I can take it

I was in the kitchen emptying the dish drainer when I heard the familiar movement yesterday afternoon.
The handle turned, the hinges silently allowed the door to glide open as the solid plank of hardwood slid from the tight frame.

“Hiiigghhhhheeeeee” I sang. “How are you?”
My song was met with silence
. footsteps .
… then an exhausted “fine.”

My youngest is like my oldest – a die-hard introvert.
At the end of a school day, I know she is drained
by being under authority, beside living bodies and immersed in noise.
Today was no exception.

She began with an accusation that I called her principal that morning.
I had, in fact, spoken with her principal … a good three weeks earlier,
but not that morning, I defended.
Next? “Would you fill my cup with water?”
I didn’t know WHAT cup she was asking me to fill.
Her water “bottle” was on the counter and dirty.
I needed clarification and she balked.
And as is her standard, she did not add “please.”
As I stepped into the adjacent utility room,
I emptied fluffy, fresh towels from the dryer,
she emptied her backpack and
we both filled with frustration.
I think I then reminded her that she had neglected to order a Kindle book for school.
I moved back to the kitchen to finish popcorn that I was preparing for a snack.
I believe I was defending why the refrigerator was in the middle of the kitchen floor
when I began to prepare to melt butter for the popcorn.
“NO. Butter can’t go in a bowl!”
She wanted me to microwave-melt the butter in a coffee mug … her preferred method.
My hands went in the air – truce style – and I said, “That’s it. I’m done.”
I verbally listed the contentious topics of our ten minute conversation,
I told her she could finish the popcorn
and I went back to my sewing project.
Yes. Those are bird feathers on the floor beside the bird cage. And I didn't edit them out ... because real life is rarely neat and tidy to view.

I was thankful that I did the right thing.
I set a boundary.
This is new for me.
For decades, I have let someone else make all the decisions
about how they should treat me.
I didn’t get angry or hurt.
I set a boundary.
And I walked away.
I did well.

……

This morning, when I saw this HONY post, I could relate to this woman.

She is a director at a children’s refuge center in South Sudan. She told Brandon about the children’s backgrounds. She said, “Many of them were malnourished, abandoned, or regularly sexually abused. Some of them have witnessed extreme violence.” Then she said, “Often their trauma is so bad, that when the children first arrive, they can be very hateful toward me. But I feel blessed by the hate. Because I know it’s part of the healing process. And if they need someone to hate so that they can heal, I’m glad it can be me.”
Isn’t that beautiful? She does not expect to be appreciated. She does not require that she is respected.

She understands that … hurting people … sometimes hurt others.

Please don’t be misled. I am not relating my daughter’s struggles with those of these children. I am relating my parenting to the mentoring of this beautiful woman.
I k.n.o.w that my child has not lived the life of these children who are growing up in dire, dangerous circumstances. Our struggles here pale in any form of comparison.
But, everybody on earth has struggles. And we each have to learn to work through our hurts.

From the most tragic situations of terror
to the simple, growing pangs of my teen,
people need unconditional love to heal from their personal wounds.
They need to know they won’t be pushed away
when their healing is messy and uncomfortable.

I parent alone. Parenting alone is one of the hardest parts of divorce for me.
Glory doesn’t live at home any longer and James is not home very much.
So, life is Joy.and.me.
Sometimes it’s … NO …. often it is difficult to absorb all the blows
that parenting dishes out
and make all the decisions that must be made.
I’m thankful that God gives me the stamina to stand.
And I’m thankful for His direction daily ….
His altering of my perspective.

In thinking about yesterday, I have realized
that I neglected something important in yesterday’s interaction.
Before I walked away,
I should have brought awareness to the conversation.
I should have said,
“Ya know, I understand that you’re probably tired. I know that you’re hungry. And I realize that you may even be angry because I talked to the principal about a topic that you and I struggle over. But, I’m on your team. I am for you, not against you. I love you and always want the best for you. So, I’m going to step away and give you some space.”

That is what I should have done.

I’ve heard people talk about becoming paralyzed
by perfectionism.
Sometimes, trying to do “the best” you can
gets in the way of just doing good.
In this case, I think a “good” response
got in the way of the best response.
But, another saying I like fits in this case;

Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better. – Maya Angelou

I am thankful for the stamina
and that I am here – albeit alone – to absorb the blows.
Next time, I hope I do better.

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“STOP YELLING AT ME!”

In the course of any given day,
and probably at least once a week
possibly for months,
Joy would find a reason to raise her voice in irritation
and firmly command,  “STOP YELLING AT ME.”
This would accompany an about-face
as she turned to walk out of the room
and stomp down the hall.
A few times, there was a door slam
but that stopped quickly as I assured her,
“One more time and your door comes off the hinges
and sits in the hall for a week.”
She wouldn’t be the first girl in this house who was offered that furniture arrangement.

The conversations very well could have been about how eggs make her stomach queasy,
but at some point, she would feel she was being attacked and she would retreat.
Keep in mind, it doesn’t take much for her to feel attacked.
“You just don’t like eggs,” sounds like
“You’re being picky. Eat what I give you and I will like you.”
“You need to pull up your pants. I can see your underwear” becomes
“I don’t like the way you dress, so I don’t like you.”
“You HAVE to get the trash cans out on the street tonight” is
“YOU are failing at your chores, so you are a failure.”
Something as simple as, “Please go wash your hands,” could make her feel jabbed.

And, ya know what? I get it.
I’ve heard those same voices.
In fact, they . probably . have . the . same . roots . and . origin.
Joy
The thing is, I almost never, ever raise my voice.
It’s in my blood to be loud … but not when I get angry.
When James and Glory were young and Joy was a toddler,
I would find that I would yell …. simply explode upon everyone.
After refraining from caffeine for two years of nursing,
it was the reintroduction of chocolate after weaning Joy that helped me
put a finger my chocolate allergy.
It was that reintroduction to chocolate that illuminated
that mocha was the catalyst for those frightful eruptions.
But, when they were happening, I had not made the connection.
I had to use pure self-control to stop my outbursts
lest I leave my children verbally wounded and emotionally bleeding.
I learned to pay attention to my physical cues (because I had a physical reaction to chocolate)
and intentionally whisper when I became angry.
So, I don’t struggle with YELLING at my kids any more (because I don’t eat chocolate).
More than once, Glory assured her, “Oh, girl. Mom isn’t yelling.
Trust me on that one. You don’t remember what is sounds like when mom re.a.l.l.y yells.”
Joy just F.E.L.T  like I was yelling.
But, the Lord gently reminds me of the quote that I have heard over and over
during the past few years ; It isn’t what you say or do, it’s how you make them feel.

Joy has felt a great deal of rejection that has injured her in ways that
only she will be able to unravel, examine and knit back together into a healthy tapestry.
That rejection, coupled with her Introverted soul, has caused her to be
much more hard on herself than anyone that remains in this house has ever been towards her.
So, the smallest glance of displeasure or word that isn’t complimentary
can wound her in ways that it never would have hurt my other two children at age fourteen
because our family life was much different.
The older two were strengthened by the security of being home for school …
not protected from harm or injury …. not secluded and sheltered,
but exposed to life with the support of a teacher who
knew them, loved them and supported them
day in … day out.

Through many difficult afternoons,
Joy and I have had talks about
how you can’t always walk away from tough conversations,
but that we should remove ourselves from friendships that consistently injure our spirit.
We have discussed being disrespectful and what that looks like and sounds like.
We have conceded to the idea that life will always have people who say things that wound us.
Sometimes, those people are strangers … but they can, in fact, be from within your family.

But, one afternoon, we had this wonderful thing happen.
I asked Joy to do something simple that I knew she wouldn’t want to do.
We had a playful banter back and forth that was full of jest
and completely okay with me. It was Avoidance Comedy, I suppose.
At some point she teasingly yelled , “STOP YELLING AT ME!!”
Out of nowhere, I said,
“You mean, ‘STOP SAYING THINGS I DON’T WANT TO HEAR.”

It was a magical moment of revelation. That was it!
When someone says something that she internalizes as critical,
it is LOUD inside her head and SCREAMS inside her tender heart …
and she feels attacked and wounded and raw.
You could say, “That red flower is ugly,”
but if her favorite color is red, it would lance her open wide.
This was a wonderful new understanding.

All of life is a dance, isn’t it?
We learn new steps, figure out the rhythm and the moves
and then the song ends and a new one begins.
I’m thankful for the chance to live with and love upon this girl.
She’s a thinker who ponders and contemplates. She has rich observation skills.
She mulls things over and thinks them through. She’s learning not to be so hard on herself.
And she’s learning that she may HEAR things in her heart
that feel like yelling,
when in fact that are not intended that way.
Just as important as my being careful not to further injure her healing wounds
is that she learns to calm the lions that yell within
and value her own worth, value and beauty … no matter what messages she has heard in the past.

So, we have learned to have fun with the new phrase.
We understand the enormity  of it,
but we all toss back and forth teasingly.
It has become a valid response to most any statement.
“No, I’m not buying dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets” “STOP SAYING THINGS I DON’T WANT TO HEAR”
“Hey. Your car is now out of gas.” “STOP SAYING THINGS I DON’T WANT TO HEAR.”
“Are you using the dryer as a closet now?” “STOP SAYING THINGS I DON’T WANT TO HEAR.”
“Have you finished your homework?” “STOP SAYING THINGS I DON’T WANT TO HEAR.”
“Don’t let the cat out!” “STOP SAYING THINGS I DON’T WANT TO HEAR.”
“Your hair is sticking up.” “STOP SAYING THINGS I DON’T WANT TO HEAR”
“I think I’m catching a cold.” “STOP SAYING THINGS I DON’T WANT TO HEAR.”
or “I really need to go to the bathroom.” “STOP SAYING THINGS I DON’T WANT TO HEAR.”

And, through Joy and like Joy,
I am learning that
the words of other people
don’t need to be internalized.
I don’t need to let every person that crosses my path,
speak into my life and influence my heart.
Because, like I wrote about here,
not all of us were cut out to own an Ice Cream Truck.

A night of Beholding

This bus is the traveling home of Andrew Peterson’s band. My imagination twirls as I think of the stories told, songs written and inspiration that is housed in this building on wheels.

 

Andrew Peterson Concert

 

My youngest and I went … arriving early …
….. before the doors opened at 5:30 ….  before the concert started at 6:30.
There was a line. I was happy to wait.

Concert Line

There was plenty of time to find a good seat, locate the bathrooms and explore the halls. Patterns make me happy … repetition … order …. symmetry. *contented sigh* In a world of cacophony, visual repetition settles my soul.

Pattern & Boots

The sun began to set as we waited. Even the courtyard looked aglow with excitement.

First Prez Courtyard

The Chrismon Trees were beautiful and stately … covered in white and light with emblems representing Christ.
Chrismon

I have been to many concerts through the years. Singer/songwriter musicians move my soul.  Second only to James Taylor, Andrew Peterson is my favorite. His video Dancing in the Mine Fields is one of my all-time-favorite-ever! His line, ” ‘I do’ are the two most famous last words .. the beginning of the end. But, to lose your life for another I’ve heard … is a good place to begin,” feels like a brilliance somewhere deep inside  and moves me every.time.I.hear.it.   He is a storyteller that sings his tales, shares stories and reveals perspective. And his stage was not just dotted but FILLED with talented musicians and lyricists playing mandolins, guitars, a bazouki, keyboards and percussion instruments.

Just a few rows back

So, we sat and listened, Joy and I. We whispered about the instruments, listened to the lines and soaked in the stories in a magnificent way.
First Prez and Andrew Peterson

I find myself jotting down notes when I’m out and about. I pulled out 3×5 cards and scribbled. At one point, Andrew talked about marriage and how people all around him have marriages that are falling apart.  He said about hearing these stories, “I want to run home and hug my wife and bolster my marriage to make it stronger.” It is so encouraging to hear a man declare that he has a desire to fight for a marriage … that it is a noted priority in his life.

Relationships have a priority ranking. The most important relationship is the one that is spiritual … between us and our God. When that one is functioning, we can have a healthy one with our own selves. And when we are strong individuals, we can then offer much to our spouse, our children, our extended family, friends,  neighbors and co-workers.

But, that first relationship … the spiritual one … must be alive and active.

Joy and I spent the night beholding.
We watched talented singers tell stories of love …
love for each other,
love for spouses, children and family
and love for a God
that came to this earth
to make Himself accessible.

Yes, Behold the Lamb of God …
who came into this world to offer us solace in the cacophony,
who wants us to bolster our relationship with Him and those around us.
Behold the Lamb

We cut her hairs

Joy and I realized last night
that both of us have “hair inspiration”
from photos that we saw on girls on  Instagram. 

If there is one thing that I know about body altering,
it is that
with every change, there is a desire to try something new.
I’ve heard it said that tattoos are addictive; once you get one, you want another.

I praise God that there is a law that keeps me from allowing the girl to get a tattoo.
At least THAT is one decision that is made for me by the government!
But, all the other things she’s asking for …
are legally permissible.

We sat down to a bowl of Beef, Mushroom and Barley soup
and talked about these things …. again.

She has asked to do some kinda crazy stuff to her hair lately.
She wants to let her hair grow out and dread it.
After it’s dreaded, she wants to bleach it and dip the tips into different colors of dye.
She wants to color it in stripes, high light it, low light it or color it red.
She would love to gauge her ears, or pierce her ear cartilage, her nose or her tragus.
She wears some pretty push-the-limits outfits.
They’re not immodest (I draw another line there),
but she’s perfectly comfortable mixing patterns and styles.

The thing is, I’m not willing to allow her take these steps
because she’s only 13. She has some older friends who have these type decorations,
but I’m of the mindset that, if she starts now, she’ll push farther and farther.
So, I’ve told her when she’s 18, she can do all of these things …
but not before.

Part of this is rooted in a culture today that accepts more of these type things.
But, I think it’s even more deeply rooted in the fact that
Joy goes to a creative, push-the-limits arts school.
To be in the school, you are naturally an “outside the box” thinker.
You pay attention to trend – and you make your own, as well!

The struggle comes in the balance. Right now, I’m the boundary keeper.
It’s a difficult job. I want her to express herself. But, I don’t want her to push the boundaries too far
when she’s still so young. Sometimes, as we grow and mature, we regret past decisions.
I don’t want her to make decisions that she later regrets and turns to me to ask,
“Mom, WHY did you let me do that?”

So, last night, we used an IG photo as our inspiration and took scissors to the girl’s hairs.
I love the finished product.
And I love that a haircut can be so amazing
on a stylish, opinionated, boundary-pushing girl!

I love everything about this girl!!

Young, dry wit

My youngest has a way with words. Like her older brother, she has a quick, dry wit that often stings, and is almost always humorous. Her quick retorts keep me laughing. The last two years, I have tapped her words into my keyboard and posted them as Facebook status updates. I keep a running list of the updates that reference her and thought I would share some of those here.


– On the way home from school, the ten-year old dare-devil, Joy, says, “Hey, Mom. Will you buy me some throwing knives.” (Yes, she means the kind from ninja movies or magic acts) I B.E.L.L.Y LAUGHED …. LOUD. She yells, “WHAT? ….. James has some!!!!”
Yes, he does. And he’s 20 years old.  (5/7/10)

– “We can’t leave for school yet. I’m having a ‘white sock’ emergency” – spoken by Joy, as she dug through clean laundry
trying to find the required type and color of clothing to take to school for gym.” (Wed/ 6:45am on 9/8/11)

– We were trying to cut down a dead tree in our front yard. Glory & I are holding onto the jump rope tied about 15′ up the trunk.
Joy wouldn’t be quiet so we made her go sit down on the sidewalk … away from us.  She was holding Glory’s phone and looked like she was texting someone.
Glory asked, “Who are you texting?” “Nobody.” She replied. “I’m trying to put ‘911’ into the contacts so I’m ready.” (5/23/10)

– Yesterday, we had tabouleh, grilled asparagus and steak for lunch. At dinner, I offered Joy a less labor-intensive meal of a grilled cheese sandwich.
She said, “With ALL the foods in the world, I think we should be able to eat something different at every single meal for life.
I get tired of eating THE SAME THING.”
The last time I cooked a grilled cheese sandwich was the DEAD of WINTER …. six months ago.
I told her to come up with a menu and SHE can start cooking. (5/25/10)

 

– This morn, Joy was telling me this whole detailed story about how to make a flame thrower out of a bic lighter.
I said, “You’re TEN. Where’d you learn that???” “On Youtube.” I said, “Joy, THAT’S why you don’t need to be surfing Youtube.
I don’t even want you hanging out with FRIENDS that know that kinda stuff, much less watching instructional videos.”
She glibly retorts, “Well, there go all MY friends.” (6/20/10)

– Joy looks at my mouth wound with a flashlight and says quite cheerfully
“At least your WHOLE BODY doesn’t look like a ZOMBIE” (Tues, 6/29, 2010 … after I had surgery on my mouth)

– As Joy ate a large bowl – and the LAST of  the fresh strawberries topped with fresh whipped cream this morn,
James asked her for ‘JUST ONE …. ONE …. one OR TWO….. strawberries ….. just a bite…. puhlllleeezzz???”
She turned her back to him, protecting the bowl from him and told him firmly, “GET YOUR OWN BOX.” (Wed, 7/21/10)

– Joy & I are out shopping today and she’s giving me all the reasons (again) that we need a new van.
This time she includes that people stare at us because our van is ghetto (which it isn’t).
Then she says with heavy wit, “Welp ….. at least we don’t ever have to worry about getting carjacked.”  (July 30, 2010)

– First week of school kept us busy. Joy’s clothes have accumulated all over her floor. I knock on her door a moment ago and say,
“Hey. You need to clean your room, girl. That floor’s a mess.” Her reply, “What floor? I don’t see a floor.”  (Sat 8/14/10)

– I told Joy to get off the computer because she had been playing some stupid game for a good hour or two. She corrected me,
“Oh, no …. I was watching Youtube videos for cheats on the game for a while.” lol   (Thurs 9/2/10)

– “Wake UP, Boo!!” She sits up, grumbles and falls face first into her pillow.
” I want to go back to sleep. I was dreaming I was a millionaire, because I invented waffles.” 

Later she got up and told me that Obama had eaten one of the waffles from her factory, died and she was big trouble.
The waffle had a roach in it and it killed him. She said she was worried about Obama dying and was sad that she lost her millions,
but she knew they could never take from her the fact that she was the “Inventor of the Waffle.”  (Thursday, 9/9/10)

– ‎”Smart and wise are two COMPLETELY different things.” Words from the mouth of a babe. At ten, she knows more than some adults.  (Fri 9/10/10)

– Joy walks in from school on a Friday afternoon, drops her book bag and swings her arms into the air and swoons as she spins in circles. “Oh, Mom! It smells like the weekend!”  (Fri, 91/10)

– Our dog is nutty.  She doesn’t want to go outside to go potty …. unless you ACCOMPANY her down the stairs … because she’s afraid she’s going to be LEFT outside ALONE. *gasp* So, walk in with her … barreling up the stairs, across the deck and into the house.  I get inside and say, “Our dog is crazy.”  Joy replies, “We found her on the side of the road, Mom.  What do you expect?” lol   (Sat 10/2/10)

– I hear her Nickelodeon alarm clock trumpet reveille across her bunk beds and stuffed animals. Her pre-teen feet hit the floor as she scurries to turn down the racket. “Joy!! Joy!!!,” I yell with enthusiasm from my bedroom chair ..  my head thrown back to propel my voice through sheet rock, fingers still above the keyboard. “Joy! I love you! YOU.MAKE.ME.SMILE!!!” She moans back to me, “You should.” I laugh.  (Fri 10/15/10)

– Joy informed me this morning that she thinks she has agoraphobia … specifically, the fear of “wide, open, clean spaces.”  I queried, “Oh, really? What makes you think that?”  She replied, “I know you’re gonna think this is nuts, but I think that’s why I don’t like to clean my room … because then it’s a “wide, open, clean space” and it bothers me.”  (Thursday 10/28/10)

– Me to Joy: I need to go jump in the shower.  I can’t go to school with my hair looking like this! Joy’s reply:  “Don’t worry about it, Mama.  Your hair will look just as crazy when you finish with it as it does right now.” Thanks, Darlin’.  (Tues Dec 7, 2010)

– Just home from school, Joy is rummaging through the pantry and fridge. She mumbles under her breath, “We don’t even have any junk food in this house.  This is sad….so sad.”  Thursday, Dec 9, 2010

– Joy walks out into the living room every morning upon waking with an elaborate dream story to tell.  She proceeds to tell me of the plan of the aliens to take over the world, she was the last one left on the planet. The stars weren’t really stars; each one was a UFO. She matter-of-factly tells me, “You can’t possibly have as much fun sleeping as I do.” She may very well be right.  (Tuesday, 12/21/10)

– The dog is on the porch whining … because it’s getting dark and she freaks out when she’s outside at night. Joy just asked, “Is there such a thing as a puppy psychiatrist? We really need some money for dog counseling.” (Wed 12/22/10)

– I found a list of Joy’s (she’s a list maker) It is headed: How to be a better daughter (don’t know if she wrote these or just copied them) #6 Wear small patterns in your clothing so as not to anger parents. (Sat 1/8/11)

– Epic dream #147:  “Mom. I had a crazy dream last night.  I was on a bus going to Disney World with my class and Lil Wayne was with us …. only we found out later that the guy looked like Lil Wayne but it was really Snoop Dogg and we were really going to DESK World, not Disney World.  We got there, and it was just one BIG office. It was really a disappointment!”   (Sun 1/16/11)

 

– Black tights & (mostly) white dalmatian don’t work well…. so, Joy grabbed the lint roller as we walked out the door to church. Getting out of the van after we got home, she left the lint roller on the front seat. I reprimanded her (in a teasing manner) and told her, with a head cock and a finger snap, “Girrrr, you better PUT that lint roller UP!” She promptly stuck it up on the ceiling and said, “There. It’s up.” LOL I love that girl. (Sun, 1/30/11)

– Never eat gas station sushi.  (Fri, 2/11/11)

– While we ate dinner, “Did you know, if you put head phones into your nose, you can open your mouth and the sound comes through your sinus’ cavity and out your mouth?”  (Thurs, 2/24/11)

– Joy says, “Let me get this straight. I struggle through thirteen years of elementary and high school, then go to college for four to eight years or more, then I get a job and work my the rest of my life until I retire. Then I have fifteen years to have fun … but my bones are crumbling and brittle so I can’t do anything fun or I’ll get hurt. Then I die. *sigh* Great.”   (Tue 9/9/11)

– Joy says to me, “It’s all your fault I’m a dork, because you’re the biggest dork I know.” WAIT! Did she just blame ME because SHE’S a dork? *rolls eye**  (Wed 7/10/12)

– The last two she wrote and posted in her Facebook status update.
She is now officially old enough to have her own account.

– All school text books smell the same.
Math books smell like Axe cologne.
Science books smell like dirt.
English books smell like dead flowers.
Social Studies and History books smell like nursing homes. (Sun 9/23/12)

– “” if you didn’t like your home, i would build you your own world. i would build you a castle. and hire five thousand guards to protect you. i would have a bed carved of the finest redwood and a mattress sewn from the softest tuft of cloud able to be harnessed. i would write you a symphony and hire an orchestra of the finest musicians. i would have them play you to sleep every night. i would hire you your own personal five-star chef, so that i could bring you breakfast in bed every morning. i would hire the finest seamstress to sew you a dress made of phoenix feathers and unicorn fur to wear to our royal ball. if you were lost, i would run to the end of the earth to find you, and if i didn’t find you, i would jump. from the edge of the earth. because if i had to live without you, i would rather not live at all. i think what i’m trying to say is i love you.”  (Tues 9/25/12)

Perspective and Encouragement

Joy swims with the Summer Swim League here in Augusta. There are many swimmers in the league who swim on one of the year-round teams, as well, but Joy has never been a year-rounder. When placed up against a child who swims year round, she is at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to time in the water, technique and strength since the summer league begins around mid-May and wraps things up by mid-July. Eight weeks isn’t enough time to see grand improvements in stroke or strength … but swimming is still excellent exercise so my kids have always been a part of the summer league.

Because she isn’t a year round swimmer, Joy doesn’t come in first place in her races because she swims against girls who do. I don’t believe she has ever placed first overall.

Our summer swim league team generally competes against one team at a time. We participate in about five or six meets per swim season. Joy’s best strokes are back and breast. This summer, she came in fifth in these strokes out of 20-25 girls, depending on the meet. At the end of the season, at our Division Championship she did well enough to make the cut and earn the privilege of moving on to the All-Star meet.

The All-Star meet is composed of the top three fastest swimmers in each age group, in each stroke, from each team. So, Joy was one of the three fastest swimmers from our team in the 11-12 girls in backstroke and breaststroke. At the All-Star meet, she came in 13th overall in breast and 19th in back out of a total of nineteen swimmers in each race.

Do you see that? She was last in backstroke.

In the backstroke heat, she swam against Maggie who is the coach’s daughter. Maggie swims year-round most years. She is one of four siblings who swims under their mom’s excellent coaching instruction. Maggie works really hard and is an excellent swimmer. Maggie came in 13th above Joy’s 19th in backstroke.  Though the difference in time was only 2.29 seconds, Maggie was, yes, faster than Joy. I tried to explain to Joy that she shouldn’t compare herself to anyone … especially a year-round swimmer.

She is SO hard on herself. That night and through the next day, she was so sad. She was terribly disappointed in herself.  You would have thought that she was the slowest of a.l.l  the swimmers in the entire state. No amount of encouragement from me seemed to help.

So, I began to do some research.

I wanted to
put her placement
into perspective.

As I did research, I found that our swim league is made up of 21 individual teams. There are 18 counties represented in the CSRA league with 4 team divisions that are placed in each division by team size. Our team, the Makos, is in Division I because we have a large team.

The one statistic I could not find on the site was the total number of swimmers in the league.

So, I sent a quick apologetic email to the league secretary asking if he knew a number off the top of his head. If not, I asked him to please not worry about doing research. I really didn’t want to be a bother … I just wanted to encourage a disheartened pre-teen swimmer.

Within minutes, he sent me back a reply.
I called Joy over to the computer so she could see the screen.

“Do you see that number?” I asked, as I pointed to the string of digits in his reply.
“Hmmmmm” she grumbled.
I choked up as I spoke.
“You came in 19th
out of 2,100 total swimmers.
Do you see that? Two.thousand.one.hundred swimmers?” 

I continued with a pep talk about perspective and doing our personal best …
and about how important it is that we have all the facts.
I told her how proud I was of her and that she had worked hard
and did an amazing job this season.
I mentioned that, IF we choose to look at how we compare overall,
we should, at the very least, have the proper perspective.

In reality, I don’t want to encourage anyone to look a.r.o.u.n.d at others
to compare themselves
or find self-acceptance.
Truly, we should trust in God …
what He has to say about us …
what He asks of us …
how He wants to direct us …
how He evaluates us …
to find our perspective on ourselves.

But, in this case, a little looking-around perspective was a good thing.
This was a competitive event.
In this case, my girl was choosing to focus on a very.small.few
rather than the overall group.
So, in this case, I was happy to broaden that perspective and show her
that she was being illogically hard on her own performance.

I think we all do this.
Or maybe I should just speak for myself: I KNOW that I do this.
And it is so helpful when someone comes alongside
and says, “You’re doing a good job. Don’t be discouraged.
Let me put things in perspective for you.”

I am always thankful for words of encouragement. We all need it … daily.

So, I want to encourage you today.
I want to encourage you to be sure that you’re looking at the big picture
when you do find the need to compare yourself to others.
And, if and when you fall short,
even then, don’t be discouraged …
for God looks at your heart.
He forgives you when you sin. He loves you in spite of your messes. He does not expect you to measure up to the standard of others, He only asks that you obey Him and do your best. And, even.then, He has compassion and mercy when you fail … because we all do.

“Christmas” Masterpiece

She didn’t even ask me for help. She asked for paper and glue …

and bubbled over with joy of her collection of paper ….
beautiful scraps in spring and summer hues
of azure, pink and vermillion.

“Bubbled over”
… not a phrase to truly depict this child …
this child … Joy.

 Loud and silly …
are seldom seen
though she is twelve.

She remains laid low and moves languidly.
She is quite solitary.
Like James, much more energy is expended in thought
rather than action.
“Christmas,” I call her, at times. She always gets it.
I remember, when tiny, I would serve her plate first at dinner
in hopes that she might finish her meal
before the table was completely cleared.

Joy and James are the antithesis of their sister, Glory …
who twirls into the room, boisterous and active,
talks and talks and talks
spilling stories with raucous laughter and energetic outbursts.
Glory can finish her entire meal before I even dip my final side dish.
She wastes no time
to arrive, enjoy or consume
and move on to the next adventure.

Funny how we are all built differently, isn’t it?
Our God is so wondrously creative.

Creativity.
God gifted this little one with much of this blessing.

At Michaels, she purchased brushes, canvas, paper and adhesive
with a final product in mind ….

… and came home to begin.
Shredding the paper
and mixing the patterns
that oh-so-beautifully-intertwine,
she began to piece together her masterpiece.
She shared her vision with me.
It is exciting to watch her work.

I think of instruction in art. I taught art for several years at co-op when we homeschooled. One line of thinking throughout history has been to copy the masters. If one wants to be an accomplished artist, she should choose an artist to copy. In studying the design elements, style of work, brush strokes, highlights and shadows from a master, you learn to think like the master. And once you have formed a firm foundation to base your creativity, then your own original personality will emerge in your inspired artwork.There are many ways to learn a new trade, art or passion. One way … is to study a master.

While I am not a master at any level in any area, I have been a lover-of-paper for decades. I have used paper to decoupage scrapbook and create cards,  artwork and practical items. There is always paper within arms reach. It is easy to find gift wrap, tissue paper patterned and solid, scrapbooking paper, construction paper, stationary, white copy paper and post-it notes.  To watch this child use paper to create stirs my soul to warm.

But, the greatest encouragement to me is to see
this child’s ability to take that which she has been gifted
and use it to make make beauty.
She has torn into pieces that which was slightly ordinary …
sifted through and sorted…
and is now in the process of applying piece-by-broken-piece
a pattern and design of
a beautiful art that
will inspire and please …
encourage and uplift.
I tell you … I pray … I beg my dear Heavenly Father …
that I might help direct her in doing this in her
emotional and spiritual life, as well.

My prayer is that she might be able to use what is gifted her …
to create beauty in her life and influence others in her circles.
I know she can accept the easy, tender, kind and gentle.
I know she can embrace the beautiful, gracious and showy.
I know she can easily receive the rich, wonderful and sweet.
We all can do these things … can’t we?
But, I pray she graciously accept the tattered, torn and broken …
the untimely, uncomely and undesirable  …
the difficult, painful and solemn
with  grace, mercy  … with full embrace.
Because, these things come. God can use them for our strengthening …
our betterment …. His glory.
Fighting them does not eliminate their presence in our lives.
Perspective …. again. It’s all about perspective.

I pray hers  – her perspective –
would be healthy … strong … and accepting
of all life has to offer.

I will be sure to share the final masterpiece with you.
But, remember … she is “Christmas” …
it may be a while.

Questions and Answers

I watch Him work in her life
and am encouraged.

Not so long ago I shared that she claims to be an atheist. 
In a recent conversation, she told me,
“Ya know, I don’t think I’m an atheist, I think I’m more of an agnostic.
It’s not that I am certain there is no God … it’s just that I don’t see proof of Him.”

And my heart rejoices.

The other weekend, as I finished the bike ride in Aiken, Joy texted me to ask if I was riding with the group that was coming in at the Odell Weeks Recreation center. I was only about five miles from the finish when I received her text. She was at the skate park in Aiken with a friend. As I pulled into the parking lot, I made my way to the ramps to find her. I watched her skate, we talked for a bit and then she introduced me to the park’s attendant, Travis.  

As we spoke, we casually covered college, skate boarding, motorcycle accidents and more. I questioned Travis about a book he was reading … and  our conversation quickly moved deep into relationships, introspection, being a thinker, his blog, To The Root and more. Joy was within ear shot and she commented on the fact that Travis and I had just met, yet we had moved into the deepest conversation she had been privy to overhear that week. She followed the statement with the one she often uses when she doesn’t know what to do with me, “Mom, you’re so goofy.”

The next day, I requested to be Travis’ Facebook friend
and, upon his acceptance of that request,
found that he had written about Joy on his Facebook wall.

He mentioned in his post that she was a polite and respectful young girl
that he had talked to several times.
She mentioned that her mom was a Christian …
yet he was surprised when she told him that she was an atheist.
His gut reaction was to tell her that she wasn’t old enough to hold that opinion,
but with wisdom and grace,
rather he told her that she should research and own the idea.
He said that he knew several atheists who were well-studied and held strong convictions.
He pointed out that he respected them because they knew why they believed.
He guided her not to grab hold of the ideas of the those around her,
but give herself a strong base for her own convictions.
If she was going to claim to be an atheist,
then she needed to be able to defend the concept.

I was moved
with awe
by the active movement of God in her life.

Here was a wise, young man
put into her path
telling her the SAME THING
that I had told her only a few months before.
“Be able to back up your ideas and opinions
with a defense.
Know WHY you believe
what you say that you do.”

Last night, as I lie in bed, I heard her talking.
I assumed she is on her phone.
I asked her who she was talking to and she answered,
“I’m reading my Bible … out loud … to myself.”

I am so thankful.
I’m thankful for the presence of people in her life that challenge her to “own” her beliefs.
I’m thankful for her courage to be herself, to question and to search for answers.
I’m thankful for her honesty with me … and even that she is struggling …
for in our struggles, healthy people ask questions and seek answers.
And that is exactly what she is doing.

Praise be to God.

The Labor of Growth

Growing up requires a great deal of effort and labor.

When he was my first, I saw it. Before there were more … when it might have gone undetected,
I saw it.

We would go to a playgroup and all the children would share and play together,
and James would be “over there.”
I remember the day I first noticed. He was around two years old …
twenty plus full years ago.
The group of ten or so children were swinging and playing on the jungle gym …
that tow head blazing in the sun.
Those pudgy legs were adorned with navy shorts.
He was holding a red “shobel” in that chunky right hand,
squatting so that fanny almost touched the dirt …
while he watched the other children
from a distance.

My oldest … the man/child
and my youngest … the Joy Bucket
have always been this way …
with the social flutter-by butterfly girl, Glory, sandwiched right betwixt …
flitting from place to place … always looking for a hug,
always wanting to be
surrounded by, immersed within, touching people.

We head to the mountains at New Year’s. We are in a cabin filled with people … six portions of families …  a little boy, a tween, multiple teens, many young adults, several adults

and she sits in the corner with her game.
But, she misses nary a word. She soaks it all in … but …. she keeps a safe distance.

And though, we share many traits, I can only know her so well … because, in fact, she is just beginning to forge her way … blazing the trail as she travels an ancient path towards adulthood, a footpath  completely foreign for her … rocky and uneven, misty at dawn, ominous at dark with forks around every other bend … a labor to travel.

I watch Della love on her and know that Joy will be asked questions that make her think. I want her to be challenged … to think.  Della will quiz and question and listen and it will be good and rich and dense conversation …. fleeting as it may appear, there is worth.

And along our jaunt through the conifers and deciduous on a hard-packed path,  Joy comes to me to say, “I love Miss Della.” Me, too, my child. I don’t ask about their conversation. The parts I need to know will be revealed later. But, I am grateful for time investment and put one foot in front of the other pleased.

She is attending an arts based school that is filled with students from all socio-economic, cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds. Children there are rich and broke, honest and deceptive, Christian and Atheist. They are leaders and followers, grounded and wandering, thinkers and minions.

And she is making her way.

And she is original … unique … distinct.
I can identify.
The life of my blood
courses through her veins.
If all look up, I must look down, under and inside.
It is how I am wired. I want to see
another perspective.
I’ve always been “different.”
When I was a child, my daddy used to ask, “Why do you have to be different?”
I never had an answer for him.
Then I wondered if that was a bad thing.
Today, I know it is good.
Today, I know my answer to that question.
“I don’t “have” to be, I just am.”

She wears the hat of a skateboarder.
She told me some time ago that she wanted to learn to skateboard
because there aren’t many girls that do it. She wants to be different, too.
I don’ think this is something that I have taught her. It just is.

She dreams vivid dreams and must rise with the sun to tell the whole story
from end to end.

She paints her visions into the physical world.

 She hears songs and writes out lyrics.

She plays tunes that bounce inside her head.

There is music all over our home ….

instruments that she wants to master … tunes that she wants to play.

Her room is full of costumes … glasses …. jewelry …. accessories.

She is all over the place
and I understand.

I live scattered wide.
I want …
I N.E.E.D to
write, paint, photograph, cook, serve, bike, paddle, run, camp, create, sew, embroider, read, knit, crochet, stamp, blog, make jewelry, scrapbook, photoshop, latch hook, minister, study, massage, play guitar, violin and dulcimer. I have worn dresses, ground my own wheat for bread, homeschooled my children and grown my hair long. Today, I am a single mom who wants a tattoo, to learn how to shoot a gun and to bike ride across Georgia. I have hair as short as my boyfriend, am working to be able to do 25 pushups and have a (slightly) gauged ear. I am as comfortable in the woods without a bathroom or shower holding a home brew as I am downtown at a schmoozy hotel with a glass of champagne … need I go on?

So, she is struggling. She is pushing the boundaries and trying to establish them for herself.
She is testing and feeling and searching.

She has written on Facebook that she is an Atheist.
My daughter
“does not believe in God.”

I learned a long time ago
to never be surprised
by anyone’s words or actions …
including my own children.

Why should she believe in God?
*quizzically wrinkles brow* Because her mom believes?
Is that reason enough?
She tells me
she prays and does not hear Him.
She asks and does not receive.

I understand. I have prayed those prayers.
I have gone un-answered.
I have prayed. I have begged. I have pleaded.
And I have believed.
I had faith He would answer me.

Was I mistaken … to have had faith? … to have believed?
I think not.
We are a fallen, broken, messy group of people. We struggle. We wrestle. We flounder.
And we must figure out where we stand. We must decide how we believe.
We must work out our own salvation. (Philippians 2:12)
The God of the entire Universe
certainly is not required to answer my personal prayer
… no matter how right and noble and and just and good it is …
simply because I prayed it.
Nor does He need to answer hers.

She has made friends with other students who are exploring religions of the world. She brought home a Buddha a few weeks ago … a stolen Buddha, none-the-less! He sat on her bedside table for a few days before I asked about him. She said she took him from a friend. I know she’s looking for a reaction. And I offered none … at least not the shocked, offended kind.  She said, “I know you think he’s evil.” I laughed and said, “No, I don’t. What do you know about him? I would say that he was a peace loving man who was moral and wanted to do right. He was not evil. You should do some studying and find out what he believed.” I do not want her to take the word of others … not even mine!  She must own her ideas … in time. It takes time … and work.

Not so long after our Buddha discussion, I mentioned a physical/spiritual parallel in conversation. She said, “There you go again, talking about God. I really don’t want to hear that all the time.” I do not raise my voice or get irritated often, but set her straight quickly with a firm tone. “Let me tell you something; God is as much a part of me as life and breath. You cannot separate the two of us … He flows through me like the blood in my veins. I will respect who you are as an individual and you must do the same for me. I will not be quiet because you do not want to hear what I have to say.”  *deep breath*

I know He is there. He is watching her and listening to her. He knows who she is and who she is becoming. He loves her unconditionally and wants to answer her prayers. But, for now, she must search. She must test and push and decide.

She is intricate. She is difficult. She is prickly.
And she is wonderful, intelligent and inquisitive,
beautiful, talented and spunky,
creative, bright and different.
She is these things because she is made in His image.

Like her brother, she has a personal bubble that is a little larger and a little thicker than many.
Like her brother, she is questioning and listening and watching.
Like me, she is creative and has a different perspective on the world around her.
While there are struggles, I look forward to the future and all that it has to hold.
This girl, she is searching. The process is a difficult one for a mama’s heart to watch,
but it is a must for every strengthening, maturing soul.
And so, she sings and writes,
she pushes and she wonders
and I praise and pray, watch and wait …
for growth … is labor.