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First blog post

This is the post excerpt.

As I am bumbling through this blog design process, I realize that this is no different than virtually every other area of my life: it’s not exactly how I planned it, I’m realizing half way through that I don’t really know what I’m doing,  I’m feeling out of my depth (but not too embarrassed to admit it), I’m wondering how everyone else does it and seems to make it look so effortless, and I’m thankful that people are kind enough to encourage me along the way. Technology is not always my friend, but WORDS are! And since I am nothing if not verbose, unmarried, and the parent of a male child who cannot possibly receive all the words I have to share, I am very grateful for this venue which allows me to share them with anyone who is interested. God bless you!

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The Humbling Tasks of Life; Changing Us For the Better

Today, my teenage son and I were out tip-toeing through the tulips in our back yard. That’s the euphemism I use for picking up dog poop. Three weeks and two dogs worth of it and with as much rain as we’ve had this winter it was not only so much, but so, so squishy! Among the humbling tasks of adult life that I have willingly taken on, this is the worst! I say willingly taken on, because I adopted my son, so I willingly took on the role of parent and all the humbling tasks that come with meeting the needs and looking after the bodily functions of another human, or as one young mother explained to me, being responsible for all the in-put and out-put of their bodies for a surprisingly long time. I was coerced into the first animal, a rescue dog, Jack, and didn’t put up a very convincing fight when talked into getting the second rescue, a kitten, Rosie. The third animal, another rescue dog, Gus, I will fully take credit, or blame, for as the case may be. They are equal parts hard work, comic relief, disaster, and joy. OK, that describes parenting, too, but more expensive and with an eternal soul at stake.

Garbed in my raggedy clothes, ‘back yard’ shoes, surgical gloves and carrying a garbage bag, I was carefully picking my way through the land mine, picking up the squishy nastiness as I went, my fingers numb from the cold, my back aching from bending over, and thinking to myself, “If ever there was a task worth paying someone else to do, this would be it. If I can cut my budget somewhere else to cover the cost, I definitely should do it.” Ten feet away from me, his phone playing R & B music from his pocket, wearing his ‘back yard’ shoes and rubber gloves, and carrying a trash bag, was my teenage son, doing the same nasty task, pausing periodically to kick a ball for the two dogs who were playing gleefully around us. At one point, he paused to say, “You know, I think getting dogs was the best thing we ever did.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I made him repeat himself, “Pardon me?” He said it again, “I think getting dogs was the best thing we ever did. It gets us outside. We do things together. We’re more active. It’s good for us. It’s really good for YOU. No offense.” I liked the disclaimer, and he was right. It has been good for me. OK, it has destroyed our back yard, wrecked our floors, and cost me a lot of time, effort and money. But I am outside, we do things together, and I am more active.

But, there was something so much more valuable about this humbling task: the lesson of doing something unpleasant that needs to be done for the good and care of another, or for the good and care of the family. I stopped, stood up (with some effort, straightening my aching back) and said, “Son, if you can do this, you can change a diaper, and if you can change a diaper, you can be a better husband and father than many men.” He laughed and said, simply, “Truth.” But, seriously! How much of life is composed of humbling, unpleasant little tasks that are a necessary part of survival, growth, character building, and loving those nearest and dearest to us by SERVING them in the most menial ways. Is this not the example God, Himself, set for us by Jesus washing the disciples feet, written about in John 13? Or, by the parable that Jesus told of the Serving Master in Luke 12? Jesus spelled it out in absolute terms in Matthew 20: 26 “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see any shame in hiring someone to do something that you cannot or don’t want to do yourself, especially if you have the means to do so. It provides an honest day’s work for someone else, willing and able to do it, and is supporting them and possibly their family.  But some of our sweetest times as a family, our most intense learning moments, have come from doing the hard and unpleasant things ourselves. Nothing says ‘we’re in this together’ like bonding over bags of dog poop.

I don’t know how long my poor, old back can handle some of these tasks, and soon my son will be too busy with sports and friends and a job to help me. But, for now, laboring side by side through the humbling tasks of life is a good thing. And hopefully, someday, when faced with a mess to clean up or a diaper to change, he’ll say, “Of course I can do it. I don’t mind. It’s no big deal.” and he’ll know that missing out on those humbling tasks of life is missing out on an opportunity to serve someone with love.

 

~ Love is Risk, and humbling

Here I Stand

“Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me, God.” these are the infamous words of Martin Luther upon being asked to recant his testimony. Although I have not heard such eloquent words from the mouth of my teenage son, and he is certainly not as spiritually minded as Luther, I am beginning to hear, forming in his jumbled ideas put to words, the same concept. It fills me with equal parts exasperation, pride and trepidation.

At first, it presented as frenetic energy. He was all boy (XYYY!), ADHD, and with a rough start in life he had a fighter’s will to live. He came at life with a little fist raised in the air and an ornery glint in his eyes. But by the time he was in grade school, it just seemed like outright defiance. In middle school, when he was taller and stronger than almost everyone (including some of the teachers), he was perceived as threatening. And now, we have arrived at high school; finally, the behavior issues, the acting out, the defiance, the non-conforming has matured enough to articulate the thoughts into a voice, and – it can be powerful and profound at times. And what does my little scrapper who has grown into a big challenger have to say? If I am surprised to find him wise beyond his years, I am not surprised by the things that he observes. I have been observing the same things my whole life, although it took me till the age of 50 to really find my voice to speak out, and the courage to take a stand in life-changing ways.

On the morning of my 53rd birthday I had a conversation with a close friend who is also over age 50. He expressed in eloquent terms that at this time in his life, acknowledging his own mortality, knowing that he is past the mid-way point in years, he is less likely to waste time and energy on things that don’t matter; matter for the Kingdom of God here and now, matter for eternity, and that do not enrich his life and the lives of those he loves and who love him. He asked if I agreed. I put it in terms that are much less eloquent. When I turned 50 something changed in my approach to life. I called it the, “I don’t give a sh** switch”. Somehow, the switch got flipped and my life would never be the same. I was no longer willing to stay in jobs where I was miserable, I would not pursue relationships that were not reciprocated, I would no longer remain silent and would speak the truth without fear, and I would tackle the challenges of my life unapologetically the best I could with the resources that God provided. “How’s that working for you?” you might ask. Well, honestly, at times it’s been barely controlled chaos, and at times, it’s been painful and lonely. At times it’s been absolutely liberating and enlightening, and I have been closer to God and his true purpose in my life than ever before.

At some point, my son went from being blissfully unaware, to along for the ride, to an active participant in my journey. As a teenager he certainly deserved to know about the changes that would affect our family and at times, he would have a say in the decision-making process. As I grappled with situations in which my faith, integrity, character and strength were challenged, we were both daily faced with the consequences of him living life with XYYY and ADHD. But it was more than that. Over the years as he became more articulate I began to perceive the common thread of what he would not, could not tolerate: Those who wielded power indiscriminately or unjustly – in education, in sports, in church, in socio-economic status. Anyone who was disingenuous – friends who were fickle or disloyal, adults who made promises they didn’t keep (and he remembered everything!). And those who wasted his time and energy with things that did not matter to him… or even to them.

I don’t remember when, but a change occurred in the lectures I gave him regarding being disruptive, getting poor grades, or challenging adults. It changed from, “Those are the rules. Your behavior has consequences. You need to learn from your mistakes.” to, “I know it shouldn’t be this way, but it is. You have to decide what your goals are and what it’s worth to you to make this work. And, yes he/she may be a jerk, but there will always be jerks in your life and they have power over you. You need to learn to deal with them. And when it comes to a matter of your own integrity and you have to take a stand, be ready to count the cost. Because there will be a cost.” This is something he understands. The cost. In the last three years he’s watched his mother, his only parent, lose jobs, friends, social networks, and church families, from taking a stand on the things I could not and would not tolerate. As it turns out… the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The very same things my son takes issue with are my own points of no compromise: When power is wielded indiscriminately or unjustly, when people are disingenuous, fickle and disloyal, and when people waste time and energy (and money, I would add) on things that don’t matter.

Recently, my black son, nearly came to blows with a white member of his football team. Bear with me. There’s a reason I am describing them by race. A coach saw the situation escalating, intervened and, in the process, chose to single my son out as the ‘problem’ and began berating him in front of the entire team. My little scrapper turned BIG challenger refused to back down and in a screaming match with the coach informed him that he’d been receiving racial slurs and attempted bullying for months from this team mate and he had been handling it alone, but, at that moment, he was no longer willing to tolerate it. And he would not tolerate bullying and humiliation from the coach, either!  The coach apologized. The team mate was dealt with appropriately. A rare victory. And a huge one! He endured petty abuse without rising to the bait to engage in retaliation, but at the same time proved he was not going to be intimidated; not by a peer, and not even by a powerful adult. I could not have been more proud! But, it made my heart ache for days knowing that my son’s courage and strength could have cost him the thing most dear to him: being on the football team.

This brought about the most raw and honest conversation we have ever had on the subject. When is it worth it to take a stand?  When it violates God’s Law; absolutely worth it, every time. When it brings harm to yourself or others; worth it, of course. And when it violates your moral character; this is harder to discern, especially when you’re a teenager. (I think you ought to try to have it figured out by the time you round the bend to 50!) What if your lecherous lush of a community college professor wants you to write a paper on why marijuana should be legalized… and you don’t agree with him, but you’ve taken really good notes in his class and know exactly what he wants to read in your paper for him to give you an A? What if a police officer is an arrogant a**hole (yeah, I’ve been pulled over by one of those, have you?)… but smiling and nodding will get you out of a $300 ticket? What if your boss is a cruel, immoral jerk (we’ve all worked for one, right?)… but you have a child depending on you to bring home a pay check? What are your goals? What is your point of no compromise. Consider the cost.

I have had plenty of time to consider the cost, after the fact, after the act. I can honestly say I’ve had more regrets about not acting sooner and taking a stand when I knew something wasn’t right, wasn’t healthy, wasn’t God honoring, but practicality, responsibility, self-protection, and yes, of course, plain old complacency immobilized and trapped me in comfortable patterns and habits. In this respect, my son became my inspiration as well as my frustration. The words I heard coming out of my own mouth were: “I’m not having it! Not any more.” Perhaps not as eloquent as Luther’s proclamation, but, genuinely mine.

It seems fitting that I end with this quote by another Martin Luther (King Jr.) “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This rang true like a little bell in my head. I am so grateful for the very few, very faithful friends who have stood by me, who seek out the Truth, even when it is painful, and have counted the cost of their own stand. This, perhaps, is the greatest revelation of all, to discover who else is standing when you rise and take a stand.

 

~ Love is Risk, Take a Stand

 

With a Smile and a Tear

As I scrolled through First Day of School photos, Back to School ads, and nostalgic memories on Facebook, this statement came across my feed: “Well, it is the start of another school year. By the end of June, I wonder how many students will have been gunned down.” What a thing to say as all the parents are sending their precious children back out into the world, with no other choice but to do otherwise! I challenged the person who posted it for being insensitive and ill-timed, however well-meaning. But, of course it made my heart race, and raised my blood pressure, just thinking about it. And think about it I most certainly did! Of the multitude of things I have been worried about, that was probably down around #12 on the list of things to obsess about for my son who would be a freshman in four days. But, now, along with, #1 Graduating, #2 Having meaningful relationships with those who are good influences, #3 Finding a passion and developing a focus for adulthood, #4 Excelling at sports and having a great time, this one was usurping #1 to bump all the rest down a notch: STAY ALIVE!

It’s not as if we don’t have enough challenges to contend with at school. Nothing, I mean NOTHING, comes easy with this kid. He has learning challenges, behavioral challenges, attitude challenges. It’s not as if, since I’m his mother, I think he’s amazing and his teachers just don’t see how special my little darlin’ is. I’m dealing with all the same challenges they are, PLUS! And they do recognize his potential; the charm, the wit, the heart, the sheer magnitude of his personality, and, yes, his intelligence, even when it doesn’t translate onto a page or compute into a test score. But, day after day, week after week, month after month, he challenges them to their very core, and eventually, almost all of them reach their breaking point and give up on him. They can do that. He’s just one of many hundreds, perhaps thousands of students over the years. I can’t give up. I won’t. I’m his mother. His only parent. His only immediate family. It’s us two against the world. And even when he is fighting against me, I’m still fighting for him. This is something he may never understand.

But here we are, on the brink of high school; the gateway to adulthood. During the next four years he will learn to drive, have his first girlfriend, have his first job, have his first opportunity to vote. SO MUCH ADULTING! Part of me screams, “He can’t even match his socks! He’s not ready!”, and part of me says, “This is what we both want. A man, not a boy. Yes. A man.” But, that’s operating on the assumption that he will live to see adulthood. And if there is anything current events have taught us it’s that there are no guarantees. Of course school shootings are only one danger, probably the least of them, statistically: car accident, drug overdose, suicide. You see where the mind of a mother could go if you let it. Does yours go there? No? OK, maybe it’s just me.

I’ll bet it’s not just me.

Every time we hear or read of a tragedy, have a close call, or lose someone close to us, we ponder our mortality and the fragile and precarious nature of the lives of those we love the most. How do we cope with the somber and morbid nature of sadness and death while still embracing the joy and beauty of life? We do it just as we raise our children each day, if we are able, when given the opportunity; embrace them tightly, love them fiercely, and release them bravely with a smile and a tear.

It is now the night before the first day of high school. As is par for our family course, we are completely unprepared. My son has not done his laundry and hasn’t picked out what he will wear. I gave him an entire summer to figure out if he wanted to buy new clothes, and, being the procrastinator that he is, he waited till today and has no new clothes to wear for the first day. On my lunch hour, it occurred to me that I should check to see if there were school supplies that needed to be purchased for a high school student. There were a paltry few items, which he could not care less if he has, and, being the procrastinator that I am, I will be digging pencils, pens and paper out of my desk drawers to put in his backpack. (Feel free to insert an ‘apple and tree’ idiom, here.) I’ll pack entirely too much food for him, which he won’t eat because he’ll be too busy networking with all his peeps. And he’ll be up all night, not sleeping because he’s too nervous, then, fall asleep an hour before he has to get up and I’ll have to hire a team of horses to drag him out of bed before I leave for work in the morning and even so, he’ll admit to me that he was almost late. That’s just how we roll.

Tonight there was a Back to School Barbecue at the high school so the students could pick up their schedules and the kids and families could mingle. He had football practice till late, and was tired, so, even though the school is practically across the street from our house, when he asked I agreed to drive us to the event. “Oh. You’re coming in with me?” he said. Well, yes. It’s for the students AND the parents. Did you not want me to go with you? “Nah, that’s ‘ight, I was just going to hang wit’ my friends, you know?”

Yes, I do know. But, oh, my heart!

I did go in with him. Whether he wanted me to or not. I said Hello to all his friends, and shook their hands. And marveled at the fact that he could work a room like a politician, but still needed his mom to stand in line to get his class schedule, lest he crawl out of his skin in sheer boredom, I eventually left him there and went home to start the load of laundry he did not deal with during the days/weeks preceding, but… did I not explain the whole apple/tree concept? It’s 10:30 pm, now, and I’m still working on his laundry.

I’ll be up at 5 am tomorrow, and, at 6 am, I’ll be hitching the hired team of horses to drag my son out of bed to face his first day of high school. I have no idea what he will wear; I do know that all his clothes are clean and dry. He will have coffee in the pot, which he may or may not drink, breakfast in the kitchen which he may or may not eat, lunch packed, which he may or may not eat, school supplies in his backpack which he may or may not use. And a destiny that is entirely out of my control.

Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” How am I numbering my days? By counting each one significant, even the difficult ones, by counting my blessings, even the small ones, and releasing that which I cannot control with a smile and a tear.

~Love is Risk; I feel it now, more than ever

 

 

 

 

 

Toxic Femininity

“Power to the Girl” was the slogan on the shirt of the woman walking with her two daughters and a son on the riverfront on a sunny Saturday. As I walked with my own son, it made me wonder if she would be wearing a “Power to the Boy” T-shirt the following day. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and guess; probably not. Mostly because I’ve seen a LOT of ‘girl power’ T-shirts, but not a single ‘boy power’ T-shirt. I think we can all agree, for all the talk about personal empowerment, very few people care if our boys feel empowered or not. In fact, if you take any stock in trending culture, mainstream media, and what masquerades as modern psychology, you would deem boys as ‘toxic’ simply for displaying traits that are naturally and uniquely male.

And what is the result? I can see it played out in the life of my teenage son and his friends and classmates; girls who are emotionally out of control and increasingly violent,  brawling with each other and physically abusing the boys. They know that they will get away with it because no one will stop them, and the boys cannot respond because there is a completely understood double standard that if the boys do retaliate or even defend themselves, they will be kicked out of school or end up in handcuffs. The boys have lost all respect for girls their own age and to some degree, females in general. Instead of seeing them as intriguingly different, yet equal, they distrust and resent them. Parents spent the last two decades so intent on trying to empower their girls but far too few of them taught them how to be young ladies who respect themselves and others.

Just a few minutes on the campus of your local middle school will reveal, and I mean REVEAL far more than most of you would want to see: leggings so sheer you can tell the girl (a child of 12 or 13) is wearing a thong, a midriff baring crop-top to show off her belly ring, or a tank top to display her bosom. For contrast: my son got written up for dress code violation because he draped himself in a fleece blanket… that wasn’t his… that he had for five minutes between classes. A former co-worker once proudly told me that her 18 year old daughter thought that any girl or woman should be able to wear anything she wanted if it made her feel beautiful, regardless of the effect it had on anyone else. This obviously is supported among middle school girls and their parents (and the public school system). So… if there is a dress code at school or work, it only applies to males and not females? The rules don’t apply to women? What does this teach our daughters? What does this teach our sons? And does it foster respect between them?

Here’s another situation: an acquaintance posted pictures of herself and her grade school aged daughter online at a women’s rally wearing the symbolic pink hats, which as you probably know represent vaginas. How would feminists feel about a father taking his young son to a men’s rally in which they all gathered wearing penis hats? Then, the proud, masculine father with his young son, both sporting their penis hats, took a picture of them both and posted it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Wouldn’t Mom be proud of her guys?! Can I just pause here and ask what I feel is the most obvious question: why is anyone putting genitalia on their heads? Ew! Is this the ‘equality’ our mothers and grandmothers were fighting for?

As the mother of a son with ADHD and other learning and behavior challenges, I was not unfamiliar with ‘the call’ from the school principal. He was often in trouble when he was young and it was no surprise to me. He was a booger for me, too! One incident comes to my mind, lately. He was in second grade and had gotten into a fight. With whom? Another second grader who happened to be his best friend. By the time I got to the school the two boys were sitting side by side in the office, wiggling and giggling, together. I put my little scrapper in the car and said, “What’s the deal? Why are you fighting with your best friend?” He answered immediately. “That’s how boys do it. We punch it out, then we hug it out, then, we’re still friends. We’re not like the girls. They scratch each other’s faces and pull each other’s hair, or, they say mean things and hate each other forever. Then they can’t ever be friends again. That’s not how boys do things.” Externally, I gave him the obligatory lecture about rules, about fighting, and using our words instead of our fists to resolve conflict. Internally, I felt like the boys had handled the situation in a healthy, manly way. And no, I didn’t punish him. Power to the boys, for acting like… boys! They remain friends to this day.

I think we can all agree that we don’t like boys or men who are violent, macho jerks. It is my goal not to raise one. But, wait. Is it going too far to say that we don’t like girls and women who are violent, macho jerks? I don’t think so. In ’empowering’ girls and women, how is it that the feminist movement has taken on the very male character traits we despise the most about men? As a single mother I have had to ask myself what I want to teach my son that a father, if he had one, would teach him. I’ve done many things I would have and could have deferred to a man because I wanted my son to know that, anyone, man or woman, most importantly, he can do. In addition to the daily killing of spiders, lawn, house and car care, I have been known to knock an opossum off my fence with a stick, chase a raccoon off my roof with a BB gun, run motorcycle riding thugs off my sidewalk, and stop grown men from fighting in the street. What I try not to do? I try not to coach my kid from the sidelines when he plays sports. I try not to discipline him harshly. I try not to distance myself from him, emotionally. If I’m going to be parenting in both roles, father and mother, I’d really like to try to take the best from both. I’d like to be his nurturer, caregiver, confidant and encourager, too. And if he is a parent, I hope he can be all of those things.

So, my question remains, why does the feminist movement seem to be hell bent on espousing the very worst of both genders: macho, bitchy, emotional, violent, oppressive, catty. The Patriarchy, if it ever even existed as it is currently being defined in revisionist pop culture, has not been replaced by a Matriarchy, because there is nothing womanly or familial about it. (It’s every female for herself!) It has become a Feminarchy and males are its second class citizens. If we continue to ‘fight’ for equal rights, I think it’s time that we starting fighting for our boys and men.

You, like me, may be overwhelmed and discouraged by current trends. Honestly, I don’t have answers. All I have is conversations; conversations with my son and any other young men (and young women) who come into my home, my car and my sphere of influence. Respect yourself. Respect others. Be a gentleman even when others aren’t. Stand up for the little guy. Be manly! Lift heavy things, twist off those jar lids, and hold open doors. Get dirty, sweaty and stinky playing sports and working hard doing man’s work. Eat bacon and steak, laugh when you burp and fart, and make off-color jokes with your friends (but not while a girl is in the room). And, if you ever, EVER happen to find a young lady who respects herself and demands your respect, who not only wants to pursue her ambitions, whether that be career or family, but wants you to pursue yours as well, who is brave and strong, but soft and feminine – you better pay attention! They are rare and precious!

And if you are raising one of those young ladies, and she’s around the age of 14, would you mind introducing her to my son… in a few years?

 

~ Love is Risk, Power to the Boys!

 

ZombieMart after 9pm

Feeling adventurous, or foolhardy, I made a late-night trip to ZombieMart. I had a bit of an emergency: I needed contact solution, ice cream and gold fish crackers. You can see how this was urgent. Not to worry; I told not one, but two people where I was going and had them on standby to alert the authorities should I not return home in a timely manner. Shopping at ZombieMart is a mixed bag at any time of the day, but after dark or 9pm, whichever comes sooner is flat out sketchy. The mobile police tower with remote camera surveillance helped for awhile. But that’s gone, now. The ‘zombies’ are back to being free to roam about at will.

Tonight, was fairly uneventful. Only a few people running through the store. I’m not sure what kind of grocery emergency causes people to RUN at top speed through the store, but, they didn’t run into anyone, so, no harm, no foul. There was police activity on the corner, but not in the parking lot, so that was good. (Wait. Maybe there’s a connection there.) I rarely shop there without seeing at least one person being arrested for shoplifting or some sort of disturbance in the parking lot.

But, at 9:30 tonight, I observed many parents with small children, shopping for groceries; and not just diapers, or milk, or formula – full carts of everything. There was a time in my life when I would have questioned the parenting skills of people who take their young children to ZombieMart after 9pm. Why aren’t those little ones home in bed? Can’t they do their shopping at a more decent hour? But, I’ve been humbled too many times by a late night trip to the grocery store. The night before Thanksgiving, even! With my 6 year old, who I lost (or lost me), who then had me paged, first-middle-last name, and I had to do the walk of shame to check stand 6 to collect my child. I oftentimes questioned the wisdom in teaching my child how to have me paged.

I know all too well what choices prompt those late night grocery store expeditions. Sometimes it’s a late shift at work, you’ve run out of milk and toilet paper, there is no other parent to stay home with the child – so, off we both go at 10pm. Sometimes it’s because I’ve chosen to spend a day outside in the park with that child, all day, instead of tending to those chores like grocery shopping. Sometimes we spent the entire day at home in our jammies, napping, watching Pixar movies, eating pancakes and popcorn (because that’s all we had), and couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the house till 9pm on a Saturday because there was no coffee or cereal for Sunday morning. Sometimes, we’ve spent an entire weekend in the hospital with a gravely ill parent/grandparent and it’s Sunday night and we are diving into the coming week, ready or not.

But, this is what I observed tonight: an entire family – together. Mom, Dad and all their children together, happy, cooperating, taking care of business. No matter what time of the day or night, that’s a good thing. A mother with her toddler girl in a grocery cart, surrounded by groceries, and the little girl happily eating a Lunchables and playing with the groceries. Mom looked tired and a little harried, but the little girl had the most adorable little pigtails and I watched Mom hand the empty Lunchables container to the cashier as she came through the check out. Good job, Mom! Your little girl is obviously cared for, you are looking after her needs, probably before your own, and she is completely content at 9:30pm sitting in a WalMart shopping cart. And the tiny mother walking with two even tinier children through the dark parking lot saying to them in Spanish what I assumed to be something like, “Stay close to Mama! Hold my hand! We’re almost there.” She didn’t leave them home alone, and she is making the trip, on foot, in the dark to get whatever it is that her family needs.

I am moved and inspired by these families doing what they need to do to get by, and I am less inclined to be hesitant about going to the grocery store after 9pm. OK, the guy spying on someone around the endcap of aisle 2 was a little weird, but, to each his own. I think the ad slogan for ZombieMart should be: You Do You; just don’t make a mess, and pay for your damn groceries.

 

~Love is Risk, and You Do You when you’re grocery shopping!

A Good Mother

How do you define “a good mother”? A person whose children grow up to be happy and successful? There are people who I considered to be good parents whose children grew up to be disasters. On the converse, there are wretchedly awful parents who have kids who have grown up to be stellar human beings. Is a good mother one who sacrifices everything for her child to the point of disappearing herself? Or, someone who takes a more free range, laissez faire approach and continues to pursue her own goals? Does a good mother read every book, follow all the prevailing ‘wisdom’ and listen to everyone’s advice, or just trust her instincts and wing it?

I got a text from a friend with a toddler daughter early one Saturday morning: “We’re heading to the Easter egg hunt at the park by your house. Do you want to join us?” What a good mom, I thought. I would have never attempted a public event when my son was that age. He was frenetic at best, and a Tasmanian devil at worst, and wrangling him by myself in front of the judging eyes of what seemed to be perfect, two-parent families, with their perfect little kids…. I got enough of those judging eyes just shopping for groceries or playing at the park. “Yes! I’d be glad to come with you!” We were late arriving and feared we had missed it, but, after wandering past the lines of families waiting for pictures with the Easter Bunny, we found out the time had been listed wrong; we were nearly an hour early. We found a place at the roped off area for 0-2 years and waited. And waited.

Beside us at the rope was a young mom with a toddler boy who managed to break away several times and make a run for it under the rope out into the egg hunt area. We quickly lifted the rope as she dove in after him and laughed as we nearly had to do the same several times. As li’l buddy was growing increasingly restless, she began apologizing for him and my friend reassured her, ” It’s perfectly fine, really! Mine is wild, too. It’s the age. It’s OK, we SO understand!” I added, “It’s such a long wait! He’s doing great!” We told her how we had both forgotten to bring a basket and I had to take the hood off my coat and fashion it into a pouch. She said she didn’t have a basket and had gone to the store to buy one. She showed us her basket, with the tag still on it. She was young, but looked like life had been hard; her little boy was healthy and cute, and dressed in an adorable outfit. After an eternity of toddler wrangling, the frenzied chaos of egg hunting began and in less than three minutes it was over. We trudged to the minivan, loaded up the babygirl, now ready for a nap, and headed out. As we pulled out of the parking lot, we saw the young mother with her toddler boy and his Easter basket, sitting on a bench, waiting for a city bus. “Oh, my gosh!” I said, nearly crying, “She rode the bus to bring her little boy to an Easter egg hunt, and stopped at the store to buy him an Easter basket! What a good mother!”

While waiting, my friend and I had been sharing the struggles of raising our children, her’s a toddler, mine a teenager, financially supporting ourselves and managing life on our own; commiserating that other families seemed to make it look so effortless; well-behaved children, comfortably well-off, clean homes and tidy yards, looking so put together. We admitted to each other that in a variety of ways, and at many times we had felt the disapproval and disappointment of people in our spheres; some well meaning and some… not. I put it this way: it’s as if they don’t realize that I know that I’m falling short in nearly every aspect as a mother, as if I hadn’t already identified the areas in which I have failed and haven’t already spent weeks, months or years trying to figure out how to gain back the ground that I have lost, repair the damage I perceive that I have done, or improve our family life. But, in the midst of the guilt-ridden angst, life marches on; there is work and school, sports, bills, meals, laundry, pets, house, yard, car, appointments and the occasional small disaster that must be mitigated. But, as much of a three ringed circus as my life seems, I could not imagine being 20-something, having already faced more trouble and heartache than my years should allow, and riding a city bus with a toddler to an Easter egg hunt.

As the mother of a teenager, who is also a child with challenges, I have heard perhaps more than my fair share of hateful words meant to land a blow in the heat of the moment, but never intended to leave a permanent mark. Any experienced parent must learn to let those words drop to the floor and just sweep them out the back door. But the words I choose to keep are the rarer ones; the ones spoken when I am having a well-deserved meltdown. It usually has to do with my inability to manage something very simple on my own that I feel like I should be able to handle, or being blindsided by criticism from an unexpected source, or simply being worn down by the fight and nearly to the end of my strength. It doesn’t happen often, and I rarely let my son see it, but, when it does, his response is always the same, “Mom, you shouldn’t worry about what other people think. You’re a good mom. We might not do things like other families do, but you’re doing the best you can. I know I don’t always show it, but I appreciate that.”

I can only hope in his own simple way, this is my son offering me grace for my imperfect parenting. Most of us as adults are able to recognize that, although our mothers were not perfect, they also did the best they could and we look back at our childhoods with immense gratitude for the love and care we received and how much they gave of themselves and how much of their practical wisdom we carry with us every day of our lives. And we hope and pray that one day our own children will think the same of us. I was reminded of this passage of scripture in a sermon on this Mother’s Day Eve: Ecclesiastes 3:11-14. If it isn’t too sacrilegious, I thought I would personalize it to mothers. “He has made everything beautiful in it’s time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of mothers; Yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for mothers than to be happy and do good while they live. That every mother may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all her toil – this is the gift of God. I know that everything that God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it, so mothers will revere him.” I find this to be both comforting and humbling; God will work out His will in my life and the life of my child – with me and in spite of me. Amen; so be it.

 

~Love is Risk, and imperfect… but God’s love is perfect.

 

 

Uber Driving for Eighth Grade Boys

It was announced from the back seat of my car, tonight: “You’re like an Uber driver. I should like pay you.” There was much agreement and laughter from the other three 14 year old boys in the car. No surprise. There was no cash forthcoming.

It started with one boy who lived a few blocks from our house. He lived with his great grandmother who doesn’t drive. Hardly an inconvenience. Then we added the boy who lives on the other side of the tracks, (he actually lives on the other side of the rail road tracks) and I found out was walking a long, dark stretch of bridge over the rail yards into his own sketchy neighborhood to get home after football practice. Oh, HELL, no. Get in the car; I’m driving you home.

Over the last six months of the school year, I’ve learned the tell-tale signs as I pull up to the school to pick up my son after sports practice: a tight cluster of boys, a shy wave and a charming smile from a boy I may or may not know, my son approaching first to say, casually, “He needs a ride. That’s OK, right?” then with a reassuring shout, “Come on, get in!” Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s three. I’m getting better about keeping my back seat clear of junk. Two questions always come to mind as I’m driving to parts of the city I have never seen before, and all manner of abodes: why aren’t their parents picking them up and, what were they going to do if I hadn’t agreed to take them home?

I’ve learned that teenage boys are terrible at giving directions! I would ask for addresses and just use my GPS like any self respecting Uber driver, but a couple of them regularly ask me to drop them off at corner gas stations or mini-marts. The ones who are dropped off at a corner discuss it with each other with such normalcy; “I go to S&S.” or, “I get dropped off at “Goody’s”. If I ask myself why we have never been allowed to see their homes or why they are on such familiar terms with these drop off points it makes me want to cry. I’m pretty sure Uber drivers aren’t supposed to cry. I’m also sure that other drivers overhear some really enlightening conversations from their riders, like I do. As a person of many thoughts and words, not to mention, a MOM, my biggest challenge is to refrain from interjecting into the conversation unless invited, which is rare. Most of the time I just drive, ask for directions, ask an occasional question, listen and sometimes go through the McDonald’s drive through.

I love how grateful they all are, including my own son, as I make my rounds through the downtown alpha/numeric grid. Middleschoolers are, for the most part, an ungrateful lot, but a ride home on a cold, dark night in a car full of their laughing friends – this makes them grateful. I love to correct them when they swear with a “Hey, now, watch it!” and hear a voice from the back seat reply without skipping a beat, “My bad.” I love to hear them all call out as each boy bails out of the car at their respective stops, “Love you, Bro!” every time. I love watching them do a silly walk or a goofy dance on their way out of the car or up to their door, just to make each other (and me) laugh. And mostly, I love delivering them safely home. To what kind of home, I do not know, but at least they are not alone in the cold, dark city.

There are days and nights when I am tempted to feel annoyed and inconvenienced as my long day is made even longer driving other people’s children home, not to mention my gas tank dwindling. Then, I remember, the time is soon approaching when my Uber services will no longer be needed and these boys, these precious children, will be navigating the cold, dark streets, and their lives, on their own and I won’t be able to deliver them to their destinations.

Shut up and DRIVE!

 

~ Love is Risk

Cracking the Code

Reading my teenager’s texts is an exercise in code cracking. Last night, I texted my son, “Dude, it’s snowing!” He answered: Fr   (I placed spaces because, of course, there was no punctuation.) In a rare moment of insight, I actually knew what that meant: For real! I answered back, proudly, “Heck, yeah, Fr!” I got no further response. Sometimes it’s a brand that challenges me. A few weeks ago, he shared a photo on his phone of a pair of basketball shoes, the logo was, KD. “Mom, aren’t these cool?!” I’m pretty sure he didn’t say ‘cool’ but I don’t remember what the word/phrase du jour was, at the moment. It’s not ‘the bomb’ – that’s terribly out of date. I do know that. (I tried it. It didn’t go over well.) I pretended to intensely scrutinize the shoes wracking my brain for the handful of basketball players I know of for one with the initials KD. I suck at this game! And, come on, now, anyone who knows me, knows the NBA is not my thing. If I had a fighting chance, it would be NFL players. I launched a Hail Mary and said, casually, “Oh, Kevin Durant has a line of shoes, now?” He replied with his usual half syllable, “Y” Which means, affirmative. (I can’t really spell it phonetically; it’s not quite yeah; not ye, or ya, or yuh. Maybe it’s, yh?)

The other day I sent him a text at school since he hadn’t been feeling well. He responded stating he was OK and sent an emoji of a brown person head. (He’s black and I’m white, for those of you who don’t know.) I have yet to find a white person head that properly represents me, so, I have chosen to use a zombie woman head with a nice haircut. At some point the thread, taking place during school and work, mind you, resulted in a code I could not break. I showed it to my coworkers. I googled it. It was a mystery too deep to plumb. I typed, “What the… what?!” He responded only, “Exactly :-)” After much thoughtful consideration I sent a deceptively simple reply: “ZFLR! (white person emoji hands, raised)” Honestly, I’m not sure what the emoji hands raised is meant to symbolize, do you? “Woop, woop!” or, “Double high five!” or, “Hollah back, Girl!” or, “Thank you, Jesus!” I do, however, know what ZFLR stands for: absolutely nothing. Feel free to use it if you feel so lead. Maybe it can become a thing. When faced with a code you cannot break, simply respond ZFLR! I think choosing your own emoji will give it a personal touch.

Some abbreviated versions of words just look stupid and I refuse to acknowledge them, such as, ‘sum’ for some. Yeah, homey don’t play that. (Don’t try saying or texting that to a teen – hopelessly out of style.) But, SOME abbreviations are rather formally spelled out, such as, instead of alright, it’s simply shortened to, ‘ight’. Hey, I respect the g-h-t! I can get behind that. Then, there are the words that will probably be obsolete in the moments it takes me to publish this, so I won’t bother listing many, but maybe just a couple of my favorites. At the top of the list would be ‘extra’. Wait, I’ll use it in a sentence and maybe you’ll catch on. “Look at him standing there after the football game, acting all EXTRA.” as in, full of himself, over the top, too much! Then, there’s ‘low key’, which, when I first heard him say it, I thought he was referring to Loki, of Norse mythology. While I knew that was a Marvel character and the movies are wildly popular, I didn’t understand how anyone could manage to use the name in a coherent sentence. After a week of catching it on the fly (Nope. Can’t use that phrase with a teen, either – it’s an antique) I had to admit defeat and blurted out, “You keep saying, ‘loki, loki’, what does that mean?” Without the slightest trace of condescension he explained in a manner I will not even try to reproduce, that it meant something akin to ‘just between you and me’. “Ohhh… low key, I totally thought you were saying Loki, as in Thor’s brother.” (Probably shouldn’t have used ‘totally’ in that sentence. Dangit!)

Some trends have come back around, much to my delight. Very recently I responded to a teenage tale of woe appropriately, and most importantly, briefly, with, “Well, that sucks.” and heard in reply, “Word.” And, I confess I have become fond of using ‘BTW’ while texting. However, I stubbornly spell out S-E-E and Y-O-U, every time, and my commas, apostrophes and periods all appear in their rightful places, even though I have to navigate to a different screen to find them. I’m hoping I am sending a subliminal code to my son, “Dude, low key; it’s ‘you’re’ not ‘your’ if you are using it as a contraction. Fr. And if I text you ZFLR! (white person emoji hands, raised) don’t act all extra.”

Now that I think about it… it’s Bruh, not Dude, at least it was yesterday.

 

Love is Risk ~ ZFLR!

Equal Rights for ALL?

Do you think of yourself as a “social justice warrior”? Maybe you are uncomfortable with that term, or have even come to dislike it as I have. Perhaps you are a person of faith and identify with a particular religion, or a person of deep convictions without any religious affiliation. Quite possibly you are deeply conflicted about faith and religion and yet still care deeply about people, animals, the earth and doing right. Believe me when I tell you, I get that, and I respect it. As a person of religious affiliation, I have spent many years feeling conflicted about my faith, and at times I might reverse that and say, as a person of faith I have spent many years feeling conflicted about my religious affiliation. I am very secure in the struggle – God is big enough to handle it.

Though I am what most people would consider ‘conservative’ both in my politics and my lifestyle, my personal circumstances have given me a different perspective on the social issues of sexism and racism. Having lived most of my adult life as a single person, and having to navigate corporate America, society as a whole, and the Evangelical Church as a single woman, I would not have been able to support myself financially, maintain relationships, own property, serve in the church, and the biggest challenge of all – adopt a child, without finding my voice and fighting some battles along the way. Of course, I had no idea the battles I’d be waging as the mother of a son with learning challenges and who is a person of color. When he was little and cute, and believe me, he was adorable, the challenges were ours and ours alone (and his daycare providers). He was, and is, a challenging kid to raise. But, there were a few years when I almost felt as if race wasn’t even a factor in our family dynamic or in our community; as if we were living in a magical little pocket of the country where racism had been eradicated. Then he entered the public school system. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, chalk it up to personality conflicts and having a difficult child, by the third grade it was rearing it’s ugly head. Undeniable racism. By age 12 he looked like he was old enough to drive; he wasn’t little and cute anymore. He was a handsome, black, young man, and I was on high alert. What did that man say to you? What did you get written up for in school? That girl did what? At times it’s very subtle, something we call the creepy stares; when we walk into a store or restaurant and we both feel it immediately. “It’s like they’ve never seen a black person before.” is how he describes it. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, we remember and rarely return to that place. Let me be clear: we have never experienced a violent or criminal act against us, but the words and actions of others on a daily basis have, at times, left my son feeling defeated, angry and depressed… and this mother grieved, filled with rage and often fearful.

So many of you, I am very certain, given the chance to support me in my efforts to live life on my own terms as a independent woman, and to stand up for my precious son in the face of racism would do so in a heart beat – because you believe in equal rights, for all people, regardless of their gender or their race. You’ve been championing these causes, some of you, since before they became ‘official’ causes. You may even have taken it beyond a personal level and are involved in community activism. But the times, they are achangin’, and you may soon be called upon to reexamine your own values and convictions as to whether you really do believe in equal rights for ALL people. Are you open minded enough to explore that with me right now?

Let’s put my precious boy in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and on this day, along with his favorite Jordan shoes and Nike shirt he is wearing a MAGA hat and standing with a group of classmates who are being harassed by adults with vile racial and homophobic epithets. Would you stand with him there? Would you step up in the face of overt racism to protect my son from hateful people? And if you are willing to stand in the gap for my black boy, would you do it… if he was white? Does one child deserve protection and advocacy more than another simply because of his race, or do we fight for ALL children to have a voice, a choice, a future, and to grow and live in an environment of peace and tolerance?

I know you believe that a woman has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I do, too. I’m living, freely, and doing my best to be happy. We’re together on this, right? But, at what point does a woman NOT get the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? When she’s fourteen? When she’s four? When she’s four months? When she’s four hours? Four minutes before she’s about to be born, and a different woman, separate from her, quite possibly acting in response to something a man has done to her, or because a man has abandoned her, or because a man doctor who is either advising her or ready to do the deed himself, makes a decision that the younger woman does not have even the right to live. So, why do “Women’s Rights” support one woman in that situation, and not the other?

Are you still holding solid to your belief in Equal Rights for ALL, or is it just equal rights for people of color (who don’t wear MAGA hats) and women of a certain age?

Nowhere do the issues of sexism and racism become more connected than in the abortion debate. Let’s talk about Sex-Selection Abortion, The Real War on Women, which is an actual study done in 2016. What is the most effective way to kill “Women’s Rights”? Well, to kill the women, themselves, before they are even born, of course.  And, the fact that black women are having abortions five times more often than white women, and Hispanic women one and a half times more often than white women, makes it another diabolically effective way to repress people of color; kill them before they even have a chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, again, I’ll ask, at what point does a person of color not have rights? At fourteen? At four? At four months? At four hours? Four minutes before he or she is about to be born?

Who decides who is worthy of the cause (and our support)? The media? A political party? The social trend du jour? Or do we, as individuals of conscience and integrity decide that we believe in Equal Rights for ALL. Males and females of all ages and races; boys who are black or white (regardless of their choice of head wear), women from adulthood all the way down to infants, which includes those who are being disproportionately eliminated from population growth.

Obviously, these aren’t just ‘issues’ for me. They have faces and names and have altered the course of my life forever. A woman who had every reason in the world to have an abortion chose life for her child. Her story is not mine to tell, but think of every sad example you’ve ever been given by pro-choice advocates – it will probably apply to her. She was not capable of being a parent, and her child was terribly neglected and abused as an infant and toddler till he was placed into foster care where he went through five placements before the age of three. I was his sixth, and final, placement. I had the greatest honor of becoming his mother. It took me seven years, three agencies and two home studies to become a mother, and I faced many of the same obstacles to adoption as a single parent on the secular side as I did on the religious side. If I introduced you to my strong, handsome, charming son, now at age 14, would you be able to deny that his life wasn’t worth fighting for? And, if he was white, or Hispanic, or a girl, would my fight for him or her have been any less fierce, and less worth the choice of life that a birth mother made?

At the beginning of this article, I stated that I dislike the term “social justice warrior”. It’s because I don’t believe in social justice. There is only justice; pure and blind – established by an authority greater than any of us. And when applied equally to every human, regardless of race or gender, it endows the greatest right – a life, to make of it what you will.  Are you prepared to defend Equal Rights for ALL?

 

Love is Risk ~ and worth it.

God’s Reboot

I have come to the conclusion that lives, like computers, require a reboot every now and again. Or, maybe it’s just me. I do not take to change willingly or particularly gracefully for that matter, so, God usually has to do the hard restart. It is in my nature to live with the status quo unless it becomes absolutely unbearable or I am forced out of it. Few times in my life have I made a conscious decision to seek out a life-altering change, but when I have, they have been the hardest and best things in my life, among them: living abroad, buying a house and adopting a child. Most other changes were not by choice, at least not my choice.

As I’ve watched the devastation of the wild fires, and thought again and again about how it would be to lose absolutely everything; to run for our lives and be left without a single earthly possession, I have been overwhelmingly grateful that I have had the opportunity for a very gentle reboot of my life. I am thankful each day for my tiny house and every single thing in it which provides comfort, convenience and meaningful memories. I am thankful for my vehicle, old and filthy as it is, which I love to drive and suits our family’s needs so well. I am thankful for my animals who comfort and amuse me every day. I am thankful that, although it is not always easy being the mother of my son, it is never boring, and we are together and growing as human beings and continue to make each other better people.

Within the last five months I lost a career and the friendships that went along with that working world that consumed so much of my life. I walked away from a church I had attended for more than 25 years and with it the social structure and fellowship that was an integral part of my existence. And the final, and trivial, yet, almost symbolic loss: my cell phone – and although I bought a new one it was if I had to rebuild my network, family member by family member, and friend by friend. I’m still working on that.

There have been illuminating, inspiring and humbling lessons in the process. Learning to give AND receive graciously while being unemployed and in transition were both equally challenging to me. I would like to share a simple yet powerful illustration: during the summer and into the fall I have been feeding not only my own ravenous, growing, teenage boy, but an extra boy we picked up – a friend of my son’s who needed a home base, a stand-in mom to offer him not only a safe environment but meals whenever he was at loose ends. This eventually extended to other boys who needed rides and, of course, needed to be fed. “Is this the time for me to be feeding other people’s children, when I don’t have a job and I have no idea how we are going to make ends meet?” I asked God. The answer was quiet and clear: “Trust me.” While attending a new church, I submitted a request for prayer for my job search, which lead to someone contacting me to ask if they could add me to their Thanksgiving Food list. I thought it would be a couple of bags of groceries, so I accepted. The day before I started my new job, a man and woman whom I’d never met arrived with a dolly stacked with five boxes loaded full of food! As soon as I closed the door, I laughed… and cried. I felt like God was teasing me in the most loving way. “Didn’t I tell you to trust me? Wasn’t there always enough to feed those boys? See, now, here’s a truckload of food, just in case you were wondering about the next few weeks.”

I don’t know why God chose to allow us to keep our house, while so many others lost theirs. I don’t know why we got to keep our car and our animals and all our things. He has seen fit to give me a new job; a better job. And we have been extended many gracious invitations to be part of a new-to-us fellowship of Believers; I think I can actually say I have faith that this will happen for us, eventually. Yes, changes for our better, but still… changes I would not have chosen for us, and that brought losses we are still mourning. Isn’t that how it is when you reboot? There are always files that you lose in the process; things that weren’t saved properly or were temporary in nature that you can’t retrieve.

But every once in a while something turns up that you thought you’d lost in the reboot.

I still have hope.

~ Love is Risk, and so is a reboot