Thursday, June 27, 2013

It takes guts

Way back in 2010, when I started this little blogging hobby, it was a new year's resolution.  A way to share the stories I'd been writing via email to a group of family and friends each month.  For whatever reason, I felt as though more than just my 'groupies' might have an interest in what I had to say.

Turns out, I was right.  Granted, I'm not an out-of-the-ordinary, cutting-edge blogger aficionado; but through here, I've been able to share stories that reach out to people beyond my little email group.  It's so humbling, reassuring, and greatly appreciated when I receive feedback on something I've written that has touched a space in someone's heart--the humorous side, the heartfelt side, and everywhere in between.  So to those who have taken the time to comment {via Facebook or directly on the posts}, thank you.  Those words seem too small to share my appreciation for the acknowledgement that I'm actually doing something that others enjoy {or, at least, I assume so because if you're like me, you don't tend to read things you don't like/relate to/find enjoyable}. But, the words come from the most genuine space in my heart.

I still hesitate to call myself a 'writer', even though I spend a good chunk each week doing so {definitely not as much as I'd like...but mommyhood and sometimes sheer exhaustion trump my abilities to stay up late, clicking away at the key board}.  I know in the raw sense of the word I'm a writer, but I withhold labeling myself as such, because to me, that means putting myself into the same category as the fellow bloggers whom I look up to, respect, and learn from daily when I read their posts.  I don't view this as a comparative or competitive relationship, but more like a student-teacher dynamic, where I'm often times feeling like 'the new kid' who came in during the middle of the year.

This past week however, a fellow blogger took a chance on me.  Through a mutual group on the social media pipeline of Facebook, she asked for guest bloggers.  For whatever reason {perhaps I had too much coffee that day}, I contacted her and we hashed out the details.  Simple enough, right?

Um...yeah.  At any given time, I have about 3-5 blog posts either sitting half-written in my draft box or in my {less reliable} brain.  It's merely a matter or organizing my time, caffeine consumption, and children's behavior {HA!} to get the words out and onto the World Wide Web {or is it 'into' the Web? know what I mean}.  But when it came time to writing my guest post?  In other words, blogger's block.  I took my own advice--the advice I gave to my students when I taught writing--and was looking at everything through a 'writer's eye' {even though I'm not quite a 'writer'!}, and could not.find.inspiration.  Frustration and nervousness set in as the calendar crept closer and closer to my submission date.

And then, as it always seems to happen, when I stepped away from the task and took some time for me...the light bulb.  A well-timed phone call from a dear friend {and new momma} brought things full-circle for me.  Our conversation reached deep all the while existing in a space of 'catch up'.  I listened as she shared things that I only wished I recognized that early into motherhood.  I don't think she realized at the time, but I really took such joy in the words we exchanged.  Not only for the obvious reason that it had been waaay too long since we spoke rather than rely on social media to 'chat' but because the connection we share has reached a new level.  Aside from college-based history we share {and that's another blog post...or two!}, we are now both in the 'mommy boat'.  We are both navigating a world where SUPERMOM tries in earnest to overshadow the title I tend to prefer: Okayish Mom.  We're trying to see past a world where the ugliness of competition and fear and shame and guilt take away from the sheer beauty of raising your children as best as you know how {and some days, I'll admit that I leave it up to sheer survival: it isn't the best I know how, it's the best I can.}  We're relying on innate feelings and instincts rather than what the outside world tells you is 'best'.  But, all the while, we need to recognize that it's okay important necessary to encompass a space where you can ask for help without fear of ridicule or shame.  Every mom needs help once in a while {or...more often than that}.

So this.  This is the post I wrote for a fellow blogger whom I consider a writer, a teacher in my little blogging community, and a fellow momma with whom I showed a bit of courage--putting myself 'out there' beyond the walls of my own blog, for many others to read and {hopefully} enjoy.  A leap of faith that I'm pretty proud of taking, being a 'non-writer' and all...

Thank you, Ashley, at It's Fitting for the opportunity!

Find Ashley on her blog, as well as find her on Facebook to read more!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Happy birthday, dad.

June 21st is the birthday of a very special man.  A Harley-riding man.  A church-going man.  A 'good ole country boy' kinda man.  A man who would do anything, any time for anyone kind of man.  A Christian in every sense of the word.  A husband.  A brother.  An uncle.  A friend.  A grandpa.  A father {and father-in-law}.  My father-in-law.

Rick Conley was one of those kind of fathers that gave you a welcome feeling the moment you were greeted by him.  His friendly demeanor was mixed with just the right amount of gruffness that gave me an instant feeling of safety being in his presence.  

I remember meeting dad shortly after Christmas 2002.  I had made the long drive from one side of Pennsylvania to the other to spend a few days with this guy I'd met my senior year of college and kinda-sorta had an itty bitty little crush on.  The long drive coupled with the shortened days of winter meant it was dark when I pulled up to the driveway.  Randy had met me at the exit of the highway so I could follow him to his house, because he lived in one of those kind of places where if you're not from there, you'll get lost.  One of those, "take that road until you come up on the Johnson's farm, and make a right after the corn field" kind of places.  Country living at it's best kind of places.  And, as I soon found out, a kind of place where I found peace and sanctity and a whole new family with whom I would grow to know and love as though we'd been connected for years.

Dad welcomed me with a hug and a "do you have anything else in the car you need me to get?".  Typical behavior for dad as I grew to find out over the first visits to Randy's family home.  The visits I had in western PA were fewer and farther between than I would have liked, but in those visits, it was time well spent.  Quality time.  Conversations and laughs and porch sitting and church going and meat grilling.  Dad {along with Randy} was the first one to teach me to shoot a gun...not that I'm some budding Annie Oakley or anything, but just teaching me to do it without injuring myself was enough to earn some extra kudos.  {He did, however have to prop me up against a sturdy tree so the recoil didn't land me on my butt.}  I had never ridden in the back of a pick up truck {deprived, right?} until dad took mom, Randy, and me through some fields adjacent to their house.  He'd stop every so often and pick a soybean {'edamame' for us 'fancy city folk'} and eat it {unfamiliar territory for me because it's something us 'city folk'--and I use that term loosely because I don't quite fit perfectly into that stereotype--just didn't really do}.  And it didn't matter if my car had just gotten inspected or not, dad always checked my brakes and fluids and gave my car a little test drive before I made the drive back across the state by myself.  Always.  It was just the kind of man he was.  Kind, generous, caring, thoughtful, compassionate, dedicated.  But don't you think about crossing him, because it was clear he was a fierce competitor for anyone or anything that stood between him and his loved ones.  

And loved ones he had.  Hundreds and hundreds of people came to dad's memorial service back in April of 2010.  Standing room only at the church where we said farewell to one of the most giving men we'll ever be blessed enough to know.  Hundreds of misty-eyed faces, twisted with distraught confusion, wondering 'why Rick?'.  The line of motorcycles parked out front of the church building, even with the damp and rainy conditions that day were a testament to how many people's lives had been touched by the man I am proud to call my father-in-law.  

Even now, more than three years after he's left this earth to, I catch myself forgetting he's gone.  Catch myself thinking how great it would be to hear his voice, listen to him talk to the kids, send him a card for Father's Day or his birthday or 'because we miss Grandpa' kinda day.  It's strange, the impact he made on me despite our limited time in the presence of one another.  But it's beautiful, too, you know?  There's something awe-inspiring about how Brynn shares this special little bond with her Grandpa Conley, despite having only officially met him as a tiny 4 month old.  I'm grateful that I get to share in Brynn's connection, that she feels compelled to tell me, ask me, share with me.

I think that the impact of dad is so strong because of the kind of man he was, the kind of man he taught my husband to be.  I think the reason there's such a strong sense of his presence is because in many ways, he's still with us.  Dad's love lives and breathes through the firm but loving way that Randy parents our children.  His friendliness and approachablity shines through when the kids sprint through the house at the first sign of daddy's return from work, or when random people strike up a conversation {ok, in all honesty...Randy's working on this.  I'm definitely the conversationalist of the duo, but he's coming around...he'll join in and chat every so often--other times he drags me away so we can continue eating/shopping/walking}.  Dad's cautious care and concern pops up whenever Randy repairs something around the house, rolls underneath his {beloved} truck to tinker with yet another part, or thoughtfully and meticulously organizes the household budget and bills.  His humor and fun-loving ways bubble up when Randy plays ball with Gavin, tickles Brynn until she's breathless, or laughs hysterically at Raegan's antics and funny faces.  His faith reigns when Randy takes our kids by the hand as he walks them across the church parking lot, or wraps his arm around my shoulders and hands me a tissue when I get extra weepy during the pastor's message.  His enduring dedication to his family is prevalent when Randy works long hours, hard hours, stressful hours, just so he can provide everything he believes his family deserves.  My father-in-law's impact is felt daily by those who love him.  Those who miss him.  Those who have him to thank for so much of the way their lives have turned out. 

They say when someone dies, its harder on those left behind.  My faith reassures me that some day we will all be reunited in heaven; but the sadness and emptiness live here on earth, in our hearts and our minds.  Time does heal the freshness of an open wound, helps turn the stabbing hurt into a dull ache.  But there are moments.  Times when I'm reminded so vividly of his unmistakable presence, times when tears spring up unexpectedly when I hear a song or see a Harley or a Con-way truck.  Times when I can almost hear his voice in the voice of my husband, see the dynamic similarities that both nature and nurture provide when they're done well.  Times when I cry, when I wish it weren't true, when I wish we could celebrate his birthday with a card in the mail or a FaceTime call or by having a gift basket stocked full of his favorite treats delivered to his front door.  Or a visit.  Just one.more.visit.  

Instead, we celebrate the beautiful man he was and the most precious angel he's become.  Last night, before bedtime prayers, when I told Brynn that Grandpa's birthday was coming up, she fell silent for a moment.  When she spoke, she asked, "Momma, how do angels celebrate birthdays?  Do they get to have a cake with God?".  My simple, tear-filled answer was, "Yes, Brynn, I'm sure God will have some cake with Grandpa on his birthday".  It was the perfect kind of 5-year-old-appropriate response that sent her off to dreamland with a smile on her face and peace in her heart, knowing her Grandpa had a way to celebrate such a special day.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring.  Will there be a moment of peace among the busyness of a bustling household to stop and acknowledge Grandpa's birthday?  I know I'll make sure the kids are aware of the importance of the date, but unsure of how they'll respond.  Maybe a simple song will be just what we need to hear, to remember their Grandpa.

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you, 
Happy birthday dear, sweet, amazing, blessed dad/grandpa
Happy birthday to you.

loving, dedicated, irreplaceable.

dad showing his fun-loving side at our wedding nearly 8 years ago.
I remember it like it was yesterday.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hey MOO...yeah, you. Thank you!

Yesterday afternoon I went on a mini vacation.  No kids...just me.  I longed for a bit of peace, rejuvenation, and freedom; so I hopped in the car and off I went.

Three minutes later, I arrived at my destination: the grocery store.  The sanctity of a large air-conditioned store stocked with produce and cans and boxes {and wine} was a welcome feeling after a morning that didn't go exactly as I'd hoped and a Monday that was filled with tense frustration and obsessive organization.  Armed with my neatly written itemized list, iced coffee 'pick-me-up', and my cell phone tucked away in my purse (small step toward disconnecting); I focused my efforts on finding the items necessary to prepare meals for my family.  Zeroing in on that sole intention helped to relax away the outside stressors that drove me to be so *zany* in the first place and abandon my family for a solo jaunt through the aisles  {a mom's version of Vegas, I suppose}.

I didn't get far into my travels when I noticed an absolutely *adorable* infant with a head full of voluminous chocolate brown curls.  Being *slightly* partial to a curly top, I paused from my task of picking green beans for that evening's dinner and gave him a smile and a wave--which happens to be the universal baby sign for "ooooh! she wants to see my darling little toothy grin and overwhelmed, excited squirm in my seat!".  His petite mom looked away from the selection of carrots to investigate why her son was suddenly overcome with happiness.  Unaware of the source, she took it as a sign that he was exceptionally happy about life at that particular time and began coddling, cooing, and chattering away in that sweet 'mommy' voice so many of us know so well.  I stood in front of the berries and watched {in a non-stalkerish sort of way} as she doted on his adorableness and smooched on his chubby bare feet.  She moved her cart along to choose some herbs and began happily explaining to her mop-topped munchkin what she'd be doing with each of the different types as she put them into her cart.  Her eyes shone a bit and she laughed as he put his slobber-covered hand directly into her mouth as she leaned over to put the basil next to the thyme {IswearIwasntstalking}.  Tickling his tiny toes, she laughed as he squealed with delight before moving her cart along to the next display.

A few vegetables and some fruit later, and I found myself a little closer to my new-found friend, and this time he was the first to smile and frantically wave his arms in my direction.  Mom turned away from the mushrooms, and this time realized his excitement was directed in my general direction.  As she gave a cautious smile, so I said, "You probably get this a lot, but your son is absolutely darling."  She smiled lovingly in the direction of her son.  "Thank you. He's my whole world.  You can't imagine how much love you're capable of until you're a mom." she replied with such sincerity that I had a moment when I thought, "Wow...that must be awesome to feel that way".  As quickly as the thought popped into my head, it was overtaken by a horrific feeling of guilt.  I realized that the mother was still looking at me {probably wondering why my face was expressing what I can only envision was a random slew of strange looks, so I quickly smiled and said, "You're one amazing mom", before moving on to the tomatoes.

I stood in front of the display of ripe, red spheres and paused for a moment.

What.the.hell.  How did I lose sight {even for a second} of the fact that I have that love, I know what it's like to feel that way?!

In short?  I didn't.  I consider my little 'lapse' as a moment of nostalgia blended with a smidgen of jealousy that she is experiencing the glory of life as a M.O.O. (Mom of One).  And she's relatively new to the position at that.  Lucky girl.

I think my encounter with this 'newish-to-mommahood' mom was one that had a little 'higher power' behind it, {if you know what I'm sayin'}.  One of those 'right place, right time' kind of things that we need every now and then {or, if you're like me,} to remind you, to refresh you, and to refocus you.

Parenting is the toughest job.  Like ever.  It's a non-stop-for-the-rest-of-your-life kinda gig.  The zeros on the paycheck are made from Cheerios, the insurance package includes the early onset of gray hair, an occasional spike in cholesterol from chowing down the last few bites of mac and cheese that your toddler-going-through-a-growth-spurt didn't house himself, and the only 'retiring' you'll be doing is graduating into grandparents where you get to start all over again--only this time it's with someone else's kids {sweet revenge ;) }.

But it's also the most amazing job.  Like ever.  Ever ever ever.  It's the opportunity to help shape the lives of your little offspring by offering everything you possibly can, sacrificing sleep in exchange for the little extra cuddly time or singing "You Are My Sunshine" for the million and sixth time that week.  It's watching with pride as they learn to walk, ride a bike, dance in their recital, graduate high school, get married.  It's loving someone with every ounce of your being, going to the ends of the earth to fulfill their every need.  It's thinking of someone else before yourself, always, no matter what.  It's being changed.  Eternally.  In the best way possible.

I've crossed into the phase of parenting that I vividly remember observing parents of students from my early years of teaching being engrossed in.  At that time, I remember thinking, "that time in my life seems so far off from now".  And yet, in a few quick blinks, here I am, smack dab in the middle of it.  School-aged children with younger ones tagging along from school function to school function, driving to rehearsals, recitals, play dates and birthday parties at the park.  The endless task of picking up toys, breaking up fights, kissing boo-boos, and answering "why?" for nearly every possible situation.  Crazy calendars, meal plans based upon the weekly sales at the local grocery store, play dates, and piles of unfolded laundry {ok, so that last one is an assumption...or maybe a partial confession as I'm plopped in the middle of my bedroom floor, flanked on either side by a mountain of unmatched socks and *slightly* wrinkled t-shirts}.

What I'm finding with parenting as a M.O.M.T.O. {Mom to More Than One) is that it can be easy to clump all three children into a group, commonly referred to as 'the kids' {or "YOU KIDS!" if I happen to showing a not-so-sweet side of my parenting repertoire}.  When they become a group, parts of their identity becomes lost in the shuffle of life, dissolved into the insanity of trying to navigate a store quickly enough that one doesn't stray off into the Barbie/ice cream/Lego/Elmo DVD aisle, interwoven into the mix of a frenzied dinner hour, or forfeited at the cost of keeping another {obviously more agitated} sibling happy.  It's as if they've morphed into a heterogeneous mass of noise and crumbs and dirt and noise and whining and fighting and toys and noise.  In some instances, this works.  {"Everybody go to your own rooms!", or "Let's all go get some ice cream!"}

But what about the times it doesn't work?  There are more of those moments in a day than the group punishment and ice cream times.  Being a MOMTO can mean that pretty often almost all the time you need to become a whole different mom equivalent to the number of kids that you have {and, as I'm quickly finding out, when you have daughters...there are about 327 'kinds of moms' that you need to be well-versed in--because she will test each kind...several times each week. Day. Hour.}

Watching this MOO {ugh...I so wish my self-made acronym didn't spell out the sound a cow makes} at the grocery store reminded me of a time when I was a new MOO myself.  When I giggled at slobber hands being put in my mouth and hair and nose.  When I explained the various uses for basil to a wide-eyed munchkin who really wasn't showing an interest in becoming the next food network star to begin with but stared at me anyway with adoration and curiosity.  When I celebrated each and every little giggle and coo as though he had spoken words that were so wise, they could have earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.  A time when I could focus better.  Zero in on 'a' kid, rather than 'the' kids.

This sweet mom, unbeknownst to her, inspired me to challenge myself.  To become a MOMTO who spends a bit more time acting like a MOO.  A mom who operates less on a 'the kids' level, and more on an individual kid basis.  A mom who not only acknowledges the differences in each of their three unique personalities {or more, depending on the kind of day we're having}, but celebrates them in a way that helps to enhance their confidence, further develop their character, and guides them as they seek to discover who they are.  A mom who doesn't mind a slobbery hand every now and then, and doesn't hesitate for a nanosecond to proclaim to a complete stranger in the produce department that being a mom means discovering a kind of love that you never imagined existing before.

Thanks for the inspiration, sweet MOO.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Letting Go.

Today we celebrate dads.  The guys in our lives who cheer us on during our games, recitals, potty training, graduations, and learning algebra.  The guys who can wear a stern and disappointed face when we've been disrespectful or mean-spirited and glisten-y eyes when you score your first basket, ride without training wheels, and wear your wedding gown.  The guys who show love in a fun way. A tickle-until-you-cry way.  A 'play catch in 95 degree heat' way. A 'build with Legos' way.  A 'snuggle away the tears' way.  A giving way.  A way that means long hours, stressful hours, endless hours...working hard to provide comforts and stability that often times go unrecognized and taken for granted.  Providing the foundations for children to grow up feeling safe and loved and cared for; turning selfishness into selflessness.  Setting the standard for how his children will grow up to show love toward others.  Believing in his kids: no.matter.what.  Being the kind of guy his son emulates and his daughter wants to find in a husband.  Being present in the lives of his children not just physically; but emotionally. Spiritually.  Morally.

It's a tough job, and what can make it tougher are the times when things don't always turn out as you'd imagined them to be.  The times when your kids don't listen and wind up spilling the bowl of cereal on the floor.  The times when they strike out rather than have the game-winning hit.  The times when they sneak out of the house to meet up with a less-than-desirable boyfriend.  They times when they slam the door in your face, or hang up the phone, or don't call at all.  They times they break your heart.

Fatherhood isn't an easy task.  I know this not because I'm a dad, but because I'm a kid who didn't always make it easy for my own dad.  There were fights.  Mean words.  Disrespect.  And years of silence.  Years.

Being a kid of parents who separated at a relatively early age isn't easy.  It's big and scary and confusing and hurtful.  Things happen in the 'grown up world' that are kept away from the innocence of children; to protect them from whatever truths may exist in the chasm that's been exposed in the relationship.  Being privy to only part of the story allowed for the gaps to be filled with additional doses of hurt and anger and confusion.  As time went on, actions occurred, situations arose, events happened, and words exchanged {or not exchanged} that compounded those feelings; condensing them into a ball of bitter energy that began slowly eating away at my interior.  At the time, the only option I found was to retreat.  Remove myself from what I considered the source of my pain.

And so it went.

My dad and I didn't speak for a long time.  A really long time.  Granted, living 1800+ miles away from him made it a little more 'possible' to be incognito in our relationship, but even with the modern conveniences that technology offers, I still chose to remain a 'silent stewer'.  I stewed in bitterness, confusion, and painful memories of the past.  I stewed in the hurt I felt not only as a victim but also the guilt I felt as a facilitator of deepening the wounds rather than letting a scar form.  In all this stewing, I did not find the result I had hoped for when I decided to withdrawal from finding positives in the relationship I had with my father.  I needed to change.

The decision to face the broken relationship(s)--{ties were not only severed with my dad, but basically his whole side of the family as well} did not actually come from me finding the strength to do so; but rather it came from the positive relationships I have with my brother Jason and his {at the time} soon-to-be wife, Juliana.  On July 14, 2012, they were married, which meant that my dad and I would see each other for the first time in many years.  He would be meeting his granddaughters for the first time, and seeing his grandson as a 6 year old; rather than the baby he had last seen.

There were uncertainties.  Assumptions made by some about interactions and {potential} outcomes.  Nervousness.  Mental preparations for all of the words that could be exchanged or the feelings that would bubble up as a result of being in the presence of each other.  {Of course, I'm only speaking from a personal standpoint, as I would not want to make assumptions on the behalf of others.}

The time came for the wedding rehearsal.  Walking toward the gazebo, I can't tell you the shakiness going on inside my heart.  The polarity of wanting to go with what I knew {my brick wall of isolation}, or smashing the wall entirely and starting completely fresh.  Each step was like a pendulum swinging from one side to the other.  When I arrived at their threshold, I found that the pendulum stopped, resting somewhere in the middle of the continuum.  The 'gray' space between the darkness of silence and the light of forgiveness.  Ugh.  What an uncomfortable place to be.

Since that encounter, nearly a year ago, my other brother Geoff married his wife Kate which meant that amidst the celebration of their love, my dad and I saw each other again.  The pendulum of uncertainty still swung that time around, still settled in 'that gray space'; however the gray seemed lighter, more foggy than dark.  I took this as a sign, and I began to change the way I prayed about the situation.

Since moving to Texas, I've found more space in my mind and my heart and my soul to grow in my faith and my connections and my purpose.  I could easily say that space had once been occupied by practicing the craft of teaching; however that excuse is a simple way to write off the fact that I must not have been ready.

I guess now I am.  I'm working on it.  Slowly learning, growing, and softening to the idea that I  Not to excuse behaviors, words, or actions.  But to clear out anything that is not contributing to my betterment.  I let go to release and have inner peace and renew relationships in a way that will allow me to become a better example for my kids, to become a better wife for my husband, and to become a better daughter for my dad.  I choose to let go, to begin to forgive, and to move forward.  I choose to focus on the positive in the relationship with my dad, rather than continue to stew in the negative.  I let it go.

Letting Go
To let go doesn't mean to stop caring;
it means I can't do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off;
it's the realization that I don't control another.
To let go is not to enable;
but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To let go is to admit powerlessness, 
which means the outcome is not in my hands.
To let go is not to try to change or blame another;
I can only change myself.
To let go is not to care for;
but to care about.
To let go is not to fix, 
but to be supportive.
To let go is not to be protective;
it is to permit another to face reality.
To let go is not to deny, 
but to accept.
To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue, 
but to search out my own shortcomings
and correct them.
To let go is not criticize and regulate anyone,
but to try to become
what I dream I can be.
To let go is not to regret the past but to grow
and live for the future.
To let go is to fear less and love more.

{Author Unknown}

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Life Advice from Third Grade

Ten years ago, I had just finished my first year of teaching.  Twenty-two sweet third graders {what a number, right?!} had spent 180 school days in my classroom; growing, having fun, and {hopefully} learning.  Lessons were taught, laughs were shared, and a unique blend of personalities came together to form a group that left me feeling secure that I had, in fact, chosen the right career path.

Tonight, that group of students graduates high school.

It's strange, really...because I didn't think I'd be so emo over a group of kids I haven't seen in at least 9 years {some, 10}.  But this morning, I woke up extra early to drink in the peace and quiet of a sleeping household.  I went into the closet of our guest room and pulled out my yearbook from that 2003-2004 school year.  Stuffed inside was a stack of multi-colored pages, held together by a single binder clip.  'Third Grade Advice' was scrawled across the front page, a 'mini project' that I had the entire third grade class participate in during their Pro-Social class.  At the top of each page, the prompt read; 'What advice would you give to an incoming third grade student?'.  With an extra large hazelnut latte in hand, I curled up on the end of the couch and read each and every page of advice.  I cracked a smile when I read {on more than one page} 'do all your work in cursive handwriting, {it will prepare you for fourth grade}', written in neat and nearly-perfect D'Nealian print.

As I read, I noticed a few common themes; some cute and fun {like 'bring Miss Sheehan [maiden name] chocolate' and 'don't worry about what teacher you end up with, they're all pretty wonderful'}, while others gave 'appropriate school behavior' advice {'raise your hand', 'don't talk when the teacher is talking', 'study your multiplication facts'}.  Then, there were the tidbits of advice that went beyond 'surviving third grade' {a phrase so many of them integrated into their if they were in the trenches of life.  *smiles*}.

I had been thinking of a post I wanted to write to celebrate that group of kids for a while now, whether or not a single student from that class reads my words or not; they're out there, a celebration of them and a bit of therapy for me as I cross into the world of being a teacher who now has students 'in the real world'.  I wanted to be insightful and thought provoking, write words that will inspire and motivate.  I wanted to write words that will take them into the next step of their lives and beyond, all the while reminding myself of the important things that I want my own children to embody as they grow up.

This morning, as I sipped my latte and strolled down memory lane with the pages of handwritten advice, I realized that my sweet little {once} third graders had helped write this post for me, 9 years earlier.

Third Grade Advice 

Be nice and kind {to your teachers and classmates}.  Yes.  "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle".  Enough.said.

Always be prepared.  You may not always be prepared to handle what life throws at you, but you'll be better prepared if have faith in knowing that "this too, shall pass".

Stay in school.  While you'll graduate and move on to other things, one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books says, "The more you read, the more things you'll know.  The more that you learn, the more places you'll go!" Never, ever stop learning.

Appreciate what you have.  Too often, happiness is sought in the things that we don't have.  "Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more.  If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough" {Oprah Winfrey}

Be a good example.  "The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching" {John Wooden}.  You never know who could be watching, and who might be impacted by your words, your actions, or your character.  Make decisions wisely.

Don't make excuses to avoid your work.  "Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses" {George Washington Carver}.  "There are no secrets to success.  It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure" {Colin Powell}.

Be 'curdeus'. {*smiles*}  "If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world" {Francis Bacon}.

Always wear a smile.  Come in with a smile and leave with a smile.  Never have a frown on your face. {lots of kids mentioned smiles}  "Peace begins with a smile" {Mother Theresa}. "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy" {Thich Nhat Hanh}.

Have a positive attitude at all times. "Keep your face always toward the sunshine--and shadows will fall behind you" {Walt Whitman}.  "Every day may not be good, but there's something good in every day" {unknown}.

Congratulations to 'my kids' {you'll always be 8 in my memory} on your accomplishments and take pride in the hard work you've encountered on the path that has led you to this place in life.  Where ever the road may lead you; be brave, be honest, be your best.  

"Don't ask what the world needs.  As what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive" {Howard Thurman}

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Revised Revisit of a Repost

For the past few weeks, the series of sermons at church has been called 'Loving Better'.  This week the pastor's sermon centered around loving people who aren't the easiest to love.  You know the type, right?  Those people with whom your encounters don't exactly fall on the 'nicer' side of the spectrum.  The people who challenge your psyche and can be the root cause of angry outbursts, migraines, flabbergasted responses, destructive behavior, or the removal of that person from your life in an attempt to tighten your 'circle'.  As I sat and listened on Sunday morning, various personalities and faces popped into mind for a plethora of reasons.  Some for minor infractions--the guy who cut me off the other day in traffic, the lady who clearly does not know care what '15 items or less' means at the grocery store, the woman who asks for help only to criticize your way of doing things and changes it to meet her own 'way'--while others fell into the category of being moved to the outskirts of my 'circle' {or even, completely *out* all together} for more intense reasons.  Those faces, those personalities, those reasons were the *easy* ones...the ones for which my mind not wander far. Because I have an aversion to being disliked, disagreed with, or viewed in a misinterpreted and dim-lighted way, I struggle daily with the ways in which I handle challenging people.  So even though it may seem that I've banished those people who've frustrated, annoyed, or hurt me; they came to mind quickly because my heart doesn't want to have a scar from where I've severed ties.  They haven't really 'left' my circle...they're almost in their own circle for which I can pop in and visit when I'm feeling reflective, insightful, and noticing a need for change {I am a Gemini, afterall...twinsies can be two places at once}.

I want need to be connected with others--from all spaces and places in life.  It's easy to fall into the comfortable space, to chose to spend all your time focusing energies and efforts with those for whom a connection comes easily.  But to grow, be challenged, and enrich your view of the world; it's the people with whom you find a bit of disconnect--whether it be from something 'big', like a breach of trust; a conflict of opinion or viewpoint; or incongruent personality traits--that can bring about the biggest changes in you.  That's the part that can be {has been/still is} so hard to realize--changing the other person is not within your job description; the power to do so is not in your credentials--the change that you have control of is your own.  Your mind, heart, soul adjusts just so, and permits your character to adjust, to love that person as they are--broken and human and beautifully made.

Love doesn't mean that you're acting upon the love in an emotional, feelings-related way; it's the way in which we treat each other.  It's that whole 'love our neighbors as ourselves' sort of way.  The thing I find so hard to follow through with when I get frustrated at both the person who cut me off and the person who honked at me for accidentally interrupting their otherwise 'normal' driving experience because I mistakenly missed a sign for the turn cutting them off.  I expect others to love me as they love themselves, but find more than enough examples in a week where I have no followed through on my end of the bargain.  More 'do as I say, not as I do' than 'lead by example', wouldn't you say?

The other part of the message that struck a chord with me was the pastor's dissection of 'the' Bible verse used often times in weddings {mine include} that defines love.  I've even used this verse in a previous post that was my play on the meaning at that particular time in my life.  As I reread my words from two years back, I found parallels that still have yet to change, while others ships that have long since sailed {some bittersweetly, some beautifully so}.  An ironic observation I made about that post was that it was written on October 26, 2011--exactly one year to the day for what was our last {full} day living {at our friend's} in Colorado.  So many changes since both the post and its one year 'post-iversary'.

And, although I've said some of these verses could remain the same, I thought it might be an interesting and fun challenge to re-re-write {can one do that?} the post so it can incorporate a bit of those changes, refocus my perspective, and remind me of all of the ways that I show love {even on the hottest of Houston days when your toddler simply.will.not.stop.terrorizing.  everything.}


I can answer questions on first grade homework while cutting fruit for snacks and mixing buttercream for my latest cake, but if I don't have love I am as overbearing as a momma bear looking over her cubs.

I can answer an email while vacuuming the living room while doing quasi-yoga moves so I can feel as though I've 'gotten in my workout' for the day, I can bake cookies and cupcakes for the entire staff at the school and make my son's {healthy} lunch for school in 2 minutes flat at 6:30 a.m. before I've had my morning coffee, but if I don't have love, I am nothing.

Love is patient when your potty training toddler 'works the system' to glean the highest possible number of mini M&M rewards per day, thus resulting in going through a package of toilet paper faster than a child's reaction time when they hear the crinkle of the package of Oreos you've hidden on the high shelf of a pantry.

Love is kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle... {Plato, John Watson}...including you {Glennon Melton}.

It does not envy the people who had the opportunity to watch *my* fourth graders grow and learn throughout the remainder of the school year but trusts the Lord that a piece of their heart will always know the love I feel for them, the hope I have for them.

Love does not brag about the joys of being able to stay home with your children.  Love rejoices in the employment of friends that helps support their family and give them 'something for them'.

It does not boast when the house is *finally clean*, because somewhere out there is a toddler who is about ready to wake up from nap time and

Love is not rude when people offer {unsolicited} parenting advice or assume that my 'unemployed' status immediately discounts my capability to be well-spoken and educated {and my previous time spent in the workforce}.

It does not immediately seek after glory when a toddler has *finally* slept through the night, guessed it...she'll be up three times the next night.

It is not easily angered when the milk has spilled {again}, the onslaught of 'momma' goes on {non-stop} for 13 hours straight, and the word NO! has lost all meaning on a curious two year old and a collection of crayons, colored pencils, and markers.

It does not delight in evil when observing the children of those unsolicited-parenting-advice-givers act out and disprove their parents {pompous and imagined} theory that they have child psychology figured out, but it rejoices in the truth that we're all a little broken, and even if we choose to 'get there' in a slightly different way; we're all 'in this' together.

Love does not give up hope when you're feeling disconnected and alone, craving more from this new chapter in life.

It always trusts God that the pieces of the puzzle are there, waiting for the right time to fall into place.  It always perseveres through {another} cross country move, a fresh start, new roles in life, sibling discord, loneliness, and fighting the urge to stay in bed all day to avoid the responsibilities of adulthood.

Love never fails.