Single mom speaks

I can’t speak for all single parents. There are some things, though, that I believe a majority of adults just don’t get when it comes to other adults who are raising children alone, and I believe I can share some things on behalf of all single parents – single moms and single dads – that will benefit us all.

1. If you want to talk with me,  meet with me, or do something “fun” with me alone, then it pretty much needs to happen while my child is in school or daycare.

At the end of my work day, I am entering another phase of the day that in no way resembles free time. Everything that my child(ren) requires in the way of food, supplies, training and nurturing has to come from me, and all of that unfolds as soon as we connect after school and work.

2. If whatever you’re inviting me to come do is not a kid-friendly event, please don’t expect me to attend.

Dinner for two? Girls night out? It’s not that I don’t want to go. On the contrary, I’d LOVE to go! But, it isn’t as easy as that. If I don’t have a suitable sitter living with me in my house, then that means I have to take my child somewhere (typically miles out of the way if it’s a free/family situation) or else find someone old enough to drive to my house who is also willing to babysit for a menial wage. Beyond the logistics of this awesome night out, it’s going to cost me well above the amount most attendees will pay for food and drink. As fun as it might be, it may not be worth it in the big picture.

3. I crave adult conversation and companionship. I just can’t go to where you are most of the time.

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All parents are thrust into a wonderfully frustrating and exhausting child-centric world the moment our sweet and needy mini-me (or mini-him) arrives on the planet. It is overwhelming in the best circumstances, but in a single-parent scenario, it can be crippling. We are constantly weighing our child’s needs – singularly dependent upon us – against our own. Factors will always include safety and finances. And sacrifice becomes our way of life.

4. Want to do a favor for a single-parent family? Offer to take the child to an event (ballgame, play, movie) with your family. 

What we accomplish in the lives of our children is simultaneously our greatest achievement and our biggest regret. Often limited in funds and energy, we do our best but cannot ever carry out the seemingly small things that come more easily in two-parent families where both parents are engaged in child-rearing. Including my child in experiences I can’t provide due to my limitations is a blessing to everyone involved.  Having raised children since 1989 and alone for all but eight of the 25 years in total, I can say that it has definitely been a rare occasion that someone would offer to do something like this with one of my children. But, when it did happen, it was a rare and wonderful gift.

5. Of all places, church should be a warm and welcoming place for single-parent families, but that isn’t always the case. 

Having served as staff in churches for years, I can say that there are congregations who get it and there are congregations who just don’t.  If your church isn’t sensitive to single-parent families, then your church probably isn’t sensitive to needs of families and children in general. Churches can do great harm to parents and children of single-parent households when they fail to honor, affirm and support them in their efforts toward mental, physical and spiritual formation of children. Not all children have two parents at home and God blesses single-parent families, too. (What most people describe as “traditional family” is really only about 200 years old – a product of industrialization. Get over yourself.)

Single parenting is old news, really. It’s so prevalent now, but that doesn’t mean it is a “good” thing. It’s a really difficult thing. Whether it was a choice or a consequence, it remains a fact. Be a good friend, be a good neighbor, be a good listener. A bit of care and support can go a very long way.

Countdown: on the launching pad

Today, on this eve of a new year, I have an image from August burning inside my head: my first ziplining experience.

I remember a sense of utter dependency on the expertise of the person in charge of tying together my harness. Since Jen was a friend of my cousin who coordinated our adventure, and since she questioned knots and made fixes and adjustments to our ropes and gear, I felt more comfortable that I might not die from harness failure. (That outrageous wedgie, however, would surely show up in an autopsy …)

The major discomfort showed up not in my harness, but at the top of the tree house – the first launching pad. Our group consisted of three adults and two children – both of whom were seven years old at the time. One of them was my own child. He wasn’t the first to jump into the air and ride through the trees to the next pad. He was the second. And I hadn’t jumped yet – none of the adults had jumped. Suddenly, the children were “there” and we adults were still “here.” All of the dialogue inside my head about not going through with the ride ended there. I had no choice now. My son was “there” and I had to get “there,” too. Zipline, Jaden 08-2013

Then the dialogue shifted to ways to embrace the ride gracefully and without repeating a rock-climbing scene from summer enrichment camp just before eighth grade. There, I climbed to the top only to discover that my legs totally gave out and my knees were shaking. Uncontrollably. I was mortified. I don’t even remember how I got down. I did, obviously, but I have zero memory of it. This HAD to play out differently.

It’s funny how, as I remember that moment, I can see my whole self on the launching pad, as if I were watching it AND doing it at the same time. I sat back into the harness to become confident, at least, that I was securely tied to the wire. I fixed my eyes not on the trees and certainly not on the ground, but on the wire as I jumped off the first launching pad. I probably didn’t breathe for a few seconds, but I did squeal as I flew through the air, white knuckles and all. I’m sure it was by design, but there was an unfortunate camera set up on this first pass between tree-houses. There was a sign about two-thirds of the way across telling you when to smile, etc. I may have mustered one, but there was something FAR more important on my mind. I needed to nail the landing. For those seconds on the wire, I was some sort of gymnast, or an actress in The Matrix, and my “pay” depended on how well I could land. When I passed the camera, I smiled, but in my mind, I was a cat, and I was about to cheat death with a brilliant landing on my (paws) feet in that tree stand. I landed so beautifully, that the guide who caught me had to comment on it. “Why the heck didn’t they catch a picture of THAT?” I thought to myself.

Today is a sort of launching pad day, too. That’s probably why I remembered the ziplining experience. I’m one who believes that images that come to us – particularly ones that are so clear and detailed – are messages to us, and that we should pay close attention.

I’m not going to ruin things by unpacking everything the story/image means to me specifically. Instead, let me simply wish three things for you in 2014:

1. May you experience trust in new and thrilling ways.

2. May you discover your personal motivation precisely when you need it the most.

3. May all your landings be a perfect “10,” even if you look awkward and perhaps feel frightened while you are moving from point A to point B.

Peace and love to you and yours in 2014. Go with God,

Do I really have to? A lesson on sacrifice, resentment, and choices

Call it a midlife crisis. Call it post-divorce stress or even PMS. Call it what you will, but I’ve had it with living a life framed by what I “have to” do and what I either can’t afford to do or don’t have time to do.

deck repairI am in the middle of quite a run of overdue home repairs, replacements, and maintenance. I like home improvements, trust me. I just don’t like to be forced into them.

Building wealth has never been a priority of mine. Give me a person with lots of heart and talent any day over somebody who merely makes a ton of money. Money, however, is a huge factor in my current frustration. Back when I was a sales director, I remember using a line about money that went something like this: “You don’t have to love money. But, it’s kind of like oxygen – you need to have some in order to live.” Being a homeowner makes that sentiment even easier to believe. Since I work more jobs than a sane person should, my solution is to enter home improvement sweepstakes. Hey. Don’t judge.

Actually, what is most likely happening in this momentary frustration is that I’m feeling the effects of some pretty significant and intentional sacrifices I’ve made in my life. Some people find it easier than others to delay gratification. Still fewer tend to make sacrifice a way of life rather than a temporary commitment for a greater purpose. I’m pretty sure I fall into the latter group. I sometimes have to have long conversations with myself about my purposes in giving things up to ensure that my commitment hasn’t outlived its purpose.

As a single parent, saving money and spending time on projects for home improvement have been sacrificed for childcare costs and graduate school. Steaks, chicken with its amazing array of cooking methods, bacon, ham or turkey sandwiches, and dairy-based milk and ice cream have all been set aside to improve my health and my odds of beating heart disease and cancer risks. (Explore a pescatarian diet here.) diet

Seeking the companionship of a man has been set aside until I feel ready to swim in that sometimes wild, sometimes wonderful ocean again.

All of these things added together can make me grumpy. Grumpier than I like to admit and grumpier than I would like to remain. Sometimes, long-term sacrifice can breed resentment.

As I talk myself through it, I see more clearly that my frustrations are not only temporary, but that I can make new choices to change my circumstances, just like I made choices that led me here. Having choices and knowing what they are is empowering. Choices increase hope and excitement and can reduce feelings of resentment.

Perhaps, choices are the biggest luxuries any of us have — rich or poor or somewhere in-between. I thank God for choices, demonstrated lovingly in the free will He gave to all humans. I thank God also for Wisdom that shows us our perceived walls and limitations and makes us see our choices more and more clearly.

Afterglow

There is really nothing quite like being a sponsoring parent of a young couple’s wedding. When else is it possible to gather family, dearest friends and neighbors, and your most talented friends and acquaintances in one place at one time all for the collective purpose of celebrating love and hope in such a beautiful, uplifting atmosphere?

While the planning process is driven for the most part by choices and preferences of the engaged couple, it is also a time to consider those people in your wider community circle and to plan ways to say “thank you” to everyone who has loved and supported your child throughout life. It is a time for this well-dressed, well-wishing community to express their blessing and support of the new couple as they begin their life journey together and for the glamorized couple to express their gratitude for the support and love shown to them by these beloved people. It is a uniquely beautiful, joyful and powerful celebration. As a parent of either the bride or the groom, it is intensely rewarding to see your child loved and accepted not just by your immediate family, but by a much broader group – many of whom you will meet on the wedding day! This is a joy quite outside of the joy of knowing your child found a loving and wonderful mate with whom to share life and grow old.

I spent the majority of today scouring photos from friends and family who may have taken pictures of my daughter’s wedding yesterday. I was not able to take many pictures myself and it is difficult in this age of instant gratification to wait for the professional photos that were taken and are forthcoming. Today was spent in the afterglow of what we enjoyed yesterday and in gratitude and hopeful prayer for the future.

While it would be tempting to experience the day-after as the end of a long journey to possibly the most memorable event you’ve ever planned, it is, indeed, the very beginning. We intentionally strive toward a strong beginning rather than working so hard toward a desired end. This perspective, I think, is the most helpful and correct way to view these milestone events of our lives.

[Photo credits: Denise Smith and Eric Bullock]

A Mom’s Seven “Shares”

Mother’s Day is coming – good timing for a Mom blog – but that was not the inspiration for this post.
My oldest children are in the middle of different and very important life events. We’re talking big things here: college graduation, marriage, new baby… not in that order and not all in one place! Whatever I’ve done for/with/to those children in the way of training has mostly been accomplished. There is both comfort and anxiety in that knowledge.

I suspect parents do most of their “teaching” by example, whether we are aware of it or not. I’ve been a lecturing mom, for sure, but my children likely picked up more by watching than by listening to me lecture on and on. (Remember Charlie Brown’s teacher?)

There are times, though, when a mom feels that it is really necessary that her children hear what she wants to say to them. Mostly, we want them to learn from our mistakes so that they don’t make the same ones. We want them to have a smoother, straighter path to walk. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. That’s when we have to trust that the same God who used our most exciting and challenging times to shape and develop us will use the high and low times our children and other loved ones experience to shape and develop them, too.

These are just a few observations that I hope I have shared clearly with my children. If not, here it goes in plain English:

1. People with the least to lose can be either the most generous people you will meet or the most dangerous. People who value other people over “things” are life-givers. People who value “things” over people don’t value themselves or you and will suck the life out of you. Learn to tell the difference and be a life-giver. You can’t change the other folks, so don’t try. Let God do it.

2. Your choices matter. Choose wisely in all things. Sometimes, though, things will come that you did not choose. Accept those things as opportunities to change and grow into the person God wants you to be. All things do somehow work together for good, but we have to receive the lesson and be willing to change.

3. God’s math is different from ours. Give generously and faithfully to God’s work in the world. You cannot out-give Him, ever. He is a source that never runs dry and His provision will amaze you and sustain you! Love God and love people with everything you’ve got.

4. Honesty is probably the most important element in any relationship – your relationship with God, with others and with yourself. God knows when you’re lying, and others soon know . . . and by the time you figure out you’ve been lying to yourself and everybody else, there will be a lot of cleaning up to do! After honesty, forgiveness is the next important thing. Forgive freely – and don’t forget to forgive yourself.

5. If your dog doesn’t like one of your friends, you should take note…

6. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That applies to everything, so use it in every context. And know that not everyone else will operate that way. Be willing to be different.

7. Time and space are two things that are always full, no matter how much you have. Always work toward having yours full of the things you want to be there.
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To all the Moms, peace and blessings to you. Yours is the hardest job on earth and we all know it!

Hard to live with

My youngest child is like so many others in that he speaks, unfiltered, whatever is on his mind. “Why do you have to be so hard to live with?!” he cried after I issued his punishment for the crime of disobedience. What he did wasn’t terrible – he simply chose not to listen to me until he was ready – and his punishment wasn’t earth-shattering, either. (Although, to a 6-year-old boy, losing a few hours of Wii is close to earth-shattering.) The point of my response wasn’t the level of severity of his bad behavior and the point of his response wasn’t the severity of the assigned punishment. It was the principle of the thing – on both counts. I insist on respectful obedience from my children and he persists in trying to do things his own way and in his own time, regardless of what I say. So, who’s harder to live with? I dealt with it by laughing. You know, that “Silly boy, it isn’t ME who is being difficult, but your own choices that are creating difficulty for you” laugh; the “You’re the one being stubborn, not me” laugh.

This may be easier to resolve in parent-child relationships since there is a power differential. But what about stalemates like this in adult relationships? Are there times when we are less-than-gracious when we should offer someone the opportunity to express their individuality? Well, of course.

I am not a big fan of campaign season in the political realm. I dislike the negative ads and the boasting ads equally. If there was a party called Humble Integrity, I’d probably join that one. As it stands, there isn’t one remotely close to that. [Ok, I came up with the cool acronym: Humble Integrity Party = HIP!] As a HIP candidate, I would do all my campaigning via Facebook, Twitter, and blogging. Oh wait – maybe that is how I would do it as a member of the DLCP (Don’t Like Crowds Party). . . Let’s face it. I’d never be a suitable candidate for political office.

Not too many of us risk having our lives dissected, chewed up, and spit out in the national forum. Our family has a way, though, of exposing to us the things we either deny or would otherwise like to keep under wraps about ourselves. Marriage is the great revealer of life areas in need of personal growth. Our level of stubbornness is revealed in how we respond to the knowledge that we need to grow enough in an area to demonstrate grace. If we can humbly apologize and seek to let go of our personal agenda (which is often linked to nothing vital), then we become much more pleasant to be around. If we disregard the revelation and dig in our heels to ensure no one “runs over us”, then we might be setting ourselves up for a lot of head-butting.

So, with that in mind, and to avoid running the risk of being known as a head-butt-er (or any variation of such), let us be mindful of the grace that is ours through Jesus. I would rather be known as someone who is hard to live without than hard to live with.

Tears that bind us

I must confess that I embarrass myself. Any time I attend an event that precipitates applause and I am part of the audience, I cannot contain my tears. I mean, my throat lumps up, my facial muscles contract, and the tears start rolling. If the performance is in a darkened auditorium, I fare better than if I am in a well-lit stadium. If my children are with me, they are always the ones to ask if I’m ok – God bless them – but I’d rather not have to explain why I’m crying.

Tears unrelated to pain or sadness are more difficult to explain anyway, aren’t they? Why do I cry when something strikes my “happy chords” just as easily or as much as when I feel hurt or just plain sad? Of course, curious minds turn to Google. As I researched this question I learned another tid-bit that I could link to my most recent embarrassing cry. This week as I attended (and cried at) Raleigh’s special version of “A Christmas Carol”, I noticed that my right eye cried first. I have since read that when the first tear comes from one’s right eye, it allegedly signals happiness while a first drop from the left eye signals sadness.

For reader-friends who share in my curiosity, it seems that we don’t really know the answers, but we can comfortably relate to some of the facts about tears. Tears are, in general, in three distinct categories: basal, reflex, or emotional. Basal tears simply keep our eyes moist. Reflex tears respond to environmental stimuli such as onions. Emotional tears are the most peculiarly human type – although there is some debate about whether chimps cry emotional tears or not.

Apparently, there has been some “research” (I only add quotes because I did not read the study but only a brief description of the results and do not know how scientific it actually was) to determine if there is a chemical difference between sad tears and happy tears. For the sake of brevity, suffice it to say that happy tears consist of brine and not much else, while sad tears contain hormones and chemicals that are toxic in the body and thereby can be understood as a physical mechanism for protecting the body from negative emotions and their nasty chemical by-products! Others argue that all tears are the same and that so-called “happy tears” are in truth a stress-relief response from built-up negative emotions such as fear or worry.

So, my Googling expedition didn’t really satisfy all of my curiosity, as is typically the case. We can know some of the things that define our humanity, but so much is still speculative. There is a piece of this puzzle, though, that seems to be a pretty solid observation: our tears communicate. They communicate the content of our hearts – what we acknowledge and what we hide. Tears bind us in compassion for one another as we are made vulnerable by their revelation. Tears are a spectacular part of our design!

Tears not only bind us together as people in community, but they serve to bind us in the sense of binding a wound to promote healing. I remember during the years when reaching the milestone age of 100 was just becoming commonplace, centenarians were asked for their secret to longevity. I don’t remember any of them ever attributing their long life to lots of good cries, but I’m betting they shed their share of tears.

I suspect we all have times when we feel embarrassed by our tears. Even my very-young son has sensed the cultural pressure that boys should not cry. I say that notion is hogwash, by the way, and I urge my sons to cry when they feel the need to drain their eyes. Jesus cried, after all: “Jesus wept.” John 11:35. Perhaps we should all just embrace our very human tears and keep the tissues handy at all times, because you never know when you’ll need one, or when you’ll have an opportunity to offer one to a neighbor!
*“Jesus Wept” is a life-size, original clay sculpture by Mike Scovel.

Fall Festival: A Christian Alternative?

I suppose the idea of Fall Festival that has become so common among Protestant churches this time of year came about as an alternative for the children of Christian parents to have a chance to dress up and have some good, clean fun on Halloween without the inherent dangers or pranking perils of the night-time event. And, of course, those who planned it wanted to encourage the community to come take part in a Church event that might open the door to knowing Jesus and joining a community of faith. I’m sure that was the intention.

My experiences have led me to understand that not everyone who professes Christ as Lord has a problem with dressing ghoulishly or participating in the fright-fest along with our larger American community. I can appreciate that point of difference with brothers and sisters. I just wonder if we are doing our children and our neighbors’ children a dis-service when they find our church events decorated with ghosts, goblins, and the like. And I’m really not sure how we could share our testimony of faith in Jesus with our children or our visitors while dressed as a witch. Or from a trunk decorated with scary red eyes or severed limbs.

I totally “get” the intention of Fall Festival. What I don’t get is how churches sometimes fall into the trap of allowing Fall Festivals to look and feel so much like a regular Halloween party. Kids love costumes. So do some adults. Costumes can make a church event fun as long as they are within some defined boundaries. Games, food, and candy are always fun party fare. All of those things are perfect ways for a church community to celebrate. But if those things happen without giving Jesus center-stage, we may as well have met down at the Club House.

I have raised children during the 1990’s, the 2000’s, and now the 2010’s. It is a challenge to raise Christian children, folks! It is a challenge because we are faced with so many calls to make on where to draw our lines. We are responsible for helping our children understand what it means to identify as a Christian and how that identity looks, feels, and behaves differently from what we experience at school, around town, and on TV. That, my friends, is a tall order and it requires great clarity and courage. Christian parents must dare to do things differently . . . and to explain why we make the choices we do so that our children learn to use Christian sources of authority in their own decision-making.

Do you have some defined boundaries within your family about the ways you allow your children to take part in Halloween events? Perhaps you have a different perspective you would like to share. Even when we see things differently, the discussion is always valuable!

Enjoy the ride

You would think I grew up in a litter competing with eight or nine other kids for food or something. I am often accused of wolfing down my food. My husband is the exact opposite. When we lived together, by the time he had fixed his plate to his own idea of perfection, I was finished with mine. Then I was up and ready to go do something else. I have to admit that it is a legitimate complaint. Not only do I wolf it down, but I often eat on the run — either standing at the kitchen counter or driving down the road. You might ask why, and if you did, I wouldn’t be able to give you an answer. I don’t know why I do that. I work the same way. As soon as I’m given some sort of assignment, I attack it and wipe it out just like a five-bite sandwich. Wound up tight, I am. Wound up tight.

As is true with most bad habits, my ways tend to rub off on the people I spend the most time around. Rather than their wish to slow down and enjoy a meal rubbing off on me, it usually turns out that my bad habits of eating too fast or else on the run turns into their norm, too. Trust me, I recognize that it is not a good trait, and I would really like to change it. Problem is, I don’t know how. The way I eat and the way I work is symptomatic of something deeper than either of those things.

Just today, I had to remind my 5-year-old to try not to focus so much on our destination but rather to enjoy the time spent on the way there. “Enjoy the journey” was a bit too slogan-ish for him to get, I thought. Instead, I advised him to enjoy the music in the car and the things that we see on the way. “Try to enjoy the ride there,” I said. It is advice that I should take for myself.

Along with other healthy choices I’ve made for myself over the course of the last few years, I am willing to take the challenge to “enjoy the ride.” In doing so, I see the necessity of also opening myself up to the ideas and suggestions from my friends of ways to adjust the thoughts and beliefs that lead to persistent hurried behaviors. What are some things that you do in your own life to reel yourself in and “enjoy the ride?”

“Caller 1, you’re on the air. . .”

Father’s Day Status: It’s Complicated

I think Father’s Day is becoming increasingly more difficult to handle. Not just for me, either.

As I scroll through my mental list of close friends, I haven’t yet come to anyone with an untarnished experience this Father’s Day. (Ok, I just remembered one.) As I think of my friends, family, and self, either our dad has passed away, or the relationship was bad, or in some cases it’s both. Whatever the reason that brought us to this point, it hurts when Dad is not around — especially on Father’s Day. For the people I know and love who have experienced a living-yet-absent father, that pain is part of everyday life.

For those of us who miss our dad on Father’s Day because he died, we can find some refreshment and peace in our good memories. Particularly for those of us who profess faith in Jesus, the comfort and support that we felt from our dad can easily translate into that notion of God, the Father. But, the move from an uncomfortable relationship with our earthly father to a comforting relationship with our Heavenly Father can be a little more tricky. In that case, we have to let go of some beliefs we may carry with us that are contrary to the way God, our Heavenly Father, operates. If you wouldn’t want to be accused of being just like your dad, then maybe God deserves that same benefit from you: don’t assume that God is like anybody else you know. If you were blessed with a dad who modeled godly principles and lifestyle, then appreciate and recognize that as a blessing. But please understand that you could also have a faulty perspective of God’s ways and motivations, based even on that good-but-limited model.

In other words, all I’m saying is . . . God is much bigger than your daddy! He’s bigger than your mama, too! (Not necessarily saying “yo mama’s so big …) God’s love for us is entirely real. It’s so super-big. It doesn’t have the consequences of sin attached to it that we experience in our human relationships. God’s love surpasses all of that! God loves us so much that He chose to become like us in order to be with us, to teach us, to suffer like us, and to do the one thing that none of us could do just so we could be with him forever.

If your own Father’s Day status reads, “It’s Complicated,” then I want to wrap this concept of God’s love around you like a big bear hug. May the warmth, the comfort and the peace of God’s great big love put a mega-watt smile on your face this Father’s Day!

Now, who’s your daddy?! (I apologize, but I could NOT resist that!)