Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Next Thing

Day 5 of the Empty Nest. But who's counting? The kids are gone and our house is empty. What to do.

A few weeks ago, as my 24/7-time-to-wake-up-here's-your-sandwich-clean-your-room-don't-forget-your-coat parenting was imminently drawing to a close, I engaged in some heavy duty prayers. I told God how all I know is raising kids and women's ministry. 

The time at our little church where Scott serves as interim pastor is also ending, which means more change on the horizon but I refused to become panicky.

I know myself and I know that I could not handle the quietness of our house and lack of something to do, so I prayed more fervently that God would give us the next thing before those things ended.

Through a series of conversations, emails, texts and connections, God opened a door. Our first empty nest adventure is taking place here, at Camp of the Woods in Speculator, NY. We've been hired to join the summer staff for the next seven weeks. 

This is where you'll find Scott and me. In our own little cabin in the Adirondacks. It has a porch! Just big enough for two. Perfect. 

 
We are excited for the change of scenery and to serve the Lord by serving people. I thought I'd tell you about our first week. Orientation.

The thing we noticed right off the bat is that we are old. 

I'd say 90% of the staff is made up of college and high school aged kids. Gulp.

No wonder the man who hired us kept talking about our "maturity" and how our ministry "experience" was something they were looking for. Code words for old people.

So the first day went pretty well as we learned of our tasks. Handing out keys at the beginning of each week, blowing up balloons, greeting guests, setting up rooms for meetings, delivering people and packages on golf carts, carrying a master key for all accommodations, etc. Psh. We've got this.

Then during day two I learned some new words. Words I'd never actually heard before. Our supervisor/trainer told us we would becoming certified belayers that afternoon. Excuse me? Come again? What might a belayer do? Then he said, "Meet me at the climbing wall after lunch."

I knew this wasn't going to be good. I've attended many a retreat here through the years and hanging out at the climbing wall has never been where you'd find me.

Well, I did ask God for something to do this summer. Begged, in fact. Gulp again. When you say yes to a position called Guest Services, this is never what you imagined to be a part of your job responsibilities. 

So after lunch we went to the climbing wall. Did I mention 90% of the staff are kids? Make that 98% in this particular situation. That's right. All kids except Scott and me. The first thing they told us to do was put on a harness.

I'm sorry, but I have to stop here. You may not know this about me, but I hold to a few personal policies. One is to never wear a harness. Ever. Unless, of course, I'm dangling from an airplane about to crash into a mountain. Maybe then. 

I looked at Scott. He grinned. Yeah, real funny, buddy. I quickly sent a family text to all of my kids. "Mayday! Personal Policy Violation! They want me to put a harness on to learn how to belay. Is belay even a word?"

You can imagine all the support (and emojis) I received. No pun intended.
I put the harness on.
Do you even know what belaying is?  Here's what Merriam Webster has to say: "Definition of BELAY. 1: the securing of a person or a safety rope to an anchor point (as during mountain climbing)."

Then I watched and listened to the whole demonstration of what they would be expecting us to do. I was to use my body on the ground to anchor a person (of any size) who would climb the wall while I perform a series of rope tricks secured through carabiners and GriGris. Another made up word. Have you ever?

I began to sweat and feel a little nauseous. I mean, adventure is one thing but holding someone's life in my hands, literally? 

Then this: "Before we can certify you, we want you to get into groups and practice belaying and climbing. Belay three people and climb the wall three times."

I don't think so. That's it for me.

I had to believe at this point that a 47-year-old mother of three could opt out of this one little thing. I mean really, with this room full of certified belayers (if that really is a word), would they seriously call on me in an emergency? How about I just sign people in?

An executive decision had to be made quickly. I took the harness off and sat down to watch everyone else, willing to take whatever punishment I deserved. 

A few of the overachievers noticed and tried to motivate, "You can do it! It will be fun!"

Yeah. No.
Turns out, I got away with it. No one seemed to notice. We were to come back a few days later for the certification. I didn't go back.

Next stop, help at the TeePee. Look what we got to do here - practice making ice cream cones. This is more like it! Lucky for me working at an ice cream stand was the very first job I ever had. Scott, however, didn't have any experience to fall back on. As you can see.


But everybody loves Scott. So no biggie. And we got to eat our cones no matter how weird and warped they came out. Very cool.


Did I mention driving the golf carts...or limos as they are referred to? Now this training was fun although I admit I'm a little nervous to drive people around on these sometimes bumpy roads. Please pray I don't dump anyone off. Not that I think I'll get much driving time. Surely this is the main reason the kids work in this department.


Entering the workforce, so to speak, after all these years has rattled me a bit. My confidence is low and my insecurities high which I'm just taking day by day.


Scott had to go back home for a few days to finish up at church so I've been by myself, except for my good friend Sandy next door who is a pro at working and living here. This helps immensely.

But, the other night it was so cold I didn't know what I'd do to stay warm. So I layered up and put every blanket I brought on my bed. The next morning one of the kids said, "Don't you have heat in your cabin?"  Heat in my cabin? Why would there be heat at a summer camp? I guffawed (an old people word meaning a loud, unrestrained burst of laughter. A real word.) Kids - always looking for comforts from home.

When I went to my cabin at the end of that day, I saw this staring back at me, plain as day, mocking.


Oh. Hmmm. Well, maybe just a little.
I slept much better that night.
I'm going to be just fine until Scott returns.
As long as the kids (and Sandy) look after me.

There are so many good things about being here. I like meeting new people, listening to the speakers, helping where needed, and being another mom to these young'ns.

Oh and I may or may not have mentioned that all meals are provided. No cooking all summer!

Looking at this view every day....


and night. Beautiful.

And a daughter, very thankful to her Father who knows her well, and has granted this respite from what could have been a very different summer.

Jesus loves me, this I know.
Jesus knows me, this I love.

He is always worth trusting and following. Always.

Pray to your Father in Heaven, who hears your prayers, even the desperate, whiny ones. 

PS. Did you happen to notice that God made it so that my new adventure (the subject of my prayers) started the very same day as the empty nest began?  

Now that is beautiful. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

There She Goes

These weeks have been heavy with activity as any mom of a graduate can understand. Awards ceremonies, prom, last days of school, exams, grad parties, etc. I know, I know, I've been writing a lot about it here lately. This is the last post, I promise.

Like her brothers did, Ally will be attending Word of Life Bible Institute in the Fall. (Shameless plug - if your child - like all three of ours - doesn't quite know what they want to do with their lives upon leaving high school, spending one year studying the Bible and putting it into practice while trying to figure it out is time never wasted-  and nobody quite gives that opportunity like WOL. Ahem, commercial over.)

One of the benefits given incoming students is an opportunity to work at WOL camps for the summer to earn scholarship money. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? But did you pick up on the timing? All summer. A.k.a. immediate departure after graduation.

One might think this would get easier with the third and final child. Yes and no. Truly it is a gift from God that they not only earn the money toward tuition, begin their independence, meet students who will also be there in the Fall and seamlessly transition into the Word of Life culture. Starting school in September is a breeze. A win win!

We could give in to our emotions and keep them home as long as possible but we don't. These decisions come from what Scott calls purposeful parenting. It's a good thing, this leaving a little early, and we are for it.

Our girl is the loudest and most animated (see what I did there, not using the word dramatic?) of all our kids which means it's going to be especially quiet around here.  

But we are not sad. We are proud of her! She graduated tonight. We are so thankful and full of joy for her accomplishment and future.
She leaves us tomorrow.

For her 18th birthday, knowing she would be leaving us a few months later, we wanted to give her an especially meaningful gift. One that might matter to her for a long time. Like most teen girls, Ally is obsessed with (overpriced) Alex and Ani bracelets. I decided to check them out. It was hard to narrow it down until I saw this one. It was worth the splurge and might be my favorite gift I've ever given her.


Dear Ally,

I bought you this bracelet because the dove charm represents the Holy Spirit. As you continue growing up into adulthood apart from us, remember that the Holy Spirit is both with you and in you. Jesus gave Him to you for several purposes:

1. He will remind you what you've already been taught about Jesus.
2. He will convict you of sin (learn to recognize and pay attention to this).
3. He will teach you the Scriptures (so read them a lot). He will help you understand them.
4. He will warn you of temptation and danger (listen carefully and watch for rescue).
5. He will fill and control you daily if you empty yourself, leave room for Him and ask.
6. He will comfort you because He is your friend.

When you look at the bracelet, remember all these things.
And how much we love you,

Mommy and Daddy

PS.  7. He will pray to your Father for you when you don't know how or what to pray for.
Jesus says: "It's better for you that I leave. If I don't leave, the Friend (Holy Spirit) won't come. But if I go I'll send Him to you. When He comes He will expose the error of the godless world's view of sin, righteousness and judgment...
I still have many things to tell you, but you can't handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of Truth, He will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won't draw attention to Himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor Me; He will take from me and deliver to you."  John 16:6-8, 12-14

"Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." Rom.8:26 

What a comfort to me and Scott, that even without us, she will never be alone. God is so good like that.

Her home for the summer.  Man, we love this place.


 And that's a wrap. It's been good.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I'm Going To Miss Her

Well, here we are. Middle of June, racing toward the end of June, which translates - our baby's graduation from high school is days away. Which translates - she grew up and is leaving home soon! Which translates - the beginning of our empty nest season. Which translates - what does a full-time stay-at-home mom do now? Let's just save those last two for another day, shall we? (hint hint)

Today I'm thinking about how much I'm going to miss my girl. Indulge me for a few minutes?

I'm going to miss how she plops down on my freshly made bed to talk but never smoothes out the bedspread. I always know she's been here.


I'm going to miss how she loves to get involved in fun things. Here she is with her Aunt Chris walking in a parade to promote her Uncle Tim's political endeavors.


I'm going to miss her emoji-filled texts from school, when she should be paying attention in class. Here we are chatting about why I don't want her to kiss boys (for awhile). I think she's just messing with me, but I'll take it.


I'm going to miss how when she wakes up too early, she comes out and plops on the couch to sleep a few more hours. And how much she loves soft blankies.


I'm going to miss how she claims to have made her bed. Sheesh. Really?


I'm going to miss how she collects body sprays and lotions. Maybe I'm going to miss her messy room. Nah! Probably not.


I'm going to miss her emptying the dishwasher (and cleaning the bathrooms). More chores for me to do now.


I'm going to miss her school spirit and what she's willing to wear to participate.


I'm going to miss hearing her sing at school and church. Click here to watch one of my favorites from a recent school concert. Her quartet is featured. She's the one on the far left in the sparkly dress. Seriously watch it...you'll enjoy, I promise.

I'm really going to miss our rides to church on Sundays. Here she is in the backseat, half her outfit came from my closet. (I will also miss seeing her in my clothes. Come to think of it, I'd better lock my closet door when she's packing.)

I'm especially going to miss our must-listen-to-playlist of hymns that she insists on every week. It's as hokey as the day is long, but we have fun and good things are growing deep within all of us as we sing and car-dance along. You read it right, we car dance.


I'm going to miss finding pictures like these on my phone.


I'm going to miss our weekly dates to discuss "important things". We are not above bribing. Favorite foods in exchange for her captivated attention and listening ear. Worth every calorie.


I'm going to miss sneaking by her room expecting to bust her for being on her ipod first thing in the morning ("Jesus before Insta") and instead finding her reading her Bible and praying. Oh the shame of a suspicious mother.

I don't have pictures for everything I will miss, like how she and I outnumber Scott and may or may not gang up on him from time to time. Or everyday. How we together make fun of him and talk about "girl things" relentlessly in front of him.

I will miss how most every night this last month she has tried to get Scott to sleep in one of the boys' rooms so she can "sleep with Mommy". And how he never does it, sending her back to her room.

And especially this, I'm going to miss how she grabs Scott and I around the neck for a group hug and says, "I love it when it's just the three of us. You guys are my best friends."

Uh-oh. Where are the tissues?

In short, like her brothers, she will leave a gaping hole in our household. She has filled up our lives with fun and laughter (and challenge and frustration at times for sure), but I am so thankful to have been given the gift of raising this young woman and now sending her out into the world to start her adult life. I think she's ready.

Next stop - graduation. Nine days. I got this.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Worst Top Ten List I've Ever Made

If you would have asked me a few years ago if I was a fearful person, I wouldn't have hesitated answering with a resounding no. I could clearly see God's care and blessing in my life and was enjoying it.

Then the darkness came. And lasted a long time. It lasts still. Some days are a fight to stay positive. To not give in to despair. To not grow too tired of waiting for Him to bring light again.

As a follower of Jesus and lover of God's Word, the Bible, I know the necessary virtue of waiting on the Lord. It's part of our training. Part of His loving us. Good things come to those who wait. Strong roots of faith grow deep when we trust God while waiting. Joy in the sunny times is highlighted after enduring darkness. It's all good.

Until it lasts longer than we think we can bear. It's still dark here and one day turns into the next without much visible change. I'm up and hopeful one day and I wring my hands in prayer the next wondering what I should even be praying for.

Ever been there?

I love how Shauna Niequist puts it in her book Bittersweet. She calls this place 'the middle'.

"You don't know what the story is about when you're in the middle of it. You think you do, but you don't. You make up all kinds of possible story lines: this is about growing up. Or living without fear. You can guess all you want, but you don't know. All you can do is keep walking.

There's nothing worse than the middle. At the beginning you have a little arrogance, loads of buoyancy. The journey, whatever it is, looks beautiful and bright, and you are filled with resolve and silver strength, sure that whatever the future holds, you will face it with optimism and chutzpah. 

And the end is beautiful. You are wiser, better, deeper. You know things you didn't previously know, you've shed things you previously clung to. The end is revelation, resolution, a soft place to land.

But, oh, the middle. I hate the middle. The middle is the fog, the exhaustion, the loneliness, the daily battle against despair and the nagging fear that tomorrow will be just like today, only you'll be wearier and less able to defend yourself against it. The middle is the lonely place, when you can't find words to say how deeply empty you feel, when you try to connect but you feel like thick glass is separating you from the rest of the world, isolating and deadening everything."

Yes. Those are the words I've been looking for. I've read this chapter several times in the last weeks, drinking in the understanding and hope. One day I decided I would journal about the feelings bubbling up. Sometimes writing them down gives them validation and peace follows.

I imagined being asked by anyone who loves and cares for me, "What are you most worried about? What are you fearful of?" There it is, my admission that I engage in imaginary conversations (do you, too?). Then, true to my Type A characteristics, I made a list. 

Within minutes, I listed ten fears. TEN! That alone was startling. Talk about the worst top ten list of all time. What happened to me? To my first day of school faith? My jumping in the deep end even though I can't swim very well faith? Was I letting fear feel safer than trusting God?

Seeing the words on the page though stirred some things inside. Tears first, naturally. Tears of self-condemnation. How can I be so afraid of so many things? Tears regretting that Jesus could rightly say to me like He said to the discipes that stormy night in the boat, "Oh you of little faith, why do you doubt?"** The good news is (unlike me) He doesn't ask the question to condemn, but rather to comfort and redirect focus. To gently underscore, "You can trust Me even when you can't see." So I cry about that too.

I'm embarassed at the number of times I need this reminder. How do I progress past this? Then this morning, a friend posted on Facebook what I've copied below and I was like a deer in headlights. Staring and rereading. Check it out:

"Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee."
Psalm 55:22

Care, even though exercised upon legitimate objects, if carried to excess, has in it the nature of sin. The precept to avoid anxious care is earnestly inculcated by our Saviour, again and again; it is reiterated by the apostles; and it is one which cannot be neglected without involving transgression: for the very essence of anxious care is the imagining that we are wiser than God, and the thrusting ourselves into his place to do for him that which he has undertaken to do for us

We attempt to think of that which we fancy he will forget; we labour to take upon ourselves our weary burden, as if he were unable or unwilling to take it for us. Now this disobedience to his plain precept, this unbelief in his Word, this presumption in intruding upon his province, is all sinful. Yet more than this, anxious care often leads to acts of sin. He who cannot calmly leave his affairs in God's hand, but will carry his own burden, is very likely to be tempted to use wrong means to help himself. This sin leads to a forsaking of God as our counsellor, and resorting instead to human wisdom. This is going to the "broken cistern" instead of to the "fountain;" a sin which was laid against Israel of old. 

Anxiety makes us doubt God's lovingkindness, and thus our love to him grows cold; we feel mistrust, and thus grieve the Spirit of God, so that our prayers become hindered, our consistent example marred, and our life one of self-seeking. Thus want of confidence in God leads us to wander far from him; but if through simple faith in his promise, we cast each burden as it comes upon him, and are "careful for nothing" because he undertakes to care for us, it will keep us close to him, and strengthen us against much temptation. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee."*

This is serious business. I wanted to throw up. What is my problem? Why can't I remember these things? It can't just be my rapid approach to middle age.

As always, I'm so grateful that God doesn't count up how often we need reminding. Instead, He invites us to come close and trust again.

So I pray. And I repent. I imagine God smiling. He knows our weary hearts. He reveals the junk in our hearts for our good, not to cripple us. Then He motivates us to get back in the game. Convinced He is always good, I am willing again to not only wait for His timing regarding all my concerns but also to trust the special attention He gives to every detail. I promise with His help not to sin by trying to take matters into my own hands. Because this...

He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32

and

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Matthew 10:29-31

and

"You may be experiencing little sunshine,but the long periods of gloomy darkness have been wisely designed for you, for perhaps a lengthy stretch of summer weather would have made you like a parched land or a barren wilderness. The soul that is always lighthearted and cheerful misses the deep things of life. Your Lord knows best, and the clouds and the sun wait for his command."***
 
Are you fears crowding out your faith today too? I suggest writing them down, taking away some of their power. Then give every one of them to your heavenly Father in prayer, believing strongly that He will carry them for you because He loves you.

Plain and simple....He loves us. We can put all our trust in that. In Him. And fear not. Because one day we will see.That gave me goosebumps.

*Charles Spurgeon
**Matthew 14:31
***Streams in the Desert
all bold - mine!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

And To Think I Was Worried

A few years ago on a Wednesday night I was sitting in a women's Bible study. When the leader asked for prayer requests, I mentioned my oldest son. He was nineteen and at that very moment on an airplane over the ocean in the dark heading to a foreign country for a mission trip. It was a little unnerving for me that he was doing this without either parent.

A young mom of much younger children than mine piped up. "I just have to say, I don't think I'll ever be able to let one of my kids go on a trip like that without me. I don't know how you are doing it." I smiled at her sweet sentiment, completely understanding it.

After we prayed together, completed our study, and left the room I found that young mom. "To be honest" I said, "it's easier to send a child on a mission trip to another country than it is to release him into the dating world knowing he could give his heart to someone else."

I think I might have scared her. It's true though, at least from my perspective and experience.

When our kids approached the teenager years Scott and I voiced some very strong intentions for them regarding dating. A few examples:
  • We must all (Mom, Dad, child in question and siblings) be ready for dating. (Lots of factors included here.)
  • Both parties must be a committed, maturing follower of Jesus Christ (to keep it simple - godly, funny, cute - in that order.)
  • As the relationship progresses and future commitment is being discussed, the girlfriend or boyfriend must love Scott and me so that our child will never have to choose between spouse and parents.
With my (unhealthy) dating experiences as a reference point, I admit I was fearful and wondered when I would feel ready and would they choose well. I determined to trust God that when the time was right and this person entered the picture, we would all "know".

It wouldn't be too much longer when I would find out. Drew called from college and asked us to pray because he found someone who captured his attention. A few weeks later, he brought Brittany home to meet us. I know now that she was nervous, but I think I may have been even more.

Am I losing my son? Where do I fit in this scenario? What if she doesn't like us?

It was a good weekend and we all liked Brittany. I hoped they would take their time getting to know each other, resisting the urge to get too serious too soon. Thankfully they did and eased us all in gently.

Still, as time went on, I was often preoccupied with thoughts about the two of them, our family and future scenarios.

I remember one day in particular I was alone at Panera, sitting outside with coffee, my Bible, and my then favorite book, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  I also had a journal filled with numbered lines in which I was keeping an ongoing list of people, places, things and experiences for which I was thankful. A list of ways God shows His love for me.

My mind was drifting through many thoughts and prayers, not the least of which was Drew and Brittany's growing relationship. I sensed the following conversation:

Me: "God, how do I let Drew go if this gets serious? What if she's not the right one? What about me? How do I get out of the way (especially if I don't want to)?"
God: "Does Brittany fit your requirements?"
Me: "Yes."
God: "Do you have any reservations?"
Me: (thinking) "No, none. She is wonderful and seems to have what we are all looking for."
God: (probing further) "Why isn't her name on that list you have there?"
Me: (sheepishly and kind of surprised) "She isn't? I'm sure I've got her in there."
God: "No, she isn't."

I flipped back through the pages. Why wasn't her name in my book? I was a little embarassed.

It continued.

God: "You have spent years raising Drew and praying for a young woman to love all the things about him that you love."
Me: "I know."
God: "What if she is my gift to you too?"
Me: "Oh. I didn't think of that." A gift for me? What could that look like?

Then the ugly cry. It was a "go away from me, I am a sinful woman*" moment..

I picked up my pen and started writing.
Everything changed from that moment on.

Please don't miss the order of those two sentences up there. After I gave thanks, everything changed. Blessing follows obedience. Not vice versa.

It never dawned on me that I would benefit with a special relationship with Brittany of my own.

Fast forward four years. Drew and Brittany are getting ready to celebrate their first wedding anniversary next month.

Tomorrow is Brittany's birthday and as a gift and tribute to her, I made a new list!

Things I Love About My Daughter-in-law:
  • She loves Jesus more than anyone and wants to serve Him with her whole being.
  • She loves her Bible and reads it daily.
  • She loves, is respectful to and grateful for her parents and is very close to her siblings.
  • She loves my son. Really loves and understands him. 
  • She laughs at most everything Drew says and does. She's funny and picks on him just like we all do too!
  • She comforts and takes care of him.
  • She is wise and is an equal partner in their marriage.
  • She accepts and loves Scott, me, Ben and Ally.
  • She digs coffee and chocolate.
  • She is a reader!! She loves books. When you ask her what she wants for her birthday or Christmas - she says books! Her book wish list has almost all the same titles on it that mine has (bonus!).
  • She graduated from college with a degree in women's ministry. (my dream!)
  • She is a role model for Ben and Ally as they consider future relationships.
  • She gets on board and enthusiastic about some of my crazy ideas for family activities (and "out there" rules).
  • She is affectionate. Because most of their dating was long distance, her visits involved overnight stays at our house. At bedime, when I started the ritual of kissing my kids goodnight, she would pop right up and eagerly get in line for me to kiss her too.
  • She dresses modestly always (which matters a lot to mothers of sons), respecting both herself and others.
  • She includes me in their lives and tells me stuff.
  • She asks me for advice and to pray for her. 
  • She is concerned for and prays for me.
  • She helps me understand teenage girls. (read as much into that as you like)
  • When we are skyping as a family, she sometimes texts me so we have our own private conversation going at the same time. (I totally love this because the men have no idea.) I didn't say we are sneaky or devious.
And one of my most favorite things....
  • Whenever Drew does or says something she thinks I would like to know or will make me laugh, she texts me, often with a picture, always referring to him as "our boy".
For example:
"Here's our boy reading a book. A real book!"




I mean, for real. (Sinful woman moment.) I'll be right back I have to go get a tissue (again).

Tomorrow is Brittany's birthday. There is no gift I could give her that would express how much she means to me. She is a perfect fit not just for Drew, but for our whole family.  For me.
We thank God daily for bringing this exceptional young woman to us, when we were all ready and in spite of the hyper-overprotective-mommy hesitation I may or may not have felt at first.

Moral of the story: God knows us so much better than we know ourselves and is worthy to be trusted with everything that concerns us.

And parents should feel free to be very involved in their kids' relationships. Just sayin'.

Happy Birthday Brittany. It's your birthday, but clearly we got the gift. We love you.

*Luke 5:8