Parenting Off-leash

The seasons are changing.  My oldest is gone more than home now, and the next two boys are working out in the gym and growing manly muscles on their lean arms.  My daughter’s turned into a lady with a keen sense of right, a quick tongue and an even sharper wit.

We’re all growing up. Not that I’m crying, mind you. I welcome the opportunity to wrestle bigger challenges than whose Hot Wheel this is.  It’s just a different type of parenting now.  They still need shepherding, just with a looser hand.

I’m reminded of my first parenting lessons, years ago. I had adopted a 100 lb. Labrador Retriever with an assertive streak. What a tough bugger he was in obedience class, refusing to lie down on command unless I body-slammed him and pinned him in my own version of a wrestling hold.  I only outweighed him by about 3 pounds, and he had testosterone and four legs on his side.  He strained to keep his head above mine.  With persistence, he learned to work with me. We moved to off-leash training, where he had to choose to obey lessons like, ‘don’t chase the kitty across the road just because you’re the dog for the job and I’m not looking’.  At the end of the summer, we won 2nd place at the trials.Sandyswim

I wish it were that easy to train kids.  Today, I’d be thrilled to come in second place.  On that day, I felt gypped, and came up with all sorts of consolations.  I was a teen with a large, intact male dog competing against an adult with a spayed people pleaser. She wasn’t at all moved by the lovely mutt in heat that wandered through the final exam.  My dog looked like Pepe Le Pew floating away after a Persian cat.

I didn’t recognize the real point.  That class was a joint effort to develop well-mannered companions, not a competition to see who could produce the perfect show dog.

Education is not about perfection.

I will never be a perfect mother, homeschool or otherwise.  My only charge is to love the Lord more than anything else and figure out how to stir each of my students to choose to follow me in that, daily.  But just like my old Lab, the outcome boils down to a choice that is outside of my control.  Will he follow my path, or not?  Milk bones or a swim in the lake assist with retention, but just like most adults on earth, if it doesn’t pay off, he probably won’t repeat it.

My oldest kids have learned the basics of come, sit, and stay.

It’s now time to go off-leash.  What they know, they know, and what they don’t will show quickly.  We’ll focus there.  Move into the world, my children.  You will fall.  Know that – but know also that falls are not fatal.  You’ll get up and be stronger.  I’ll help you, but only if you need it.  You have the rest of your lives to fine-tune who you want to become.

Someone asked me today how I parent high schoolers.  I couldn’t help but chuckle under my breath.  I’m really not the one to ask.  But yet I am – I can answer from experience that there comes a point when you must trust that what you’ve done has made an impact and that your children are competent to think and move on their own.  But you’re not done.

You must still pray.  Pray for quiet patience that exudes faith, in God and in the child.  Pray for safety and quickly growing wisdom.  Know that God is there, and won’t blink, even when it’s midnight and you haven’t heard from your son since lunch.

If you’ve been diligent with your time when you had it before you, you will not be disappointed now.  The Bible doesn’t just spout cool maxims that encourage us emptily.  When the proverb says, ” Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – it’s a promise you can lean on.

I found this interesting elucidation in Clarke’s Commentary:

When he comes to the opening of the way of life, being able to walk alone, and to choose; stop at this entrance, and begin a series of instructions, how he is to conduct himself in every step he takes. Show him the duties, the dangers, and the blessings of the path; give him directions how to perform the duties, how to escape the dangers, and how to secure the blessings, which all lie before him. Fix these on his mind by daily inculcation, till their impression is become indelible; then lead him to practice by slow and almost imperceptible degrees, till each indelible impression becomes a strongly radicated habit. Beg incessantly the blessing of God on all this teaching and discipline; and then you have obeyed the injunction of the wisest of men. Nor is there any likelihood that such impressions shall ever be effaced, or that such habits shall ever be destroyed.

I’ve not done everything right.  But that’s where the prayers come in: God is the perfect Father.  He can instill in each of my children what I never taught.  They’re in good hands.



Time Away

A new year, a new look.  It was time.  I’ve changed so much since I set up this space nearly two years ago.

When I first became a mother, I was advised to reserve time for me.  I couldn’t; it just felt so wrong.  I understand the airline concept of putting on my own facemask before turning to help the child beside me; but this isn’t an emergency.  This is everyday life.  This is the season of life to rear children; I must be with them, I’d think.

“Me Time” was such a buzzword, and it grated on me.  I quickly learned to avoid the topic, since it was met with such hostility.  “It will become a necessity; you’ll see,” an old lady warned me.  But after 15 years, I was still much happier with my family intact.  Dinner out wasn’t fun if I was wondering about that little piece of me I’d left behind.  Even when I had six not-so-little pieces of me, time out wasn’t right without them.

Yeah, I’m weird.  I know that.

Eventually, though, I saw that I couldn’t breathe anymore.  I had to stop and focus on my own facemask.  I hate the taste of crow.  This space was set up as my time away – my adult time.  But the whole concept still irritated me, because no matter how much time I got to myself, I still could not breathe.  I needed something, but even getting away wasn’t helping.  It was merely taking me away from my responsibilities, which didn’t help anyone.

Then I saw something important. Jesus made time alone, away from his disciples.  But He didn’t go to spend “Me Time”; He went apart to commune with His Father before returning refreshed.  I was confirmed that my path is turning a corner.

Spending time for me and spending time with God is vastly different.  As I put aside time every morning to read Scripture, to let His word flood through my soul, and to talk with him about what I’d read or was struggling with, I was strangely strengthened.  My time is often interrupted (how could it not be in a house with 6 children?), but that’s okay. The rewards are tangible, and I see that I no longer have time not to read my Bible in the morning.

It wasn’t “Me Time” I needed; it was God Time.  I give everything I have in caring for my family, and it makes sense that I might need refreshing.  It must be refueling time, though, not just recess. God Himself put me here and gave me this family.  His Spirit must filter through every pore, into every cell, and flood every bronchiole and hemoglobin for me to actually accomplish His purpose.

“Give me your firstfruits.” “I have living water you know nothing of.”  “Come to me, you who are weary.”  His words jumble together in my mind as I think.  So when I come directly to Him in the early morning for my thirst to be quenched and my body quickened, He is there.  Just as He promised. It all comes together.

Bring it on, 2012.  I’ve got a new outlook and a new look, and I’m ready for whatever you have in store.

She’s a Lady

Women, their interests, and fluffy stuff have never been my cup of tea.  Then I was told at the hairdresser’s last week that I am such a girly girl.  Whatever could she mean?  She chuckled something about my clothes, nails, and hair and how I enjoy them.  That I do.   After 17 years of being pregnant and/or nursing, either baby-fat or just looking it with my incessant baby slings,  I’m ready to be more than a spit rag.  I no longer dress like the poster child for durability and functionality.  All that time as “one of the boys” and then “Mama” has left me wanting to be a woman.  If I can pull it off, “Lady” sounds better still.

I noticed something right after “In the beginning…”  Woman is made of the same stuff as man and can take over his position if necessary.  Since living in the sticks, I’ve realized I am tougher than I thought.  Storms can pound and crap may fly, but I will still be here tomorrow to take some more.  The women who inspire me have an unusually quiet strength, never breathing a word about what they endure.  Trials are unbecoming to a lady.  As tempting as it may be to whine and complain, I must bear up under pressure gracefully, never besting her man.  I met a beautiful gal once who was a serious mechanic.  You’d never know it over dinner, though, with her lovely, dark red nail polish to cover the grease under her fingernails.  This is probably what sets a woman apart.  Men don’t cover their grime.

God pulled Eve out of man to be different.  While she’s capable of anything, she should not do it all, and what she does, she does differently.  She is the soft, merciful side of the equation;  she is Grace to man’s Law.  It is hers to bear the next generation and sustain this one, keeping home and hearth warm.   A “womanly touch” softens and beautifies.  He  provides security and incites fear in any who threaten their nest.  There is nothing to fear in woman but the withdrawal of her acceptance.  Most men will do anything to prevent that.

Yet, so many men show affection for  their ladies similarly to how they’d show affection for their brothers.  I remember watching a guy flipping his keys around his finger, slapping his new bride’s thigh with each turn.  Chink, chink, chink.  Stupid, little things hurt a woman deeply.  She (and other women around her) will read many intentions into that one thoughtless action.  It’s not the pain;  women will control their minds and breathe through the ultimate workout of childbirth.   I have never met a man who honestly thinks it would be no big deal to bear a child.  Childbirth is only the initiation.

A man’s work is done when the battle is won and the goal achieved.  He bandages his wounds like trophies and wears them proudly, turning to new pursuits and obstacles to conquer.  The woman now moves into the daily grind, covering over her scars and stretch marks as shameful and unladylike.  Her work of feeding the family and making sure the laundry is folded and put away is not hard work – it is merely tedious.  And far beneath her abilities, she is reminded too often.  Chink, chink, chink.  Childhood stories have left visions in her head of singing while she scrubs her floors, laughing with the children when they come in from their mudpies, and overlooking bootprints her gallant warrior tracks across the tile.  Nothing she does is special and couldn’t be done better by a maid, and she tends to forget that it is her very presence which makes the magic of “home”.  She sees so many areas where she hasn’t met the standard, and they pain her.

Her deepest desire is to be taken care of – cherished, as my mom would say.   She needs to be so dear to her man’s heart that she is restored to rib-hood.  She must know beyond any doubt that she is essential to the survival of the family,  appreciated and protected and held tightly when the nights are cold.  She can become stronger than steel if necessary, but prefers to be soft.

She is powerful and vulnerable all at once.  Fascinating.  That’s what makes her so alluring.

She’s faced the hardest times
you could imagine
and many times her eyes fought back the tears
and when her youthful world
was about to fall in
each time her slender shoulders
bore the weight of all her fears
and a sorrow no one hears
still rings in midnight silence,
in her ears

Let her cry, for she’s a lady
let her dream, for she’s a child
let the rain fall down upon her
She’s a free and gentle flower,
growing wild

–           “Wildflower”, by New Birth

It’s All in the Details

My earliest memories are with cars.  If there is one sensation that will instantly assure me of peace and rightness in the world, it is the smell of a clean, orderly garage. The feel of a chamois in my hand turns my world misty-rosy as the gleam of paint comes up under my touch.  All my ancestry swirls around my head in a strange, Lion King way the minute my sudsy sponge connects with a dirty hood.  Meguiar’s wax runs through my veins.

As a kid, I would wash my Schwinn from the same bucket of soapy water that Dad used for the cars and then scrub floor mats for him.  I loved playing on their prickly backs, just like my daughter does now.

When I traded in my gleaming Schwinn for a Ford Pinto, people began to tell me  I was going to rub the paint right off my car,  that I was crazy for keeping a car that clean,  that I’m obsessive/compulsive or even anal.  Maybe.  I’ve also been offered more money for my 12 year old Pinto than Dad paid for it new.  I know I’m not the only one who believes that taking care of what God gives me is good stewardship.  Somehow, when my car is a dirty mess, it comes home with all sorts of bumps and scratches from people who assume I don’t care – so they don’t either.  But when my ranch wagon is sparkling, nothing happens to it.  People respect what is respectable.  Cars aren’t that different from people in many ways.

I wish, though, like the insurance commercial I saw yesterday, that the bumps and bruises of living and serving could be washed out.  Some of the scratches a kid puts down a door are forever, but most of my Suburban’s life is memory alone.  It has nearly 300,000 miles on it.  It hauls trailers regularly for church, work, and play.  It has driven over the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada range, to the Grand Canyon, Pismo Beach, and the Gulf of Mexico.  It has carried lambs, kids, and children in its seats.  My beloved Bear was euthanized in the back.  I probably have more feelings of “home” in my car than most people do in their kitchens.  In my struggle to understand what it meant to follow God,  I gave up all things automotive as potential idolatry, including taking care of this part of my life.  God was worth it, but He didn’t require it.  He heard what my lips never uttered, and gave my cars back to me.  As I listened to Him speak through the sound system, I washed the scribbled “This vehicle also available in pewter” off the back window.   My head began to clear and I began to understand grace.  We don’t need to be grungy or die to be accepted.  He washes us clean if we will but sit still.  Reflections shimmered back at me in the door.  His clouds, trees, playing children – even the anonymous painter whose gifted hand laid down that metallic pewter coat so smoothly – are all his creation.   I never want that beauty to fade.

 Granted, washing and waxing will not make my truck run any better or add life to the fading powerplant under the hood.  But just because it’s aging doesn’t mean it has to look like a beater.  Everything in creation is worthy of notice and care, and even Gremlins are worthy of rebirth.  But I’m no resto artist, as much as I’d like to be.  I can only keep up what I’m given and point to Who gives it all to me.

Theology aside, a clean car just makes me feel special.  Although all I truly need is a vehicle to get me from Point A to Point B,  I would rather not arrive there covered in dog hair with a gum wrapper stuck to my backside.  I am worthy of a decent ride – and let’s face it, driving a shiny, new car is something most of us can never get enough of.

So when the offer appeared on my table to detail my first car professionally, I took it.  I may be stupid for starting a detailing business on a dirt road and I haven’t worked out all the chinks yet.  But Christians advise to follow God’s call, while secular folks say you should always follow your dreams, even when they look silly.   I know that washing cars will not save people’s souls and I have no dreams of becoming rich.  It’s just what I love doing.   Detailing cars is my form of art, the way I bring beauty into my world.

I believe that there are those out there who would love to be cared about, who never noticed their whitewalls were black and brake dust obscured their wheels.  I would like to share that feeling of value I sense every time I get behind the wheel of a car so shiny the reflections overpower the paint color.  Just like a girl in a new dress, a clean car makes the man.  Growing up in SoCal, we all knew that cars were a reflection of their owners.   So what does your ride reveal about you?

Godvision Goggles

My head has not been in writing this week. It’s been scattered, unable to concentrate on reading, even. Just as I convinced myself that I was hopelessly lost, we had a baptism and pool party with the church. The words that were spoken at that ceremony touched me, letting me know that it’s not all up to me. It’s not me that reaches out to God to beg salvation. Like a drowning man reaching for the hand of the rescuer, I’m merely accepting the outstretched arm of the one who sought to pull me from the jaws of destruction. He reached out first; I’m merely taking His hand.

That’s what I needed to hear. Sometimes it feels as though I’m sinking in a pool of my own making, and I have no clue how to escape. I pray that God would pluck me out and put me in a better situation. But Jesus said he didn’t come to take us out of the world (John 17:15); he came to give us a new perspective. He gave me godvision goggles. I can wear them on my forehead and look like a pro, but they work best on my eyes, protecting me from injury and putting the true hue on all I see.

The little stuff doesn’t bother me with my goggles on. They allow me to see more clearly than ever before what is going on around me and not be bothered by it. All will be well; I can relax.

But not too much. I still have work to do, and I must use my goggles for all they’re worth. So gently, as soon as possible, he puts me back in the water and teaches me to swim. First in a safe environment, and then in gradually more threatening situations, he encourages me to build strength.

I thank the Lord that He always girds me with the floaties of Scripture. As I gain facility with them and their properties become my own, I am enabled to stay afloat, even in rough waters.

The Waterfall

I have prayed about my judgmentalism for years.  My nit-picky attitude about how others handled situations didn’t win me many friends, but I couldn’t seem to stop armchair quarterbacking the actions of everybody I met.   I wasn’t a good friend.   There were no answers to my prayers for a long time.  Then, just in the last several months, I’ve been overwhelmed with the concepts of grace and mercy.  They are flooding my consciousness and consuming my thoughts.

In the midst of struggling with trying to write it down, my sweet little girl, in her new bathing suit, asked me to come see what she was doing and take a picture of her doing it.  I figured I could use a break.

This is what grace and mercy are all about.  Her  Christmas truck broke too quickly.  She doesn’t want to throw away the toy that she loved and had such high hopes for, so she has transformed it into all sorts of imaginations.  Today, when everyone was dripping sweat and her toy seemed discarded and forgotten in the heat of the day,  she ran cool, clear water over and through it, changing it from a lowly dump truck into a conduit of great joy and refreshment.  She loves waterfalls.  They are fascinating to us all.

Grace flows over our souls with streams of cool refreshment.  It restores our rightness in the world.  It inspires mercy for others who may have wronged us.  It frees us all to live again.

In search of the lifeguard

When I was at the University, I had to undergo counseling as a requisite for my degree in Psychology.  It was a good thing; that was a really rough period in my life, and I could use guidance, even if it was only a grad student’s.  He said something one day that has reverberated in my head ever since.  He said that I seemed to go through life looking for a lifeguard; I get myself in trouble, grab the closest one on the beach, and as soon as I have solid ground under my feet, discard him and move on.  I needed to find my own strength. After 20-plus years, I think I finally have – but in my very next thought, I know I’d be smarter to just keep one on retainer.

I was happy to find when I became a Christian that there was not only a savior, but a guide to follow.  Because the more I read, I saw that I’d be in some seriously deep, live water with nobody I knew leading the way.   I will get in over my head and need assistance.   The trick is in accepting the challenge to go into ever deeper water and trusting that He is really there.  It’s in His best interests, after all, for me to succeed in His name.

My dad knew he could not swim.  He knew his float point was the bottom of the pool.  But it never stopped him from going where everybody else went.  He trusted that life vest enough to wear it.   I will never forget the look on his face when we stopped one time in a small cove to take a break from skiing with family friends.  We kids all dove overboard and began playing in the  sheltered waters of a little bay.  He threw the anchor over and noticed it stopped about a foot short of the end of the rope.  “How long is that rope?”  he asked his best friend.  “Uh, a hundred feet, why?”   My dad’s quick calculation of the height of the boat and slack in the line left a stricken look on his face, seeing all his children overboard, and himself in a life vest.  Even though we were all competent swimmers, he knew that he was not.  And this was some seriously deep water.

I liken faith to that life vest.  My dad trusted it to preserve him in case of accident and potential demise.  He never would have jumped over to go swimming with us, but he could feel secure in the boat as long as he had it.

How many lives have been lost because people bought the jackets but then were too proud to actually use them?  Accidents will happen in this world, no matter how much preparation we do to avoid them.  But we also have no need of one if we never venture with Christ beyond the Starbucks kiosk on the church patio.   Church membership needs to be a lot more than so much fire insurance.  We have to take chances and try new things in order to grow and achieve anything.  We have to have courage and confidence to go beyond our depth, but also the humility to ask for assistance when we need it.  I know it wasn’t the easiest thing Dad ever did to admit to his best friend that he feared going out on the boat, but he got in it anyway and watched his children learn to waterski.   It’s not the easiest thing I’ve ever done to proclaim Christ in my blog – but it’s what I’m given to write, so I do, and ask Him to please not completely offend my friends.  Worthwhile accomplishments never come easily.

But frankly, I really don’t like staying in the shallow end anyway.  It’s safe, but….  Many people advised us against moving to Las Vegas years ago, because it would be moving into the very lap of the enemy.  Our entire family would be lost in the seductions of the devil’s workshop.  We went anyway because we could have twice the house, twice the lifestyle, and at the same price as California living.  At least we weren’t lured by the world’s treasures.  It killed me to give up my beach, but that’s another story.  I found life there to be challenging, but not because of the charms of the Strip.  I fell in with people who asked me hard questions and made me realize I was using ChristianityLite, and not the real program that Martin Luther and Corrie ten Boom set their very lives on.  It was during this time that I came across a quote by C.T. Studd:  “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.”   Hmm.  I am just selfish enough to not want to risk myself for someone else.  And there is a lot of security derived from having believers around me.  Maybe, in the midst of the flock,  I can just baaa my way in the right door.

What  I’ve noticed, though, is that I cannot seem to stay in the midst of the flock.  I have a perpetual fascination with rebels.  Not truly evil, mind you;  I am just drawn inexplicably to the sheerly rebellious side of life.  I am not embarrassed to wear the life jacket, but I want to go further.  I want to dive and look at fish and experience all of life.    I want the reality spoken of in Acts, not just a provider/protector persona that I can pull out of my purse as needed.  There’s so much more to faith than mere security.   In order to shuck the jacket and do more, I must develop a relationship with the lifeguard; Christianity is a team sport.

This may border on blasphemy, but I had a friend years ago who was the biggest kid any of us had ever known.  He was 6’3″ and 240 lbs. of pure muscle before he entered high school.  I’d known him since we were 8.  About the time I started college, life got crazy; too many changes happened too suddenly and I developed a hair trigger.  Our group was large and diverse, and trouble abounded – with me in the thick of it.  But every time I got in over my head, my buddy’s huge arms would close around me, pick me up,  and remove me from the situation.  I could struggle against him, cry in his big leather bomber jacket, or just snitch the flask from its pocket; he was always there when I was in need.  I was safe with him.  I imagine this is what God is like, to a certain degree.  His big, strong arms are capable of stopping me or the situation, and nobody dares challenge his authority.  He saves you from yourself just before you become one with the pavement.

Okay, my homeboys are now on the floor, and it may be a minute before the giggles and tears subside.  I told you it bordered on blasphemy, but it’s been a picture in my mind for months.  That man is probably one of the best friends any of us ever had, and I know I’m not the only one from that group who would stand in front of speeding trains for him to this day.

But how many of us will say that about the one who actually allowed himself to be nailed to rough-sawn lumber to die for our misbehavior?  My buddy never even so much as took a punch for me.  And yet we’ve have shaken our fists, denied and cursed the very name of the Creator who made us.   If you have followed the story of Jesus’ life at all, he chose to do it.  He is recorded, several times, as having disappeared from the midst of a crowd when necessary.  He could have done so again at any time.  But he chose to put the problem to death, once and for all, so that it could not endanger me anymore.

It seems so pitiful that all I have is “thanks” to offer in return.  He asks me to live offensively and lean into every situation put before me, just as He did.  But I won’t do that on a “Thou Shalt”.  I’ll only do that for (or with) a known, trusted friend.  I must develop a relationship with the one who saved me, so that He knows me well and I begin to trust Him with my everyday safety.

Maybe that’s why I’m still drawn to live on the dangerous side.   I’ve been plucked from the clutches of death now several times for the sake of righteousness, whether it be the integrity of my car’s roofline or my son’s life,  and I’ve realized that my Savior is real.  Just as real as the warm, leathery smell of that black bomber jacket, I know God is there.  He’s not giving me stuff, and I don’t need him to.  He’s already given all He needs to.  I am living within reach of hell, and I feel the heat.  The other sheep in the flock already have their safety assured.  With the shadow of my savior in my periphery, I am encouraged to venture out to other rebels who are just as tired of being alone in the rough waters as I am.    I can show them there is someone there for them when the tide starts ripping.  Because that’s when we all could use a strong, trusted friend.

“Christ wants not nibblers of the possible, but grabbers of the impossible.”

– C.T. Studd