shell, an eraser, a LEGO, a plastic gecko, a marble, a plastic, pink jewel.  Depends on the week, but usually Drew pulls and tugs and digs and searches for about eight items within the putty.

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As he extracts each item it is an EVENT. Each item is announced with great enthusiasm, piled neatly, and then he goes back in for more.  There is also a lot of “UUUUUUUGGHHHH”s and dramatic stretching and pulling sounds, but he puts in the hard work.  Putty time on the schedule means challenge, but reward.  Some pain and persistence, but a pay off.

So much of parenting is made up of these cause and effect moments. The lessons we want to have embedded on their hearts relate to “not giving up.”  Teaching our children the value of grit and perseverance can feel never-ending.  And in reality?!  It is an ongoing life lesson.  To build strength, we must pull and stretch our minds and bodies.  We need to put ourselves in places of discomfort.  There will be times we are digging and digging for some unknown something, with seemingly no clues, just the instruction, “Keep looking.  Keep searching.”  To get our desired effect, there is a directly related cause.  Hard Work.

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The lessons we so desire to impart are often the same ones we ourselves need. So, I challenge you to keep looking.  Keep searching.  Keep pulling and pushing.  Press on when it seems like the plastic jewel will never be unearthed.  That Lite Bright bulb might be within the next section, and your children are no doubt watching you to see what you might find.  But even more so, if you stick with the task when it gets gray and fuzzy and overwhelming, you will grow.

With this in mind, I have been clinging to a prayer I read in Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime.  It was written by Sarum Primer in 1527.  Almost 500 years ago.  But his words ring true today.

“God be in my head

and in my understanding.

God be in my mouth

And in my speaking.

God be in my heart

And in my thinking.

God be at mine end

And my departing.”

 

May God be in our words, our hearts, our thoughts and our steps as we parent, encourage, model and push our children. Our words are being listened to.  Our heart and affect matters.  Our thoughts matter.  God is in each push and pull and moment of grit.

What Are You Going to Make at the Free Art Table?

Last Sunday our church kicked off the new Sunday School year. Public Schools began as well and the fall routines jump-started us all back to “reality.” Packing lunches. Afternoons of homework, reading logs and math facts. One day it’s ninety-five degrees and the kids are sweating like they were attending a Bikrum yoga class, not Third Grade. The next day, they are running around at soccer practice in the rain, mud caking their cleats and splattering on shin guards.

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It’s a liminal time and space, despite the new beginning of the school year. The weather has a foot in the torrid weeks of summer but simultaneously is pushing to shorter days, chilly mornings and leaves on fire with the colors of autumn.

My students and my own children seem to feel this same liminality. The in between. The middle. Even at the start of something new, we look back to what was. We remember the way our classrooms felt as the previous year ended. Relational bonds felt strong, routines and procedures were engrained, the rhythm was second-nature, teachers were more than a Mr. or Mrs.–they were like another parent.

Looking ahead each September, there is opportunity, possibility and newness. Perfection seems attainable and even plausible. We set goals, review and practice rules, get new backpacks and lunch boxes. But underneath it all, there is a sense of disequilibrium, unsureness. If we are honest, we have a foot in two places. It’s the in between and nothing feels quite “right”.

In my youngest son’s Pre-K class, I heard about something that gave me some grounding in the midst of the newness. At our Back-to-School night, his teacher shared about their Free Art table. A place of potential, opportunity and creativity, but without a lot of rules and perfected, teacher-driven projects.  The students won’t be forced to create a bat during Halloween week or a turkey made of their handprint. Rather, the Free Art table is a place to explore and innovate. There is a bulletin board to put their creations or they can take them home when they finish. There is freedom, options and few teacher-directed objectives other than creative expression.

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When we are in the liminal space or embarking on a new beginning we crave order, rules, boundaries and a perfect model of what we should make or how to act. But sometimes, the way to move into the newness, out of the in between, is through freedom. During the unscripted moments, we force ourselves and our kids to dig deep and grow, discover and even develop new community.

If we hold too tightly to the past it is impossible to embrace the “next thing.”  By it’s very nature, the in between times, the transitions, are fairly permeable. Malleable. Boundary-less.   Just think of what can be created in those times though…. our own little moments to envision something new at our “Free Art Table.”  Pick up the scissors, grab a googly eye or some glitter and get to work.

I walk by my former students in their new 4th grade classroom everyday and long to have them fill our desks again. To hear their reflections, read their words and watch them work through math problems. But then, the new faces of this year’s students grace our walls, their portraits smiling down under the banner “Class of 2025.”  So many moments to share lie ahead. There will be stories to tell, connections to be made.   We’ve already buried “I Can’t” and held its funeral. We wrote about our summers & set reading goals for the year ahead. We have high-fived and hand-shaked our way home each day and already shed tears and a lot of laughs together. And we are only nine days in….

I look at my own two boys and marvel at the ways they—along with kids in general—jump into newness, adapt and adjust to new classrooms and teachers, hoping I can try to do the same. Make my own creation at the Free Art table. Let go of the past a bit. Dream into the future knowing that the underlying grounding is a Creator that delights in seeing us embrace Freedom, wants us to get messy with extravagant Grace & explore the possibilities ahead. God is an innovator and yet stands with us in the in between too. May we seek to be the same for our children. Cheerleaders of their imperfect creations, celebrators of their new connection and generous dispensers of grace as they get messy and busy at the Free Art Table of growing up.

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