"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis


Thursday, November 2, 2017

We Are 40


When the sun rises tomorrow morning, I think I might finally feel like an adult. 

I mean, it's been heading that way for some time, what, with my recently realized penchant for Tupperware, my enjoyment of school board meetings, and the realization that sometimes it actually is cold enough to wear a coat. But I've still been 39, still abiding in my yellow decade, bright with youth and promise. So even though I've matured and grown and become a better person, I could still say I was in my 30s. And that doesn't sound so old.

But 40? When I was a kid, 40-year-olds were grown-ups. They had investment portfolios and carried briefcases. They used big words and signed important documents. They wore nylons and dress suits with shoulder pads. Blazers. I've never been a grown-up before. At least, not like that.

But I've always been me. I've always been Joy. And as I cross that magic line tonight and step into a new decade, I'm choosing to accept it as a milestone -- as a celebration of the gift that I've been given -- of getting to be me for an even 40 years. My rate or depth of maturity is up to me. Not all old people are wise. Other people -- young people -- can be astoundingly wise beyond their years sometimes. The human experience has so much depth, regardless of age -- it's undefined by it. Of course, it would be ideal if one's maturity was reflective of their number of years on Earth, and it is in most cases. But people are just people. Just grown-up kids. They're just themselves, at their core, collecting and accumulating life experiences and translating them into some sort of meaning through their own one-of-a-kind filter. 

It's not fair to look at an elderly person and just see an "old fogey," not giving them credit for the person they are inside, for the life experiences they've accumulated. It's also not fair to look down on someone younger and think of oneself as better, more mature. I've thought a lot about this in the last six months. I work with a bunch of 20-somethings -- millennials -- kids that were born when I was in high school. I could have babysat them. I was considering colleges while they were learning to walk. But you know what? They're smart. They're fun. I genuinely like them as people. I recognize that they're smarter than me in a lot of ways, and just as I didn't want to be looked down on when I was their age, it only makes sense that I give them the benefit of the doubt -- get to know each of them for who they are -- their individual cores, their unique filters -- despite the fact that we're currently living in different stages of life.

So 40 isn't what I thought it would look like. It isn't what I thought it would feel like. 

So what does it feel like?

All my life, I've hated doing dishes. Like really hated them. Our kitchen has often showed it, too, and seen the brunt of it. And all my life, I've noticed that my mom, my dad, and my grandma don't necessarily mind doing the dishes. It's not like they like doing them. But when the dishes need to be done, they do them. And I've never understood it. I mean, my grandma is 88 years old; how is she not tired of doing dishes?

So what does 40 feel like? Surprise! It feels like doing the dishes. Like, actually feeling like doing the dishes. Not minding them. Finding a little bit of pleasure and peace in it. 

This is a new development for me, something that's been growing steadily over the last year. But it's true. I find peace in doing dishes, in taking care of what belongs to me, in properly utilizing my resources.  

40 also feels like having a real concept of how much I don't know, of admitting that I don't know it all and that I never will. I love writing and editing. I do it for a living and have often prided myself in being perfect. But am I always right? Absolutely not. Do I make mistakes? All the time. Do I miss things? I did today. I once heard it said that nobody knows more than a college sophomore, and I believe that to be true. The older I get, the more I come to terms with the fact that I don't know what I don't know. And I am absolutely fallible. I am far from perfect.

I'm also getting worse at parking, if that's possible. Every time I walk up to my vehicle after work, I think, "Nice parking job, Joy."

So, this is 40. An ex-know-it-all who enjoys doing dishes and packing my food into Tupperware containers that I then dutifully carry up the elevator with me in to work. A bad parker, yes. But still me. 

Still a word nerd. Still an amateur detective, always curious about the scoop. Still into colorful things. Still into weather and all the things it affects, like pinwheels and wind chimes. Still into good coffee and music. Still into things that smell amazing and taste delicious. Still indulgent, probably to a fault. ;-)

So this next decade will be "emerald" for my funnily wired brain -- not yellow. A bright, translucent, iridescent gem-green will serve as the backdrop for the next 10 years of my life. I think I could do a lot worse.

Hello, 40. I'm still me.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Happy High Schooling

Have I told you about my daughter? The newly-turned 14-year-old? The high school freshman? The math-loving Anglophile? The champion of refrigerated foods' expiration dates and (to my great pride) user of the Oxford comma?

I haven't written in way too long, and I feel somewhat guilty for that. But life has been so busy. I meant to write all summer long; I meant to write around her birthday a couple weeks ago -- a lengthy tribute to 14 years of Ryleyness. But we were just too busy traipsing around Chicago seeing the sights and living.







I suppose now is as good of a time as any. Because tomorrow -- yes, tomorrow -- she starts high school. My sweet little baby girl.

She's a good kid, our Ryley. Much different than I ever could have imagined she'd be when I laid eyes on her for the first time -- she's just completely and totally herself.

We re-did her bedroom this summer. We just painted the purple walls a pretty shade of gray and added teal accents here and there, boxed up all her stuffed animals and gave her an airy space in which to breathe and stretch and grow. As we sorted through all 14 years of her packrat-ness, we basked in the glory that is "Ryley," finding countless little notebooks wherein her six-year-old self had scrawled titles like "Ryley's Memories," or "Things I Love about Mom," followed by blank pages -- no other words -- as she no doubt had become distracted and ended up moving on to the next thing in the way she always has. It was like a tiny little window into the chaotic, beautiful mind of my little girl. We laughed and laughed. We filled an entire storage bin with just costumes -- Halloween, Comic Con, dress-up stuff -- because she's always had a flair for the dramatic.



Summer has always been her season -- the time when she spreads and fills whatever space is around her with her larger-than-life personality and hilarious sense of humor. But she's starting to feel more comfortable in her own skin -- becoming more at home with who she is -- just like we knew she always would, even though it seemed at times like it would never happen. She's witty and funny and quick, and she keeps us gloriously entertained.

Have I told you about her tiny bottle collection? That in itself is everything you need to know about her. Nothing makes her giddier with excitement than finding tiny bottles.



In most of her travels this year -- from her class trip to Washington, D.C. this spring, to her trip with my mom to South Dakota and the Black Hills in June, or on our family trips to northeast Ohio and Chicago, she was always on a quest for tiny bottles to commemorate her experiences.




She scours gift shops and antique shops wherever she goes, always on the prowl. There are 87 now that have made the final cut -- that are worth being on display and considered part of the elite.

It is a great privilege being her mom -- being here for every moment as she becomes such an interesting and beautiful young woman. The freckles that once clearly peppered her nose have now faded, and the ones that haven't faded are often covered by make-up that she applies oh-so-carefully via YouTube instruction. Her hair is bleached (we've learned a lot about hair this summer, she and I), and shopping for clothes isn't nearly as painful as it was a year ago.

It's so much fun to introduce her to our favorite shows, our favorite things, our humor -- now that she's old enough to appreciate it all. We marathoned "Downton Abbey" in the last few weeks, and then somehow found ourselves watching the "Twilight" movies, punctuated by her and Ryan's bantering quips. All three of us have practically memorized the soundtrack to "Hamilton," and it is now the soundtrack to our lives.

If I text her while I'm at work and ask her what she's up to, she'll send a cheeky response: "Just living the good life, man." Because she knows it makes me laugh.

I know she's nervous about high school, about making new friends, about making the right choices, about her dad being her English teacher (!!!). But she's only nervous because she understands the weight of it all -- she knows how much it matters. She's always loved math because there's always a right answer; there's nothing ambiguous, no gray areas. She likes things to be black and white, everything to be very clear. And we know that as she navigates these next four years, God is with her -- and with us, just as He always has been. He'll guide each and every step.


Happy High Schooling, Ryley! We can't wait to see what God has in store for you! :-)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Too Tired to Think of a Title

This “parenting a teenager” thing is serious business, isn’t it? I’ve sat here for several minutes trying to process exactly what it is that I want to say, but I’m coming up empty. This, after months of longing to write it all out but never finding the time, experiencing fleeting moments of clarity and a string of words that articulate perfectly what I’m thinking (but always at work or while I’m driving and never at a time when it’s actually convenient to write). The feelings, emotions, epiphanies, and visions that I experience regarding this single child are deep and plentiful, layered and wide. I could fill a novel – but stream-of-consciousness style, with no particular plot, no apparent climax or finale. I would call it “My Experiences in Parenting Are All Over the Place and Change Daily" or "I Don't Know What I'm Doing.”

Part of it is that we don’t really know who we’re parenting exactly. I mean, she’s still trying to figure that out herself. She’s coming alive -- she’s quirky and light and lively and melodramatic and headstrong and spacey and opinionated. There’s no better example of this than when we’re shopping together. There was a holiday dance at the school last Friday (adorably called “The Snow Ball”), and choosing a semi-formal outfit proved to be a real adventure, mostly because she doesn’t have a clear understanding of what “semi-formal” means. But maybe I don’t either. I lugged an armful of knee-length dresses into the dressing room at Target, and she said, “Paisley patterns are you, Mom; not me,” and I flashed back to my own middle school years when I, too, was resistant to my mom’s suggestions, yet so desperate to fit in with my friends, afraid to launch out and set my own fashion trends based on what I thought was pretty. Apparently it was paisley.

“Keep an open mind,” I said. “You keep an open mind, too,” she shot right back at me, teenager-style. Eventually we settled on black – plain and simple – because I’d read that every girl needs a “little black dress” that she can dress up or down depending on the situation. She likes it but claims it’s too formal. It’s not, of course. Because it’s from Target. ;-)

It seems like everything is an argument these days. I could say the kettle is black, but she would say it’s a triangle. And looking back, she’s kind of always been this way, I suppose. It’s exhausting. So many simple conversations spiral out of control over semantics or details or tone of voice. How many times do we hear, “I know!” or “I am!,” to which we end up channeling our early 1990s parents, with, “Well, you don’t know or else you’d stop doing it!”

There are other moments, though. Like when Ryan was scrolling through the channels and came across “Fiddler on the Roof” (which, of course, we own and have watched three dozen times). “Ryley!” he called. She came bounding down the stairs two-, three-, four-at-a-time and plopped down on the sofa, a stupid grin plastered to her face. Then, for the next three days, she belted out the songs and even dug out my “Fiddler” soundtrack CD for
accompaniment.

For being one person, she is certainly the source of a lot of noise! Ryley can’t empty the dishwasher without blasting Panic! At the Disco from her iTunes, or Twenty-one Pilots or Michael Buble from Pandora or Spotify. She’s performing as Gertrude McFuzz in our school’s spring production of "Seussical," in which she has four (!!!) solos, so we hear a lot of that around the house, too. 


Then, in November, she learned that she was selected for Colorado All-state Middle School Choir, which is a huge accomplishment! So now we have five more pieces to rehearse and memorize before the first weekend in February. We are so proud of our girl….I am so glad she loves music and has finally found her “thing” – her long-pursued talent. I could listen to her sweet, strong alto singing all day long.

But back in September, she had toyed with not auditioning for these things….just helping with stage crew for the musical and not worrying about the difficult audition for all-state choir. How different would our school year (and her life experience) have been if she had just fizzled out on these opportunities before they even began?

School is difficult. Just this last weekend, she had three big projects due on Monday alone, with another project and two presentations due yesterday, three big final exams happening today, and another essay due tomorrow (for which she's forgotten her notes at school). I get overwhelmed just looking at her homework assignments, grateful that it’s her and not me. I think I still suffer a little bit of post-traumatic stress disorder after the marathon that was “getting through college.” I’ve already paid my dues, right? It’s her turn.

Not exactly. I truly believe that behind every well-put-together child is a parent pulling the strings, providing the choir outfits and participation fees and homework support.

Sometimes, late at night, when I’m quietly doing dishes at the sink while she writes an essay at the kitchen table, I think to myself, “Across our suburb, across the country, other moms are also staying up tonight helping their kiddo with a creative writing portfolio or Googling the ‘equation for y intercept.’ Or saying, 'You know what? Close the math book, and go to bed. It will be okay.'”

Because having a child at an academically-demanding school feels like having a second job. Back in October, I came to the realization that though we needed more money and needed me to take on more freelance work, my family needed me more – my presence and my help. In Proverbs 31, the “the wife of noble character” is praised for selecting wool and flax and working with eager hands, making and selling linen garments, securing trade deals and buying fields and planting vineyards, all while the lamp burns late into the night. But my big epiphany has been that sometimes in this modern society, spinning wool or planting a vineyard also means learning 8th grade physics at 11 p.m. or just being in the same room as your baby fills out her history study guide until midnight, just so she’s not alone. You’re so tired, but you fight sleep, knowing that you're doing what’s best. Sometimes it means running down to the thrift store in the middle of the Broncos game on a Monday evening to buy a $1 cane for your husband and his injured back. Sometimes being that quintessential “Proverbs 31 woman” means knowing how to invest your time in creative ways, understanding when to snap the laptop shut, and canceling potential freelance projects, trusting that God will provide for all your needs.

In the midst of volleyball and play practice, choir auditions and D.C. trip fundraising, podiatrist appointments and contact fittings, car repairs and Ryan’s ruptured disc (resulting MRI and physical therapy), his unrelated car accident and losing his car to the body shop for more than a month….in the midst of all that and more, my family needs me more than we need the money. They need all of me – not the muddled, distracted version of me. They need the stability only I can bring. After all, that’s why God put me here, planting my own little vineyard called the Moore family.

Most nights over the last few years, I've defaulted to my freelance work on my laptop on the downstairs sofa while Ryan has graded papers at the desk across the room. Meanwhile, Ryley is left to her own devices with her heavy backpack dumped out and spread out across the floor in our living room upstairs – within ear shot of us, but away from the distraction of the television we have on in the background.

But last weekend, on a whim, Ryley took the love languages quiz, and we discovered that she gives and receives love in “quality time.” I’d never thought of her that way before. I mean, that’s my love language, too, but it had never occurred to me that some of the forlornness she feels and the hours it takes to get her homework done is because she has been “banished” from us. She feels lonely and thus loses momentum and motivation.

That insight inspired me to try something new during the Crazy Weekend of Multiple Projects. I pledged to be her right-hand person. I stayed with her in the front room and just remained "available." I tried not to push my own agenda; I let her tell me what she needed my help with. And you know what? She got her work done in a timely manner, and she was less combative about it. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! It was a relatively peaceful weekend, all things considered, and we didn't even have to burn the midnight oil. Normal bedtimes were kept. Now, is it always practical or even in her best interest for me to be present during every homework marathon? No, of course not. But sometimes she just needs somebody to be there, supporting her.

And sometimes she just needs help prioritizing… “Hey, sweetie, so you have an A+ in Algebra, so maybe since it’s already 9:30, we skip these last two difficult problems and move on to English, which could use a little more attention.”

“Wait. Are you telling me not to finish my math homework?”

“No, not exactly. I’m telling you to use your time wisely.” :-) Who knew I'd ever advocate for not finishing homework? Crazy how people change. ;-)

At the very base level, we are always on her side. Whether being on her side means disciplining her or defending her, her dad and I will always be in her corner. She’s a special kiddo. She’s ours. Definitely not perfect and many times a little mouthy, but overall, she is a really good kid. We might get on her case, and she might perceive it as coming down hard on her, but we always have her best interest at heart. She doesn’t see that or have the capability of understanding that right now. But I trust that someday she will. I'm sure my parents thought the same about me at one point!

Maybe we’re on to something with this whole love language revelation, though. I’ve been asking God for wisdom, and maybe understanding this aspect of her personality is the key. She just likes to be with us.

“Someday when I’m grown, I think sometimes I’ll just drive over here for a hug and a long talk,” she told me one time. My drive would be about 850 miles, but that’s how I feel about my mom and dad, too. :-) A hug and a long talk do wonders.


So that's the gist of it -- my thoughts on parenting after 13 years and 4 months. We don't have it all figured out, by any means, and just when we think we have, we fall flat on our faces, Ryan and I. We offer each other regular high-fives though, whenever one of us does a particularly good job. We need that kind of encouragement and comradery. :-)

Christmas break starts tomorrow afternoon, and I'm not sure we've ever needed it more. I probably say that every year, though. :-) Here's to Hallmark movies and cozy fireplaces and toasty mugs of hot chocolate -- passing around the coffee and pumpkin pie -- and doing absolutely nothing. 

The vineyard planting and cloth-spinning can continue in January. ;-) 


Monday, August 8, 2016

Caving

I always reserve the right to change my mind.

That may not be the best policy, parenting-wise, but for the most part, I try to remain honestly open-minded. ;-) What's best for one person may not be best for another; what's best at one time may not be the best choice later on.

When Ryley was begging for social media a few months ago, our answer was a firm no. There was just too much she could be exposed to, we reasoned. She didn't need any more negative influences in her life. I even wrote a lengthy blog post about this.

But as her 13th birthday drew nearer, I began to soften my stance. I think I began to understand that social media is ultimately inevitable. It's not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. In fact, even if our current forms of social media do phase out over time, there will always be something trying to pollute her mind. The world is changing rapidly, and as much as I want to hold on to her innocent childhood and the wholesome way we've tried to raise her, I had to come to terms with the fact that she will live in this world forever, and it's time to start teaching her how to keep her light -- how to counteract the darkness when those influences seems overwhelming.

So we allowed it. And in the last two weeks, we've had to address a LOT of stuff -- things as simple as what kind of posts are appropriate to find amusing (silently) but shouldn't be "liked" or "shared." We've talked about not allowing one's name to become associated with anything dark or inappropriate. This has meant adding restrictions so she can control what her friends post to her timeline and watching what posts she's been tagged in. It requires work on our part, and we don't catch everything. But this new realm has opened up a ton of conversations that we hadn't had previously, and they're presenting opportunities for maturity and growth. Someday she'll successfully navigate the world with grace and without compromise, and that all starts right now. With our guidance. ;-)

********************************************************

I have to say that being Ryley's mother has truly changed my life. Of course, there are the obvious ways that being a parent changes anybody. But Ryley has truly changed me with her deep, contagious compassion.

It all started seven years ago when our tiny kindergartener prayed every night that God would give her a puppy. I hated dogs -- hated animals being indoors at all. I could not even fathom having an animal run loose in our home. But my heart softened over time, and I finally agreed to let Ryley have a puppy. When I look back on it in retrospect, I truly see how God performed a miracle on my heart. I could not have changed on my own.


Our sweet Juliet has become such a precious part of our family, with a personality that reflects Ryley's spunk and playfulness. They are the best of friends, and I have become much more tolerant of her running loose in the house (with well-placed baby gates!). ;-)






Fast-forward about five years, and Ryley suddenly developed an affinity for pet bunnies. 

"Ha!" was my initial response. "Absolutely not." Like, seriously. I was pretty set that we would never have a bunny. 

But gradually I have seen Ryley's undying compassion....the way she stops by the pet store to drool over the animals every time she and her friends go to the mall...the way she raved about her teacher's pet bunny all last year...the way she came home from the summer camp at the animal shelter in such a good mood after cuddling with bunnies, puppies, and kitties all day. 

"Who could really be in a bad mood after cuddling with baby animals all day?" Ryan reasoned. And I saw his point.

I started to realize that a pet bunny may not be the worst thing in the world. A hassle? Yes. Messy? Yep. My favorite thing? No. But would I trade my daughter's sweet, caring heart for anything in the world? Absolutely not.

So off she and her daddy went to the animal shelter, with the intention of spending her birthday money on rescuing a rabbit. But after spending more than an hour with a certain rabbit up for adoption, she just wasn't feeling it. We knew it had to be the right one, and I encouraged her to pray to be matched with the right fit.

A week later, Ryley and Ryan brought home the sweetest mini-lop bunny we've ever seen! She is a DREAM, as pet bunnies go. She is 7 years old (the same age as Juliet!), has been raised in a home with children and dogs, is pretty friendly and tame, and has been primarily handled by a 13-year-old. The only reason the family gave her up was because of an allergy one of the children had. I feel like the fact that she is litter-trained alone is God's personal gift to me for understanding my little girl's heart and allowing her this precious animal. :-)





Much to my surprise, I have been genuinely excited about the addition of Addie to our family! And I would much rather have Ryley spend her birthday money on a sweet little pet bunny than waste it all on emo merchandise at Hot Topic. :-) She has so much love to give. Either we could let her lavish that love on a bunny, or we could watch her try to aimlessly funnel the abundant love in her heart down other less-lucrative avenues.

And that's how our family got a bunny.

That's how I changed my mind.

That's how my daughter changed me.

And that's what it feels like to cave. ;-)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Livin' the Dream

Tomorrow is the last day of school, and with it, Ryan's first year as a teacher comes to a close. There aren't words to express how proud I am of him....how proud I know his mom and dad would be had they lived to see it. Because for Ryan, teaching isn't just a job. It's a lifelong dream, a career, a calling -- something he was born to do. Something he had long given up on.

Because, when you've found a way to provide for your family, and all your time, effort, and energy are spent on keeping that thing afloat, how do you ever find the time and effort and energy to find a way out? Hours roll into days, and days roll into weeks, and weeks into months and years, and suddenly you're 37, and you've spent nearly two decades in survival mode, unhappy in your profession, just trying to pay the bills. Why would anybody take a chance on you?

But they did.

On his application, the question was asked: "Are there any skills/abilities or other information you would like to mention?"

Ryan answered: "While my work history is unusual, I have a lot of experience dealing with high school students as employees. I would love to use my degree to educate them."

There's so much wryness in that response. Or should I say Ryness? Either way, I wouldn't expect anything less from him.

We've learned a lot in Ryan's first year. For instance, did you know that the kids in this generation don't use the word "sir"? They say, "mister." "Mister, can I go to the bathroom?" Just an observation. :-) Ryan says it bothers me way more than it bothers him!!

For the first time in our 17.5 years of marriage, Ryan has been home every night and every weekend, for nine months straight. That is huge for us. It has been amazing in every way. Our quality of home life has improved by leaps and bounds. We don't know what to do with all our time together!

For the first time since he's had a cell phone, Ryan doesn't dread texts or phone calls. The very sound of his text notifications used to make him feel sick to his stomach with impending doom. Did the auditor show up? Did the health inspector show up? Did somebody call in sick? Whatever it was, it was his responsibility to take care of it, no matter the time of day or if it happened to be his scheduled day off. So the sound of a text equaled negativity.

In fact, it took him about a month into the school year before he didn't feel stressed when another teacher called in sick. They didn't have many subs at first, so teachers were asked to cover absent teachers' classes during their planning periods. Ryan's managerial experience sent him into responsibility mode, and he'd be trying to figure out how to shift things around to fill the gaps when he finally realized his job was to teach. The Administration's job was to coordinate the coverage. A load was lifted. He could certainly step in and help where he could, but it ultimately wasn't his responsibility.

The most incredible thing I've witnessed this year is Ryan's revived love for reading and discussing philosophy. When I fell in love with him, we were "deep-thinking" college students who loved to let our random thoughts work their way into a semblance of meaning. Our first date was spent discussing a book, and having been friends for quite awhile, I had already fallen hard for the unique way his mind worked. But in the face of jobs, bills, and a child to raise, the 18-year-old version of ourselves faded. It was still there, but it was buried by our 20s and then our 30s, by life itself. And watching the Ryan I first loved come back to life has been my greatest privilege as his wife. He read more than he has in years. He studied methods and came up with projects and assignments and lessons. He led his students into Socratic discussions about Greek and Roman literature, about pride, about belief, and about the meaning of our existence. He challenged his students to read and to think.

"My worst day teaching is 10 times better than my best day in restaurant management," he said.

I don't think he expected to love his students as much as he does. He genuinely cares for their well-being, is concerned for their future, and will miss them as they move on to 10th grade, other schools, etc. And I'm pretty sure they love him back. :-)







It is pretty bright....and shiny! And he's so handsome. :-)







This is a tribute to his parents that Ryley and I made for him at the beginning of the year. His mom taught math and was the Indiana State Teacher of the Year in the '70s. His dad taught science for years and made the newspaper when he opened a planetarium in the high school. He has a great legacy!



When Ryley was in kindergarten, she was tickled pink that her school uniform was the same as her daddy's work uniform for Panera. "He makes bread for all the peoples," she used to say. Little did she know that someday she would become a "TK," when her daddy was given the opportunity of a lifetime -- to live his dream.



Congratulations, Ryan, on an incredible first year. I am so happy for all that you have accomplished and learned and become. I am thankful to God for opening up the opportunity for you, and I am thankful to the administration for taking a chance on your "unusual work history"! And I am so, so glad those lucky highschoolers got the opportunity to be educated, taught, challenged, led, and impacted by you.

xoxoxo

******Addendum as of 5/29/16******

I wrote this post about Ryan in all gratefulness for God's goodness in opening up the perfect opportunity to become a teacher. But even as I wrote it, it turns out I didn't know the full story. We've learned some new information in recent days, and I want to make sure I share this extra piece as the full story of what God has done!

Two days ago, Ryan ran into the woman who replaced him as general manager of his restaurant when he resigned. He hadn't talked to her in eight or nine months. As it turns out, she no longer works for the company. And as he pressed further, he learned that she quit in February when things became too stressful and intense after their boss was fired, and their boss's boss was fired. We're not sure what went down exactly (both of them seemed like upstanding people, and Ryan's direct boss at that company was specifically very fair and integrous). But there was suddenly a ton of upheaval and change and stress, and as a result, many of the managers at other locations either quit or were fired.

While we have no reason to believe Ryan would have been fired had he stayed, we also know that those situations are extremely stressful, and he would certainly be working even longer hours and desperately trying to find a way out, if he even still had a job at all.

As Ryan recounted his conversation to me that evening, I started feeling that familiar heaviness I used to feel when he would come home from work weighed down with unhappiness, fear, frustration, you name it.

"Wow, even as you're telling me this, I am having flashbacks to what it was like....to that heaviness..."

"Yes!" he answered. "I started getting stressed out just talking to her about the whole situation!"

We are completely awed. Not only did God piece together a series of situations and miracles to open up a place for Ryan in education, and not only have we been enjoying our new quality of life and been living with the benefits of him feeling like he's actually making a difference in his career, but unbeknownst to us, God also reached down and lifted him out of a situation of impending doom. He saved him from it. He knew something bad was coming, and we didn't, so he divinely stepped in and just removed Ryan from the situation, with five months to spare.

Here we've been praising God for this amazing first year as a teacher, and we didn't even know the full story. But God did! Now we're praising Him for delivering Ryan from that former position too.

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." -- Romans 8:28

"You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you." -- from Psalm 91

:-)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Operation Scripture Memory

I'm not a super crafty person, but every now and then I get inspired. :-)

Ryley knows a lot of Bible stories, but honestly, we haven't done a really good job with scripture memorization. Early on, we were pretty consistent with it, and over the years we've been sporadic at best, choosing a handful of verses that we've worked on from time to time.

But the fact of the matter is, that to live successfully, peacefully, and powerfully for Jesus in this world, the Word of God needs to be hidden in her heart. How can we expect her to walk through life if she doesn't have a "lamp for her feet" and "light for her path"? Life-giving scriptures need be etched on her soul...buried so deep in the well of her personhood that when she needs them they bubble up to her mind as living water, accomplishing whatever she needs.

Enter my inspiration! I'm not even really sure how this all came together, but basically I took my cousins' idea of hanging photos on a "clothesline" at a high school graduation reception last weekend and combined it with scripture memes I found online. And I decided that since it's a central place that not a lot of other people see, our bathroom would be the perfect place to hang them. I mean, if we're going to spend so much time in there, we could be meditating on good things, right? Just being real, folks! :-)








Did I overdo it? Probably. :-) Once I got started, I just couldn't narrow it down! But God's Word never returns void, so I figure that by putting these in front of us several times a day, they will soak in! I'm pretty excited about how it turned out. It looks cheerful.

I hung a few above Ryley's bedroom doorway too!



The coolest thing was that while I was organizing all the scripture cards on our living room floor, Ryley said she really liked the one with the castle:



I told her that's one of my favorite scriptures. She responded that it reminded her of another scripture I taught her when she was little -- one about a fortress and how we stay in God's shadow.

"And there was a song about it! You taught me the song, and we sang it on the way to school!" she said, trying to jog my memory.

"Oh, Psalm 91? He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty--"

"Yes! That's it! How did you know the reference?"

And this is why we're doing this. :-) We might be a little late, but better late than never, right? I'm excited to see how this little plan works out!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Parenting: A Thickening Plot

When I was a young mother, someone once told me that parenthood is a constantly changing journey….Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, baby throws a new challenge at you and you have to figure that one out too. For instance, when baby-proofing the house, you start when the baby starts crawling, somewhere around six months. You remove anything small and swallow-able from the floors, and you generally rearrange things for the safety of baby. You even make room for a play pen. Then, once you’re satisfied with your baby-proofing skills, baby throws a new one at you by learning to pull herself up. Suddenly the coffee table is no longer safe, and the prized super-trendy Zen garden and marble-filled glass vases from your twenties have to be carefully packed away out of reach (and, in our case, lost). A month or so later, baby starts walking, then running, and it’s been a long time so I don’t remember exactly what we did to baby-proof, but it seems like our d├ęcor was pretty bare bones for quite awhile.

When you’re tired and sleep-deprived, you see 18 years of sleepless nights stretching out before you as your inevitable destiny. But one day, she sleeps in. And then all of a sudden, she’s capable of getting breakfast for herself, even if she awakens before you do. 

One day you wouldn’t even imagine letting your kiddo use a public restroom by herself, but then the next day it seems logical.

The page turns, and a new chapter begins. But with that new chapter, the story progresses, and the plot thickens.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ryan and I have talked about this a lot recently. We knew when she was a baby that we would hold her to high standards. We knew we wouldn’t be popular with her at times. Back then we couldn’t picture the exact scenarios—I mean, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat didn’t even exist yet. But we knew that whatever the situation, parenting would not be easy. As every generation of parents has had to discover for themselves, the road to a healthy, well-adjusted adult is bumpy and washed out, unpaved and unmapped.

But I’m not sure we understood how much our own childhood insecurities would have an impact on our parenting decisions. We each remember being the kid who wasn’t allowed to watch certain shows (Smurfs) or read certain books (Sweet Valley High). Sometimes we weren’t allowed to go to movies with friends or go on class trips. It’s never fun to feel left out – to be the only one who can’t participate in a conversation. But our parents knew what was best for us. I once had to leave a get-together with my girlfriends early because I had a piano recital the next day. After I left, the girls TP’d the house where the boys were and dumped a toilet on their front porch, which prompted the guys to egg the house where the girls were staying. The night has notoriously been called “The Night of the Toilet,” and I missed all the excitement.

Ryley is a bookworm – an avid reader who loves Percy Jackson books and Star Wars books but who is not allowed to read Harry Potter or anything by John Green. Her friends are absolutely befuddled by this, and she is absolutely embarrassed. “How can you be such a bookworm and NOT have read ‘Harry Potter’?” they ask. She can’t explain it without sounding like a weirdo. She is allowed to watch Doctor Who and PG-13 comic book movies, but half of the live action shows on the Disney Channel are banned for her. I know she would love Glee, but the decision on that one is still up in the air. In fact, Ryan and I don’t always agree. Some of the sci-fi stuff gets a little too weird, in my opinion, and the Rys are always teasing me that I all too often call things “demonic.” I would be more apt to let Ryley watch an episode of Friends, but the occasional sexual talk is bothersome to Ryan.

To an outsider it would seem that there is no method to the madness. But we have our reasons, and we are constantly re-evaluating her maturity – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and otherwise. We don’t forbid things without good reason. We discuss and pray and ask for God’s wisdom.

But that still didn’t stop me from bursting into tears with her when we handed her a big fat NO on the subject of Instagram.

Her little heart was broken. In a group of friends where she already feels like the oddball out, not letting her have Instagram means she can’t see the funny pictures they all post, and she can’t share in the inside jokes and silly conversations. Her friends are hilarious and intelligent and witty. I get it. She lives only in the real world, while her friends are able to participate in this sort of underworld. She arrives at school a step behind everyone else.

On the flip side, by not allowing Instagram, we are doing her a favor….When the school day ends, so does the friend drama. She can come home and enjoy her evening in a stable environment. She doesn’t have to see any of the pictures that her emo friends post showing the horrific scars from where they’ve cut themselves. She doesn’t have to see any of the melodramatic conversations regarding self-harm, suicide, or sexuality. She doesn’t have to read any more of the cuss words that she hears all day long. She doesn’t stumble across inappropriate content that will haunt her and spark her curiosity.

We can’t protect her from everything. I realize that. The 21st Century world is absolutely SATURATED with sex. And Ryley is INQUISITIVE. She knows way more about the world than I ever knew at her age. Thus far, we have created an environment where she can ask us anything, and we answer her honestly. But what happens when the middle school culture has advanced way past her age and maturity, and suddenly the answers are too heavy for her 12-year-old shoulders?

Self harm is all the rage among her classmates. Seriously, it’s become “trendy.” The girls disassemble their little pencil sharpeners, use the blades to cut themselves, and then hide the blades inside of markers or chapstick tubes so parents and teachers can’t find them. Ryley overheard one girl approach the “queen bee” and say, “Hey, I need some advice; I tried cutting, and something went horribly wrong.” It makes me sick. Our school administrators have been doing an excellent job getting  these girls into counseling, but it’s like a wildfire that’s gotten out of control. Some of them are for sure doing it because they have inner pain, and they want to have some control over the pain. But others are doing it because all the cool kids do it. I’m not sure which one is worse.

So with all this going on, why would I want my daughter subscribed to a site where she can become even further inundated with this darkness?

Some of Ryley’s friends wear long sleeves to hide the scars on their arms. She wears long sleeves because someone told her that her arms are too hairy…her beautiful, perfect, unscarred arms with their little dusting of blond peach fuzz.

It’s time for the mothers to get involved. I have just recently proposed to the administration that we hold a mother/daughter meeting for 7th graders, where we can come together as a community and get to know one another better. If moms knew each other…if we could organize get-togethers over the summer and work together to create a positive environment or even outreach opportunities for our girls, I think we could eliminate some of the “emo” depression. I believe that regardless of race, religion, or family background (one friend told Ryley, “Your family is abnormal”), we can all find common ground in the fact that we love our daughters and want them to be kind, successful, and happy. Only good can come from it.

In the meantime, we’ve been trying to get her more involved in our church youth group so she can make some more Christian friends. Yesterday, on the way to a church laser tag event, she was trying to think of a good laser tag name for herself. She wasn’t sure if she should do anything Star Wars-related, because her youth pastor has preached that Star Wars is bad. We told her not to worry about it and to just be herself.

“But,” I added, “between games, don’t forget to talk about ‘the Lord’!”   She giggled. :-)

It turned out that lots of kids chose Star Wars and comic book-related names. And in her silliness with her church friend, she chose “TheDorito.”

As a Christian, I’m finding that the only way to help our daughter navigate these challenges is through constant prayer – for her and others. Sure, she doesn’t cut, but Ryley has a lot of other hang-ups and issues that affect her and her relationships. Whenever we remember to, we pray for her classmates, and we pray for her to have opportunities to be a light. We pray for ourselves that God gives us wisdom to make the right decisions that will protect that light from becoming snuffed out by the world.

If or when this mother/daughter meeting idea takes off, I know it’s inevitable that the chapter will eventually turn, and the story will progress in other ways. That’s just the way the world works. Just when we think we’ve got it figured out, the girls will outgrow the cutting and move on to other kinds of drama. But whatever that drama is, at least we’d be facing it as a community.

Best of all, we know the Author of this story, and despite the plot’s twists and turns and all the many intriguing characters that are woven throughout, we know He is famous for His amazing endings. And we can trust Him with our girl.